How to Install Laminate Flooring: An 11-Step Installation Guide

by Team HomeServe
close up of a man wearing work gloves assembling bamboo floor boards with tongue and groove cuts

Installing Laminate Flooring at a Glance

  • Tools & Materials: Flooring, underlayment, scrap wood spacers, utility knife, tape measure, pencil, speed square, tapping block, straightedge, chalk box, hammer, saw
  • Step 1: Remove baseboards and old flooring
  • Step 2: Prep subfloor
  • Step 3: Dry fit flooring
  • Step 4: Lay underlayment
  • Step 5: Trim first row of planks
  • Step 6: Lock in the first row
  • Step 7: Stagger the planks
  • Step 8: Connect pieces
  • Step 9: Adjust
  • Step 10: Install final row
  • Step 11: Reinstall baseboards

If you crave the classic look of hardwood floors and want to bring that aesthetic into your home, you may want to consider installing laminate flooring as an economical alternative. Because laminate floors aren't nailed or glued down, they're a lot more versatile than hardwood, and you can install them yourself. All you need is a little patience and know-how. Laminate floors have come a long way in giving an authentic wood look and are popular for their scratch- and scuff-resistance.

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Even if you don’t know how to install laminate flooring, you can learn with this quick guide. The most important step is planning your installation so you know how much material to purchase and don’t cut your pieces incorrectly. Also, pay attention to the type of flooring you purchase and whether it comes with existing underlayment and moisture protection.

What Are the Benefits of Laminate Flooring?

Some of the best material options are hardwood, bamboo and laminate. Hardwood is the most expensive and traditional route, while bamboo flooring rests in the middle as far as price and is sold in interlocking planks similar to laminate. The installation of bamboo and laminate is very similar because the pieces snap together.

Laminate floors are cheaper and more versatile than hardwood or bamboo. Whether you choose the classic hardwood look or want to go with something else, there are far more choices you can make when you shop for laminate floors. Pergo is a popular brand of snap-together, wood-look laminate flooring. Installation is easy; laminate floors are floating floors, meaning they don’t need to be attached directly to the subfloor.

Are Laminate Floors Easy to Install?

As mentioned before, one of the greatest benefits of laminate flooring is that it’s the easiest type of flooring to install. The pieces just click together. This is a project that requires a low to moderate level of skill to complete. Where most people go wrong is in the planning stage, by attempting to rush the project. Make sure you can dedicate the time you need to the project. Expect it to take you longer than it would take a professional.

Make sure you have access to all the safety equipment you need. Because you will be required to cut the flooring and be in an enclosed space with possible contaminants, you want to ventilate the room and consider wearing a mask that filters dust and mold. Safety glasses can protect your eyes from all the dust you're going to kick up.

Do You Need Underlayment for Laminate Flooring?

While laminate flooring is scratch-resistant and capable of enduring the abuse that a family with children or pets would inflict upon it, it's not water- or moisture-resistant. When installing laminate flooring, take note of whether the type you have selected comes with attached underlayment or moisture protection. If it doesn't, you’ll need underlayment for your project. Underlayment is also recommended if you’ve been unable to completely level out the subfloor because it offers a bit of a cushion for the flooring to rest on.

Many homes have a concrete subfloor, and concrete is known to collect moisture. Underlayment contains the vapors that lead to a buildup of condensation. If you don’t have flooring with this feature, skipping the underlayment can damage the floor and make your home more hospitable to mold and mildew. You’d have to tear up the floor to remove the source of the problem and then perform an entirely new installation.

What Tools Are Needed to Install Laminate Flooring?

You’ll need underlayment, if required, and scrap wood spacers in addition to the flooring itself. It’s okay to purchase a little more flooring than you think you need. If you make a mistake during installation or didn’t account for something during your initial measurements, having extra flooring will come in handy.

You’ll need a utility knife, tape measure, pencil, speed square, tapping block, straightedge, chalk box, hammer, and a saw. You can use a handsaw, but it may be easier for you to complete the project if you’ve got a circular saw or a jigsaw. A rubber mallet may also be helpful, but it’s not required.

