There are three main types of flooring you can choose. Laminate flooring comes in all kinds of colours and decorative effects to match the style of your room. It's surprisingly quick to install too. Another option is engineered real wood flooring, which you lay in exactly the same way but has a surface layer of real wood that gives an authentic natural finish. Or you could go for solid wood flooring which has a unique beauty and character that can last a lifetime if you care for it properly.
Tools & materials required
How to fit underlay
You'll need to fit your sub-floor with an underlay before laying your laminate flooring.
Wood fibre is the thickest type of underlay you can use - and the one you should choose if your sub-floor is a bit uneven. Because they're more substantial, wood fibre boards also give good heat and sound insulation - although they're not suitable for splash areas.
Polyfibre is the thinnest type of underlay you can put beneath laminate flooring. It's suitable for any firm, dry and level sub-floor, such as a wooden floor.
If you have a concrete, asphalt, vinyl, quarry (or similar) - tiled sub-floor, you should cover it first with a plastic-film moisture barrier (a damp-proof membrane), to work with any existing damp-proof course. Alternatively, you could choose a combined underlay and damp-proof course. The advantage here is that whatever your sub-floor, you only have to fit one layer rather than two and as it's thicker than polyfoam underlay, it can absorb slight irregularities in your floor while giving you plenty of sound insulation.
Whatever underlay you choose, remember to sweep or vacuum your prepared floor before fitting it. And never lay laminate or wood flooring over carpet underlay - it's totally unsuitable for the job.
How to fit a combined underlay and damp-proof membrane
Step 1 Lay the underlay over your entire floor area, placing the lengths side by side. Then trim it to fit with scissors or a knife.
Step 2 Tape the joins securely, making sure the joins don't overlap.
How to fit wood fibre underlay
Step 1 Prepare the floor, lay a damp-proof membrane if you need to and tape any joints with waterproof jointing tape. If you're removing old skirting, lap the damp-proof membrane about 50mm up the walls.
Step 2 Now leave the underlay boards to acclimatise in the room for 24 hours. Stagger the joints, leaving a 10mm expansion gap around the edge of the room and 5mm between the boards. The boards should be loose-laid at 90 degrees to the intended direction of your new flooring. You can cut them to fit with a knife and straightedge over an off-cut of wood.
How to fit polyfoam underlay
Step 1 First, prepare your floor and lay a damp-proof membrane if necessary. Lay the polyfoam underlay over the entire floor area.
Step 2 Trim the underlay to fit with scissors or a knife, leaving a 10mm gap around pipes. Then lay lengths side by side and secure them with masking tape.
How to fit locking laminate flooring
As boards can warp, it's important to prepare them before you lay them. All you need to do is store them for 48 hours in the room where you're fitting them. There's no need to remove the skirting - but if you do, the damp-proof membrane should lap about 50mm up the walls.
You'll need to stagger the joints between boards randomly (but more than 300mm apart) to get the best results. Locking systems do vary slightly between manufacturers, so make sure you check the fitting instructions which came with your flooring.
Safety first - Protect yourself
Laying flooring is very hard on the knees, so let a pair of knee pads take some of the strain. Wear a dust mask and safety goggles while you cut the boards, and ear defenders when using power tools. Ensure the room is properly ventilated, too.
Start by laying the first board in a left-hand corner over the underlay, the end with the short tongue against the wall. Put expansion spacers against the end of the board and at intervals along the wall, including the point where the boards join together.
Lay the next board end-on, and put its short tongue into the long tongue of the first board at a 30 degrees angle. Then lower the board and lock it into place. Carry on to the end of the row, where you'll most likely need to cut a board to fit.
To measure the last board, turn it 180 degrees and lay it next to the previous one - putting an expansion spacer against the skirting. Next, use a try square and pencil to draw a line across the board, level with the end of the previous one.
After checking to see how the board fits, cut it to size and slot it in to complete the first row. If the off-cut is more than 300mm, use it to start the next row - otherwise cut a board in half.
To start the next row, angle the cut board against the first board of the previous row, with the cut end against the wall.
Press forward and down to lock it in place and keep doing the same as you work along the row. Another way you could do this is to clip a whole row of boards together.
Then, with a helper, lift the row to an angle of roughly 30 degrees and push it down to lock the long edges together.
To cut the boards to fit the last row, position them one at a time directly over the previous row in the direction you'll be laying them. Hold them in place with a little reusable tack. Then line up a third board on top, with its tongue touching the skirting. Use the edge of this board to mark the cutting line with a pencil on the board beneath.
How to lay flooring trim
Once you've laid your flooring, you'll need to remove the expansion spacers and cover the gap around the room with the laminate flooring trim you've chosen to match your floor. The trim needs to be glued to the skirting, not the floor.
Start by measuring and cutting your lengths of laminate flooring trim. For a really neat finish, use a mitre saw to cut the corners to a 45 degree angle. Alternatively, you could use an ordinary tenon saw and mitre block, or trim cutters.
Squeeze some suitable grab adhesive on the back of a length of flooring trim (not the base) so it sticks to the skirting-board rather than to the floor. Press the trim in place, and hold it firm with a couple of heavy books while the adhesive dries. Or you could use panel pins to tack it in place as it dries.
