Floating Hardwood Floors - Introduction
By definition a floating floor is not attached to any sub floor. It simply lays on an underlayment installed (in segments) prior to the installation. Today the majority of mass produced products offer varying click or lock together functions. However, the traditional glue system is still used for products that haven’t been converted over to the newer systems or never will be. The application here calls for applying glue into the grooves of the boards then tapping into place. It is important to note some manufacturers have different specifications for the application as well.
The Most Popular Floating Floor Today - Lock & Fold
Locking wood floor systems that have a special milled interlocking system built in. They are similar to other floating products in that they require a sound, flat and clean subfloor to work with. Any irregularities can cause the locking mechanisms to malfunction or not lock entirely.
There is absolutely no doubt these lock and folds could be the DIY solution of the future as we cannot think or find a more simple application for all types of flooring. Industry leader Bruce was the first to introduce the lock and fold function through Home Depot and Lowes in early 2007. Since that time, nearly every major manufacturer has added some variation to the original idea.
How Are They Installed?
Unlike more common glued floating products, this system requires the groove facing out from the starting wall. Adjacent end pieces are placed next to each other. The groove system has a small slotted area that accepts additional boards that contain a small ridge that holds the two together once they are engaged. They remain connected and will not loosen unless force is applied from underneath. This is why a flat subfloor is important. Even a small protruding subfloor nail can keep the locking system from functioning properly.
For additional rows, boards are inserted by tongue into groove at an angle. Angle insertion allows the boards to easily accept one another. Once it appears tight, downward pressure is placed on the new plank for the system to connect or lock. Depending on product quality, a tapping block may be necessary to insure a tight, gap free installation. Care should be brought to attention as these systems are more fragile (before installation) than older more common products. Any damage caused by tapping can alter the integrity of the lock and fold functions.
These floor types do present one problem, also common with click type floating systems. When it comes to the last row or installing under door casings, the groove has to be altered by shaving so the boards can slide into place. Glue and tape¹ is used to keep boards together.
All Lock & Fold Are Engineered
All lock and fold are engineered with some being constructed in alternating plies while others contain a medium density fiberboard (common with laminate flooring). Installation time will be much faster than glue together products where a common three inch width is used. Older wide plank on the other hand, will generally take the least amount of time because of their longer lengths.
Where Are They Installed?
Lock and fold flooring can be installed in areas like any other engineered floor including basements. Not only is floor preparation a key to any successful installation, but moisture testing as well.
May 2012 Update
Reports indicate lower priced brands are prone to popping, click and creaking noises with the condition becoming permanent. Reasons for their design flaw are blamed by loose milling of the end joints and or bowed product.
Other Floating Types - Click Together
Years previous to the lock and fold, easier types that create fewer messes were developed; enter click type floating products. These are still installed by the floating method, also without glue. Once again manufacturers will vary in that the design is slightly different, but all click products have one thing in common; a mechanized system milled into the boards that allow the floor to stay in place by tongue and groove once they are connected.
Not all clicks are as easy as waiting for a click to be heard. I find that to be more common with thinner laminates. Thicker engineered click products will require some persuading to engage by way of tapping together.
Many click style and the original glue together often took on the name longstrip, because their characteristics were much the same. Long in that all boards were about eight foot in length, measuring in width of eight inches; some less. Longstrip also has one other common characteristic in that each board is made up of many shorter length veneered pieces. In industry terms, these pieces are called fillets measuring from 10" to 24 inches in length depending on the manufacturer style.
Floating Solid Hardwoods?
Due to the growing popularity of floating wood systems, some get the feeling anything can be floated. Over the years I have fielded a few calls by those wanting to know where to get a floating solid Brazilian Cherry for example. These types cannot be glued together, nor are there click or lock and fold solid hardwood products. Newer manufacturers try every now and then, but they inevitably disappear. I wonder why?From our latest research, two manufacturers offer a solid floor that can be floated by way of a clip system. Boards are milled with channels on the backside where metal clips connect each board from the backside.
