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Tips for Installing Laminate Wood Flooring as an Alternative to Hardwood Flooring


Not so long ago, I installed about 600 square feet of wood laminate flooring in my girlfriend’s house in Lawrenceville. Soon after the job was completed, I saw an ad on television in which a representative of a home improvement products company was showing a young couple how simple such and installation was. The salesman held his hands out, palms up, in a V shape, then rotated his wrists to make a flat surface across both palms. As he made this gesture he said, “If you can do this, you can install that” as he pointed to laminate wood flooring samples.

I have to tell you I laughed so hard I thought I was going to fall off the couch. Sure, the little hand demonstration was an accurate representation of how the individual sheets of flooring snap together, but that operation is absolutely the simplest part of putting in one of those floors. Here is a list of the biggest hurdles the do-it-yourself laminate wood floor installer must overcome, and a few suggestions from someone who has been there.

  1. Be prepared to level the floor before putting down the wood laminate flooring. This stuff is not as forgiving as carpet or any of the vinyl products. A gradual slope isn’t a problem, but low spots will let the floor flex when walked on and do structural damage.
  2. Short of a miracle, every row of flooring pieces will require a cut at the end to meet the wall. On the job I did, this amounted to over 100 straight across cuts and more fancy cuts to match door frames and a diagonal hallway than I want to remember. A good table saw and an electric jigsaw are the only way through this efficiently. A couple of spare, fine-toothed blades are a good idea too. The flooring will begin to chip badly if the blade gets too dull.
  3. For those places like door frames where molding won’t hide any gap left when you put the floor in place, I found that cutting up poster board and taping the shape together then tracing it onto the floor piece before cutting was the fastest way to get a good fit each time.
  4. In large areas, it is necessary to leave a gap to allow for expansion that is big enough to prevent buckling when humidity is high, and small enough that your baseboard will cover it when conditions are dry and the floor shrinks. Because of the necessity to leave this gap, the main body of floor is subject to shifting around as you snap, push, tap, or otherwise induce the flooring pieces to fit tightly together. This means putting spacers in place to maintain your gap as you go along, and also requires constant checking behind yourself to see that the floor hasn’t moved too far out or too close in to the wall. I found it necessary to check all the edges at the completion of each row as I made my way across a room. I kept a short piece of baseboard with me at all times, so I could prove the baseboards would cover the gap as I went along.
  5. Finally, measure the room and the material you are using to calculate what you will have when you get to the last row of flooring. You can only cut the pieces of flooring lengthwise at the beginning wall and the ending wall, you lose the edge that snaps together when cutting lengthwise. So, prove whether or not you want to start with less than a full sheet in order to avoid getting all the way across the room only to find out you need a thin, hard to cut, hard to work with sliver of flooring to finish up.

I’ve only seen the TV ad about how easy this is one time. I have to wonder if it went away because it was so obviously deceptive to those who’ve been there. My friend’s floor is in now and it looks great, but it took a lot more than just snapping the pieces into each other.

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