What Goes Under Hardwood Flooring?

Hardwood flooring is one of the best flooring choices, as it will last a long time, and it can be resurfaced multiple times throughout its life span to stay looking fresh and new. The materials used to make hardwood flooring are renewable resources, which is a much healthier option for our environment than those made from nonrenewable resources.

Hardwood floors are both beautiful and functional, but there are some things to watch out for when installing hardwood floors. You want to make sure you know what goes under hardwood flooring. If you don’t add the correct materials underneath, you may have unwanted results. Whether you want to install a hardwood floor yourself or you would prefer to leave it to the professionals, Wall 2 Wall is here to help.

How to Protect Hardwood Floors from Beneath

Hardwood floors are a beautiful addition to any home, but they can transmit unwanted sound, and they are very reactive to moisture levels in the home. Before installing any hardwood floor, you must consider what goes under hardwood flooring. You can mitigate unwanted sounds, such as squeaks and audible footsteps, and avoid moisture damage by installing a well-secured subfloor and adding layers of material between the subflooring and the new hardwood floor.

A subfloor, which is usually made of wood panels, must be installed first, before any other layer, and you must also install what is called an underlayment. Underlayment is the layer of material that sits between the subfloor and the new hardwood flooring.

Subflooring

Subflooring is a layer of plywood or engineered wood that sits at the very bottom layer of the flooring. The subfloor is used as a structural layer to which you then attach the other layers. Regular plywood panels can be used, or ¾-inch tongue-and-groove plywood that is specifically meant for subflooring can be used instead. You can also use particleboard or oriented strand board (OSB). OSB is similar to particle board in that it’s also engineered wood, but it’s made by attaching strands of wood in a particular pattern with the use of adhesives.

Once you choose your subflooring materials, lay the panels down first, before any other layer is added. By securing a subfloor to the floor joists in your home, this can prevent squeaks that could occur after the new hardwood floors are installed. If you have an older subfloor already installed, you can safely install a new subfloor over the old one.

When installing a subfloor, it’s best to use screws as opposed to nails. Screws are more secure and stay in place better than nails. When attaching a subfloor with nails, you may end up with more movement over time, which can cause the floor to be squeaky.

Underlayment

Underlayment provides a moisture barrier to protect your newly installed hardwood floors from warping, cupping, or any other damage that could be caused by moisture rising from the subfloor. The underlayment also provides a sound barrier to help reduce footsteps and other squeaks when walking on the hardwood floor.

In addition, the underlayment can also provide a thermal layer of insulation to help maintain a comfortable temperature for walking on with bare feet. Though the subfloor provides a smooth surface to install a hardwood floor on, the underlayment helps add a layer over the subfloor to ensure a flat surface on which to install the hardwood floor panels.

Types of Underlayments

Plastic

For humid climates, having a plastic sheet as an underlayment is a must. Even if you pair it with another moisture barrier, the plastic sheet will help keep condensation from warping your newly installed hardwood floors, and it will help prevent mildew from building up underneath.

Foam

You may also consider using a foam underlayment layer paired with the plastic sheet layer. Having a foam underlayment will help keep the installation of the wood panels nice and even. The foam also will act as thermal insulation and as a sound barrier, muting those pesky footsteps and squeaks throughout the home. If you pick lightweight foam, you will want to secure it with glue. When picking a foam layer, the denser the foam, the more costly the foam layer.

Felt

The most common form of underlayer is felt. Felt is a cost-effective layer that is easy to cut down to size and install as a homeowner. Felt also offers a moisture barrier and acts as insulation and soundproofing. Felt underlayments don’t need to be glued in place. The downside to using felt is that it doesn’t add any softness to the flooring.

Cork

Another cost-effective option is cork. Having a cork underlayment offers similar protection for less cost. Cork underlayments are very easy to work with, and they offer the best sound barrier. Since cork is has a natural antimicrobial feature, it will help to keep mildew and mold away as well. However, it isn’t the best choice as a moisture barrier. Cork won’t do well in areas of high moisture, such as bathrooms, kitchens, basements, and any area that may get wet.

Other

There are other hard underlayment options that are specifically meant to act as sound barriers. You may also consider using a rubber layer, which acts as a moisture barrier and does offer some soundproofing, but it is a minimal sound barrier.

As you can see, there are numerous choices when it comes to picking your underlayments. Some are more DIY-friendly than others. There are also numerous types of subfloors, from concrete to plywood or engineered woods. When installing hardwood floors, be sure to measure accurately and add 10 percent to your measurements when buying materials to allow for measuring mistakes and miscuts. Do your research and pick which suits your home’s location best. If you prefer to leave it to the flooring experts, contact us at Wall 2 Wall Flooring.