Bamboo flooring is among the strongest flooring on the market, and if you want yours to last for decades, it’s essential to install them properly. There are three separate installation methods for bamboo flooring: glue down, floating, and nail down. The method you choose will depend on a whole host of things, including whether you’ll be installing the floor yourself, how big the room is, and what type of subfloor you have. In this guide, we’re looking at how to float a bamboo floor, but we have guides for the other methods in our archive, too. If you aren’t sure if the floating method is right for you, scroll down a bit, and you’ll find all the information you need to make the right choice for you. Now, it’s not too late to hire an installer to do the job for you (7 Tips For How To Choose A Flooring Installer). But if you’re already certain that you want to install a floating bamboo floor yourself, then follow the guide below.
Installing A Floating Bamboo Floor
Like with all big projects, you can’t just jump right in. There’s a little bit of prep work that you need to do first, including ordering the bamboo, gathering your tools, and prepping your subfloor. Don’t worry; we’ll go through it step-by-step.
1. Ordering the bamboo
When you order your bamboo, you’ll need to measure the room’s size (s) that it will be installed in. But you should really add 7-10% on top of that for cutting/waste. Believe us; there’s nothing worse than realizing you didn’t order enough to cover the floor and having to do a secondary order to complete the installation. Especially if you’ve already started laying it! If you have some planks left over after installation, that’s actually a good thing:
- you have spare planks in case of some localized damage to a plank – it’s easy to replace individual planks in floating bamboo floors
- you use a sacrificial plank to test cleaning products or finishes so you can see what it looks like without harming the laid planks
2. Receiving the bamboo
Once the bamboo is in your house, you should open the boxes and inspect the planks for damage; accidents can happen during transport, even if the planks are properly packaged. Also, keep the boxes in case you need to return the planks. If you find any planks with visible damage, don’t use them. Let the manufacturer know about the situation and ask what their returns policy is. Sometimes they might ask for photos. At this point, you should also check the manufacturer’s installation guide to make sure your chosen method or location of installation is covered. Voiding the warranty is a costly error.
3. Prepping a subfloor
Before installing, prep your subfloor, so the installation goes as smoothly as possible. Don’t worry, it’s a straightforward task, but it may take a couple of days.
First, clear and clean the room. Obviously, you can’t install a floor over the toys that your child left out… Well, technically, you could because it’ll float above them, but it might make your kids cry. Now, check that the subfloor is firm and level (with a maximum difference of 3/16″ per 10-foot area). If not, correct it by sanding down the floor or using appropriate patching materials to fill in dips. Do not install over existing carpet or foam that is compressible. Next, check that your subfloor is structurally sound – that’s not something you want to find out afterward.
- check whether any wood planks are loose or squeaky, and screw them down if needed
- check that the wood subfloor is at least ¾ inch thick by drilling a small hole in the subfloor
- check for cracks in the concrete that go beyond the parge coat
Ensure you have a dry subfloor
Your subfloor will need to be dry year-round to float (or otherwise install) a bamboo floor over it, or it’s at risk of warping or cupping over time. Plus, you won’t even be able to return the planks because you will have voided your warranty. Luckily, there’s a simple test.
The easiest way to test for moisture in a wood subfloor is through a pinless floor moisture meter, which gives a reading accurate to one-tenth of a percent. It gives a digital display for ease of reading and will avoid weakening the floor through sanding or drilling.
Several methods for testing a concrete subfloor for moisture are outlined in the video above. The easiest way is to purchase a moisture testing kit (from a hardware store). The test has a test strip that will change color depending on the moisture levels on your floor. It’s like a mood ring, but not a scam. Note: This test should only be done more than 60 days after a concrete floor has been fully cured, or it will give an inaccurate reading. Now, there will likely be some moisture in your subfloor, which could be okay. After all, bamboo was grown in a hot and humid environment; it can handle a little moisture. Check with your manufacturer, but the general recommendations are that wood subfloors have a moisture level below 12% and that concrete subfloors have a moisture level below 3 lbs per square foot.
