How to Install Floating Floors

Floating floors are the best solution over a concrete subfloor. We'll explain the benefits and show you how to do a floating floor installation yourself. 

You may have heard that it's beneficial to install floating floors in your home, especially in rooms with a concrete subfloor. But do you know why? Even when you live in the desert, a concrete floor is going to be a wick for moisture. Because wet wood expands, you're going to have problems with a solid floor. A floating wood floor is a better solution. Floating hardwood floor is made from engineered wood strips that snap together and requires no adhesives. They float freely on top of a subfloor.

Some types of floating floorboards are glued together at the seams, requiring a series of shims and clamps to hold the planks together while the glue dries. There is also an easier floating floor installation, using planks that snap together so that no glue is needed. 

Floating snap-together flooring is available as engineered flooring, which has a veneer of natural wood on top; or as laminate flooring, which has a hard plastic surface that has been convincingly printed to look like natural wood. Floating laminate floors resists scratching better than engineered flooring, but once a scratch does occur, laminate flooring cannot be repaired whereas an engineered floor can be sanded and resealed. 

The existing floor should be relatively even, with no visible waves. But it does not need to be very strong, and the flooring will span over small holes and indentations. If the floating floor will raise the floor level more than 1/2-inch above an adjacent floor (usually, at a doorway), you may choose to remove existing flooring to bring the level down. 

There are several advantages of floating floors:

  • A plastic membrane, which serves as a barrier against moisture invasion, is placed between the concrete and the flooring.
  • The unattached flooring allows for some movement.
  • Engineered-wood flooring is much more stable and moisture-resistant than solid wood.

Installation of this prefinished flooring is fast and easy, and can be done by most do-it-yourselfers. See below how it's done. 

How to Lay Floating Floors

Materials and Tools:

  • Engineered or laminate snap-together flooring
  • Foam underlayment and recommended tape
  • Shims
  • Tape measure
  • Hammer
  • Tapping block or pull bar
  • Circular saw or other power saw
  • Utility knife
  • Trim saw
  • Flat pry bar and wide putty knife
  • Combination square and pencil

Step 1: Getting Ready

Leave the planks in the room for two days so they can acclimate to the humidity, Open the cartons and mix the planks so color variations are fairly evenly distributed throughout the room. 

If you plan to install over a concrete floor, start by laying down a moisture barrier of polyethylene sheeting, at least 6 mil thick. Tug to remove any wrinkles, and overlap the seams by 8 inches or more. Then, roll the foam underlayment over the polyethylene. 

Step 2: Prep Floor

Remove the baseboard shoe, or the baseboard itself. Cut the line between the trim and the wall to prevent the paint from cracking. Use a wide putty knife to protect adjacent surfaces, and pry with a flat pry bar. 

Vacuum or sweep the floor clear of debris. Roll out the foam underlayment, and tug gently to remove any wrinkles. Cut the underlayment with a utility knife. Butt the sides of the pieces together; do not overlap them. Apply tape to the joints. 

Step 3: Cut Planks

Rip-cut the first planks if necessary. Along one wall, snap the first row of planks together with their tongues facing out. When you reach the end, measure and cut the last piece. If this piece is shorter than 6 inches, unsnap one plank. Center the remaining planks and cut longer pieces for each end.

Cut the planks so they come 1/4 inch short of the wall on each end. Use a combination square to draw a square line on the back side. Cut with a circular saw or any other power saw.

Editor's Tip: To make sure you don’t end up with an unattractive narrow sliver along one wall, measure the width of the room. Divide the result by the width of the planks; the remainder equals the width of the final board you will install if you start with a full board. If the remainder is wide enough to be inconspicuous, go ahead and start with a full board. If not, add the remainder to the width of a plank and divide by 2. Rip-cut the first plank to this width; the last plank will be cut to the same width.

Step 4: Install First Row

Snap the first row of planks together end to end. Push them against the wall, then insert 1/4-inch spacers every foot or so. This space will allow the planks to expand during changes in humidity; planks pressed tight against the wall may buckle.

Step 5: Continue Installing Rows

Install the next row of planks in the same way. However, you must offset the planks by at least 3 inches or as directed by the manufacturer. This means that your cuts on the second row will be different from those on the first row. To snap planks side by side, tilt the second plank and push its groove onto the tongue of the first plank. Lower the plank until it snaps into place.

Tilt and snap the next piece of the second row, then slide it over so it engages with the first piece. Or assemble all the pieces of the second row, then snap them into the first row. 

Check continually for gaps between the planks. It often helps to use a scrap block of wood and a hammer to close up gaps.

To help slide planks over so they snap end to end, it often helps to use a special pry bar, which may be supplied by the flooring manufacturer. Slip one end of the pry bar onto the end of the board, and tap on the other end until it snaps. The pry bar is especially useful for installing the last plank in a row.

Continue cutting and laying planks in the same way. Offset joints by at least 3 inches, and carefully watch for gaps that need to be tightened up.

Step 6: Install Last Row

When you come to the last row, set shims against the wall and measure the width in several places. If the wall is very straight you may be able to cut all the planks to the same width, but more likely you will need to measure and cut each plank individually. Use a circular saw with a clamped straightedge, as shown, or use any other power saw.

Tilt the final row and pull as you lower it to snap it in place. Use a tapping block or a pull bar to tighten up this last row.

Step 7: Install Base Shoe

Reinstall the base shoe or baseboard. Drive nails into the wall, not into the flooring, which should be able to move slightly to accommodate changes in temperatures and humidity.

Seal all exposed edges so moisture cannot infiltrate when a spill occurs. Sealing is especially important in a bathroom or utility room, but you should also do it for a living area. Follow the flooring manufacturer’s instructions: some recommend applying glue; others recommend silicone caulk.

Bonus: Scribing Along a Curved Wall

After snapping together two or three rows of planks, check for wide gaps along any waves in the wall. (Small gaps will be covered when you reinstall the base shoe or baseboard.) If you find a wide gap, use a compass to scribe a line on the planks to follow the contours of the wall. Disassemble the planks and use a jigsaw to cut along the scribed line. Reassemble and reinstall the planks with shims against the wall.

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