*Select Surfaces graciously provided me with the flooring materials for this project. My opinions (and sweat equity) are all my own, based on my personal experience.
The cat is out of the bag.
This is officially the biggest project I’ve ever managed to keep so hush-hush, and I did so purely for the fun of the big reveal!
Every now and then I get the opportunity to indulge my love for the dramatic, and I have to admit – the secrecy and anticipation kept me motivated through the course of my largest DIY undertaking to date!
Three weeks before Christmas (and yes, before any of those seasonal blog tours I posted!), I packed all my holiday decor away in the attic and welcomed this monumental stack of flooring into the garage:
From there, it was a mostly non-stop adventure of moving furniture around the house, ripping out the carpet in the main living areas of our home, prepping the concrete subfloors, crash courses in all sorts of new power tools, and finally reaping the rewards of the beautiful plank flooring I’ve dreamed of for so long!
Why I Chose Laminate Flooring
I picked up a sample of walnut-colored laminate at the hardware store years ago, while we were still apartment dwellers, and carried it with me into our first home. New flooring was definitely not in the budget, but I used the scrap of laminate as a coaster and dreamed of deep, solid, wood-grained flooring in place of our shaggy beige carpet.
You guys know I believe in working with what you have and what you can afford, so I layered my favorite rugs right on top of the carpet and focused my energy on the things I could change affordably.
When we moved into this house, full of – you guessed it – more beige carpet, I followed the same plan and focused on what I could easily and cheaply change. (And sure, maybe still clinging to my dream of future dark plank floors.)
After a summer of hustling and reselling vintage furniture, I was surprised to discover that maybe my dream didn’t have to be so distant – I had ended up with a little nest egg that Bryan and I decided to allocate to tackling the flooring!
I dove right into research. I knew that hardwood and engineered hardwood were pretty much out of my budget. I knew that I didn’t want to deal with any sort of stinky glue-down installation, but that I did need to find something that would work with our concrete subfloors. I knew that I wanted something with texture. I knew that I wanted something that would stand up well to real-life spills and accidents. I knew that it had to be something I could install myself, with amateur DIY skills.
Most of all, I knew that I wanted to stick to a budget of around $2 per square foot.
So that led me to look closely at two options: vinyl plank flooring and wood-look laminate.
I spent hours reading reviews, blog posts, and tutorials. Did I want sticky-back vinyl planks? They looked simple to install, but how would they hold up over time? And would moisture from a concrete subfloor be an issue? Did I want a floating floor? The solid feel of thicker laminate?
Ultimately, I settled on laminate flooring for several reasons: the appearance, the durability, the ease of installation, and the perfect price point.
And in an incredible act of serendipity, literally the same week I decided that laminate was the way to go and was prepping for some in-person window-shopping to narrow down my choices, I got connected with the Select Surfaces brand and we started chatting about the project!
You could have knocked me over with a feather when they agreed to partner with me and sent me out some samples right away! I immediately fell in love with the thickness and texture of the planks:
I spent a hot minute of indecision over the color direction, but eventually decided to follow my heart and stay faithful to my vision by going with the Mocha Walnut (the middle board in the picture above).
And oh, how glad I am that I did!
The beautiful walnut tone is dark enough to ground everything, without sucking light out of the rooms. In fact, it bounces so much more light around than the carpet – every room just feels so much brighter and more open!
The best part is that Select Surfaces Mocha Walnut Laminate flooring is available at Sam’s Club at a great price point (as well as other gorgeous Select Surfaces options)! And you can use this handy calculator on the Select Surfaces website to figure out how many boxes you need, with a 5% waste factor included in the total (in case trying to work out the square footage-to-boxes ratio gives you a panic attack like it does me) – super simple!
So now you know why I decided to go with laminate flooring, and where my flooring came from. I wanted to be clear that my decision happened independently of partnering with Select Surfaces, but also share the reasons why their products aligned absolutely perfectly with my goals – it really was kismet!
Now, let’s dive into all the nitty gritty details of taking our house from this:
Without bragging too much, I want you to know that I had some help from my dad to get me started and introduce me to some new-to-me tools and techniques, but I tackled the vast majority of the project by myself.
Remember – I am not a fearless DIYer. I overthink things and I’m usually intimidated to start new projects. But in the course of this project, I went from someone who only owned a hand saw to someone who actually became confident and fairly competent at using a miter saw, table saw, and nail gun!
I’m not sharing this so you think, “What a badass!” (although I definitely felt like one at various points along the way), but so that you can be encouraged – if I can take this on with no previous experience and do a good 85% of the work with my own two hands, anyone can!
Okay, ready? Here we go!
Disclaimer: I am not an expert by any stretch of the imagination. These are the steps I took to install our DIY laminate flooring, but your home’s flooring situation might be completely different than mine. Select Surfaces has some very helpful installation guides and videos on their site, which are definitely worth consulting! So I won’t attempt to present an exhaustive tutorial, but I will share my own experiences with every step of the process.
