Hardwood Floor Installation Methods: Nail Vs Glue Vs Float

Preparing to install a new floor can be a daunting task.

Maybe you’re planning on hiring some flooring contractors or you want to tackle the installation yourself. Either way, there are several different installation techniques to consider, including:

  • the nail-down method
  • the glue-down method
  • the floating method

Floating floors are also known as click-lock flooring installations. They make for an easy installation without any complex equipment or confusing instructions.

confused-by-flooring-installation

However, while floating installations work great for bamboo flooring, they don’t work for every flooring material.

Continue reading to learn more about the different kinds of flooring installation methods. They each have their own pros and cons.

THE NAIL-DOWN METHOD

NailDownInstallationBambooFlooring
Using an 18 Gauge Pneumatic Nailer (blind nailing)

This is the most common way to install hardwood. Behind floating floors, it is the cheapest and fastest installation method. Approximately 70% of tongue and groove floors are nailed down using the “blind nailing” nail-down method, which hides the nail holes.

While this method is economical, one potential downside is that the nails can loosen due to seasonal expansion and contraction. This can cause floors to become creaky and an expansion gap to appear between planks.

Also, keep in mind that it may be necessary to manually nail down the first few rows of flooring. This is referred to as face nailing. It’s generally necessary because it can be hard to maneuver a floor nail gun close to your wall.

Due to its hardness, strand woven bamboo requires 18 gauge cleats and a high-quality pneumatic flooring nailer such as the Primatech Q550ALR. Using the wrong size cleats can cause dimples or ‘goosebumps’ in the flooring.

Before installation, you’ll want to purchase an underlayment such as 15 lb. felt paper or red rosin paper. These underlayments help reduce wood-on-wood squeaking.

Note that 15 lb felt paper and red rosin paper are NOT vapor barriers. If you need a vapor barrier*, the glue-down installation method should be used instead of nailing.

*A vapor barrier is necessary when installing floors over an unconditioned area (like a crawlspace) or a concrete slab.

cleat blind nail side and top views
1. L Cleat Blind Nail Side View | 2. Top View Showing Properly Set Cleat

THE GLUE-DOWN METHOD

A glue-down installation is the most expensive and labor-intensive of the three options. However, it’s also the most stable installation method.

This is because of glue elasticity, which allows the floors to expand and contract naturally with the seasons. If you purchase a high-quality adhesive like Ambient’s Ironwood All-In-One Wood Flooring Adhesive, you’ll get the added benefits of sound and moisture insulation.

glue down installation bamboo flooring
Troweling out the glue before laying the planks

Depending on your subfloor type (e.g., plywood), you may be able to use a cheaper wood flooring glue. However, if you’re installing the floors over a crawl space, you’ll need to use an all-in-one glue. This kind of glue contains a vapor barrier that seals concrete.

Make sure the adhesive you buy has an upper moisture limit of at least 10 lbs. And always test your concrete slab first for moisture to ensure it’s not excessively wet.

Note that it’s necessary to use the correct trowel with the correct glue.

Why? Use the wrong size trowel, and you won’t get the correct spread rate. This can compromise the new flooring’s ability to adhere to the subfloor.

Also, don’t forget to clean up glue spills before they dry on your flooring planks! Use a product like Bostik Ultimate Adhesive Remover Towels to avoid damaging your floor’s surface and finish.

How To Glue Down A Bamboo Floor from Ambient Bamboo on Vimeo.

THE FLOATING METHOD

The main advantage to a “click-lock” floating floor is its ease of installation and a shorter flooring installation time overall. A floating floor is also easier to repair in the event of a leak or issue that causes sectional damage.

Besides the click-lock version of flooring, a tongue and groove floor can also be floated. However, the latter is more time-consuming. This is because you must manually apply glue along the inside bottom groove along the entire length of each plank.

1. Click Lock Profile | 2. Installing Click Lock Floor over a 3-in-1 Underlayment

Before you jump on the floating floor bandwagon, note that there is one restriction that applies strictly to floating floors. (It applies to all floating wood floors, including bamboo). It has to do with humidity levels in your home and run distances on your floor.

Unless your home maintains a stable humidity level year-round (within a 20% range), you can only lay continuous runs of flooring for a certain distance – both in terms of length (longitudinal) and width (tangential).

CAVEAT: Do you live somewhere with stable humidity? Do you have an HVAC modulator that keeps your interior humidity within the 40%-60% range all year? If so, you do not have to follow these run limits.

However, if that is not the case, you must follow the run limits below:

  • For an engineered floating floor, run limits are 25 feet wide and 45 feet long.
  • For a solid (wood all the way through) floating floor**, run limits are 15 feet wide and 25 feet long.

**Ambient™ does NOT recommend nor advise installing solid bamboo flooring via the floating method.

It would help if you opted for a click-lock floor and a 3-in-1 underlayment for floating installations’ best results.

path through bamboo
Stunning, strong, sustainable bamboo – perfect to replace an existing wood floor!

Bamboo Hardwood Flooring: Eco-friendly, Beautiful, and Affordable

Eco-friendly bamboo flooring is quickly becoming a top choice for those who love the look of solid hardwood flooring but want an option that’s better for the environment. Bamboo not only rivals the look of red oak hardwood, but it’s also a more sustainable, earth-friendly option. Why? Bamboo is a rapidly-growing grass that regrows every 5-7 years!tahoe-handscraped-bamboo-flooring-in-kitchen

If you’re looking for an environmentally-friendly floor type, you’ll love Ambient bamboo flooring. Our flooring takes sustainability and non-toxicity to a whole new level with its flooring, glues, and finishes.

