Hello again to all the handy people of the universe! In this post I’m going to try to share with you my entire 20-year experience in flooring industry, which includes 9 years of being an independent professional installer, laying laminate floors, hardwood and tile for 50-60 hours/week for the largest flooring store in town, and 5 years of building and running my own full service flooring store I called Quality Floors 4 Less, which I ended up selling to friends and it is still alive and kicking today!
I am a General Contractor specializing in Remodels, and also an engineer by education, with both my parents being engineers their whole lives and my dad being a Chief Engineer, supervising like 30 other engineers in a factory so huge, it has roads and streets, and people ride electric carts and bikes to get places. During my summer school breaks my dad would take me around that Mega Factory quite often. I loved it! As a young boy I was SO impressed by how so many little tiny parts and details, would make up something of such complexity and magnitude, all orchestrated to work perfectly together and mostly without any issues. From the early childhood I saw very well what humans can achieve when they put their minds together. My dad is still at it, retired but working in a private company full-time. Although my mom and dad have their hands full with 5 granddaughters now, still both manage to stay active in a country house we spend summers at, which they’ve co-engineered and we’ve all built “together” when I was a teenager. A summer house where home improvement never stops and where custom-made stuff is seen on every square foot of that entire property.
So, naturally, I can say with much confidence, that I know more about flooring than the people who make it, people who sell it and people who install it, because I’ve been on all 3 sides of a coin. 🙂
So, first, I’m gonna tell you what you should know about flooring and laminate floors in particular.
And then I’m gonna show you how You Do It!
Let me begin by briefly mentioning wall-to-wall carpeting, because if you’re in the process of replacing floors throughout your home, you should definitely be aware of all the risks and dangers that it comes with. About 7 years ago, while building a website for Quality Floors 4 Less, I’ve put an article together that dived deep into the “polluted waters” of synthetic carpets and rugs, I called “What’s in Your Carpet?” Originally, it was much longer and had over a dozen links to well-respected sources like EPA, Huffington Post, Telegraph and an American Lung Association, which all pointed to the latest research and discoveries that prove beyond any doubt, to me at least,- carpeting is the unhealthiest flooring option around, especially for children that crawl on it and put everything in their mouths. Do yourself and your loved ones a Big favor- simply do a Google Search like this one, and I promise you: you’d never-ever want to even think about going with synthetic flooring ever again. Ever!
I knew very well about all the dangers of synthetic flooring when I first opened my store in April of 2010, and so I decided to carry only Solid Surfaces: laminate, hardwood, linoleum and tile. Hey, I don’t have any carpet in my home for many solid reasons, so why would I sell something that I’m pretty sure causes health issues?! I have laminate and linoleum tile throughout the house.
So laminate floors have come a long, long way to get to where they are today. I remember the very first attempts of a Swedish company when they first introduced “Pergo” floors to U.S. at the turn of the Century. It was not so easy to install and it would separate easily. It looked fake from a mile away, it sounded like you were walking on high heels wearing sneakers, it would scratch, dent, absorb liquids in the seams and chip if something was dropped on them. It became popular very fast but we all just hated it. The only great thing about it was that it made an ordinary house look and feel clean & appealing.
That was then, but today there are hundreds of brands that make Laminate floors. Some still use old, outdated technology and machinery, making thin, weak, fake-looking products. Some are at the Cutting Edge of Technology in every aspect of manufacturing: Core, Lock, Thickness, Density, Texture, Print and Protective Wear Layers. And now even seams being wax-coated to repel liquids. Laminate floors of today can and do fool most people, most of the time, and they do transform an average house into a fresh and inviting home without breaking the bank.
There are some disadvantages over hardwood floors:
-Since laminate flooring is a man-made imitation of real wood, it comes with repeating patterns which is basically same photographs repeating over and over again. Earlier products came with just 3-4 variations, so every 4th plank was identical to the 1st and so forth. Cheaper floors today tend to continue on the same path. Higher grade laminates now have more variations (8 or more) and they shift or flip the print, which results in even more variations.
-Laminate does sound a bit differently and it requires overlapping transitions (moldings) wherever it meets other floors such as carpet or tile. These transitions are not that badly looking if installed properly, and then in the last years they’ve improved and even introduced wide flush mount Stair Noses that look just great. If you’re doing a staircase, you should definitely watch this video where I show you how You Do It! How to Stairs Video Coming Up…
With hardwood that gets attached to the Sub-floor, most times moldings are not needed and a seamless transition can be achieved. So if you don’t mind some T-moldings and End-caps that you might need to replace every 10 years or so (if you’re careful enough they might just last forever), let’s move on to the structural engineering.
