Buying guide for carpet, hardwood flooring, laminate floors, tile, vinyl and rugs
Flooring guide for all types of floors

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Floating Floors

First let me explain what "floating floors" really are. Very simply, it refers to flooring that is not directly secured (or attached) to the substrate underneath. Instead, the flooring is free to float over the top of the substrate. The substrate is generally some type of wood subfloor (as example: OSB particle board), concrete slab, or a flat, well secured existing flooring, such as an old vinyl floor.

Floating floors are found in both hardwood floors and laminate flooring in a variety of prices, styles, colors and designs. The individual planks are locked together during installation, but never secured to the subfloor. The planks have a tongue and groove locking system to secure the planks together along all 4 sides of each plank. How the planks are locked together varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. Some manufacturers require a special glue be applied to the tongues and grooves to secure the planks together. Thanks to other advancements many manufacturers offer a click-lock or mechanical locking system to secure the planks together. These floors have a specially-designed tongue and groove that when 2 plank edges are pressed together locks the planks in place. No glue, nails or staples are used.

floating wood floor installationThere are several advantages to floating floors. You eliminate the hassle and extra expense of nailing, stapling or gluing down the planks to the subfloor. Since a floating floor is never secured to the subfloor underneath, homeowners can install these floors in areas that nailed-down or stapled-down floors are not recommended for. They are ideal for going over concrete slabs, particle board and existing flooring. Technically with a glueless floating floor you could possibly take the planks apart and take them with you if you moved. Also, floating glueless floors are much easier for homeowners to install themselves which can really save on your pocketbook.

There are some things you should be aware of. Even though a floating floor is not attached to the subfloor underneath you still need a very level subfloor with no large dips and rises. If your floor is not level it can become nearly impossible to lock the planks together. Plus, you might hear squeaking noises when walking over the flooring. Another thing to be aware of these floors are louder than fully attached floors. To reduce the noise some companies offer a very thin, dense cushion to place underneath your floor before installation.

Installing a Floating Floor

Installing a floating floor can vary between the type of floor you choose. First, be sure to bring the cartons of flooring into the room several days prior to acclimate the planks to the room. Make sure the sub-floor is structurally sound, without movement and clean of debris. Concrete slabs must be fully cured and not have a moisture problem and use of a manufacturer approved vapor retarder is recommended. Use a moisture meter to check for moisture content. Most laminate floors and engineered wood floors can be used in combination with many types of infloor heating. Check with the manufacturer to be sure it is acceptable and so you don't void your warranty.

Most floating floors will have a glueless locking system that interlocks the planks together without gluing or nailing the planks to the sub-floor. For laminate floors you will be required to first lay a poly film across the entire sub-floor to help the new floor float freely. The poly layer is not necessarily an approved vapor barrier. For most floating floors an expansion gap will also be required around the entire outer edge of the room, including underneath door jamps. When installing the floor be sure to pull from several cartons for each area to help make the floor look visually consistant throughout the room. Be sure to check the subfloor for levelness with a long straight edge and patch areas that have low spots and remove any ridges so the entire area is flat. If patching is needed be sure the patching compound is dry before installing the floor. After installing the flooring you never attach the moldings or trim pieces to the floor, attach them to the vertical walls instead.

Due to the construction of laminate flooring the floating floor installation system is the recommended method by the manufacturers as of this time. Some manufacturers of engineered wood floors allow their floors to be floated as well as glued-down and stapled-down. Because of the natural characteristics of solid wood floors they must be nailed-down to a wood subfloor only. For detailed information we recommend you read the manufacturer's floating floor installation guide. For detailed laminate floor floating floor installation see: NALFA's Installation Guide (North American Laminate Floor Association).

See also: Glueless Floating Wood Floors.