NOTE: There is a lot of good information in here, but if you are impatient please at least read the Tips section below to save yourself a headache later.
So you have a new house or want to spruce up your hold house by putting some laminate wood flooring down? Well I’ve just gotten done with a fairly long house project of taking out all our carpet and replacing it with the laminate wood flooring and here are my tips for you, things to watch out for and where to buy it from.
What is Laminate Wood Flooring?
First things first, this flooring is made to look like wood flooring but it doesn’t match it perfectly (NOTE: In this picture we haven’t put the base-boards back on yet, so it looks a bit tacky, but you can see how it’s done):
So if you idea of a “wood floor” is a newly waxed, flawlessly cared for real wooden floor from back-east, you may not want to go this route. Instead you may want to look into real wood floor panels that has recently been modified to be sold with the tounge-and-groove style that laminate wood flooring made so popular… so you literally snap the pieces into each other. You can find this flooring at any hardware store or online at the links I give below.
Laminate wood flooring is more durable than the real wood counter parts, but it is fake. You purchase the flooring in boxes of planks; usually about 4-8 planks per box depending on the thickness of the flooring.
The floor itself is compressed saw dust mixed with glue and other elements the under high pressure formed into boards. The top and bottom are then “sealed” with a thin but durable hard layer. The top most layer is actually a series of layers of hard base, then a computer-printed image of a wood grain (yes, printed image) and then a hard clear coating on the top to “seal” the plank.
You might read the “printed image” part and think it’s a negative, but the flooring looks pretty darn real AND you can get it in any color, style, grain you could ever imagine. You could even pick up a texture that looked totally natural:
Now I’ve gotten down close to the flooring and tried to tell it was fake, looking for things like pixelation in the texture, but I can’t see it. It looks pretty nice.
Where can it be used?
Now, because of how the wood is made some of you may have thought “well shit, what happens when you get water on it?!”, well it swells up like any other wood and you want to get water off of it right away. If you want to lay this stuff in a bathroom, you CAN but you need to take extra precautions, like making sure the tounge-and-groove joints on the planks have a sealant in them, or that you use silicon caulk around the edge of the bathroom to keep moisture out from under the floor.
As a side note, I’m still not sure I would put this stuff in a bathroom… a wet bathmat sitting on it, weeks after weeks I think will give you a problem. I’d encourage you to just tile your bathrooms. Same goes for laundry rooms and kitchens.
Surprisingly enough this stuff is so durable I don’t have any qualms putting it in living rooms, hallways or play rooms even if you have big dogs. It holds up surprisingly well.
What do I need to know before buying it?
Anyway the trick to picking flooring is being able to make the following decisions:
- Style and Color, how the floor looks.
- Thickness, 8mm-12mm is the normal range, you can get thinner and thicker
- Warranty/Durability, what will this floor be used for?
- Budget, the cost of flooring can vary wildly
- Tile? You should at least consider if tiling is a better option for you
- Can you cut/compute/lay the wood yourself or are you hiring someone? This can effect the cost drastically as well.
I’ll let you figure out #1, #3 and #4 above, but here are some tips for the rest:
- THICKNESS: Flooring can come in thickness anywhere from 6mm up to 14mm and thicker. The thinner the floor, the more you are going to feel the sub-floor (what the new floor is sitting on). So if you are putting flooring down on concrete, it’s going to be a pretty hard floor to put a 6mm panel with a thin pad on concrete. Also some have said that with a thicker floor, the floor tends to feel more like a wood floor. We opted for a 12mm floor and loved it. It’s comfortable and durable with a nice weight to it. Keep in mind that each box of 6 planks or so with this level of thickeness can weigh up to 35lbs or so and it also makes cutting the wood harder. The most popular thickness because of big-box stores selling this now, tends to be around 8mm.
- DURABILITY: If you are a single, quiet person that lives in an apartment by yourself, getting a cheap 8mm floor is going to suite you just fine. If you are part of a family of 10 with 8 dogs and a pony that lives in the house, you might consider some of the industrial flooring that can be 10, 12, 14 or 16mm thick but comes with thicker protective coatings and longer warranties on the material.
