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Choosing the Right Hardwood Flooring Underlayment

choosing the right hardwood flooring underlaymentWhile hardwood flooring can be an extremely practical and visually stunning feature of any house, apartment, or business, the underlayment that lies below is just as, or even more, important. Due to the structural and functional support it provides, choosing the right hardwood flooring underlayment could be one of the more significant decisions you’ll make regarding your residence.

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Providing underlayment for your hardwood flooring is extremely important, due to the fact that a property’s structural subfloor might be uneven and coarse. As a result, not only does the underlayment provide a smooth surface for your hardwood flooring to rest upon, it helps protect it from the damage that might incur if it laid directly on a rough or damp subfloor. In addition, underlayment provides an effective barrier to help diminish any thumping or noises that take place in a home, condominium or building.

Hardwood Flooring

In other words, while the subfloor provides the foundation for your property, without the underlayment the hardwood flooring that you’ve carefully invested time and money in could quickly be ruined.

Although hardwood flooring is typically one of the more expensive kinds of flooring you can install–in comparison to laminate flooring for example–due to its classic appeal and resiliency it can add substantial value to your home or property.

choosing the proper hardwood flooring underlaymentThe harder the wood that is used for the floor the more durable it will be, and because refinishing these kinds of surfaces when they’ve incurred some wear-and-tear is always an option, many builders and homeowners elect to install hardwood flooring. Also, hardwood flooring is typically easier to clean than carpet, which because of its extensive fibers easily traps dust, dirt, and liquids that get spilled or tracked on it.

Hardwood floors, on the other hand, offer a smooth surface that’s easy to wipe, vacuum, or mop; making it an ideal surface for properties that receive a high volume of people walking through or homes with kids and pets. Due to the fact that carpets can capture unwanted materials and substances, and subsequently promote poorer air quality as a result, the American Lung Association recommends that people with asthma build new construction with hardwood flooring rather than carpeting when possible.

Hardwood flooring typically consists of engineered hardwood, which is comprised of several layers of wood, or solid hardwood that comes from a specific species of tree.

Depending on the grain and species of tree, hardwood flooring varies in price. However, domestic woods are less expensive than exotic ones like Brazilian Walnut. You can find out more about the pros and cons of each type of hardwood flooring through the National Wood Flooring Association’s website.

Manufacturer’s Approval

choosing the correct hardwood flooring underlaymentRegardless of the type of hardwood flooring you decide to use, because it is such a substantial and rewarding investment, ensuring that you have the right underlayment installed is critically important. In fact, because the type of underlayment you use is so integral in sustaining this kind of surface, many hardwood flooring manufacturers recommend specific kinds of underlayment to be used with their products.

Before you purchase any materials, refer to the hardwood flooring manufacturer’s instructions to see if and what kind of underlayment should be installed. Not only will the manufacturer provide insights as to what underlayment best protects the hardwood flooring and reduces noise, but utilizing the correct kind of underlayment could be necessary to ensure your warranty is valid. If you choose not to install an underlayment, or utilize the wrong kind, your insurance or warranty claim could be denied if your floor is damaged.

If after referring to the manufacturer’s instructions you are still unsure what underlayment should be utilized with your hardwood flooring, you should contact them before you proceed with any purchase or installation.

Remember throughout this process, however, that some contractors and manufacturers may advise you to use materials and products that might not necessarily be the best or most affordable. It’s always a good idea to research different manufacturers and companies to determine who is offering the best and most affordable underlayment that suits your particular needs.

Building Approval

In addition to reviewing the manufacturer’s recommendations, you should also review your building’s regulations or consult any necessary property manager to see if a certain kind of underlayment is required.

In some buildings, like condominium apartments for example, certain types of underlayment must be installed to protect the building’s hardwood floors and help reduce noise.

Standard Foam

choosing the most accurate hardwood flooring underlaymentThe most commonly used underlayment for flooring is standard foam, which depending on the manufacturer, may come in various prices and roll sizes. Just like most cases when you buy bulk, the larger the roll size you purchase, the better value for your dollar.

This type of underlayment uses a synthetic product that is usually about 1/8-inch thick and is placed on top of the subfloor and underneath the hardwood flooring. Due to its composition, standard foam provides some protection for your floor. However, underlayment of this nature is not an effective moisture barrier.

As a result, standard foam should only be utilized in settings where there is no chance of moisture getting in under your floors. Usually this requires that the subfloor is well above the ground, like on the second floor of a building for example, where moisture is less likely to be an issue. In addition, due to the fact that standard foam is typically quite thin, it is not ideal for properties and situations that require ample noise reduction from above.

Combination Underlayment

choosing just the right hardwood flooring underlaymentTo make up for the lack of a moisture barrier with standard foam, some manufacturers produce a type of combination underlayment that features standard foam, as well as a layer of film to protect it from dampness. Underlayment of this type is also rather thin and provides approximately the same amount of noise reduction that standard foam does.

However, because of the added film, it can be laid down in areas where there is a risk of moisture. As a result, unlike standard foam, combination foam can also be installed on the ground floor.

Modified or Upgraded

Modified or upgraded types of underlayment are typically comprised of a thicker and more resilient substance than standard foam, like closed cell foam or fiber. Due to this upgrade in material, this type of underlayment provides better noise reduction than standard or combination foam, but like the latter, also provides protection from moisture. As a result, this type of underlayment is often utilized in properties and apartment buildings as a means to stifle noise from above. It does not, however, reduce the amount of noise that is generated and heard within the same room.


While utilizing cork as an underlayment for hardwood flooring is the most expensive choice, it is also the most effective in reducing or eliminating noise that transfers from floor to floor. Similar to modified or upgraded underlayment, some buildings require that cork is installed under hardwood flooring to ensure that people working or living underneath are protected from noise above.

choosing the best hardwood flooring underlaymentWhile the thickness of a cork underlayment may vary, it is often approximately 1/4-inch thick and is sold in rolls or sheets. Due to its thickness, a cork underlayment can also be a useful way to raise the height of the subfloor.

Environmental Concerns

Increasingly more and more people are concerned about whether or not the materials that are being used to construct their homes and property are environmentally sustainable and if they pose a health risk. As a result, some manufacturers are electing to produce underlayment products that are made of recycled materials and do not include any potentially hazardous chemicals or substances. Due to the resiliency of cork, and its ability to be recycled, it is considered to be one of the more environmentally friendly kinds of underlayment.

choosing the hardwood flooring underlaymentSimilar concerns also exist for the woods that are utilized in hardwood flooring, and whether or not the species of tree that is being utilized is being properly protected and efficiently processed. Some local and state governments, like the government of California, provide information online regarding sustainable and recycled materials that can be used in construction projects.

Some manufacturers provide information regarding the environmental safety and impact of their products, and whether they are non-allergenic on the packaging. However, if you remain unsure, contact the manufacturer’s website to learn more. The Environmental Protection Agency also provides extensive information on what kinds of building materials and substances are no longer deemed suitable or safe.


Installing the underlayment for your hardwood flooring is not an easy task, especially for people that don’t have a lot of renovation or construction experience. As a result, because it plays such an integral role in protecting a significant investment like hardwood flooring, hiring a contractor to install the underlayment could be well worth the expense.

If you do elect to install the underlayment yourself, make sure you refer to your manufacturer’s instructions consistently and follow them carefully.

In addition, conducting research online, reading books about renovations, or asking an expert what’s the best way to proceed would also be wise. In the end, regardless of what kind of underlayment you decide to utilize, just remember that mistakes during installation could result in costly damages to your hardwood floors.

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