Density or Hardness of laminate floors worldwide is identified with AC-rating, where the larger the number, the harder it is. AC-1 & -2 is MDF, just like the one they make baseboard and trim from lately. AC-3 & up is HDF- high density fiberboard, which is a fancy name for recycled paper and cardboard shredded into a gazillion of little tiny fibers, then pressed together to a density that is much harder than any domestic hardwood species like Hickory. Laminate flooring basically is extremely thick paper with a nice picture and aluminum oxide finish on it, which is good in many aspects…
Advantages of laminate over real wood:
-Cost effective: 2-5 times less expensive
-Has no weak spots like knots and grain- won’t split, twist or crack
-100% Recycled material- no new trees need to be cut down
-Some are now water-resistant (waxed edges) so they can tolerate some minor spills, if they are installed in areas with high chances of liquids being present, such as kitchen, laundry and bathroom. I still recommend you use area rugs or runners in higher traffic areas like entryways and hallways, and places where water or liquids are spilled often, like sinks, cooking areas, tubs and showers.
-DIY-friendly. Basic tools and skills needed.
Hardwood requires specialty tools, Apprentice level skills and knowledge of the trade. And there’s plenty to know.
Laminate floor is about 4 times faster to install than wood, and for a non-professional installer it could be up to 10 times, easily. You know how many of my DIY customers tried to lay hardwood on their own, then quit after messing up a bunch of boxes and moving nowhere for days, only to come back to schedule my crew to do and redo the job properly, while ordering more flooring because some of it was messed up or put in incorrectly?!
My advice to you- don’t try to lay hardwood if you’ve never done it! it is very easy to mess up and void the warranty. Think about it again. I will make a video as soon as I’m able to take on a hardwood project, I promise!
Early laminates and their cheap descendants utilize a medium density fiberboard core (MDF), while modern technologically advanced brands make the core with high density fiberboard (HDF), which means toughness, durability and longevity. Cheaper floors are usually thinner: 6, 7, 8mm (~¼”) and higher quality ones are 10, 12, 14mm (~½”) thick. Don’t be fooled, though!, lately some sneaky manufacturers have been calling their 8mm thin laminate with attached pad, a 10 mm product…
Which brings me to Pad or Underlayment- laminate flooring with attached pad is a decent option for upper stories; On a ground level or below, however, you must protect your floors from the moisture rising from down below with underlayment that comes in rolls approximately 3-4 feet wide, and tape the seams too! By choosing a higher grade underlayment you can quiet your floors down substantially and offer more thermal insulation, which will make your floors feel warmer and bring your power bills down a notch.
High quality modern laminate floors don’t care about the humidity as much as their cheaper counterparts or real hardwoods do. But still, they should not be allowed to go to the extremes like too dry (below 20% relative humidity) or too moist (over 80% RH) inside the house. So do ask for a copy of a warranty and check. If you live in such extreme weather conditions, you would need a humidifier or a dehumidifier, or you should consider other options like porcelain tile, for instance, or Linoleum (not Vinyl- it is PVC, which is suspected to cause reproductive harm, especially in young men and children).
Expansion Gap of ¼” must be allowed against ALL vertical surfaces like walls, cabinets, fireplaces, etc., or other floors. This is true for hardwood flooring as well.
All 4 edges or seams of every plank in good quality floors are protected by beveled, shaved, tapered or rolled edging, which sinks the seam below the foot traffic just enough to keep it from receiving constant wear and tear. In 2014 or so, for a first time we saw a locking system treated with liquid-repelling wax, which solved the problem of water damage in the seams, which always resulted in bubbles and warping in the past.
Smooth and Shiny floors seem to be a thing of a last Century, finally, with most people choosing textured, distressed and “hand-scraped” surfaces lately, and for a number of very good and compelling reasons. Smooth + Shiny = Perfect… Unless no-one lives in the house, or you’ve mastered hovering, it is impossible to maintain floors in perfect condition even for just 1 week! You’d see every little tiny scratch, dent, chip, spot, streak and what not, and you’d regret the moment you bought it. You’d have to spend your “best years” crawling on all 4, cleaning, buffing and doing stain touch-ups that will stand out from the rest of your perfect flooring, and your friends wouldn’t come over anymore cause you’d make them take their shoes off and say every time you open your door don’t f***kup my floor, instead of “Hello!” Smooth and Shiny is Misery! You’ve been warned. 🙂 I advise to choose as much texture as you can tolerate, or what fits with the rest of the decor or your style nicely.
Light vs Dark. Unless you’re working on a man-cave, or doing bedrooms or a home theater, you should definitely consider Lighter floors because the Dark ones absorb all the Light and make any room or an area appear smaller. There is a reason why Builders paint everything in bright, white-like colors- it just makes a house appear larger.
Don’t try to match your floors to the cabinets, please! It would look like your flooring is climbing up the hills. Consider avoiding doing different colors in all the different areas- you would waste much more material that way, you’d have to have a bunch of T-moldings separating all of them, and it would look like a nervous breakdown at the end.
Unless you have stained wooden doors and casings, don’t match your “floor-board” to the floor by going with stain grade solid wood baseboards- costly and looks odd: “painted doors and wood going up the walls” combination is not very attractive at all.
Do remove existing baseboards and put them back over your new floors if they’re in decent shape or can be repaired, otherwise consider the new ones! I just can’t understand people investing tens of thousands of dollars, sometimes, to get new beautiful floors and then running Homedepot-style quarter-rounds all over the place (if you like it that way, it’s fine!), or put those ugly-old-ass beat-up bases back, to save hundreds… Unless you can make them look good and fresh again, don’t hesitate to get rid of them now, while you can easily, before painting and putting all your stuff back into the room.
