How to install vinyl plank flooring

The family room renovation is coming along slowly but surely. But a lot has happened in our household over the last few weeks including a Disney vacation, two family friends loosing loved ones, and Dad not feeling well. But, Dale and I managed to finally finish up the flooring this weekend. I’d love to show you how it came out and show you how you can install vinyl plank flooring in your home too.

Have you ever watched Marriage Bootcamp on TV? They give the couples tasks to complete to teach them how to work together, to listen to each other, and basically how to communicate. Well, we sure could have used them to get through this part of the renovation! LOL

how to install vinyl plank flooring.

Even though vinyl plank flooring itself is easy to install, the instructions don’t tell you how to breathe thru frustrating setbacks, or how to keep two people, who both think they’re right, from killing each other!

Luckily, I have the best husband in the world and he has learned, over the past 36 years, how to just let me have my breakdown and give me space to calm myself down. But, don’t get me wrong…vinyl plank flooring is easy to install and a definite DIY project. I promise!

Since this is the second vinyl plank floor I have installed, I have learned a few tricks along the way. So, let me take you through the process and hopefully save you a trip to a marriage counselor. 😉

Tools needed to install luxury vinyl plank flooring

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How long does it take to install vinyl plank flooring?

The answer to this question obviously depends on how big your room is. But, I can tell you that once you get your first row down, the subsequent rows can go pretty quickly.

The part that takes the most time is where you need to cut around objects in the space. So if your room is just a square without any posts or other protruding objects, then you can probably do the room in one day.

We did our 17′ X 24′ room, that has a post in the middle of the room, a fireplace hearth, and a reading nook, in two days. Not including the baseboard molding installation.

Can you install vinyl plank flooring over an existing floor?

Yes, you can install vinyl plank flooring over an existing floor as long as the floor is even. We installed one floor over 3 different styles of vinyl sheet flooring. This worked because each floor was the same thickness throughout the rooms and it was firmly attached to the sub-floor.

This project below was installed directly over our cement basement floor.

how to install vinyl plank flooring.

Do you need underlayment for a vinyl plank floor?

We used Lifeproof vinyl plank flooring from Home Depot and this product has the underlayment attached to the planks. I would refer to the manufacturers instructions for your particular flooring product.

how to install vinyl plank flooring.  Lifeproof brand

I installed a vinyl peel and stick flooring in my office and I did need a roll of foam underlayment over the concrete floor.

Preparation for installing vinyl plank flooring

Acclimate boards

The Lifeproof flooring says “no acclimation is needed” but I have read that many of the vinyl plank flooring companies do recommend 24-48 hours in the room it’s being installed in.

I, however, did bring my flooring in from the cold garage the day before. I’m glad I did this because the rubber tongue and groove edges did seem brittle and the warmth of the room seemed to soften them a little.

Remove baseboards

Before you begin installing your vinyl flooring you will need to remove any baseboard moldings in the room. This product is installed with a 1/4″ space around all walls to allow the floor to float. This space will be covered with the reinstalled baseboard.

Mix planks from different boxes

Manufacturers recommend mixing planks from 4-5 different boxes to allow for any variation in coloring from different die lots. You don’t want to get to the end of the room and notice random sections of the room that are slightly “off.”

Make sure floor is even

I think the most import part of installing this floor is making sure you are installing the planks over a smooth surface. Small divots in the floor will not matter, but if you have sections of flooring that dip or raise up, you will have a problem.

Our floor seemed completely level and smooth. But, we got to one 3′ x 3′ section that slightly dipped and it really messed with the installation and my nerves! None of the seams would lock in and you could feel the flooring move under your foot.

We ended up laying down some cardboard pieces to level up the flooring. Even though this did the trick, it is definitely not the professional way of handling it.

The manufacturer recommends using a liquid self leveling product to uneven surfaces before installing this flooring.

Do yourself a favor and make sure you don’t skip this step if your floor is not level!

How to install a vinyl plank floor

How to cut vinyl plank flooring

When installing a vinyl plank floor you will need to make cuts to fit at the end of a run, and to fit around obstacles in the room.

Depending on the cut you are making you will have two different choices for cutting the planks. One is with a razor knife and straight edge, and the other is with some kind of saw such as a jig saw or table saw.

