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Floating floors can make you sea-sick

This solid wood floor was floated. It lifted after only a few days. The subfloor was also uneven, breaking down the glue joints. The photo shows the floor raised in one area by over 300mm. Other areas of the house were similar I WOULD now like to respond to the article by Karin Hermans, of Wood You Like, on floating or bonding wood floors in CFJ (July 2011). I know Karin very well and I would like to thank her for raising this issue.

However, I think Karin may have misinterpreted what my ar ticle was about. I presented the benefits and disadvantages of floating and glueing engineered wood flooring and did not dictate the method to use. It is my opinion that glueing is far superior in many ways, but of course I understand that floating is also used.

The point I want to emphasise is that floating a wood floor should only be done if the subfloor is perfectly flat. That is important. If the subfloor is uneven, failure of a floated floor is guaranteed. My personal advice is that if you attempt to float solid wood flooring, if this is what Karin suggests, you do so at your own risk. Unless it is a product like Junckers’ clip system, you can expect certain failure.

It seems to me that Karin may not fully understand the real importance of employing a professional who is trained to carry out subfloor preparation regardless of the condition.

There is a lot of excellent technical advice from several companies, one being Mapei, for example. They are always happy to specify preparation products. So I just don’t understand Karin’s argument on this one. If she is saying that the subfloor is not important for floating engineered flooring, surely she cannot be serious. The truth is that correct preparation is the key to all trades and not only in flooring.

I have worked around Europe and USA installing and it is the norm to carry out subfloor preparation. It is not correct to indicate that the UK is any different. In any country if the subfloor is not flat, it requires preparation to the required standard, according to the manufacturer’s instructions for subfloor flatness.

Everyone knows my opinion on Bob the builder and subfloor preparation, but please Karin, don’t make this an excuse for not glueing. I know lots of contractors who only fully bond engineered flooring because of its many advantages over floating.

I can’t tell you how many times I have been onsite to inspect a floating floor following complaints by consumers. Walk on the floor and it moves. Tr y telling the consumer that this is acceptable. I get telephone calls on a daily basis from consumers who have had a floating floor installed and aren’t happy with the amount of movement when they walk on it. I do tell them that floating floors have some movement, but just how much I can’t see on the phone.

When I go to the site to inspect complaints about under foot movement on floating floors, I always stand back and watch the deflection when the consumer walks over the floor. Sometimes it is like watching Tom Daley on the spring board, (talk about getting sea-sick). Why? Because the subfloor is not flat. The usual excuse is that a floating floor will bridge the pot holes in the subfloor. Wrong! It won’t.

And even when the subfloor is flat, consumers are sometimes not happy with floating floors. She is sitting watching television and sees the picture shudder when the husband walks to the kitchen for a beer. Some shuddering is always possible with a floating floor and that’s the sober truth.

I am constantly being told by consumers that their retailer or contractor never warned them that the floor would have some deflection when walked on. And in most cases they were never given a choice or an explanation of the advantages of having the floor fully bonded.

The internet is a dangerous thing for our industry. It has lots of advice for consumers, some good, but much of it is bad and plainly incorrect. Unfortunately, consumers with a problem often go straight onto the internet and check different methods of installing their wood floor. I find many ar ticles where some bright spark recommends floating solid wood flooring even when the boards are over 200mm wide!

I get the call and go out to find the floor undulating with plenty of rise and fall because it has not been fixed to subfloor. This is on the basis of some person’s advice: ‘Yes you can float solid wood flooring, no problem, and by the way don’t worry about the subfloor. The wood is load bearing and will go over any subfloor unevenness.’

I won’t go into the technical reasons why you should never float solid wood with the exception of the Junckers system. If you don’t know those reasons, please attend a BWFA course and I will not only tell you why not, I will also demonstrate what happens if you do. I have lots of pictures to show you of failed floating floors.

Of course, the basis of any successful flooring installation is to follow the correct procedures on subfloor preparation. Ignore them and face failures again and again. Don’t make Bob the builder your excuse for not correctly preparing the subfloor.

I also don’t buy the excuse I sometimes get from installers: The consumer did not want to pay me for preparation so I installed the wood floor anyway. The result will be a failed floor which will need uplifting so that the subfloor can be correctly prepared and the floor re- installed. This will end up costing the installer many times more than if he had refused to do the work, or insisted on doing the preparation in the first instance.

To Karin I say, please don’t make the subfloor an excuse for not being able to glue if it is required. If it is done correctly you will have no problems. Just for the record, Karin, I have been installing for over 35 years, attended numerous courses, carried out subfloor prep for many years and have seen many bad subfloors. As a professional, I know that correct subfloor preparation is part and parcel of being a skilled installer. And this has to be done before I install a wood engineered floor regardless of whether I am floating it or fully bonding it. The subfloor should be flat, smooth and dry – end of!

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