A plastic-laminate floor is installed using the floating floor method, meaning the planks aren’t fastened down with nails or glue. Instead, the tongue-and-groove planks are snapped together and then laid, or “floated,” over a thin rubber underlayment. This method is one of the quickest, easiest ways to install a new floor. It typically takes about 4 hours to install flooring in a 10 x 12–foot room. While installing plastic-laminate flooring is relatively straightforward, here are a few tips and tricks that can help you end up with a neat, professional-quality installation.
PRYING UP THE SHOE MOLDING
Carefully pry up the shoe molding using a thin pry bar. The shoe molding will cover the 3/8-inch-wide expansion gap between the plastic-laminate planks and baseboard. And when nailing the shoe back into place, be sure to fix it to the baseboard, not the flooring.
UNDERCUTTING THE CASING
Begin with laying a piece of rubber underlayment in front of the casing and then set a scrap piece of plastic-laminate flooring on top.
Next, with a reciprocating saw, handsaw, or oscillating multitool cut flush across the top of the flooring scrap and through the casing. Repeat to trim the remaining cases and side jambs. Then clean all the dust and debris.
PREPARING THE SUBFLOOR
Tap down any nail heads that may be protruding from the surface to prepare the subfloor. Then slowly walk around the entire room while listening for any squeaks. If you find any, drive a 2-inch drywall screw through the subfloor at each tough spot.
ROLLING THE UNDERLAYMENT
Roll out the underlayment from wall to wall, and trim it to length with a utility knife. A 4-foot-long drywall T square makes it easy to cut straight and square. Roll out and cut the next size, then butt it against the first piece of underlayment. Avoid overlapping the edges.
RIPPING THE FIRST ROW
It is necessary to calculate the width of the flooring planks in the very first and very last rows for a couple of reasons: First, the floor will look much better with its more balanced features when the first and last rows are approximately the same width. And more importantly, neither row must be less than half the width of one full plank.
USING A TAPPING BLOCK
Firstly, you can make your tapping block from a scrap piece of hardwood. However, you’ll get better results from a tapping block made specifically for your flooring, which will be available from the flooring manufacturers. These blocks are usually made from phenolic resin or some other rigid plastic. Also, use the tapping block when striking the ends of the planks to close up the end-butt joints.
CHOPPING THE PLANKS
Technically, you can use virtually any carpentry tool, which also includes a miter saw, circular saw, jigsaw, or even a handsaw, to crosscut plastic-laminate planks to length. However, sawing through the planks creates a lot of super-fine dust because the core of the flooring is made from medium-density fiberboard (MDF). So forego the saws and rent a manual laminate-flooring cutter, which resembles a giant, guillotine-style paper cutter. Its long handle provides the necessary leverage to quickly and quietly slice through the planks without creating much dust.
DROPPING IN THE LAST ROW
The easiest way to install the last row of flooring is to snap together all the planks end-to-end. Then, tilt the entire row into place against the next-to-last row. Align the tongue-and-groove joint, and press down on the last row. If necessary, slip a pry bar between the previous row and baseboard to force the joint closed.