Floating Floors

Do's and Dont's

A floating floor is a floor that does not need to be nailed or glued to the subfloor. The term floating floor refers to the installation method. Floating floors are not one specific type of material, but this phrase describes the way that a flooring material sits on top of the subfloor. A floating floor means the product “floats” on top of the subfloor and is not attached or adhered to it in any way. Popular flooring materials commonly associated with this installation method include laminate and luxury vinyl, but many materials (such as hardwood, cork, some tile systems, vinyl, as well as subfloors and underlayments) can be installed as a floating floor.


These products cover a large spectrum of the flooring market and yet they all basically have the same requirements. And despite the vast popularity of and growth in products such as luxury vinyl plank, many of which require floating installations, many contractors and homeowners still ignore the basic rules for a floating floor.

LET'S LOOK AT THE REQUIREMENTS IN DEPTH:

1.Expansion Zones

Most, not all, floating floors require an expansion gap or zone. This expansion gap is not just at the outer walls, it is around any vertical object. This includes cabinets, walls, and pipes. This expansion zone is to accommodate for the subfloor moving as it goes through seasonal changes. Yes, concrete and wood subfloors will move as we go through seasonal changes. In most cases, the flooring products will not grow or change size unless influenced by an outside factor such as moisture. For example, a floating hardwood floor in a stable environment of 70°F and 35% relative humidity will have very little change, but generally requires a ½″ expansion zone. (And wood installed in commercial settings or second homes will be subject to much less stable temperature environments.) If one area of the expansion zone is compromised, this will create a pinch point and eventually cause the flooring to buckle or separate. If installing a floating LVT product that requires a ¼″ expansion zone and one piece is tight to the wall or with no room for expansion, this negates the expansion gap and will eventually cause the floor to fail. It only takes one spot to cause a flooring failure. This is why we cannot install floating floors tight to walls, kitchen cabinets, kitchen islands, or other permanent furniture. We use trim such as cove base or quarter round to hide the expansion gaps.

Expansion ImageDiagram

2. Floating Floors Require Floor Prep

 To avoid installing custom trim to hide expansion gaps, most contractors want the flooring in first so they can install the cabinets and islands on top of the flooring. This cannot happen with a floating floor. Permanent and heavy fixtures such as cabinets can pin the floating floor down, creating a massive pinch point which eventually will cause the floor to buckle. Floating floors do require subfloor prep. Even though floating floors can go over some existing flooring, saving time and money on rip out, they are not made to hide bad or unlevel subfloors. The subfloor flatness requirements for a floating floor are the same as for a glue down floor. For the flooring industry, that is ¼ inch in 10 feet or ⅛ inch in 6 feet. If the subfloor has peaks and valleys in it, you could compromise the locking system of the flooring which could cause it to disengage and unlock or create a lot of deflection or bounce. With stiffer floating floors like Laminate, Rigid Core LVP, and Hardwood, it could lead to creaking noises and cracking and breaking of the locking mechanism. If the floor is rough and bumpy, it will need to be smoothed or skimmed out. Going over a rough subfloor will lead to uneven wear patterns even in a floating floor. The LVT products on the market today, require a smoother flatter floor. Floor prep is an essential part of the installation and often can only be properly diagnosed at the point of taking up the existing floor covering.

 Floor Prep

3. Cabinets should not be installed on top of a floating floor

To avoid installing custom trim to hide expansion gaps, most contractors want the flooring in first so they can install the cabinets and islands on top of the flooring. This cannot happen with a floating floor. Permanent and heavy fixtures such as cabinets can pin the floating floor down, creating a massive pinch point which eventually will cause the floor to buckle.

4. Do not nail moldings or transitions into the floating floor

Floating floors can solve a host of issues, like not having to remove asbestos flooring or being able to install over existing flooring that is in good condition. If you have a concrete subfloor and want hardwood floors without the expense of adhesive, floating the hardwood can be a good option. However, there are some scenarios where a floating floor is not the best option. An area that will be subject to heavy rolling loads is probably not the best option for a floating floor. Locations such as churches in which the pews must be bolted into the floor are not candidates for floating floors. Moldings and Transition pieces must be nailed or fastened into the wall or substrate, not into the flooring. Nailing or fastening through the floating floor creates a pinch point and will cause a buckling failure. Even something as simple as a doorstop (seen in the pictures below) nailed through the floor caused a floating luxury vinyl plank floor to buckle.

 

Floating Floors with Nails Floating Floor

5. Floating Floors are not for every installation or everyone

Floating floors can solve a host of issues, like not having to remove asbestos flooring or being able to install over existing flooring that is in good condition. If you have a concrete subfloor and want hardwood floors without the expense of adhesive, floating the hardwood can be a good option. However, there are some scenarios where a floating floor is not the best option. An area that will be subject to heavy rolling loads is probably not the best option for a floating floor. Locations such as churches in which the pews must be bolted into the floor are not candidates for floating floors.