Glueing vs. Float vs. Nail Down Flooring Installation – Which Is the Best Method?

The longevity of your hardwood flooring depends on how it has been installed. Glueing, nailing and floating are some of the popular methods of flooring installation. The species of hardwood, the design of the floorboards, thickness, subfloor, appearance and durability are certain factors which should together influence your decision. Each method poses certain advantages and disadvantages and there is no absolute answer as to which the best is.

This post outlines the various features, pros, and cons of the different installation methods and compares them to help you while taking a decision regarding the best method for your home.

  • Nail-down

This is the commonest method of installing a hardwood floor. If you have wooden or plywood subfloor, the floorboards are directly nailed on it by this method. The method of nailing is called “blindly nailed” where the nail is angled at 45 degrees and nailed through the “tongue”. The tongue is the protruding portion of the wood planks that fit into the groove of the adjacent board. Hence, it is nearly invisible once the installation is complete.

Nail-down Flooring Installation

Some advantages of this method:

  • It is the cheapest and the fastest method of installation
  • It is suitable for both hardwood and engineered hardwood floorboards
  • The floorboards will be firmly set against the sub-floor

On the other hand, some major drawbacks of this method are:

  • The nails can become loose during the seasonal expansion and contraction of the floorboards.
  • If you do not have a wooden subfloor, this method of installation cannot be employed.
  • Another concern that many homeowners have is the creaky noise of the hardwood floor on wooden subfloor which is common when you use the nail-down But it can be overcome using an underlayment of 15lb. Felt paper or red rosin between the floorboards and the wood subfloor.


  • Glue-down

Glue Down Flooring Installation

Glueing down the floorboards is the most permanent and stable method of installing hardwood. It is also the most expensive and labour-intensive. There are several advantages to choosing this method of installation:

  • The glue used for flooring installation has an elastic quality and hence allows the floorboards to expand and contract naturally with the changing seasons.
  • High-quality glue often has additional features of sound and moisture insulation.
  • The flooring will be stable which in turn adds to the longevity of the floor.

On the downside,

  • The process is messy and is best to leave it to the flooring professionals.
  • A significant amount of drying time has to given depending on the type of glue used and hence you cannot immediately start walking on the floor.
  • Removing the floorboards will be difficult later if you ever consider replacing the floorboards.

Understanding the glues, their feature and usage will help you to determine the right choice for your project.

  • Floating

The floorboards are neither glued or nailed to the subfloor but connected together by their special tongue and groove design and floated on it. Only a little amount of glue is used at the connectors and the end joints to impart stability to the floor without fastening the floorboards to the subfloor.

Floating Harwood Flooring Installation

You can enjoy certain advantages by choosing floorboards which fit using the floating method:

  • It is ideal for installation over subfloors which cannot be removed easily.
  • It is a versatile method and hence problematic subfloors that have radiant heat will not affect the installation adversely.
  • You can lay a moisture barrier between the floorboards and the subfloor easily when you are choosing this method.
  • It is an easy installation method and hence requires less time and labour.
  • Chances of damage due to expansion and contraction is minimal since the floorboards do not strain against the nail or the glue.

However, this method has some disadvantages as well that you must be aware of:

  • The humidity level has to be stable enough to employ this method of floor installation.
  • The “run-length” of the floor is limited if the humidity is not stable enough all-year long. For hardwood, the run limit is 15 meters wide and 25 meters long.

Important factors that influence the choice

Some important factors to consider while determining the right method of hardwood flooring installation are:

  • Aesthetics

There is a subtle difference in appearance, feel and sound depending on the method of installation you have chosen. For example, with the floating method of installation, one can opt for transition moulding or T-mouldings for various doorways and hallways. However, many customers do not like these mouldings and prefer the look of the free-flowing floor more.

  • Cost

The budget you have for the installation should be considered when you are opting for any of the above-mentioned methods. Cost estimation depends mostly on the labour and the time required to finish the project.  The price of the materials and the flooring tools required also influences the cost. Usually nailing is the cheapest method but the subfloor is limited to wood. The floating method is affordable because it does not require too much labour, materials or time to be executed. Glueing is the most expensive and the rate is determined based on the glue type and the total square footage.

  • Subfloor

Certain subfloors can accommodate any installation method but often it can also be the reason behind your choice getting limited. Nailing down is not possible on any subfloor apart from plywood or wood. If you have a tile or concrete subfloor, you can float the floorboards but not nail them. Glueing down is possible on any subfloor, but it is best to consult the professional regarding the best method according to the subfloor you have and its condition.

  • Type of house

There are certain rules and restrictions associated with various different home types- particularly if you are living in a condo or apartment or any kind of housing complex. Regulations related to soundproofing and official approvals should be abided by which prolong the process while limiting your options.

Your specific requirements, budget and priority determine what will be the best choice for you. Apart from that, take the advice of your contractors to avoid any installation failure and opt for the best quality products to execute the project smoothly. The parameters mentioned here can guide you while choosing the best method but the final results depend largely on your preferences, contractor and the materials used.

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