Wood flooring was one of the most popular finishes in pre- and post-World War II homes in America. The love affair with wood flooring lasted well into the late 1950s when wall-to-wall carpeting became an affordable and stylish alternative.

While carpet remains the most popular floor covering in American homes, wood flooring is gaining, and has been since the early ’80s. One factor that is driving the demand for wood is the vast array of products that are now available for do-it-yourself installation. One such product is a floating wood floor.

Unlike traditional solid wood flooring planks, a floating floor consists of thin layers of plywood laminated together. The uppermost layer consists of a wood veneer such as oak or maple. To make the product user-friendly, it is prefinished. This eliminates the arduous sanding and finishing process.

Another positive feature of the floating wood floor is its ability to be installed over a concrete slab. That is why it has been dubbed “floating.” In sharp contrast to traditional glue and/or nail wood flooring, the floating floor planks are edge-glued to one another, but not to the substrate. A half-inch gap is left at all walls. This allows the floor to expand and contract with environmental conditions of the space. Movement occurs at the perimeter rather than resulting in unsightly gaps between the various planks. Decorative baseboards are installed to conceal the expansion gap.

And because the manufacturing and finishing process is so superior, the planks fit together with a smooth monolithic appearance that was once only achieved through hours of sanding.

The installation process is straightforward. A table saw, cut-off saw, casing saw, mallet, tape measure, pencil and razor knife are needed. The flooring material generally comes in boxes containing 20 square feet. It helps to have some extra on hand to accommodate errors.

Prior to beginning the installation process, the area where the product is to be installed should be clean and level. Use a floor scraper and a vacuum to remove any surface debris. The floor should be level to within ∂ inch in 10 feet. Low spots should be filled with a leveling compound to avoid a bouncy floor. Also, remove doors and use a casing saw to undercut door frames and trim to make space for the wood flooring and pad.

The installation process is the same for a wood subfloor or a concrete slab with one exception. When installing the product over a slab, a vapor barrier consisting of one layer of 6-mil plastic sheeting must be installed directly over the slab. In the case of a wood subfloor, a building felt paper is used in place of the plastic sheeting. An ∂-inch thick foam pad is placed atop the vapor barrier. It is on this foam pad that the entire glued-up floor “floats.”

With the vapor barrier and foam in place, the wood flooring can be installed. Start by placing shims against the starting wall. This will help create a straight row of planks. Glue is applied to the groove along the edge and one end of each strip. The strips fit together like pieces of a puzzle. Use a mallet and a scrap of flooring to tap joints tight. Be sure to have a moist sponge handy to wipe up excess glue.

A tip on gluing: Most manufacturers of floating floors have a brand of glue that can be purchased along with the flooring. Use it. It is yellow or “aliphatic” glue which is virtually the strongest available for wood. Also, when applying the glue to the groove, don’t run a continuous bead. It is best to alternate approximately 12 inches on and 12 inches off. Aside from saving glue, this will prevent excess glue from oozing up and out of the joint.

Once the entire floor is installed, allow the glue to set up over night. Complete the project by installing baseboard to conceal the expansion gap at the perimeter. Also, special thresholds and transition strips are available for installation at locations where flooring changes occur.

Care and maintenance is easy with this type of flooring. Most manufactures of floating floors make a cleaning product designed to be used specifically with their flooring. We recommend that you use their product in strict accordance with the directions. This will ensure that your floor receives maximum protection and continues to look good for years.