how to extreme

Installing a Laminate Floor

Construction How-To, Flooring Installation, Floors, Laminate and Engineered, Punch! February 2, 2009 Matt Weber

Installing Laminate Tile  For EHT’s Article on Installation of a Rock Floor, Scroll to bottom of the Laminate Flooring Article

A friend of ours here at the EHT headquarters decided he wanted a new hardwood floor, but wasn’t excited about the hassle of installation or the high-price of contracting the labor. The solution was laminate hardwoods. Laminate flooring offers the classic look of solid hardwoods, but it fastens together seamlessly, without the mess of glue. The floorboards simply snap together using a tongue-and-groove system. The interlocking planks create a strong, tight joint that secures the flooring from wall to wall. The result is a beautiful new upgrade to the room. And the quick installation makes adding a new laminate floor ideal for the weekend warrior.  

Laminate flooring is manufactured from high-density fiberboard planks covered with decorative laminate sheeting and a clear plastic wear layer. Choose from a wide variety of wood appearances, such as oak, cherry, walnut, beech and many other options. And many new laminate flooring lines show remarkable attention to detail with the textures of the top surface. You’ll find a wide range of ultra-realistic textures that look and feel like real wood, including worn, rustic looks and high-gloss finishes.

Durability is another key feature. Many laminate flooring products are impervious to most stains and very resistant to scratches. The boards are prefinished at the factory and often feature a built-in edge sealant that protects against moisture absorption. Some laminate flooring manufacturers even offer a lifetime wall-to-wall warranty against wear-through, stains, fading and water damage from everyday spills and damp mopping.


It turned out that laminate flooring was just what this homeowner was looking for, and he chose the Pergo Select brand of flooring in a “Smoked Oak” style. Here’s how we installed it.

To cut the door jambs to allow clearance for the floor, we used a Rotozip equipped with a flush-cutting attachment.

Stick with a Plan

Your first step is to lay out a floor plan. Sketch the room on paper and mark the dimensions. Calculate the square footage you’ll need, and then order extra to account for unusable cut planks, as well as providing some extra material if damaged planks need to be replaced in the future. Also make note of the different transitions in the room where the laminate will meet other types of flooring or exterior doors. The home store where you purchase the flooring will usually have transition moldings for these areas.


Once the flooring is on site, allow the unopened cartons of planks to remain in the room where they are to be installed at least 48 hours prior to installation. This allows the flooring to shrink or swell slightly, according to the climate of its new home.

After prepping the floor, we installed the foam underlayment. If installing over concrete, a moisture barrier would be required between the subfloor and underlayment.

Laminate can be installed over most flooring surfaces, but always remove carpeting and remove any wood flooring that is installed over concrete. In this case, we dealt with carpet removal, which meant pulling up about 10 billion staples that held down the pad—no fun at all.


Next, make sure the subfloor is clean, dry and level. We got off easy, because this floor was going in the second-story entertainment room, which had a nice, flat plywood subfloor. The laminate planks must fit together correctly to ensure an even finished surface and a seamless appearance, so a flat subfloor is critical. Check for level with an 8-foot straightedge laid across the subfloor. Most manufacturers recommend no more than a 3/16-inch difference in height between any two points in a circle with a 20-foot diameter. If the floor isn’t this level, you’ll need to fill low spots or grind down high spots before installing the flooring. Building paper can be used to fill low spots less than 1/4-inch deep, but you’ll need a Portland cement-based leveling compound to fill deeper depressions.

Cut the registers out of the underlayment so nobody accidentally steps into the concealed hole.

Damp floors present another problem for installation. In the project shown, we installed above a finished basement, so we had no moisture problems to worry about. This might not be the case with a concrete slab, so make sure the subsurface is dry. Check the moisture content of concrete floors by taping the edges of a 2-foot polyethylene square over the concrete. After 24 hours, if no signs of moisture buildup or discoloration appear beneath the plastic, the floor is probably dry enough. Otherwise, seal it.


Also, remove any existing base trim along the walls. Because the flooring will expand and contract due to changes in humidity, the planks aren’t installed tightly against the walls of any room. You’ll need to leave a 1/4-inch gap against the wall around the edges of the flooring to allow for the expansion. The spacing must be maintained at every wall in the room. Once the flooring is completely installed, base moulding and/or quarter-round can be reinstalled over the edges to conceal the gap. We used Pergo’s Installation Spacers lined against the wall to ensure consistent spacing. You can also use wood strips.

We placed a “dry run” of loose planks to make sure we didn’t have final planks that were too small at the opposite wall.

Next step: Undercut the doorjambs and casing to allow room for the thickness of the new flooring. A pull saw works for this job, enabling you to get close to the floor to make the cuts. You can also rent an electric jamb saw. For this project we used a RotoZip equipped with its new flush-cutting attachment, which worked like a charm. Determine the required depth of undercut by stacking a scrap of flooring on top of a piece of foam-cushion underlayment and using it as a saw guide, representing a small, workable sample of the final installed floor. Leave an additional 1/4-inch of space concealed beneath the doorframe to allow expansion.