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How to Avoid Laminate Flooring Mistakes

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Laminate flooring is one of the most popular flooring choices around, and for a good reason. Laminate is attractive, durable, and fairly easy to install. It can create the appearance of wood or stone (two beautiful but expensive flooring materials) at a much lower cost.

Don’t let the product packaging or home improvement store employees fool you. Laminate flooring should be installed by a pro. It may be easier to install than hardwood flooring products, but there are plenty of things that may surprise you when it comes to laminate product choice and installation. These affect the overall appearance of the floor, so you shouldn’t ignore any item on the list. If you miss a small detail, you will quickly end up with a warped, sagging, or cracking floor.

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What is Laminate Flooring?

Laminate flooring is several layers of wood, wood composite, and resin that are heat fused to create a strong plank. A photographic print of wood or stone is placed on top. Clear laminate sealant is applied over the photographic print to provide shine and durability.

Laminate flooring photo overlay

Laminate flooring is available in various sized planks and square tiles. These pieces can be cut to fit in irregularly shaped areas. Laminate flooring "floats" over the sub-floor on a layer of foam or plastic. This means that laminate is not nailed or glued to the subfloor. Some will argue that this adds to installation ease, but it may be the very reason why there is so much room for error.

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Why you should trust laminate flooring

Although laminate flooring has its issues, it is still an incredible flooring product that you should seriously consider for your next reno.

Laminate is a strong competitor to hardwood flooring. In many cases, laminate flooring is actually more durable than hardwood. High-quality laminate withstands drops and scratches better. Yet, both laminate and hardwood flooring suffer from water damage issues.

Laminate flooring and water

Laminate and hardwood flooring’s worst enemy: water!

You should choose laminate flooring because it’s affordable, attractive, durable, and sustainable—granted this is quality and manufacturer dependent.

A high-quality laminate product can be indistinguishable from hardwood for a fraction of the price. What’s not to love?

Here is a cost breakdown of a laminate flooring project:

  • Labour costs for installation on average (not including product and underlay): $1.93/ft2
  • Costs of baseboard installation: $1.10 - $3.00/linear foot
  • Cost of product: anywhere from $0.89 - $4.00+/ft2
  • Existing floor removal: depends on floor material

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How to Avoid Laminate Flooring Mistakes: Materials Matter!

A floor is the base of your house. It’s not wise to cut corners on your flooring because it is fundamental to your home, and it must withstand a great deal of traffic.

Cheap Products

People love laminate flooring because it is “affordable”. But don’t be fooled. There is a huge difference between cheap and affordable products! Cheap products have an indefinitely shorter life span than high-quality products. This means that you will have to buy and hire someone to install cheap products time and time again.

Laminate flooring is considered affordable because it can be very durable and attractive for a competitive price, in comparison to hardwood flooring or stone alternatives.

affordable laminate flooring

Cutting corners on costs and buying cheap products is the gift that keeps giving. You’ll have to buy and install again and again.

If you're working with a contractor for your flooring installation, then ask them for their opinion on quality laminate brands. If you're installing your own floor, then try giving a trusted contractor a call, or visit a flooring retailer and ask them about the best products to buy. You'll receive a wide range of suggestions, many of which will be moderately priced. There's no need to buy the most expensive product on the market. However, you will get what you pay for.

Durability

Laminate flooring is rated by an AC (abrasion class) rating to express product durability. Do not buy a laminate product that has a lower rating than AC3 (although a salesperson may recommend it, the flooring will just wear out quicker). For example, if your product scratches easily, then water will seep in, and you will need to replace it. Durable products don’t scratch easily like this.

Nevertheless, laminate has an inherent weakness to water. It can warp easily if it soaks in water. However, the quality of the product does determine how well it stands up to water damage.

Anyone purchasing laminate should opt for 12mm thick planks at the very least. This will be a more expensive product, but it will be more durable and it will muffle sound much better than thinner planks. Homeowners should focus on purchasing high-density fiberboard (HDF) core laminate flooring too.

Quality

High-quality products are reflected in their durability and appearance. High-quality products will have a higher number of different photo prints. This avoids pattern repetition upon installation, which makes the flooring look natural. A good contractor or installer will be able to assemble the flooring pattern well.

laminate flooring installation

Pro tip: plan out the floor planks before you connect them to see how the pattern looks before it’s finalized.

Toxic Products

Some types of laminate flooring contain melamine resin or other adhesives that contain formaldehyde. Once installed, these products release toxic fumes into your home, which are a health hazard. The fumes do reduce over time. Usually, lower-end laminate products contain these chemicals. Always ask the company or sales rep about these product details before you make a purchase.

Earth-friendly products tend to be safer, but this is not a definite safety indicator. Most European-made products are safer than their Asian competitors because of stricter manufacturing regulations.

When purchasing a product, always inquire about the materials and emissions. European products will have an emission rating. Aim for products that have an E2, E1, or E0 rating. American products have a CARB rating. Ask your local flooring expert for more information.

How to Avoid Laminate Flooring Mistakes: Installation

Installation is very important. A bad installation job will show, and it could ruin even the highest quality product.

Improper Underlayment

Installing the wrong underlayment, or installing it improperly, can lead to a host of problems for your floor down the road.

laminate floor underlay

An expert can help you match the best underlayment for your laminate and room.

The underlayment is very important because it:

  • Protects the flooring from moisture (often emitted from sub-floors, especially concrete subfloors), which will warp the product.
  • Muffles noise to keep your home quiet. Otherwise, you can hear others walking on the flooring throughout the home.
  • Insulates your floor, which keeps your home (and feet) at a comfortable temperature.

Laminate is rather thin, and if it's installed on the ground floor or over an unheated garage, the floor will likely feel extremely cold. Proper underlayment materials can make laminate flooring comfortable and flexible for any environment in your home.

