Tag Archive for: stagger

Staggering is one of the most important parts of installing a new laminate floor. If you do it right, it will make your whole space look just as beautiful as the showroom or catalog that made you choose laminate flooring in the first place.

Good staggering technique will make the wood-patterned laminate finish shine and look absolutely beautiful. But staggering your flooring isn’t just a cosmetic choice, it’s also where all the floor’s stability comes from.

You’ve probably walked on a laminate floor that had unattractive gaps between the laminate floorboards or other signs of the floor just not “fitting” together. The majority of the time, these problems come from not staggering the flooring right when you install it.

If you want a smooth, elegant laminate floor that’s going to last for many years, you need to know what you’re doing when it comes to staggering. The good news is it’s not too complicated – this guide will tell you everything you need to know from how much to stagger your laminate flooring boards to what patterns you must avoid, and more.

How Much Should You Stagger Laminate Flooring?

Whenever you are installing laminate flooring, the most important rule is to read the manufacturer’s instructions and follow what they say. Almost all brands and types of laminate need to overlap by at least 6 inches. Some will give a range, like 6 to 12 inches. Even if there is a range, you can overlap the boards by more than that, but never less.

What does an overlap or stagger mean? It means that when you lay a row of laminate lengthwise in the room, you offset the joints between planks from the joints in the previous row. You control the offset by cutting the first board in the row (your starter board) to be at least 6 inches longer or shorter than the starter board on the adjacent row.

You should follow this process on every new row of laminate flooring. While the adjacent rows are the most important, you should also look at the joints 2 and 3 rows away. If you look at any section of flooring (4 or 5 rows), no 2 seams in that section should line up exactly.

The Best Pattern to Stagger Laminate Flooring

What’s the best pattern you can use when staggering laminate? The answer is that you should avoid creating a pattern at all. This is called a randomized stagger.

randomized staggering pattern

A random stagger doesn’t just happen by chance, though. You really need to pay attention to each & every new row to make sure it’s different from the 2 or 3 rows before it. If any seams line up too closely, they will catch your eye from across the room.

Installing the flooring with a randomized pattern will keep your eye from focusing on the seams in between individual boards. Instead, you and your guests will notice the wood pattern on the laminate. The goal is to make the material pop by removing distracting patterns.

Avoid These Common Staggering Pattern Mistakes

You need to achieve a certain level of balance for a strong and beautiful laminate floor. If you don’t stagger the flooring by more than 6 inches on every row, it will be unstable and may lead to damage later on. But on the other hand, a lot of flooring installers get a little too strict when they stagger their flooring.

If you cut all your starter boards to the same length (full board, half board, and repeat) or if you cut them all to regular lengths (6-inches, 12-inches, 18-inches, 24-inches, and repeat), you will create a pattern that sticks out to anyone who looks at the floor.

If you’re the kind of person who really craves an orderly look and a rigid pattern, you can go for one of the staggering patterns I’m about to describe.

But I warn you, in my experience, it always looks better to choose a randomized stagger pattern because the flooring itself is more beautiful than the seams. The brain loves patterns, and if you install your laminate with one of these patterns, it will be the only thing you can see when you look at your new floor. 


This is the pattern you will create if you alternate starting boards of full length and half-length. Some installers will use this technique to save time. It’s very easy to tell which length you should use to start each row because you only have two options. It’s also strong because rows will overlap consistently. 

The problem is that when you stand up and look at the floor, you will see the seams skipping every other row, looking like two dotted lines across the whole room. The eye and the brain are so good at seeing patterns like this, it will be the first thing you notice every time you see the floor.

Again, it’s not technically wrong to install the floor this way. Professionals do it all the time. If you really like the look, go for it. But remember, patterns like this one take the focus off of the beautiful wood finish you chose and paid for. Randomized staggering will put the focus back on the laminate itself.


