Friday, May 4, 2012

Installing a Laminate Floor - Part II: Installing the Floor

If you haven't read Part I: Demolition & Underlay yet, click here.

Now that the underlay is in place, you are ready to start laying the floor. Start by laying out the first row along one wall, and the row that will run lengthwise down the centre of the room. You'll take these rows up again, but for now the point is to make sure that the centre row looks straight (your room may not be square, especially if you have an older house like we do), and to check that you won't end up with a row that is too narrow along either of the side walls. As far as the latter point goes, you have two options. You can either start your flooring in the left hand corner (advantage: you only have to make lenthwise cuts to your flooring along one wall), or you can start it in the centre and make the space between the last row on each side and the side walls equal (this means you will probably have to cut the boards along both side walls - probably not worth the effort unless you would otherwise end up with a very thin strip along one side). 

As you can see here, we decided to start the flooring in the left corner.

Not sure which direction to lay your flooring in? For us, it came down to wanting your new floor to run the same direction of the existing hardwood on the second floor. For you it might be helpful to know that usually floors are laid lengthwise parallel to the longest wall of the room, or they are laid perpendicular to the window.

Now for the things that I'm glad I knew before I started, and the things that I wish I had known before I started. My Aunt Lori, an accomplished DIYer who has laid more than her fair share of floors recommended a few things, and I will pass along her advice. 

First, the floor manufacturer will recommend leaving a space for expansion between your new floor and any fixed object (i.e. wall, pipe, etc) of 1/4" to 3/8" (0.5 to 1cm), you should really leave a smaller space. That space should be equal to half of the depth of your baseboards. Planning to leave a smaller space will also leave more room for error when you make your cuts. I found that used (or unused) paint stir sticks and the metre stick that I had on hand were about the right depth, and they were easy to lie on their sides between the floor and the wall.

Second, Lori recommended that although we have a (very old, second hand, straight from the '50s) circular saw, we should invest in a mitre saw (aka chop saw) for this project. We decided that it was worth it for $130, since it would make this job much easier, and would likely come in handy for future projects. In retrospect, we're glad that we got a compound mitre saw with the 10" blade (instead of 7"), but we wish we had invested the extra $50 to get a compound sliding mitre saw. With a saw with a 10" blade that doesn't slide you can cut up to 10" deep, and about 6" across. The sliding feature enables you to cut further across, which is useful if your floor boards are 12" across, like ours are. In the end, we made one cut from each side and finished off the middle with a hand saw, which worked out fine.

Our new mitre saw, and James finishing a board with the hand saw.

Third, get a pull bar. This is a tool that you hook around the end of the last board in a row, so that you can hammer it into place. Ours came in a kit that also included 20 or so spacers (that you can use instead of those paint stir sticks I mentioned above), and a tapping block (to put against the other boards and hammer on when you're trying to get them into place--or you could just use a sanding block or other small block of leftover wood, which you surely have, right?).

Pull bar (red) in action!

Fourth, although the instructions that come with your flooring will tell you that your can fit the long side of each board into the one beside it, and then just slide it into place so that the short side meets nicely with the one next to it, this is not true. They only say this because they don't want to be responsible for any damage that you do to the boards when you're hammering on them to get them into place. 

Fortunately, I am not afraid that you're going to sue me, so I'm going to tell it like it is. You have two options. You can link a whole row of boards together, end to end, and then attach them to the previous row all at once. This is quick and a bit tricky, but not difficult especially with two people, unfortunately it is not effective for rows longer than 3 or maybe 4 boards. If you're working on a longer row, you can put the first 3 or 4 boards in place this way, and it will save you a lot of time over installing them all using option 2.

The first few rows were short, so we were able to lay them even without a 
pull bar or tapping block (which we didn't know we needed), using option 1.

Once you've put the first 3 or 4 boards in the new row in place using the above method, you will have to use your handy tapping block to get each subsequent board in place. Attach the long side to the previous row first, then hold your block on a diagonal against the end of the new board, and hit it with your hammer. If you have a friend helping you (recommended!), one of you can hammer, and the other one can monitor the gap between the new board and the row that you're adding to to make sure that you stop once the gap is closed. 

If you've read this far, you've earned a cute puppy picture!

If it seems like your hammering isn't doing anything, take the new board off and check to see if there's anything (like a little piece of the tongue or groove that has broken off) between the two boards that you're trying to attach that is preventing them from meeting completely. Usually you will find that there is. Remove the debris and try again.

With a little patience, a combination of these two methods should work pretty effectively.

Always lay out the whole row before you start fitting the boards together. If one end of your row is a very small piece, start with it instead of ending with it, because that way you can avoid using the pull bar on any piece that won't be hidden by the baseboards (it can leave a mark). 

If you read the instructions for your floor you probably know this already, but be sure to start with boards of different lengths, so that your floor doesn't end up looking like a checkerboard. You want the joins to be at different places, because this will make your floor more durable, and it will look better.

Next up, Part III - Finishing!

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