How to Install Vinyl Plank Flooring

Vinyl wood floor

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Overview
  • Working Time: 3 hrs
  • Yield: 120 square feet
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Estimated Cost: $250 to $400

No doubt you bought your vinyl plank flooring as much for ease of installation as you did for its looks. While you could have purchased solid hardwood or engineered wood or ceramic or porcelain tile, you may well have chosen vinyl flooring because you knew you could do it all by yourself and very inexpensively.

Of all of the do-it-yourself floor coverings, vinyl plank flooring (also known as luxury vinyl) is one of the simplest to install. It is easy to cut, requires no bonding to the subfloor, and snaps together edge-to-edge and end-to-end. Vinyl plank flooring is also ideal for high-moisture areas such as bathrooms and basements since the material is completely impervious to water.

A moderate-sized room can easily be covered with vinyl plank flooring with just a few hours of work.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Sander (if needed)
  • Flat pry bar
  • Pliers
  • Tape measure
  • Utility knife
  • Fine-tooth saw
  • Straightedge
  • Carpenter's square
  • Drawbar tool
  • Hammer
  • Nailset
  • Pneumatic brad nailer (optional)

Materials

  • Sandpaper (if needed)
  • Vinyl plank flooring
  • 1/4-inch spacers
  • Floor leveling compound (if needed)
  • Concrete patcher (if needed)

Instructions

  1. Plan the Flooring Layout

    Vinyl plank flooring, like laminate or wood flooring, needs to have a layout that is pleasing to the eye. Generally, this is done by working from the most visible wall—usually, the one that greets the eye as you enter the room—then working outward toward the entryway. In a small bathroom, the most visible row might be the one that runs alongside the bathtub.

    You will lay the first row of planks parallel to this most prominent wall or room feature, then work your way across the room. Your last row might be slightly uneven because few rooms are truly square. But baseboards or shoe moldings will usually obscure this unevenness.

    Plan to stagger rows so that end joints do not fall at the same point for adjacent rows. Manufacturers recommend that end seams be offset at least 6 inches from row to row.

  2. Remove the Trim

    For ease of installation, it is always best to remove the trim that makes contact with the floor. Ideally, this includes baseboards, base shoe moldings, and case moldings around doors. Often, removing doors from their hinges helps with installation, too. 

    Door case molding is relatively easy to remove and replace, and removing it produces a cleaner installation. If you do not wish to remove door trim or if you have protrusions that cannot be removed, you can cut the vinyl flooring to fit around these obstacles.

    Trim molding is typically attached with thin brad-like nails, and it can be removed by carefully prying it off with a flat pry bar. To remove the brads from the trim, pull them straight through the molding from the back side, using pliers. If the trim is still in good shape after removal, set it aside for re-installation after the floor has been installed.

    Remove Trim Before Installing Vinyl Plank
    Lee Wallender
  3. Prepare the Floor

    Vinyl plank flooring can usually be laid right over existing flooring, but if there are any high spots, they should be sanded down to create a flush surface for the new floor. Your goal is to create the flattest, smoothest surface possible as the underlayment for the vinyl plank flooring.

    • If you are laying vinyl plank flooring over a concrete subfloor, fill any cracks or divots with concrete patcher.
    • If you are laying the flooring over a plywood subfloor, fill any depressions with a floor-leveling compound.
  4. Test-Fit the First Row of Planks

    Test fit the first row of vinyl planks down the length of the wall. Visually, the flooring layout will be most pleasing if cut planks are of roughly equal lengths at the opposite side walls. Start with a full plank at the center, and work to either side, so that cut planks at the ends will be of equal length. Leave a 1/4-inch gap at the wall and at the ends; spacers can be placed against the walls to establish this expansion gap.

  5. Cut Planks to Size

    Cutting vinyl planks to size is similar to how drywall panels are cut. First, use a carpenter's square and utility knife to score partially through the face of the plank. Run the knife lightly across the face of the plank several times rather than trying to cut it in one pass. Vinyl planks are slippery, so be very careful when pulling back on the blade. Alternatively, you can use a fine-tooth handsaw to cut straight through the entire plank. 

    Then, flip the board over so that the finished surface is facing down. Fold the plank back. It may snap off by itself. If not, finish the cut by lightly running the utility knife through the fold.

    Cut Vinyl Plank Floor With Utility Knife
    Lee Wallender
    Finish Cut on Back of Plank
    Lee Wallender
  6. Connect the Flooring Planks

    Most luxury vinyl planks attach edge-to-edge and end-to-end with a fold-and-lock type of tongue-and-groove system. One plank lies flat on the subfloor, while the other plank is held at an angle and placed into the first board's receiving groove. Folding the second board until it lies flat and parallel to the first board helps to draw the boards together and lock them in place.

    Once the first row is laid, continue across the floor with subsequent rows, first joining the planks end-to-end, then positioning the new row along the edge of the previous row and folding its tongue into the groove of the previous row. Make sure that end joints are staggered so they are at least 6 inches away from the end joints in the previous row.

    Installation Tip

    At the final planks in a row, the end butt joints can be tricky to fit. A drawbar tool can be used to gently pull the end plank to snug-up these joints. Hook one end of the tool over the far end of the plank, then tap lightly on the other end of the drawbar to tug the butt joint together.

    Connecting Planks End to End
    Lee Wallender
  7. Cut for Protrusions

    Where you encounter obstacles such as door frames or floor ducts, vinyl planks can be easily snipped to the desired shape with tin snips or heavy-duty shop scissors.

    Cut Outs for Protrusions
    Lee Wallender
  8. Fit Planks Around Protrusions

    After making the cutouts, first attach the plank to the adjoining plank while holding the cut-out plank upward, at an angle. Then slowly fold down the cut-out plank until it locks into place with the adjoining plank. Vinyl plank flooring is flexible enough that it can usually be bent enough to get fit around door frames and other protrusions. Depending on the nature of the obstruction, it may be necessary to disassemble previous planks in order to navigate the cutout plank into position.

    Fitting Plank Around Protrusions
    Lee Wallender
  9. Cut and Fit the Final Planks

    At the far wall, the last row of planks may need to be trimmed lengthwise to fit. Make sure to cut it narrow enough to provide a 1/4-inch gap between the planks and the wall. Lengthwise cuts are best made with a utility knife guided by a long straightedge, using multiple passes of the knife until the planks are cut to the desired width.

    As with previous rows, join these narrow planks end-to-end, then fold the tongues into the grooves of the previous row. If necessary, a draw bar can be used to tug this final narrow plank into place against the previous row.

  10. Reinstall the Trim Moldings

    After the floor is laid, re-attach the baseboards and trim, preferably using an pneumatic brad nailer. Manually nailing with a hammer, while possible, can easily damage the trim, while a brad nailer does this work effortlessly. If you do manually nail, use a nail-set to recess the nail heads below the surface of the trim. If the level of the floor has been raised enough, it may be necessary to trim the ends of door case moldings to fit the reduced space.

    Trim Tip

    You may want to use this opportunity to replace shoe moldings or other trim, especially if the old trim was cracked or damaged when it was removed. New moldings installed alongside new flooring makes for a very polished, elegant look.

    Re-Install Baseboards and Trim
    Lee Wallender