"Click" flooring has become popular with DIY homeowners because of its simplified “snap-together” installation method. Click flooring requires no glue or nails, eliminating the need for specialized tools and reducing the labor required to complete the job. This type of flooring connects to the surrounding boards with a tongue-and-groove joint to create a floating floor system with a seamless appearance.
“Easy installation” is a relative concept, however, and the job can still be daunting
for anyone unaccustomed to flooring work. The following article covers some important things to know if you plan on tackling the job yourself.
There is more to learn about floating floors than just “click it and you’re done.”
Types of Click Flooring
Engineered flooring is manufactured by adhering genuine hardwood to layers of
plywood or Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF). Some engineered flooring can be
sanded and refinished, depending on the thickness of the wood veneer.
Laminate flooring is manufactured with a photograph of finished hardwood applied
over MDF, which is protected by a wear layer. Laminate flooring cannot be refinished.
Vinyl plank flooring is made without a wood component but can be manufactured with
the appearance and texture of wood or even ceramic tile. Because it’s an all-vinyl product, it can be used as waterproof flooring in damp environments.
Click flooring is available as laminate, engineered wood, and vinyl plank, which all vary in cost, looks and performance, so do plenty of research when selecting.
If installing a wood floor, it’s a good idea to use a moisture meter to test the moisture content of the subfloor. Moisture can cause cupping, buckling and other related issues. Never install a wood floor over a known moisture condition. Moisture content should be kept below 12 percent to protect wood from rot or decay. Installation of a plastic moisture barrier may help mitigate moisture problems and protect the new flooring.
All subfloors must be flat. This means there should be no high or low spots within 1/8 inch over a 6-ft. span, or 3/16 inch over a 10-ft. span. High spots can be sanded or grinded down and low spots filled with floor-patching compounds. Set any protruding fasteners flush into the subfloor.
On wood subfloors, take the opportunity to walk over the entire area and listen for any squeaks. If you locate any, drive long screws through the subfloor and into the joists to tighten the connection and arrest any movement that can cause the noise.
One key to a successful click flooring installation is choosing the right underlayment. The underlayment is a thin engineered material that usually comes in rolls and lays between the subfloor and the new flooring. Many underlayments include a vapor barrier that helps protect against moisture, mildew and mold. The denser the underlayment, the more it smooths out minor imperfections in the subfloor. Thicker underlayments make walking and standing more comfortable by adding cushion to the hard surface. They can also add a layer of insulation and even dampen sound transmission to reduce noise and vibration. The type of underlayment you need depends on the type of material you’re using, whether you’re installing over wood or concrete, and how much comfort you want.
The right underlayment can add moisture protection, insulation, sound absorption and more comfort underfoot.
Unroll the underlayment across the floor and cut it to fit along the walls. Butt the seams together, taping if necessary.
Installing the underlayment is usually a simple procedure. Line up the edges of the underlayment against the wall and cut it to fit using a sharp utility knife. Lay the strips until you’ve covered the subfloor. Make sure seams abut together rather than overlap. Tape the seams if necessary.
When installing wood over concrete, even if your underlayment provides some moisture protection, a 6-mm poly should be installed as an extra vapor barrier to protect beyond the underlayment’s capability.
Some types of click flooring come with an underlayment pad already attached to the bottoms of the boards, but you can usually install an additional pad for extra warmth and comfort. Check the floor manufacturer’s guidelines for additional underlayment approval.
Prior to installation, refer to the manufacturer’s guidelines on how to acclimate the new flooring. The instructions often indicate the flooring should be stored 48 hours in the room where it will be installed, so the material can adjust to the temperature.
Before laying the floor boards, check the room for square. Use the 3-4-5 rule to check that the corners form right angles. Measure and mark a point that is 4 feet from the corner along one wall. Measure and mark a second point that is 3 feet from the corner on the intersecting wall. A diagonal line between the two points should measure 5 feet if the walls are at 90 degrees. In large rooms, you can double the ratio (i.e., 6-8-10).
The first rule of flooring layout: Make sure your board pattern is square even if the room isn’t. If one wall is significantly out of square, then lay out the floor so the tapered boards will run along the least noticeable wall.
Plan your layout carefully and make sure to establish a square installation with your first rows. Use plastic spacers between the wall and flooring to maintain an expansion gap.
Next, measure the width of the room and divide it by the width of the floor boards. Based on your measurements, will the final row of boards only leave enough room for a partial sliver of flooring? If this is the case, then consider ripping the first row thinner to leave room for a wider, more attractive row of flooring against the opposite wall.
You’ll also need to consider where other fixtures and wall projections will intersect the boards and do your best to avoid small sliver boards
Install the Flooring
To assemble click flooring, the boards typically connect by inserting the tongue into the groove at roughly a 20-degree angle. Then, press down on the board while applying forward pressure to lock it in.
The simplest type of click flooring, called Angle-Drop flooring, is designed to be installed without tapping or lifting. Angle-Tap flooring is designed to use a hammer to install. Refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for guidance.
A hammer and tapping block can help apply pressure to close the tongue-and-groove joints, but be sure to use a tapping block that won’t damage the boards. A rubber mallet can be useful to smooth out stubborn seams from the top. In general, it’s easier to connect the long joints first and then close the short joints.
A hammer and tapping block will help to lock together the joints on many types of click flooring. Pro tip: Use stacks of flooring to weigh down the first rows, which tend to shift around from the hammer taps until enough flooring is assembled to provide the adequate weight and friction to prevent movement.
Along the wall edges, you’ll need to lock the flooring joints together by using a hammer and pull-bar rather and tapping block. It may also be helpful to hold the plastic wall spacers in place with painter’s tape.
Mix the planks before you install them so that you don’t end up with too many light or dark panels next to each other. If installing boards with an artificial wood or tile look, be careful to avoid repeating the pattern by separating identical boards from each other.
As you lay the rows, use plastic spacers or wood blocks to maintain a 1/4-in. gap around between the floor and walls, which allows space for the natural movement and expansion of the floor.
At the end of the rows, you’ll usually have to cut the final board to fit. A powered miter saw or dedicated flooring saw are the best tools to trim the boards. Many times, the cut-off piece can be used to begin the next row of flooring. Stagger the end joints of the rows by 8 inches or more.
Once the flooring is complete, install baseboards and/or shoe molding to conceal the expansion gap along the walls and give the new floor a finished look.
A flooring mallet can help close stubborn flooring seams from the top side.
Editor's Note: Special Thanks for Richard Hamilton for help with this article.
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