Floating Floors vs Fixed Floors

floating vs fixed floors

Installing floors is a challenging process that requires you to make various choices. You should decide on the type of flooring material, texture, and color while factoring in your budget and where you are installing the floor. When it comes to floor installations, there are two main types of installation methods: floating or fixed floors installation.

Fixed Floors

Fixed flooring refers to a method where the top floor is fixed to the sub-floor through nailing, gluing or stapling making them permanent. The flooring type determines how it is fixed on the sub-floor. For example, tacks are commonly used for fitting wall to wall carpets to the sub-floor while some floating floors are glued down to the sub-floor. Other flooring materials are usually glued or nailed down to a concrete or wooden sub-floor or in some cases to a damp-proof membrane (DPM). A fixed floor requires a technical expert to install and also requires specialized tools and materials such as nail guns and floor nailers.  Fixed floors are much harder to handle as a DIY project.

What is a Floating Floor?

Floating floors have gained popularity as a way to cater to the growing market of DIY floor installers. A floating floor is an installation method where the floor floats on top of the sub-floor. In other words, it sits on the sub-floor like an area rug. It is a common method of installing laminate floors. However it is gaining popularity in installing other flooring types like luxury vinyl tiles (LVTs), vinyls and engineered hardwood floors. Floating floors are common in large halls and gyms.

A floating floor works the way a jigsaw puzzle is fitted together and yet not attached to the table or surface holding it. When installing floating floors, the individual tiles, boards or planks are glued or snapped together. They are not stapled, nailed or glued to the substrate, sub-floor or over an existing floor, the way fixed floors are. The individual pieces of floating floors stay in place because they are attached to each other and their collective weight also keeps them together.

Types of Floating Floors
Floating Laminate Flooring

Laminates are a good type of floating floors because they are never glued to the substrate. Floating floors work for laminate floors because they expand and contract depending on a room’s humidity levels.

Floating Vinyl and Luxury Vinyl Flooring

Vinyl and LVTs can either be fixed to the sub-floor or alternatively you can create a floating floor by snapping them together board to board. This is because they are manufactured with tongues and grooves which make locking them together possible.

Floating Engineered Hardwood Flooring

In the flooring industry, a few manufacturers have brands of floating hardwood engineered flooring.

Floating Tile Floor

If you want floating tiles, you can use soapstone because they are attached to each other using interlocking plastic trays. However, the price is high limiting its popularity.

Non-Floating Flooring types

Floating floors do not apply to soft floor coverings like carpets. Wall to wall carpeting is not a floating floor because it uses tack strips to secure it to the sub-floor. It is too light in weight and thickness to work well as a floating floor.

Ceramic Tiles

Conventional ceramic tiles are fixed to the substrate by mortar. Manufacturers are yet to make conventional tiles that can work as floating floors.

Solid Hardwood Flooring

Nails are used to install solid hardwoods to the sub-floor and at the moment there are no floating versions of solid hardwood floors.

How to Install a Floating Floor

You should install floating floor on a strong sub-floor like concrete and not on soft material like plywood. You should first get the dimensions of the room then purchase your preferred flooring type. To install, first prepare the sub-floor by sanding any uneven parts because you require a flat surface. Then, clean the room well by vacuuming the floor. Install the floating floor by fitting individual pieces together which have tongue and grooves for such a purpose. Start with a row and move to the next until you have installed the whole room.

Advantages of Floating Floors

Floating floors are easy to install and a perfect method for DIY installers. It requires no specialized installation tools or materials. As such floating floor installation costs are less even when using a contractor. Using floating floors saves on installation costs making them way cheaper than fixed floors and perfect if you are on low budget.

They work perfectly for engineered hardwood floor and laminates because they tend to contract and expand depending on the season. Floating allows the contractions and expansions to take place. Although there are adhesives in the market that allow fixed floors to move a bit when expanding but they are not as good at accommodating contractions and expansions like floating floors. The other advantage of a floating floor is its low impact on the sub-floor. Moreover, floating floors are convenient should you ever need to access the sub-floor.

Disadvantages of Floating Floors

Floating floors have a few disadvantages. They are thinner than regular floors which may affect their durability. Secondly, floating floors may appear to be unstable because of constant movements. Another thing, they may produce a hollow sound underfoot and they are noisier than regular floors. In addition to that, floating floors can also creak due to the constant movements, shortening their lifespan. Also, floating floors can lower the resale value of a home.


A floating floor is a convenient method of installing a floor. It is easy to fit and remove a floating floor. Luckily floating floors are durable with their durability depending on the thickness of the planks and how well you maintain them.

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