What is a Floating Floor?

If you have looked into purchasing flooring for your home in the past decade, you have probably heard the term “floating floor” and may be confused by the term. While this type of flooring system doesn’t allow you to levitate above your floor boards magically, it’s one of the most popular installation styles available on the market today.

Just because something is popular doesn’t mean it’s an ideal fit for your home. That means it’s a wise idea to understand more about floating floors before committing to one; otherwise, you could end up with a major headache underfoot depending on the conditions in your home.

Floating Flooring 101

The first thing to understand about floating flooring is that it isn’t a flooring “style” at all. Floating flooring refers to the method of installation used for a variety of floor types, including laminate, vinyl, and engineered planks.

The term is most closely tied to laminate flooring installations, although it’s found its way to other areas over the years as well. Here’s what to expect from a floating floor installation in comparison to using glue or nails. 

Floating Floor Systems

Simply put, a floating floor system is any installation method that allows the flooring to “float’ freely above your subfloor. That means it’s not attached or held down by nails, although glue is sometimes used along the edges of boards.

Floating floor systems make use of boards with milled edges that lock into place like oversized puzzle pieces. That makes them ideal for homes with radiant heat systems beneath their flooring, but also perfect for subfloors like concrete or plywood.

Another perk is the ability to lay a floating floor over an existing floor surface without doing tearing out the old floor. While you never want to lay one floating floor on top of another, you can use this installation method over flooring that is firmly attached to the subfloor like hardwood, linoleum, or tile.

Want to change the look of your rooms down the line? Well, floors with a click-lock system and no glue can be pulled back up and reused. The floating floor method also leaves subfloors or previous flooring intact – something to keep in mind if you want to cover up old hardwood without removing it.

Glue-down Installation

The glue-down installation method is popular with vinyl flooring and certain forms of engineered floors. While not quite as simple for homeowners that prefer to do it themselves, it does provide more stability underfoot and is a far better option for homeowners with slightly uneven subfloors. Boards and tiles that only need the edges glued don’t fall into this category, only flooring that needs to be firmly attached to the floor.

Nail-down Installation

When you want to ensure your flooring is there to stay, nails are the best option. Obviously, you can’t nail down tile or vinyl flooring, but it’s the only way to go with solid hardwood for optimum stability. The drawback is the same as you’ll find with glue as replacing damaged flooring can be a major problem. Conditions inside and outside your home can also affect nailed down boards, however, so you may have to deal with creaky boards eventually.

Types of Flooring used with Floating Floor Systems

Now that you understand what a floating flooring system is, it’s time to think about the kinds of flooring that are used with it. Carpet isn’t an option as you’ll need padding, but you may be surprised by the compatibility of other styles.


Tile is a popular choice in almost any room, especially bathroom and kitchens. Unfortunately, it’s not an option with floating flooring systems regardless of whether you like ceramic or porcelain tile. They need to be affixed to your subfloor, just like natural stone tile. The same goes for VCT, although luxury vinyl tile is often considered floating flooring.

Luxury Vinyl and EVP 

Vinyl plank flooring is mainly in the floating class, and almost all luxury vinyl flooring can be used with this type of installation method as well. The click-lock nature of these planks are part of the reason the system is so popular, which means EVP and other vinyl variants with locking edges are options as well. If you’re considering vinyl plank or tile flooring with a pre-attached pad, it’s part of a floating floor system.


Another popular option with homeowners that want floating floors is laminate. It’s one of the best styles for this type of installation, aside from a few exceptions. Some companies produced laminate that’s nailed down, while others require adhesive along that edge. Your floor still “floats” with the latter, but can’t be taken apart.


With engineered hardwood flooring, it depends on the brand, although most manufacturers have plenty of collections that use the floating floor method for installation. Click-lock planks are popular in this category, but there are nail and glue options also available. With solid hardwood, nails are required, which rules out floating floors.

Floating Flooring Pros and Cons

Given the popularity of floating flooring systems as a whole, it can be easy to overlook the downside to this installation method. Whether it’s the right approach for your home depends on the type of flooring you plan to install and your subfloor, but there are several things to consider before choosing a floating floor system for your home.

Floating Flooring Pros

  • Affordable – A professional flooring installation can be expensive, and is often overlooked when homeowners are concentrating on the price of the flooring.  Having a floating flooring system installed cuts back on the installation time, which in turn, saves you money. It’s also a great DIY option, especially when the backing layer is pre-attached, and no underlayment is required.
  • Fast to install – There’s nothing worse than having people working in your home, or having rooms turned upside down as you try to complete a home improvement project over the weekend. That won’t be a problem with floating flooring, as it goes down quicker than flooring installed using nails or glue. You also won’t have to deal with the smell from adhesives or the noise of a nail gun.
  • Versatility – The ability to lay flooring over the subfloor without permanently attaching it is a huge advantage for homeowners. Floating floors can be installed over areas that would otherwise require a large amount of prep work beforehand. Floating floor systems are often found in bedrooms, kitchens, bathrooms, and basements.
  • Maintenance – When we say maintenance is a perk of using a floating flooring system, we’re not talking about cleaning and upkeep. No matter how careful you are, there’s a chance your flooring will become damaged. A floating floor system makes that easy to fix, however, as you can pull and replace boards as needed.

Floating Flooring Cons

  • Sound and Feel – Floating floors are notorious for sounding hollow as you walk across them, although the footwear and underlayment play a large part in that as well. That’s because it’s not bonded to the floor, which also affects how it feels underfoot. If you’re used to walking on flooring that’s affixed to the subfloor, you will notice a difference.
  • Subfloor – While floating flooring can be installed over many types of surfaces, and it can also help hide minor imperfections. When using any rigid core flooring material, you’ll need to ensure your subfloor is completely level or within the tolerances recommended by the manufacturer. Otherwise, you could end up with buckling, separation, or hear popping as you walk across your floors.
  • Return on Investment – ROI or the return on your investment is an integral part of any decision to add an upgrade to your home. Adding solid hardwood to your home can increase its value, but the types of flooring used in a floating system don’t have the same impact. They also tend to wear out quicker than flooring that’s been nailed or glued to the subfloor.


Q: Do you need to install new cabinets before or after floating floors?

A: Ideally, you want to install new cabinets before putting down floating flooring. While that’s not always an option, constriction and retraction can cause issues as will excess weight from things like heavy granite countertops.

Q: Can I install floating flooring over carpet?

A: It’s entirely possible, but depends on the type of flooring and height of the carpet. Materials that are rigid like laminate are usually better options, but you’ll want to check with the manufacturer.

Q: Is underlayment still required for floating flooring?

A: That depends on the flooring you plan on installing in your home, and if it already has backing attached.

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