Laminate Flooring Problems and How to Avoid Them
You’ve heard the stories before. Laminate floor boards bounce when walked on. The living room floor has gaps in the laminate. Or after a home improvement streak, the neighbor’s new floor is already buckling.
What causes all that?
Laminate, which is an engineered wood flooring—a “floating floor”—was designed as a less expensive, easy to install hardwood floor replacement.
It has many advantages over other types of floor. But just like any other flooring type, those advantages come with their own set of problems.
This article is all about those problems—what causes them, how to fix them, and how to prevent them in the first place:
- Common laminate wood flooring problems
- Steps during installation to prevent laminate flooring problems
- Steps to prevent future moisture problems
To kick off our discussion, let’s look at some laminate problems.
Common laminate wood flooring problems
While laminate wood flooring is an inexpensive alternative to hardwood flooring and is easy to install, it’s not immune to problems. Let’s take a look at a few.
Bouncy or spongy flooring
Ever walked on a laminate flooring that seemed to bounce under your feet? No, it’s not an illusion.
Laminate flooring, while solid at the beginning, can start to feel bouncy for a number of reasons. A big one is an uneven subfloor. If the subfloor has dents or bumps, the laminate won’t lay flat, causing that spongy feeling. Eventually, if the subfloor is really uneven, you could break the laminate.
Another reason behind the bouncy walk could be an improper installation of underlayment.
Buckling also leads to a bouncy floor. When buckling occurs, pieces of the floor push up against each other to form a tent-like design.
When your laminate flooring warps, it will be twisted and uneven. It’s almost always caused by moisture problems.
Moisture can migrate up through the subfloor. Even if the top surface of the laminate is designed to be waterproof, the bottom is not, and that’s what the moisture will hit first.
For a concrete subfloor, the concrete might not have had enough time to dry. If it did, the installation might have been faulty. For a wood subfloor, it may not have been properly dried before being put into place.
High humidity levels in the room can also play into warping. Just like regular wood, laminate expands and contracts with the presence, or absence, of moisture. In its expansion, the flooring could twist into those warped positions.
There are several reasons for this problem, depending on the type of lifting.
Endlifting is when the short ends of the boards appear to be coming up. Usually, the cause is one of three things:
- The flooring wasn’t acclimated properly before installation.
- The planks were pinched or locked in.
- The subfloor had excessive moisture during the installation.
Before you install laminate flooring, it must grow accustomed to its new environment—expanding or shrinking according to the changes in humidity. We’ll talk about this more in a bit.
When laminate is lifting on the long seams, it’s called peaking or crowning. This issue could be climate-related, especially if you live in an abnormally wet or abnormally dry climate.
But it could also be due to poor installation. Too much continuous floor—like 27 or more feet—can be the reason. So can failure to place extension gaps around the perimeter of the flooring (more on extension gaps later, too).
Separation or gaps
Another nightmare of laminate floor owners comes in the form of gaps growing between the floorboards, be it along the ends or the sides. Reasons for this problem include:
- Unattended spills
- Damage from steamers
- Mops that were too wet
- Improper or incorrectly installed underlayment
- Improperly joined floorboards
- Improper expansion gaps around the perimeter of the room
- Unlevel subfloor
- Excessively low humidity
As you can see, many of these issues contribute to other laminate flooring issues. And some, such as unattended spills and wet mops, are entirely preventable.
Since humidity and temperature can also be the culprit, regulating those things in your house can help prevent separation and gaps.
The edges of your floor could be curling up, causing unsightly ridges along the floor. This is called bowing, or cupping.
Bowing is caused almost exclusively by moisture-related issues, some of which include:
- A concrete subfloor with excessive moisture
- No vapor retarder
- Wet or damp crawl spaces and basements
- A relative humidity in the room below 45%
- Improper acclimation before installing
- Poor ventilation in the room
Other moisture events can contribute as well, such as neglected spills or pet accidents.
Bubbling or swollen flooring
Moisture can cause laminate flooring to swell or bubble. Specific causes are:
- Pet accidents
- Excessive water used during cleaning
- Excessive moisture from the subfloor/concrete slab
- Improper underlayment
Bubbling flooring may require a complete redo, depending on the cause and extensiveness of the damage.
Squeaking—or noise in general—is permissible in hardwood floors, but not in laminate. A few things can cause this unwanted noise:
- Uneven subfloor
- Lack of sufficient underlayment
- Cracked or broken tongues along the boards’ edges
Squeaking isn’t necessarily a dire emergency, unlike a separating or peaking laminate floor, but it can be disturbing and bothersome.
So what can you do to prevent these problems from befalling your laminate floor? Take a look at these steps.
