How to Install Vinyl Plank Flooring

Today’s vinyl flooring is light years better than the peel-and-stick kind we remember from way back when, but it's as easy as ever to install. Here’s how to get the job done.
Tom Scalisi Avatar
how to install vinyl plank flooring

We may earn revenue from the products available on this page and participate in affiliate programs. Learn More ›

Many homeowners look down upon vinyl plank flooring because they equate it with the same stuff that you could buy at big-box stores in the 1990s—you know, the ugly patterns and misaligned seams. Today’s vinyl plank flooring is worlds better, both aesthetically and qualitatively. One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is that learning how to install vinyl plank flooring is just as easy as ever.

With modern advancements in quality, design, and appearance, vinyl plank flooring is an excellent option for almost anywhere in the home. It’s especially good for homes with kids or dogs, and for high-traffic areas prone to scratches or wear.

If you’re ready to give your home’s decor a fresh and relatively easy update, grab a few boxes of vinyl plank flooring, sharpen your pencil, and put a fresh blade in your utility knife. It’s time to lay some vinyl plank flooring.

RELATED: The Best Vinyl Plank Flooring of 2022

Cost to Install Vinyl Plank Flooring

When it comes to quality flooring choices, vinyl plank flooring has one of the lowest installation costs. Vinyl plank is usually priced by the square foot and sold in boxes of  22 to 24 square feet, depending on the brand. It ranges in price from under a dollar to up to $5 per square foot.

Generally speaking, the more vinyl plank flooring quality costs, the better the quality it is. Less expensive options might be thin, or peel-and-stick (still, today’s peel-and-sticks are better than the tiles of old). Higher quality, more expensive flooring is thicker, has built-in underlayments and moisture barriers underneath, and utilizes interlocking tongue-and-groove systems. You may see these products labeled as luxury vinyl plank flooring (LVP), but installing it isn’t any more difficult than it is for other vinyl flooring products.

Empire Today Flooring

Carpet, hardwood, vinyl, and tile flooring.

Bob Vila has partnered with Empire Today to help you easily get beautiful new floors at a great price.
Free In-Home Estimates

Underlayment for Vinyl Plank Flooring

Vinyl plank floors often require an underlayment to create a moisture barrier, provide support, and reduce noise. The installer rolls the sheet of underlayment out through the space and tapes the seams before installing the flooring on top of it. In some cases, higher quality vinyl plank flooring will have underlayment adhered to its underside, which speeds up the installation process in a big way.

Note: Underlayment is primarily used for floating vinyl plank flooring. It does not make a good substrate for peel-and-stick flooring because it doesn’t adhere to the subfloor underneath.

how to install vinyl plank flooring

Subfloor Considerations

Regardless of the cost, style, and quality of the vinyl plank flooring, the finished product requires a smooth, flat subfloor surface. If the subfloor has warps, cracks, missing chunks, or (most commonly) uneven seams, the vinyl plank flooring will show it. It might bounce, wear unevenly, or show humps in the floor.

There are relatively simple solutions for these scenarios, like installing a layer of ¼-inch luan flooring board overtop of the existing floor or subfloor. This creates a flat, even surface and provides the ideal substrate for underlayment vinyl plank flooring.

RELATED: How to Remove Vinyl Flooring

4 Steps to Installing Vinyl Plank Flooring

While installing vinyl plank flooring requires some specialized tools and techniques, it’s nevertheless a DIY-friendly job. The following tips will help you see the project through.

Tools & Materials may earn a commission from purchases made through these links.

STEP 1: Inspect the subfloor, and install luan if necessary.

One thing that hasn’t changed about installing vinyl flooring—or any type of flooring, for that matter—is the need for a perfectly smooth and level substrate or subfloor. Inspect the condition of the existing subfloor and determine if it will work as is, or if installing a layer of luan is necessary.

When installing the replacement luan, careful measuring is necessary to make sure floor penetrations align with cutouts in the existing floor. Cut holes for penetrations like pipes and heaters with a saber saw.

