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Why Laminate is the Easiest Floor to Install

Laminate floors are the easiest flooring options to install, even for someone with little to no experience. Many can be installed without glue and with only the most basic of tools. Different specifications may affect the installation, however.

Look Between the Planks

First, you should know that different floors have different edge types. These edges affect not only how the floor looks, but can also affect the installation.

Square

Several floors offer square edges. These floors have a completely straight corner, and will show no visible seams within the floor, creating a clean and stunning visual effect. However, they are also some of the easiest to wear, and can create more visible gaps if the flooring is moved.

Beveled

In contrast, some floors offer a beveled edge. This means that each floor has rounded edges with seams visible even from a distance, creating a more natural and realistic look. These edges also hide dirt and dust more easily than square edges, and even if they begin to form gaps over time, they will be much less noticeable. However, because the gaps are bigger, they also collect dirt and dust more easily, and can be more difficult to clean with a dust mop or vacuum brush.

Microbeveled

Most floors feature an edge that combines the best features of square and beveled edges while minimizing their weaknesses. Called microbeveled or eased edges, these pieces are rounded slightly on the sides with seams visible when viewed up close, but not noticeable at a distance. Floors with these edges hide dirt and dust better than square edged floors, but are easier to clean than beveled edge floors.

Grout

Many tile floors will feature a different style of edge called grout edge. These floors have simulated grout lines on the sides to give the tile a rounded appearance, but are usually microbeveled or square edges on the edge of the actual piece to make it more realistic. Some wood floors use this technique, too, particularly hand-scraped floors with a very wide bevel but a square edge below the visible surface that minimizes any gaps between installed boards.

Finding the Perfect Fit

But the biggest part of installation is the tongue and groove on each board. Laminate flooring is usually installed by fitting the tongue on one board into the groove on the next. Sometimes this process requires glue to hold the boards together, but many modern laminate floors have a locking edge that requires no glue to hold together. Typically this is achieved by using a tongue raised on the ends and a groove that is longer on the bottom to allow the tongue to slide in underneath and lock into the groove. One of the most well-known creators of this installation process is Unilin, who patented their Uniclic system that is now licensed for use in hundreds of different floor styles by numerous manufacturers around the world.

Glueless laminate flooring is usually pretty inexpensive, but not all locking systems are alike, so examine the system in place before deciding on a floor. Faulty tongue and groove systems can be difficult to install and tend to break apart easily.

Is Glueless Laminate Worth the Cost?

Whether a flooring has a glueless installation mechanism or not usually has little to do with the durability of the floor. In fact, glued laminates will usually hold more strongly than glueless laminate floors. The difference shows in the price. With glueless installation, your only costs are the costs of the laminate, the underlayment, and any trim you might need. But with floors that require glue, you have to pay extra to buy the adhesive. Additionally, if you have little experience with flooring adhesive, you may want to bring in a professional flooring installer, and that can be expensive as well. So although floors without a glueless installation are less expensive in the short term, the long-term costs can easily outweigh the benefits.

Cushioning the Floor

Speaking of additional costs, one cost that must be considered is underlayment. Because laminate floor is almost always far less thick than hardwood and because it "floats" over the subfloor rather than actually being attached, underlayment is a necessary companion to laminate flooring. Because of this, all laminate warranties require underlayment to be used, and any flooring professional will tell you the same thing.

Of course, not all underlayment is the same. Laminate underlayment can be made from a variety of materials and thicknesses. Some of the most widely used types are made from foam (polyethylene, polypropylene, vinyl, etc), cork, synthetic fiber, recycled gypsum wood fiber, and combinations of these. What is required for your floor depends on what is underneath the laminate and how far above ground level the floor is.
Some manufacturers require a specific brand or type of underlayment for use with their products. Be absolutely sure to check the warranty and installation guidelines for your product before looking for an underlayment.

Moisture Barriers

If the floor is below ground level, in any environment with high humidity, in areas prone to mold or mildew, or over carpeting, a moisture barrier (usually a thin layer of polyethylene film) is necessary. Typically, the recommended type of laminate underlayment in these situations is a combination of foam padding with a film moisture barrier. This is often called "Two In One" or "Combo", and usually meets the bare requirements for floors installed on any type of subfloor except carpet, where separate foam and film layers must be used. Other options include a rubber underlayment with a moisture barrier or cork, which resists moisture naturally.

If the laminate will be installed on or above the second floor of the building, moisture barrier is often unnecessary. In these cases, foam underlayment is the bare minimum, though a denser material like cork or rubber may be necessary to reduce sound levels on lower levels.
Some floors offer preattached underlayment. Floors featuring this product are usually just as strong as floors with separate underlayment, so this is definitely a plus if you are considering it as an option.

Noise Reduction

Sound levels are another consideration with laminate floors, too. Because laminate floors are very dense and don't attach to the subfloor, you will often hear noise when walking across it. This can be minimized using the proper underlayment. As mentioned, cork has excellent noise reduction qualities for floors not requiring a moisture barrier. Fiber is often used to absorb noise, but the thickness and density of fiber necessary to properly reduce noise is often much harder than other options. And as one of the densest underlayment materials available, rubber is the best at absorbing noise.

For most typical usage, though, the best option is a material called closed-cell foam. Most typical foam is made using open cells. For an example of this, just think of the soft, cushiony foam used in some sponges or found in some boxes used to protect delicate products like computer accessories or lightweight breakable objects. Closed-cell foam is more like styrofoam. Made to be stronger and more likely to hold its shape when put under pressure. Of course, the type of closed-cell foam used in underlayment is much softer than styrofoam, but the same principle is at work. Most of the time, this type of padding will have an attached moisture barrier to make it usable in any environment, and is strong enough to dampen most of the noise created by laminate traffic. As a result, for the majority of usage, this type of underlayment is the most recommended, and except for special circumstances, is probably your best bet.