Failure to Leave Room for Expansion

Laminate flooring expands and contracts. This is unavoidable. As a result, laminate flooring must be given a small amount of expansion clearance around the room’s edges. Ignoring this essential step will cause buckling, warping, and cracking very quickly.

laminate floor colour selection

Laminate flooring comes in a wide variety of colours and styles to fit any décor need!

How much clearance room should you leave?

  • Experts agree that 1/4 to 1/2 an inch of clearance room is sufficient for small rooms.
  • Experts recommend at least 1/2 an inch for rooms with a circumference of forty feet or more.

Homeowners who live in humid climates can increase this gap to 3/4 of an inch. If you wish to DIY and you’re not sure how large the gap should be then try asking a local expert.

Installing Cold or Warm Laminate Flooring

Expansion and contraction truly wreak havoc on laminate flooring. If you just received your laminate flooring shipment, then do not install it!

Cold or warm flooring is not at its natural size. It is either fully contracted or expanded. Once the flooring is brought inside and allowed to acclimate, it will change in size. This process occurs gradually. If you install a few feet of cold flooring, take a break, and then install the rest of the flooring, the laminate will expand over time and crack or bubble.

Certain sections that expand will put pressure on the rest of the floor. Over time, your new floor gradually developed a "hump". Avoid this issue by allowing your laminate flooring to acclimate for at least 72 hours inside your home before installation.

Failure to Address Gaps

Quality laminate flooring is manufactured with grooves and other features that lock the planks together. This helps the installation crew prevent gaps from forming. However, less expensive laminate may not have this feature. Over time, the planks that are not locked together will gradually drift apart.

laminate flooring product selection

Pro tip: make sure to evenly space out laminate flooring planks to avoid repetitive patterns

This gaps will look like dark lines in the floor. You should tap the planks back in place using a blunt rubber mallet. Otherwise, debris will fall in between the laminate planks, which will make it difficult or impossible to fit them tightly back together without redoing the floor.

Inspect your floor on a monthly basis and fix any gaps that you see. Check with the manufacturer or a knowledgeable home center employee for the best tool to use. You'll need something that is strong enough to move the laminate, but blunt enough to avoid damaging the surface.

Ignoring a Damaged Sub-Floor

All the floors in your home are anchored to (or float atop) the sub-floor. The sub-floor may be cement or concrete. These sub-floors are less prone to damage. However, wood subfloors are more common (except in basements).

Over time, wooden sub-floors decay and damage. Water damage, termites, mold, and dry rot can all weaken a wooden structure, making it uneven and more likely to break.

Professional laminate installer

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Installing a new floor atop a damaged or compromised sub-floor simply doesn't make sense. Before you install your new laminate flooring, pull up whatever flooring you have in place and inspect the sub-floor.

If you're not sure what to look for, call a professional carpenter. If the sub-floor is damaged, then you should replace it before you install a new floor. You wouldn't put an expensive custom paint job on a rusted-out car, would you? Of course not! The same principle applies to flooring!

Installing Laminate in the Wrong Environment

Although laminate is a great flooring option it is not the most versatile. Laminate flooring does not fair well in wet environments. Low-quality laminate flooring will quickly suffer when it gets wet. Even high-quality laminate floor can damage if water is spilled and left on it for an extended period of time.

laminate flooring in the home

Avoid installing laminate flooring in damp environments. Cold environments are ok with the right underpadding, or radiant heating.

If you’re considering laminate flooring, avoid placing it in:

  • Bathrooms or powder rooms
  • A space that has outdoor foot traffic coming indoors, like an entrance or vestibule
  • A laundry room
  • A kitchen (although, it’s a suitable option for tidy homeowners)

If there is an appliance leak or a puddle under a pair of shoes that isn’t cleaned up immediately, the whole floor could suffer. Even if the leak is controlled in a small area, the laminate floor planks can absorb the water in that spot, expand, buckle, and damage a whole section of flooring.

Think carefully about your laminate floor installation. Stick to dry environments such as bedrooms, hallways, and living rooms.

DIY-ing Without the Proper Skills

Who doesn’t love saving money on their home improvement project? DIY-ing can be affordable, fun, and rewarding. However, laminate flooring installation is especially tricky—even if brands market themselves as being simple to install.

Laminate flooring frustration

Hire a pro if you don’t want to end up looking like this frustrated DIYer!

Take an honest evaluation of your own skills before tackling this DIY project. Read up on installing your own laminate floor before you make up your mind.

Flooring is fundamental to your home. If you make a mistake, it will cost hundreds (maybe thousands) to replace. It’s okay if you don't have the skills, free time, or patience to do the job right. Simply call in a professional for the installation and DIY another project.

A laminate floor installation pro can take on this project quickly and easily. They will do a reliable job and it will be finished before you know it. They can come in and devote their full attention to the job. This will free up your time and allow you to get your household back to normal as soon as possible.

Buying from a Bad Retailer

The reality is that consumers must always do their due diligence. Don’t let your guard down!

bad retailers are crooks!

A bad retailer won’t offer you any guarantees. Watch out!

When you decide to purchase the laminate flooring product, be sure to pay special attention to the manufacturer’s and/or retailer’s warranty. It’s important to purchase from a reliable company. If there is a product defect, then you should be able to send it back within 30 days of installing it. Some manufacturers offer a full year product warranty.

If you decide to hire a contractor to install the product, then make sure they are reliable and responsible. They should be willing and ready to fix mistakes when they come up. Read about your contractor’s history on TrustedPros.ca to see what their clients have said about them.

Have you had a laminate flooring frustration? Share it in the comments below!

Posted by: Diane Sheppard
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