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Underlayments for Floating Wood Floors

by Crystal Hosking - Hosking Hardwood Flooring, Inc. © 2014, Copyright Protected. All Rights Reserved

The underlayment pad plays a crucial role in the installation of floating hardwood floors. From foam to felt to cork --- there are different underlayment options available and each boasts different benefits.

All underlayments work around the same basic principles. Primarily, they act as a buffer between your subfloor and your new flooring. Since floating floors are not attached to the subfloor, they are subject to a little bit of shifting when the flooring expands and contracts during normal seasonal changes in relative humidity levels. The underlyament pad also prevents damage to the underside of the new flooring as well as damage to the subfloor when this shifting occurs. Underlayments additionally help even out any minor subfloor imperfections and add a cushion-like attribute for walking comfort.


Foam Underlayments

The most simplistic underlayment is going to be just a foam roll out pad. This adds minimal cushion and is typically on the thinner side. These simple foam pads won't really give you any sound absorption benefits and won't block moisture that may travel up through the subfloor to the new floating hardwood floor.

A step up from the simple foam pad would be a foam pad with an attached moisture retarder Moisture retarders are incredibly important in floating installations of hardwood flooring, as water and wood never mix and it's imperative to keep moisture away from the hardwood floor. Moisture retarders can be solid separately and are simply a 4- 6mil plastic sheet. When floating a hardwood floor, it's easiest just to use an underlayment with a moisture retarders attached rather than fool around with a simple foam pad and separate moisture retarder.


To determine whether or not you need a moisture retarder

  • If you're installing over plywood, perform a moisture test to see if there is moisture travelling up through the subfloor. If there is --- you need a moisture retarder.
  • If you're installing over concrete, always use an underlayment with a moisture retarder.
  • If you're installing in a basement or a below grade level area, always use an underlayment with a moisture retarder.

For more information: All About Subfloors


Filament Underlayments

A step up from a foam underlayment with a moisture retarder attached would be a felt underlayment. Felt underlayments aren't really made of felt, but rather filaments which ultimately resemble a felt like material. These thicker, more dense felt underlayments typically feature superior sound absorption properties. An example of one of the best felt-like underlayments is Silent Stride. Silent Stride underlayment has a moisture barrier attached, making it incredibly easy during the floating install process.


Cork Underlayments

A more natural underlayment option is cork. Cork offers incredible cushion and insulation, has amazing antimicrobial properties and is naturally sounds absorbent. Often, if you live in a condominium, the condo association typically will require that any flooring renovations include a cork underlayment because of all of the sound absorption benefits. Cork underlayments can come in either cork rolls or in cork sheets and for floating installations, you would just need to lay the cork down and you're ready to install your hardwood flooring.

Another benefit of cork underlayment is that you can find them in different thicknesses. The most common thicknesses of a cork underlayment are 1/8 IN. thick and 1/4 IN. thick. If you're looking to add a little height to your floating floor, to perhaps meet up with a higher floor in a connecting room, the 1/4 IN. thick cork may be exactly what you need.

A downside of using cork underlayment for a floating installation would be that most cork options do not have a moisture retarder preattached. If you are installing in an area of your home where there is a chance of moisture transfer up through the subfloor (including below grade levels or concrete subfloors), you're going to want to roll out a separate 6mil plastic sheet as a moisture retarder directly over the concrete first then the cork underlayment.

Remember: Even the best wood flooring will react to the presence of moisture. In the dry winter heating months, moisture leaves the wood causing the floor to contract, which can leave unsightly gaps between each plank. In the summer months when the humidity is higher the wood will absorb excess moisture and expand and the gaps will disappear. If there is too much moisture it may cause the wood planks to cup, or buckle. This is why it is important when installing a wood floor to acclimate the wood to the home from 4 to 7 days or more prior to installation and to leave the proper expansion gap around the perimeter and at all fixed objects. It is also important to keep the home's relative humidity level at between 30 - 50% or what the manufacturer recommends. Doing this will help minimize any movement within the wood flooring later.

 

 

For more information on underlayments for floating wood floors, underlayments for staple/nail down installations or underlayments for floating laminate floors, check out: All About Underlayments.

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Overall Rating: 4.9 stars - 7 reviews

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Date: July 4, 2017
Page Rating: (5.0/5)
Comments:
Great information explaining benefits and cons of each type. Just what I needed. Thans
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Date: December 20, 2016
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This was extremely helpful.
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Date: January 14, 2016
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Great information.
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Date: March 13, 2015
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extremely helpful information before buying any flooring!
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Date: October 15, 2014
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Helpful and easy to understand.
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Date: March 27, 2014
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Very informative in easy to understand lay terms.
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Date: January 11, 2014
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Thanks

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