Fasten the luan to the subfloor with screws 8 inches apart in each direction, and fill all joints and fastener holes with patching compound. Just be sure that fastener heads are set below the underlayment surface, otherwise they will show through to the finished floor.

How to Install Vinyl Plank Flooring

STEP 2: Install new underlayment, if necessary.

If the choice of vinyl plank flooring doesn’t have a layer of underlayment adhered to its underside, laying a roll of underlayment is necessary. Remember that peel-and-stick floors do not require underlayment.

Lay the underlayment from wall to wall, taking care not to overlap the seams. Instead, tape the seams together with underlayment or housewrap tape.

STEP 3: Start the first course.

Starting on one end of the room, measure across to the other side and divide that measurement by the width of one vinyl plank. The decibel amount represents how wide the final plank will be at the other side of the room (in percentage). Do some quick math to ensure that this percentage won’t be less than 2 inches. Adjust if necessary and lay the first row in a straight line across the wall.

For example, if a room is 107 inches long, and the vinyl flooring is 5.5 inches wide, divide 107 by 5.5 inches: 107 / 5.5 = 19.45. The decimal value (.45) represents 45 percent of the 5.5 inches, which is roughly 2.5 inches (5.5 x .45), a suitable width for the final row of planks. Should the width be less than 2 inches, cut the first plank slightly thinner to achieve a wider final row.

How to Install Vinyl Plank Flooring first layer

STEP 4: Install the vinyl plank flooring.

Begin installing the vinyl plank flooring.

  • For peel-and-stick flooring, remove the backing, and hold the plank so only the edge is touching the previous row and adjust its positioning before laying the plank flat and pressing it in place. Use the roller to flatten the adhesive against the substrate.
  • For tongue-and-groove vinyl plank flooring, slide the tongue of the next course into the groove of the previous course and tap it into place with the tapping block. Be sure to leave a small gap (¼ to ⅜-inch around the perimeter) to allow for expansion.

For any cuts, use the tape measure or mark the plank in place. Use the utility knife to score and snap the planks to length. For round cuts, use the scribes to transfer contours to the planks before making repeated scores and removing the cut. Be sure to space seams by 3 or 4 inches, as well.

how to install vinyl plank flooring

Final Thoughts

Installing vinyl plank flooring has its pros and cons, but it’s a fairly straightforward way to make a significant impact in a room. As long as the subfloor underneath is in good shape, a vinyl plank floor can provide a new, fresh, luxurious feel for any space. By following the steps above, DIYers can learn how to install vinyl plank flooring of any type.

FAQs About Installing Vinyl Plank Flooring

Though we’ve just presented a lot of information about installing vinyl plank flooring, you may still have some queries about the process. Here are some of the most commonly asked questions on the subject.

Q: How long does it take to install vinyl plank flooring?

It depends on the size of the room and condition of the existing floor, but most vinyl plank flooring projects take less than a day. Once the first course is in, the workflow increases and DIYers can cover ground quickly.

Q: Can you paint vinyl flooring?

Yes, it’s possible to paint vinyl flooring. Sanding the glossy finish off the top, then priming the floor with latex paint should provide a proper substrate for latex paint. Just be sure to coat the finished product with a clear, durable sealer.

Q: Which direction to install vinyl plank flooring?

When installing plank flooring, whether it be vinyl or wood, there are three rules to consider. First, you can follow the flow of the planks in the hallways and connecting rooms to keep the spaces from feeling choppy. Second, for south-facing walls (in the northern hemisphere) it makes sense to install the planks north to south, as the sun’s rays pouring through the windows can complement the texture. Finally, if neither of those scenarios apply, simply install the planks along the longest walls.

Q: What are the problems with vinyl plank flooring?

Vinyl plank flooring products are much better than they used to be. Today’s products are less prone to the warping, splitting, separating, or wearing that products sold 25 years ago were. However, improper installation or poor quality substrates and underlayment can still cause the same issues.

Q: Why is my vinyl plank flooring separating?

Older peel-and-stick floors are prone to separating due to excessive moisture, poor installation, unsatisfactory substrates, and age. New vinyl plank floors might separate with excess heat or cold, which causes the planks to expand or contract.