How To Install Snap-Together Laminate Tiles
Locking laminate tiles snap together and, like their glued counterparts, float on a foam underlayment. The underlayment allows the floor to expand and contract as a unit and makes it feel comfortable underfoot. Assembly varies by manufacturer. Some styles use a tongue-and-groove configuration. Others employ locking strips.
Some brands require that you angle the units as you engage the tongue and groove. Others snap together with the aid of a tapping block and hammer. The tilt-and-engage style is the most common.
Installing the first three rows of tiles works best if you connect the tiles a few feet away from the wall, and then slide them as a unit in place. Then you’ll be able to work on top of the tile that you’ve installed. Acclimate the tiles by leaving them for 48 hours in the room where you are installing them.
If you will be using laminate baseboards, extend the underlayment 2 inches up each wall.
- Time: About 5 to 6 hours for an 8×10-foot floor, not including subfloor preparation
- Tools: Tape measure, metal straightedge, jigsaw, circular saw or table saw, trim saw, utility knife, hammer, tapping block, pull bar, pencil
- Skill: Measuring, setting, and cutting laminate
- Prep: Repair and/or replace subfloor.
- Materials: Underlayment, laminate planks, masking tape, caulk
Preparing the Subfloor:
- Wood: In new construction install 3/4-inch plywood. On an existing floor remove the finish and repair. Install 3/8-inch underlayment on planks wider than 4 inches. Fill all the depressions and sand.
- Concrete: Check for moisture by taping plastic sheets to the slab every 2 feet. If moisture appears under the plastic after a few days, don’t install the tiles. Remedy the moisture issue.
- Vinyl tile or sheet goods: If the existing floor is cushioned, remove it and repair the subfloor. If resilient flooring is installed on a wood floor and is loose or glossy, sand or strip.
- Ceramic tile: Level the surface with self-leveling compound. Remove any damaged tile.
- Carpet: Remove carpet and repair the wood or concrete subfloor as described above.
Preparing the Layout:
Roll out the underlayment, butting or overlapping the joints as instructed by the manufacturer. Tape the joints as instructed. Measure the room and divide the result by the width of the tiles. Add the remainder to the width of a tile and divide by 2. This is the width of your first and last border row.
Open three cartons and mix the planks so color variations spread throughout the room. Use your computations from Step 1 to mark the width of the tile for the border row. Rip enough border tiles for your starting wall. When using a circular saw, place the finish side down.
Starting in the center of the wall, snap the border tiles together. When you no longer have space for a full tile, center the row, leaving an equal space at each end. Measure from the edge of the tile face (not the tongue) to the wall and subtract 1/4 inch (to allow for spacers).
Mark the top of a full border tile, using the length from Step 3 and measuring from the edge of the face. Transfer the mark to the back of the tile with a combination square; cut the tile with a circular saw. Cut the left and right ends from separate tiles to maintain the pattern.
Lock the left and right ends of the border row in place. Then push the border row against the wall, inserting 1/4-inch spacers every foot or so. Number the order of the tiles on small pieces of masking tape.
Laying Out the Grout Lines:
How you design the pattern formed by the grout lines of planked tile depends on the size of the visual and how much the manufacturer requires the joints between the planks to be offset. Some planks can only be laid in a straight grout pattern. Others are sized with visuals that may permit more flexibility. Each will require some experimentation in planning the borders.
Both staggered and straight patterns will produce evenly spaced tiles at the walls but require cutting partial planks and result in more waste than an offset plank pattern. An offset plank pattern produces grout joints spaced randomly from row to row. Some manufacturers recommend the offset shown here. Others specify different lengths for each starting plank.
Because different grout patterns create dramatic differences in the appearance of a room, decide on the pattern in the planning stage and purchase a product that will produce the look you want. Bring your design to a tile retailer to get help in choosing the style that will meet your needs and be sure to get detailed instructions on how to lay the tile in the pattern of your choice.
Marking and Cutting Contours:
Variations in the wall can affect the layout, so the first row should follow the contour of the wall. Draw a compass along the tiles, skipping the spacers. (Read the instructions; some recommend doing this after laying three rows.) Snap the second row together and cut the end tiles.
Disassemble the border tiles and use a jigsaw with a fine-tooth blade to cut the scribed line. With a reverse-cutting blade, set the good side up to avoid chipping the tile. If using a regular blade, keep the good side down.
Installing the Floor Tiles:
Working away from the starting wall, reassemble the border-row tiles in their original order. Maintain the offset directed by the manufacturer and snap the end tile of the second row to the first row. Tilt the tile and pull the tongue into the groove. Prop the tile on a piece of scrap.
Tilt the second tile and push the tongue into the groove of the first one. Depending on the instructions you can either pull each tile toward you and into the first row as you go or wait until you have assembled the entire row. Regardless of the method, lower the tile until it snaps into place.
Continue using the same methods to fit the tiles together. When you have completed the first three rows, slide the assembly toward the starting wall, stopping short by a little more than the thickness of the spacers. Insert the spacers against the wall and snug the rows against them.
Continue snapping the tiles together, working toward the other wall, closing gaps as necessary with a tapping block and trimming the final row to fit. Tilt the final row and pull it into place, using a pull bar to snug the tiles together. Trim the underlayment flush with the tiles as necessary.