How to buy wood flooring Expert fitting tips
Professional floor fitter Martin Howe has replaced many a badly-fitted laminate floor. He often finds that his customers have tried to lay a floor themselves, and either found it too difficult or were not pleased with their results.
People usually turn to a professional floor fitter for downstairs rooms which other people will see, where they are prepared to spend money on good materials and want to get the best possible finish.
If you want to lay a floor yourself his advice for a successful outcome comes down to five key points:
- Be realistic in your expectations. Don’t expect a cheap material to look like a million dollars
- Prepare the subfloor well
- Read the instructions
- Have the right tools
- Take your time.
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The right tools for the job
If you are laying the floor yourself you'll need a tape measure, carpenter’s square and pencil for measuring and marking boards.
A decent handsaw is essential for trimming lengths and a jigsaw is great for cutting along the length of a plank to fit it to walls (buy one with the blade that cuts on the down stroke to avoid damaging the top layer).
You’ll need a hacksaw and spade drill bit for dealing with radiator pipes and a coping saw if you need to cut out intricate shapes.
A flat saw is good for trimming architrave (the wooden bits around doors).
Finally you can buy a laminate kit, which includes basic tools including a pull bar, wedges and a tapping block. The instructions will explain how you use each of these tools.
Mistakes to avoid
It's generally easy for a professional to tell if someone has installed a floor themselves, and especially if they’ve ignored the manufacturer's instructions.
The tell-tale signs are:
Regimented board patterns Floors look best if you stagger where the ends join, so make sure you start each row with a different length board. Using offcuts also reduces wastage.
Poorly finished beading Badly mitred corners and beading that ends with unattractive gaps rather than a neat return.
Butchered boards Often seen around radiator pipes installed by an amateur.
Floors cut to fit around an architrave This is the wooden moulding around a door or window; ideally you'd trim the architrave and slide the floor in underneath it.
Gaps between boards Usually because people didn't use enough glue, or keep tongue and groove boards together overnight while the glue was setting.
Hollow footfalls Caused when there is a small void underneath a board, usually because the subfloor is uneven or there is inadequate underlay.
Creaking floors Caused when people didn't fix loose floorboards in the subfloor before laying the new one on top.
Floors butting up to skirting boards Ideally you remove skirting, then fit it back over the new floor.
What can go wrong
Laminate can come apart if it's not well manufactured or if it has been laid over an uneven floor.
‘Tenting’ of the joints occurs where moisture gets in and causes the board to swell so the edges stick up. You can wear the picture off over time, especially in tented areas.
A floor can buckle because it hasn't been laid with an adequate expansion gap around the edge of the room. You can remedy the expansion gap problem if you remove the last boards, trim them down and refit them, but swelling upwards can't be solved.
It's easier to renew a finish with a proper wood floor; you can fill it with a wood-coloured filler if it develops small gaps and if the finish becomes worn you can always sand it back and re-oil or lacquer.