Floating wood floors are a type of engineered hardwood that can be installed by stapling or gluing them to a subfloor surface. For this reason, floating wood floors are advertised to DIY enthusiasts as being easy to install. Otherwise, they aren't much different than other types of engineered hardwood flooring. A floating wood floor primarily consists of thin layers of plywood or cheaper hardwood, topped with a thin layer of hardwood to make it look like the real thing.
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Floating Wood vs Engineered Wood
What makes a floating wood floor different from laminate is that top slice of real hardwood, as opposed to the printed images used by laminate. When you choose an engineered hardwood like floating wood floors, you're getting something that has more options for repairing minor damage like scratches and dents that haven't gone too deep into the flooring. It can simply be repaired by sanding out the scratch and filling it in. That's something you usually can't get away with when you have a laminate floor. If there's a “scratch” or “dent” in laminate, it means that the printed image has been damaged.
Floating wood floors have the same vulnerabilities that all engineered hardwood flooring options have. If the underlying subfloor was not as even as you thought and now there's a gap between the floating floor and the surface below it, the floating wood floor will sag. Just as bad, there is a risk of water deposits forming in the gap that can cause damage to the floor and possibly the surface underneath it, too. That means the gap is going to shorten the length of your floor and cost you a lot of money to have it replaced and have any damaged repaired.
Installing Floating Wood Floors
The biggest challenges to floating wood floors usually occur during installation. Although it's advertised as being easy to install, this type of flooring is actually very vulnerable to mistakes made before and during installation. It needs room to expand and pinching at any point may lead to buckling failures. If conditions are perfect, installing can be a breeze, but it can take a lot of work to make sure the room is ready for the installation of a floating wood floor. So we usually recommend having a professional install your floating wood floor.
Floating wood floors work best in rooms where there won't be a lot of traffic and excessively heavy objects won't be placed on the floor. Cabinets and islands should never be installed on top of a floating wood floor, for instance, because this can cause the floor to buckle. For this reason, floating wood floors are almost never a suitable application for commercial buildings, churches and public buildings in which there is going to be a lot of traffic and heavy items like pews, large desks or merchandise displays might be installed on the floor. Floating wood floors are also not suitable for places like a laundry room where you'll install heavy appliances like a washer and dryer on top. If you install it in a room in your house that you don't use very much beyond keeping a few boxes in it, though, it will usually be fine.
This type of floor does decently if installed on an existing flooring that is still in good condition. It basically “floats” on top of the existing floor. The only rule here is that the surface it's going on needs to be as flat as possible with no damage, buckling or warping. If any of this exists in the flooring already in place, that floor will need to come up and any damage under it will need to be repaired before the floating wood floor can be installed. This can add to the complexity of installing a floating hardwood floor, which can negate the cost savings of having bought a floating flooring option in the first place.
At this point, you may be wondering if a floating wood floor is right for you. It can be if you're willing to do the extra work of prepping the room for installation and install it in a place where no large and heavy objects are going to be installed or placed on it. It's okay for cases where you don't want the actual installation to be very complicated. You just staple or glue it down. Just be aware that floating wood floors are very vulnerable to being pinched, which can cause buckling failures. This means that floating wood floors may not be the best value for your money if you are looking for new flooring.