Floating Floors – What Are They? | Ask the Home Flooring Pros
What is a Floating Floor?
A floating floor is flooring that is not attached to the subfloor. It isn’t secured with nails, glue, or another fastener type.
Floating floors have grown in popularity because they are easy to install. This is a DIY flooring installation option for handy homeowners. And if you hire a contractor to install it, the installation process takes less time, so labor costs are lower.
March 16, 2023, by: Jamie Sandford
Here are full details on this popular type of floor installation, including material options, pros and cons, costs, and FAQs.
WHAT TYPE OF FLOORING CAN USED AS A FLOATING FLOOR?
The term floating floor primarily refers to an installation method rather than the type of flooring material. Of course, not all flooring can float – ceramic tile for example, must be secured to the subfloor.
Here are the flooring materials that can be installed as a floating floor:
- Luxury vinyl plank, or LVP
- Luxury vinyl tile, or LVT
- Loose lay vinyl flooring
- Laminate flooring
- Some engineered hardwood flooring
1). Click-lock luxury vinyl planks are growing in popularity because they look like wood flooring, are easy to install, resist water and offer good durability.
In the manufacturing process, LVP planks are given edges shaped something like tongue and groove flooring which lock tightly together. As a result, the entire field of flooring stays in place.
Note: In commercial installations, a glue-down method is usually used with this flooring option to ensure it stays together under heavy foot traffic.
2). Luxury vinyl tiles, or LVT, are the same type of flooring material as LVP but are produced in wider and shorter pieces, usually 1×2 feet to 2×4 feet. Some are manufactured to look like stone tiles, porcelain or a ceramic tile floor instead of wood.
3). Floating loose lay vinyl planks and tiles. These are not click-lock pieces of flooring. Instead, they are backed with a rubber-like material that creates friction with the subfloor. The result is that the floating floor clings to the material beneath it.
4). Some engineered wood floor planks float. The tongue and groove design, plus the weight of the flooring, keeps it securely in place without nails. Floating the floor allows it to adjust more readily to changes in humidity, reducing the chance of the flooring splitting, warping, or buckling as it expands and contracts.
PROS AND CONS OF FLOATING FLOORS
Here are the benefits and disadvantages to consider before installing a floating floor.
WHAT IS THE ADVANTAGE OF A FLOATING FLOOR?
The main advantage of a floating floor is that it is quick, easy and cheap to install…and remove. You can install a floating floor over any flat and level flooring which means no subfloor preparation or cost.
Lets take a closer look at the benefits of floating flooring.
Installation: Floating floors are DIY-friendly, which saves you money. It takes just a few minutes to get the hang of how click-lock laminate and LVT/LVP snap together. Loose lay luxury vinyl plank and luxury vinyl tile are even easier to install. Engineered hardwood flooring is slightly more challenging, mostly because it is harder to cut, but it is still easier to install than nail-down wood flooring.
Pro installation costs less too – less time involved and fewer materials needed than for glue-down flooring or flooring secured with nails in every plank.
Removal: When it comes time to change the flooring, removing a floating floor is an easy DIY project.
Related Reading: Best Way to Remove Vinyl Flooring | Best Way to Remove Laminate Flooring
Location: LVT and LVP are water-resistant, making them good options for potentially wet areas or areas with higher humidity. Vinyl floating floors can be installed in the bathroom, kitchen or basement. Check the manufacturer’s guidelines to be sure.
Additionally, most floating floors can be installed over a range of subfloor materials, including concrete and plywood. Again, check the manufacturer’s installation guidelines for preparing the subfloor.
Installation Tip: When installed over concrete, a vapor barrier safeguards against moisture damage from below.
Cost: The price of these types of flooring are lower than the materials they mimic. Laminate costs less than half the price of genuine hardwood. The same is true for floating vinyl floors. Engineered flooring costs less than solid hardwood flooring, especially if you DIY.
Repair: Damaged pieces of LVT, LVP, or laminate are much easier to replace if they are part of a floating floor versus glued-down or nailed-down materials.
WHAT ARE THE DISADVANTAGES OF A FLOATING FLOOR?
The main drawback of a floating floors is that its is not as durable or as stable as a glued-down or nailed-down floor. You should think of a floating floor as a low cost, medium term flooring option.
Before you buy, consider these other potential negatives.
ROI: The return on investment is not as high as the ROI of genuine hardwood. This is especially true in neighborhoods where genuine hardwood floors are expected. Laminate, in particular, is considered a cheap alternative to real wood floors.
