You can lay laminate or wood flooring on any smooth, flat surface as long as it's dry, firm and level. In most cases, you'll need to strip away all your existing floor coverings to reach the concrete or wooden sub-floor. But you can lay laminate or wood flooring over ceramic or vinyl tiles (although not over carpet, sheet vinyl or matting).
To increase the durability, noise reduction and comfort of your flooring, it's a good idea to put down underlay before you fit your boards. We'd also recommend laying a damp-proof membrane in any places where damp could become a problem.
Glueless locking systems
If you want boards that are quick and simple to install, the LOC system is a wise choice. These boards have long and short tongues on their sides and ends, which lock together to create tight joints that don't need glue. You can walk on the floor as soon as it's laid and you can easily take the boards up if you want to move or replace any of them. You can get laminate, real and solid wood LOC boards.
Tongue-and-groove fitting systems
You can also get solid wood flooring with more traditional tongue-and-groove edges, which push together to create simple joints. You won't need extra fixing, as they come loose easily. And as you can lay the boards on self-adhesive underlay, they hold together without the need for glue or nails. Alternatively, you can secure your boards to a timber sub-floor by secret nailing or glue them to the sub-floor (which must be dust-free and perfectly level). You won't need underlay if you decide to use this method.
Setting out your flooring
First, decide in which direction you want to lay the boards. Lengthways towards a light source is ideal as this makes the joins less visible. You can create an illusion of length by laying your boards in the direction of the longest wall, or you can make a room feel wider by running the boards widthways. But if you're laying your flooring over a timber sub-floor, try and do this at a 90 degrees angle to the direction of the sub-floor boards if you want the most stable and solid result.
Obstacles and cuts
Next, think about any obstacles (like radiator pipes) that you'll have to cut round. These cuts will be easier and tidier if they fall in the middle of a board's length or width rather than on a join.
You also want to prevent the last row being less than a third of the width of a board. Divide the total length of the room by the width of the boards, remembering to allow for the expansion gap at each wall. If the last row will be very narrow, it'll be easier to cut the first row to less than a full width. Also, it's a wise move to loose-lay the first row, so you can check you won't be left with a very short strip at the end.
Acclimatising your floor
To prevent your new flooring from warping, let it acclimatise for 48 hours in the room where you'll be fitting it. Stack the boards flat in their packaging for the air to circulate between the packs, and raise them off the floor on off-cuts of wood. Don't be tempted to lean them against the wall as this could make them bow.
Cutting the expansion gap
As laminate and wood flooring expands and contracts with changes in temperature and humidity, you'll need to leave an expansion gap of at least 10mm (or 15mm in the case of solid wood flooring) around the edges of the floor. This includes the space across doorways and around any fittings like basin pedestals or toilets. If you don't do this, you might find your floor begins to buckle.
Specially designed fitting wedges or expansion spacers make it easy to create this gap, while adjustable spacers can compensate for any slight irregularities in your walls or skirting. Don't worry about the gap as you can hide it with flooring trim or new skirting.
Cutting your boards
Try and do your cutting in another room, a workshop or outdoors if the weather is dry. This stops any dust and debris getting on your sub-floor or underlay.
It's easier to cut your boards by clamping them to a workbench and using a handsaw or jigsaw. Try and cut them face up if you're using a handsaw or a jigsaw with a laminate blade, but face down if you have a jigsaw with a wood blade. You'll find a laminate blade gives you the best results and it's a good idea to have plenty of spares to hand because your cuts will get rougher as the blade deteriorates.
If you're doing a lot of cutting, a fixed saw (like a compound mitre pull saw) will help you do this accurately and without too much effort.
Laying over a concrete floor
If you're laying your new flooring over an existing concrete surface, you'll need to check if the concrete is damp first. A moisture meter is best for this or you can tape a sheet of polythene of about on 1 square metre to the surface of the concrete. Tape all four edges to the floor and leave it overnight. If the concrete becomes discoloured or you see any condensation on the underside of the polythene, you've unfortunately got some damp present. If this is the case, you'll need to get some specialist advice from a damp-proofing expert.
If you've only just concreted your floor, make sure it's completely dry before you lay new flooring over it. Allow one day for each 1mm thickness of the new concrete. If you have an old concrete floor that's uneven, try levelling it with self-levelling compound.
Laying over floorboards
If you're laying over floorboards, make sure they're firmly screwed down. Flatten any protruding nails with a hammer. If you spot any wide gaps between the boards, you can fill these with mastic or thin wedges of wood. Glue them in place and then plane them flush with the boards when they're dry.
If your existing floor is very uneven, you'll need to level it with plywood or hardboard sheets. Try to lay your new flooring over an underlay at 90 degrees to the existing floorboards. You won't need a damp-proof membrane if you're laying it over an existing wooden floor.