In January 2013 we took on the biggest DIY project that we had ever done! We installed over 1,100 square feet of laminate flooring on the entire first floor of our home. I was new to the world of DIY and had quite a bit of stress over this project. My husband had a busy work schedule at the time and, although he wanted to help, the majority of it would be my responsibility.
Searching the internet for reviews on laminate flooring wear-and-tear came up empty. There were plenty of “how-to” videos and a lot of “look at the floors I just installed” articles, but I was looking for someone to tell me how the flooring held up over the long term. Were they glad they chose laminate? So, with that as background, I decided to write a review to help others looking for that type of information.
First, I want you to know that this post was not sponsored. We paid for the laminate flooring out of our own pocket and installed it ourselves. All opinions are my own and I sincerely just want to help you. All of the pictures of my flooring were taken in February 2019 to show you how it’s held up over the last 6 years.
Second, I only have experience with the laminate flooring we used. Not all laminate flooring is the same quality or thickness, hence the dramatic price difference between brands. You will want to do your research when making a large financial investment in flooring. We chose a 10 mm thick laminate that was 4 7/8 inches wide by 47 7/8 inches long with the underlayment attached.
AM I HAPPY I CHOSE LAMINATE?
First, am I happy with it? Yes! It’s met and even exceeded my expectations. With a 50 lb. dog and three boys, we have thoroughly broken it in!
WAS MOISTURE A PROBLEM?
There were many warnings about the potential problems with installing laminate in high moisture areas. Since I wanted to have the same flooring on my entire first floor, I chose to move forward with installing it in my kitchen and half bath. Today there are laminate flooring options that are designed for areas exposed to moisture but, at the time of my installation, those options weren’t available. Unless you’re getting the new moisture-resistant variety of laminate, I would not install it in a full bath with a shower or tub.
I took great care to use the sealant around the entire perimeter of my half bath (especially the toilet) and around the enclosure of my dishwasher, sink and refrigerator. I believe the sealant saved me from headaches down the road. My half bath toilet has overflowed twice. Remember, I have three boys! I immediately and thoroughly dried up the water and the flooring is fine.
In my experience, as long as you dry up the moisture quickly, your flooring will remain nice. Problems arise when you leave liquid on the surface for an extended period of time and it seeps into the cracks or under the base molding and gets to the exposed part of the flooring. So, keep a close watch over moisture areas and be diligent to clean up spills thoroughly.
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IS THERE A LOT OF WEAR & TEAR?
Has my flooring scratched or dented? Absolutely! If you find a floor that doesn’t ever scratch, dent, stain or crack, please let me know. The key here is that I’m still happy with it. If you drop a heavy object or drag a sharp item across the floor, it will damage the surface. But, that’s true for most flooring.
The reason I’m still happy with it is because it stands up to normal wear and tear. I’m not as diligent as I should be about cutting my dog’s nails, and they still don’t damage my flooring. We keep our floors clean and have a “no shoes in the house” policy for my kids. If I do get a dent or scratch, I use a wood marker to mask it.
I also chose a textured surface on my laminate which helps hide imperfections. High gloss or shiny laminates don’t hide minor imperfections as well.
Areas with constant wear, like under a trash can foot pedal or under an office chair, tend to become worn and dull over time. Once I noticed these potential issues, I purchased a mat for the office chair and installed a piece of soft foam under the foot pedal.
Also, from day one, we put felt pads under all of our furniture. This helps to move the furniture as well as prevent small debris or sharp edges from scratching the surface of the floor.
INSTALL THEM THE RIGHT WAY.
I’ve heard complaints from people about their laminate flooring (such as, it wasn’t attractive, it wasn’t sturdy, it made cracking or popping noises when walked on, and didn’t hold up over time). Likely, these complaints were the result of either cheap flooring or improper installation.
We all want an easy project, but this is NOT one of them. One small bedroom wouldn’t be that hard, but doing an entire floor is back-breaking, knee-aching work! If you don’t have the time, health or energy to do it right, don’t do it. Wait until you have the budget and hire it out to the professionals. You’ll be happier in the long run.
PREPARE YOUR SUB-FLOOR.
As I’ve mentioned before, this is not a “how-to” article. However, if you’ve never put flooring down before, you need to be aware of this critical step. Preparing the sub-floor took longer than actually laying the new flooring. Your surface prep will ultimately impact how nice your flooring turns out. Here is the process we went through.
We removed all the old carpeting, padding, and carpet strips. Then we cut the linoleum with a utility knife and pulled it off. Underneath the linoleum was a layer of luan (a very thin plywood) stapled to the sub-floor. We found the edges of the luan and used a pry-bar to separate it from the sub-floor, taking care to remove every staple. When we were done, all that was left was the OSB sub-floor. By the way, we also found a lot of building debris and plaster dust under the luan. I always wondered why there were bumps in my linoleum :).
