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Installing Laminate And Engineered Flooring

MATERIALS: Engineered flooring and adhesive, or laminate flooring and foam underlayment

TOOLS: Tape measure, metric tape measure, chalk line and chalk, handsaw, circular saw, table saw, or saber saw, hammer, trowel (for engineered flooring), 1/4-inch spacers, taping block, pull bar (for laminate flooring)

Laminate and engineered floors have a top layer of flooring material that is bonded in the factory to a layer of plywood. On laminate floors, the top layer is a laminated-plastic-type material. On engineered floors, the top layer is solid wood. The resulting planks are wider than strip-wood floors and, thus, go down more quickly. They are also more stable, and unlike solid wood, can be installed directly over almost any subfloor, including concrete and concrete below grade. Installing over concrete, however, requires a plastic moisture barrier.

On a floating floor, the strips against the wall will need to be at least 2 inches wide if they’re going to stay put. (The width doesn’t matter on a glue-down installation because the glue holds materials in place.) To make sure the planks in a floating floor will be wide enough, measure the room carefully and divide by the width of a plank. Unless you enjoy dividing fractions by fractions, make the measurements with a metric tape. (You don’t have to understand metrics to do this: It just works.) If the remainder is less than 50 mm, the last plank will be less than 2 inches wide. If you need to trim the first plank, add the calculated width of the final planks to the width of a full plank. Divide by two and cut the first plank to this width. You’ll end up with equally sized planks on each side of the room. Once you have the answer, just lay out the cut using the metric tape.

LAMINATE FLOORS ARE FLOATING FLOORS which means they are neither glued nor nailed to the subfloor. They’re installed over a thin layer of foam cushioning and are held in place by the walls. Engineered floors are usually glued to the subfloor with a mastic, but they can also be nailed down, and in some cases can be installed as a floating floor.

ACCLIMATE THE FLOORING. Place the materials in the room you’re flooring two days before you install them. Set the thermostat on its normal setting for the time of year. Put the unopened boxes flat on the floor, or stack them three or four high, log cabin style. After 48 hours, they will have gradually come to the temperature and humidity of the room.

INSTEAD OF TRYING TO CUT FLOORING TO FIT AROUND DOOR MOLDINGS, installers cut away part of the jamb and slip the floor underneath. To do this, put a piece of flooring upside down next to the jamb; if it’s a laminate floor, set it on a piece of foam underlayment. If it’s engineered flooring, put it on the subfloor you’re installing, if any. Put an undercutting saw on the plank and cut at least Vi inch into the jamb. Pop out the waste with a screwdriver or chisel. Remove the quarter-round molding or shoe mold that’s nailed to the baseboard, if any.

Installing laminate flooring

1 INSTALL A 6 MIL PLASTIC MOISTURE BARRIER OVER CONCRETE. Overlap the seams as recommended by the manufacturer, then roll out the foam underlayment. Other subfloors need only foam underlayment. Some planks come with the underlayment already attached. If your planks do, you won’t need to put more down. Choose the wall you'll start flooring against and roll a single strip of underlayment along it. Roll additional underlayment as you install the planks.

2 TRIM THE PLANKS IN THE FIRST ROW TO WIDTH IF NECESSARY. If the last row will be less than 2 inches wide, you'll need to trim the first row to width to create a wider final row. Measure and calculate the width. If you need to trim the first row, add the calculated width of the final row to the width of a plank and divide by two. Cut the plank to this width. To minimize chipping on a table saw, cut the plank face up with a sharp carbide blade. To minimize chipping on a circular saw, run the saw along the bottom of the plank.

3 CUT THE FIRST PLANK IN THE SECOND ROW TO LENGTH. While you're at the saw, cut the first plank in the second row to the length called for by the manufacturer. Cutting the plank staggers the ends of neighboring boards and keeps them from aligning. Staggering creates a stronger and more attractive floor. In this case, the manufacturer recommends a plank 32 inches long for the first plank in the second row. Once you've made the cut, temporarily set the plank aside.

4 PUT DOWN THE FIRST PLANK. (If you didn't cut the tongue off the planks during earlier trimming, do so now.) It's easiest to assemble the first two rows when they're away from the wall. Start with a full-length plank, positioned with the groove facing into the room. Take the piece you cut to length earlier and put the tongue into the groove in the edge of the first plank.

5 SNAP THE PIECES TOGETHER. Different brands interlock differently, so follow the manufacturer's directions. For the brand shown here, lift one edge of the plank off the floor, and slide the tongue into the groove on the other plank. Press the plank flat to snap the pieces together.