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How to Install Laminate Flooring

When installing laminate flooring, take your time and follow these steps:

Step 1: Remove the Baseboards and Old Flooring

You want to remove everything around the perimeter of the room, such as the trim, baseboards and air duct covers.

Remove your old flooring and vacuum the space to remove any debris, dirt and dust that remains. You want to make sure that you spend time cleaning the space up before you proceed.

Step 2: Prep the Subfloor

It's best to place new flooring down on a level, smooth surface. In most cases, you can install your new floor directly on the old underlayment if it hasn't been damaged and is clean and dry. If the existing underlayment is too soft, you’ll want to pull it out.

Step 3: Do a Dry Run

Lay out the flooring to see how well it will fit. Without locking any of the planks together, place them down onto the floor to get an idea of how many of them will fit across your space. This can help you when you're moving onto the actual installation.

Step 4: Put Down the Underlayment

First, you want to roll the underlayment out and then line it up on the floor. Tape the edges of the sheets together, but make sure you’re not overlapping any of the material, as this could cause the floor to be uneven. Once all of the material is laid down and taped together, trim it to fit the space with your utility knife.

Step 5: Trim Your First Row of Planks

Each plank has a tongue and a groove, which allow the planks to snap together like puzzle pieces. For your first row, you want to remove the tongue side so the plank sits flush with the wall. The wall you start on should be the longest wall in the room. Trim the pieces you will need for that wall after using chalk to mark where the pieces will fit.

Step 6: Lock Down the First Row

Moving from the right of the wall toward the left, lock each plank together using your hammer and tapping block. Check the installation guidelines for the size of the gap you need between the planks and the wall. You can use the wood spacers to make sure you’re where you want to be.

The last plank is going to be too long, and this is what you want. Trim the last plank so that it will fit, then record the measurement. This is the length you want the first plank of the next row to be cut to. This is how to stagger laminate flooring effectively.

Step 7: Stagger the Planks

If the last piece needs to be cut shorter than 16 inches, you’ll want to plan the next row accordingly. You don’t want the spacing in the staggering to be less than that because it will threaten the stability of the floor. The last piece in each row is always going to be cut off, so begin your new row with a board that fits the proper dimensions and begin to lay the rows by placing the tongue of each plank into the groove of the previous row at a 45-degree angle and snapping it into place.

Step 8: Connect the Pieces

Use the tapping block to connect each piece. Once you connect the tongue and groove, use your tapping block to slide the piece into the one on its right until it's locked.

Step 9: Make Adjustments

When you reach the final row, you’ll notice that it won't fit unless you cut your planks. Make sure that when you measure for this, you leave the recommended gap between the last planks and the wall. In most cases, this is about a quarter of an inch, but you want to check the manufacturer’s recommendation to be certain. You can use a handsaw, jigsaw or circular saw to cut the pieces, but using a circular saw tends to be the easiest method.

Step 10: Install the Final Row

Use the same method as outlined above to install the last row. You should snap the last row in place using the same technique you used up to this point. You don’t need to worry about the look of the edges if they were chipped during the last step; they will be concealed when you reinstall the molding and trim later. After you have completed this step, you can remove all the wooden spacers.

Step 11: Reinstall Baseboards

Reinstall the molding and trim. You may use your existing baseboard molding if you like, or choose to use new materials. Whichever you choose, install the baseboards with a hammer and nails.

How Soon After Installation Can You Walk on Laminate Flooring?

If you use your floor before it's set, you can damage it. The floor may become uneven or lose its vapor protection if it's disturbed too quickly. Most manufacturers recommend not using your floor for at least 24 hours after installation. To be safe, you should probably wait 48 hours after installation before you walk on the floor or move furniture into the room. If you have children or pets, plan ahead and block off the room so you aren't interrupted while installing laminate flooring and so the flooring isn't compromised for the two days following installation.

This rule doesn’t apply if you installed Pergo-brand laminate flooring. According to the manufacturer, you can walk on Pergo floors as soon as they’re installed.