What is a floating floor? I get this question often from customers because someone has told them they should get it. But, they don’t understand what a floating is.
Technically, a floating floor means that it is “floating” on top of the floor below it and is not directly secured to the floor (i.e. no nails and no glue). Instead it is held down or secured around the edges of the room – the base molding/shoe molding and transitions. This is often used if it is going over an existing floor or on top of cement – more about this later. Now, because the floor is floated and not secured to the floor there tends to be a bit more movement in the floor – you especially see and hear this in laminate floors and it’s more noticeable if it was poorly installed.
Given the definition, there are many types of floating floors as you’ll see below, so anytime someone tells me they want or think they need a floating floor, I need to dig a little deeper to make sure I’m understanding their wants and needs because there are many types of floating floors. (Plus sometimes someone tells me they need a floating floor and when I get to their house I discover that they don’t need a floating floor).
1. Laminate floors -Laminate floors are floating floors. Laminate is fake – it looks like hardwood, but it’s not – it’s a digital picture of hardwood and it clicks together. (There are also versions that look like tile) One of the advantage of laminate is that is less expensive than hardwood – both material-wise and labor-wise and it can often be placed on top of existing flooring without needing to rip it up, so this saves more money in labor.
2. Some engineered hardwoods are floating floors. Hardwoods can be installed 3 ways: 1) nail down (if there is plywood there), 2) glue down (engineered only) and 3) floated (engineered only). Some hardwoods are specially made to click into place just like a laminate does (they are easier for do-it-yourselfers and some can be installed over radiant heat). You click them into place and once they clicked, they are locked into place. The other option for non-clickable engineered hardwood is to glue the joints of the hardwood. Either way, both options require underlayment underneath the hardwood just as you would use for a laminate.
3. Cork is a floating floor. They come in interlocking pieces (usually 1 ft x 3ft) and click together just as a laminate does.
4. Some vinyls are floating floors (but most aren’t). Usually vinyl is glued down, but some of the more recent fiber floors that have some fiberglass and extra cushion for your feet can be glued or floated. If they are floated, they just lie on top of the floor and are secured along the base molding or cove base along the walls and cabinets.
So, after all of that, why would someone want a floating floor? Here are some of the reasons:
1. They want to save money by not ripping up the floor. Instead, they just want to go on top of it.
2. They have asbestos tile on the floor and it would be dangerous/illegal to remove that (or very costly to have an abatement company come in and professionally abate it).
3. They have a floor where glue will not adhere to it well (e.g. epoxy floor or floor w/ lots of ridges and not a flat surface.
4. They are putting hardwood on top of radiant heat (and hence need to avoid adhesives and nails).
Here are some reasons why customers mistakenly THINK they need a floating floor.
1. They don’t have plywood or it’s going over a cement subfloor. This is the most frequent area of confusion. While floating floors definitely will work over cement, you do not need to do a floating floor. You can, but you also have the option of doing an engineered hardwood and gluing it down. So, be sure to understand your objectives and your budget before ruling options out.
2. It’s below grade/in a basement. Floating floors can work in the basement, but other floors can also work so this is where it’s necessary to understand the objective of the room, moisture issues and budget.
3. There is a moisture issue. Well if there is a moisture issue, this should prob. be addressed first. Or, if you are not going to make any changes, then pick the appropriate floor that will work with moisture. Hardwood, laminate and cork are no no’s if you have a moisture issue. Many customers mistakenly believe that laminate is waterproof, and I have news for you…it’s not. It’s made w/ hardwood shavings, so if you are concerned about hardwood and moisture same goes for laminate. If there is a moisture issue, consider vinyl or tile.
4. They have a sloping or uneven floor. Hard surfaces don’t generally work well over uneven floors regardless of whether it’s hardwood, laminate, or tile. it’s best to level these out first, but the floor prep will cost you more money. If budget is a concern w/ the leveling, the consider a more flexible surface such as vinyl, carpet or rubber.
I know there are a lot of issues to consider and I suppose this is why it’s best to consult a professional. Everyone’s situation and budget is different. Frequently, I will narrow down to the 2 or 3 choices that could work for my customers and price them all out and then let them decide what works best with their needs and budget. I’ll always add in my 2 cents (or sometimes even a nickel).