99% Of Floating Floors Are Engineered
And there are reasons for them being engineered. Solid hardwood expands and contract far too easily with moisture changes that inevitably occur within the environment they are installed. You may think..."my stair treads are not one piece, some have two to three pieces that are glued together and they don't cause me problems."
Those same stair treads have only eleven inches of expansion properties across the width or depth depending on how you look at it. They will expand and contract as a whole but you will not see it. Yet gluing an entire solid floor with hundreds of pieces will create one big block of hardwood that will eventually explode under the right conditions. Additionally, stair tread pieces are glued and clamped. All glued surfaces are planed and square. Solid hardwoods in the way they are manufactured, are loose fitting tongue and groove, leaving potential voids everywhere.
Where Are They Installed? Benefits.
Floating systems can be installed over most existing ceramic tile and subfloors of questionable quality. Particle board, gypcrete, or other types that are not recommended for nail or glue down applications would be included. Not all engineered products can floated successfully. If in doubt, always follow the individual manufacturer specifications. Additionally, floating products are ideal for those that have multiple floor coverings that may be too troublesome to remove or may contain asbestos.
Some may complain about the hollow feel under foot. We've found this to be exaggerated by the popularity of laminate flooring. Thicker engineered products combined with an upgraded underlayment can reduce the hollow effect to the point it will sound and feel much like a solid floor or one that is attached to the subfloor.
Floating floors provide benefits in that they are comfortable to walk or stand on for extended periods of time, opposed to harder floor coverings in ceramic tile, marble, stone, and even vinyl.
A Big Industry Change
In 2007 Armstrong World Industries manufacturer of Bruce, Hartco and Robbins changed their installation specifications to include many narrower (3 inch minimum width) engineered products that were originally designated to be installed by stapling or gluing direct to subfloors. The sudden change that many other manufacturers followed surprised me because at one time only longstrip type products were to be used for floating. As of this 2015 update no problems have been reported.
The Need For Strap Clamps
Prior to the changes in using narrower width products , installers simply glued and tapped together wider planks. They were also designed for this purpose making the fit snug and not loose like ordinary engineered planks. This brought on the need to keep boards tight with strap clamps until adhesives had a chance to grab.
Shown is an excellent example of a three inch engineered hardwood needing strap clamps
How Long Does It Take To Install?
With Armstrong turning the tables on us, and others following suit, I had one simple guesstimate on how long it would take to install the original glued longstrip floating floor. My example is based on a square room, measuring at 400 square feet using an eight inch wide product. Subfloor is bare, all preparation work performed, and furniture moved. Time involved is 6-8 hours with click and the newer lock fold requiring less time. For standard three inch products, expect a few additional hours labor time.
Preparation: Dust, Adhesives, Allergies
Looking from a dust standpoint you can expect some from the undercutting of door casings or the minor prep of subfloors, depending on the condition. Prep work would include the scraping of concrete subfloors and possible grinding if some higher areas are not suitable for a successful installation. Furthermore, it may become necessary to fill low areas with a fast drying patching compound.
For wood subfloors, high areas may have to be shaved down with the use of a belt sander, edger, or planer. These areas are typically where floor joist systems or plywood sheets meet. Adhesives used for floating glued installations should not be considered a threat to those that are allergic sensitive.
Given the right amount or lack of moisture, all floating floors will expand and contract as a whole unit because pieces are held together and not to the sub floor. For larger layouts or long runs, we always suggest allowing as much expansion area as possible. Never net fit a floating floor to a fixed object. Doing so will cause tenting or buckling of the floor given the right conditions.
Some Questions We've Fielded over The Years
Floating Floor In Kitchen
Question: We're leaning to having floating wood installed in our kitchen, but what about moisture concerns?
Reply: As long as you keep water spills to a minimum and protect areas where they are more likely to take place, they should do just fine in kitchens. It is recommended to use area rugs near the kitchen sink, dishwasher, and refrigerator/ice maker areas. Check them often and allow them to dry out. Any damp area rug will eventually damage the floor underneath.