Search around your town and you might find a local place like the Mastercraft we have in Reno Nevada, that sells base and trim for half the price of home improvement chains.
You can paint your wall-base before installing it, but you’d need to fill nail holes and touch up after you do, though. So instead, I prefer to paint them after putting them on, filling and sanding… Yes, I’d burn dollars on masking tape, but the end result is pitch-perfect, because you can see the touched-up areas, hundreds of them, when the light hits them at a “wrong” angle. When you paint the whole thing at once, it looks SO much better and professional. Fresh Water-based paint splashes can be easily removed with just a damp cloth so don’t sweat! I have a post about this!
Finish or Protective Coating. Modern, Hi-Tech, quality laminate and hardwood floors are coated with 7-9 layers of protective finish, based on aluminum/silver oxide, that go through a process of instant cure between the coats under UV exposure, which makes them both highly resistant to wear and scratching. It does not mean, however, that you can abuse them. Sand that is allowed to accumulate on your floors acts as a sandpaper and reduces longevity of the Finish exponentially! Furniture that is very heavy or is intended to be moved around, like chairs, stools, couches, etc., should be cushioned before use with peel-and-stick pads that come in a multitude of different sizes and shapes, and can be found at any home improvement related store. Heavy things like fridges should not be dragged or rolled mindlessly; exercise simple measures of care and your new laminate or wood floors might last for a lifetime. Some brands now have 50-year and even Lifetime Warranties.
Cleaning. Vacuum first on a hard surface setting or with a solid surface vacuum (better), to remove dust and sand. Mist laminate or hardwood floor cleaner with a spray bottle, then Swiffer-mop it before it dries. No steam cleaning required and should never be done, by the way. If you prefer to use water and vinegar like in the old days, just make sure you’re using purified water, because tap water contains chemicals and minerals that stay behind on the floor surface in a form of haze or foggy appearance, just like the very well-known buildup on glass shower doors. Hard water build-ups are practically impossible to remove without harming the finish of your brand-new, beautiful floor.
Acclimation. All laminate and wood floors must acclimate to the conditions of the house they will be installed in, to prevent an “Instant Shock” that is caused by rapid or quick exposure to different climate conditions: temperature and humidity. Instant Shock leads to warping, twisting, bowing and cracking. Laminate flooring must acclimate for a minimum of 48 hours prior to installation. The larger the total continuous area is, the more time is needed. Hardwood must acclimate for 10-30 days, depending on the footage and wood species, so if you decide to go with real wood, do ask whomever you’re getting it from and plan accordingly. Don’t mess with the thermostat- floors don’t care if you’re living in this house right now or not… bring the conditions to a normal operating setting at least 72 hours prior to delivery of your new flooring. Log-stack the boxes like in this picture here. Do not open the boxes and do not remove the plastic wrap- it should be perforated at the factory to allow for “breathing”. I have a Video about this!
Do not overstock in one spot- good laminate is as heavy as some hardwood, weighing 2-½ pounds/foot, so do make several piles in different areas and try not to exceed 500 square feet in one spot, and try to put them closer to the outside walls and not toward the middle of the room. Also try not to put too many boxes on your tile- it might crack.
Product sitting in the garage or in the shed is acclimating to the conditions of the garage or the shed… Is it being installed there? Yes? Ok, then! Some people put laminate in their RV’s… A friend who used to install for my company, even put it into his attic over the rafters so he can use all that dead space for storage and for the kids to play hide’n’seek. I’ll snap a pic sometimes.
So I think, I’ve got all the bases covered here pretty much, so let’s quit with all this chatter so I can show you how You Do It!
Tools you need: Table saw. Tapping block. Rubber Mallet. Pull Bar. 18ga Nail gun. Compressor. Hand stapler. Caulking gun. Utility knife.
Supplies you need: Laminate floors and Underlayment. Transitional Moldings. Nail Hole Filler. Caulking. Nails. Staples. Glue. Paint + supplies. Shipping/Packing Tape.
P.S. You can substitute table saw with jigsaw if you’re on the budget or doing just a small project. You can glue your baseboards and moldings with fast-setting glue, if you prefer, but nailing while pushing them all the way down, is the way to go. You can go completely old-school and use hand-bangers and a good ol hammer, too! You Do It!
This is a Tapping Block you need for this job. $30 at my local supply shop…
This is my favorite table saw and it is a cool $100 less than at homedepo!
This is my favorite pull bar and I paid 50 bucks for it at a local flooring supply store…
If you’ve found my site useful and beneficial… you can thank me by shopping for your new toys on Amazon.com via any of these links. It does not matter what you end up getting there… other brands, thongs or high heels… just kidding… Amazon pays me referral fees that will keep this site up and running, and improving. We all shop on Amazon… I’m just starting with this… ya’know, I could use some help over-here.
Check out my newest Project – Mobile & Online Flooring Store – FloorGO: Smarter Shopping for Floors.