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Install new hardwood plastic laminate floor

Dear Ms. Builder: The kids have done a real number on the wall-to-wall carpeting over the years. I like hardwood floors, but I cannot install it myself. Do you recommend "hardwood" plastic laminate flooring? - Sarah D.

Dear Sarah: Yes, yes, yes. Plastic laminate flooring is one of the best new products that I have seen in years. It has actually been used in Europe for many years, but is relatively new to the United States. You start a room on Saturday and have your furniture back in on Sunday.

Although not perfect, plastic laminate flooring is as near as it gets. It is durable, stain and cigarette-burn resistant. You can actually wipe off streaks from an indelible marker - great around young children. I do not recommend it for wet basements or bathrooms.

Plastic laminate flooring is installed over a foam-like underlayment, similar to a very thin carpet pad. This makes it somewhat resilient and very comfortable to walk on in your bare feet. It also tends to reduce noise between floors.

It can even be installed over very short-nap carpeting, but it is best to remove the carpeting first. The only requirement is a level, dry floor.

Below the durable glossy clear top coating is a paper sheet with the hardwood, or other patterns, printed on it. It is virtually impossible to distinguish it from real hardwood flooring, except perhaps that it looks too good.

Installing plastic laminate flooring is literally a "snap", even for the inexperienced do-it-yourselfer. It is installed as a floating floor (meaning it is not attached to the subfloor). A one-quarter-inch gap, hidden under the baseboard trim on the edges allow it to grow and shrink.

The edges of each piece of plastic laminate flooring are grooved so that they interlock with all the other pieces. These edges are precisely made, so that once they are glued together, your new floor is basically one large durable piece of laminate flooring.

The first step to installing plastic laminate flooring is to remove the baseboard trim strip. Use a small wide pry bar and be gentle. Most retail flooring outlets can provide you with an installation guide on video tape.

Pull up your old carpeting and pad and discard them. Vacuum the floor and check it carefully for any significant imperfections, bumps, rough spots, etc. and make any necessary repairs. The floor should be relatively level.

Roll out the thin underlayment on the clean floor. Be careful not to overlap the edges. Make some one-quarter-inch-wide wood spacers and lay them along one wall. Place the spacers against the wall. I generally lay out the first row of flooring with the grooved side against the wall.

Cut the last piece to fit against the adjacent wall leaving the one-quarter-inch expansion gap on that wall too. If you use a hand saw to cut it, saw it with the finish side up. If you use a power saw, cut it with the finish side down.

Fit the first three rows of flooring pieces together. When you are satisfied with the fits, remove them and begin the gluing process. Apply the glue to the tongue of the piece on the floor and in the groove of the piece you are installing.

Continue installing these pieces until you have the three rows done. I use a block of soft wood and a hammer to make sure that the edge joints are seated together completely.

Using a damp cloth, wipe off any excess glue that oozed out. Wait several hours for this first section to dry and then continue installing the floor. The next day, after it all dries, install the baseboard trim to cover the expansion gap and you have a professional-looking new floor.

Tools and materials required: pry bar, screwdriver, hammer, nails, soft wood block, hand or power saw and plastic laminate adhesive.

Send questions to: Ms. Builder, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, Ohio 45244 or visit www.dulley.com/msbuilder.