What is a Floating Floor – All Your Questions Answered

Last Update:

We use affiliate links and may receive a small commission on purchases. Learn more

floating floor

For those of you doing your research for a new flooring, you may have come across the term floating floor.

If you are unfamiliar with the term it may conjure images of the Jetson’s floating down a sidewalk.

Unfortunately, that isn’t what floating floor means. Floating floors are types of floors that don’t need to be permanently mounted using screws, nails or glue.

There are several types of floating floors and they are worth further research.

So let’s dive in and find out everything you ever wanted to know about floating floors.

Most Common Types of Floating Flooring

There are a few types of floating floors and the material and makeup are what determine if the floor can be installed as a floating floor or must be mounted.

  1. Laminate Planks. One of the best floating floor options, it is durable and inexpensive.
  2. Laminate Tiles. Like the planks, tiles have their own unique floating floor properties.
  3. Luxury Vinyl Planks. Also known as LVP, vinyl planks are possibly more popular than laminate.
  4. Vinyl Tiles. Vinyl also comes in tiles that give you a different install and different finished look.
  5. Engineered Hardwood Planks. Made to look like hardwood because it is hardwood. Except that engineered hardwood is a floating floor and costs a lot less.
  6. Bamboo. This flooring option is picking up in popularity due to its eco-friendliness and anti-allergen features.

What Exactly is a Floating Floor?

what is floating floor

A floating floor is a flooring type that does not require glues or nails to secure it to the foundation or subfloor. Instead, the flooring pieces, usually planks or tiles, lock together, on their edges.

Once the entire floor is installed and all pieces are locked together, the flooring expands to fill in gaps and tighten together, creating a solid surface to walk on that doesn’t bow, warp or move.

Floating floors can be installed over any type of subflooring, and other types of permanent mounted flooring like tiles, laminate sheeting and even plank wood.

While the floors don’t technically float, as there is contact with the subfloor below, they aren’t mounted permanently.

Because they are free-laying, without the use of nails or glues, the term floating came to pass and now we have floating floors. Cue Rosie to clean them up.

Floating Floor Installation

When it comes to floating floors you have two installation options. You can hire a flooring professional to install the floors for you, or you can do it yourself (DIY) and save the labor costs.

Professional Install

The choice of a professional install will save you time, effort and a great deal of math. The downside is that you have to pay extra for the service. On top of the cost of the flooring, the installer will charge you for the install, extra materials and clean up.

There may be other charges as well, depending on the floor type, and where it is going to be installed. For example, you may need to pay for the removal of the previous flooring, a moisture barrier for the new floor, or sub floor repairs prior to installation.

The good news is that trusted, licensed professionals are in your area, and we can help you locate them. Check out our Pro Finder to get free quotes.

Just remember that when you are getting quotes, make sure they cover the entire install process, any additional costs or fees and give you a reasonable timeline to completion. You also want to aim for at least three quotes to ensure you are getting the best deal.

DIY Install of Floating Floor

Luckily, floating floors are fairly simple to install yourself. You don’t have carpet to stretch and there aren’t a lot of angles and cuts to make. You will need a few simple tools, though, and a lot of time.

The installation process will vary from floor type to floor type and even from brand to brand. However, the general idea is the same. Here is an idea of what to expect:

  • Allow the flooring to sit in the room for 24 hours out of the packaging. This lets it acclimate to the temperature and humidity.
  • Start by removing the baseboards, trim molding thresholds and transitions.
  • Clean the floor with a vacuum, broom or even a mop. You don’t want any debris under your new flooring.
  • Using a circular or table saw, cut about 6 inches off the first piece. This will prevent the ends from lining up on adjacent rows.
  • Using spacers against the wall, play the entire first row of planks or tiles, locking them together end to end.
  • Start the second row with a full length board. Since it is longer than the first row’s board, the ends will not line up, which is what you want.
  • Continue laying the second row, locking them together end to end.
  • Use a rubber mallet or knocking block to lock the two rows together.
  • The final piece will need to be cut. Use the remainder piece as the start of the next row, continuing to keep the end-seams misaligned.
  • Once the final row is in place, allow the floor to expand and settle (usually 15 to 24 hours).
  • Replace the baseboards, trim and molding to the walls and thresholds to the doorways.
  • Put your furniture back in the room and enjoy your new floor.

Pros and Cons of Floating Floors

pros and cons floating floor

There are several distinct advantages to floating floors. However, that isn’t the entire story. With the good, you must also take the bad. Let’s see how they stack up.

Advantages

Floating floors of any type share a lot of the same advantages. There are some that are type specific, though. Let’s take a look.

  1. DIY install capable. All floating floors are rated easy to intermediate for DIY install.
  2. No need to remove prior flooring. Unless you are laying over carpet, or there are already several layers underneath, you don’t have to remove the old flooring before putting in the new stuff.
  3. Waterproof/water resistant. LVP is 100% waterproof, while laminate and engineered hardwood are water resistant. You can install any flooring in the kitchen, but LVP should be reserved for wet areas like bathrooms and laundry areas.
  4. Low maintenance. Once the flooring is installed, a good sweep and maybe a mop now and again are really all that is needed.
  5. Durable and resistant. Almost all modern floating floor options have thick wear layers and coatings or treatments to prevent scratches, dings or gouging.
  6. Multiple styles. Between brands, thicknesses, widths, lengths and colors or pattern styles, there are well over 1000 different combinations you can come up with.