- COST: Typical cost for laminate wood flooring is $1.50-$2.00 / sqft. Some of the nicer laminate flooring can run as high as $5 or $6 / sqft, and if you decide to have someone from a big-box store lay it for you as part of the purchase, I’ve seen quotes as high as adding $2.50 / sqft. to the total cost… doubling your costs basically. If you can do this work yourself you’ll save a bundle, but it’s not a walk in the park.
- SHOULD YOU TILE: Since the cost of laminate is high enough, considering tiling an area might work better or be cheaper. I’d say “Yes” to tiling if the environment is a wet one, like a kitchen or bathroom. Also if durability is important because the floor is going to get beat on constantly (like a pet care facility) you might consider a different flooring that is easier to repair because repairing laminate is not that friendly of a process.
Is installing it hard?
Well it can be. If you have done wood-working before, are good at taking measurements, calculating lengths/widths and all that stuff you’ll have no problem. If you have never used a saw before and envision yourself snapping these things into place like a checker-board and not having a single problem, you are in for a big surprise.
Putting this flooring in IS actually a lot of work, there are 4 things (possibly 3) to be concerned with:
- Taking out the existing flooring in the room
- Preparing the “sub floor” and making sure it’s all level, clean and in good shape.
- OPTIONAL: Putting down the “pad” the floor will sit on.
- Measuring and cutting the planks then putting the floor in.
The reason #3 is OPTIONAL is because some flooring comes with the pad glued into the backs of the planks already and you don’t need to worry about it. This does normally increase the cost AND you don’t get to control how thick of a pad you have, which can make the floor a bit more comfortable especially if it’s sitting on concrete.
How does maintenance work with this stuff
Assuming you live a normal life, you’ll probably only ever vacuum and mop this floor with a damp towel (cannot use any cleaners) once a week or once a month. There really isn’t else much to do. The flooring is durable enough to hold up to heavy traffic fairly well. After years ours still looks great and we have friends with 3 dogs that still have their flooring looking great as well.
The problem is when you chip one of the panels either by dropping something heavy or damaging it in any way, you either have to live with the fault or you have to saw the effected panel out which is a complete pain in the ass. The way this flooring works is that every panel, on every side, hooks to every other panel. So your floor is effectively “floating” in the room. The weight of the floor and items on it keep it from moving anywhere, but you cannot just pop a panel out of the middle of the room out because of this. You actually have to get a radial saw, set it on a shallow setting, and cut the bad panel out. You can do this by cutting down it’s center, then across it a little bit and trying to chisel out the broken panel.
Then, the worst part, to get the “fixed” panel back in, you have to cut the edges off the outer edge of all the panel because you cannot lock it back into place, so what you need to do is place it down into the open spot and glue it there. As opposed to tile where you can simply chisel out the broken tile and re-grout it.
I will just come out and say that these floor are low-maintenance but are not fix-friendly. The hope is that you never have to repair it.
Where do I buy it?
Ok so you are ready to get started with laminate and want to know where to buy it right? I have one suggestion for you and I am not affiliated with this company in any way… we just had such a good buying experience with them that I have no qualms recommending them again. That company is FloorOne.com.
NOTE: FloorOne.com will send you samples of any flooring you want. I would highly encourage you to try out at least 2 to 4 samples before you narrow down your tasks to a specific style of flooring.
I would suggest going to Home Depot, Lowes or even Costco to get an idea of the style you like and how the wood feels, maybe even taking home some samples, but when you go to buy, I’d suggest getting a big break on price and shopping at FloorOne. We ended up buying 75 boxes (1200 sqft roughly) of Vectra 12mm flooring and the total was $2300 which included:
- Foam padding
- Moulding for the doorways where the floor transitions.
The same flooring from Lowes at the time was around $5k and with installation I’m sure would have been closer to $8k.
