how to stagger laminate flooring

Staggering Laminate Flooring Guide: A-Z On Staggering

Staggering laminate planks is one of the best decisions that you’ll make if you decide to install this floor yourself. This pattern will help you achieve gorgeous, aesthetically pleasing flooring with great stability. If you want to learn how to stagger laminate flooring without making any mistakes, I’ve prepared a guide that explains every single step.

So many people are not even sure why staggering is important and don’t know the recommended amount of stagger. That’s why I’ll get more into detail about how much you should stagger, the preparations you have to make before installing the floors, how to install the first row, second row, etc., and even the patterns you should avoid.

Proper staggering will deliver you durable floors that you’ll maintain for decades without any stability issues, gaps, or loosening planks. Let’s check out the amount of stagger that you should practice, then go over the step-by-step guide.

How Much To Stagger

There isn’t a fixed amount of staggering that you should stick to when installing laminate floors. It all depends on what the manufacturer recommends. Most companies advise that you stagger between 6” and 12”. You should not stagger below this range, but it’s okay to stagger more than 12”.

How Much To Stagger

When you’re done with the installation, the floors should feature an irregular appearance. That’s how you’ll know the staggering was successful. If the manufacturer mentions rules that you strictly have to follow during the installation, that’s what you should do.

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How Do You Stagger Laminate Flooring, Step By Step?

Before you understand and learn how to properly stagger these planks, you need to go through a few steps to prepare the room, subfloor, underlayment, and more.

Prepare The Room

Before you start installing the laminate, you need to prepare the room. If there are any baseboards on the joints between the wall and the floor, you need to remove them. They will get in the way of the installation and make the process harder.

Also, if you see anything on the walls or the floor that can be an obstacle, remove it right away.

Clean the floors well by starting with a broom and finishing with a vacuum.

Prepare The Subfloor

The subfloor is very important when you’re installing new flooring. It has to be firm, smooth, and flat. The new surface should be as flat as possible so that the laminate planks are securely placed on top.

The good thing about laminate is that it can be installed on top of other flooring types. If you already have an old floor that you don’t want to remove because it will either cause a mess, cost a lot, or take too much time, you might be able to keep it and add laminate right on top.

Laminate can be installed over hardwood floors, tiles, vinyl planks, concrete, and more. As long as the old floor is flat, level, in decent condition, and attached to the subfloor, there shouldn’t be any problems.

Laminate planks can bend, but it’s not recommended that you install them over a subfloor that is soft. That’s why adding laminate on top of a carpet is never a good idea.

If there are any imperfections on the subfloor, or it’s not even, you should fix it before you start layering. Plywood underlayment is one of the ways that you can fix uneven subfloors.

Place The Planks On The Subfloor

Put the planks of the subfloor to check if they lay flat. If they do, you’re good to move to the next step. You can also arrange the planks so that you can get a general idea of what your future floor will look like.

Add Underlayment

Underlayment is so important to add before you start installing floors. Before you start installing the planks, you need to measure the room and decide how many underlayment sheets you’ll need and the type you’ll use.

This material will deliver sound, moisture, and thermal isolation. It can also smoothen out some minor bumps that are located on the subfloor.

Mark The Expansion Gap

The expansion gap should be half an inch from the wall. Use a measuring tape to mark lines that are half an inch away from the walls and any other obstacles in the room.

Start The First Row

Now, let’s answer the most crucial question: How do you stagger laminate flooring? First of all, you need to know that you have to form an irregular pattern with the planks. All laminate planks have the same length,  which may make an irregular pattern sound impossible to achieve.

This is where staggering comes into action. Now, let’s see how you should start and end the first row.

It’s best if you start installing from the left to the right of the room. Remove all the planks from the boxes and mix them up.

Trim the tongues on the planks that will be a part of the first row so that you can avoid problems with the extension gap. Start placing them with the trimmed part along the wall. Make sure that you keep the recommended distance of half an inch for the expansion gap.

You can also use spacers, so you’ll know that you’re always keeping the proper distance. Sometimes walls are not straight, and you’ll need to measure again. Continue laying down the following planks until you’re done with the first row.

The end joints should not feature any gaps. You can use a hammer to ensure that the joints are closed.

When you end row one, the last plank will probably not fit completely. You will have to cut it off so that it fits the remaining space.

The cutoff that you get will not fit just anywhere in the room. That’s why it should be your first plank for your second row. This is an easy way to create an irregular pattern and keep waste to a minimum.

If the cutoff from the first row is too short, then you can start the second row with a plank that you’ll cut to a random length. Also, the pieces that you cut should not be shorter than 16”, but if the subfloor is flat with quality underlayment, you can go as short as 12”.

Start The Second Row

Use the offcut from the first row to start the second one. Continue layering the rest of the planks until this row is completely done. Now, you won’t use the cutoff from the second row to start the third one because it can lead to a step pattern.

Start The Second Row

For the third row, cut a piece from a whole laminate plank so that you keep the pattern irregular and don’t create an H-joint (when your third row is entirely the same as the first row).

When you finish the third row, you can start the fourth row using the cutoff from the second row. For the fifth row, use the cutoff from the third row. Keep this pattern going until the last row in the room.

This is one of the easiest ways to achieve an irregular flooring stagger pattern without putting too much effort into it and wasting a lot of laminate.

Laminate planks, in most cases, feature a click and lock system. When you want to connect a plank from one row to planks from the next row, you should hold it at a 45-degree angle.