Stair Step Pattern

This is the other common mistake you see in laminate flooring all the time. Installers create a stair-step pattern when they use starter boards of several regular lengths and lay them in a repeating order. The first starter may be 6 inches, the next one 12 inches, the next one 18 inches, and so on.

It’s a little more complex and varied than the H-Pattern, but it also creates a strong pattern that will catch the eye every time. It sounds like a strong pattern at first because every row is staggered by a regular amount. However, the regular offset actually creates diagonal seams across the room in a stair step pattern. These can be a weak point across multiple rows. This doesn’t stop professionals from using this method all the time. It’s fast and easy, but you pay for it in quality later on.

Again, it’s not technically wrong to install the flooring this way. If you really like the look, you can choose to stagger your laminate in a stair step pattern. But remember, patterns like this one take the focus off of the beautiful wood finish you chose and paid for. Randomized staggering will put the focus back on the laminate itself.

stair step staggered patten

How to Stagger Laminate Flooring

If you like putting together jigsaw puzzles, you just might like installing laminate flooring. The boards usually click together and it’s fun to watch your progress. To set yourself up for a beautiful staggered laminate floor, keep in mind that prep work and planning ahead are essential.

Prepare the Room for Flooring

To get a room ready for laminate flooring, you usually need to tear out any old flooring material that was down before (unless you plan to install over laminate on top of another hard floor, like vinyl or tile). 

Make sure not to miss any staples or nails because even small bumps on the subfloor can affect your finished product.

You should also check the subfloor to make sure it is relatively flat and level. If your subfloor is made of wood and in bad shape, you may need to install a layer of ¼-inch plywood on the whole floor to make it smooth and strong. If it’s a concrete floor, make sure that it’s completely dry and has the right moisture content.

Acclimate Your Laminate Flooring

You must put your flooring material in the room 24-72 hours before you start installing it so that it can adjust to the humidity and temperature of the house. Acclimating prevents problems later on like buckling or bubbling in your laminate floors. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for acclimating your laminate so that you can qualify for any warranties.

Our guide to acclimating laminate flooring can tell you everything you need to know.

Use Underlayment

Follow your flooring manufacturer’s recommendations for what type of underlayment to buy. This is a layer of thin foam, paper, or plastic that creates a moisture barrier to protect your flooring from excess humidity. It also helps cushion the flooring to avoid squeaks or hollow sounds when you step.

Cover the whole subfloor with underlayment according to the instructions.

Cut Several Starter Boards

To begin your laminate flooring stagger, use a laminate cutter or chop saw to cut 5 or 6 laminate boards to various lengths. You can use the one end as starters for 5 or 6 rows, and the other end of the boards will be used on the opposite wall to finish your rows (you will probably need to trim these finish boards later).

Laying the Laminate Flooring

Remember that laminate needs an “expansion gap” between the edge of the flooring and any walls, cabinets, or other obstructions. It’s usually ½ an inch. Be careful to leave this gap all around the flooring. If you need to, use plastic spacers.

Lay one of your precut starter boards near the wall in one corner, and continue laying whole boards end to end down the room until you can’t lay any more whole boards in the row. You can then measure and cut the last board to fit.

Now move to your next row. Look at the starter board of your last row and at the other starter boards you cut earlier. Choose one that is at least six inches longer or shorter than the previous row’s starter board.

You may want to lay out several starter boards down one wall and compare their lengths. Are they all at least 6 inches longer or shorter than the row adjacent? Are you avoiding H-patterns and stair-step patterns? You need to constantly look for these patterns in order to avoid them — it’s easy to create them by accident.

I like to lay out 3 rows in front of me without locking them together. Then, I stand up and look at the flooring from far away to make sure that the seams look random and don’t create any type of obvious pattern. When everything looks good, you can go in and quickly snap the rows together.

If you have difficulty locking the planks together, you might need a plastic or wooden block to tap the tongues into place.

Staggering the Laminate Flooring

As you install your flooring, just remember to stand up often and look at the floor from a distance.