Steps during installation to prevent laminate flooring problems
While some problems in your laminate flooring are virtually unavoidable—pet accidents, for instance—many are easy to prevent. Here are a some simple steps you can take during your DIY laminate flooring installation:
Acclimate the flooring
Laminate, though not solid wood, is made from wood materials. So it has similar needs to real wood. One of these is getting acclimated to your house before you install it.
What is acclimation, exactly?
Acclimation is getting the laminate accustomed to the temperature, humidity, and overall atmosphere of your house. Like wood, laminate expands and contracts, depending on the moisture content of the air. Allowing your floor to acclimate will prevent this shifting from happening later on and resulting in problems like separation or peaking.
To acclimate your laminate flooring, allow it to sit in your house for a couple days. Spread the boxes of laminate out on the floor, away from the walls. In this time, the laminate will expand or contract as needed to match the atmosphere of your home.
Doing this will save you a lot of hassle down the road.
Prepare the subfloor
Another important precaution to take comes in the subfloor. Before installing laminate—perhaps while it’s acclimating in your house—go over your subfloor carefully.
This is the time to make sure your subfloor is even, without bumps, valleys, or dips. Remove all dust, wood chips, and other debris. Also, remove any large bumps or protrusions and fill in holes or dips.
Use the right underlayment
Underlayment is a thin layer of material that goes between your subfloor and laminate.
It insulates noise, creates a smoother surface, and even regulates the temperature in your home.
Before you buy underlayment, it’s a good idea to do some research to find the right type for you. Plywood and foam are two main ones. Since plywood comes in many different types, it’s worthwhile to research which one best fits with your laminate.
Follow the manufacturer’s instructions
Following the directions cannot be stressed more! Before laying down your first piece of laminate, read all the installation instructions carefully. There are certain places you should begin and specific methods of laying out the laminate flooring planks.
Most modern laminate is fairly easy to physically install. The boards click or snap together, eliminating the need for a hammer to pound them together.
Leave an expansion gap
A special thing to note during installation is the expansion gap. All around the perimeter of the floor, leave a half-inch gap. This includes permanent cabinets, interior walls, and exterior walls. This gap is important because it leaves room for the laminate to expand after you install it—and it will expand.
Leaving this space between the edge of the flooring and the wall prevents peaking, lifting, and other similar laminate failures. The baseboard helps cover up this gap.
Use the proper tools
Installing laminate doesn’t require many tools, but here’s a few you should bring along:
- Saw. This is used to cut the laminate. What kind you use isn’t important, as long as it has a sharp blade.
- Rubber mallet. This is used to nudge the boards into place. Keep in mind, most modern laminate doesn’t require a hammer. Using one could break the laminate. A rubber mallet is usually all that’s necessary to gently tap any stubborn boards.
- A tapping block or a piece of scrap wood. If you’re using a rubber mallet, a tapping block is absolutely necessary to protect the laminate. This small piece goes between the laminate and mallet to soften blows.
- Tape measure and pencil. Essential for measuring the laminate.
- Combination square. This is also useful in measuring and marking the laminate before cutting.
This is perhaps one of the most important prevention steps. Rushing never accomplishes anything but needless mistakes and frustration.
Before you begin installing, remember that putting in a laminate floor will probably take a few days, so plan accordingly. Don’t plan to host a party the same day you start installing your kitchen laminate.
Also, read the instructions carefully before starting. It may sound cliché, but taking the time to do so instead of rushing headlong into the project, will save you headaches, time, and perhaps some money, too.
What if you’ve already had to make floor repairs due to moisture? Here’s a few steps to help you prevent future ones.
Steps to prevent future moisture problems
You can take the initiative to help stop future moisture damage in these ways:
- Keep the laminate away from water-prone areas. Experts don’t recommend installing laminate in areas where water is frequently on the floor, such as bathrooms or kitchens. With such a high frequency of spills and water messes, it’s best to just choose another type of flooring for those places, such as ceramic tile.
- Clean up any water spills immediately. Wipe up water before it seeps into the laminate, which it will do over the course of a few hours.
- Be careful cleaning with a wet mop. You can mop laminate floors, but do it only when necessary and don’t overwet the floor. Use as little water as possible—mop buckets aren’t preferred—and wipe the floor dry rather than letting it sit wet for a while after.
- Avoid installing in a room with high humidity. As we’ve already said, laminate will absorb moisture, just like wood. For optimal installation, manufacturers recommend that the humidity be between 30% and 60%.
There’s no doubt about it—laminate flooring is a great alternative to solid hardwood floors. The one place it struggles, though, is with moisture.
Moisture causes an entire array of problems in laminate, if not installed properly or if its moisture content is wrong.
But our wood moisture meters at Bessemeter help alleviate and prevent moisture-related laminate issues by reading the moisture content and helping you regulate it in your flooring.