by Christopher Capobianco
I moderated a panel of experts at Surfaces 2016 in a 90-minute session on engineered “click” floating floors and learned a lot in the process.
“Floating floor” is not a specific type of product; it’s an installation method for engineered tongue and groove flooring. Other types of floating floors include interlocking “puzzle” rubber tile and “loose lay” vinyl tile and sheet. For this discussion, we are covering the engineered “click” category.
Engineered floating floors arrived in North American from Europe; first in the mid 1980s with engineered wood floors and then laminate floors in 1993. “Glueless click” laminates have been on the market since 1996. Today, engineered products with a fiberboard core have cork, vinyl, linoleum, leather and other materials on top. Engineered wood and bamboo also have a “click” format available. Solid vinyl tile/plank in a “click” format and WPC (wood-plastic/polymer-composition) products are the most recent additions to this category of flooring.
Don’t assume that floating floors can “go over anything” – that’s such a common assumption and the cause of many complaints. Dips or high spots in the floor can cause excess movement that will damage the joint. The substrate needs be flat and level to within about 3/16” in ten feet. Bring a level or a straightedge when you go out to measure a job.
Another common assumption is that climate conditions and acclimation are not a big deal. Wood, bamboo and products with a fiberboard core (laminate, cork, etc) need to be acclimated for 48 hours. Certain Vinyl or WPC products claim “no acclimation is necessary” but be careful in the deep of winter or heat of summer. There are limits to all products that have been stored in these conditions and get suddenly brought into normal “room temperature.” They can be hard to work with and may also expand or contract when they get to “room temperature.”
Claims of “waterproof” or “moisture resistant” products need to be taken with a grain of salt as well. Getting wet may be okay, but moisture emissions from concrete can bring high pH and alkalinity conditions that can distort the product. In addition, trapped moisture beneath a floor can create issues like mold and bacterial growth, so even if the flooring itself is not affected, there can be issues.
Välinge and Unilin are the inventors of the two most common “click” locking mechanisms and manufacturers have licensing agreements to use them. Angle/Snap, Angle/Angle or Angle/Fold Down are common methods and some products include plastic tabs or other “spring loaded’ locking devices. Some get tapped together with a tool or tapping block and others just need the right angle and the specific technique for putting the pieces together. Tapping a product that’s not meant to be tapped can damage the material and if you try to click at the wrong angle, the pieces may not go together.
Expansion space is a key for many engineered products. A long run over 30 or 40 feet and doorways in adjacent areas need a break and a “T-molding” to allow the expansion. Heavy fixtures on top of a floating floor can prevent it from moving, so cabinets and other millwork need to be installed before the floor. One alternative with these products in large areas may be to glue the floor down, but some products like laminate can’t be glued down so that’s not an option. Some of the synthetic products like vinyl and WPC claim that expansion joints for a long run and a large area aren’t needed, although space needs to be allowed against walls in some cases.
With all of these variables, don’t assume all the products are the same. Take the time to check with the manufacturer as to the right installation, acclimation and preparation recommendation.
About the Author:
Christopher Capobianco covers the New York City metro area for Spartan Surfaces, a distributor of commercial flooring products. He has been in the floor covering industry since the 1970’s as a flooring dealer, architectural sales representative and technical support consultant. As an industry activist, he has volunteered for decades for organizations like FCICA, ASTM and IICRC.