How to Install Vinyl Plank Flooring

Installing vinyl floor planks
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Vinyl wood floor
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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 might have gone the vinyl flooring direction because you knew you could do it all by yourself and very inexpensively.

You made the right choice. Of all of the do-it-yourself floor coverings, vinyl plank installs fast because it is easy to cut, requires no bonding to the subfloor, and snaps together laterally, side-to-side. Vinyl plank flooring, too, is ideal for high-moisture areas such as bathrooms and basements.

Project Metrics

  • Working Time: 3 hours for 120 square feet
  • Total Time: 4 hours
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Materials Cost: $250 to $400

Tools and Supplies You Will Need

Plan Your Flooring Layout

Run the first row parallel to your most visible wall, then work outward. Every room has a wall that is more visible, more on stage, than other walls. In a small bathroom, it might be the row that runs alongside the bathtub. The least visible wall would be the one where the vanity and counter are installed. Lay the first row of planks parallel to this wall or tub, then work your way across the room. Your last row might be slightly uneven because few rooms are truly square. But the baseboards will obscure this unevenness.

Stagger subsequent rows so that ends do not meet up with ends. Lay the first row down the center of the room, then work outward on both sides to the walls. In large rooms or rooms that are not square, the unevenness will exponentially increase as you move across the room, resulting in an unsightly last row that looks something like a slice of pizza. In this case, lay down a row in the middle of the room. This effectively splits the problem in half, rather than burdening only one row with this visual impact.


Remove the Trim

Remove Trim Before Installing Vinyl Plank
Lee Wallender

For ease of installation, it is always best to remove the trim or casing that makes contact with the floor. Ideally, this includes baseboards, door trim and casings, and quarter-round. Often, removing doors helps with installation, too. 

Door trim 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 around these obstacles.

Trim, such as door casing, typically is attached with thin brad-like nails. Pull straight back with your pry bar. To remove the brads from the trim, pull them straight out from the back side of the trim with pliers. If the trim is still in good shape after removal, set it aside for re-installation after the floor has been installed.

Cut the Face of the Vinyl Plank Flooring

Cut Vinyl Plank Floor With Utility Knife
Lee Wallender

Run your first row of vinyl planks down the length of the first wall. Cut planks with a utility knife. Run the knife lightly across the face of the plank several times rather than trying to cut deep grooves into it. Since vinyl plank is slippery, be very careful when pulling back on the blade.

Alternatively, you can use a fine-tooth saw to cut straight through the entire board. 

If the room is small and you are confident that the walls are parallel, you can start at one side and work to the other side. If you do this, it helps to begin with the most visible wall, then work toward the less-visible wall. By doing this, the row of planks that is perfectly parallel to the wall is the one that you see most often.

It helps to dry-fit the boards in the room to see how the finished product will eventually look. It is not necessary to lay out the entire floor. You only need to lay out enough boards to reach from one side of the room to the other side.

Finish Cut on the Back of the Plank

Finish Cut on Back of Plank
Lee Wallender

Similar to cutting drywall, the next step is to flip the board over so that the finish 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.

Connect the Flooring Planks

Connecting Planks End to End
Lee Wallender

Most luxury vinyl planks attach side-to-side 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.

Make Cuts for Protrusions

Cut Outs for Protrusions
Lee Wallender

Vinyl plank flooring allows you to easily make cut-outs for protrusions. Use heavy-duty shop scissors or tin snips.

Fit the Plank Around Protrusions

Fitting Plank Around Protrusions
Lee Wallender

After you have made the plank cut-out, install the plank. 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.

Keep in mind that wall-side cut-outs only work when the protrusion is on the long side of the plank, not the short side. In order to fit one plank into another plank, you need to angle the row of planks at about 10 to 15 degrees, then tilt it downward. If you have a protrusion such as a door trim on the short side, it will impede the board's movement. 

Install the Baseboards and the Trim

Re-Install Baseboards and Trim
Lee Wallender

After the floor is laid, re-attach your baseboards and trim, preferably using an electric brad nailer. Manually nailing with a hammer creates stress on thin baseboards and trim, dislodging them before you can get them securely attached. Even worse, the impact of the hammer can crack the trim. Purchasing an inexpensive brad nailer is beneficial if you expect to be working with a lot of trim in your home.