If your carpeting has seen better days, and you'd like to replace it with flooring that's inexpensive and easier to keep clean, you need look no farther than your local laminate flooring outlet. Laminate requires about the same amount of subfloor preparation as hardwood, and like hardwood, it shouldn't be installed directly over carpeting -- despite myths to the contrary. Replace your worn-out stair runners with laminate material while you're at it.
Carpet Removal Procedure
Removing the actual carpeting is easier than removing the under padding, and you'll want to be thorough about the second job before installing laminate flooring. Remove the carpeting after removing the baseboards from the perimeter of each room. Pull the carpet off the tack strips, roll it up and take it away.
Carpeting is heavy. If you're working alone, cut the carpet into strips with a utility knife to make it easier to transport.
Tack Strip Removal
When removing tack strips, remember that the tacks are sharp -- never try to grab a strip with an ungloved hand. To remove the strips, pry each one with a flat-head screwdriver or pry bar and put it in a bucket. Go ahead and break the strips while you're removing them -- they are easier to handle when they're short.
Removing the Under Padding
The under padding is usually stapled to the floor, and it's much more difficult to remove than the carpeting. Resign yourself to several hours of work because you have to get it all, even the little bits stuck under staples. Pull as much as you can by hand, then use a flat-head screwdriver to pull out staples and free the material underneath. It's best to pry out all the staples, but to save time, you may want to pound those that aren't holding anything down with a hammer.
Preparing the Subfloor
Even though a laminate floor isn't nailed down, you must level the subfloor to approximately the same tolerance as you would if you were laying hardwood. The floor must also be sealed for moisture, and it must be clean.
Step 1: Clean up after the carpet removal.
Vacuum thoroughly, then go over the floor and look for staples that are still sticking up, and either remove them or pound them down.
Step 2: Secure the subfloor.
Look for popping nails or screws, remove them and drive replacement screws about an inch from each one you remove. Fortify the fasteners, if necessary, with 2-inch wood screws, spacing them at 6-inch intervals.
Step 3: Level and fill the subfloor.
Use a straight 6-foot length of two-by-four lumber to check the level, pivoting it in a circle around the highest point on the floor and looking for low spots. Fill in any areas that are 3/16 inches below the level from which you're measuring, using floor level compound. While you're leveling the floor, fill in gaps between the plywood sheets with the leveling compound.
Step 4: Sand and clean again.
Go over the floor with a pad sander or -- if you have access to one -- an orbital flooring sander, using 120-grit sandpaper. Vacuum all the sanding dust when you're done, then inspect carefully for debris you may have missed. Anything you leave on the floor could cause bulges or gapping.
Step 5: Lay a moisture barrier.
Cover the subfloor with a 6-mil plastic moisture barrier and staple it down. In lieu of plastic, you can use resin paper or foam under padding -- available from your laminate dealer.
Installing the Flooring
Laminate flooring boards typically snap together. Start laying the floor along a wall and work your way to the other side of the room. You will need two special tools -- a tapping block and pull bar -- as well as a hammer, measuring tape, circular saw and jigsaw.
Tips for Stairs
You can lay laminate flooring on wood stairs after you remove carpet, but you need to glue the flooring down with construction adhesive and screw it down to prevent it from slipping out from someone using the steps. Glue the same flooring to the risers. Although there are other possibilities, one of the easiest ways to trim the edges is to use corner molding; you can hide the gap between the riser and tread with quarter-round molding, although professionals usually cut precisely to avoid a gap in the first place.