How To Level A Floor For Vinyl Planks

Vinyl flooring is one of the best types of flooring for any home and any style. Whether you're looking for more modern flooring, want to install flooring for durability, or want to install flooring that can help improve your home's value, vinyl flooring is one of the best choices. However, it isn't as simple as laying down vinyl planks and connecting them without any help. Before installing your vinyl flooring, you must make sure to appropriately level your floor to ensure the planks connect evenly, 

To level your floor, you need to measure it using a leveler and clearing away any debris that leads to your floor sticking too far up from the ground. Fill in any low levels with a floor patch, wait for it to dry, and then recheck the level to make sure it is flat. In addition to leveling your floor, you should also conduct certain maintenance procedures to your subfloor before installing vinyl planks on your floor.

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Do I Need to Level My Floor Before Installing Vinyl Planks?

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It's important to make sure your floor is level before installing your vinyl planks. Not leveling your floor is a beginner mistake, which can be easily fixed using simple tools like a floor patch, a trowel, and a leveler.

If you don't level your floor, your vinyl planks will be more difficult to click together. Vinyl planks are designed to easily snap together, but only on a leveled floor. If your floor is not leveled, you might notice:

  • A clicking sound when you walk on your vinyl floor
  • Buckled flooring on a certain spot
  • Vinyl planks not staying in place

Not only can these be an inconvenience, but they also leave your floors susceptible to water damage, moisture buildup, and can also pose a trip hazard to younger children and adults in your home. In addition, it is simply unsightly to have uneven vinyl planks placed in your home.

How Do I Know My Floor Is Level?

It's important to know how to check whether or not your floor is level. The easiest way to tell whether or not your floor is level is to do a visual check. If you notice any significant dips in your flooring, such as with older subfloor, or notice any high peaks in your floor, these are signs that you need to either sand down your floor (to remove peaks) or better yet, fill in your floor with a floor patch.

You can also use a leveler to measure how horizontal your floor is. The very definition of level means your floor is parallel to the horizon. These levelers are designed to give you an accurate reading, such as this one on Amazon that gives a digital reading. The digital reading makes it easy to read for homeowners with less-than-perfect eyesight.

Spirit level tool isolated on white

Your digital leveler will read as 0 once it is level. In traditional levelers, there is a bubble placed in between two guidelines. So long as that bubble does not deviate from those guidelines, then your floor is level.

In addition, there are certain requirements for a floor to be considered level. According to OSHA standards, for any tile or plank over 15 inches, the max allowable variation within a 10 foot radius is 1/8" between high points and low points in the floor, and 1/16" in a 2 foot radius. If there are variations more severe than this, use floor patch to even the floor out yourself.

If the entire floor is in severely warped condition, use professional help instead. 

What is Floor Patch?

In order to fill in any indents in your floor, you'll need to use a substance known as floor patch. It is a type of material that can be spread using a trowel, such as this one on Amazon, and is quite thick by design. It's best to use a trowel so you can get an even coating on your floor.

Floor patch can be made of different materials, such as this one made of cement. For subfloor, it's best to stick to cement, since it is best used for applying thin layers less than a 1/4", such as on your subfloor. 

In addition to being able to withstand moisture and changes in temperature, concrete floor patch is also a good choice since it is self-leveling, doesn't need to be mixed with other materials, and dries relatively quickly on its own.

How to Level A Floor For Vinyl Planks

Work on laying flooring. Worker installing new vinyl tile floor.

Now that you know how to tell whether or not a floor is level and which floor patch to use, here are the steps to ensure your floor is level before installing vinyl planks.

1. Prepare your subfloor by removing any debris and material sticking out of the floor. This can include:

  • Tack strips
  • Built up dirt
  • Nails
  • Screws
  • Staples

For any nails or staples you see sticking out that can't be removed, hammer them down or sand them down to create an even surface. If you have concrete floors that need to be ground down, use the appropriate grinder designed for these types of floors, such as this grinder for concrete floors here

You can use a regular sander or grinder for a wood subfloor, or sandpaper for more subtle peaks.

In addition, if there are any pieces of rotten wood subflooring, severe cracks that signify an issue with your foundation, or if you need to replace the subfloor completely due to excess moisture and mold, take out any of these damaged pieces and replace them with new subflooring. Not doing so can result in extensive damage to your flooring later on, in addition to buildup of mold and potential deadly issues in your foundation.

2. Once you've ground or sanded your floors, make sure to remove all debris using a vacuum or dust collector. This is especially important if you've used a sander on your floor. Most grinders and sanders will have a dust collection system, but going over your subfloor with a vacuum is still a good idea.

3. Place a leveler on the floor, starting at one end of the room and working your way across in increments of around 5 feet. Just because your floor is level in one area of the room, does not mean it is level throughout. Therefore, use a leveler in every part of the room, and take note of any areas that are uneven (either visibly or because of the leveler).

4. Fill in the uneven floors using a self-rising floor patch or mortar and a trowel. You can use regular tile mortar if you have it on hand, but using a floor patch is much better for this job. Again, if you find your floor is severely uneven, it's best to hire a professional. In worst case scenarios, the entire floor needs to be lifted, which can take days to accomplish even with a crew of people.

5. Once you've placed the floor patch on your subfloor, allow it to dry for as long as the manufacturer recommends. Some self-leveling compounds can dry relatively fast in as little as 2 to 3 hours, while others take around 24 hours to dry. Make sure to look at the instructions on your compound for help.

6. Level out your floor again, until it is perfectly even and ready to install your vinyl planks on top of.

Final Thoughts

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It's quite easy to level your floors before installing your vinyl planks. Although it might seem like an extra, unnecessary step, it's crucial to level your floor to get the best look possible from your floors and prevent any future damage. Using the right tools, and getting professional help if needed, can help you repair your home from potential issues with your foundation, as well as help install vinyl flooring that looks amazing and lasts.