After cleaning the sub-floor, I slid a four foot level around the entire surface looking for bumps and dips. I sanded down the bumps with a belt sander and marked the dips to fill later with leveling compound. I then walked around and found the squeaks and marked them with blue masking tape. To stop the squeaks, I put 2 1/2″ screws through the sub-floor and into the floor joists. One last vacuuming and our floor was ready for installation.
SOME INSTALLATION TIPS.
Most brands have an installation video for their flooring. I just wanted to make a few notes here that might help you.
First, I chose a laminate with the underlayment attached and I’m glad I did. It would have been an extra step to put the underlayment down separately and this project was already very large and time consuming. I didn’t want to deal with the hassle of things moving around on me.
Second, I chose to start at the longest run in my house because that’s what the installation video said to do. When you’re doing an entire floor versus just one room it’s a little tricky to know where to start. This worked out well.
Third, I didn’t like the look of transition moldings and chose not to use them. Be aware that many brands of laminate flooring require you to use transition moldings or your warranty is void. So far, there are no visible problems with my flooring. However, there are a couple of places in my longest run of flooring that the end joints have opened about 1/16 of an inch. The average person would not notice them; I’m just super detailed. These small gaps change with the fluctuation in humidity and could be because I didn’t use transition moldings.
Fourth, I did put transition moldings around my fireplace hearth instead of scribing the planks to fit. Scribing the planks just made me nervous since I had never practiced it. So, I painted the sub-floor (OSB) black right at the edge of the brick. This made the gap between the brick and metal strip less noticeable. You can see the picture below.
Fifth, I removed all of my base molding, painted and reinstalled it. So you won’t see the quarter round molding in my pictures. Some of the base molding boards broke as I removed them so I had to replace them.
Lastly, I undercut all of my door jambs with an oscillating tool. I used this tool and recommend it. While it was an investment and the blades are pricey, I have used it many times for other projects when working in tight spaces.
WOULD I DO IT AGAIN?
That depends. I would use laminate again, but probably would leave the installation to the professionals for a large job. We did save around $8,000 and I think our attention to detail and quality was better than a typical contractor. I did this project mostly by myself and our lives were on hold for about 2-3 months. It was extremely labor intensive and created a low level of constant stress for my family.
I’m not sure I would tackle 1,100 square feet again. If I were doing a single room or smaller area, I would do it again. I would also consider what my current flooring is before deciding. For instance do you already have multiple layers of flooring that need to be removed? What flooring do you have now? Carpeting is easier to remove than linoleum and luan.
WHAT WOULD I DO DIFFERENTLY?
We really did our research before starting this project, but still made some mistakes. I focused too much on the details, like worrying about the overall appearance of the base molding. Not wanting to use quarter round to cover the expansion gap, I removed all of my base molding. In hindsight, this was a lot more work for very little return. If I were to do it again, I would leave the baseboards on and add the quarter round. It would have saved me quite a bit of time and effort.
While I love the deep, rich and contrasting color of my floors, anything light in color (like pet hair) really stands out. I wouldn’t change my flooring color, but I felt like you would want to know this information.
WHAT DO I USE TO CLEAN MY FLOORS?
Use 50% distilled vinegar and 50% water and a mop with a microfiber pad, like this one. Then, fill the plastic container with the vinegar and water solution, wet the pad under a faucet, and wring it out until it’s almost dry. Lastly, wipe the floor down and let it air dry. Use the cleaning solution sparingly. You don’t want your floors to be too wet.
When we first put down our floor, I used an upright vacuum cleaner with the agitator brush turned off. Later because of our dog, I purchased a robotic vacuum cleaner like this one. We set our vacuum to run at night while we are sleeping, so it doesn’t bother us. If your pet is prone to accidents, I wouldn’t leave them roaming around while the vacuum is running. The vacuum will drag anything it runs through around the entire house.
NOOKS AND CRANNIES
We all have those areas that a vacuum cleaner cannot get to or sometimes just a quick clean up is necessary. For those times I use a hand vac. This is my favorite one. It has great suction and the battery has lasted a long time. In fact, after several years of heavy use, it recently broke and we repurchased the exact same one.
We have Waterhog waffle-style mats at all of our entry doors to keep water and dirt off of the floors. You may also want to consider a small water resistant mat under your pet’s water bowl.
I think that sums it up. Thank you for sticking with me through such a long post! Here is a before and after picture.
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Thanks so much for stopping by and I wish you well with your upcoming project!