A “Floating Floor” is a fairly new installation technique but one that is becoming increasingly common. It started in the late 1990s when “Pergo” was introduced in the US. (Pergo was one of the original brands of floating “laminate” flooring and some people still use the term to refer to any floating floor.)
Floating floors come in planks: 12" x48" is a common size. The planks connect to each other but are not attached to the surface underneath. There is always a thin foam underlayment to cushion the planks and keep them from sticking to the subfloor. Initially the underlayment came on a roll and was spread out prior to putting down the flooring. Nowadays most floors come with the foam already attached to the bottom of each plank.
Floating floors need some room to expand and contract, so they are always installed with an expansion gap where the flooring meets walls, cabinets, plumbing fixtures or other floorings. These gaps are covered with baseboard or trim pieces.
Laminate flooring is the most common type of floating floor. It has a plastic surface on top of an engineered wood base. The image on the surface is actually a photograph of a flooring material. Since the surface is really just a picture there are endless possibilities. Hundreds of different wood looks are available, as well as stone and even ceramic tile (compete with recessed grout joints).
Cork, bamboo and linoleum are also now available in floating floor planks. It’s the same technology, but with a thin layer of natural material on top instead of the plastic laminate.
The original floating floors needed to be glued together, which was messy, time-consuming, and difficult. Almost all laminates now are “click together.” Once you get the hang of the glueless process, it goes very quickly.