If you’re looking into engineered wood, luxury vinyl plank or laminate flooring, you have the option of floating floors vs glue down flooring. Both are relatively easy to install yourself and don’t require extensive equipment. Understanding the differences as well as the pros and cons of each can help you choose the right type of floor for your space.
What is a Floating Floor vs Glue Down Flooring?
If you want them to last a long time, your floors must be installed securely and properly. But that doesn’t mean that your floors need to be attached to the subfloor. Some types of flooring come in rigid planks that snap together to create a solid surface.
Floating floors use a tongue-in-groove mechanism to lock the planks together like puzzle pieces. This creates a tight bond that holds the floor together without the need to attach it to the subflooring.
The entire surface of the floor is trimmed carefully to fit within about ¼-inch from the perimeter of the room. When you cover the gap with shoe molding, it creates room for expansion and contraction while keeping the entire floor in place.
Types of Floating Floors
There are three main types of floating floors:
- Engineered hardwood – This material is made by layering different types of wood veneer together, bonding them and cutting this “sandwich” into planks. The top layer is made of hardwood, but the other layers may contain plywood and other types of pressed wood. It looks just like hardwood and may even be stronger, but it can’t be sanded down as completely as hardwood flooring.
- Laminate – Laminate is made of layers of pressed wood and high-density boards. But instead of wood, the top layer is generated with a high-resolution image on melamine that can mimic just about any flooring product. The rigid flooring is also sealed with a wear layer to protect its structure and appearance. You can’t sand down and refinish laminate floors.
- Luxury vinyl – You can purchase luxury vinyl floating floors as planks or tiles. These contain several layers of vinyl, fiberglass and other plastics. Like laminate, luxury vinyl also has a layer with a printed image that can look like wood, ceramic or stone.
- Engineered vinyl – Engineered vinyl planks are a hybrid of laminate and luxury vinyl. The core is a wood or stone polymer composite, and the decorative layer is made of vinyl. The wear layer is a plastic coating that’s more durable than the wear layer on luxury vinyl planks.
Glue Down Floors
Glue down floors come in sheets, tiles or planks that adhere directly to the subfloor. Some require you to use a separate adhesive, which should be designed for use with your specific flooring material. Other glue down floors have adhesive on the underside of each section, allowing you to install them like giant, durable stickers.
Types of Glue Down Floors
There are primarily two options for glue down floor materials:
- Engineered hardwood – Although this material is available as a floating floor, it also comes with the option to glue or nail it to the substrate.
- Vinyl – While you can install some luxury vinyl planks using adhesive, you can also glue down sheets or tiles of vinyl. This material is softer and more flexible than luxury vinyl planks and comes in hard-set or pressure-set options. Hard-set requires you to apply a separate adhesive and wait for the glue to dry after installation. Pressure-set has a peel-and-stick backing that bonds as you put weight on it.
Pros and Cons of Floating Floors
Floating floors come in several different materials and give you plenty of design options. There are several advantages to choosing a floating floor. However, there are a few disadvantages.
- Easy installation helps you save money
- Replace damaged planks without tearing up the whole floor
- Expands and contracts in response to temperature and humidity without warping
- Ideal for installing over existing flooring
- Work well with floor heating systems
- Planks are not interchangeable with other types and manufacturers; the click-and-lock mechanisms are proprietary
- May sound or feel hollow as you walk on it; this can be resolved by installing a thin layer of foam beneath the flooring
- Quick to show signs of wear in high-traffic areas
- May need to be replaced more frequently than glue down floors
Pros and Cons of Glue Down Floors
There are quite a few reasons why you might choose glue down floors over floating floors. These are the benefits and drawbacks of glue down flooring.
- Doesn’t require a vapor barrier
- Quiet to walk across
- Doesn’t feel hollow or spongy underneath
- More stable in heavy traffic areas
- Better than floating floors for large rooms
- May shift or gap as the house settles, expands and contracts
- Takes longer to install than floating floors
- Harder to repair small areas without affecting the rest of the floor
- Strong adhesive odor during installation
- Adhesive can ooze out the seams, leaving a film on the surface
Can You Glue Down a Floating Floor?
Floating floors are not intended to be glued down. In fact, certain adhesives can damage floating floors. Because floating floors are designed to allow for expansion and contraction, gluing them down can make them crack, warp and buckle.
However, some materials are available as floating or glue down flooring. For example, you can find vinyl tiles that are designed to be glued to the substrate. Those don’t have the click-and-lock mechanism, though.
In rare cases, you may need to glue down click-and-lock floating floors. This may be a last-ditch solution when:
- You have a squeaky spot in your floating floor that isn’t remedied by adding padding underneath
- Your floating plank floor is in an area that gets wet and you want to seal the seams between the boards
- You feel too much movement beneath the boards as you walk; this often happens on staircases
Check with the manufacturer or a flooring expert before gluing down a floating floor, though. Adding adhesive or going against installation recommendations may void the warranty.
Can You Get a Hardwood Floating Floor?
Hardwood is a bit different than engineered flooring. It doesn’t come as a floating floor option. However, you still need to decide whether to glue or nail it down. The decision often comes down to the type and condition of your subflooring.
If your subfloor is made of concrete or chipboard, you can’t nail the hardwood to it. In that case, you’ll need to use thick flooring adhesive that allows your floor to expand and contract with temperature and moisture variations. Use a notched trowel to apply the adhesive with the proper texture to grip the boards. As you lay the planks down, press them into the adhesive. You don’t need to glue the boards together.
You can glue a hardwood floor to a wooden subfloor or you can use the secret nailing method. This approach won’t work with concrete or chipboard subflooring.
Lay the hardwood perpendicular to the existing subflooring. As you place each board, use a nail gun to insert the fasteners at a 45-degree angle on the side of the plank. Flooring nails are headless, so they’re invisible. They also have teeth on both sides so that they don’t allow the planks to lift over time.
Which Type of Flooring is Best?
In general, the decision between a floating floor vs glue down flooring comes down to your budget, installation expertise and preferences. Within each category, the material that you choose can affect the results. Look for high-quality materials and install them properly for a floor that can withstand every step you take.