How to Stagger Vinyl Plank Flooring
May 26, 2023, by: Rob Parsell
Vinyl flooring planks are all the same length, unlike random-length hardwood planks. This can lead to eye-catching, and not in a good way, weird joint patterns. Hence the question: “How do I stagger vinyl plank flooring?”
Get this wrong, and your floor will look like an amateur installed it. Get the vinyl plank flooring layout right and your friends won’t believe you did it yourself.
Below, you will see what tools and supplies you will need for this process as well as the typical prices for each item. We will also break down step-by-step what you will need to do in order to properly stagger your vinyl flooring.
It’s not just the LVT staggered pattern that counts. Staggering vinyl flooring also keeps the structural integrity of the floor intact, reducing the risk of issues such as plank bowing, separating or warping.
TOOLS, SUPPLIES & COSTS
- Utility knife: $7-$12
- Replacement blades: $3-$6 per pack
- Tape measure: $5-$15
- Straight edge or T-square: $12-$25
- Spacers: $3-$5 per pack of 200
- Safety gloves: $4-$10
- Vinyl plank flooring: $1.30-$4.19 per sq. ft.
We’ll split this process into two phases, prepping your planks and then installing the correct pattern. The essential tip to staggering your vinyl plank flooring is to ensure that the end of each plank is at least 6 to 8 inches away from the closest seam in the row before. This will create a random stagger pattern, which is what you want.
PREP STEPS BEFORE STAGGERING FLOORING PLANKS
Without these crucial steps, a bit of the shine will be taken off your vinyl plank flooring patterns.
- Measure the width of the room and divide that number by the width of the planks you are using. This will give you the number of full rows of vinyl planks you will need. There’s an example in the next point that will help you get your head around this concept, if it isn’t yet.
- Calculate the width of the final row. If it is less than the width of a normal plank, cut the planks for your first row so that they are the same width as the last row. This will make your floor symmetrical. Here’s the example: Let’s say you’re working with 5” planks, and your floor is 154” across. 154/5 = 30 remainder 4. Your floor will have 30 full planks with 4” left over. Therefore, rip your first row of planks to be 2” wide. The last row will be 2” too wide as well – nicely balanced.
- Take your planks out of their packages in the room you’ll be doing the flooring. Mix up the planks from the various packages. Why? If the boxes contain planks from different “runs” of the flooring, and likely they are, they might have slight color differences. Mixing them will avoid having all lighter Chestnut Brown on one side and noticeably darker Chestnut Brown on the other.
Also, read the installation material that comes with the flooring. It will remind you to do things like use 1/4-inch spacers between planks and walls.
STEPS FOR STAGGERING VINYL PLANK FLOORING
- Lay a full plank to begin row one. Remember to do the handy calculation described above.
- Ensure that the plank at the end of row one is no less than 6 inches in length. If it is less than 6 inches, cut off enough from the first plank of the row so that the last piece is longer than 6 inches, the minimum needed for structural strength. Repeat this for every row as needed.
- For row two, score and snap the first plank in half. Its end should be at least 6 to 8 inches apart from the closest seam in row one. This will stagger the seams between the adjacent rows in a random way. That’s what you’re after.
- To start row 3, cut a full-width plank to the length of the trimmed, ripped piece at the end of row 1. Repeat steps #2-3 to complete row three.
- Use the cutoff plank from the end of row two to begin row four. Repeat steps #2-3 to complete row four.
- Continue this pattern until your staggered vinyl floor is finished.
That’s the general idea. But eyeball the first piece of each new row. Even lay out all the pieces before snapping them in place. Will the joints look randomly placed? That’s good. If they look too uniform, you’ve got an H-joint or Step/Lightning problem – which can be solved by following the information below.
Before getting specific, the general solution is to cut the first plank of the next row at a length 2-3 inches different than any first plank in a row yet – as long as it is at least 6 inches.
ADDITIONAL INFO TO KNOW
- The “H” problem: When the seams of the first row line up with the seams of the third, this forms an H-joint. This pattern doesn’t provide a natural look to your flooring and can unnecessarily attract the viewer’s eyes.
- The “Step” or Lightning problem: The same applies to a step-pattern in the flooring. To avoid these, use your cutoff planks to begin every other row. The different lengths of each cutoff should allow the seams to fall in random order. If after a few rows you run out of cutoffs, eye the previous two rows and cut the next row’s first plank so that the seams won’t be too close together.
- A rule of thumb: For 5-inch wide planks, have a minimum of 6 inches between adjacent row seams. For planks wider than 5 inches, you can raise the minimum to 8-10 inches. However, going over 10 inches can make it difficult to avoid H-joints.
- Make sure to change your utility knife blade if it becomes dull. A dulled blade can create jagged edges on the vinyl planks.
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About the Author:
Rob joined the Home Flooring Pros team in 2014 and is a freelance writer, specializing in flooring, remodeling and HVAC systems (read more).
“I’m the son of an interior designer and picked up an eye for design as a result. I started hanging wallpaper and painting at 14 and learned enough on the job to be the general contractor on two homes we built for our family and did much of the finish plumbing, electrical, painting, and trim work myself.”
10 thoughts on “How to Stagger Vinyl Plank Flooring”
Is nobody accounting for the full half inch of space needed for the planks to breathe when measuring the width of the room? As I read this I would’ve measured the full width and end up with telegraphed planks from the tight space. Just an observation
2” wide start/end rows?!! NO! If you divide the room width by the width of your plank and have a remainder (4” in your example), add it to the width of your plank (5” in your example) then, divide THAT number in half (5+4=9, divided by 2 = 4.5 inches. A much nicer, looking install without skinny pieces.
Good point. Thanks.
Natural wood varies in tone so I don’t bother ensuring box run dyes are similar if I truly want a natural look, just make sure to mix it up a bit – like don’t do three dark then three light sort of idea. I stack up all the pattern repeats in similar stacks (typically about five, with a few the same patter but reversed. I then select one from each pile as I lay and click the row being careful to look for the same pattern not being beside the one I’m clicking in. I prefer having eight or nine repeating patters for bigger rooms but most product manufacturers don’t accommodate that kind of discernment.
How do you start first row on a 11.4 ft wide x 16 ft. Planks are 7in x 5 ft room. Planks need to be laid width side because of hallway and a kitchen. I want them random. Thanks
BathRoom is 45” wide. Planks are
7.12 x 42”. I would like to run planks width instead of length. How much of a headache would that be? How would I cut my planks to stagger them in this situation?
My room is 116in. long by 93.5in wide. My planks are 6in. x48 in.
i will be laying vertical. 15 planks horizontal acroos the room. 15 x 6= 90 pieces.
Should i cut the 1st row and last row 4.5 inches. ?
What staggering method would you use.
I need a pattern that will minimize my waste on a plank floor. The length of each run of plank is 12′-3″. I have standard 4′ planks. What do you suggest?
Does your staggering example above work for 24×12 inch planks?