Luxury vinyl (LV) is tough and good-looking—and the easiest flooring material you’ll ever install. These tips and tricks will help you get the job done right.
Luxury vinyl flooring is so thin and flexible you can almost tie it in a knot, but it's also durable enough to last for years.
I’ve installed just about every type of flooring the world has ever known. So when my wife chose luxury vinyl planks (LVP) for the new dining room floor, my first thought was: Why couldn’t she pick something I already know how to do? Now I’ll have to muddle through the installation of an unfamiliar product, hoping to avoid costly mistakes along the way.
But it turns out that there was nothing to worry about. I was able to install 150 sq. ft. in less than a day without any problems. It was the fastest, easiest floor I’ve ever installed. And the next time we need new flooring, my vote will be for luxury vinyl. This article will walk you through the process I followed and show you some key tips along the way.
LVP is thinner than ceramic tile, wood and other types of flooring and doesn’t require an underlayment, so it’s possible to go over existing flooring without raising the floor much (see “Watch Your Floor Height” below). It does need to be installed on a smooth surface, so don’t lay it on tile, and most manufacturers do not recommend LVP over other floating floor systems. These particular planks are about 5/32 in. thick.
LVP flooring is not damaged by water. Some manufacturers actually refer to their products as “waterproof” rather than just “water resistant.” I was skeptical, so I cut off a chunk and stuck it in a pail of water overnight—it was completely unaffected.
LVP flooring feels softer underfoot than most other flooring. And because LVP flooring is pliable, it’s a lot easier to install in tight quarters than rigid planks. Other floating floors need cushy underlayment to prevent noise, but LVP flooring doesn’t because its flexibility makes it inherently quiet.
The real beauty of this flooring is that it’s super easy to cut. All you have to do is score it with a utility knife and snap it off. You can make curved cuts with a pair of aviation snips. You won’t have noisy saws, caustic sawdust to inhale or a need to run back and forth to your cut station. It really is a dream to work with.
You can install LVP flooring using only basic hand tools and a few inexpensive specialty tools.
LV flooring is similar to sheet vinyl, but it’s thicker, tougher and easier to install. It comes in tiles and planks, but this article covers planks only. I used a product called Adura LockSolid. It’s a floating floor which means it isn’t fastened to the subfloor—it just lies there. Luxury vinyl is the fastest growing category in the flooring industry.
LVP starts at about a couple of dollars per sq. ft., similar in price to medium-grade laminate. It’s available at flooring stores and home centers.
Grind down any humps, lumps or bulges in the subfloor. Use the coarsest sanding belt you can find, such as 40- or 60-grit.
Fill the low spots with floor patch, and feather it out with a trowel. Don't worry about the screw heads.
LVP flooring can be installed over most surfaces as long as those surfaces are smooth. Rough and uneven spots will telegraph through the new flooring, causing noticeable high spots that will wear faster than the rest of the floor. Concrete subfloors must be at least six weeks old, dry and free of powder and flaking. Large cracks and expansion joints should be filled and troweled smooth. Home centers sell mixable and premixed products that work on most surfaces.
Find the high and low spots on wood subfloors with a straightedge. The floor height should not rise or drop more than 1/8 in. over the span of 4 ft. Sand down the high spots with a belt sander equipped with a coarse-grit belt (Photo1). This is a dusty job, so turn off your furnace to avoid spreading dust all over the house, and wear a dust mask. Fill the low spots in the plywood with floor patch (Photo 2).
Avoid self-leveling floor patch. The floor doesn’t have to be level; it just has to be smooth. Some older houses would require a cement truck full of self-leveling floor patch to do the job. Check your installation manual about any other subfloor specifics.
If you lay the planks perpendicular to the longest wall, you’ll end up making fewer cuts. But don’t start that first row with full planks without figuring out how wide your last row is going to be. Neither the first nor the last row should be ripped down much smaller than half a plank.
Measure the width of the room, and divide it by the width of the exposed portion of the plank. For example, if your room measures 123 in., and your flooring is 5.75 in. wide, you’d divide 123 by 5.75, which is 21.39. That is, it would take 21.39 planks to complete the floor. Because this .39 represents less than half the width of a plank, you would want to cut down the first plank by an inch or so to increase the size of the last plank.
Trim jambs and casing so you can slide the flooring underneath. An oscillating multi-tool works great. Use a small scrap of flooring as a guide.
Cut down the doorjambs and casing so the flooring can slide under them (Photo 3). I used an oscillating multi-tool to cut down my jambs and casing, but a small pull saw would work too. Grab a scrap plank of flooring and use it as a guide to get the proper height. I only cut the casing and the doorjamb—a shoe molding will eventually be installed to hide the gap between the flooring and the base trim.
