Flooring Basics: Floating vs. Glue-Down Wood Flooring

When it comes to engineered hardwood floors, two common methods of installation are floating and glue-down. The following is a rundown of all the basics you need to know about these two installation methods.

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Floating Hardwood Floor Installation

Floating floor installation

Versatile installation

Floating hardwood floors can be installed above, below, or on grade. It is a great option for when you need to install over radiant heat systems. Floating floors also work over just about any subfloor. Plywood, ceramic tile, linoleum floors, and concrete are no problem for a floating floor installation.

Ease of installation

A good majority of engineered floors come with “click lock” systems. This system is designed so that the flooring will lock into itself, and thus negate the need for any sort of fastener or adhesive. Other styles of floating floors are installed via glue seam. This method is where the mechanic puts a bead of glue into the groove part of the floor. In each case, it is significantly faster than installing with a traditional glue and trowel method. Depending on the size of the room, it is conceivable that an entire floor install could be completely installed in one day’s time.

Substrate must be flat

Due to the nature of a floating floor, the substrate the floor is installed over must be flat within a certain threshold (commonly 1/8” in 10’). Once a floating floor is installed it acts like one giant entity. Any parts of the subfloor that are not level will contribute to an uneven floor board that’s results in a “hollow” or “tinny sound.”

Foam underlayments are traditionally used

When installing a floating floor, there is traditionally a foam layer installed between the subfloor and the engineered hardwood. The underlayment serves a few purposes. One is to act as a moisture barrier. Another is to act as a sound-dampener. Floating floors can sometimes sound hollow when walked upon. By using a foam underlayment it reduces the chance for this noise.

Moisture content must still be recorded

Floating floors aren’t a catch-all solution to installing floors. You still must take moisture content readings before and during installation. Failure to do so can result in an improper installation.

Click here to learn more about recording moisture in a hardwood floor.

Glue-Down Hardwood Floor Installation

Glue-down hardwood floor installation

Reduces — but does not eliminate — wood movement

The adhesives used to glue wood down to a subfloor make for an extremely strong bond. Newer adhesives are elastomeric. They allow the wood board to expand and contract but they do not grow or shrink nearly as much as they would with a floating or nail down installation.

Sounds like solid wood

Engineered wood might sound and feel awkward to customers when they actually walk on it. A lot of the times it will sound hollow and the feel underfoot spongy. If you use glue for installation you can make the engineered floor sound like a solid wood floor. If you are gluing down a floor to a concrete subfloor it will sound and feel as if solid wood has been installed. Thinking about installing an engineered hardwood floor? Browse our selection.

Glue is its own vapor barrier

There’s no need for an extra underlayment. A good quality adhesive will act as a vapor barrier.

Great for parquet
Whether it’s fingerboards, herringbone, or any other type of parquet flooring, glue-down is a great option for installation. It’s the only tried and true method for parquet floor installations.

Click here to learn about using a glue gun with parquet floors.

Glue must be cleaned up properly

If any glue gets on the top of the floor board or in between the boards it must be cleaned up immediately and to the specifications of the manufacturer. The adhesive used to install hardwood floors is extremely hard to clean up once it is has dried.

Glue sometimes has an odor

Depending on the type of adhesive it might emit a strong odor. Wearing an organic vapor cartridge mask is a good defense against any noxious odors from certain glue types.


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36 thoughts on “Flooring Basics: Floating vs. Glue-Down Wood Flooring

  1. Tom macedo

    Mike, Just watched your video. I was very impressed with your presentation as I have wanted to do that many times in my 40+ years. Ok My back ground is intense and I have been installing glue down planks since 1976 by Bruce…village plank etc. all manufacturers etc. I grew up in this business as my father was a Bruce distributor in 1947 here in the San Joaquin Valley , Ca.
    Ok I have two points for you to consider and answer for me. #1 ; I saw you use that festool and saw NO Guard on the blade!!! Yup I have 9.5 fingers because I remove that guard fro a Rockwell 10 ” drop say in 1978! Review that cut you made ans see what I saw with the blade coming up and how close your fingers were to that still turning blade. The saw should have a quick stop after cutting and it continued to turn enough to take off a finger. Just a nice comment from an Old Veteran & Hardwood craftsman with over 80 employees trained and now 4 great partners sill going at my age.
    #2 I saw that you used tape only the end d of the boards.. why not across the board to keeps them from spreading. we use 2″ blue tape to hole the boards together in their side width as they will separate when walked on.
    Cheers, Tom

    Reply
  2. Bryan Chung

    I am planning to install bamboo flooring because my son has allergies to dust.

    We are debating whether to go with floating or nail/glue down.

    I like the idea of nail/glue down because it seems that shrinkage of the runs will be less. However, I read that with nail/glue down, a small gap is created between the boards when the wood contracts, like in the winter.

