DIY Flooring Installation Guide

| Tiffany Stevens

So, you're thinking about taking on the challenge of installing your own flooring, huh?

That's awesome! But before you dive in, let's talk about what you're getting into.

DIY flooring installation can be very rewarding and help you save money.

We want everyone to experience that feeling and that encouraged us to create this flooring installation guide.

But, before you start hammering or gluing anything down, there are a few things you need to know.

We will cover:

  • Getting your space ready
  • Installing any type of floors
  • Tips for installing specific flooring
  • Common installation questions

 

DIY Flooring Installation Preparation

Before we jump into the fun stuff, we have to lay the groundwork. 

Gathering your tool and accurately measuring your space will help make your DIY installation smoother.

 

Assess Your Space

Start by giving your floor a thorough inspection.

Look for any uneven spots, cracks, or other issues that could affect your new flooring.

If you find any bumps or dips, you'll want to level them out using a leveling compound or plywood underlayment.

This ensures a smooth surface for your new flooring to sit on.

 

Gather Tools and Materials

Make sure you've got all the tools and materials you'll need for the job.

Most tools you probably have at your house. If you want to build your DIY toolbox, here are some tools you might want to add to it.

Tools Needed:

  • Tape measure
  • Pencil
  • Utility knife
  • Mallet
  • Pry bar
  • Level
  • Safety gloves
  • Safety goggles
  • Flooring material
  • Saw (depends floor type)
  • Nails or screws (depends floor type)
  • Underlayment (if needed)
  • Leveling compound (if needed)

 

Prepare the Subfloor

Before you can lay your new flooring, you need to make sure the subfloor is in good shape.

That means fixing any squeaks, replacing any damaged boards, and making sure the surface is clean and dry.

  1. Start by removing any existing flooring materials, such as carpet, tile, or hardwood.
  2. Next, inspect the subfloor for any damage, such as rot or water damage, and make any necessary repairs.
  3. Then, sweep or vacuum the subfloor to remove any dust or debris.
  4. Finally, make sure the subfloor is dry and level before proceeding.

 

Measure Your Space

Use a tape measure to measure the length and width of your room, as well as any alcoves or closets.

Multiply the length and width to determine the square footage of your space.

How it works:

  • Measure the length and width of the room in feet.
  • Multiply the length by the width.
  • The result will be the total square footage (sq ft) of flooring you need.

For example, if your room is 12 feet long and 10 feet wide:

  • Area = 12 ft x 10 ft
  • Area = 120 sq ft

This formula assumes you are installing in a rectangular room.

If your room has an irregular shape, you might need to break it down into simpler shapes (rectangles or squares). 

Then calculate the area of each section separately before adding them together.

Here's a downloadable guide to help you accurately measure your space.

 

Pro Tips

It's wise to add a buffer of 10-20% to the total calculated square footage. This accounts for waste during cutting and installation.

Store any flooring leftover after installation so that if you need to replace a portion in the future you will have the exact match.

 

Order Materials

Order enough flooring, underlayment (if required), and trims (baseboards, moldings) based on your calculated square footage.

 

Acclimate the Flooring

Some flooring materials, like laminate or hardwood, require acclimatization to the room's temperature and humidity. 

This typically requires 24-48 hours before installation.

Check the manufacturer's recommendations for your specific flooring.

 

Planning the Layout

When planning the layout, consider the direction of the flooring planks or tiles, as well as any patterns or borders you want to create.

It's also a good idea to leave a small gap around the edges of the room to allow for expansion and contraction of the flooring material.

 

 

DIY Flooring Installation

While specific installation methods will vary depending on the flooring type (laminate, vinyl, etc.), these will take you through the common steps involved in most DIY flooring projects.

 

1) Install the underlayment (if required)

For flooring types that require underlayment, roll it out across the subfloor, following the manufacturer's instructions for seams and overlaps.

Secure the underlayment with staples or tape (depending on the underlayment type) if necessary.

 

2) Start laying the first row

Begin with a full plank (or a cut piece if needed to account for expansion gaps) against the wall.

