How to Install Laminate Flooring in Four Easy Steps, Sort Of

This laminate flooring was on sale for $0.99 per square foot at Home Depot last month.

Before we moved in to our new rental house we had to tear out all of the carpets. They were at least 30 years old and showed it both in fashion and cleanliness. Most of the house was covered in a rust orange berber, while our bedroom featured a mint green shag. Decades of cigarette smoke added a bit of a smokey hue to both.

To our great fortune, most of the house had oak wood floors hiding beneath the carpet. We absolutely love hardwood floors, and these are some of the best of them. The bedroom, meanwhile, had a plywood subfloor that needed to be covered fast. The quick solution was to install laminate flooring. Hence this inspiration for this post:


Notice there's no vapor barrier...

STEP ONE: READ THE INSTRUCTIONS. So I forgot to do this before I left Home Depot with a pallet full of on-sale-now laminate flooring. What I would have learned had I read the instructions is that this brand required a vapor barrier. You’ll read more about that in step three…

STEP TWO: REMOVE THE EXISTING FLOOR COVERING. Removing the carpets was a cinch. Pulling out the nails and tack strips that held down the carpet padding, on the other hand, was a bitch. I worked a full day on my hands and knees with a pair of pliers and a pry bar pinching and yanking every protruding sharp metal object I could find. Every now and then we still come across a stray staple or tack.

STEP THREE: INSTALL FLOORING WITH VAPOR BARRIER. The name-brand Pergo flooring has a built in vapor barrier, which kicks into action when the flooring strips are clipped together. Unfortunately, I priced out Pergo to the tune of $850.

The imitation sale-priced material I purchased doesn’t feature a built-in vapor barrier, and required laying down a few rolls of plastic sheeting underneath during the installation process. I didn’t read this part of the instructions before making the 10 min. drive home from Home Depot and then leaving everything in the car for 3 hours while I ate lunch and sat on the couch for a siesta. So by the time I got to installing the flooring, I was in no mood to return to Home Depot.

This is California, I thought. It never rains in California, so who needs a vapor barrier?

We’ll see. (P.S. worst case the strips of flooring will expand from moisture and warp, twist, or bow. To prevent that, leave about a 1/2 inch of space between the flooring and the wall to allow for expansion. You can cover it later with baseboard trim.)

Cross cutting the laminate flooring.

STEP FOUR: CUT AND FIT LAMINATE FLOORING. The key to installing any type of flooring that comes in standard size units is to create a random pattern. You don’t want your floor looking like a checkerboard (unless you do) or a doctor’s office (I hope you don’t). WIth laminate flooring, this means cross cutting the end pieces at random lengths. I did that with a borrowed miter saw from my neighbor up the road.

Ninety-nine percent of the floor install moves along swiftly. I started from one end and made my way across the room. Once aligned, the pieces just click together with a nice tight seam.

Then comes the hard part; installing the final perimeter of the floor. You need a tablesaw to do this because it involves ripping the flooring into thinner strips, and fitting them around existing obstructions like door jambs. I still haven’t finished that part yet…

When to DIY vs. Hire a Professional

The Weekndr household is all about doing it ourselves. Whether it’s cooking a delicious recipe instead of going out to dinner, or installing our own landscaping rather than hiring a professional, we fully embrace self-reliant living. However, the DIY lifestyle is not for everyone.

The New York Times today published an article that ponders the question: should you do-it-yourself or hire a professional? According to the blunder-filled anecdotes collected by the reporter for the article, doing it yourself can lead to even more cost and heartache when a project goes bad. The examples ranged from botched hair colorings to leaky toilet installations.

We’ve had our fair share of DIY projects gone awry, but we’ve avoided even more by using the following litmus test when considering whether to DIY or hire out:

1. Do we have the required tools to complete the task (or do we need an excuse to buy those tool)? Trying to complete a project with the wrong tools almost always leads to a sub-par result.

2. Is there a looming deadline? Doing it yourself typically takes a lot longer than a professional. Most of the time you have to learn something new whereas a pro has done it 20 times before and knows how to avoid common pitfalls and take shortcuts. If you’re looking for immediacy it’s best to hire someone to do it.

3. Does it cost less to do it yourself? Most pros mark up the cost of supplies and materials and of course they charge for labor. Buying your own materials and doing the labor yourself can save a bundle. However, a few mistakes can end up costing more in the long run because it is expensive to repair your errors or buy replacement parts.