How to install snap-together wood or laminate flooring

Floating floors require no nails and are suitable for concrete or wood subfloors. They're also the easiest type of floor to install.

Buying and Planning
Prepare the floor
Snap the flooring together
Finishing up

Buying and Planning

There are two basic type of floating floors, both available in a wide range of stains and finishes and both of which can be installed over concrete slabs or wood subfloors.  "Laminated" wood floors consist of wood layers, much like plywood, with a prefinished layer of wood on the top, and can be sanded 0 to 4 times, depending on the type.  “Laminate” floors are usually made from dense fiberboard with a tough plastic top layer.  Both types have precise tongues and grooves for tight-fitting joints that lock together, and once assembled the entire floor floats in one large sheet.  Prices are less (for laminate) or comparable (for laminated wood) to solid wood floors, but installation is easier and no finishing is required.
Floating floors are so easy to install you can complete an average-size room in a weekend. The joints just snap together without any nailing, and the only tools you need are a miter saw, a jig saw and basic hand tools. In this article, we’ll show you how to prepare your room and lay the snap-together flooring. The flooring we’re using is similar to snap-together laminate floors except that it has a surface layer of real wood. The 5/16-in. thick flooring has specially shaped tongues and grooves that interlock to form a strong tight joint without glue or nails.
  Before you go shopping, draw a sketch of your room with dimensions, making note of transitions to other types of flooring and features like stair landings and exterior doors.  Matching transition moldings are sold for these areas.  Calculate the square footage you need for the floor, then add 10% for waste.
You'll also need an installation kit with plastic shims, a tapping block and a last-board puller.  You may also need a pull saw to undercut doorjambs and casing - it’s difficult to get close enough to the floor with a standard handsaw.  In addition to a miter saw and jig saw, a circular saw or table saw is handy for long rip cuts.

Prepare the floor

Don’t lay this type of floor over damp concrete or a damp crawlspace. Test for excess moisture in concrete floors by sealing the edges of a 3-ft. square of plastic sheeting to the floor with duct tape. Wait 24 hours before you peel back the plastic to check for moisture. Water droplets on the plastic or darkened concrete indicate a possible problem with excess moisture. Ask your flooring supplier for advice before installing a wood floor.
Even though some manufacturers allow it, professional installers we spoke to advised against installing floating floors in kitchens, full or three-quarter baths, or entryways, all areas where they might be subjected to standing water.
 Make sure the existing floor is smooth and flat before installing a floating floor. Clear the old floor, then smooth it by scraping off lumps and sweeping it. If you have wood floors, now’s the time to fix squeaks and tighten loose boards by screwing them to the joists with deck screws. Check the floor with an 8-ft. straightedge and mark high spots and depressions. Sand or grind down ridges and fill low spots. Mark the perimeter of the spots with a pencil. Fill depressions less than 1/4 in. deep with layers of building paper. Fill deeper depressions with a hardening-type floor filler available from flooring stores. Most manufacturers recommend no more than 1/8-in. variation in flatness over an 8-ft. length.
Allowing the floor to expand and contract freely is critical. Leave at least a 3/8-in. expansion space along the edges. You can hide the gap under the baseboards or leave the baseboards in place and cover the gap with shoe molding or quarter round. Cover the expansion space at openings or transitions to other types of flooring with special transition moldings.

Finally, saw off the bottoms of doorjambs and trim to allow for the flooring to slide underneath. Leaving an expansion gap at exterior doors presents a unique challenge. In older houses, you could carefully remove the threshold and notch it to allow the flooring to slide underneath. For most newer exterior doors,  you can butt a square-nosed transition piece against the threshold. 
Floating floors must be installed over a thin cushioning pad called underlayment. Underlayment is usually sold in rolls and costs 25¢ to 50¢ per sq. ft. Ask your flooring dealer to suggest the best one for your situation. Some types combine a vapor barrier and padding. Install this type over concrete or other floors where moisture might be a problem. Others reduce sound transmission.
Unroll the underlayment and lap it up the baseboards or walls 2 in. Temporarily secure the edges with masking tape. Butt the sheets together and seal the seams with the tape recommended by the manufacturer. Take extra care when installing underlayment that includes a vapor barrier. Keep a roll of vapor barrier tape handy to patch accidental rips and tears as you install the floor. 

Snap the flooring together

 You may have to cut your first row of flooring narrower to make sure the last row is at least 2 in. wide. To figure this, measure across the room and divide by the width of the exposed face on the flooring. The number remaining is the width of the last row. If the remainder is less than 2", cut the first row narrower to make this last row wider.  Start the installation by laying out the first row to make sure you end up with a piece that's at least 12" long.  Then lay the flooring in place, locking the ends together by tapping them with a tapping block and hammer. Measure and cut the last piece to fit, allowing the 3/8-in. expansion space. Place shims at the sides and end.
 Start the second row with the leftover cutoff piece from the first row, making sure the end joints are offset at least 12 in. from the end joints in the first row.  Make sure each subsequent row is offset 12 in. from the one before it, but also at least several inches from the row before the adjoining piece.  To avoid ending  up with a short piece at the other end, lay out or measure out each row before cutting the first piece.  The fewer butt joints that line up with each other, the more the floor will look like real hardwood flooring. 
Depending on the type of flooring you bought, join the flooring pieces together either by tilting and snapping the planks into place or aligning and tapping them together with a hammer and tapping block.  Either way, the joint should draw tight, with no visible gap between pieces. 

 Leave a 1/4-in. space between the next full piece of flooring and the previous piece. Snap this piece into the first row. Snap a scrap of flooring across the ends being joined to hold them in alignment while you tap them together. Place the tapping block against the end of the floor piece and tap it with a hammer to close the gap.

Hook the last board puller over the end of the last board after it's locked in along the side, then tap the piece into place by hammering against the bent end of the puller.

You can’t use the same tilt-and-snap installation technique where the flooring fits under doorjambs (although you can with the tap-together type of flooring). Usually you have to slide the next piece of flooring under the jamb rather than tilt and snap it into place. To accomplish this, slice off the locking section of the tongue from the preceding row with a sharp utility knife before installing it, then glue that edge.

Finishing up

If the opening requires a transition molding, cut the flooring short to leave space for it.  Cut the transition piece to length and glue it in place.  Hold it in place with temporary weights until the glue sets.

 Complete the floor by cutting the last row to the correct width to fit against the wall. Make sure to leave the required expansion space. Trim off the protruding underlayment with a utility knife. Finally, reinstall the baseboards if you removed them, or install new quarter-round or shoe molding to cover the expansion space.  Nail the shoe molding into the baseboard, not the flooring. 

 Repair any chips, scratches or holes with special wood fillers made by the flooring manufacturer for their brand.  You can mix different colors to match the area of wood.  Apply the putty with a plastic knife to avoid scratches.

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