Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Reflooring Partay! Installing Trafficmaster Allure Ultra Planking

What's under your carpet?
Oct 2012 
Jan 2013 
May 2013
Nov 2013 - Quick update here

August 2014.  Floor still going strong.  Will update later in the fall with more photos and document any scuffing or damage after two tenancies.

This blog post recounts my personal experience removing my old carpeting and installing Allure Ultra Planking. I discuss our thought process, our installation tools and tricks, and I review Allure Ultra planking.  (The sticky Allure is not the click-lock Allure Ultra that I review here.)

If you have remaining questions, your own review, or proud photos to share, please post a comment below!  Other kind blog visitors have also provided their tips and tricks in the comments as well.
So with allergies, sleep quality issues and indoor air cleanliness that likely matched the level of LA smog, judging from the state of my apartment air filter just 24 hours after switching to a fresh one (white->brown), I felt compelled to attempt a major home and health improvement task: ripping out who-knows-how-old carpet and putting down new flooring.

  • Internet research 
  • Big girly sunglasses, or preferably, real safety goggles
  • gloves
  • packing/duct tape
  • broom/vacuum cleaner
  • trash bags
  • big crowbar and/or prybars (prybar is too a word!)
  • pliers
  • scissors
  • boxcutters/utility knives
  • ruler
  • marker
  • radio
Key requirements: 
  • Trafficmaster Allure Ultra Vinyl Planking, in Clear Cherry, from Home Depot.  
  • $3 rubber mallet
  • Help, in the form of bf and a cavalry of friends
My studio is a small place, with let's say 400 sq ft of carpeting that needed to be taken up, not counting areas already floored with vinyl sheeting or tile.  Still, it wasn't going to be a piece of cake.

Maybe a very old tough piece of shepherd's pie...

Lucky for me, I had the internet, bf and friends to help me on this quest, which I had not quite dared to tackle on my own, though I had certainly daydreamed about it in the past.

Below the carpet, which likely contained years of past tenant debris and cat dander mixed with dust mite cityscapes, there was wooden parquet flooring, likely of questionable quality.  The good folks who had originally laid down this carpeting had done a somewhat sloppy job of it, barely tacking down the carpet edges or the foam carpet pad beneath.  This of course held the promise of an easier time removing everything.

Allure Ultra plank, from Home Depot.
Internet research and forum-lurking led me to choose Home Depot's Trafficmaster Allure Ultra vinyl planking as my new floor of choice.  No, it's not the cheapest; no, it's not the one with the most positive reviews; and no, I don't work for Home Depot.

Pros: claim of waterproofness, toughness, and the comparative ease with which planks could be cut and snapped to length with a utility knife during the flooring process, compared to the need for a saw to work with wood laminate.  Does a decent job of looking like wood.  It would be a floating floor laid directly over the existing wooden parquet; probably as easy as reflooring gets.
Potential Cons: ability of the pieces to "snap" together as easily and tightly as Home Depot claimed on their fancy Youtube demo video, and if the floor beneath the carpet would be flat enough to work with their locking mechanism.  If they really were as scratch and scrape resistant as they claim to be.  Also rather pricey.

The boxes of Trafficmaster Allure Ultra were heavy puppies and 18 of them gave me and the bf quite some exercise lugging them from store to car, then car to apartment complex door, and then down two flights of stairs.  Definitely not a task for the weak, nor for the weak of heart.

After much effort moving most my furniture and things out of the space in question, removing the carpeting was quite simple on the day of the Flooring Partay.  Somewhat laborious, but simple.  Pliers and gloves, teasing and ripping up the edges of the carpet from the wooden tack strips below, then cutting the carpeting into narrow strips that could be rolled up, taped up, and hauled outside, piece by piece.  One will be surprised how heavy a seemingly little strip of carpet becomes once it's rolled up.  Quite a few ugly stains showed through to the back of several pieces.

Steam cleaning: not so penetrative after all.
Much hair and dust and dirt and sand--so much sand--was found after the carpet pad underneath was rolled away.  That, and two large rusty razor blades.  Livin' life on the edge of tetanus!

Ramen box full of tack strips.  Also note the large, manly crowbar.
The floor beneath was stained in some places, with evidence of past water damage.  After a good vacuum, it appeared none of the wood pieces had buckled or warped, so the hope was the floor would be flat enough to lay the Allure Ultra planks on top.  By then, friends had arrived, along with pizza, and the tedious and slightly dangerous task of pulling all the tack strips, nails and staples out of the parquet wood floor commenced.

