How to Lay Chipboard Flooring

One of the UK’s staple building materials, Chipboard Sheets are incredibly popular in the world of construction, providing a high level of performance for only a fraction of the cost of wooden flooring. Manufactured from high pressure adhesively bonded wood chips and particles, it is very lightweight making it exceptionally easy to transport and handle.

Why Use Chipboard Flooring?

Chipboard can be used in a myriad of ways, including doors, shed roofs, work surfaces and even in furniture, but chipboard is best suited to flooring. Cheap, durable, and extremely hardwearing, it is able to handle high traffic loads making it suitable for almost any flooring application. Available in different grades, Chipboard can even be used on heavier duty industrial and commercial projects. There are even moisture resistant options available, often marked by a green finish.

What to Do Before You Lay Chipboard Flooring

Tools and Equipment You'll Need:

  • PPE (gloves, masks, earmuffs)
  • Circular/hand saw
  • Carpenters pencil
  • Straight edge or spirt level
  • Tape Measure
  • Application gun
  • Suitable adhesive
  • Drill
  • Hammer
  • Fixings such as screws or nails (ideally these should penetrate the joists at 1.5x the thickness of the board)
  • Plastic Shims

For most residential and domestic projects, P5 flooring grade chipboard would be the most suitable, it is cost-effective and by far the most commonly used due to its versatility. The application of these boards can vary somewhat depending on the product, but there are three key preparations that should always be taken:

Cleaning Joists

An obvious one to start with, all of your joists should be clean and dry before the installation of Chipboard. This means they should be free of all dust, oil and other debris that may hinder of otherwise cause damage to the boards. Ensuring they are dry is especially important as chipboard can be very vulnerable to damp.

Acclimate Chipboards

Depending on the environment, the boards will expand or contract in response to the temperature of the room. If this occurs after they are already fitted, they might crack or shrink, leaving gaps in the flooring and reducing the strength of the structure. To avoid this, you will want this expansion on contraction to occur before they are installed. Simply leave the boards in a safe and dry place within the room for at least 2 days. This should allow plenty of time for them to acclimate.

Insulation

If you would like to insulate your flooring underneath the chipboard, for example using PIR insulation boards, it is important that it is butted up close to the joists. You should make sure any insulation has been fitted correctly before laying down the Chipboard, as any adjustments after the fact would involve prying the floorboards back up.

How to Install Chipboard Flooring

Mark Joists' Positions on Your Walls

You can do this using your carpenters’ pencil. It will enable you to align the short edge of your boards with the joists and provide a good marker for fixing any screws.

Lay Down Your First Board Starting At the Wall

Chipboard should be laid lengthways across your joists, with the long edge of the board against the wall. You should align the board to allow for a 10mm expansion gap between the edge of the board and the wall. Don’t worry, this gap can later be covered by skirting. The small edge of each board should lay over the centre an exposed joist, covering half. Boards should be measured and cut as necessary to accommodate this.

Fix the Board to the Joists

Once you have measured and cut your board it can then be secured to your joists. If working with tongue and groove boards, it is advisable to use adhesive and screws to do this. First, lift up your board and place to one side. Next, apply a continuous bead of adhesive to your joists using an application gun, your board can then be laid down to secure. A screw can should be fixed through the tongue of the board and into the joist at each tongue and grove joint.

As an alternative method and for boards without these joints’ screws can be secured at 150mm centres across the joists and no closer than 10mm to the boards edge. The screw positions should be marked using a straight edge to run across the centre of the joist.

Use Packing Shims to Maintain the Expansion Gap

While laying boards, packing shims can be placed between the edge of the boards and the wall to help maintain a consistent 10mm gap.

Continuing Applying Boards Lengthways

Ensuring the 10mm gap between the boards and the wall is maintained continue fixing your boards. Tongue and groove boards are designed to slot into each other and can be secured by applying a bead of adhesive above the screw on the tongue joint of the first board and in the grove of the connection board before pushing together. Non tongue and groove boards can be secured by applying adhesive the exposed half of the joint and then secured using screws as before. A wooden chock and hammer can be used to tighten this joint is necessary (but up the chock the open end of the connecting board and gently tap with the hammer).

Cut the Final Board of the Row to Size

The last board in the row will need to be cut to size. To do this simply measure from the end of the last board to the wall and deduct 10mm, to maintain the expansion gap. If using tongue and groove boards, make sure to measure from the top of the board rather than the edge of the joint. When cutting your board remember to mark your cutting line clearly using a straight edge and cut using long clean strokes, if using a hand saw.

Fit the Final Board in the Row

Once you are happy that the final board has been cut to size it can be laid using the same method as before. After the adhesive has been applied, hold the board at an angle and slowly ease into place. Put packing shims along the edge to maintain the gap and your first row will be complete.

Continue This Process Until You Reach the Final Row

Repeating steps 3 through 7, lay the rest of your chipboards remembering to ensure secure joints between the boards using a hammer and wooden chock and to place packing shims between the boards and wall. If the cut off from the board, you used to end the first row is greater than 500mm you may be able to use this as the first board of the next row to save on waste.

Measure Your Boards for the Last Row

The last row of chipboard will all need to be cut to fit between the second to last row and the edge of your wall. Measure the gap between edge of the second to last row and the wall (remember to do this from the top edge of the board) as before, deduct 10mm from this measurement. As you will be cutting along the long edge of the board this time, it is recommended to measure at 600mm centres and mark those measurements on the board you intend to cut. You can then connect these marks for a straight cutting line.

Cut the Boards for the Last Row

Using a circular saw for these long cuts will be a lot easier whilst also ensuring a maintained straight edge. To aid in cutting, a timber batten can be clamped to your workbench to act as a saw guide. The chipboard should also be clamped in place so that it will not move during the cut. Earmuffs and gloves should be worn by you and anyone else who is assisting.

Fit the Final Row

After checking the boards fit correctly whilst still leaving an expansion gap they can be laid and secured, joints can be tightened here using plastic shims.

Working with Recesses or Steps in the Wall

While installing your flooring you may find that you’ll need cut the chipboard around recesses or steps. When doing this make sure the profile is carefully measured and transferred to the board. If needed you can make a cardboard template to help with this.

Final Tips

As mentioned above, chipboard can be fitted differently depending on the situation, so it is always worth referring to product specific instructions if available. Joints between the rows should ideally be staggered by roughly 500mm to prevent them from being connected across a single seam.

If laid correctly, chipboard sheets should be adequately load bearing however, if you are concerned about that the support of your joists alone is not enough, noggins can be installed to for added security, especially underneath the joints between the rows where the structure would be at its weakest.