Generally, if you are cutting off the length of a plank you will use a razor knife and straight edge or square. After measuring for your cut, simply place your square along your mark. Run the utility knife along it a couple of times, then snap the piece in two.

how to install vinyl plank flooring.  Cutting the planks

If you are making a cut where you have a small piece of plank left and cannot snap it off, use a pair of pliers to snip away at it. It won’t be as clean of a cut, but they will be covered by your baseboard when your done so you won’t see them.

If you need to make a cut along the length of the plank, using a razor knife is not your best choice even though it’s what they recommend. It is very difficult to make a straight cut while going along this edge. Instead, I used a jig saw and it worked great! My Dad had a table jig saw which worked the best because you could easily guide the plank through the blade. This is what I used for the flooring at my Dad’s. But, I used a hand held jig saw on my floor, and it also worked well.

Make sure your walls are square

It’s important to make sure that your wall is square before you start laying down the flooring. If it is not then you could end up with an uneven row of planks at the end of the room. Nobody wants to look into a room and see a crooked floor.

You will also want to make sure that your last row doesn’t end up being a small strip of flooring. This will not only look terrible but will not be sturdy and possibly not stay connected to the previous plank.

Your manufacturing instructions will give you a formula to insure this doesn’t happen. Hopefully your math skills are good. 🙂 Or if they are not, you could always lay out one row, from the front to back wall. This will insure you will not end up with a row that is less than 1/3 rd of a plank width.

After measuring, if you do end up with a skinny row at the end, you must cut your first row lengthwise all the way across.

Which direction do I install the planks?

You are going to start your floor in the left front corner of the room and work your way across to the right. This is because each plank has a tongue on the left and top sides, and a groove on the right and bottom sides. This allows you to attach each new piece to the previous piece and lock them into each other.

Make sure you are starting your floor with the tongue facing the wall. This is the side with the rubber connector on the top of the board. The groove will be on the bottom of the board.

I installed Lifeproof Vinyl Plank Flooring and it suggests that you remove the tongue on the first row against your wall. However, I left it on because it will be covered by my baseboard molding anyway.

Using spacers along the edges of the wall.

When starting your floor you will need to leave a small gap along the wall to insure that your floor can expand and contract. (The whole reason for a floating floor).

When you purchase your flooring installation kit it could come with spacers that have 1/4″ and 1/2″ sides that you will place along the floor edge. Use the size recommended by your manufacturer. Simply place a spacer along the wall then snuggle your plank up against it for the perfect amount of leeway.

installing first row of vinyl plank flooring

Make sure you leave this space along all 4 walls and around obstacles in the room. All of these spaces will be covered by moldings in the end.

Connecting your vinyl flooring together

Laying out your first row

Always install left to right as I stated above. Start by laying your first plank against your wall spacers making sure the tongue side is against the walls.

Connect your next piece by overlapping the groove on the previous piece at a slight upward angle. Lay the piece down and press down so the tongue clicks into the groove. Use the hammer that came with your kit and hit along the seam to lock the two pieces together.

You may need to take the block and hammer from the kit and tap the pieces together from the right side. Make sure you are on top of the groove so if you do tap it into place you are not breaking the tongue or groove off. They are kind of brittle and can crack or break easily. Your pieces should fit together so well that you barely see a seam.

Tip: If your pieces are not fitting together very tight then you may have a broken tongue or groove. We had this issue a few times and couldn’t figure out why the pieces were not connecting properly. Inspect each piece carefully and remove any obstacle that may be stuck in the groove.

Continue across the entire wall until you get to the end. If you end up with a space that is smaller than a full piece then you will need to cut it to size.

Tip: An easy way to measure for this piece is to take a new plank and turn it around so that the tongue is facing you finished side up. Lay it in the space, against the right wall, and on top of the previous plank. Don’t forget to use a spacer at this end.

Now mark the new plank at the end of the previous plank where they meet. Mark where the wood part of the previous plank is, not the groove. Cut the piece with your utility knife and straight edge and snap it off. Turn your cut piece back around so that the cut end is against the wall. Install this piece like the others and move on to the next row, starting again from the left.

