Floating floor iNSTALLATION GUIDEFloating Floors can really enhance a room if they are installed carefully. Through all the fickle trends of the last century, one style of flooring has consistently triumphed: floorboards. They come in so many different types, shades and widths of timber, that you’ll never be hard up finding a timber floor that suits. However, they can be expensive. A much cheaper and often more practical alternative is an engineered timber floating floor. It’s literally a floor that “floats” on top of your existing one.
Floating floors come in a huge range.Floating flooring are manufactured (man-made) timber boards, often made with an MDF or a plywood substrate with either a solid timber, timber veneer or manufactured laminate surface. They are also known as laminate flooring and can be made of bamboo as well. Boards come in a huge variety of timber varieties (colour, grain etc), widths and quality.
They are relatively easy to install as you literally clip and tap them into place. Once you’re on a roll, laying a floating floor is not that difficult, but success lies in fastidious preparation and attention to detail. Oh, and it can be taxing on the knees. Floating floors can be installed over just about any existing floor, just get your prep right.
Boards are normally sold in pre-bundled packs, so you will probably end up with more than you need. This excess may come in handy for repairs down the track. Be very careful with newly poured concrete floors, they take months to fully dry out and you can’t lay your floor until they have. Measuring
Floating floorboards come in bundles and may need to be acclimatised to your home before being laid.Measure up your floor and purchase enough foam underlay and panels to allow for 10% wastage. Your floorboards must not extend from one room to another. Different rooms will have different temperature and humidity conditions, which means the boards will expand and shrink at different rates in each room. That expansion and shrinkage is managed by laying the floor with expansion joints between the flooring and walls.
Really large rooms may need to be divided up into smaller sections. The level of new floor will be higher than the existing one so investigate any issues that change may cause. For example will your new boards will fit under existing skirting boards or you will have to remove then replace them later. Check the gap under doors too.
There are a variety of materials that need to be laid under your floating floor depending on your circumstances. Steve Maxwell demonstrating the peel-off tape covering glue to secure each length of waterproofing membrane to the next (right). Another variety of underlay being rolled onto the floor. Photo: Tarkett installation instructions.Use the string line to see if your walls are straight. If the walls are bowed you will have to mark the bowed profile on the first row of boards and cut these length-wise to fit. This will not be much fun but the end result will be really dreadful if you don’t. Note where boards will meet up with other floor surfaces. You will need to accommodate any changes in floor height and cover joins between the two materials.
Select your starting point and lay the first boards with wall spacers.A lot of manufacturers recommend leaving the panel packs for a week or so in the room to acclimatise, that will minimise expansion once the floor is down. You can run a floating floor over concrete, plywood, sheet vinyl, even ceramic tiles, but you need a level, clean, dry, stable floor to start with. If your floor surface is not level it will show in the finished job. Do not underestimate just how much it will show.
Levelling your floor may mean having to pack out low spots or use a cement based levelling compound on cement floors. High spots will need to be sanded or ground down. Make sure you secure anything that’s loose and eliminate any creaks and squeaks. If your sub-floor is covered with something like lino that’s loose or in poor condition it may be best to pull it up. Vacuum the room immediately before starting.
Architraves may need to be sawn off at the base to fit the floorboards underneath.
UnderlayConcrete flooring will require a moisture barrier and all surfaces need a foam underlay. The underlay will run in the same direction that the floating floor is laid. Roll out one width of the underlay the length of the room and cut to fit. Lay your underlay as you go rather than in one hit. Follow the instructions and overlap the lengths and tape the seams together with the appropriate tape.
You may want to consider additional acoustic insulation beneath your floating floor if you don’t have a concrete substrate; there are many excellent products now available that can drastically reduce noise between floors.
Laying the floorIf you have skirting boards, it’s usually easiest to just leave them in place. You can run beading around the edges when you’re done to cover any rough joins if the floating floor doesn’t fit underneath.
