What Is A Floating Floor, Its Advantages & Disadvantages?

FLoating Floor components in a Store

If you plan to remodel floors in your house you can choose from different options. Installing an entirely new flooring, refinishing your existing hardwood floor or the third way: installing a floating floor, a floor that “floats” over the existing one. If you consider this quick and easy DIY solution you might wonder what exactly a floating floor is and what pros and cons you need to take into account. This article will answer these questions and provide some useful tips and tricks around floating floors.

What Is a Floating Floor?

A floating floor is a type of flooring that can be installed without the need to nail or glue the floor to the subfloor (source). The phrase “floating floor” refers to the way the flooring is installed but it is also known to refer to the type of flooring, i.e. most commonly, Laminate Flooring.

There are three basic types of floating floors in use today:

  • Laminate,
  • Vinyl (also referred to as “Luxury Vinyl Flooring” or “LVF”, and
  • Engineered wood flooring.

We will introduce those types in a dedicated section below.

What Exactly Does Floating Floor Mean?

To understand the floating floor concept, think of it as a giant jigsaw puzzle with each piece connected to its neighbors. The floor rests on the underfloor but is not attached to it. The floating floor is kept in place by its own weight and, once a floating floor is installed across a complete room space, the edges are held secure by the walls of the room.

A floating floor may be thought of like a carpet covering the whole room, however, instead of being made from material, the floating floor is made of solid material. As a carpet is secured at its edges by strips containing nails, the floating floor is secured at its edges only by the walls of the room.

For ages, the flooring was always attached to the underfloor but this made installation of DIY flooring difficult as it always involved nailing. So floating flooring was introduced to make it easier for the DIYer to install their selves. Floating floors are quick to install and also quick to remove. As there are no nails, the underfloor is not damaged and floating floors can be installed on any underfloor surface such as carpet, stone, tiling or wood. The sheer weight of the floating floor gives it it’s strength and structure to stay in place. Even though a single laminate plank may not weigh much, enough laminate planks to fill an entire room may weigh several hundred pounds together.

What Are the Different Types of Floating Flooring?

The most common types of floating flooring are Laminate, Luxury Vinyl Flooring or “LVF”, and Engineered wood flooring.

Laminate Flooring

Firstly, Laminate flooring is the most common, especially in use in private homes. Because the flooring is floating and not attached to the under-flooring, the laminate is able to expand and contract when temperature and humidity changes.

Check out laminate on Amazon.


Laminate Flooring.

Luxury Vinyl Flooring

Type two is Luxury Vinyl Flooring, or LVF. This consists of boards that snap together using tongue and grooving. The boards then lock together holding themselves in place.

You can find and compare LVF options in DIY stores and on Amazon.


Luxury Vinyl Flooring.

Engineered Wood Flooring

Type three is Engineered Wood Flooring. Occasionally this type is non-floating and is stapled or nailed down to the underfloor, but generally, it is installed as a floating floor.

Many types of woods that are used for hardwood floors are also available as engineered wood flooring (i.e. as floating floors). You can get an overview of the available woods right here (Amazon).


An example of Engineered Wood Flooring.

The Pros and Cons of Floating Flooring

Pros and Cons in a Nutshell

This comparison summarizes the most important pros and cons of floating floors:

Pros

  • Easy to install
  • Only a few tools needed
  • Lower coats than other floorings
  • Floors are self-contained
  • Low risk of cracks
  • Easy to remove, without damage to the material underneath
  • Easy to replace
  • All elements of the floor are connected, so no planks can pop up or twist
  • Laminate can be less scratch- or water sensitive than other material

Cons

  • Often thinner and less substantial
  • Damage tends to be more fatal (while hardwood floor, for instance, could be sanded or repaired)
  • Separate underlayment needed
  • Might not be seen as valuable as hardwood, stone or tile floors
  • Doors might need to be trimmed
  • Improper installation can affect the appearance
  • It may be less durable than hardwood floors

What Are the Advantages of a Floating Floor?

There is a broad choice of different materials and looks available in the market, ranging from a classical wood-like appearance of a laminate or an engineered floor to colorful and even fancy designs. When you decide to go for a floating floor, it is almost guaranteed that you will find a solution that meets your aesthetical requirements.

Installation of Floating Floors Is Straight-Forward

The installation is much easier compared to other floorings. Without the need to nail the floor down, there is less work to do and less chance of mistakes.

No special tools are needed such as an air compressor and air nail gun. Installing the floor is cheaper because you can do it yourself and do not need to hire special workers or contractors.

Self-contained Floors Blend Into Their Environment

Floating floors are self-contained and usually surrounded by three or four walls. As long as the expansion gap is correctly installed, the floor will be able to move in accordance with the humidity and temperature and should not crack.

Traditional floorboards sometimes suffer from individual planks popping or twisting as they dry out or move with the change in weather. Laminate floors do not suffer this problem as the entire floor is connected together as one unit.

Floating floors are also easy to remove and the original floor underneath should be damage-free. So if you decide you no longer like the design of your floating floor, it will be easier to remove and re-install a new style than other types of flooring such as glued down floors.

What Are the Disadvantages of a Floating Floor?

Floating floors, especially the laminate type are generally thinner and less substantial than the traditional kind. This means they may be damaged easier, and, if damage occurs, the floor will need to be partly dismantled, the damaged pieces replaced and the floor re-assembled.

Perception as a “Less Valuable” Type of Flooring

Laminate floors are often seen as lower quality floors than solid hardwood floors and may put off a purchaser looking to buy the house. Sometimes laminate floors are installed to cover up some problems with the original floor and this can make potential house buyers wary.

While the Installation is Generally Easy, the Devil Lies in the Details

Installing a floating floor may mean that the doors will need to be trimmed at the bottoms so they can still be used (details on builddirect). If then in the future, the floating floor is removed, the doors may need to also be changed as they will have large gaps at their bases.

Where the floating floor is not fitted correctly with the correct gaps left on its edges, the floor may be prone to buckling or peaking during changes of weather due to the floor pressing against its edges.

If the floor is installed over a surface that isn’t exactly level, these imperfections will show through the laminate over time and may be quite unsightly. Thus, certain situations may require a separate underlayment that adds to the installation costs and time.

Because floating floors need foam underlayment, the finished laminate flooring may feel slightly spongy, and unlike a real wooden floor which will feel solid. There may also be a hollow sound when walking across a laminate floor.

Laminate Is Quite Wear-resistant but Not as Durable as Some Traditional Flooring Types

Laminate floors are comparatively scratch- and liquid-resistant. However, they are still prone to faster wear than traditional floorings (e.g. concrete, certain hardwood, etc.) because they are made from thinner and weaker materials. Should the floor become scratched, it cannot be repaired in the traditional way a normal wooden floor could as laminate floors are too thin to be able to be sanded.

It is not recommended to install laminate floors in areas of high traffic such as shops or public areas. Because of their thinner materials and lower resistance to damage, they will probably require replacing frequently thus making them less cost-effective.

If water or other liquids are spilled onto a laminate floor, there is a chance it may seep through the joints and soak into the foam underlayment. It may then take much longer to dry out, during which time the floor may change its feel if the underlayment is damp. This may also cause the underlayment to lose its design properties and reduce the life span of the whole floor.

Roundup

A floating floor’s appearance might not keep up with luxury hardwood or stone floors. However, they often combine easy installation and good affordability with an elegant and appealing look. If you want to quickly replace an existing floor without too much effort, a floating floor might be the answer for you.

Floating floors are not only used inside the house but also on balconies and patios. Read our article on floating wood tiles to learn more about this.

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