Acclimate The Flooring
The absolute first thing I did was bring enough flooring into the house from the garage to do the first room. Your flooring should be the same temperature as the room where you are installing it, so the manufacturer recommends you let it sit for a few days inside the room.
Ripping Out The Carpet
Technically, I couldn’t pull up the carpet until I played Tetris with ALL the furniture. I ended up shuffling everything from one side of the house to the other, twice. (You’d better believe I was thankful for my save-the-day furniture sliders!)
Once each room was empty, my little cat helper supervised while I ripped out the super-heavy carpet and pulled up the foam carpet pads glued down to the concrete subfloor.
I decided to put up a Craigslist posting for the carpet and pad and ended up meeting the nicest couple who are using it in their renovations. They came back three times for each new piece of carpet I removed.
It was a win-win all around – I didn’t have to haul heavy rolls of carpet anywhere, these materials were given a new lease on life and didn’t end up in a landfill, and another DIYer got a whole lot of like-new carpet for free. Don’t you just love it when things work out like that?
After the carpet was removed, I pried up the tack strips with a crowbar and dead blow hammer. It’s not the most fun job, but it really doesn’t take that long. For each room, I was able to pull up the carpet and pad and lever out the tack strips in one afternoon. Definitely wear gloves – those tack strips are brutal.
Prepping the Concrete Subfloors
Once the carpet was gone, I took stock of our concrete subfloors.
Laminate flooring needs to be installed over a level surface, and I was kind of bummed (major understatement) to discover that there were definitely some places in our concrete subfloor with valleys and high points. Because the builders of this house knew these rooms would be carpeted, they didn’t take great care with leveling the concrete.
I’m not going to lie, in my head, I had been planning on a streamlined process of “Pull up carpet -> Lay down laminate”, so dealing with the necessary concrete work for our home was an unexpected and kind of frustrating curve ball.
And this is really the step of the project that took the most time and effort, but the good news is that this step is totally unique to your house and its subfloor. Your subfloor might be perfectly smooth, or you might not be on a concrete slab at all (lucky!).
I was kind of intimidated to deal with the leveling myself, but I got some great advice from my dad and a guy at the local hardware store, so these are the steps I took:
Grind down the hight points:
There were some bumps in the floor that were so high that filling in around them would take a crazy amount of product and be really inefficient, so my dad let me borrow his angle grinder to bring the highest points down to the rest of the floor level.
I feel obligated to mention the levels of dust this created – definitely prepare to seal off any room involved and remember to shut off your A/C or heating system until the dust settles! Wet grinding helped a little. And, of course, use an appropriate respirator and eye protection!
Fill in the low spots:
I used a quick-setting concrete patching mix to fill in the low spots of the floor, and while it was wet, I used a slim, straight board across the top to level it with the rest of the floor.
This process ended up taking me several days per room, since sometimes I needed to add more patching compound, and then wait for everything to thoroughly dry so I didn’t trap moisture beneath my floors!
But as frustrating as this step was, I knew it was absolutely vital – you definitely don’t want to skimp on this fundamental (literally!) step of your flooring project!
Again, this step is specific to installation over concrete, but the next step was to add a 6 mil moisture barrier. It’s basically thick black plastic sheeting that you lay down over the concrete. There’s even this fun red moisture barrier tape that you can use for seams, etc.
Explanatory note: I didn’t pull out the baseboards in the rooms where I installed the flooring. Technically, you are supposed to, and then you’re supposed to run the moisture barrier up the wall behind the baseboards.
It’s a long story, but because we have other flooring of different heights in our house that I wasn’t replacing, and because of the way the baseboards run all the way throughout the open floor plan below the height of the already-installed tile (DON’T ask me why!), I decided to do my flooring with the existing baseboards in place and use quarter round/shoe molding to cover the installation gap.
So I actually just taped the moisture barrier to the baseboards in such a way that the future molding would cover it up.
Time needed for this step: an hour or two, max.
Laying the Planks
Time for the fun part! Seriously, all the prep work was totally worth it once I finally got to start laying down my laminate planks and see the floor come to life before my eyes!
Again, I’m not an expert on installing laminate floors, so I won’t give you a complete tutorial, but this is an outline of the steps I took.
The first row of laminate planks is the most important row – it needs to be straight so all the following rows are straight as well.
And it also needs to maintain the manufacturer’s recommended expansion gap between the planks and the wall. Floating floor installations expand and contract based on temperature, so you use spacers to make sure you’re leaving the proper gap around every side of the floor.
Well, the fact of the matter is: walls aren’t always straight. In fact, they can serpentine in ways that will positively shock you, because prior to starting this project, you would have sworn they were completely straight! And corners aren’t always 90 degrees either.
So it’s crucial to lay out your first row and see what you have to do to make sure the first row is a) straight and b) maintains the appropriate gap between the planks and the wall.
You can see in this photo below that the width of my planks needed to be cut down in some spots to maintain that gap:
I used some scrap pieces of wood that were the recommended width of the gap and ran it over the top of the plank, using a sharpie to mark what I needed to shave off.