How to fit laminate flooring around door frames
If your door opens into the room, check it'll open over the new flooring and threshold bar. If not, you'll need to take it off and cut or plane a strip off the bottom. If the architrave extends beyond the skirting, don't try and cut the flooring to fit around it.
You'll get a neater finish by trimming the architrave so the underlay and flooring fit below it. Don't forget to allow a 10mm expansion gap at the wall beneath the architrave.
Lay a board on a piece of underlay beside the door frame. Then place a panel saw flat on the board and cut through the bottom of the architrave.
Use a wood chisel to remove the waste piece of wood.
How to lay a locking solid wood floor
You'll need to arrange different-sized boards in a random pattern, making sure you stagger the joints and leave an expansion gap of 15mm around all edges of your room. If you're planning to take off the skirting-boards, let the damp-proof membrane lap 50mm up the walls.
Start in a left-hand corner and lay the boards with their short tongue against the wall. Next, lower and click the boards end-to-end to form a row. Then put expansion spacers in at regular intervals along the wall, including the points where the boards join together.
At the end of a row, turn the final board 180 degrees and lay it next to the previous one, then put an expansion spacer against the wall. Using a try square and pencil, draw a line across the board level with the end of the previous one, and cut this to size. If you're using a jigsaw, cut the board face down - and if you're using a handsaw, cut it face up.
To fit the last row, place one board at a time directly over the previous row. Hold it in place with a little reusable tack. Then line up a third board on top, with its tongue touching the wall. Use the edge of this board to mark the cutting line on the board beneath. Then cut the board and ease it into position.
How to cut around pipes when laying a locking solid wood floor
You'll probably need to cut some boards to fit around your radiator pipes, and this simple technique will help you do this without it showing. Standard radiator pipes are 15mm in diameter, so a 32mm drill bit or hole saw will create a hole big enough for your pipe and expansion gap.
Top tip - The last row
Your final row of boards should be at least 50mm wide. You might need to cut the first row to avoid creating a narrow strip.
Lay the floorboard in place next to the pipe. Measure and mark the centre point of the pipe position on the board - remembering the expansion gap at the wall.
Use a power drill with a 32mm spade bit or 32mm hole saw to cut a hole where the pipe is located.
Draw two lines from the hole to the edge of the board, each on a slight outward angle. Then cut neatly along the pencil lines with a handsaw and retain the wedge-shaped off-cut.
Fit the board and glue the wedge in place. Make sure you wipe any excess adhesive off straight away, and then hide the cut with a pipe hole cover.
How to make difficult cuts when laying a locking solid wood floor
You might find that you need to cut floorboards to fit around an alcove, recess or bay. If so, make sure you take precise measurements and remember to allow for a 15mm expansion gap.
Using a try square and pencil, carefully measure and mark the shape you need to cut on the board.
Transfer the measurements to the reverse of the board and cut using a jigsaw.
How to create neat doorways when laying a locking solid wood floor
If you're not replacing your architrave, you can achieve a neat finish by cutting a slot at the bottom on each side. Choose a threshold bar that matches your new floor and can join a wooden floor to the type of flooring in the next room. But do try and make sure the join is in the right position, so it's invisible when the door is closed. If you profile the threshold bar to fit snugly around the doorstops, you'll get a really professional look.
Carefully measure and mark a notch to be cut from each end of the threshold bar, so it fits perfectly against the doorstops on each side.
Cut these notches with a hacksaw and fit the bar in place, following the manufacturer's instructions.
Want to finish your job in style? Here are some bright ideas to make your edges and skirting look neat and tidy after laying your flooring.
Radiator pipe hole covers
These wood-effect discs cover any untidy bits around the holes you've cut for radiator pipes. Some clip into place around the base of the pipe, while others are flat discs you glue down. Natural wood pipe covers and trims go well with engineered real wood and solid wood flooring.
You can fit a threshold bar in a doorway to make a neat join between the new floor and the flooring in the next room. Even if you're fitting laminate across the threshold, you still need a bar to cover the expansion gap across the doorway.
There are bars designed for joining laminate or wood to vinyl, carpet or to other common floorings. Some have a base and a cover, others are a single strip. Just cut them to the width of your doorway, then glue or screw them in place (depending on the design).
You can reuse your old skirting, as long as it's wide enough to cover the expansion gap. But if it's old or damaged, why not seize the opportunity to replace it? You can get skirting and architrave to match some flooring ranges. Don't worry if not - you can always buy softwood or hardwood skirting and architrave, and then stain and varnish it to go with your new floor. But be sure to test the colour on an off-cut first.
You can either nail or glue replacement skirting to the walls (but not the floor), so it covers the expansion gap and any damp-proof membrane that's visible. A skirting-board mitre tool will make it easy to cut mitres for internal and external corners.
Matching architrave (the timber moulding that hides the joint between your door frame and wall) will really complete the look.
Caring for your new floor
You can wipe everyday marks away easily with a damp cloth. But don't wash a wood floor or use abrasive cloths on it. If you want to restore its shine, just give it a good polish once or twice a year.