I’m happy to be finished with my flooring project. And even though I spent a lot of time reading and watching instructional videos (the Flooret videos are a good start), there are some less obvious things I wished I had known before hand.
The following are my lessons learned that I hope others might benefit from.
I knew it was important to make sure the sub-floor was well prepared. It needed to be flat, level, clean, and free of any protruding nail or screw heads. This was one of the reasons I spent significant time dealing with the floor adhesive removal because I understood that significant imperfections could telegraph up into the new flooring and be visible.
My first mistake was not spending more time in walking all around the sub-floor to listen for creaks. We didn’t have any creaks with the old glued-down parquet, but I realized half-way through my install that my hallway had a few creaks. So I had to lift up and remove a section of new flooring and use some wood screws to tighten up a few areas in the sub-floor that creaked. Thankfully, it’s pretty fast and easy to re-lay flooring that’s already cut to size so this wasn’t a big problem.
The bigger issue I faced was an unlevel area in the middle of the kitchen. I concluded that a major support beam ran under that area, which made that part of the floor about 3/8″ higher when compared to either the left or right side of the kitchen floor. Flooret indicates that when measuring for levelness, the recommended flatness is 3/16” within 10 ft. Or in other words, there shouldn’t be any significant change in flatness over a sizeable area. Unfortunately, I definitely had an issue.
I spent significant time researching and debating the use of self-leveling concrete / floor patch to get the floor perfectly level. That process would be so much easier if I were dealing with a bedroom or rectangular room with four walls where I could prep a protective backsplash to contain the liquid compound. But this was a kitchen with many openings, hallways and transitional areas. In the end, I decided to gamble a bit. While I did use patching compound to level/flaten specific spots, I didn’t use leveling compound for the entire floor. And I’m happy to report that my end result is just fine! I was lucky that I didn’t have any abrupt change in levelness as that would have been a show stopper.
Quarter Round Trim vs. Baseboard Only
The house originally had quarter round trim around all of the baseboards (sample in first pic above). It looked pretty decent. My original plan was to simply remove all of the quarter round trim, sand it, paint it, and then put it back (as the pictures above show). And while it tends to be unavoidable to have that quarter round under the cabinets, I wish now I had just simply disposed of the quarter round from the baseboards. In other words, it would have looked nicer had I removed the baseboards and installed my new flooring so it was flush to the walls and then re-installed the baseboard. Unfortunately for me, it’s too late because my planks weren’t cut with that in mind.
Door Jams / Cuts / Oscillating Tool
I wish I had figured out sooner, the value and practicality of using the cardboard that the flooring came in to use as a cuttable template! I eventually had that idea, but not until I was halfway through the project. In the first few pics above, I show a piece of cardboard that was cut to match the size of a plank. I could then write on it and mark it up; cut it with a razor blade, and then use it as a template where I’d lay it on top of a plank and mark the outline to guide my jigsaw. Doh!
Another thing that I learned late was the awesome versatility of an oscillating multi-tool. I’m picturing a red one that I bought from Harbor Freight for just $35 (accessories included). This tool is terrific for trimming a door casing / door jam so that you can slide the new floor planks under the door jams. There are lots of YouTube videos to show this process (here’s one). I was usually able to get a nice end result with this method, but I had one instance (2nd pic above) where I couldn’t get my planks to lock into place while also having them go cleanly under a door casing. So I had to resort to an ugly cut of the plank and then some caulk to fill that small void. I used a light gray caulk above, but in hindsight, getting it color matched to the trim (or maybe I’ll try painting the caulk?) would look better.
Measuring the Full Distance of the Room Before Starting
One thing I’m very glad I did was to measure from the wall I would start at to the various places where the possibility existed that I might have to cut a plank of just an inch or two in width. You definitely want to avoid having a plank of just 1 inch in width! So I put together a simple spreadsheet (pictured above) where I calculated based on my plank width being 9 inches wide. I measured to see how much I’d have to trim from a floor plank to get it to fit when I reached that area of the room. If I had not done this pre-planning and instead just started my room with the full 9″ plank width, I would have run into 3 different areas where I’d be left with just a 1 inch or 2 inch space to fill. It would have looked bad and those small pieces might have been prone to lift up too.
