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What is a Floating Floor? Everything You Need to Know

What is a Floating Floor

When I first heard of a floating floor, I expected a high-tech hovering floor or something in that line. But now that I know better, floating floors are no less innovative, even though they don’t actually float in the air.

A floating floor is an installation system in which the flooring is not secured to the subfloor by glues, nails, or staples. Floating floors typically use an interlocking method to stay in place.

This article will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of floating floors and other essential things you need to know about them.

What is a Floating Floor?

Floating floor refers to an installation method where the flooring floats — as the name implies — over the subfloor or the substrate. This is quite an innovative idea in the flooring world as up until the 90s, nail or glue-down were the only commercially available flooring installation methods. It can be installed over concrete, plywood, particleboard, or existing floors secured to the subfloor.

Laminate, vinyl or luxury vinyl, and engineered hardwood are the most common types of floating floors. The floating floorboards make the installation fast, inexpensive, and DIY-friendly. However, since the floor is not secured to the subfloor, it might feel hollow underneath the feet if not installed correctly. Also, any imperfections in the subfloor impact the installation.

How does a floating floor stay in place?

A floating floor is almost like a giant jigsaw puzzle. The interlocks between the planks allow the force of friction and gravity to hold the floor in place. The click-and-lock mechanism between the planks is tough to break apart. Therefore, the planks act like an unbroken piece of flooring when interconnected. The collective mass limits any movement of the floor. Also, the underlay creates friction that prevents sliding.

Are floating floors waterproof?

Whether a floating floor is waterproof or not depends on its material. For example, all vinyl flooring products are waterproof. So, if your floating floor is made of vinyl, that would also make it waterproof. However, laminate and engineered hardwood are not waterproof. Any spills must be cleaned up immediately. Also, they are susceptible to damage in humid environments. 

3 Common Types of Floating Floors

Laminate floors

Most people interchange the terms “floating floor” and “laminate floor” because laminate is almost never glued to the subfloor. Floating laminate planks are connected using the tongue-and-groove interlocking mechanism. The floating installation allows the laminate to expand freely and contract with relative humidity without buckling or warping.

Vinyl or luxury vinyl floors

Vinyl floors or its variation luxury vinyl planks are connected using a click-and-lock method that keeps the flooring in place. However, some vinyl floors are glued to the subfloor. So, check with the manufacturer if you want a floating installation before purchasing.

Engineered hardwood

Engineered hardwood is an excellent solid hardwood alternative that supports the floating installation. Engineered floors also support nail or staple-down installation as typical hardwood. Floating engineered hardwood is a perfect DIY-friendly option, while securing it to the subfloor is better for stability.

Advantages of Floating Floors

Advantages of Floating Floors

More affordable

Floating floors are pretty straightforward to install. They also take less time and labor — therefore, they cost less. It is also DIY-friendly. So, you can install it yourself to save up even more.

Easy to repair

If a plank is damaged, you can replace it easily, as the flooring is not glued or nailed down to the subfloor. To replace planks, remove the skirting and break apart the click-and-lock interconnection from the perimeter. Remove the affected plank and replace it with a new one.

Ideal for renovations or apartments

The floating flooring’s tongue and groove click system is effortless and does not require hammering. So the installation does not create any loud noise. This feature will come in handy if you live in an apartment complex. Additionally, if you are a renter, you can remove the planks and take them with you once your lease ends.

Simple installation

Floating floors are almost like a large-scale jigsaw puzzle — ideal to do it yourself. It doesn’t require any adhesive, which is hectic to deal with. You also won’t need to hammer down any nails. You could correct any mistakes easily with floating installation, whereas fixing it would be a hassle if you had glued down a plank the wrong way.

Reusable

Since you can easily remove floating floors without causing any damage, you can reuse them in another part of the house. You can also reuse them in your new home if you are moving.

Environment friendly

It takes less material to make and install floating floors. It usually consists of plywood or MDF (medium-density fiber) boards. Some manufacturers use reused materials in the fiber core. Also, floating floors are typically recyclable. 

Disadvantages of Floating Floors

Disadvantages of Floating Floors

Less durable

Floating floors are more susceptible to contraction and expansion from temperature and humidity fluctuations. It leads to more floorboard movements that can lead to warping or cupping in case they are not water-resistant. Additionally, floating floors are thinner. Also, since they rest directly on the subfloor, they are more susceptible to wear and tear. 

No refurbishing

You cannot sand and refurbish floating floors like solid hardwood floors. You can remove scratches from luxury vinyl planks or laminate, but you must replace the plank in case of structural damage.

Noisy

Floating floors are thin and rest directly on the subfloor and a layer of air, which amplifies noises from foot traffic. However, you can tackle it by using a soundproof underlay underneath.

Requires an even subfloor

Floating floors require the subfloor to be in perfect condition as it sits on the subfloor without any support. Excessive force or long-term wear on an uneven subfloor can cause the planks to break apart. Installing floating floors on an uneven subfloor can void any structural warranties the manufacturer offers.

Floating Floor Cost

Floating floors cost less compared to traditional glue-down or nail-down flooring. The total cost of a floating floor depends on the material and installation method. Professionals typically charge less for floating as it takes less time and expertise. You can also bring down the cost further by opting for DIY installation.

The average cost for each floating floor type is –

  • Laminate: $8-$15 per square foot
  • Luxury vinyl: $2-$10 per square foot
  • Engineered hardwood: $6-$13 per square foot

Floating Floor vs. Non-floating Floor

Floating Floor vs. Non-floating Floor

How to Install Floating Floors?

How to Install Floating Floors?

If you opt to install the flooring yourself, here is a short guide on how to install floating floors –

Step 1: Prepare the subfloor and fixtures

Smooth out the subfloor thoroughly to prepare it for the new flooring. You must also fix holes or imperfections so the substrate is entirely even. Trim down the door frame casings or other fixtures that might get in the way to make room for the planks.

Step 2: Place the underlayment

If your floating floors don’t have an underlayment attached, you must place an underlayment over the subfloor. Underlayment provides cushioning, deafens noise, and protects the subfloor from moisture damage if it includes a moisture barrier.

Click here to learn how to choose the best underlayment for vinyl plank flooring.

Step 3: Lay the planks

Lastly, lay the planks across the room according to the floor plan. Start from the wall furthest from the entrance and work your way out. Leave space between the material and the walls to make space for expansion and contraction due to humidity and temperature changes. The skirting will cover the gap to create a seamless flooring look.

So, are you considering a floating floor for your home? Comment below and let us know!

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