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Laminate flooring -- a synthetic top layer that looks like wood -- has a lot going for it. It's tough and resistant to stains, fading and most scratches. It's generally installed without glue or nails, but with a snap together tongue-and-groove system. You'll sometimes hear this type of installation referred to as a 'floating floor.' Laminate flooring is sometimes even made from recycled content, like this product from Mohawk Flooring.

If you're thinking of sprucing up a room or two with laminate flooring, first determine if a room is even suited for laminate flooring -- not all rooms are. Laminate flooring can be laid over existing flooring like vinyl or linoleum but not over carpeting, or wood flooring with a concrete subfloor. (In the latter case, the wood flooring must be taken up first.) Laminate flooring should also never be installed in a basement with a sump pump, as the excess moisture will compromise and damage the laminate product.

If laminate flooring is right for you, ask yourself: Should I do this job myself? Or should I hire someone to do it for me? Installation and product costs for a professional job can cost up to $2,800 (including the price of the flooring). By comparison, a DIY job using the same flooring material will cost about $1,850 (provided you don't already own any of the tools, which is unlikely).

Let's examine each approach and see which one works best for you -- and your budget.

Many homeowners choose to hire professionals to install laminate flooring because it takes patience and precision; it can be a big job, especially if you're covering a lot of ground. There's a fair amount of prep work involved too. To lay laminate flooring over a concrete slab, you must first lay down a polyethylene moisture barrier -- thick plastic sheeting (see materials list below). And a new concrete floor must cure at least 60 days before the laminate flooring is installed. Each manufacturer provides compete instructions on how to prepare a room for laminate flooring. Read these instructions thoroughly to make sure your flooring professional is following them properly.

Once the surface is ready, the existing quarter-round moldings where the baseboard meets the wall must be removed (and then replaced when the floor is installed). Also, since the laminate flooring must fit under doorjambs, the jambs must be undercut with a miter saw (see below) to allow that. Because the wood base of laminate flooring planks will expand and contract according to the moisture in the air from season to season, a gap of 1/4 inch must be left around the perimeter of the room. If you neglect this gap, your floors may buckle.

Sound complicated? Having a trusted professional flooring installer do the work for you may be the way to go, especially if you get a guarantee on all work and materials. But it will cost you. While you can buy laminate flooring planks for about $1 to $4 per square foot, the installation alone could easily cost another $3 per square foot, with The Home Depot offering basic installation for about $2 per square foot.

For the purposes of this article, let's say you're working with a 400 square foot room. That means that you can plan on paying $800 to $1,200 for installation costs alone.

If you decide this is a job you can handle yourself and save a significant amount of money in labor costs, here's what you need to get started.

Tool Rentals

miter sawDeWalt Compound Miter Saw. Photo: The Home Depot

Compound Miter Saw
: This is the power tool you'll need for cutting laminate planks, as well as the various moldings you'll need to complete the job. If you don't already have this tool -- and you don't have much of a need for it otherwise -- then renting one from The Home Depot might be a good option. While a new tool costs from $179 to $629, a rental runs about $45 to $50 a day.

Tools and Material Purchases
Laminate Flooring: The fun part, of course, will be choosing your flooring. You can get laminate flooring that looks like cherry, red oak, hickory, chestnut, or any number of warm and wonderful woods. Always buy 10% more than your measurements indicate. You can expect to pay from $1 to $4 per square foot. For a 400-square-foot room, that's $400 to $1,600 for the flooring material. That will be the bulk of the cost -- and you'll pay it whether you DIY or not.

Underlayment: You'll only need this moisture barrier if you are installing your flooring over bare concrete. This will help keep moisture from wicking up through the concrete and getting the underside of your laminate flooring wet. Most manufacturers call for 6 mil polyethylene overlapped 8 inches at the seams. However, you need to read the instructions that come with your particular laminate flooring and buy the product suggested there. This thick plastic sheeting costs about $13 for 120 square feet.

tape measureCorbis

Tape Measure
: Proper measurements are key. To calculate how much laminate flooring you need, measure the length and then width of your room. Multiply those together and you'll have the square footage. You'll also need to measure the perimeter of the room to determine how much molding you need (if you are not re-using the molding you removed). You'll be doing a lot of measuring for this job, so if you're using a substandard tape measure, this might be a good time to purchase a quality item that will last you many years. You can expect to pay from $9 to $35.

Molding and Trims: All flooring requires molding where the wall meets the floor to give a nice finish. Depending on the laminate flooring system you choose, you may need other types of trim pieces to join lengths of laminate planks together, or for doorway transitions. $5 to $30 each.

Pull Bar: This is a metal device that you'll need for pulling the tongue-and-groove planks tightly together. Even systems that use a click-and-lock procedure can benefit from some extra pulling together. About $10.

Tapping Block: Similar to the pull bar above, the tapping block is designed to pull laminate planks closer together. While the pull bar brings the pieces closer together side-to-side, the tapping block pushes them closer end-to-end. $10

Laminate Installation Kit: Instead of buying the pull bar and tapping block separately, you can buy them together in a kit, which also comes with spacers for making sure you have the required expansion space around the perimeter of the room. The kit you buy will depend on the brand of flooring. Some kits work best with Pergo, some with Dupont flooring. They run from $16 to $20.

Chalk Reel and Chalk: To make sure the laminate planks start straight, it will be helpful to mark a straight line on the floor for the starting point. This is best done with a chalk reel and chalk. To use, you lay a chalk-covered string on the floor tightly, then pull it up slightly and let it snap back onto the floor, leaving a chalk line behind. $8 to $11.

Undercut Saw: You'll have to cut away the bottom of the door jamb in order to fit the laminate flooring underneath. This requires a special undercut saw designed exactly for this purpose. It only costs about $20. you think you're ready to tackle it yourself -- and save?

  • Jeff

    You do NOT undercut door jambs with a mitre saw! You use an undercut saw for such a job. Wow - poorly researched article.

  • Dave

    Don't install this in a kitchen or any place where a pet may have an accident. It will not hold up if it gets wet.

  • Mike

    Haven't you forgotten the various threshholds for interior and exterior doorways as well as transitions from tile or carpeted surfaces in adjoining rooms?

  • pete

    This material will not hold up to water areas.


  • 4 Comments / 1 Pages

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