Insert shims to create gaps. These gaps allow the flooring to expand freely with temperature changes.
To allow for the expansion and contraction of both the flooring and the house itself, you’ll need to leave about a 1/4-in. to 3/8-in. gap between the flooring and the walls. After you install the first row (see “Start and End With a Half Plank or More” above), insert shims to maintain this gap (Photo 4).
Keep in mind that extremely heavy items like fully loaded bookshelves or pool tables will pin the flooring down. One heavy item per room is usually not a problem, but one at each end of the room may cause the flooring to buckle between them.
Join a plank into the end of the previous plank first, and then work your way down the side of the plank, snapping it into the previous course as you go.
The planks in the first row are snapped together end to end. Slide the tongue of the first plank on the second row into the groove of the first row at a low angle and lay it on the floor. The second and subsequent planks in each row are installed by locking the ends together, and then you work your way down the plank, pushing the tongue into the groove as you go (Photo 5).
This is where the flexibility of LVP flooring really shines. It helps to be able to twist and bend each plank into place. I’ve worked with several different laminate products that were “supposed to” install the same way (plank by plank), but I was forced to snap together a whole row end-to-end and try to finagle it all in at once, which was a slow process.
New flooring raises or lowers the final height of the floor, which can create unexpected problems. Here are some things to keep in mind:
If you’re pulling out flooring that is thicker than your new stuff, you’ll end up with gaps under the doorjambs. To prevent that, you could cover the subfloor with a layer of 1/4-in. underlayment to raise the height of the entire floor.
In most cases, there’s enough space above the dishwasher so that you can raise the floor level a little and still reinstall the dishwasher. But check the gap between the top of the dishwasher and the countertop first just to be sure.
Be careful when changing flooring that butts up to a flight of stairs. Building codes allow no more than a 3/8-in. difference between the heights of the lowest and tallest stair risers. Changing the floor height at the top or bottom of stairs will alter riser heights and could create a trip hazard.
Existing sheet vinyl and carpet
If your kitchen floor is sheet vinyl and the dining room is carpet, don’t forget that the sheet vinyl will have 1/4-in. underlayment beneath it, but the carpet won’t. If you want to install LV flooring in both, you’ll have to remove the underlayment in the kitchen or add some to the dining room.
On my floor, the partial plank left over from the first row worked as a “starter” for the second row, and the plank left over from the second row worked as a “starter” for the third row, and so on. Stagger the seams at least 6 in., and don’t start or end any row with a plank less than 6 in. wide. Open several boxes at once and mix them up to ensure a varied pattern. I set a bunch of planks in the area where I was working to reduce the number of trips needed to get more material.
Hook the pull bar onto the end of the piece, and tap stubborn seams closed.
Cover the expansion gap between the flooring and the base trim. Don’t nail into the flooring—that will prevent the floor from expanding freely.
When a plank is installed properly, the seams should be smooth to the touch and almost invisible. Every now and again, individual planks need a little “convincing” with a tapping block to seat properly. To avoid marring the edge of the plank, lock in a scrap chunk of flooring, and rest the tapping block up against the scrap.
If you’re having trouble closing the last butt seam in a row, use the pull bar from your installation kit to pull it tight (Photo 6). Make sure you have a shim against the wall on the opposite side of that row or you could end up pulling the whole row tight up against the wall, losing your expansion gap in the process.
Land the seam in the door opening
It’s easier to work away from door openings than into them, but sometimes that’s not an option. When working parallel to a door, make sure the seam on the row that intersects the jamb lands inside the door opening. Mark and cut the first plank, then tap it into place using a scrap of flooring and a tapping block.
Bend the second plank into place
Mark and cut the second plank to fit, and then slide it under the jamb. Bend it up in the middle so you can lock it into place. This is another situation where the flexibility of this product comes in handy. The larger this second plank is, the easier it is to work with.
Tap the first plank under the jamb
Sometimes you’ll have to cut around jambs while laying the planks perpendicular to a door opening. This is easy if the door opening falls on the same side as you started your rows. Simply mark and cut the first plank to size and tap it under the jamb with a tapping block.
Tap the end plank in sideways
It’s trickier to work around a jamb when the door opening is located at the end of the rows. One solution is to mark and cut the end plank to size, and tap it in along the end groove of the previous plank. You may not be able to lock it into place without removing the bottom lip on the plank you’re snapping it into. If you remove more than 6 in. of the lip, use seam sealer to glue the planks together. Buy a bottle of seam sealer for about ten dollars from your flooring supplier.
Once your flooring is down, install shoe molding to cover the expansion gap between the flooring and the base trim (Photo 7). Shoot 1-1/4-in. finish nails through the shoe and into the base trim. Be careful not to pin the flooring down in the process. Finish the molding to match the trim, not the flooring.