Noise: Compared to carpet, hard flooring of any kind can be louder when walked on, producing a hollow sound. If that’s a concern, install an underlayment such as foam or cork that reduces sound transmission. Some laminate, engineered hardwood flooring, and luxury vinyl flooring come with an attached pad for this purpose.
HOW MUCH WILL A FLOATING FLOOR COST?
The price of a floating floor will be determined by the price of the flooring material used. Let’s look again at the flooring options that can be installed as a floating floor and what they cost on average.
LVP and LVT
The cost of luxury vinyl flooring is $1.50 to $8.00+ per square foot. But most of this vinyl flooring is $4.50 to $6.75 per square foot.
The installation cost for LVT and LVP is around $3 to $5 per square foot based on the amount of flooring installed, the complexity and number of cuts required, and the whether the subfloor needs prep.
For a 300-square-foot room, the material cost is $1,350 to $2,025 for the most popular options. With installation, the total cost will be $2,250 to $3,525.
Related Reading: Vinyl Flooring Installation Cost
Loose Lay Flooring
The cost is roughly the same as other plank and tile vinyl floors – the most common range is $4.75 to $7.00 per square foot. Those prices translate to
If you choose pro installation, expect estimates of $2 to $4 per square foot for the labor.
At those costs, your total project price for 300 square feet would be $1,450 to $2,100 if you DIY and around $2,000 to $3,300 for pro installation.
Laminate flooring cost per square foot averages $2.75 to $5.50, or $825 to $1,650 for 300 square feet of materials.
Flooring contractors would complete the job, materials, and labor included, for $1,725 to $2,550 installed.
Related Reading: Laminate Flooring Installation Cost
Engineered Hardwood Flooring
Mid-range and premium engineered wood flooring costs $5.00 to $10.00 per square foot. The average installation cost is $4.00 to $8.00 per square foot.
At those costs, expect to pay $1,500 to $3,000 for materials. And if a flooring contractor installs it, the total job cost will be $2,700 to $5,400, with a typical cost around $3,800.
FLOATING FLOOR INSTALLATION
LVP, LVT, and laminate is mostly click-lock flooring that snaps together on the sides of the pieces.
Loose lay vinyl is butted up to the last piece installed. The ends are butted too.
Engineered wood flooring is installed using the tongue and groove design.
HOW LONG DO FLOATING FLOORS LAST?
Floating floors last 10-15 years when vinyl or laminate is used. An engineered wood floor lasts 15 to 20 years if it cannot be refinished. When the layer of solid hardwood is thick enough to allow refinishing, the floor can last 35-40 years.
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF A FLOATING FLOOR?
The purpose of a floating floor is to make installation easier. By fitting and locking together the pices of flooring (a bit like fitting puzzle pieces together) you create a strong and stable flooring without nail-down or glue-down installation.
WHAT PROBLEMS ARE THERE WITH FLOATING FLOORS?
There aren’t many problems with floating floors but in very large spaces, the flooring might get loose in spots. Improper installation can cause pieces to separate.
And these are hard flooring options, so they are not as soft underfoot and can be noisier than carpet.
A FLOATING FLOOR VS GLUED-DOWNED, WHICH IS BETTER?
A glued down floor is better if you need extra stability, maybe for heavy foot traffic, but for most homes a floating floor will be adequate and will be cheaper and faster to install or remove.
Luxury vinyl is typically secured to the subfloor with adhesives in commercial installations.
WHAT GOES UNDER FLOATING FLOORS?
Underlayment is needed for most installations. Foam and cork are popular options. Some laminate and luxury vinyl comes with an attached underlayment pad.
If installed over concrete, a moisture barrier should be used under your floating floor.
CAN YOU PUT CABINETS ON TOP OF FLOATING FLOOR?
You should not place cabinets directly on top of a floating floor, a small gap should be left between the flooring and cabinet, to take into account expansion and contraction in the flooring during different times of the year.
HOW DO YOU STOP FLOATING FLOORS FROM CREAKING
To stop a floating floor from creaking you need to do two things during installation. Firstly make sure you have the correct expansion gap between floor and wall and secondly that you’e using the right underlay to cushion he floor.
About the Author:
Jamie Sandford is the Owner and Chief Editor of Home Flooring Pros (find out more). After 12 years’ experience in screen and stage set construction, followed by a further 15 years working in the home renovation/remodeling business, he now writes and curates online home improvement advice.
“Buying and installing home flooring should be a fairly straightforward process, but often it isn’t. After more than 15 years experience in home flooring and remodeling, I started Home Flooring Pros in 2013 to help homeowners navigate the often-over complicated process of choosing, buying and installing a home floor. The aim is to save you time and money by helping you to make better floor buying decisions.”