Leave a consistent expansion gap (usually 1/4" to 3/8") around the perimeter.

 

3) Assemble the remaining rows

Follow the specific locking or fitting mechanism of your chosen flooring type (tongue and groove, click-lock, etc.) to connect planks together.

 

4) Cutting planks

As you reach walls or obstacles, measure and cut planks to fit using your saw.

Aim for tight seams and minimize waste whenever possible.

 

5) Transitions between rooms

Use transition pieces to create smooth transitions between rooms or doorways with different flooring heights.

 

6) Install baseboards or moldings

Once the flooring is complete, cover the expansion gap around the perimeter with baseboards or quarter-round moldings for a finished look.

 

 

DIY Installation for Specific Flooring

When it comes to installing different types of flooring, each material has its own quirks and challenges.

Here's a breakdown of installation tips and advice for each flooring type:

 

Laminate Flooring:

Laminate flooring is a versatile option that mimics the look of hardwood or tile at a fraction of the cost.

Here are some tips for installing laminate flooring:

  • Use Underlayment: Always use a foam or felt underlayment beneath laminate flooring to provide cushioning and sound absorption.
  • Watch for Moisture: Laminate flooring is not suitable for areas with high moisture, such as bathrooms or basements. Make sure the subfloor is dry and use a moisture barrier if necessary.
  • Handle with Care: Laminate flooring can be prone to chipping or scratching during installation. Handle the planks carefully and use a tapping block and hammer to gently tap them into place.

 

Hardwood Flooring:

Hardwood flooring adds warmth and character to any space, but it requires careful installation.

Here are some tips for installing hardwood flooring:

  • Acclimate the Wood: Allow hardwood planks to acclimate to the room for at least 48 hours before installation to prevent warping or buckling.
  • Mind the Grain: When installing hardwood flooring, pay attention to the direction of the wood grain. For a cohesive look, lay the planks parallel to the longest wall in the room.
  • Prevent Gaps: To prevent gaps between planks, use spacers along the edges of the room and leave a small expansion gap around the perimeter.

 

Luxury Vinyl Flooring:

Luxury vinyl flooring offers the look of hardwood or tile with the durability of vinyl.

Here are some tips for installing luxury vinyl flooring:

  • Check for Compatibility: Make sure the luxury vinyl flooring is compatible with the subfloor and environment. Some types of LVP are suitable for wet areas like bathrooms and kitchens, while others are not.
  • Take Time to Prepare: Proper preparation is key to a successful LVP installation. Ensure the subfloor is clean, dry, and level before laying down the planks.
  • Use a Rubber Mallet: When clicking LVP planks together, use a rubber mallet to gently tap them into place. Avoid using excessive force, as this can damage the planks.

Installing Shaw vinyl flooring? Check out this step-by-step guide that includes a video demonstration.

 

Tile Flooring:

Tile flooring is durable and water-resistant, making it ideal for bathrooms, kitchens, and other high-moisture areas.

Here are some tips for installing tile flooring:

  • Plan Your Layout: Before starting, plan out the layout of the tiles to ensure a balanced and symmetrical look. Use tile spacers to maintain consistent grout lines.
  • Use the Right Adhesive: Choose the appropriate adhesive for your tile material and subfloor. For example, use thin-set mortar for ceramic or porcelain tile and mastic for vinyl or glass tile.
  • Grout Carefully: After laying the tiles, allow them to set for 24 hours before grouting. Use a rubber grout float to apply the grout, pressing it firmly into the joints. Clean excess grout off the tiles with a damp sponge.

Want to DIY install a tile backsplash? We've got you covered with this guide.

 

Carpet Flooring:

Carpet flooring adds warmth and comfort to any room, but it requires careful installation to ensure a smooth and professional finish.