Sand.  And a hole in the wall.  Thanks, lazy baseboard installer.
Let me tell you, the difference in time and annoyance-level between two people with crowbars and pliers removing nails and staples, and five people with crowbars and pliers removing nails and staples, is huge.  HUGE, I tell you.  Even with the added task of prying old quarter-round molding off all the baseboards, this seemed to take almost no time at all with enough friendpower at work.

Plus, it was fun to see folks going a little crazy with a crowbar.

Good, healthy violence.

After de-nailing and de-stapling, another good vacuum was in order.  Decided not to bother mopping, and we went on to figuring out how to work the Allure Ultra flooring.  It seemed simple enough; all four sides of the long vinyl planks had either a gray rubber groove or a lip.  Notch one into the other tightly and it forms (so they claim) a waterproof seal between adjoining planks, and you move on to the next one.  The black undersurface of each plank has white arrows keeping you oriented to where the next plank should be connected (always add new pieces to the right side).

Problem is, multiple DIYers have reported difficulty fitting planks snugly together, and it did take some trial and error for us to figure out the best and most efficient way to lay the floor.  The Home Depot community offers this invaluable snapshot of two planks being adjoined here (top figure).  (Or rather it did: the top photo here is a good approximation.)  Keeping that angle while you get the planks as close together as possible is all-important, because pure horizontal or vertical force when the plank is not angled won't get you the tight seam you want.
A not-quite-there-yet seam between two planks.  The thin black crevice can be removed by lifting the bottom edge of the new plank up at an angle and gently tapping that edge with a rubber mallet until the gap is gone, and then setting the plank down flat.  A few gentle hammers on the seam afterwards doesn't hurt, either.
A good, tight seam between two planks, both on the long and short edges.  No gray seams, no thin black crevices.  Good job, guys!
11-04-13 edit: note about the mallet/hammer.  Unlike what some people seem to have assumed, we did not force the planks together by "hammering" them into each other.  If you've handled these planks before, you'll know this is pretty much impossible given the delicate but rigid rubber locking mechanism.  Our small rubber mallet was used to essentially tap the tongue of one plank deep enough into the groove of the other so that tight seams could be achieved once the plank was laid down flat (from the other side of the plank).  Again, this GENTLE tapping on the edge you are holding must be done only while the plank being added is held at about a 45 degree angle above the ground.  Gently tap along the free edge until you no longer see any gap, then lay that plank (or row of planks) down flat.  We found that if we skipped out on tapping each plank deeply into the groove, they almost always showed either a thin black or large gray gap.

We also discovered that the fastest way to lay if you happen to have an assembly line of people (or even if you don't) is to piece together whole rows first -- varying the length of each first piece, to keep things staggered -- and then, with one person holding each of the short seams to keep the row together, connect the entire new row up into the existing floor, everyone again keeping that angle in order to shove the new row's long edges tightly into the grooves of the existing floor, using the mallet to tap things in tight, before everyone lays their part of the row down flat.
Human weight holding the virgin floor in place; new box of planks being opened; an end row piece being measured so it can be scored/snapped to length.
For DIYers: If you can do this WHOLE ROW METHOD, please save yourself time and do not attempt to install plank by plank.  It will take FOREVER and you will fiddle FOREVER with the problem of 90 degree angle seams.  Don't know what I mean?  Imagine laying down planks lengthwise, starting from the left corner of a room, and adding new planks towards the right side of the room.  The first row of flooring is a breeze since there are only short ends to connect, which are really easy to join tightly.  Then, the 1st plank of the 2nd row is easy, because there is only one long edge to connect, though I'd recommend using the mallet to gently tap them together tightly as you hold the new plank at an angle, then lay it down flat.

The problem starts at the 2nd plank of row 2.  You have both a short and a long edge to fit tightly, and this is where things get stupid.  If you fit the short end first, you have to lift both planks of the 2nd row in order to get the long edge of plank 2 in tight.  It's even more annoying if you try to fit the long edge first.  The problem stems from each new plank edge needing to be installed at an angle, which is the key to getting the tight seam.  Having seams at 90 degrees that both require angling makes for much frustration and probably very loose seams, resulting in some people's floors coming apart. 

TL;DR?  Use our awesome whole row installation method.  You'll thank us later.  

8-17-2014 Update from comments: 
  1. Laurie reports that just 2 people can do the Whole Row method, and that a flooring installation kit from either Lowes or Home depot was very helpful.   
  2. A (very hale) gentleman reported that he was able to work plank by plank, by having someone stand in the middle of the last plank that was laid, so that he could manhandle the individual edges that needed to be angled.  He provides some nice photos of two transitions as well.
Check out our Whole Row InstallationTM method.  And some ghetto cardboard spacers!