    My concern is that dust will get into these small gaps and then contribute to allergies. Is this something I should be worried about?

    Reply
    1. Caran Baxter

      Hello, Thanks for your question. There are a couple ways to with this install depending on the type of bamboo. If the material is solid and either vertical or horizontal, then I would recommend nailing it provided the subfloor meets all the proper specifications.

      If the bamboo is strand woven style then I would use adhesive only, as this style bamboo is very hard and mechanical fastening can be difficult. If the bamboo is engineered, with an HDF center core than normally this style floor is floated.

      All wood will move with increases or decreases in relative humidity. The manufacturer’s installation instructions should be followed when in doubt.
      Hope this helps!

      Reply
  3. Suhas Jadhav

    Thanks for sharing this amazing information on wood flooring I m looking for it and your blog gives me a good idea about it. It is very nice to have a comparison between two things it will really help to decide which should we select.

    Reply
  4. Renee

    Thanks for the great info! I have a question though. We are installing engineered wood floors in the entire main level of our house. Can we use glue down application in the areas with high traffic and floating in areas with less traffic or do I need to commit to one method of installation?

    Reply
  5. Angel Kyle

    Generally, Hardwood flooring comes in different style: floating type and glue type. The installation process of floating type wood flooring is less price than the glue type wood flooring. Engineered wood is less susceptible to warping, can better handle water damage. As the natural wood it is good and also easier to install and maintain. And in your blog the way you explain about the floating type vs glue down wood flooring are really helpful to others.

    Reply
  6. valerie

    We had engineered bamboo flooring installed 8 months ago. It was glued with a very high quality adhesive that installer suggested…over very seasoned concrete almost 30 yrs..We have noticed 8 months out that some of the seams, now have raised peaks..what could be the cause…we live in south florida..thank you

    Reply
    1. Caran Baxter

      Hello,
      bamboo tends to be very stable. Are your raised edges along the length of the boards? Is this occurring across the whole floor? What thickness is the engineered floor? Do you know the type and brand of the adhesive? Sorry for all the questions, but it can be difficult to determine the causes without actually seeing the floor itself.

      Reply
  7. Ann Gardner

    What to use to cut floor furnace vents into solid bamboo flooring that was glued down? My husband forgot to put them in before gluing down in the master bedroom.

    Reply
  8. Kurt

    Thanks for the very informative article and video.

    I am replacing a 3/8 laminate floor (not an engineered laminate with plywood-like layers). It was glued down over an at-grade concrete slab and never buckled or separated until recent severe water damage. I want to glue down the replacement laminate (instead of floating it) for the exact reason you pointed out in your article: it definitely makes it feel and sound Much more like hardwood flooring.
    3 Questions
    1.Will glueing prevent expansion/contraction eventually resulting in buckled seams? Or is this not an issue because the new flooring is only pressed fibers with a single top laminate layer made of synthetic non-wood material.
    2. Can any laminate be glued down onto concrete as long as I use the Bostik combo glue with vapor barrier? Most of these flooring types state they are “floating installation”.
    3. Can I glue down a laminate if it comes with the thin foam backing preattached?

    Reply
    1. Caran Baxter

      Hi Kurt,
      See our answers in bold. We apologise for the delay.
      1. Will gluing prevent expansion/contraction eventually resulting in buckled seams? The adhesives that CFS sells for hardwood flooring, both solid and engineered, are designed to allow expansion and contraction.
      2. Or is this not an issue because the new flooring is only pressed fibers with a single top laminate layer made of synthetic non-wood material. Material of this type is stable particularly when there is no natural product on the surface
      3. Can any laminate be glued down onto concrete as long as I use the Bostik combo glue with vapor barrier? The Bostik adhesives we carry do not require a vapor barrier as they can be their own with the proper notched trowel. Refer to manufacture’s installation guidelines
      4. Most of these flooring types state they are “floating installation”. I would definitely refer to the installation guidelines
      5. Can I glue down a laminate if it comes with the thin foam backing preattached? Not sure if the Bostik series of adhesives would work with a flooring that is backed with its own pad.

      Reply
    1. Caran Baxter

      Hello,
      Depends on the type of adhesive. Some adhesives can act as a moisture vapor barrier to a point. You would need to refer to the adhesive’s specifications on the relative humidity is good up to. As far as the curling at the edges that would be a question for the flooring manufactuer.

      Reply
    1. Caran Baxter

      Hello,
      All concrete that is to be covered should have a relative humidity test done. In situ is the term for this test.

      Reply
  9. Lee Penman

    Our contractor appeared to have started doing purely floating and after the first days work I came in to find various heavy objects (plaster bins, wood doors etc) placed along the 4 lines they had one that day. The next day I came in to find they were now gluing the floor direct to the sub floor. Of course they denied any complications with the initial process. Should I be concerned?

