Should I remove my kitchen cabinets to install laminate flooring?

Installing laminate flooring can improve the look and feel of a room. To get the best results for the time and money you invest in your new floor, take the time to learn about the properties and characteristics unique to this type of flooring.

Spending a few minutes to fully understand how laminate differs from tile, vinyl or hardwood flooring will leave you more satisfied and keep future repairs or replacements to a minimum.

The answer

The short answer to whether to remove cabinets prior to installation is no. The North American Laminate Flooring Association, as well as leading manufacturers of laminate, recommend installing cabinets first, then butting the laminate flooring up to within a quarter-inch of the cabinet's kick plate and covering the gap with quarter-round moulding.

The reasoning behind this answer concerns laminate flooring's structural properties.

The reason

The top and bottom layers of laminate flooring are saturated with melamine resins, making the floors scratch and scuff resistant. The core of the flooring strip is made of particle board, which is sensitive to humidity and environmental moisture levels. Because of this moisture sensitivity, manufacturers recommend leaving a quarter-inch gap between the flooring and walls to allow for expansion after installation.

While the surface and bottom layers of laminate flooring are very moisture resistant, the core is not. Manufacturers recommend wiping up liquid spills immediately. They also discourage installation in excessively humid settings, such as bathrooms or laundry rooms with floor drains.

Due to the moisture sensitivity of laminate flooring, manufacturers recommend allowing the laminate to sit for two or three days in the room where it is to be used before installation. This lets the flooring adjust to the humidity of the room to minimise movement after installation.

Laminate flooring is referred to as a floating floor. This means that the laminate flooring is not attached to the subfloor with nails like hardwood flooring, nor is it secured with glue like vinyl flooring.

The edges of laminate flooring are glued or snapped together and left to float on the subfloor. This gives the flooring the ability to expand and contract without buckling or separating after installation.

Installing laminate flooring under a cabinet can affect the floor's ability to expand and contract freely as it was designed to do. Installing laminate under a cabinet where leaks might occur, such as an under-sink cabinet, could lead to damaged flooring that is difficult to reach and replace.