What is a floating floor, you ask?

Floating floor is a term that refers to a method of floor installation. It’s great for DIY folks and professionals alike. Floating floors are easy (and often cheaper) to install and are common with all types of flooring materials. 

They can even help to create environmentally friendly floors because they avoid harmful adhesives. And they have a ton of other benefits we’ll talk about further down. 

By the end, you’ll know the answer to the “what is a floating floor” question, and whether floating floors are right for you!

What is a Floating Floor?

First and foremost, the term “floating floor” refers to an installation style rather than a specific product. In other words, almost any type of flooring material can be installed as a floating floor, with a few exceptions.

How Are Floating Floors Held in Place?

Installing a laminate floating floor

You can glue floating floors down. But most of the time, they’re held down by the all-powerful forces of friction and gravity

To understand what a floating floor is, you need to understand click-together flooring. Click-together or “snap-lock” floor planks are attached via tightly fitting interlocking grooves or rivets. 

When an entire floor of click-together planks is snapped together, the weight of the resulting surface—plus the friction of the connections—keeps the floor in place. This makes floating floors some of the easiest floors to install because you can simply snap them together. 

And of course, if you do happen to make a mistake, there’s no need to rip out nails or staples in frustration. Just unsnap them and try again!

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Floating Floors vs. Non-Floating Floors: What Are the Differences?

Since many types of flooring come in both floating and non-floating varieties, the only big difference is how they’re installed.

  • Nail-down floors are nailed to a subfloor or underlayment. And while that might give them some advantages, they are harder to install and remove.
  • Staple-down floors are put in similarly but are usually reserved for lighter floors like vinyl or soft(er) hardwoods. 
  • Glue-down floors use adhesives (sometimes containing harmful chemicals) to attach the floor to the subflooring.

So to recap: what is a floating floor? It’s a style of floor installation that doesn’t rely on a fastener (glue, nails, etc.) to attach it to the subfloor. Only gravity and friction!

What Types of Flooring Can Be Installed As Floating Floors? 

Most types of flooring can be installed as floating floors.

An engineered wood floating floor. Note the deep click-together grooves.

Laminate Flooring: Easy to install with a click-lock system, laminate mimics wood or stone surfaces and is durable and affordable. It requires no glue or nails, making it a popular choice for DIY projects.

Luxury Vinyl Plank (LVP): Resilient and water-resistant, LVP offers a realistic wood appearance. Its click-lock installation and cushioned underlayment make it comfortable underfoot and ideal for high-moisture areas like bathrooms and kitchens.

Engineered Hardwood: Combining real wood veneer with a plywood core, engineered hardwood provides stability and beauty. The floating installation reduces the need for adhesives, making it easier and cheaper to install over existing floors.

Cork Flooring: Eco-friendly and comfortable, cork flooring provides natural thermal and acoustic insulation. It’s ideal for bedrooms and living areas, and its click-lock design simplifies installation without adhesives.

Bamboo Flooring: Durable and sustainable, bamboo flooring is an eco-friendly choice. Its floating installation system allows for easy placement over various subfloors, making it a versatile option for many spaces.

Floating Floor Advantages

A floating floor’s chief advantage centers around its ease of installation. However, there are plenty of other advantages too!

Floating Floors Are Often Cheaper to Install

Floating floors are often cheaper to install than non-floating floors because they’re less time and labor-intensive to put in.

Virtually anyone who’s physically able to do so can install a floating floor. 

Plus, if you do hire labor, there’s a good chance that your contractors will finish the job quicker—and quicker usually means cheaper!

Installing Floating Floors Is Super Easy

What is a floating floor’s greatest strength? 

We’ve touched on this aspect a lot, but again—ease of installation is probably the biggest draw. The hardest part about installing floating floors is making sure that each sheet or plank is properly connected to its counterpart. That’s it.

Floating Floor Maintenance Is Usually Minimal

Notice the seamless joints of this floating floor.

There’s no special maintenance required for floating floors. Whatever you would do for traditionally-installed floors is what you would do for the floating version. 

Floating Floors Are More Convenient to Replace

Since floating floors are pretty easy to remove, they’re equally easy to replace! 

Simply dispose of your old floors and then throw down your new floors. Forget the glue stripper, nail removers, or power tools—you can just use your hands and a multitool. 

Heck, you could even replace your old floating floors with new floating floors!

Floating Floors Can Be More Eco-Friendly (No VOCs)

Remember how we said you don’t need to use glue to secure your floating floors? Well, many flooring adhesives are known to contain harmful chemicals known as volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. 

VOCs are harmful to people, pets, and the environment. By going the floating floor route, you’re making a more eco-friendly flooring choice.

Floating Floor Disadvantages

Floating floors aren’t perfect, and with the good comes the bad. 

Floating Floors May Have a Hollow Sound or Be Noisy

What is a floating floor’s greatest weakness? Possibly the noise.

A lot of factors go into the noise a floor produces: the type and thickness of its material, its underlayment, and so on. 

Because floating floors can be thinner than, say, solid hardwood floors, they can be noisy. But there are 2 pieces of good news here:

  1. Almost all noise issues can be remedied by installing your floating floors over the appropriate underlayment.
  2. Many companies make products that have built-in underlayments to account for noise issues. 

Floating Floors Need a Good, Solid Subfloor

What is subflooring? Well, it’s what goes under your floors! You could probably think of your subflooring as part of the bones of your house. 

Anyway, since some floating floors like flexible LVT are relatively thin, a lot of their rigidity comes from your subflooring. So if your subflooring isn’t optimal, you may be in for warped or bent floors.

Of course, virtually all flooring needs quality subflooring, so this isn’t that out of the norm. But if you install floating floors atop shoddy subflooring, the issues may be more pronounced.

Floating Floors Can Feel Less Sturdy

Continuing from the last section, some buyers complain that their floating floors just don’t feel as sturdy as traditionally-installed floors.

Again, this goes back to the issue of subflooring and underlayments. If your subfloor and underlayment are secure and even, there’s almost no reason to worry in this regard. 

Floating Floors May Offer Less Resale Value

What is a floating floor’s other greatest perceived disadvantage? 

That it may offer less resale value than a traditionally-installed floor. But there are a ton of technicalities here, so take it with a grain of salt.

The value difference between floating and non-floating floors usually just comes down to the difference between types of flooring. For example, solid hardwood may be more valuable than LVP, but not because the LVP was installed as a floating floor.

Floating Floors Made of Solid Hardwood Can Be Harder to Find

We’ve mentioned this a few times already, but it is harder to find solid wood that installs as a floating floor. 

That’s not to say it’s impossible—some of the best hardwood floor brands might sell solid wood floating floors—but finding these options may take some digging.

Is a Floating Floor Right for You?

Hopefully, this article has answered the “what is a floating floor” question and given you all the information you need to decide whether a floating floor is right for you!

Now, the only thing left to do is start looking at specific types of flooring. 

We would recommend finding a top-rated flooring store in your area for that purpose. Local flooring retailers can help you find the perfect floors for you. Big box store clerks…not so much.

About The Author

Christian Southards

June 27, 2024

Christian is a freelance everything-writer, editor, and interior design nerd. When he’s not writing about flooring and remodeling, he’s either writing news for the California American Legion or working with his hands on his house. His favorite type of flooring is hardwood, but admits to having carpet in his bedroom.