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My son recently asked for help installing vinyl flooring in his bathroom. So we took a trip to the local home center to pick up materials and supplies. What I found surprised me.
I knew that vinyl flooring had come a long way since the days when I was a young father, but even within the past few years, there have been eye-popping advancements. No more boring patterns or unconvincing imitations of wood, tile, and stone. The products we saw were virtually indistinguishable from ‘the real thing.’ Even better, all we needed to do the job was a carpenter square and a utility knife.
My son chose a rustic pine plank-style flooring, ideal for areas that get wet. (Did I mention my grandson’s penchant for splashing at bath time?) In addition to being waterproof, the vinyl planks had the texture of real wood grain, were heavy enough to feel solid underfoot, and had a convincing look complete with knots and splits.
The planks were designed to join together at half-lap joints with contact adhesive pre-applied to the mating surfaces. Pressed together and rolled, the planks would form a tight bond.
One thing that hasn’t changed about installing vinyl flooring—or any type of flooring, for the matter—is the need for a perfectly smooth and level underlayment. In this bathroom, the existing underlayment, which was covered with adhesive from floors past, also had some water damage due to a toilet-seal leak. So, with little hesitation, we decided to rip it out and replace it with 1/4″ luan plywood.
Sometimes old underlayment can be reused. This was not one of those times. We tore up the old underlayment using a hefty prybar and banged home the nails left behind.
We also removed the damaged top-layer subflooring near the toilet and replaced it with a plywood patch of identical thickness.
Careful measuring was necessary to make sure floor penetrations would align with cutouts in the underlayment. The hole for the toilet drain, and notches for for valves and piping, were cut with a saber saw.
The underlayment was fastened to the subfloor with screws 8″ apart in each direction, and all joints and fastener holes were filled with patching compound. Ring shank nails or staples work well, too. Just be sure that fastener heads are set below the underlayment surface; otherwise they will telegraph through to the finished floor.
Perhaps the only tricky part of the job was ensuring that, upon reaching the other side of the room, we didn’t end up with a too-narrow final plank (less than 2″ wide). Upon dividing the width of the room by the plank width of 6″, we found that the remainder—2-1/2″—would indeed be wide enough. If the remainder had been less than 2″, we would have had to ‘rip’ an inch or two off the first plank we put down.
Of course, there is no sawing involved in vinyl plank flooring. To cut the planks, we only had to measure and then score the flooring the back side with a utility knife. Each break was quite clean.
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