Many floating floorboards lock together by angling the tongue of one board into the groove of another.Architraves are often best cut at the bottom to allow the boards to slide underneath. Place your first row of panels lengthways along the longest wall. Laying boards in the direction of incoming light works well in square rooms. Always lay the boards with the cut end against the wall, the tongues should face into the room towards where the next board will be joined on both the short and long sides.
Use spacers at each end and against adjacent walls to allow for a 12mm expansion joint at the perimeter. You will also need to trim boards to give you the same expansion joint around pipes or other structures projecting from walls such as columns. Tap the panels together using a rubber mallet and block, never hit the boards directly with a hammer or mallet. When you get to the end of a row, you’ll need to cut your last piece to fit manoeuvre it into place with a pinch bar. If any of your rows end with a gap of less than 300mm between them and the wall, you will need to trim the first board against the wall where you started, to make a larger gap for the last board. When you’re cutting the boards with a handsaw have the “good” side up and you won’t splinter the timber finish. With and electric jigsaw or a circular saw, face the good side down. Handsaws cut on the downward stroke, power tools cut upward.
Floating floors click together in a wide range of ways. Some require glue and nails, some just click and lock.Continue with the next row in the same way, you can use the offcut from the last board as the first board in the next row. Again make sure these shorter end boards are at least 300mm long. Randomly staggering the joins across the floor will not only look better, it will make the floor stronger. A plank that runs across a door will have to be notched to fit inside the doorway. Use your rubber mallet and block to tap the boards together both lengthways and widthways as you go. As you work, keep checking that the boards are sitting together snugly and are lying flat. Tap boards to close any gaps. After every few rows check that the flooring is square by either measuring the rows against the opposite wall if that wall is square or measure back to the wall you started with. Take your measurements at several places along the row. Continue to do this as you go. If you start to see any undulations in the boards, stop. They will not go away. You will need to take up what you’ve done and go back to the floor levelling stage. Most floating floors these days do not require glue or nails.
FinishingWhen you get to the final row, you’ll almost definitely have to trim the width of your final row to fit, allowing for the 12mm expansion joint. This is where you’ll need your skills with the pinch bar to wedge the final row into place unless you’ve removed the skirting boards. When the room is finished, remove the spacer blocks. Replace the skirting boards or run beading or quad around the perimeter to conceal the rough edges. Simply measure and cut to fit beading. You may choose to stain the beading the same colour as your floorboards for a seamless finish. Unless your boards needed to be glued, you will be able to walk on the floor right away and move your furniture back in.
- Use kneepads, goggles and dust masks when laying any floor.
- Ensure the room is well ventilated.
- Take extra care when using power tools.
HARDWOOD FLOOR INSTALLATION GUIDE
Step 1: Lay Out the 1st Row
Mark the walls to show the location of the floor joists. Cover the floor with 15-pound felt paper. For strength, run the strip flooring perpendicular to the joists. Start your layout at the longest uninterrupted wall that’s perpendicular to the joists. At each end of the wall, measure out the width of a floorboard, plus 3/4 in., and make a mark. Drive nails into the marks and stretch mason’s line between them to lay out the first row.
Step 2: Pre-Drill Holes for Nails
The first and last rows of flooring have to be nailed through the face of the boards. All the other boards are nailed through the tongue only. To prevent splitting face-nailed boards, drill 1/16-in.-diameter holes for the nails, 1 in. from the grooved edge. Space the holes so the nails hit a joist, or as directed by the manufacturer.
Step 3: Fasten the 1st Board
Align the first board with the layout line, with the tongue facing into the room. Put a 3/4-in. spacer against the adjoining wall, and slide the end of the board against it. Drive 6d or 8d flooring nails through the pilot holes, then drill additional pilot holes through the tongue. Countersink all the nails.
