Understanding The Difference Between Floating And Glue-Down Flooring

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Understanding The Difference Between Floating And Glue-Down Flooring

Understanding The Difference Between Floating And Glue-Down Flooring

For engineered hardwood floors, there are two common methods of installation: floating and glue-down. Here is a breakdown of what sets them apart:

How floating wood floors work 

This type of flooring comes with a series of tongues and grooves, which can be attached to one another. One simply slides the tongues into the grooves, and the flooring is then placed directly onto the subfloor. It’s like a giant puzzle, attaching one piece to another until a huge piece of wood is formed. This design enables them to interlock together. Fasteners aren’t needed for the process, as the “click-lock” system ensures that the flooring locks onto itself. There are cases of floating floors where a glue seam is incorporated into the process, where a bead of glue is put by the technician into the groove section of the structure. The floating wood setup works with a wide range of subfloors- from ceramic tiles, plywood, to linoleum and concrete, and can they even be installed over radiant heat systems.  

Note that for the floating wood floors, the substrate needs to be flat. If there are sections underneath it that are not level, then the floorboards will be uneven, creating a hollow sound when one walks on them. Usually, a foam layer is installed between the subfloor and the floating wood. This comes in handy for various reasons. Firstly, it serves as a moisture barrier, preventing rising damp from affecting the wood floor being installed. The foam underlayment also acts as a sound dampener, to reduce that hollow sound effect that occurs when someone walks on it.

How glue-down wood floors work

Here, the wood is glued to the subfloor. The strong bond that is formed significantly reduces the wood movement. Technological advancements have seen the development of elastomeric adhesives, which allow the wood itself to expand and contract accordingly. However, the changes won’t be as much as occurs with the floating floors or nail-down installations. Some of the adhesives used may emit odours during installation, hence it is recommended that one wears an organic vapour cartridge mask. The safety precautions on the product label should be strictly adhered to. 

With glued-down installations, the engineered wood floor feels like solid wood when you walk into it. That hollow sound that is heard with the floating floors won’t be an issue here. In addition, the glue itself serves as a moisture barrier, so an extra foam underlayment will not need to be installed. Glue-down is the go-to choice for parquet flooring, from fingerboards to herringbone installations. Note that any glue that gets to the surrounding structures, or comes up in between the boards during installation, needs to be cleaned up immediately. These are strong adhesives, and you don’t want them drying up on the sections where they are not wanted- since it will be very difficult to clean them up. 

Floating vs Glue Down Wood Flooring


  • Installation


Floating wood takes the cake here for ease of installation. An entire room can be handed in as little as a day or two for most buildings. In addition, if you’re dealing with a subfloor which can’t be glued down, then the floating wood will be the option to work with.  The glue-down installations are more difficult to install, and will take longer especially due to working with adhesives. However, due to how it works, there won’t be a hollow sound as you walk across it, or a spongy feel- thus giving you that solid effect that’s similar to having a real hardwood floor installation. 

A similar case happens when you decide to replace the flooring. With the quick “click and lock” nature of the floating floor, this will be easier. On the other hand, for the glue-down installations, more time and effort will be required to remove the boards, since they will have adhered to the substrate with strong adhesives. 


  • Nature of subfloor


With floating wood flooring, the subfloor needs to be completely flat- or retained within a strict threshold, like 1/8” out of level over a 10’ distance.  Otherwise, there’ll be shifting, and an increase in the hollow sounds generated. However, for the glue-down flooring, the shifting is significantly reduced, and the installation can be made on surfaces that are not quite as level. 


  • Moisture protection


For the floating wood flooring, the foam underlayment will be required. This adds to the time spent and costs included in the process. However, for the glue-down alternative, since the glue acts as a moisture barrier, an additional application won’t be needed. This is beneficial in lowering costs incurred in the process. 

Making Your Pick

While weighing between the two, the choice that you make will be based on a couple of factors. Take the ease of installation and removal for instance. If you’re taking it on as a DIY job, or simply want to slash down the installation costs, floating wood would be the faster and easier option. Glue-down installations, will require a higher level of expertise and more specialised tools to install properly. The condition of the subfloor is also key. If you’re dealing with an unlevel floor, glue-down will be the way to go- especially if the flooring is more than ¼” out of level in a 10′ distance. In addition, for that real hardwood feel and solid, then the glue-down floor would be the installation of choice. 

Sanding And Refinishing The Engineered Wood Flooring

Whether floating or glue-down, the wood flooring will require proper care and maintenance to keep it in top condition. This ranges from the routine cleaning to get rid of the dirt and grime from everyday activities that build up on the material, to the occasional floor sanding and refinishing to restore the original appeal of the structure. This also gets rid of the scratches, cracks and other structural defects that are formed on the surface over time. Note that the number of times that the sanding can be carried out depends on the wear layer of the particular installation. For instance, an engineered wood flooring that has a 3-millmierter top can go through two complete refinishings.  


Understanding The Difference Between Floating And Glue-Down Flooring

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