We all want to make our homes something that feels like, well, home. When I first moved into my half duplex, it felt like I was taking over a place that belonged to someone else—probably because I was. The flooring, the walls, the layout, this was all the previous owner’s vision. I wanted to redo every room, but after dropping a huge chunk of change on getting the half duplex in the first place, it was difficult to see past the price tag on every modification.
There were certainly projects I didn’t want to do myself because the research would be too time consuming and the risk too high. Knocking out a load-bearing wall between the kitchen and living room and installing cabinets and countertops in its place would be the most recent. The cost to have that project done by professionals was well worth it. The team got everything done in a week and a half, and the results were fantastic. I was also pleased they were able to install a red-oak bartop I made as a way to transition from the living room to the kitchen. Had I done the project myself, I imagine it’d have been closer to two months of me working on weekends when I had spare time.
But my wife and I live under the reality of our budget, and in order to afford professionals on certain projects, I have to do some of the other projects myself. This time it meant replacing a shaggy, forest-moss-green carpet with something a little more contemporary. It had been on our wish list since we moved in, and when we saw a sale on laminate flooring, things suddenly became affordable.
The first step was research. I had never installed laminate flooring. What tools did I need? What were common mistakes? How long would it take? I would be doing this myself without an expert looking over my shoulder.
Aside from materials, the only expenses for me were an oscillating multitool (which, bonus, I wanted anyway); an 80-tooth, 10-inch circular sawblade; and jigsaw blades—all for cutting laminate. The multitool allowed me to correct mistakes after I had laid the planks for areas where things were too tight, which might be something a professional wouldn’t need because they’d get it right the first time. All in all, the tool and blades cost me $200.
Removing the carpet was easy enough. Cut it into strips and roll it up. The best part was seeing my funky subflooring. Most of it was three-quarter ply, but there were tiles in the area off of the kitchen. I imagine the tiles once crept past the wall and then some gold-plated divider separated it from loop-pile carpeting. A potential problem popped up elsewhere in the form of an eighth-inch difference in height between two plywood sheets near the stairs.
Next was laying and taping the underlayment, which I also stapled to the subfloor. Easy enough. In comparison to actually laying the laminate, this took no time at all and very little know-how.
Then came the fun part, where I actually got to start seeing what my new floor would look like. The laminate plank flooring I bought has a tongue-and-groove locking system. You have to put the piece you’re installing together with the already installed pieces at an angle. After inserting the piece and laying it on the ground, you use a block to dampen your strikes as you tap the pieces tighter. Do this until your back wishes it were a noose to put you out of your misery, take a break, and repeat. Aside from some tricky cuts and relearning the adage that the larger the room, the less square it is, I got it down.
To finish up, I lined the walls with trim, which is necessary to keep the floating floor down, and divided the rooms with reducer and T-molding where appropriate. Some people think it looks perfect, some don’t even notice the floors are different, and I am very aware of every mistake. That eighth-inch drop was something I just covered and hoped everything would work out, but I feel it every time I step over it. There was also a long weekend where my wife took the boys to her parents while I worked. But now I have more money to put toward future projects that may involve hiring a professional, further making the house a part of my family.
Kyle Jacobson is the senior copy editor and writer for Home Elements & Concepts.
Photographs by Kyle Jacobson.