Step 4: Continue the 1st Row
Put the next board in place along the layout line. Seat the end tongue and groove into each other and push the two boards together for a tight seam. Nail down the board, moving down the row until you reach the side wall. Cut the last length to fit, leaving a 3/4-in. expansion gap, and nail it in place.
Step 5: Rack the Flooring
Spread the boards from several bundles across the room. Mix bundles, and mix shades, colors, and lengths, using the natural variety in the wood to create a random pattern. Lay out the boards in the order you’ll install them. Pros call this “racking the boards.” Flooring bundles tend to be uniform in color, and if you don’t rack them, you’ll create noticeable light and dark areas in the floor. Make sure you finish the process by arranging the joints so they are sufficiently offset across the floor.
Step 6: Install the Next Rows
Put the first board of the new row in place. Cut it, if necessary, so the end is offset from the end of the board in the previous row by a minimum of 6 in. Put the end against a 1/2-in. spacer and seat the edge snugly against its neighbor. Drill pilot holes in the tongues, then nail and countersink them through the tongues (but not the faces) to hold the boards in place. Work your way down the rows, one row at a time.
Step 7: Use A Flooring Nailer
Switch to a flooring nailer as soon as you can. After installing the second or third row, you’ll have enough room to get a flooring nailer between the wall and the board you’re placing. Position the nailer so it will drive a nail through the tongue of the board, then hit it with a mallet to shoot the nail through the tongue. Adjust the air pressure as needed so the nail countersinks into the tongue.
Step 8: Install the Remaining Rows
Work your way across the room, row by row, power-nailing the boards through the tongue. Leave a 3/4-in. expansion gap between the end board and the wall. Stagger the ends of the boards in adjoining rows by 6 in. and rack additional bundles as you go.
Step 9: Straighten Any Bowed Boards
Even the best flooring comes with pieces that are not perfectly straight. Set these aside initially; if these end up as extras, you won’t have to use them. If you must use a slightly bowed piece, drive a chisel into the subfloor and pry against the edge of the bowed strip to straighten it. If the piece is badly bowed, screw a piece of scrap to the floor about 1 in. from the strip. Tap a wood wedge into the gap, as shown, to straighten out the board.
Step 10: Framing Obstructions
Often a floor will meet an obstruction such as a fireplace or counter. If so, miter boards to create a border that frames the obstruction. Position the boards so the tongue or groove mates with the rest of the floorboards. Cut off the tongue if it’s on the edge that meets the obstruction. Apply the rest of the floor as you normally would, fitting the pieces into the frame as you go.
Step 11: Cutting Corners
Where the flooring meets a jog in the wall or a similar obstacle, cut corners to fit. Snug the piece of flooring against the obstacle and lay out the cut by marking where the edge of the obstacle meets the board. Allow for a 1/2-in. expansion gap at the end of the board and a 3/4-in. gap along the edges; make the cut with a jigsaw.
Step 12: Face-Nail the Last Rows
As you approach the wall on the far side of the room, it becomes difficult to use the flooring nailer. Once you don’t have enough room to swing the mallet, begin drilling pilot holes for face-nailing, but nail only when you’ve laid down all the boards.
Step 13: Cut the Last Row to Fit
You will probably have to cut the width of the boards in the last row to fit. Measure the space and subtract 3/4 in. for the expansion gap. Cut the boards to width on a tablesaw. Put the boards in place. Pry against a piece of scrap on the wall to seat the boards and close any gaps between them. Face-nail to hold the boards in place.
Step 14: Install the Trim
Install the baseboard and shoe molding to cover the expansion gap. Keep the lower edge of the baseboard even with the top of the floor, and nail the baseboard into the wall. Once the baseboard is in, set the quarter-round shoe molding on a piece of paper to keep it just a hair above the floor. Nail it to the baseboard, not to the floor or subfloor. Nail threshold or transition strips in place where the edge of the floor is exposed.
- Use kneepads, goggles and dust masks when laying any floor.
- Ensure the room is well ventilated.
- Take extra care when using power tools.