I have always been a proponent of flooring pre-fabrication if there is just cause. Most flooring products, including laminates, can be pre-fabricated. When considering pre-fabricating a laminate floor, or a portion of it, be sure to take into account the obstacles that can interfere with a successful installation, and remember to always plan the project from fabrication to installation...

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I have always been a proponent of flooring pre-fabrication if there is just cause. Most flooring products, including laminates, can be pre-fabricated.

When considering pre-fabricating a laminate floor, or a portion of it, be sure to take into account the obstacles that can interfere with a successful installation, and remember to always plan the project from fabrication to installation. Critical points that are often overlooked include: the ability to handle, cut, and position a large section of flooring; the ability to transport or crate a section of flooring without damaging it; and, of course, the floor’s finished appearance after abnormal installation and handling techniques.

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The installation shown here is pre-fabricated for several reasons. The original laminate installation was completed two years ago in the kitchen and dining area, with the intention of installing laminate on the step-down and exterior entrance after the carpet became worn. This is not a problem with laminate flooring, as there are no run numbers or dye lots with production runs. The product needs to be installed so it appears to cascade down the step to the exterior entrance, matching existing seam lines and the original product layout as it spills over the step to the entrance. This can be a very tall order when working with individual tiles.

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The largest portion of the flooring, the entrance, measures 46 ½ inches by 77 ½ inches. Bordered with carpet on two sides, a step on one side, and a doorway on the other, this small area alone presents a challenge, as there is no long, solid, straight wall to work against for start up. And previous experience with this client dictates it would be in everyone’s best interest complete the project in one day, with a minimum of disturbance.

Conclusion: A perfect candidate for pre-fabrication.

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The first step involves taking precise field measurements and attaching them to a detailed drawing, including seam lines, step location, and specific notes regarding any potential issues that might be discovered once the carpet is removed.

Since the substrate has to be flat to fully support the laminate, make sure the surface being used for assembly is flat as well; otherwise, the fabricated sections can be distorted. The sections are assembled with full tile to create a floor that will be larger than the area to be covered (Photo 1). The product is acclimated at an outside facility for fabrication, but take care to deliver the product to the site without radical changes in either temperature or humidity.

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The finished sections may be taped, clamped or both. Leave the glued sections undisturbed for a minimum of 48 hours before moving them(Photo 2). Pre-fabricated floor sections must be wrapped in polyethylene, for protection against environmental changes after assembly, then transported and carried on edge to avoid damage to the joints. Notice in photo 2 how the two tiles that create the offset are not taped. They have not been glued because, in this instance, they must be removed during transport, due to vehicle height limitations.

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On arrival, execute the necessary preparation for the installation, in this case removing doors; pre-existing carpet and pad; pre-existing tack strip; and moldings, as well as making any modifications requiring cutting(Photo 3). Clean the area thoroughly before unloading all the components for installation, staging them upright on edge(Photos 4 and 5).

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For this project, the master fabricator created a paper pattern, or template, for the entrance floor. The pattern enables him to transfer the perimeter of the area to the material fabricated for the entrance floor(Photo 6). Once the lines have been transferred to the flooring, the edge of the floor to be cut is raised with wooden supports(Photo 7). The supports allow accurate cuts without risking damage to the blades from the concrete(Photo 8).

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Once all the cuts are complete, position the pre-fabricated section in the designated area; this portion of the installation is now complete, with the exception of transition moldings (be sure to have manufacturer’s recommended underlayment in position), as shown inPhoto 9.

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Photo 10shows a rare situation. The old step was only ¾-inch from the edge of a cabinet installed after the carpet. With a little ingenuity, extending the right end of the step to the cabinet effectively covers the hard-to-clean space.Photo 11shows the pre-fabricated step is easily installed after field-fitting the stair nosing. The left side of the step-down and pre-fabricated riser with a field-cut return miter is shown inPhoto 12. The tape holds the moldings and return in position until the adhesive sets. The job is complete once moldings and transition moldings are cut and installed, the floor is cleaned, and caulking is performed with a siliconized, color-coordinated caulk.

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Photo 13shows a clear look at all the attention to detail, from the step-down to the moldings. Notice the clean, smooth lines at the cabinet.Photo 14reveals the uninterrupted flow of the laminate tile, from the existing dining area down to the entrance. A perfect match, both in color and seam lines.

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We would not have attempted this installation on-site; there are too many unnecessary challenges to overcome that are eliminated with pre-fabrication.

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There is a time and a place for every installation technique. This should be one more for your arsenal as you fight the war against those who would declare, “It can’t be done.”

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Pre-fabrication of a laminate floor: It can be done.