Squishy Floors At Neighbor House
Question: We were over at our new neighbors home the other night and noticed they had a floating floor installed in the family, dining and hall area. It sure sounded noisy and felt squishy. How can they sell these floors if they're going to be like this?
Reply: Floating wood systems should not be noisy. We have found when first installed they will crackle sometimes, but it's more of a matter of adjusting to the glue and foot traffic. Squishy areas are likely to be the result of an installer not doing proper floor preparation. In this case it could be a low area that needed to be corrected.
Cost Analysis 2015
In this segment I’ve broken down all costs associated with having a floating floor professionally installed. Included are material costs and labor for installation. I have also selected a higher quality hardwood in the Kahrs Ash Kalmar Woodloc (right) as an example. The material pricing reflects what one could expect to pay buying off the internet and not locally.
The measurement of our example job has totaled 815 square feet consisting of a living and dining area, foyer, hall, and small kitchen. Typically an overage factor would be calculated in at 5% but considering I'm using wider material (almost 8 inches in width) 10% is the new waste factor. Another element we’re looking at is replacement material should repairs be needed at a later date. Prefinished hardwood can often be extremely difficult or next to impossible to find if certain product lines get discontinued. In this case we’re actually hoping one full box is left over.
The underlyment used will be an upgrade or the Kahrs Silent Stride that comes in at 216 square feet per roll. Four rolls will be needed with an amount to spare. The more common Kahrs underlyament costs are lower or in the 47 to 60 cent(square foot) range depending on how it’s purchased. Numbers can be adjusted accordingly.
Other materials needed on the job follows:
• Two overlap reducers for carpet area leading to bedrooms
• One T molding for bath tile area
• Three square nose reducers for sliding door area
• 285 lineal feet matching quarter round
|Hardwood (material S/F) ²||
|Overlap reducer (each)||
|T Molding (each)||
|Quarter Round (each)||
|Installation Trim (L/F)||
|Installation Hardwood (S/F)||
S/F - Square foot
L/F - Lineal foot
Notes About The Materials & Installation Costs Above
All Kahrs trim moldings measure 78 inches in length. Considering the high cost of matching quarter round ($ 3.21 per lineal foot here) many people opt for primed shoe molding that can be obtained at any home improvement center for a price of about 25 cents per lineal foot where it can be caulked and final painted (see tips) after the installer leaves. Another option is buying unfinished quarter round ($ 1.30 per foot red oak) or shoe molding³ ($ .60 per foot red oak) and simply finish it yourself before the installation. The installer would be responsible for filling nail holes. Ash trim will be priced higher and more difficult to locate.
Labor costs will vary from one region to another and installer to installer. Rates also represent individual installer pricing only. If you’re having work done through a retail store expect prices to be different as they too add in a margin on the installer work.
What's Not Included Above
My fictitious job example is an installation on concrete. Proper concrete sub floor conditions are a must. This means flat to within industry standards or 3/16 of an inch over a span of ten feet. Floor preparation cannot be expressed enough. Failure to address any concerns are likely to create failure…eventually. The job is also ready with carpet, padding and tack strip removed along with all furniture. Essentially the installer arrives and starts his work that begins with floor preparation, door removal and moisture testing; another critical element needed regardless of what is was like when the carpet was in.
Another item not included here is the cost of shipping. Let’s say for example the source is located in New England and you’re located in Texas. Shipping can run anywhere from 200 to $600.00 as some online dealers may just throw in a freight discount just to get the sale.
¹ No common tape can be used. Installers typically use 3M type adhesive tape that does not harm the surface finish. Tape should also be removed within 24 hours to be on the safe side. Always follow individual manufacturers specifications, as some will not allow tape to be used.
² Kahrs packaging at 31.32 S/F per carton
³ Minimum 5/8 thickness
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