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Mod #54: Laminate Flooring

Posted By Mark Corgan On August 5, 2008 @ 1:39 pm In interior | 43 Comments

Laminate flooring is a great option for RVs because you can have the beautiful look of a hardwood floor without all the maintenance and installation challenges. Hardwood is not practical to install in an RV because of anchoring and flexing issues. Laminate flooring (commonly referred to as “Pergo”), on the other hand is straightforward to install because it requires no anchoring per se. The laminate “floats” on the sub-flooring surface, allowing the flex and small movement necessary in an RV environment.

Mod Difficulty:

To effectively install laminate flooring in your RV requires some planning and a bit of patience. It is somewhat of a challenge to get the professional look the manufacturers can with a factory install, but if you have the right tools and handyman know-how, this mod is a snap, literally.

You first need to determine where you want the flooring. This may seem obvious but in an RV, you may have to deal with slide-outs, furniture, and odd angles. And if you have a class A or C, consider how you will work around the captains chairs, foot wells, and stairs. Once you have decided where you want the flooring, it’s time to figure out how much flooring you actually need.

This is where the fun begins. One way to closely determine the amount of flooring is to make a cardboard template of the area(s) where you want the laminate. You may have to do this using several pieces of cardboard if the area is large. Cut the cardboard to size. You don’t have to be exact, but get as close to the shape of the areas as practical. Remember, 12 inches by 12 inches equals 1 square foot. You will need to determine the total square footage of all the cardboard areas. Once you know the total, you can go buy the laminate. Add about 10% to the total to be sure you buy enough.

So what is this stuff made of? Laminate flooring consists of planks made from a durable laminate surface, a wood based core and a balancing backing. The planks are clicked together to form a long lasting, easy-to-maintain surface. Like almost all materials in your RV, laminate flooring expands and contracts due to changes in temperature and humidity.

Before installing laminate flooring, you will need to acclimate the planks to the environment they will be installed in. This means that for 48-96 hours PRIOR to installation, you will need to put the planks, while still in their boxes, in to your RV. Set the temperature to a minimum of 65°F and ensure relative humidity is in the range of 30% to 90%.

While your planks are acclimating, you can prepare the floor. If your floor has linoleum, is in good shape , is smooth with no tears, then you can lay the laminate over the top of it as the lino adds very little thickness to the overall flooring height. If you are replacing carpet, you must remove both the carpet and the padding. Ensure that the sub-floor is is good condition and free of bumps, protruding screws or nails, and has no moisture damage. Make any repairs necessary before proceeding.

Next, lay down the foam underlayment. This step may not be necessary if the laminate you buy already has the foam attached to each plank. If it does, this can be a real time saver. If not, cut the underlayment to fit, leaving a little extra around the edges. You will trim this after laying the planks.

After the acclimation period, open the boxes of laminate, put your cardboard template(s) on the lawn or driveway, and lay out the laminate on the cardboard. This will give you a feel for how the laminate will look. You can experiment with different layouts like angling the laminate, and validate you have enough for the job.

Now it’s time to start laying down the laminate. This involves a lot of measuring, cutting, re-cutting, re-measuring, etc. In other words, it’s not an exact science. A mistake or two is common and entirely appropriate if you are not a professional installer. You don’t have to be perfect. The quarter rounds you will use to trim out the edges of the flooring will hide most gaps or rough cuts.

Start by determining where the first plank will go. A good starting point is the most square edge of the floor/wall. Use a framing square to check the corner where you want to start. The idea is to work your way towards the non-square walls/cabinets. Once there, you can then measure the remaining area and cut a custom piece of laminate to fit. Some RV’s are made better than others in terms of plumb cabinetry and flooring. Once you find the right starting point, be sure you leave a 1/4″ gap between the wall or cabinet and the planks all the way around the edges. This is required so the flooring can “float”, or contact and expand as the temperature and humidity varies.

A good technique for a nice look is to stagger the planks so that no ends line up with each other. Use a full size plank to start. When you get to the next row, cut the starting plank to 2/3 its length, and then cut a plank to 1/3 size for the third row.  From this point forward, you can use full length planks. It should be noted at this point that some laminate requires the tongue and groove attachment of the planks to be glued. This is really a personal preference but does result in a more durable “one-piece” floor.

Now it’s just a matter of laying (and gluing if necessary) the planks and cutting them to fit. You can use a jigsaw with a fine blade or a small circular saw with a fine straight-toothed blade. Use a pencil to mark cutting lines. It wipes off easily and won’t mar the surface. Be sure to account for heater floor registers.

Installing laminate on stairs is done a little differently. Once you remove any carpet and padding, rubber tread, and/or flashing, you can glue laminate directly to the stair surface and stair well sides. Use a multi-surface glue that can bond differing materials. This stuff usually sets up pretty quickly so you can use the stairs a few hours after gluing.

Next up is to install the floor trim, or quarter rounds, thresholds, and/or stair well bull nose trim. We’re going to take the high road here and be conservative by sealing all the edges with a pliable sealant. Since an RV is subject to high humidity in a small place, you need to ensure that any edges where moisture can get in are sealed, especially the bathroom area. Trim the excess foam underlayment that protrudes from the edges of the laminate. Apply sealant in an 1/8″ bead along all edges, including floor registers, tub surround, toilet, etc. This is a very important step to ensuring no water can get underneath the laminate and destroy it.

For edges that run along carpet, a special carpet-to-laminate trim piece is available from the laminate manufacturer. Sealant can and should still be used here as well. Apply sealant and slide in the trim per the manufacturers instructions. This makes for a very nice transition from the carpet to the flooring and is thin enough that you won’t trip over it.

For the stairs, use bull nose or flat trim. All laminate flooring manufacturers have all sorts of trim pieces to suit almost any need, so be sure and look through the maker’s catalog to see what’s available. Most any home improvement store will have samples on display as well. This will give the entry way a nice clean look while still being durable to foot traffic.

Now you just need to put the RV interior back together and enjoy your beautiful new floor!

TipIf you put down laminate under a chair or other piece of furniture that is bolted to the sub-floor, drill holes 1/8″ larger than the bolt diameter. Use a thin felt pad between the furniture and the laminate so that when the furniture is bolted down, there is less friction in between  the flooring and the anchor points, providing easier movement of the floor as it expands and contracts.

TipOn glued floors, you may notice swelling along the joints of your floor during the first 6 to 8 weeks after installation. THIS IS NORMAL. In fact, it is a good sign that an adequate amount of glue has been used. It is caused by the absorption of glue in the core material and will disappear as the glue fully cures.

ModMyRV recommends these parts for this mod:

Laminate Flooring
Best quality laminate flooring at discount prices: Free samples! Balta, Rustic Elegance, Old Homestead Floors
DuPont - Flooring through the miracle of science
There’s only one Pergo

Flooring Sealant
Quick-step laminate flooring sealant kit

Installation Tools
Laminate Flooring Tools

General Reference
How to install Pergo Flooring

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