It’s usually best to install the floor with the long side of the panels parallel to the longest wall in the room. The exception to this is what is known as long-lighting: if you have large glass doors or windows shining into the largest room you are installing the laminate in you may want to run the flooring parallel with the longest light source of the day (setting/rising sun).
With the layout direction in mind, you now have two walls of your room which are options for starting your installation. It is best to install starting from the wall further from the main entrance. This will reduce the amount of traffic over your partially installed floor and make installation easier.
First Row Width Calculation
Never install a piece of laminate smaller than 1/2 the width of a full board. To avoid a tiny piece in the last row you install, you may need to rip the first row.
Determine the width of the starting row:
- Measure the distance from your starting wall to your ending wall.
- Measure the width of one piece of laminate, not including the tongue.
Use our handy Layout Calculator or:
- Divide the distance from your starting wall to your ending wall by the width of one piece of laminate. The result is the number of full rows of laminate needed.
- Multiply the number of full rows of laminate needed by the width of one piece of laminate. Subtract this number from the distance from your starting wall to your ending wall to find the partial plank width.
- If the partial plank width is greater than 1/2 of the width of one piece of laminate, then start with a full-width row of laminate.
- If the partial plank width is less than 1/2 of the width of one piece of laminate, then start with a row ripped to 3/4 of the width of one piece of laminate.
Example: Imagine that your flooring is 7-3/4” wide (not including the tongue and groove) and your room is 141” wide.
You divide 141 by 7-3/4” and it yields 18 planks at 139-1/2” total leaving a 1-1/2” gap.
This is too small! This doesn’t have to be exact but if you subtract the gap (1-1/2”) from half the plank (3-7/8”) you would get 2-3/8”. If you rip this amount from your starting row it will expand the gap of your final row to about half a plank. This will make it MUCH easier to install and will even out the look of the floor.
Install the Underlayment
There are a few brands that have the underlayment pre attached to the laminate, but most do not and therefore require you drop the underlayment separately.
Run the roll from end to end on the wall you are are starting from. We recommend installing the underlay as needed during installation as it is easily torn. Never overlap the underlayment, instead once the first sheet of underlayment is covered with laminate, butt the two edges of the sheet together and seal with tape.
The First Three Rows
The most common direction of installation is left-to-right, tongue-side toward the wall.
If you determined that you need to rip your first row, now is the time to do it. Use a jig saw or table saw to cut enough boards to reach the full length of the wall to 3/4 of their original width.
ALWAYS inspect every board for any potential damage to the finished surface that may have happened in transit BEFORE USING IT. Nothing is more frustrating on the job than having to pull-out and re-install several rows because of a single board with a chipped edge.
In order to end up with a good looking floor, you need to avoid installing little pieces at either end of the room, and avoid regular patterns which make the seams stand out. Calculate a SEAMLESS ZONE or a range of starting plank lengths to avoid which prevents short pieces on the opposite wall. You can then randomize the particular board lengths outside this range to keep your floor looking good.
Remember, your starting boards need to be either:
- Longer than 6″ and shorter than the START OF THE SEAMLESS ZONE – or –
- Longer than the END OF THE SEAMLESS ZONE
Starting on the left, place your first plank against the wall, then cut a new (full-width) plank to start your second row to at least 12” shorter than the first plank and attach to the first row.
Most laminates are connected by tilting the plank on edge, setting the long-side tongue into the groove, rotating flat to the floor, then using a tapping block and hammer to gently drive the end-joints together. Check the instructions to see how the manufacturer of your flooring recommends connecting each plank.
Cut the third piece at least 12″ shorter than the second piece, and attach it to create a staggered corner section. Slide the whole section into the corner of the wall and place spacers to create a 5/16″ gap from the wall on both sides.
If the wall is curved or uneven the first row of boards will need to be cut to the contour of the wall. This is easily done (and checked) by temporarily attaching a “second row” board that will act as a built in scribe. Measure the gap from the “scribe” board to the wall then subtract the 5/16″ space and mark the board to be installed. Do this on both the left and right side then rip the board and install, always using spacers.
Continue installing in a three row staggered fashion until you reach the opposite wall.
When you reach the opposite wall, measure the length needed for each last piece, which should end about 1/4″ from the wall. Cut the last piece to length with a laminate cutter. Click the long edge of the board into place. Use a hammer and a pull bar to pull the end board back and ‘click’ it into the row. Double check all contact points between the spacers and the wall to verify that the floor hasn’t shifted. Once everything is in place, set full boxes of laminate on the first three rows of the floor. You now have a solid starting point to extend your floor into the rest of the room.
The Main Stretch
This is where things begin to take off, and is usually the easiest (and dare we say most enjoyable??) part of installing your new floor. Continue installing at least three rows at a time with a random stagger of 8″ to 24″. Use the end cuts from your starting planks to finish rows and vice versa.
Try to avoid regular patterns when installing your laminate. It is easy to accidentally end up with a repeating stair step or a sort of zig-zag. Random lengths outside your SEAMLESS ZONE will give you the most professional look.
Cutting to fit
Most rooms have some places with a non-rectangular shape, HVAC floor registers, doorways which require cutouts. It is much easier to cut the boards to fit when following a cardboard template. Use a pair of scissors and some tape to make a cardboard profile to match the cut out. Tape this to your board and trace around it to make cutting lines. Use a jigsaw to trim out the shape. If you need to make a cutout in the middle of a plank, drill a 3/8″ hole through the plank to use as a starter for your jig saw.
Sometimes, it is very difficult to click laminate planks together around doors or in corners. If you run into this, shave the bottom of the groove with your utility knife and install the plank with carpenter glue. Secure the piece in place for at least half an hour to let the glue set (a box of laminate works well as a weight).
The Final Row
Cut the first plank of your final row to length as before, avoiding the SEAMLESS ZONE and maintaining a random stagger to the joints. Next, measure the gap between the previous row and the wall. Rip the plank to 1/4″ less than the width of the gap. Attach the the board and tap into place using a pull bar and a hammer. Place spacers between the board and the wall to keep the floor from sliding too close to the wall. Continue to install the final row in the same way until you finish the row.
Inspect the final surface. Remove all spacers and install/reinstall the trim.
Be sure to wrap and store a few extra planks for future replacements and repairs.
Now, go forth and conquer that job!