Place the tongue into the groove of the planks of the previous row and you can now start moving the plank toward the floor. Use a hammer with light pressure to secure the planks into place.

The Final Row

The final row is usually the most difficult to install because the planks might not fit the space. That’s why you’ll need to rip them using a jigsaw, table saw, or circular saw.

Don’t forget that you need to maintain half an inch for expansion between the last row and the wall.

This is pretty much the entire philosophy behind staggering, and now you can tell how simple it is. All the people and installers who want to avoid it are causing an underlying problem that will appear eventually.

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Why Is Not Staggering A Problem?

Staggering floating floors is not a rule. However, it’s an installation technique that will deliver floors that last long, have a fantastic appearance, and are safe to walk on.

Not staggering this flooring type can lead to various problems. Chances are you’ve seen laminate planks that are not staggered, installed from one wall to another without the recommended staggering of 6 to 12 inches. The owners might like the appearance, but it’s not the right thing to do, and now you’ll find out why.

A laminate floor that is not staggered can look weird and aesthetically not pleasing. Aside from appearance, if your floor is not staggered it might have compromised stability, compromised strength, and the planks will separate from one another.

The fact that these floating floors are not staggered as the manufacturer recommends means that you will possibly face problems after some time. You will start noticing loose planks, planks that don’t lock with each other, and complete areas that move out of place.

One of the common reasons why people decide to forego the instructions is because they’re convinced that manufacturers just want to sell more laminate planks and leave you with the leftovers.

But that’s not true at all. Yes, you will have to pay a little bit more when you decide to stagger it, but this amount secures the quality of the product that you’ll install, and it ensures the flooring will stay in place.

If you still decide to skip staggering, you will save a small amount at first. But after some time, you’ll need to purchase completely new laminate planks and end up paying double the amount.

Another reason why people and even professional installers avoid staggering is because they think it will take more time. There’s no truth in this because the process is straightforward and effortless after the first few rows.

Each flooring type comes with instructions and recommendations. If you decide not to stagger laminate, you will be left with flooring that will eventually start moving, is not safe, does not act as a unit, and planks that are not functional.

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Laminate Flooring Patterns To Avoid

These are the two patterns that you have to avoid when installing laminate planks.

H-Joints

If you see laminate planks placed in a regular pattern, where every other row of the floor is almost the same, then you might have created an H-joint. This is a pattern that you should avoid when installing laminate.

Laminate Flooring Patterns To Avoid

The uniform pattern created with this joint is not aesthetically pleasing, plus it can negatively affect the structure of the floor. In this case, the planks might not act as a whole structure, and in time you can notice movements, gaps, and more.

Step Pattern

This is another pattern that you should avoid. If two rows of your laminate flooring have proper spacing, but the planks in the third row are placed at exact lengths, you can end up with a floor that just doesn’t look right.

Once again, this pattern can eventually show signs of poor stability because of the improper installation.

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FAQs

Is Underlayment Necessary When Staggering Laminate Planks?

All floor manufacturers recommend that you add underlayment before installing laminate planks. Laminate is a thin flooring material that will benefit from the support of underlayment.

The underlayment will act as a thermal barrier, moisture barrier, and sound barrier, and will smooth out some small bumps on the subfloor. It’s an important step when installing laminate, no matter if you stagger or not.

If you live in a location known for high humidity or if the floor base is a concrete slab, you should consider adding a moisture barrier as well. This will protect the laminate planks from excessive moisture and in most cases is installed before the underlayment.

Should I Try Short Staggering For Laminate Floors?

Laminate is a floating floor, and it needs to be installed and staggered as an entire unit. Short staggering the planks can also lead to the same problems that not staggering at all can cause. The issues will appear at some point in time, so here’s why you should not short stagger.

Most companies say that you should stagger between 6” and 12” and that you should stick to these numbers. Short staggering won’t save you money or time; it can only deliver a floor that looks odd and features gaps, laminate planks that move, are not stable, and eventually entire areas with stability issues.

If you purchase laminate flooring and decide not to stagger or to short stagger, you might end up losing your warranty.

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Conclusion

Although there are no strict rules about staggering laminate flooring, this is a recommended route to take if you want a floor that will be durable and will stay in place for a very long time. The recommended amount for staggering ranges between 6” and 12”, but some manufacturers advise you to stagger even more.

The process of staggering can sound a little complicated at first, but once you start installing the planks, you’ll see how easy it really is. All you need to do is follow this simple guide to make the entire task a piece of cake.

To stagger properly and with minimum waste, the cutoff piece from your first row should be the first piece in your second row. Leave the cutoff piece from the second row aside, and start the third row with a plank that you’ll cut to a random length that does not create an H-joint or a step pattern. Start the fourth row with the cutoff from the second row, then start the fifth row from the third row, and so on.

As you can see, once you get the hang of it, staggering is so straightforward, and you’ll be installing durable, stable floors that will last for years.

  • Staggering laminate floors is not only important for appearance but also for stability. This is a method of installing laminate planks that should feature an irregular pattern with a stagger length that varies between 6” and 12”.
  • When installing the floors, make sure that you avoid regular patterns such as the H-joint or a step pattern.
  • Short staggering or not staggering at all can cause a range of problems including compromised stability, loose planks, gaps, and more.

If you have any comments or first-hand experiences with laminate floors and staggering, please post them below or share your pictures via our social media.

About Maricel Dee

Maricel Dee is a writer & blogger on all things home improvement. When she's not writing on her favorite home improvement topics, you can find her immersed in her own home projects.

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