Disadvantages

Not everything is sunshine and rainbows with floating floors, though. There are some downsides to consider as well.

  1. Must have an underlayment. Whether the underlayment comes attached or is a required separate purchase, you need a bottom layer under your flooring.
  2. Not suitable for all areas. Depending on which type you choose, you may not be able to install it in wet areas, high traffic areas or rooms with a lot of heavy furniture.
  3. Specific cleaning methods should be avoided. Steam mopping, wet mopping and even powered brush roller vacuums may not be suitable for your flooring type. They can cause damage, scratches or even warping.
  4. Damage is not repairable. With the exception of some engineered hardwood options, if a plank or tile becomes damaged, the entire plank needs to be replaced, as they cannot be resurfaced or repaired.
  5. May require annual sealing. Some flooring types need a sealant to stay shiny, new and protected from moisture. This is a yearly or bi-annual process that must be done.

Various Floating Flooring Explained

various floating flooring explained

There are quite a few floating floor options to choose from and each one has their own unique take. The flooring space, location and installation type are all going to play a factor in your decision.

However, before you can decide, you need to know what those options are. Below we cover the best and most popular floating floor solutions out there.

Floating Laminate Floor

Laminate is one of the most popular floating floor options available. Long gone are the multi-colored laminate rolls that would tear if you looked at them funny. Today, we have durable planks and tiles that look great in almost any room.

Laminate is easy to take care of, simple to install and has a long life span (about 20 years with proper care). These factors make it popular and desirable.

Laminate planks are generally wood grain while the tiles are stone-look. However, you can find wood-look tiles and stone-look planks fairly easily.

Laminate is still wood-based, though. This means that it isn’t capable of being 100% waterproof. Treatments and coatings are added to the planks and wear layers to help their moisture repelling properties, but the fact remains. If water or moisture gets into the core of the plank or tile, it will swell, warp or crack.

To combat this, proper care is needed. Laminate should not be installed in wet areas like bathrooms, laundry rooms or basements. You should also avoid high-humidity areas of the home as well.

Hallways, entrances, kitchens, dens and bedrooms, though are all fair game for laminate flooring.

The best brands for laminate flooring include Mohawk, LifeProof, and Pergo.

Floating Vinyl Floor

Vinyl is arguably the most popular floating floor solution available. It is synthetic which makes it 100% waterproof, and it comes in a wide array of styles, colors, grains and patterns.

Luxury Vinyl Planks (LVP) are the easiest flooring to install and have an excellent reputation of long life and low maintenance. If you want a durable, hardy floor that is easy to clean, LVP is what you are after.

Unlike laminate, LVP can be installed in wet areas such as your bathroom or basement. It holds up well to all cleaning types, including wet mops. It is scratch and dent resistant, though it can dent with heavy furniture.

Like laminate, though, the planks and tiles are not made to be refinished. If any damage does occur, you need to replace the entire plank. This can cause some frustration, as you may need to pull up several rows to get to the damaged area.

LVT and LVP are common in residential and commercial applications, ranging from low traffic guest bedrooms to high traffic markets and restaurants. The thicker the plank, the more durable it will be, but you also need to account for the stiffness.

Commercial grade thick planks aren’t the best option for your living room as they won’t offer the give and support to make them enjoyable to walk on.

One of the best things about LVP is the various styles of planks. You can get different lengths and widths to make your flooring look more rustic or ranch décor, or go with thin, long planks for a more bowling alley appearance.

With every color and pattern available, you will have a harder time choosing which one you want than it will take to install.

Some of the best vinyl flooring brands include Shaw, Mannington and Mohawk .

Engineered Hardwood

Engineered hardwood is a special floating flooring. It is made from real hardwood, but only as a top layer. This allows the planks to look and feel just like hardwood without a photo layer found on laminate and vinyl.

Unlike natural hardwood, though, the engineered style doesn’t add value to your home. It is still a composite plank underneath, with a pressed or pulp wood core, underlayment and a wear layer.

The one special thing about engineered hardwood is that it is about the only floating floor option that can be repaired.

Because the top wood layer is natural wood, you can sand it down to remove small blemishes, cracks or gouges. Depending on the thickness, you can do this several times per plank.

However, the downside is that these planks cost much more than the other option. Of course you are paying for the hardwood and the longevity of the floor, but when it lasts as long and holds up as well as the other, less expensive options, it becomes slightly less desirable.

Another issue is the care and maintenance. Engineered hardwood is still considered low maintenance, but requires more upkeep than the other options.

Cleaning cannot be done with a wet mop since the wood will absorb the moisture. You have to be diligent and clean small areas at a time, making the process last much longer than many would like.

All things said, though, Engineered hardwood is highly rated, easy to install and makes any room’s appearance that much better.