6 PUT DOWN A THIRD PLANK. Snap the end of the third plank into the end of the first plank, as shown. Put down a fourth plank, snapping the end into the end of the plank two, and leaving a slight gap between it and plank three. To close the gap, kneel on plank one, reach over and lift the far edge of plank three slightly. Pull the plank toward you while pushing down along the groove of plank one. The planks will snap together. Put 1/4-inch spacers against the wall and slide the assembled planks against them.

7 CONTINUE LAYING THE FIRST TWO ROWS ACROSS THE LENGTH OF THE ROOM. When you get to the far wall, put a spacer against the wall and cut planks to fit in the opening. Put each plank in place, then snap it into the end groove as shown, using a hammer and a pull bar made by the flooring manufacturer.

8 SLIDE THE ASSEMBLED ROWS AGAINST SPACERS YOU'VE PUT ALONG THE STARTING WALL. If the gap between the wall and the planks is at any point wider than the molding that will cover it, you will have to trim the board to match the contour of the wall. Set a compass to the space of the largest gap, plus Vi inch. Guide the compass along the wall so that the marker makes a line on the planks.

9 UNSNAP THE PLANKS AND CUT ALONG THE SCRIBE LINE WITH ASABER SAW using a laminate blade that is designed to minimize chipping. Reassemble the rows, put spacers against the walls and slide the plank assembly against them. Begin assembling the next rows.

10 ONCE THE FIRST TWO ROWS ARE IN PUCE, BEGIN THE THIRD ROW. Cut a plank to length so that the end will fall at least 8 inches from the end of its neighbor in the second row. Put a spacer against the wall, put a plank against the spacer, and snap the plank into the edge of the second row. Work your way across the room, laying a single row. Snap the ends of the planks together first, and then join the sides.

11 IF A GAP APPEARS ANYWHERE ALONG THE EDGES, CLOSE IT BY TAPPING THE EDGE WITH A BLOCK AND HAMMER. When you reach the end of a row, cut the piece to fit and put it in place against a spacer as before. Work your way across the room, installing one row at a time. Unroll additional underlayment as needed. Butt underlayment seams, but don't overlap them. Continue across the width of the floor until the space is too narrow for a full plank.

12 TRIM THE FINAL ROW TO FIT. Start by assembling a row directly on top of the row just laid. Find a piece of scrap 6 to 10 inches long. If the manufacturer makes the flooring with a bottom lip wider than the top lip, break off the bottom lip. Hold the scrap against the wall, put a pen against the other edge, and pull it along the wall to mark the planks. As before, use a saber saw to trim the planks. Nail quarter-round molding to the baseboard to cover the gap.

Installing a glue-down engineered floor

1 NAIL DOWN A STRAIGHTEDGE AS A GUIDE. Snap a tine parallel to the wall—outside walls are usually the straightest and best to use. Add the width of several planks together plus the width of the recommended expansion gap between the flooring and wall. Snap a chalk line this distance from the wall. Nail a straight board on the wall side of the line to use as a guide.

2 SPREAD A ROW OF ADHESIVE ABOUT TWO PLANKS WIDE ALONG THE STRAIGHTEDGE, using the notched trowel recommended by the manufacturer. The size and spacing of the notches controls the amount of adhesive you put down. Make sure you're putting down the proper amount by pulling up a board every now and then; about 80 percent of the glue should stick to the back of the flooring.

3 PUT THE TONGUE SIDE OF THE FIRST PLANK AGAINST THE STRAIGHTEDGE, keeping the end away from the wall by the width of the expansion gap. Put the end of the next plank snugly against the end of the installed plank and push the two together. Work your way down the straightedge. Cut the last plank to length accounting for the expansion gap on this end when you make the cut.

4 BEGIN THE SECOND ROW WITH THE CUTOFF FROM THE FIRST ROW. (Offset the board from the end of the board in the first row as required by the manufacturer; cut a new board if necessary.) Work your way down the second row, putting the ends of the boards together, then sliding them into the planks of the first row. Cut the last board to fit, leaving the proper expansion gap.

5 SPREAD ADHESIVE AND WORK YOUR WAY ACROSS THE ROOM, one row at a time. Clean off excess glue with the recommended cleaner. Trim the first plank in each row as needed to create the proper offset. Always leave the required expansion gap between the ends of the planks and the wall. If a board won’t seat against its neighbor, place a piece of scrap against it and tap it into place with a hammer.

6 REMOVE THE STRAIGHTEDGE AND INSTALL THE LAST ROWS. Once the adhesive dries, remove the straightedge you nailed to the floor earlier. Spread adhesive in the remaining space, and lay flooring one row at a time. Measure and trim the last row as needed, leaving the proper size expansion gap.

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