What You Need to Know Before Installing Laminate Flooring

Smart planning and prep make this DIY-friendly material even easier to install.

By: John Riha
Laying laminate flooring

Laying laminate flooring

Laying laminate. close-up

Low-cost laminate flooring is a great choice for a DIY flooring project. You’ll find a huge selection of wood look-alike products with some ceramic tile and stone imitations as well.

You can install a floating laminate floor in just about any room, with a few exceptions. The inner core of the material is made with wood or fiberboard that’s susceptible to moisture damage, so avoid installations in any room with a floor drain or sump pump. It’s not a great choice for bathrooms and laundry rooms, either. 

You can put it in kitchens, but you’ll need to be obsessive about wiping up any spills immediately.

Laminate flooring can go directly over most other flooring materials with the exception of indoor/outdoor carpeting and others with short naps. That means you don’t have to tear out old surfaces before you begin. However, your new flooring will raise the level of your floor slightly — about 3/8 inch — so you need to be mindful of transitions to other rooms. Most flooring manufacturers have transition thresholds that take into account varying floor heights.

If you’re installing laminate over existing flooring in your kitchen, measure to make sure appliances will fit into their original positions after the new flooring is installed. If not, you may have to tear out old flooring before installing the new.

To make the job go smoothly and quickly, here’s what else you need to know to gear up for installing laminate flooring.

Get the room ready by removing the base shoe and baseboards. Makes sure the floor is clean and level — installing over an non-level floor can lead to soft, spongy areas and may contribute to seams opening up. Tolerances are usually 1/4 to 3/8 inch measured over 10 horizontal feet. High spots on wood floors can be sanded down. Alternately, you can “fill” low spots with pieces of 30-lb. felt. Low spots on concrete slabs should be filled with leveling compound.

Measure the room to determine the total square footage of flooring you’ll need, then add 5 percent for waste and mistakes. Remember you’ll want to leave a gap of about 3/8 inch around the perimeter of the room to allow for the flooring to expand and contract with changes in humidity. That gap will be covered up when you reinstall the baseboards and base shoe.

Acclimate the flooring by bringing all the packages of flooring into the room. Open the packages and distribute the loose planks around the room in short piles. This helps the flooring stabilize to the ambient humidity in your room, a process that takes about 48 hours. Use the opportunity to inspect any planks for damage.

Prep door frame so that the flooring will slide underneath the trim and jamb (it’s much easier than trying to cut an irregular shape to fit the molding). Use a piece of flooring and underlayment as a guide, and mark the door trim and jamb for trimming. Cut the pieces using a jamb saw — a specialty handsaw with an offset handle that makes it easy to cut near the floor. You can rest the saw blade on top of a piece of flooring to make sure you have a straight, even cut that’s the correct height.

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