Laminate floors are hard wearing, require low maintenance and complement any style of home. They are ideal for all ground floor living areas and hallways. However, they aren’t recommended for bathrooms or kitchens as the boards may swell if they absorb water.
Although the laminate surface is protected with a tough lacquer, it can be scratched by grit, so fit a doormat in a hallway and always brush up loose grit or dirt.
Bear in mind that boards are also noisier than a soft flooring and the sound may annoy neighbours, especially in a flat, so use a thick underlay.
Preparation of the floor
A firm, level base is essential before you can add a laminate floor. Fill any cracks and holes in a concrete floor with mortar. If the surface is still uneven, level with a layer of self-levelling compound sometimes referred to as latex screed, which is available from DIY stores.
Allow any repair work to dry, then cover with a polythene damp-proof membrane to stop any moisture damaging the new boards.
For chipboard and floorboards in good condition, you need only screw down any loose boards and hammer nail heads below the surface. The underlay boards will provide an even surface for the new boards.
Cover old, uneven floorboards with hardboard. Brush a litre of water over the rough side of each sheet and leave for 24 hours. Lay the sheets across the floorboards, staggering the joints and fixing with panel pins every 100mm around the edge and at 150mm spacing in the middle.
Leave the opened packs of flooring in the room for at least 24 hours so that the boards can acclimatise to the humidity before laying.
Generally, lay laminate boards in the same direction as the longest straight wall. In a square room, lay the boards in the direction of incoming light.
Where the laminate meets the edge of the room, you can either take off the skirting boards and replace them on top of the boards or add timber mouldings to hide the edges of the new floor.
Take off any inward-opening doors before starting work to make the job easier.
Vacuum the floor to remove any grit and fit the laminate floor underlay, starting in one corner.
Laying and fixing the laminate
Assuming the wall is fairly straight, you can start your first row against this. Place the special plastic spacers at 60cm intervals along the longest straight wall and lay the first row of boards with the groove side facing the wall, starting from a corner.
If the wall is not straight, you’ll need to scribe the boards to fit. To make this as easy as possible, loose-lay a row of boards so that they run straight and sit just touching the most prominent part of the wall. A good way of making sure they are straight is to strike a chalk line on the floor.
A chalk line has a reel of string housed in a chalk filled container. When unwound, the chalk-coated string can be pulled taut between two points and ‘plucked’. As the string snaps back against the surface, a line of chalk is left.
Cut a small block of wood the width of the largest part of the gap. Now, without moving the boards, hold a pencil against the block and slide them along the wall marking a line on the boards. You will then have an exact profile of the wall marked and can cut the boards accordingly. The best tool to use for this is an electric jig saw. Remember to follow the safety and operating instructions supplied with the equipment.
Now position the spacers as previously described and lay the first row.
The ends of the boards are tongued and grooved and are joined by squeezing a bead of glue along the top of the tongue and groove.
You will probably need to cut the last board of the row to fit. Mark it with a try square, and saw with the finished surface facing up. This way, you are less likely to splinter the surface.
Begin the second row, starting with the off-cut of the board used at the end of the first row. If it’s too small, cut a new board in half and start with that. This reduces wastage and also helps with staggering the joints. Always stagger the end joints of adjacent rows by at least 30cm. Use the fitting tool to push the ends of the boards together.
Continue across the room, pushing the completed rows firmly against the plastic spacers and laying more underlay ahead of the boards you are fitting. Force each piece together by gently tapping the edge block against the grooved side of each board.
Fitting around edges pipes and door frames
Make holes for heating pipes by marking the position of the pipe on the board to be laid. Drill a hole about 5mm larger in diameter than the pipe. Make two angled saw cuts from the edge of the board to the sides of the drilled hole. Fit the board and carefully glue the small off-cut wedge behind the pipe.
If the last row of boards needs to be cut, measure the gap between the boards and the wall, deduct 10mm and saw the boards lengthways to fit. Glue the joints and force into place with the fitting tool.
If you prefer, you can loose-lay the last ‘full-width’ row staggering its joints as if it were the final row against the edge. Take a full-width offcut of the boarding and use this as detailed earlier to mark and scribe the boards. The protruding tongue on the offcut will ensure that you have sufficient clearance for fitting. Fit a new ‘full-width’ row in place of the ones used for scribing. Finally, fit the scribed boards.
Either replace the skirting board or fix a decorative quadrant moulding over the expansion gap around the edge of the floor. Pin the moulding to the skirting board and paint or varnish.
Cutting the boards around door architrave can be fiddly. Either make a template from a piece of paper as described in the laying hardboard section or instead, saw a piece from the bottom of the architrave, the thickness of the board. Fit a metal or wooden threshold strip designed for the purpose over the edge of the floori