When you do get ready to buy a few things to remember are:
- Does your flooring have foam on the back of it? If so, then you don’t need the foam padding like we did.
- Don’t forget to get moulding or “T-strips” of the same-colored wood that goes between the flooring where it transitions in the door ways. You essentially lay two rooms of flooring up to each other in the doorway then leave a 1″ gap. You cover that gap with these strips of wood to hide the transition and it ends up looking nice.
- See the tips section below, but you may or may-not need the channel that these strips are suppose to click into.
- Be sure to order the installation kit if you don’t already have one. The tapping block is a must, the pull-bar is handy at times, but can really chip up the edges of the floor if you aren’t gentle.
- It can’t hurt to spend the $10 and add the instructional video to your order as well if you haven’t done this before.
After ordering everything from FloorOne.com it should get delivered shortly on a few palettes that are unloaded from the truck and placed in your driveway. You’ll need to get some friends to help you move the boxes into the house, or just push them into the garage, but either way you are ready for business.
This section contains my tips on installing the flooring that were learned from experience. Hopefully they will save you some time.
- IMPORTANT: Use paper towels to dampen the impact of the tapping block or pull-bar on the edges of your flooring while you are tapping it into place. So many times I’ve gotten overzealous with my tapping and ended up chipping the shit out of the side of one of the planks… this may not sound like a big deal, but if it’s in the middle of the floor OR a piece that was custom-cut and took a long time to do and a lot of measuring, you will want to kick yourself. For example, imaging chipping this piece, you gotta take that whole row out:
- IMPORTANT: You cannot just start laying planks in a room starting in the corner. You have to measure the room first and then calculate if you start laying the room with a full plank, what will the last row end up looking like? There are times when I won’t measure, and I’ll get to the other side of the room, to find out that my last row is actually only 1″ thick, which the flooring isn’t suppose to be cut to because it’s unstable that thin. It’s a total pain the ass to take a floor back up or to fix an entire row and move the floor over just because you didn’t measure ahead of time and ended up with a little strip of a row at the end.
- If your flooring is thicker than 10mm, you may not need the female channeling that you are suppose to secure to the ground, then push the T-strips down into. The reason for this is that the male part of the T-strip is not long enough to go into the female channel when it’s sitting between thick pieces of flooring. A tip I got from someone at Home Depot, was to simply use an entire canister of Liquid Nails and fill the entire gap with glue, then push the T-strip down into the gap. I did exactly that and it worked like a charm.
- Measure once, then measure again. I don’t know what the deal is working with this flooring, but I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve measured something, gone and cut it, then come back and laid the plank down and sat and looked on in amazement to see that my measurement was no where near being right. So to save yourself burning through flooring, be sure to measure.
- Take the baseboards off your walls when you put the flooring down. You have to leave a 1/4″ gap between the floor and the wall for it to expand, it looks ugly if you leave the baseboard and run the floor up to the base board then try and hide it later. Instead, take the baseboards off the wall, lay the floor, then cover the gap with the baseboards again… it looks a hell of a lot nicer.
- Don’t skimp on the flooring. Do your research and try and find a high quality and high durability wood with a long warranty. This stuff isn’t meant to be taken back out, so don’t go throwing the $0.80 / sqft. stuff down then need to fight with chips and deformation after a year.
- OPTIONAL: We found this very handy, but after you narrow down the floor you want using samples or choosing in-store, you may want to buy a box of the exact flooring, then bring it home and take it out of the box and hook all the planks together on the floor and walk by your patch of flooring for a few days to really get an idea of how it will look in different lights and if you like it. We did that with a few at one time, and the one we ended up liking, oddly enough, was the only patch of flooring our cats would lay on… strange.
So in closing, laminate wood flooring can be a good choice for you and your home. There are a lot of things to consider but I’ve tried to outline them all above.
If you found this article helpful please pass it along to anyone else that you think would enjoy it. If you have suggestions for anyone please leave a comment letting us know your own tips on laying flooring or your own experience with laminate wood flooring.
Take care and happy flooring!