Inspect your floor and decide on an installation method
If you have an existing vinyl floor that's not coming loose and the underlying floor is solid and flat, you can glue new vinyl directly over it as we show in this article. We don't recommend tearing out old vinyl floors because many contain asbestos, which can be hazardous to your health.
If your existing floor is wood planks, loose or deteriorated vinyl, or is in bad shape, you'll have to cover it with a layer of 1/4-in. plywood. Make sure you use special underlayment plywood recommended for use under vinyl floors and follow the manufacturer's instructions for installing it. This method raises the height about 3/8 in. You may have to cut off door bottoms and use special transition strips at openings.
If you plan to install vinyl over concrete, check for excessive moisture by gluing down a 3 x 3-ft. piece of vinyl and taping the edges. After 72 hours, try to pull up the vinyl. If it comes up easily, there's too much moisture in the concrete to install vinyl.
Next measure your floor and draw a simple sketch with dimensions. Take the sketch along when you shop for flooring. The salesperson will help you figure the quantity to order. Also order embossing leveler, adhesive, seam sealer (if necessary) and transition pieces. See “Buying Vinyl” for more information.
Vinyl flooring ranges in price from about 60¢ to $3 or $4 per square foot plus $50 to $100 for floor leveling compound and adhesive.
Most vinyl flooring is available in 12-ft. widths so you can cover a wide area without creating seams. However, some of the higher quality vinyl floors are stiffer, so they're available only in 6-ft. or 6-ft. 4-in. widths for easier installation. Stiffer vinyl is more difficult to install than more flexible vinyl and you'll have to make more seams. If you fall in love with the pattern on one of these stiffer vinyls, hire a pro to install your flooring.
There are two installation options for vinyl floors. Most require a full spread of adhesive as shown in this article. This is a time-tested method that guarantees good results. Another type of vinyl flooring allow you to apply glue only to the perimeter. This type is slightly more forgiving of imperfections in the existing floor, but it still requires careful attention to the installation details.
Careful floor prep is the key to a great-looking job
Photo 1: Undercut the door moldings and jambs
Saw off the bottoms of the doorjambs and moldings. Use a scrap of vinyl flooring to position the saw blade the correct distance from the floor. Remove the base shoe.
Photo 2: Spread a filler to even the surface
Fill embossed patterns and minor imperfections with embossing leveler. Spread a thin, even layer over the floor with the flat side of a trowel. Hold the trowel at a 60-degree angle to the floor and trowel diagonally across the pattern. Let the leveler dry for the recommended time.
Photo 3: Scrape away high spots
Scrape ridges and bumps of dried leveler with the edge of a putty knife or trowel. Trowel on another coat if necessary. Sweep carefully after your last scraping.
Start by prying loose the base shoe molding and thresholds or carpet strips at the doorways. If you don't have base shoe, plan on adding it after you install the floor to cover the edges of the vinyl.
Photo 1 shows how to cut off the bottom of door trim and jambs so the new flooring will slide under them. This is a lot easier than trying to cut the vinyl to fit around them. Photos 2 and 3 show how to fill the embossed pattern and minor indentations in the old floor to prepare it for vinyl. After the first coat dries, inspect the floor with a raking light to make sure it's perfectly smooth. Trowel on another coat of filler if necessary.
Make a paper template for a perfect fit
Photo 4: Trim paper into a template
Cut heavy paper to fit within 1/2 in. of the walls and tape it to the floor through triangle-shaped cutouts. Tape the seams together to make a large single paper template.
Photo 5: Use a spacer to scribe
Scribe the shape of the floor onto the paper template by holding a straightedge against the baseboard while you draw a line along the inside edge.
Photo 6: Mark the door jambs and moldings carefully
Slide the straightedge under the cutoff moldings and doorjambs before marking the template. Mark the edges of moldings. Put an “X” on these lines to indicate actual rather than scribed lines.
Pick up masking tape and a roll of rosin paper (about $8 at home centers and lumberyards) and use them to assemble a paper template of the floor. Photos 4 – 6 show how. Overlap and tape the seams. Cut out triangles every 3 ft., and tape the template to the floor to keep it from shifting while you draw the lines. You can use any straightedge to transfer the lines to the paper, as long as you use the same one to then transfer the lines to the vinyl. We bought two inexpensive 3-ft. aluminum rulers and cut one into shorter lengths to fit short wall sections.
If your room includes curved or irregular shapes, use a compass rather than the straightedge to scribe the line. Hold the compass points at a right angle to the surface you're scribing and keep the compass setting the same when you scribe the line onto the new vinyl.
Photo 6 shows how to mark around doorjambs and trim. It's helpful to mark the edges of the trim on the template. But be sure to indicate that these are actual rather than scribed lines by putting “Xs” on these marks (Photo 6). Then transfer these lines directly to the vinyl rather than scribing them with the straightedge.
Transfer the template to the vinyl
Photo 7: Place the template onto the vinyl
Align the template on the sheet vinyl for the most pleasing appearance. Then measure from the edge of the template to pattern lines to make sure the pattern lines on the new vinyl will be parallel to the walls. Tape the template to the vinyl through the triangle cutouts.
Photo 8: Add the scribed area onto the vinyl
Transfer the scribed lines from the template to the vinyl using the same straightedge you used to make the template. Align one edge with the line on the template and mark the vinyl with a pen along the other edge.
Photo 9: Cut just outside the line
Cut out the vinyl flooring using a utility knife fitted with a new hook blade. Cut about 1/8 in. inside the line where the edge will be covered with base shoe. Cut along the line itself where the edge will be left uncovered.