4. Got crawl space? Make sure it’s sealed off to avoid moisture issues
A favorite topic for horror films and Facebook clickbait is that there could be someone living in your crawlspace. Still, if you ask us, the terrifying thought is that your crawlspace might have moisture problems that will cause serious problems for your floating bamboo flooring. Thankfully, it’s pretty simple (and cheap!) to test for this using a thermo-hygrometer. Also, ensure your crawl space is sealed; for example, you can lay polyethylene film (6-20 mm thickness) onto the ground in the crawlspace and seal it with moisture-resistant tape. If you live in New York and you’re not irked by the idea of something living in your crawlspace, you could even rent it out. Apparently, it’s legal..? Don’t quote us on that.
5. Eliminate subfloor moisture issues
There are several ways to prevent moisture problems from affecting your bamboo floors:
- Reduce moisture levels with a dehumidifier (these can be rented from a big box store)
- Install a 3–in-1 underlayment/moisture barrier underneath the bamboo to prevent the moisture from reaching the flooring
6. Acclimate your bamboo planks
Your bamboo should be taken out of its packaging and placed in the room where it will be installed for a period of 72 hours (or the time noted from your moisture tests) to allow the planks to acclimate to the room’s moisture and humidity. It’s not like doing the patch test for hair dye. You have to do this; otherwise, the boards may be installed improperly and could fail later. For seven days before installation, you’ll have to keep the room’s temperature and humidity consistent with year-round levels. Most manufacturers recommended 60-80 degrees Fahrenheit and 40-60% humidity using a climate control system, but check your specific instructions.
7. Gather your tools
- Mallet – choose a rubber one. It’ll be effective without harming the planks
- Chalk line
- Tapping block – if you don’t have one already, use a square block of wood
- Tape measure
- Moisture Resistant Adhesive – for the moldings
- Mitre saw
- Table saw
- 40-tooth saw blade – this is the minimum tooth count you should go for – higher tooth counts give a smoother cut
- Oscillating saw – this will be used to cut doorframes if needed
- Carpenter’s square
- 3-in-1 closed underlayment
For tongue and groove floors: (**note: we don’t recommend installing solid hardwood or bamboo flooring via the floating method!)
- Tongue and groove glue
- Specially designed tape to hold the planks together during installation – check your manufacturer’s instruction.
Beginning Your Installation
Now that you’ve done all of the prep work, it’s finally time to start the bamboo flooring installation. Since bamboo planks can vary in terms of color and shade between boxes, it’s important to work out multiple boxes at once. This means you can customize the look of the floor to your own personal tastes. Try different combinations and see what works best in the room.
1. Cut the bamboo planks
You can cut these to varying lengths to suit your own design scheme, but make sure that no plank is less than 8 inches in length. This is important because the butt ends in adjoining rows have to be at least 8 inches apart. Importantly, some people think they know how long 8 inches is, and their measurements often come up short. Use a tape measure to check.
2. Lay the underlayment down
To give your beautiful bamboo planks added protection against moisture, you should lay a 3-in-1 underlayment on the subfloor, preferably one with a self-adhering strip to assist in securing the rolls to each other once laid out. As a bonus, it also helps to soundproof the room. It’s not enough to get the band back together, but it will muffle the sound of heavy paws and clunky boots. Remember that some underlayments are installed differently than others, so make sure to read the installation instructions that come with the underlayment itself. For example, some underlayments are installed with the plastic moisture barrier film facing down, while others are installed with the film facing up.