What do we mean by sustainable? Simply put, sustainable flooring fills our current needs without compromising the needs of people in the future. It balances these three key elements: economic, social, and environmental.

But that’s not the only reason for bamboo flooring’s growing popularity. Its strand-woven manufacturing process makes it rock-hard and durable, a definite plus in an active family home! That means it will need refinishing far less — if ever! — than typical engineered hardwood flooring will.

Of course, one also needs to think about the total cost of their flooring project. Fortunately, bamboo is generally more affordable than engineered wood flooring. However, its cost per square foot can vary, depending on the brand you choose, so do your due diligence.

Finally, bamboo floors are available in many stylish and modern finishes and colors!

Safe & Healthy Floors: Perfect for Any Home

Ambient is FloorScore® Certified, which means you don’t have to worry about dangerous off-gassing of toxic chemicals. FloorScore® is recognized by more than 19 leading environmental programs. The FloorScore® seal is your guarantee that a product has been independently tested and scored by SCS Global Services.

Plus, all of our adhesives and finishes are either ultra-low or zero-VOC. Your indoor air quality isn’t something you’ll have to compromise when installing an Ambient bamboo floor!

All Ambient floors are also Lacey Act Compliant. They have been legally sourced with minimal damage to the environment.

Add in one-stop shopping ease, great prices, honest reviews, and you’ve found the best place to buy your bamboo flooring. Shop our bamboo and eucalyptus floors today!

Last Update on 5/27/2023

16 thoughts on “Hardwood Floor Installation Methods: Nail Vs Glue Vs Float”

    • For nail down installations we recommend that you use either 15 lb felt paper (asphalt saturated roofing paper, essentially) or red rosin paper, however please note that those underlayments are not considered vapor barriers!

      For floating installations you can use a 3 in 1 vapor barrier underlayment, which provides a vapor barrier, sound muffling, and makes up for small imperfections in the sub-floor. For the 3 in 1 underlayment, the higher the STC/IIC sound rating, the more quiet the floor will be when you walk on it. Good luck with your installation and let us know if you have more questions!

      Reply
  1. Can I re-glue new flooring to previously used subfloor? I took up glued parquet and hope to glue new engineered-hardwood-on-ply in its place.
    Thanks in advance.
    -j.

    Reply
    • Hi Justin! In this case we recommend you contact the manufacturer of your adhesive to ensure it will bond to the type of sub-floor you have. With many glues, as long as the sub-floor is clear and free of debris, it will work, but you’ll want to reach out to the manufacturer to confirm. For some surfaces such as tile or existing hardwoods you may have to buff off existing finishes and scuff the surface first, to enable the new glue to bond. Remember to also ensure that your sub-floor is level, that’s important! Good luck!

      Reply
    • Hi David! We recommend that you reach out to your bamboo flooring manufacturer with this specific question. Are you sure the and not the sub-floor? Most floor noise is the result of loose nails and/or shifting joints in the sub-floor, or a result of dips in the sub-floor (this is one reason why most installation guides require that the sub-floors be level prior to installation). Most quality bamboo hardwoods will not squeak when you walk on them, so if your floors are making noise it may be a product defect and we definitely recommend reaching out to the customer service department of the brand you purchased. Hope this helps and have a great day!

      Reply
  2. I am installing a snap lock engineered bamboo floor. No matter what we do we have not been able to get the subfloor to level in some areas. Would it be a problem to nail down a snap lock floor?

    Thanks
    jean

    Reply
    • Hi Jean! We recommend checking with the manufacturer of your bamboo floor, but typically it is not recommended to nail/staple down a floating floor as the nails can compromise or crack the click mechanism which will result in the floor lifting up later. Best of luck!

      Reply
  3. Can I nail/cleat down engineered bamboo flooring that was built to be a floating floor? The subfloor is a little uneven and it’s causing a few spots to flex a little more than might be nice underfoot. The instructions say just to float it, not to nail it down, but we’d like to be able to secure the flexing spots… Hoping that nailing it down won’t ruin it.

    Reply
  4. i have tiles over original wood floors and now I want to install hardwood floors with underlay. do you recommend something else or is this okay.

    Reply
    • Hi Marie and thank you for your question! The answer is: it depends on what type of tiles you’re referring to. I recommend you check out our bamboo flooring installation guide, specifically the section titled “Acceptable Subfloor Types” on page 4. This is a general guide showing what types of sub-floors are acceptable for nailing or gluing bamboo flooring to (and other hardwoods in general). Conversely, if you’re installing a floor via the floating method, all that is required is that the sub-floor be level to 3/16″ within a 10 ft radius, and that the sub-floor is dry and clear of debris. And remember, when installing a floating floor over a concrete slab or other subfloor that may be emitting moisture (like a crawl space), you’ll want to use a high quality 3 in 1 vapor barrier underlayment (the higher the STC sound absorption rating, the better!).

      Reply
  5. When nailing bamboo floor how far away must each nail be I was told roughly 8 inches and can you put it down before you install a new kitchen as it would be easier

    Reply
    • Hi Martin!

      Nails should be spaced at 8″ to 10″ intervals with a minimum of six nails per piece. For wide plank products (four inches and wider) nailing every 6″ to 8″ is the standard. There should not be a nail within three inches of each board end. For nail-down floors, professional flooring installers do advise nailing down the floors before installing cabinets, islands, and other kitchen items.

      Reply

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