Hardwood Floor Underlayment
Underlayments discussed on this page deal with products that are used under hardwood floors prior to floating floor installations. For products that deal with nailed or stapled floors visit these other pages.
Considering there are dozens of products, I have included a small selection of choices that are more widely used in the flooring industry. Nearly all types are packaged in rolls with coverage varying from one brand to the next.
Basic underlayment is often a synthetic product of open celled polyethylene foam. Most are thin and compress easily. Common names include 2 in one or 3 in one. Three provides a protective plastic film moisture barrier on one side and foam cushioning on the other. The third element is a sticky peel off tape used to connect the underlayment when installing and replaces the actual taping of seams. These products are used for on or below grade (at ground level or in basements) installations over concrete type subfloors.
For wood subfloors, products with plastic film or sheathing should not be used as it can trap moisture which can lead to mold growth under the right conditions. Basic products are most often used and sold through home centers but only provides a minimum amount of benefits.
Upgrades. Many Names
Those seeking a quieter floor that does not sound clikity or hollow in the way many plastic laminate floors were characterized when first introduced, should look for upgrades that offer more sound absorption. These types offer benefits in sounding and feeling more like solid wood flooring while also providing some sound control to rooms below the installed area.
Quiet Walk is more of a fabric providing an eco friendly product that is composed of mostly recycled materials. The makeup of Quiet Walk allows absorption of any potential moisture and is guarded with an attached vapor barrier. The product also contributes to increased insulation values, keeping floors warmer in winter months and cooler in the summer.
The Floor Muffler performs exactly as it is named. Recommended by a wide number of flooring manufacturers for floating installations. The product is not eco friendly and entirely synthetic.
Another synthetic product that has gained confidence from many installers is the Sound Solution underlayment. The product is not only ideal for sound control in apartments and condominiums, but it doesn’t lose it’s integrity by crushing over time as common foam type underlayments do.
Cork provides superior sound deadening properties and comes in a variety of thicknesses and packaging. The product is widely available in rolls but can also be obtained in sheets. For floating installations it can be loose laid over subfloors, while glued hardwood installations require direct adhesion to subfloors with a mastic spread adhesive. Cork underlayment is an ideal green friendly type product on the surface.¹
Proflex offers not only a cushioned underlayment but it’s properties include a crack isolation membrane for concrete and moisture protection. This rubberized product is not glued but pressed to the subfloor with a peel off tape after a primer is applied to a clean and properly prepared subfloor. Unlike cork, Proflex can be installed on top of immediately with gluedown floors, opposed to waiting overnight. Used primarily in high rise residences I suggest consulting with any association for approval prior to its use.
All products mentioned above with the exception of basic underlayments provide a much better solution for those seeking a quieter feel underfoot. Many of the higher quality products will ease fears associated with loose type products and floating systems. It's important to note some of these manufacturers claim their underlayment can be used to bridge minor subfloor imperfections. We urge you to perform more practiced floor preparation procedures and do not expect these systems to solve your problem.
Finally, some products can be used for sound deadening on wood subfloors with nail or staple type installations. Always consult the individual hardwood manufacturer specifications if in doubt as some products may be too thick to allow for a successful and firmly installed floor.
¹ Never mentioned, offsetting the green advantage is cork originates from the Mediterranean, requiring the use of non renewable energy to transport across oceans.