Close-up: Hook blade
Use a hook blade to cut the vinyl flooring
Find a large enough area, like a basement or garage floor, and sweep it thoroughly before you roll out the new vinyl. Then position the paper template on the vinyl. Now you'll have to make some decisions. If your vinyl has a symmetrical pattern like ours—simulated tile, for example—make sure the template is parallel with the “grout” lines on the longest, most conspicuous wall. Also shift the template until the border tiles are equal (Photo 7).And finally, if you're planning a seam that has to fall in a particular spot—we placed a seam in the opening to the next room—then make sure there's a grout line or other pattern at this location to help hide the seam.
When you're satisfied with the alignment, tape the template to the vinyl through the triangle cutouts, and also set a few heavy items on it to keep it from shifting. Then transfer the marks from the template to the vinyl (Photo 8).Use a pencil or a pen, not a marker. In areas that will be covered by base shoe or moldings, cut about 1/8 in. inside the line to allow a little space between the wall and the vinyl (Photo 9).Cut on the line in areas that won't be covered. Leave a few extra inches of vinyl at the seam location. You'll need this extra material to double-cut the seam.
Fit the vinyl and spread the adhesive
Photo 10: Carefully position the vinyl
Precisely position the vinyl in the room and trim it with the hook blade to fit if necessary. Then fold back half the sheet.
Photo 11: Apply the adhesive
Spread adhesive evenly over the floor with a notched trowel (1/16 x 1/16 x 3/32-in. notches). Hold the trowel at a 60-degree angle. Keep the adhesive in a straight line at the center. Let the adhesive set the specified length of time.
Close-up: Notched trowel
1/16 in. x 1/16 in. x 3/32 in. notched trowel
Start by sweeping the old floor. You can't be too careful here. Any little speck of dirt will show through the new vinyl floor. Roll the new vinyl and carry it into the room. Get help if you have an extra large piece. Support the vinyl carefully as you unroll it so it doesn't crease or kink. It should fit perfectly. Photo 10 shows how to fit the vinyl under door trim. Trim the vinyl with your hook blade in areas where it's too tight.
Next plan a gluing strategy that will allow you to glue down the flooring in two nearly equal sections. When you're satisfied with the fit and have a gluing plan, set a few heavy items on the half you'll be gluing last to keep the vinyl from shifting. Then roll back the vinyl to the midpoint and spread glue under it (Photo 11).
First trowel the adhesive around the perimeter, then fill in the middle with an even coat (Photo 11).Don't leave any globs. Leaving too much adhesive is a common mistake that will result in glue bubbles under your new floor. Trowel the glue in a straight line along the rolled-back vinyl. Avoid double- coating this area when you trowel the second half. Let the adhesive set for the recommended time, usually about 20 minutes, before you rolling the vinyl back over it (Photo 12).
Glue down the flooring
Photo 12: Carefully position the vinyl over the adhesive
Roll the vinyl onto the adhesive gradually to eliminate air pockets. Roll back and glue the other half in the same manner.
Photo 13: Secure the flooring to the adhesive
Roll the flooring from the center out with firm pressure on a rolling pin. Press the edges with a wallpaper roller.
Photo 12 shows how to lay the first half of the vinyl on the adhesive. Keep a bucket of water and a rag available to clean up all extra adhesive immediately. It's difficult to remove once it starts to dry. Roll the vinyl as soon as possible after gluing it down. Use a rolling pin on small floors (Photo 13) or rent a special floor roller for large floors (about $15 per day). Watch for bubbles and work them toward the edges if possible. If they remain after you've finished rolling, be patient; they'll probably disappear in a day or two. Next roll the unglued section of vinyl back onto the completed half and repeat the gluing and rolling steps.
Finish the job by reinstalling the base shoe and installing new threshold or transition moldings at doors and openings to other rooms. Use matching caulk to seal edges that aren't covered by base shoe.
If you have to make a seam, use this “double-cut” method
Photo 1: Align the pattern
Align the edge of the template paper with the exact position of the desired seam and mark the pattern (grout line) locations. Line up the edge of the template with a grout line on the new vinyl and align the grout line marks. Tape the template to the new vinyl. Leave a few extra inches of vinyl at the seam location. Follow the steps in Photos 8 – 13 for cutting and positioning the new piece, being careful to position the seam location precisely. Then glue down the vinyl.
Photo 2: Align the straightedge with the grout line
Center a metal straightedge on the grout line at the seam location and cut through both pieces of vinyl using a utility knife fitted with a straight blade.
Photo 3: Remove the undercut piece
Peel the cutoff strip from underneath the seam area. Spread additional adhesive with a notched trowel. Push the edges together and roll the seam. Seal it with the recommended seam sealer.
There are several methods for cutting and assembling seams. Check with the manufacturer of your flooring to see which one it recommends. The double-cutting method we describe here is an easy way to get a good fit between two pieces. But be sure to align the two pieces exactly before cutting through them. Then use a sharp new blade and firm pressure to cut entirely through both layers of vinyl in one pass.
The photos on the right show the process. If your flooring has a repeating pattern, make sure to align it correctly. Notice that we completed the floor installation on one side of the seam before making the template for the other half.
Removing the underlying vinyl strip (Photo 3) may remove adhesive as well. Use the narrow edge of your notched trowel to spread additional glue over this area before assembling the seam. Be careful to avoid getting adhesive on the edges that will be joined. Follow the instructions on the package to apply the seam sealer.
Required Tools for this Project
Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.
- Knee pads
- Notched trowel
- Safety glasses
- Tape measure
- Utility knife
Required Materials for this Project
Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here’s a list.
- Masking tape
- Roll of craft or rosin paper
- Transition strips
- Vinyl flooring