Installing Laminate Flooring

Prefinished plank flooring is as easy to install as hardwood flooring and offers the same appearance. The “planks” consist of medium-density fiberboard (MDF) sandwiched between plastic laminate. The top laminate looks like random-grain wood, but its plastic composition makes it scratch- and stain-resistant. Precision-milled tongue-and-groove edges make precise installation a snap. The whole assembly is glued together at the edges and floats on a thin, closed-cell polyethylene foam pad.

1. Lay polyethylene. Make sure the subfloor is clean, dry, and level. If the subfloor is bare concrete or you suspect that it will become moist, spread a layer of 8-mil polyethylene, and temporarily hold it in place with weights.

2. Plan the last row. Show the layout for the room to a flooring dealer and plan the installation so the width of the last row will be at least 2 inches. You may need to rip-cut the first row to achieve this. Also check that the wall where you begin is parallel to the wall where you will end; if not, rip-cut planks at an angle on the wall that will be least visible.

3. Unroll and nail down foam. Unroll the first strip of foam in the direction the planks will run. Do not overlap the foam edges or adhere the foam to the floor. If you’re not starting against a wall or if the wall is uneven, nail a straightedge to the floor to align the first row.

4. Lay the first strip. Lay the first strip with 1/4 inch spacers between the grooved end and the wall; the tongue should face outward into the room. Fill end grooves with glue and tap the pieces together. Use a damp towel to wipe up any squeezed-out glue.

5. Fit planks with a pry bar. Cut the last piece in the first row, leaving a 1/4-inch space at the end. Use a pry bar to push the planks tightly together, then insert spacers and shims to keep them tight. Save the cutoff plank for use elsewhere.

6. Begin the second row. Cut the first plank of the second row 12 inches shorter; cut the grooved end. Fill all the grooves with glue and tap the pieces tightly together. In some systems you will assemble five or six rows of planks, then use special straps and hardware to hold the pieces tightly together until the glue has dried.

7. Tape foam strips together. After the first strip of padding is nearly covered, unroll the next strip, butt the edges (do not overlap), and tape them together. Continue gluing planks to the last row.

8. Undercut the door casings. Undercut door casings with an offset handsaw. Use a piece of scrap flooring as a depth gauge. Hold the blade of the saw flat on top of the scrap as you cut.

9. Cut around pipes. Cut planking with a coping saw to fit around pipes, making holes 1/4 inch larger than the pipes. The planks should not touch the pipes at any point.

10. Cut the last plank. Ripsaw the tongued edge of the last plank 1/4 inch narrower than the remaining gap. Glue its groove and pry the piece into place. Use spacers and shims to fit the piece snug against its neighbor until the glue has set.

11. Nail shoe moldings to wall. Once the glue has set, remove the spacers and nail the shoe molding to the wall. Drive nails into the wall, but not into the floor, so the floor can expand and contract with changes in humidity. Wash the floor with clean, warm water.

Laying a Parquet Floor

Parquet wood flooring, sometimes called woodblock flooring, comes in a variety of materials and stains. A parquet floor has a rich look because it is composed of thousands of little pieces. Yet parquet is easy to install. You don’t have to use nails; simply set the pieces in adhesive. The subfloor should be sound and free of large bumps or dips, but it does not have to be very smooth. You can install parquet over most existing types of flooring, as long as they are secured in place.

Purchase a high-quality adhesive made for parquet flooring. All purpose or flooring adhesive is not strong enough. On concrete it’s best to include a layer of polyethylene film, sleepers, and a subfloor before laying the tiles. Cut parquet tiles using a handsaw, circular saw, or saber saw. Because the pieces are small, avoid injury by clamping them to a work table rather than holding them by hand.

1. Plan the installation. Plan the installation to avoid having narrow slivers in visible areas. Snap chalk lines between the midpoints of the walls as shown; the lines should be square to each other. Measure from the lines to the walls to see what will happen at the borders. Most parquet tiles are exactly 12 inches square, so planning is easy. To be sure of your calculations, set tiles in dry-run rows on the floor. If the layout leads to slivers or awkward pieces at the perimeter, move one or both of the layout lines over approximately 2 inches, and check again.

2. Lay the parquet tiles. Check again that the layout lines are square to each other. Get off to a square start by tacking down a pair of 1x2s along the chalk lines. Tongue-and-groove edges keep the later courses true. Use a notched trowel (of a style recommended by the flooring manufacturer) to spread adhesive over the floor. The adhesive sets up quickly, so apply small sections at a time. Press each tile carefully into the adhesive, then slide it into its neighbor. Join tiles together with tongues and grooves. Undercut casing molding when you encounter it; cut tiles to go around other obstructions.

Choosing Wood Flooring

Wood flooring comes in strips or planks. Hardwood strip flooring, by far the most common, typically measures 2 1/4 inches wide and 3/4 inch thick; some maple flooring is 1 1/2 inches wide. Strips have tongues and grooves that fit together tightly. Oak is the most common type of hardwood strip flooring. “Select” which has no knots and is consistent in color, is the most expensive grade. Less-expensive “No. 1 common” has small knots, and the pieces vary in color. Maple, cherry, rainforest woods (sometimes called “cherry”), and fir are also used for making tongue-and-groove flooring.

Nowadays tongue-and-groove strip flooring is usually laid on plywood that has been covered with roofing felt to minimize squeaks. Strips can be installed directly over existing strip flooring only if the new flooring does not run in the same direction as the old. The strips are installed using a special flooring nailer that ties them tightly together while anchoring them to the subfloor. Once installed the floor must be sanded with three passes using a special floor sander. Then the floor may or may not be stained. Finally two or three coats of finish—usually polyurethane—must be applied. The entire process takes a week or more, but produces a floor that is very smooth and durable. If the floor is badly scratched, it can be resanded and refinished as many as three times.

Another option is prefinished tongue-and-groove strip flooring, which is usually a plywood product with a top layer of finished hardwood. The flooring itself costs more, but this option saves in other materials costs, as well as labor, because it needs no sanding or finishing. However a prefinished floor is not completely smooth; there are slight level differences from one board to the next. Additionally, if scratched, the surface layer of veneer can be sanded only once. Flooring grades vary depending on the kind of wood. Clear typically is the best, followed by select, No. 1 common, No. 2 common, and 1 1/2-foot shorts, which are the remnants from the other grades. Before you lay flooring, it is important to let the wood acclimate to the moisture conditions in your house. Have it delivered at least 72 hours in advance, and spread it out in the room where it is to be laid.

Using a power nailer. Most wood flooring interlocks with tongues and grooves. Fasteners are driven at a 50-degree angle through the tongue. A power nailer—available from flooring or rental stores—speeds the job and saves your back. It drives long staples, which are loaded in clips. Using a heavy hammer, you simply hit the piston drive mechanism to set each nail. The hammer usually has two heads—one for hitting the nailer, and one for tapping boards tightly against each other. Newer nailers are connected to an air compressor by a long hose.

Softwood Flooring - Softwood plank flooring is wider than hardwood planks - 3 to 8 inches versus 1 1/2 to 2 1/4 inches—and often is installed in combinations of different widths. Pine and fir are the most common species used. Typically the planks do not have tongues and grooves. The resulting floor is not as smooth as a tongue-and-groove hardwood floor, but many people prefer its casual charm. Planks are face-nailed. Nail heads may be left exposed for a rustic look or covered with wood putty or wood plugs.

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