Be Careful with the Tapping Block!
When I was initially getting the hang of laying my vinyl plank flooring, I made a few mistakes with the tapping block and hammer, which caused some damage to the edge of a few boards. It’s important that the tapping block be firmly positioned with some downward pressure when striking it to help keep it from lifting up, which would cause damage to the edge. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t notice how severe my newbie-ness was till several rows later when viewed from across the room. Oy!
While I could have undone those rows and replaced the damaged planks, I decided to try and repair (or at least minimize) the raised edges so that I could retain the existing boards. I used a heat gun to soften the damage and a putty knife to push it down. I ended up recording a really short video to share with a flooring DIY group on Facebook.
Tools, Tools, and More Tools
I probably love tools as much as my wife loves chocolate. Unfortunately, my tool habit is far more expensive!
I thought I’d share a few pics and thoughts about the tools I really appreciated having while installing my new flooring.
Of course, there’s the requisite installation tool kit that consists of a tapping block, pull bar, spacers and a rubber mallet. I bought the above from Amazon. It worked well but if I had to buy one again, I’d prefer a pull bar that was a little wider. But this one still worked pretty well.
Pictured above is a small set of pry-bars that I bought from Home Depot for removing the quarter round trim. Any big box store will have some pry-bars and I was surprised that I found the smaller one the most often used.
Since you’ll be on your knees a lot for this job, it’s definitely helpful to make life more comfortable! I bought some cheap knee protectors from Harbor Freight, but I also found value in a simple foam mat that we bought for garden use. Both were nice to have on hand.
I had a variety of measuring and straight edge tools on hand. None were overly expensive. I had two different square edge tools, which were important for marking straight 90 degree lines on the planks for cutting. They were also useful when I cut the cardboard as templates. I also had two different bubble level tools. The yellow one at the top of the pic is 6 feet long, which is helpful for checking both the level and flatness of the sub-floor. The long flat yellow ruler was handy to have laying around too when I wanted a quick look at what plank length might be good for my next cut. And of course, a couple of retractable tape measures are important. The red & black one above came from Harbor Freight. I loved that it didn’t immediately want to retract when I would pull it out — you have to press the button when you wanted it to retract. Nice feature!
An electric or battery powered jigsaw is a must, in my mind. Whenever you have planks that are at door casings or corners, etc., you need the ability to easily cut out a pattern to match the need. This battery powered Bauer jigsaw was awesome (Harbor Freight). I eventually found that a ‘fast wood’ cut blade worked the best for my vinyl plank flooring cuts.
When it comes to the simple straight cuts, there are a lot of ways to cut your vinyl planks to size. I have a nice Skil circular saw, but I was happy to have an excuse to buy a portable table saw. I purchased the DeWalt DW745 table saw pictured above for less than $300. I also purchased a nice finish cut blade intended for hardwood floors, but I discovered I didn’t need it. The general cutting blade that the table saw came with was perfect. The cuts were pretty clean as-is.
I love my new table saw! But for those on a budget, a circular saw would certainly work well, or you could use a jigsaw for all the cuts but that would get especially tedious when cutting lengthwise on a 6 foot plank! So I would recommend a circular saw at least.
Lastly, I previously mentioned the value of an oscillating multi-tool like the Chicago Electric power tool shown above. It was great for trimming under the door cases / jams to get a nice clean look of having the vinyl plank go under things. There are hand-powered saws that do a nice job too, but at $35 dollars, this thing was great to have!
I typically enjoy home projects, especially when I get to work with tools. Honestly though, I wasn’t sure about tackling this flooring project. But I’m very glad I did. I saved over $1500 in labor costs and I can now say, “I did it myself!” which in the end, helped to make it all worth the bruises on my knees and my one sore finger that I hit a few too many times with a hammer.