Here are some tips for installing carpet flooring:

  • Stretch Properly: Use a power stretcher to stretch the carpet tightly across the room and prevent wrinkles or buckling. Make sure to trim any excess carpet along the edges for a neat finish.
  • Seam Carefully: When joining two pieces of carpet together, use a seam iron and seam tape to create a strong and seamless bond. Trim any excess pile from the seam for a smooth transition.
  • Consider Professional Installation: While DIY carpet installation is possible, it can be tricky and time-consuming. Consider hiring a professional installer for large or complicated projects to ensure the best results.

 

DIY Flooring Installation FAQs

Over the years, we've had all kinds of installation questions from our customers. Here's are some of the more common ones we've been asked.

 

Flooring or Painting First?

Chart showing best practice installation steps

When remodeling their homes, many people ask, “What comes first?”.

Should you paint first? Or install your flooring first? The motto is to start with the messiest job and work down.

  1. Floor Prep: Remove old floors, subfloor prep
  2. Wall Prep: Take care of patching and sanding
  3. Install Flooring: No worries of ruining paint
  4. Paint: Messiest work finished, final touches

 

    

What is Acclimation?

Stack of flooring

New flooring needs time to adjust to the temperature in the room that the flooring will be installed in.

This process, called acclimation, gives the flooring time to reach the moisture content level of the room.

Additionally, the recommended acclimation time is 48 – 72 hours.

Be sure to read and follow the manufacturer specifications for the specific flooring you are installing.

This important step will help ensure your new floors look and perform well for many years.

Failure to acclimatize your new flooring could lead to gaps, buckling, and locking systems to come loose. 

 

 

When to Use Underlayment?

Installing flooring

Flooring underlayment is a thin layer of material placed between the subfloor and the finished flooring itself.

It's usually made of foam, cork, rubber, or even plywood/hardboard, depending on the application.

Benefits:

  • Smooths minor subfloor imperfections
  • Improves thermal insulation
  • Improves structural durability
  • Cushioning and sound absorption
  • Moisture barrier (certain types)

 

Underlayment Options

Rigid

  • Plywood
  • OSB
  • Underlayment Panels
  • Cement Board

Soft

  • Foam Sheet
  • Cork
  • Rubber

  

 

What is a Vapor Barrier?

Measuring vapor barrier

A vapor barrier is a sheet material that helps control moisture vapor transmission from the subfloor up into the finished flooring material.

Classified as a VDR (vapor diffusion retarder), it effectively regulates moisture flow at the molecular level.

This type of barrier becomes essential when installing flooring in areas prone to excess moisture, such as basements.

 

You can either purchase underlayment with a pre-attached vapor barrier or buy it as a standalone roll.

Alternatively, you may also find it available in a convenient roll-on, spreadable form.

To ensure precise measurements of moisture vapor coming through your concrete, using a moisture meter is advisable.

These meters are available for around $35 at your local hardware store.

 

 

Can I Install Vinyl Over Laminate?

Measuring flooring

When installing your new flooring, you may wonder if you can install the new product over the existing one.

There are situations where you can install your new flooring over your old flooring:

  • Laminate can be installed over sheet vinyl
  • Vinyl can be installed over existing vinyl
  • Carpeting can be installed over hard flooring

The key to installing new flooring over existing floors is making sure that the original flooring serves as a solid foundation to support the new flooring.

However, it's important to note that you should never install any flooring over carpet. It does not offer the necessary support to prevent the new flooring from shifting. 

 

 

Uneven Subfloors?

It's important to ensure your subfloor is level before installing new flooring.

An uneven subfloor can wreak havoc on your new floors, costing you time and money. 

 

Level Uneven Subfloors:

  1. Remove the existing flooring
  2. Using a level, check for low or high spots
  3. Level high spots in wood subflooring with a sander
  4. Level high spots in a concrete floor with a concrete sander
  5. Level low spots by using underlayment, floor leveler, or a floor patch product
  6. Be sure to vacuum thoroughly

As you are inspecting the subfloor for levelness, replace any nails that have loosened and look for any mold, termite damage, or other structural problems.

  

 

Additional Resources

 Tool Rentals:

Calculators: 

Guides:

 

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