How to Install a Laminate Floating Floor
By Sean O'Halloran
Laying a floating floor may seem like a daunting task, but with some
basic knowledge and small array of tools, the average homeowner can install a
floating floor in a relatively short amount of time. It is important to assess
your flooring needs before engaging in any kind of flooring remodel, and this
assessment should include the amount of foot traffic the intended area will
incur. In this instance, we assume the area sees moderate usage and a floating floor
Laying Out the Flooring. Preparation is key; gauging and laying out the space to be floored is an all important element that should be given the utmost attention. It's devastating to run out of material mid-job or to find that the layout was done hastily and the result is an unsightly, uneven joint pattern. Take the few extra minutes to prep and lay out properly, and it will save you a tremendous amount of time in repair work.
When measuring for a layout, be sure to take into consideration cut outs and unevenness of a room. For example, in a 10"x10" room with a 2"x2" cut out, the area of the floor surface is 96 sq. ft. Be careful not to neglect closet spaces, though, as they will need to be covered as well. When sourcing materials, it is generally good practice to buy a 20 percent overage on all materials - meaning if you need 100 sq. ft., buy 120 sq. ft. This is done to insure that there is plenty of material in case of mid-work mishaps, or any damaged or discolored pieces. Additionally, it is a good idea to keep several pieces after the job is completed, in case anything should happen down the road that would require a repair of the floor. In some cases, a manufacturer might discontinue a type or color of floating floor, leaving its prior customers scrambling to find replacement pieces during a repair.
Preparing the Subfloor. First decide the substrate, or subfloor, you intend to use. The beauty of a floating floor is in its adaptability. A floating floor can be placed over nearly any substrate, including concrete, wood subfloor, or existing flooring. The floating panels can mask some irregularities in the substrate, such as embossing in vinyl flooring, but any major dips, dents, or lumps should be eliminated before installing the panels. If concrete is to be used, verify the dryness year round, and if unsure, apply a concrete sealer prior to the installation.
To test for humidity if you don't have a moisture meter available, tape a 2'x 2' section of clear plastic to the concrete slab, forming an airtight seal. If condensation or discoloration appears on plastic after 24-48 hours, the moisture content is likely too high for most wood products. As an added precaution, you can lay down plastic sheathing as a vapor barrier between the slab and the flooring.
Installation. With your flooring area properly laid out and prepared, it’s time to install your floating floor. It's important to remember to leave a gap of 5/16” from the wall. Use wood or plastic spacers to maintain the expansion space until the installation is complete. This expansion space is integral to proper installation, as it insures that if the floor should swell at all - as wood is known to do when introduced to moisture - there will not be any incidents of crowding or misalignment on the floors overall surface area.
Working from the point determined in the layout, typically the furthest point from a doorway, begin to install your floor. Start the first row with groove side against the wall and with a half panel in order to facilitate a stagger effect of end joints row to row. Apply conservative amounts of wood glue lightly on the tongue joints, and insert into the groove of the subsequent courses. Gently tap panels into place with a white rubber mallet to attain an even, smooth joint.
When installing over a large area, a 3/8" expansion joint should also be provided every 30-40 linear feet. Intermediary expansion joints may be filled with expansive joint sealant in order to mask their appearance. Joints between boards may be sealed with expansive joint sealant. Surfaces must be clean and dry prior to application of the sealant.
Should a situation arise where a cut needs to be made to accommodate a pipe or other round obtrusion, you may need to drill. Make sure that the hole is about 3/8" larger than the diameter of the pipe. Cut off the area behind the pipes, trim the holes and glue again. It is advisable to cover the pipes with sleeves and fill the expansion space around the penetration with expansive joint sealant. It is also recommended that a sealant be used around such areas as bathroom fixtures and kitchen appliances in order to eliminate potential seepage.
Finishing Up. To finish up the installation of your floor, saw the last board to the appropriate width, gluing both the groove and the tongue. When the glue is hardened, remove all wedges. The last few steps are to reinstall the baseboards, and install any transition pieces or thresholds. Before allowing anyone to walk on your handy work, be sure to allow at least 24 hours for glued joints to dry and to let the floor settle. Then, sweep the floor to remove any debris left over from the installation process, and inspect all the joints for evenness.
Congratulations - you have completed the installation process! Now, step back and admire your hard work. The end result should be a beautiful floor that is sure to add style and grace to your décor.