Look at the seams. If any of them are creating visual patterns by being too close together or because you created a stair step or H-pattern, adjust these rows before you go on.

Remember that a randomized look is created by carefully selecting our starter board on each row. You might need to measure a specific length for your starter board, especially as you begin the last few rows.

Why Stagger Laminate Flooring?

There are two reasons to stagger your laminate flooring: it makes the floor stronger and it makes it look better.

If you’ve ever built with bricks (or even toy bricks, or any type of block), or if you’ve ever looked at a brick wall, you understand the importance of staggering. If you stack all the bricks up in straight columns, they fall right over. But when you overlap each brick, spacing out the joints, you can build a stable wall.

It’s the same principle in flooring; overlapped or staggered laminate flooring will create a strong floor that can expand, contract, and absorb impact as one big surface. Staggering interlocks the boards like a big puzzle that will never come apart.

Staggering also prevents unsightly problems like warping, buckling in laminate floors, and forming gaps. Avoiding these issues will make your floor look good forever.

And if you do a really good job laying down the flooring in a randomized, irregular pattern, you will hardly notice the joints between boards. Each plank will blend into the next and you’ll see nothing but a big, beautiful room of fine laminate flooring.

Installing a hardwood floor is all about protecting your investment with good techniques.

No matter how nice of hardwood material you buy, even a simple mistake installing the floor can throw off the beautiful, seamless look of a new hardwood floor.

The easiest way to make your new floor look more professional is to do a great job staggering the wooden planks. If you do this right, the flooring will appear as one beautiful surface from wall to wall. If you mess it up, you will create patterns that are impossible to overlook and leave an amateurish feeling in the room.

You want your expensive hardwood floor to look as warm and natural when it’s in your room as it did when you picked it out from a website or catalog. The best way to do this is by following the steps in this guide to nail a carefully randomized installation that will let the beauty of your new floor shine.

Stagger Flooring for Strength and Stability

Laying your hardwood floor with good staggering technique makes a more beautiful floor, but did you know that it’s also essential for the strength of the floor?

Hardwood floors are like a puzzle of interlocked wooden pieces. They need to be strong enough to walk on and to hold heavy furniture. Proper staggering helps to dissipate this weight across all of the nearby boards.

Wood flooring is also known to expand and contract slightly as temperature and humidity change. It’s like a living material. If you have weak staggering patterns in your floor, it’s more likely that your floor will buckle when this expansion occurs, creating unattractive gaps in your floor, or worse.

Staggering your wood planks properly is what makes the floor strong. It’s similar to how a brick wall is built: the bricklayer doesn’t stack bricks in tall columns that can fall over. Instead, the bricks overlap to create one strong wall.

You may also want to check our guide on acclimating hardwood flooring correctly.

Overlap Wood Floor Planks by at Least 6 Inches

The basic rule to remember for creating a strong stagger is that all planks should overlap by 6 inches or more.

This means that the short joint between planks should be at least 6 inches away from the nearest joint in any adjacent row.

This type of stagger will lock the flooring tightly together. This is especially important on the first 2-3 rows of wood flooring that you lay because these will create a strong base as you lay the following rows.

This is also the first step to creating a stagger that looks good. Parallel seams within a few inches of each other will be very obvious when you look at the finished floor.

Avoid Creating a Patterned Appearance

We always recommend a randomized installation of hardwood floors because it creates a floor that looks seamless and draws attention to the natural color and grain of the wood, rather than the joints.

patterned wood floor installation

Some installers and DIYers choose a rigid, patterned look, but they can appear amateurish and distract from your wood floor’s natural beauty. Here are the common patterns that you should avoid:

Stair-Step Pattern

We recommend avoiding this pattern when you are laying the stagger for a hardwood floor.

You can create a stair-step pattern on the floor if you are using boards of the same length and you offset each row by the same length. For example, staggering the joints in each new row to be 6 inches to the left of the joint in the previous row.

