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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Ask The Builder: Creeping and snapping in laminate floor indicate faulty installation

The gaps in this laminate floor come and go. The installer failed to read and follow the installation instructions. (Tim Carter)
The gaps in this laminate floor come and go. The installer failed to read and follow the installation instructions. (Tim Carter)
By Tim Carter Tribune Content Agency

Q. A laminate floor in a friend’s house seems to be possessed. Overnight, gaps appear in the floor where one piece butts up against another. With some effort, you can slide them back tight again. When you walk across the floor in places it snaps and makes cracking sounds. What’s going on, and can the floor be made to look and sound normal? What’s causing the issues in the first place? – Roberta G., Eureka, Utah

A. Lately, I’m getting more and more emails from homeowners who suffer from the same problem. In all cases, the root cause is a failure to follow the written installation instructions provided by the laminate flooring manufacturer. Keep in mind that most laminate floors are floating floors that are meant to expand and contract to changes in humidity and temperature.

I clearly remember when laminate flooring was introduced to the marketplace. As with most products, the first generation products had a few bugs to work out. The laminate products have matured, and my own office floor is covered with a stunning rustic oak v-grooved laminate floor that almost all visitors think is real wood.

My office floor looks as good as the day it was installed, and it’s installed over an electric radiant floor heating mat. Radiant heating can cause gaps to appear as Roberta’s friend is experiencing. It’s imperative that you look at the instructions to see the maximum recommended temperature of the subfloor. One major manufacturer says to never exceed a temperature of 85 F. It’s not uncommon for the temperature of the water circulating through radiant floor tubing to be 120 F!

Heat causes laminate flooring to expand. This expansion is responsible for the gapping as the individual pieces of flooring start to expand at slightly different rates. When the radiant heat turns off because the room is warm enough, the flooring starts to contract as it cools. This back and forth movement can wreak havoc on a floating floor if it’s not installed correctly.

The snapping sounds are almost always traced to an uneven subfloor. Laminate flooring materials don’t tolerate humpy and bumpy subfloors. Subfloors need to be quite flat. Flat doesn’t necessarily mean level. You can have a nice flat subfloor that’s not level. The installation instructions call out how flat a subfloor must be. If a floor has too many humps or depressions, a filling compound needs to be used to get the floor flat.

Laminate flooring will snap and pop as you walk on it if it’s bridging across hollow spots under the flooring. Your weight stresses the interlocking tongues and grooves in the flooring causing the noise. It’s nearly impossible to stop this noise after a laminate floor is installed. You may have to start over to cure this defect.

Q. Tim, I almost had a real mess on my hands yesterday. I couldn’t get a basement toilet to flush correctly and then heard bubbling and gurgling sounds in a shower stall next to the toilet. When I opened the shower door the basin was filled with disgusting colored water! A neighbor had a metal drain-cleaning flexible wire and was able to help me clear the line. I want to know what might have caused this wretched clog and how to prevent them in the future. – Margaret T., Dublin, Ohio

A. A year ago, the exact same thing happened at my own home. A year before I had remodeled a basement bathroom and installed a very expensive brand-name toilet.

It turns out this toilet has two flushing settings, depending on how long you hold down the flush handle. If there’s just liquid waste in the toilet you don’t need as much water for the flush. My son, who was using this bathroom, wasn’t holding down the handle long enough for the times when solid waste was in the toilet bowl.

I have a personal beef with modern toilets as in many cases that small amount of water being released can’t always carry the waste and toilet paper all the way to the septic tank or city sewer connection.

Millions of people, including me, don’t have a water shortage. I have unlimited water from my private well and each time I use a gallon of water at my home a gallon of water is put right back into my aquifer as it flows out of my septic tank. The same happens in just about every major city as drinking water is extracted from rivers and the water homeowners use is dumped back into the same river downstream at the sewage treatment plant.

Cooking grease is also a common source of building drain clogs. It’s best to save lightly soiled paper towels and use those to sop up liquid grease in cooking pots and pans. Throw those grease-soaked towels in the garbage.

I now prevent unwanted clogs at my home by rapidly pouring two five-gallon buckets of water down a second-floor toilet once a week. I have a helper and we pour the water into the toilet at the same time making sure it doesn’t overflow the bowl. This massive amount of water creates a huge slug of energy, and water in the building drain forcing solids out into my septic tank. You should do this same thing once a week to avoid clogs.

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