Laminate flooring has seen a huge surge in popularity over the past decade and is easily the most commonly sold flooring today. With its versatility in design and ability to emulate a variety of natural woods and finishes while remaining cost effective, it’s easy to see why it has become so popular. Installing a laminate floor appears to be a fairly straightforward task and many DIY home renovators are up to tackling the job themselves. However, if you’re going to install your own laminate flooring you need to know three things before getting started.
Laminate flooring is made out of particle and glue composite board with a laminate image (most often wood grain) glued atop. Because of its composition, it does not stand up well to moisture and is prone to bubbling, peeling and buckling when it absorbs water.
This is important to keep in mind when deciding if laminate is an appropriate flooring choice for the room you’re renovating. Areas like bathrooms, mudrooms and kitchen may require flooring that can stand up better to moisture and water.
However, new laminate flooring products are available on the market that claim to be more water resistant and could offer a solution for high-moisture areas. You also have the option of sealing your laminate flooring either by using a wood sealant, gluing between the joints with watertight glue or using silicone caulking to close each seam. This, however, will add a lot of extra work and cost to your installation and still isn’t guaranteed to keep your laminate floor safe from moisture.
If you are installing your laminate flooring anywhere that might have moisture coming from underneath, you need to install a moisture barrier beneath your flooring. A good example is over concrete basement floors that are prone to condensation.
Laminate flooring is a rather thin product; it does not have its own structural strength and relies on the underflooring for its foundation. If you don’t install your laminate over a level floor, you’re going to end up with soft spots that dip and sink when they are stepped on. Soft spots will lead to unnecessary wear and tear around the edges of your boards as well as boards popping out of place and even cracking.
Depending on where you are laying your laminate, you can level the subfloor with self-leveling concrete by grinding, sanding or any combination thereof. No matter how you do it, you should have a maximum variance of 1/8" in your floor to ensure a sound installation. Installing underlayment will help your laminate cope with any small variances in the subfloor, but you still need to have less than ?” variance throughout.
Your laminate flooring is going to expand and contract with weather changes and other conditions. When your flooring expands, it needs room to grow, otherwise the boards will buckle and pop up, leaving you with a worn and uneven floor. A gap of 3/8" should be left between your laminate and the baseboards when installing.
This expansion is also why you cannot nail your quarter round into your laminate or nail any parts of your laminate into the subfloor. Laminate flooring is designed to interlock and float so the boards will move together. If one piece is unable to move as it expands, this will cause the boards around it to buckle, and quite possibly the boards around those as well. If you are laying flooring over a large area, like an entire floor of a house, you need to provide expansion joints or transitions that will allow for expansion. This is true anywhere your installation will run longer than 36 feet in length or 24 feet in width.
Additionally, you should let your boards acclimate to the room where they will be installed for two to three days. This allows the laminate to expand or contract according to the room’s temperature and humidity beforehand.
Updating your home with laminate flooring can give you a lot of bang for your buck, but the savings won’t last long if your floor is not properly installed. Poorly installed laminate is susceptible to all kinds of additional wear and tear and will certainly not last as long as it should.