    Reply
  10. Bobby Negron

    I’m getting my basement done. I am being told to choose floating LVP’s instead of glue down because it’s pricier. I want to know is it a lot pricier and is it better going with the floating floor versus the glue down? Or the installer is just being lazy by wanting to do the floating floor versus the glue down? I’ve seen glue down floors that are a lot cheaper and a lot better than the lvp floors but I was told not to choose them because it’s pricey. I just want to make sure I’m doing it right the first time not the second time. And the installers is not just being lazy. Thank you.

    Reply
    1. Caran Baxter

      Hi Bobby,

      Thanks for your question. Gluing a floor can be more expensive due to the cost of the adhesive and the labor. You can certainly do an engineered product in the basement and it can glued or floated. The systems are nice and there are a variety of species and colors available. Vinyl plank would probably be the least expensive below grade floor covering.

      Reply
  11. Thomas Hoffman

    The engineered bamboo I’m installing suggest either a floating installation or a glued down installation. Normally with floating, floor floats over a thin underlay, and with glue you glue directly to the sub floor.

    It was suggested by a worker at the store that I do both: but down a thin underlay, and then glue the floor to the underlay. Does that make sense? Seems like I should do one or the other, but not both?

    Reply
    1. Caran Baxter

      There should be install cut sheets inside the boxes of you flooring product. I would follow those instructions. I they are not present then call the manufacturer.

      Some products can be installed over a pad. It’s know as glue-pad-glue. Some floor are glue assisted while being nailed in a conventional way.

      Reply
  12. J.Paul Mikus

    We have floating engineered hardwood floor installed in our kitchen/living room area. Within the first 2 weeks of light use, various sized spaces started to appear, specifically, but not limited to the areas the flooring around the cabinetry and kitchen island. Initially, the builder kicked the pieces of flooring back with his boot. This solution was ok for a couple of days, but new spaces up to 1 foot length quickly appeared with very limited floor traffic. This time we were told that under the cabinets and the island there is no flooring at all, because it would be “waste of money”. Repair was to glue the parquet pieces together by pulling them over the bare spots. One week later new spaces have appeared. Should there be flooring under the island & cabinetry? Is there another solution to the problem. Thanks!

    Thank you for help..
    Paul

    Reply
    1. Caran Baxter

      Hi Paul,

      I would contact the manufacturer. Floating floors should not have spaces appearing. The intention is to have a monolithic unit.
      The floating floor should not be installed under the cabinets.

      Reply
  13. Kate

    Good information, but need more advice. We have a manufactured home in AZ and do not cool it in the summer; so the flooring needs to hold up to pretty high temperatures. We do leave 36 gallons of water in the bathtub – and it is gone when we return in the winter. We need to replace the flooring throughout and were considering vinyl click planks but I’m very concerned about the heat and potential cupping. We have carpet and vinyl sheet (bath & kitchen) today but need to make changes this fall. We want a wood look throughout; what is the best product and method for installing (glued vs floating). Thank you

    Reply
    1. Caran Baxter

      Hi Kate,

      If you are not planning on keeping the home in stable temperatures I would recommend a synthetic product as
      you suggest or go tile.

      Reply
  14. Kurt weidner

    I am confused. Floating or glued. I plant yo install new kitchen cabinets. Will be removi g the thin vinyl flooring before hand. Also remove g carpet throughout the house and out to g the wood down throughout
    Should I do the glue method? I know I can’t put the floating under the cabinets. Or should I do a full floating floor job fitting the flooring around the cabinets.
    I am doing engineered bamboo click jointed flooring.
    Floating or glue down? Help

    Reply
  15. Naomi

    I have a slab house. changing my carpet to hardwood (locking hardwood) floor. I am confused. the manufacturer said to use either glue or underlayment. I have different views from friends, some say use glue others say use underlayment.
    What do you recommend.

    Reply
    1. City Floor Supply

      Hi Naomi,

      If the slab is the appropriate relative humidity then an appropriate adhesive or a “foam” style underlayment should work. The cost would be greater for the adhesive application.

      Reply
  16. Jerry

    I have about 1500 sf of engineered flooring glued down to the slab. The slab was fully cured and prepped with a latex sealer before the floor was installed. The floor is about 15 years old and very stable but needs to be replaced. Can I float a vinyl floor over the top of the existing floor?

    Thanks

    Reply
    1. City Floor Supply

      Hello. Thanks for your inquiry. I would pose this question to the manufacturer of the vinyl floor to be installed. There are many styles with varied specifications. Sorry we couldn’t help.

      Reply
  17. John

    We are installing glue down engineered hardwood over an early 1960’s terrazzo floor. Is moisture over flooring of this type?

    Reply
  18. Billy

    Great video! Thanks for the helpful tips. Looking forward to tackling my own flooring project soon. Will use this as a reference!

    Reply

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