Some of the best engineered hardwood brands include names like Boen, Shaw and Armstrong.

Bamboo

Bamboo is a flooring option that hasn’t gotten a lot of looks. With the cost of laminate and vinyl and the desire for hardwood, this flooring is often overlooked. It shouldn’t be.

Bamboo is one of the most durable and resilient flooring options on the market, if you get the right kind. Engineered bamboo, bamboo is the most common, but also one of the most susceptible to scratching and damage.

On the other hand, strand woven bamboo planks are one of the hardest floorings available according to the Janka Scale. Because of this, though, it is also one of the more expensive types.

Bamboo can be dyed many colors and comes in many different varieties beyond engineered and strand woven as already mentioned. Finding the right color, size and style for your floors won’t be a problem.

The biggest draw, though, is that bamboo is a natural anti-allergen with mold, pollen and even dust mites being repelled by the surface material. Bamboo is also one of the greenest flooring options available and is highly eco-friendly.

However, because bamboo is a natural fiber (grass) material, it does absorb water. This makes it a bad idea for installing in wet areas or rooms with high humidity.

Many cheaper vendors and brands still use formaldehyde and other VOC compounds in their adhesives. When looking at bamboo, make sure you find a brand that has been 3rd party tested and verified VOC and formaldehyde free.

Among the best bamboo brands are Cali Bamboo, Plyboo and EcoFusion.

Are There Cheap Floating Floors?

cheap floating floors

All floating floors are relatively inexpensive, but you should be warned about specific types that are sold cheap.

Vinyl and laminate are the most cost-effective solutions. The more you pay, the higher the plank quality will be.

For engineered hardwood and bamboo, though, expect to pay a little more. Brands and qualities vary per square foot and some can go even higher.

Finding a bargain deal on a flooring (not on sale) should be a red flag, though.

Bamboo being sold cheap, for instance will most certainly contain formaldehyde and VOCs. This can cause respiratory problems in your family and pets.

Hardwood sold too cheap is a sign that you may not be getting wood at all. Since engineered hardwood has a top layer made of natural wood, you want to ensure you get what you are after.

Quality of the construction, the plank or tile layers, wear layer and even the quality of the photograph layer will all be sub-par when shopping for a bargain.

While the small upfront savings may be enticing, it is much better to spend a little more upfront and get high-quality planks.

Otherwise, you may be buying the whole flooring again in as little as 3 to 5 years. High quality flooring should last 15 to 25 years, or more.

Frequently Asked Questions

faq floating floor

Here we answer some of the more important and commonly asked questions about floating floors. If you have further questions, please feel free to use the comment section below the article.

Q. Why isn’t cork a floating floor?

  1. Cork comes in planks, tiles and rolls. However, it is not a floating floor because it must be glued or adhered in place. Since it is glued down, it doesn’t float on top of the subfloor or previous flooring like the types mentioned in this article do.

Q. Will a floating floor increase the resale value of my home?

  1. Unfortunately, no. The only possible options would be engineered hardwood, but even that doesn’t get much of a resale bump. Currently only full, natural hardwood increases a home’s value. However, floating floor options won’t decrease the home’s value, either.

Q. What is the best floating floor option?

  1. The one that meets your needs best. Laminate and vinyl offer you value, low cost, low maintenance and thousands of design and color options. Bamboo and hardwood give you natural textures and colors along with durable and repairable planks.

Depending on what your home needs, what you expect from your flooring and your budget, the best option for you may be any one of these, or other flooring options, too.

Q. Is laminate better than vinyl?

  1. Laminate is better than vinyl. At least in certain areas. Laminate is usually slightly cheaper and has a lower maintenance by a fraction. Vinyl, though, can be installed in wet areas and you can use steam or wet mops to clean.

In truth, aside from materials, aesthetics and maybe the price, there isn’t much difference once the flooring is installed. The best one between laminate and vinyl will depend on your needs and install location.

Q. What is the cheapest floating floor?

  1. The cheapest floating floor will come in the laminate area. Laminate planks, of decent and even high quality can be found for less than $1.50 per square foot. If you shop at bargain retailers like Lumber Liquidators, you can even get if for less.

However, the problem is that colors, styles and options change yearly. So if you don’t find enough to buy extras, you may need to replace the entire floor should damage occur. Buying more material to have as plank replacement is crucial.

Conclusion

Floating floors are a great way to spruce up the look of your room or an entire home. They are simple to install, require little in the way of maintenance and care, and are highly affordable.

Because you can install the flooring yourself, you save even more. Plus, modern brands have thick, high-quality planks and tiles in any color, wood grain pattern or style you can imagine.

The toughest part is picking the right color or size planks for your home, since there are so many wonderful options to go through.

Photo of author

AUTHOR

Nora has more than 5 years experience in the floor covering industry, acquiring vast knowledge about installation and material selection. She now enjoys working as a writer and an interior decorator. Her work has been featured in The Spruce, Homes & Gardens, Southern Living and Real Homes. See full biography here.

Leave a Comment

seventeen − twelve =