The sun has left us.  So has most of the pizza.
And so it went.  After we started doing entire rows at once, progress picked up significantly.  Cutting pieces for each row's end took the most time, since the pieces had to be measured to different lengths.  (Use the leftover piece to start a new row.)  We found that it was easy to score and snap planks; get a sturdy metal ruler and just run your utility knife three or so times down the edge where you wish to snap the plank, on the black undersurface.  Then just snap the plank towards the upper surface and it will break cleanly along your scored line.  Doesn't require much strength at all, and your blade doesn't really have to be very sharp.  We didn't change any of our blades for the entire project.

We did discover that when you get to the end of a room, you will likely need a real saw of some sort, in order to narrow your planks.  There is no snapping these things lengthwise, sadly, despite our best efforts.  
Update: you can, in fact, snap these things lengthwise.  It just take some gentle handling, compared to width-wide snapping.  The scoring process remains the same, but you should start with a gentle bend along your score at one end of the plank, then move down the length of your score until you have the entire score mark working towards a real break.  Then you can manhandle the break until the two strips come apart.  If you try to bend too forcefully just along the edge first without "priming" the entire score, you will break off small, irregular pieces.

Also, in case you were wondering, handsaws do cut through these things pretty well.  It just takes much longer and more effort than snapping.  Why do extra work when you don't need to!
Bottom edge of the room, waiting for lengthwise cut planks to finish it off.  Note enthusiastic crowbar scrapes, yeah! 
This is how the Trafficmaster Allure Ultra floor looks, 98% completed the next day.  (Who cares about the edges of rooms anyway.)  Lovely!  There were just a few black crevice gaps here and there, but no gray gaps anywhere, and they're holding together great, even with the return of furniture, and things scraping across the mostly matte surface.  It's pretty tough.  I feel perfectly safe dragging chairs across it, and the few small black scuffs that have appeared vanish like magic with some gentle rubbing with a metal scouring pad and water.

Pretty awesome.
 These planks lay quite smoothly over the old wood floor, and there have been no cheap tic-tac or creaking noises when someone walks over it.  It looks really nice, has been easy to vaccum and sweep, and had only a faintest of faint rubber smells for the first few days (unlike the toxic fumes that some have reported from the old shiny Allure planking with the adhesive strips.  Remember: Trafficmaster Allure is not Trafficmaster Allure Ultra.  The installation methods and even the planking consistency and feel are different.  I much prefer the tougher feel of the Ultra, as opposed to the more easily scratchable Allure).  It's true that these 'click-lock' planks (I didn't hear a single click when installing, though) would look even nicer if Allure had more wood grain designs than it currently does, but eh, who's counting floor patterns?  Now it's time to kick back and plan the floor testing afterpartay.  Gotta use that lifetime residential warranty...

Ken, Yi-Hsiao, Stephen, Eric, Paul, Sam, Roseanne, Cat, Shane, Victory = = da best! 

October 19th, 2012 Update: I am still quite happily living on my Trafficmaster Allure Ultra floor.  So far there has been zero warping of planks and no separation of any planks either.  I do not keep any rugs or carpeting on the planking, as I like the ability to just sweep and mop now.  I still greatly appreciate the muted, solid foot-feel (I wear slippers or walk barefoot around the house) and am glad I went with vinyl every time I step into a place whose pressed wood planking floor makes a hollow "tic-tac" noise and shifts under my weight.

Since I first wrote this blog post, we have spilled soup, beer, had a miniature flood from melted ice from a leaky cooler, and accidentally spilled a fishbowl's worth of fish water on this floor with no serious consequences yet.  I have also dragged chairs and stools back and forth across it, and love that I don't have to worry about scratching it up like with a real wood floor at my old home.  I also park two bikes on one side of my place, and any tire scuffs have cleaned up nicely with the ol' Brillo pad treatment.

So far so great.  I would still highly recommend this flooring.  If you install it correctly, I'm pretty sure anyone would fall in love instantly.  I will update with any other floor-related happenings as time goes on!

Jan 15th, 2013 Update: As a request from a reader, here are more detailed images of an individual plank.  At least for the Clear Cherry, each plank "looks" like two-to-three long lengthwise planks.  It has the illusion of the plank edges created through slight indentations in the upper surface of the vinyl, and the wood "grain" is consistent with the illusion.

The upper surface of each plank is matte with shinier vinyl in the shallow little valleys of the wood "grain" impressions.  You can see my living room light reflecting off the shiner vinyl.  The gray edges peek out from these two edges, and fit underneath a narrow shelf on the neighboring plank to create the tight seams discussed above.