3. Lay your first row
Remember to leave ¼ – ½ inch between all planks that come into contact with structural elements such as walls, door frames, cabinets, and islands by using expansion spacers. This means there will be room for the floor to expand safety if there are big humidity changes. Don’t worry about these gaps being seen; you’ll hide them later with moldings. You can establish your working line by measuring the midpoint between the two walls and putting down a chalk line. Make sure to leave the expansion space! Depending on the shape of your room and how it connects to other rooms with visible bamboo flooring, you may choose to start in the top corner, in the center of the room, or at a doorway. It would help if you made sure the first row is firmly in place before installing subsequent rows. Otherwise, your floor alignment may get out of whack. Use the rubber mallet to keep all the edges fitting tightly together, but don’t hit the boards too hard, or you could damage the planks. You can always lay a heavy flooring box or two on the first row to keep it from moving.
- Click Lock Bamboo Flooring: Start with the L-shaped side facing away from the wall, then push each subsequent row plank forward and down at the same time to keep the boards locked together. You should feel them snap into place.
- Tongue and Groove Bamboo Flooring: Start with the tongue facing the wall. Then lay a generous bead of the tongue and groove glue along the inside bottom seam of the grooved side of the planks (on the side as well as the butt end). Do this before sliding the next plank’s tongue into place. Use the recommended tape to hold the boards together, then remove the tape within 12 hours to avoid damaging the finish.
5. Lay the subsequent rows
Start the second row with a cut plank at least 18 inches in length and insert the board’s long edge at a 20-30 degree angle adjacent to the first row. Use the mallet to keep the planks in place. If the planks are not snugly fit, remove them and attempt a tighter fit with new planks. After you’ve installed the third row, check to see if you need to straighten the floor. The longer you leave it, the more difficult it will be to fix. Repeat the instructions above until you reach the last row.
6. Cut and lay the final row
The final row may need to be cut lengthwise using the table saw to fit in the remaining space. Take expansion space into account when you measure to see how much of the plank you’ll need to cut.
7. Install the moldings
Now it’s time to remove the expansion spacers and install your transition moldings. Unfortunately, they can’t be floated into place, so you will need to glue them using a urethane adhesive. Then, all you need to do is place something heavy on them and leave them overnight to set.
8. Sweep the room
You’ll inevitably have some dust from sawing the planks, so do a quick sweep of the floor, and then you’re done.
Now that you’ve installed the floor, you can sit back, relax, have a coffee (or a cocktail if you’re so inclined), and begin using the room immediately.
Things To Consider About The Floating Method
If you’re unsure whether or not to install your bamboo floor using the floating method, then here are the things you’ll need to consider:
If you have stable year-round humidity or live in a place like Southern Florida, you don’t have to worry about running limits or installing transition strips at doorways. However, if you live in an area that experiences humidity swings and you don’t have humidifiers or dehumidifiers (or a humidity modulator built into your HVAC system), you’ll need to take some precautions regarding the lengths of your runs. Remember that solid floating hardwood/bamboo floors are susceptible to changes in humidity. So if you don’t have very stable indoor humidity, you’ll want to keep your successive runs of flooring down to 15 ft wide x 25 ft long. For engineered floating hardwood/bamboo floors, you are allowed a little more space – 25 ft wide x 45 ft long.
Luckily, the floating method of installation works over almost any subfloor, except for cushion vinyl and rubber tiles. You can install a floating bamboo floor over:
- Firm linoleum
- Ceramic/ marble
- OSB 3/4″ min
- VCT vinyl tiles
- Firm kitchen vinyl
- Asphalt Tile
- Existing wood floors
- Advantech OSB
- Hardy/cement board/backer/cbu
- Plywood 5/8″ min
A floating bamboo floor shouldn’t be floated under heavy objects such as pianos, heavy appliances, or weighty furniture. They will pin down the planks and affect the bamboo’s ability to expand/ contract as humidity levels change. Floating the planks under something heavy could damage the planks.
Floating bamboo floors require a stable humidity level that doesn’t vary more than 20% throughout the year. This means that if you live in an area with routine changes in humidity levels and your climate control system doesn’t have humidity control. It would be best if you used humidifiers/dehumidifiers occasionally. That’s about it for our look at installing a bamboo floor using the floating method. Now, we want to hear your thoughts in the comments below.