How to Install a Floating Laminate Floor

If you are looking for an easy project to spruce up the look of the inside of your home, you may want to consider installing a floating laminate floor in one or more rooms. This type of flooring is manufactured with a plastic laminate double sided facing over medium density fiberboard (MDF). This makes it much cheaper and much easier to install than other types of flooring because it can be laid on top of any existing floor or concrete slab. If you do not have any experience installing floors, I recommend you start with a floating method like the one described below.

Additionally, with this type of flooring, it requires no finish and virtually no maintenance. And because laminate floors are made with the same plastic laminate that counter tops are made from, you can choose from a larger selection of designs that includes simulated marble, tile and stone.

This type of flooring is referred to as floating because the material you will lay down is not attached to the subfloor or slab underneath. This is what makes it so much easier to install than other types of flooring. There are no nail guns, screws or adhesives needed to hold the floor in place. 

The flooring system uses tongue-in-groove edges that are glued or snapped together which when completed acts a single panel of flooring the entire length of the room.

Installation methods differ slight by manufacturer, but each offers a kit that includes all necessary instructions and tools needed, however, you will need to rent or buy items such as floor clamps from various retailers.

Before You Begin

Before you begin this flooring project, you will need some basic tools such as a tape measure, hammer, combination square, utility knife, nail set,  and a table or circular saw.

Additionally, you will need materials such as foam underlayment,packing tape, 6 mil plastic if laying over concrete, and laminate flooring with the installation kit.

Preparing the Subfloor

The following installation assumes you have removed existing flooring such as carpeting. If you have a linoleum floor, you can install over it, but it would be wise to pull it up and check the subfloor for bad areas, low spots or water damage.

Make sure the existing floor or subfloor is clean and relatively level. If there are any low spots, use a leveling compound and nail down any exposed nail heads with a nail set. If you locate any high spots, sand or scrape them down before beginning.

Note: If laying the flooring over a slab, place a 6 mil plastic moisture barrier over the concrete and overlap the seams.

Laying Out a Starter Course

Before beginning any row and gluing them together, you need to set up three rows without snapping them in place or applying glue just to see the pattern that will form. This is the pattern that will be repeated through the installation.

  • Arrange end pieces so all of the joints are staged at least 12 “ apart in these first 3 rows
  • After laying out all of the pieces in the first three rows, number masking tape and place it on the tops of each piece so you can reassemble them in the same way when you are applying glue
  • Once you have the first three rows setup and snapped together or glued, you simply repeat that pattern every three rows

Cut the End Panels

One of the reasons laminate flooring is so easy to install is because you can cut it with a regular saw, or a power tool or hand saw. Measure each piece and mark the cut right each piece using a combination square before cutting.Laminate FlooringCredit:

  • Subtract ¼” from the length of any piece that butts up against a wall to create a gap that will allow the flooring to expand with the seasons and humidity
  • When using a hand saw or table saw, cut each piece of the flooring face up
  • If you a circular saw, cut each piece face down

Foam Underlayment

Cut one piece of the foam that will go under the laminate flooring for the first three rows.  Lay down a second piece of foam only after the first strip is covered.

  • On concrete floors, tape the seams of the foam together with packing tape
  • On other types of subfloors, butt the strips of foam together without any overlap

Snap Together or Apply the Glue to Edges

If this is your first time laying a floor of any kind, you might want to go with the snap together floating floors. Not only do you not have to use glue, but if you make a mistake, you can simply unsnap the piece and start again. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions when installing snap flooring but it is a simple process of angling each tongue into the groove, then laying the piece flat.

If you are using glue, make sure you have a good bond at every seam. As you press two pieces of laminate together, a small amount of the glue should squeeze out at each joint.

  • Apply a bead of glue on the top of each tongue
  • Apply a bead of glue to the bottom edge of each groove
  • Lay panels in the first row so the groove is facing the wall
  • Maintain a consistent 1/4" gap around the perimeter of the flooring for expansion

Tighten Joints

Each installation kit will include a block designed to fit over the edge of the panels so you can tap the panels together. If you misplace this, a simple piece of a scrap 2x4 will suffice. The kit will also contain a device to tighten the short cross seams.

  • After gluing and assembling each panel, slide the block over the tongue edge and tap the block with a hammer
  • Tap until you see glue squeeze out of the groove
  • Go back and check the panels periodically because the joints may open slightly after installing additional panels in a row
  • At the end of each row, cut the piece to length, then use the tool that was supplied by the manufacturer to tighter the cross seams
Bessey SVH400XL SVH Flooring and Clamping System
Amazon Price: $41.29 $38.99 Buy Now
(price as of Sep 2, 2015)

Clamping the First 3 Rows

Laminate Flooring

You might need to rent a clamping tool if the manufacturer requires this step.

The seams between the first few rows are more likely to open up as you move across the floor installing other rows. So it might be necessary to clamp the first rows together to form a solid base to add additional rows.

  • Quickly to snap or apply glue to all of the panels in the first three rows
  • Butt the seams as you go along
  • Apply the floor clamps when you complete three rows
  • To prevent the clamps from lifting up the edges of the panel, place other boxes of flooring on top of the clamps to weight them down
  • Wipe away any of the glue that may have squeezed through as you tighten the panels
  • Allow to dry for a few hours with the clamps in place

If a gap appears anywhere along the edges as you progress, close it by tapping the edge of the board with a block and hammer. When you reach the final row, trim each board to fit the narrow gap leaving a 1/4" against the wall open for expansion. This gap will be covered when you add the molding back to the base of the wall.

QEP 10-35 Laminate Cutter
Amazon Price: $64.98 $56.61 Buy Now
(price as of Sep 2, 2015)

Working Around Obstacles and Apply the Molding

At some point you will encounter a doorway or something jutting out into the room and you will have to work around it by cutting pieces to fit the area.

  • Lay the panel to be cut up against the obstacle and mark it
  • Make cuts with a hand saw or your preferred power tool
  • When fitting the pieces into place, remember to allow ¼” for expansion against the wall
  • For door trim, cut it where it meets the floor and slide the piece of laminate under it

Base molding is needed to conceal the expansion gap against the wall. Do not press the molding hard against the floor.

  • Cut base molding to fit the area being careful to miter the corners correctly
  • Nail the molding in the sole plate

Final thoughts

Laminate flooring can be purchased at any home improvement or flooring specialty store. If this is your first time flooring anything, I suggest you go to the specialty store because they will have a better selection and better advice than one of the big box home improvement stores that cater to everything..

This project is relatively simple and can be done by anyone with moderate skills in 2 to 3 days, depending on the size of the room. It can provide a less expensive and faster way to get a new floor and because it is a DIY project, you can save money by choosing this material.

Bona Stone, Tile & Laminate Floor Care System, 4-Piece Set
Amazon Price: $29.99 $21.97 Buy Now
(price as of Sep 2, 2015)