This will create a diagonal pattern of joints across the room. If you crave an orderly, patterned look, you may choose the stair-step technique. Just know that you are choosing to emphasize the joints in the floor over the more subtle beauty of the flooring itself.

“H” Pattern

The “H” pattern is another one to avoid.

This pattern forms if you use planks that are all the same length and you offset each row by half of one plank. This makes the seams line up on every 2nd row of flooring, so you can easily see two columns of alternating joints that line up across the room.

This is another pattern that is obvious to the eye and will take the focus right off of your gorgeous flooring with its natural patterns and color. All you will see is the pattern of short joint lines. Again, it’s a fine option if you prefer the orderly appearance, but the best recommendation is to randomize your layout so that the joints disappear and the wood itself is the focal point.

avoid h joints

How to Randomize a Wood Floor Layout

While the ideal appearance for a hardwood floor is a completely randomized installation, that doesn’t mean that you can achieve this look by chance. It takes a lot of patience and planning to make sure that every row is unlike those around it.

If you just install the boards one by one as they come out of the box, you will likely create patterns by accident.

This section will show how to lay out hardwood planks ahead of time in a process called “racking.” You will choose planks and lay them out next to each other on the floor to see how they look, before locking the tongues or gluing them down. Racking a floor is great because it lets you experiment and make changes.

Once you’re satisfied with the layout, you can just move your racked rows slightly out of the way and install them using whatever method your flooring requires.

Not all hardwood products are the same. Some materials come with boards of all the same length. Others include 3 or more lengths of board inside the cartons. Each has its own challenges to randomizing your layout and avoiding a patterned stagger.

Randomizing Hardwood Flooring of Varied Length

To prepare yourself for racking a beautiful, random installation, first lay out the wood planks in stacks of matching size. Create stacks of 5-10 of each size a few feet in front of your first row.

Always mix wood pieces from different cartons as you make your stacks. This is because one package can have significant color differences from another carton. If you just lay wood from one carton at a time, you can end up with all dark pieces on one end of the room and all light pieces on the other end.

Once you have the stacks sorted, start racking your first row by choosing a variety of lengths and laying them out end-to-end.

When you create the following rows, pay attention to the joints in the row behind it. Make sure there is always an overlap of at least 6 inches in between joints on adjacent rows. Remember that this is especially important on the first 3-4 rows you lay out because they will create a strong foundation for the rest of the floor.

Once you rack 3-4 rows, stand up and look at them from a distance. Are there any obvious stair step or “H” patterns, or any joints too close together? Now is the time to rack a different combination of planks to remedy the problem.

When you are satisfied that the several rows you have racked to install create a random stagger pattern with at least 6 inches of overlap on all joints, you are ready to install them!

Randomizing Hardwood Flooring of the Same Length

Begin laying out your flooring for the racking process by opening several cartons of wood and creating stacks across the room just in front of where you will lay your first few rows. This will make them easy to reach as you lay them out. Stack 5-10 planks in each pile.

Always mix planks from several different cartons because the color of the material can vary from box to box. Pulling planks from multiple boxes will spread out the wood from each carton and hide any color differences.

If your hardwood is all the same length, you need to cut your starting end piece on each row to be different from the piece that started the previous row.

As long as your starting board overlaps the adjacent joint by at least 6 inches, the stagger will continue across the whole row.

The fastest way to create a good stagger when working with boards of the same length is to take 4-5 planks out to the chop saw and cut each board to a different length. You can use these cut ends to start several rows at once. You can trim the unused cutoff ends to complete the rows on the wall opposite your starting boards.

When you make your starter cuts and rack 3-4 rows by laying them out on the floor, stand up and look at the flooring from a distance. Are there any joints that are too close together? Are there any stair-step patterns or H-patterns in the rows you racked for installation? If so, choose a longer or shorter starting piece to offset the joints in the row.

Always remember to keep at least a 6-inch overlap between seams for stability and appearance.

When you have created a good, randomized stagger across several rows, you can install the boards you racked and repeat this whole process for the following rows.