I ran the planks through the table saw and voila – a straight first row with correct spacing:
Finally, keep in mind that you might need to cut your first row of planks thinner so you end up with an acceptable width on the opposite side of the room. You don’t want to end up with a tiny sliver as your last row!
There’s undoubtedly a way to figure this out mathematically, but my brain is not inclined that way at all, so I personally just laid planks out to span the full width of my room to make sure I ended up with a wide-enough final row.
Lay Out Planks:
I was really pleased with the patterns on the Mocha Walnut planks – the repetition is never glaringly obvious, and there is a nice variety of different plank patterns.
I followed the manufacturer’s recommendation to pull from several boxes for a good mix of color and pattern. I found it easiest to lay out a group of planks in a row so I could quickly compare patterns when choosing my next plank.
Cut to Length:
At the end of each row, you need to cut the last board to the correct length. (Don’t forget to factor in the expansion gap, too.)
My dad taught me this neat trick of flipping the board head over heels so I could mark the perfectly measured cutting line.
I used my new miter saw to cut each plank.
Keep Adding Rows:
This was the EASIEST part of the whole project! The planks’ tongue and groove design locked together perfectly, and the floor came together really quickly.
In each room, there were definitely some spaces that required special measurements and cutting, whether it was closet door jambs, the pillars in the front of our house, or the fireplace molding.
Just remember to measure very carefully (twice!) and account for the required expansion gap! I used a combination of the miter saw, table saw, and a hand saw for these types of cuts, but if you have a jig saw, that would definitely do the trick!
And if you need to slide a plank into a hard-to-access place, my dad advised me to try rubbing a bar of soap on the tongue of the plank so it runs smoothly through the groove. It worked perfectly!
The Final Row:
When you get to the last row of the room, you will very likely need to cut the width of the planks to fit. Again, don’t forget that expansion gap!
I measured the width I needed, marked my planks with a sharpie, and used a table saw to rip them down.
It’s really the details that take the majority of the time time – cutting planks for the edges of the room, any necessary cutouts – the actual plank laying goes by surprisingly fast!
Each room took me anywhere from half a day (Bryan’s office) to one full day (the living room) to two days (the library + dining room). Bear in mind, I was mainly working by myself – an extra pair of hands makes this go even faster!
Finishing Touches: Shoe Molding & T-Molding
Once I was able to tear myself away from admiring the shiny smooth new flooring filling the room, it was time to tackle the finishing touches.
I picked up a bunch of pre-primed MDF shoe molding and painted it to match the baseboards.
Then, I got to work with my miter saw and nail gun…
Because our home is an open floor plan, but there are islands of tile that break up the flooring, I had quite a few areas that needed a T-molding transition.
P.S. I found this nifty detail online for ending the shoe molding neatly before the T-moldings:
Once the shoe molding was in place, I followed up with caulk and paint touch-ups. This all went pretty quickly – I spent just a few hours from start to finish.
I was pleased to discover that Select Surfaces carries matching T-moldings in 94″ lengths! (The “Cocoa Walnut” T-molding is the match for the “Mocha Walnut” flooring, by the way.)
Again, thanks to what I affectionately dub the “tile islands” in our home, I had some long stretches between rooms where I needed to transition from the laminate to tile.
Remember when I mentioned that the tile flooring and laminate were going to be slightly different heights?
I was more than a little worried about the transition between the two, because I wasn’t sure if the T-molding would be able to be installed at a slight angle. But the height difference wasn’t anywhere near dramatic enough to call for another type of reducer molding.
Spoiler alert: I needn’t have worried at all!
This is another area of the project where my dad stopped by to help out. He brought his hammer drill, which made quick work of drilling the holes in the concrete subfloors to attach the T-molding tracks.
The T-molding snaps easily into the plastic tracks, and was able to accommodate the minor height difference perfectly!
The Finished Flooring:
Alright. The moment you’ve all been waiting for… The glamor shots!
Just to the left of the front door is Bryan’s office, and let me tell you, he is so excited to have these floors in there now!
To the right of the front door is “The Library”.
The Dining Room:
Behind the library is the dining room…
And this is the view from the front of the house to the back of the house, where the living room is:
The Living Room:
In terms of effort, this was definitely one of the most-involved DIYs I’ve ever tackled, but it was also without a doubt the most rewarding!
While I still have so many ideas and things I want to do here, for now I’m enjoying the fruits of my labors and having fun styling my “new” spaces. I’m even on a bit of clean kick, so it just might stay tidy for slightly longer than usual post-photo shoot!
I’m sure Bryan’s getting sick of hearing me croon “I just love our home!” every time I step into the living room, but you guys, I just can’t stop walking through and simply admiring the view!
And to me, that’s the mark of a DIY worth doing!
I want to finish with a HUGE thank you to Select Surfaces for collaborating on this project. You guys know I only work with brands I truly love and can whole-heartedly recommend (read my full Disclosure page here), and these guys get a huge two thumbs up from me!