You may need to use the pull bar from your installation kit to tap the last piece into the previous one. This is because you won’t have room to use the block. Just use one of the hook ends between the wall and the plank and hammer the pull bar towards the previous plank to tighten the seam.

Tapping your vinyl planks together while installing the floor

Installing your second and consecutive rows

Begin the next row by laying out a spacer. Use the left over cut piece from the previous row to start your new row as long as this piece isn’t less than 8″ long. If it is a small piece, then cut a new plank as your first piece. (Save the cut off piece for the right wall for when you need a cut piece.)

Tip: All of your cut edges will face the wall!

The reason you are doing this is because you want to stagger the joints from the previous row kind of like a brick pattern. This not only looks nice but also ensures that your joints are strong.

The directions tell you to use the cut pieces to start the next row, but this makes every other row have a lined up seam. I don’t like how that looks and prefer a more random pattern. So I cut a random sized pieces so none of my seams line up.

Tip: If you do this you have to make sure that you don’t end up with a piece that is less than 8″!

Take your next piece and hold it at a angle on top of the groove of the previous row’s piece. Slide it over to the left so it’s also on top of the groove of the previous piece. Then lower it down while making sure its snug against both pieces.

installing vinyl plank flooring

Use your block and hammer along the groove edge to tap the two pieces together so you don’t see a seam. Then tap along the top of the seams to lock into place.

Tapping two vinyl planks together while installing floor

Tip: The rows will fit together so tight that you shouldn’t even see a seam! If you do see a seam try hammering the pieces together a little more and they will disappear. You will however see a little seam on the left and right sides of the planks.

Installing your last row

When you get to your last row, you will most likely need to cut the width of the entire row again. Unless your lucky! Cut these pieces with your jig saw, or other saw of choice.

You will need the pull bar in your kit to pull the last piece away from the wall and lock into place. Don’t forget to make sure you leave space against the wall for this last row too.

Cutting around doors and other obstacles

Instead of cutting your plank around a difficult door jam molding you will be undercutting the molding so your flooring will slide underneath it.

You can do this easily with a oscillating type tool. This tool has a flat blade that cuts right into the molding so you can remove it. No need to even measure where to cut. Put a scrap piece of flooring along the door frame and mark along the edge. Or rest the blade of the Dremmel on top and cut into the frame and remove the piece. Now your floor plank will slide easily underneath the frame making a neat and clean installation.

How to undercut door molding with a Dremel tool

To cut around areas where you cannot install underneath a molding, you will have to cut around it. Make sure to leave space just like along the walls for the floor to move. You will cover these cut edges with base molding.

For doorways where you are butting up against a different floor, use a threshold to cover the seams.

Finishing up your vinyl plank floor

The only thing left to do is to install your baseboard molding to hide the spaces left for expansion. Before you install your baseboard, remove all of the plastic spacers you used to install the floor.

installing baseboards after laying vinyl flooring

I’m not going to go into how to install molding but, you need to know this…Do not nail your molding into your floor! This type of flooring is made to float freely. If you nail into the floor your are not allowing for the expanding and contracting that this floor needs. Only nail your base into the wall!

how to install vinyl plank flooring

That’s it! No staining, no waiting for the floor to dry. Just move your furniture back in and start using the room. I literally put down my rugs and moved some furniture around before I even did my baseboard! I’m inpatient! What can I say?

Follow this entire project from start to finish. Click to read the first post of this series titled “Room Remodel Part one – Plan your Room.”

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  1. Hi! Love these floors! How have the held up so far? I’ve heard they can scratch easily..? Thank you!

    1. Thanks Angelina, the floors are holding up very well. Not sure where you heard about them scratching easily because we choose this floor because they “do not” scratch easily and they are waterproof.

      The only issue we have, and it’s not really and issue, at least yet, is that we had a couple spots where the floor underneath was not completely level and we can feel some movement when we walk on it. I imagine that could loosen the sections eventually. But so far so good.

      This floor completely changed our room. We LOVE it.

      Thanks for commenting and good luck with your flooring choice.


  2. I really appreciate you explaining that it took you around two days to do all of the floorings in your home. My partner and I want to start remodeling our home so that it’s much easier to sell in the future. We are thinking about getting vinyl done by a professional so that it looks great, but doesn’t break the bank.