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Is underlayment for hardwood floors necessary?

Last updated on February 25th, 2021 at 09:48 am

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Have you recently decided to install beautiful hardwood floors in your home or commercial space? Before you install, you may want to decide on whether or not you will need underlayment. Underlayment for hardwood floors will absolutely help you to enjoy them for many more years.

Is underlayment for hardwood floors nessessary?

Installing it can be beneficial in several ways. In some cases, the manufacturer of your hardwood will require an underlayment to maintain their warranty, where in apartment situations, it can be a requirement of building codes.

In general, It’s smart to always check before trying to skip this important step of renovating your space.

Do You Need Underlayment For Hardwood Floors?

Underlayment, sometimes called underlay, is a layer of material that can be installed between your subfloor and new hardwood floor. If you are about to install new wood flooring and you are concerned with time or budget, you may be uncertain if it is necessary.

When underlayment installed under your hardwood floors, it will provide stability, sound dampening and cushioning, moisture barrier, compression resistance, warmth, and at the same time hide minor subfloor imperfections.

Benefits having hardwood floor underlayment

There are few key benefits having underlayment under your hardwood flooring. Let’s name few most important ones.

Moisture Barrier

The average person’s main concern having a hardwood floor is water damage. Moisture can cause wood to warp and crack, rot and weaken, and grow mold. Most of this danger actually comes from underneath the house, penetrating through surface of plywood subfloor, concrete slabs or any kind of wood subfloors.

To protect your new hardwood floor from this kind of moisture, an underlayment is usually highly recommended. 

While not all underlayments are equipped with a vapor or moisture barriers, the best ones are. It will protect your hardwood floor from moisture penetrating inside and potentially ruin them.

Sound Reduction properties

If installing hardwood without an underlayment , it can be fairly loud and you will usually hear a hollow clicking sound when walked upon.

They transfer impact noise, which is the noise created when two hard objects meet. This can make a scooting chair echo throughout the house, or a child’s footsteps shake the floors with the force of a baby elephant.

Some types of underlayment are significantly helpful in reducing the noises of daily life by absorbing the impact rather than transferring it straight to solid sub-flooring.  

Cushion

If you have ever had to walk on concrete for an hour or two, you might know how important a little cushion is beneath your feet. Hardwood floors are hard, and sub-floors are often made of plywood, particleboard, or concrete, making them harder.

While most underlayments are not especially thick, they do provide a measure of cushion underneath your flooring that allows the hard surface of your floor to be gentler on your joints as you walk and stand upon them. It will also help reduce squeaking as your floors age naturally.

Compression Resistance

Underlayments are different from just any old cushioning carpet pad. They provide the benefits already discussed while being resistant to compressions. This compression resistance will enhance your floor’s longevity.

Insulation 

Hard floors are often cold as they simply absorb the cold from the subfloor. Underlayment will add a layer of insulation between your new hardwood flooring and the sub-floor. It will also keep the cold from absorbing into your floor boards so readily.

Additionally, many of them are specifically designed to be compatible with radiant heating flooring systems. All this will make your home a few degrees warmer than if you do not choose to use them

Minor Subfloor Flaws

While an underlay won’t fix major discrepancies in the surface of the wood subfloor such as cracks, protruding objects, or holes; it will smooth out minor imperfections.

Keep in mind, it is always recommended that you try to level your sub-floor as best you can before you put any type of flooring on top of it.

Stability

When hardwood, engineered wood, laminate, or vinyl plank flooring is installed that is intentionally unattached to the subfloor, they call it a floating floor. This method of installation creates a space between the floor and subfloor that might cause your hardwood to shift with use; because nothing is holding it in place. 

Wood naturally expands and contracts with temperature and humidity so Installing an underlayment will provide constant stability and support to your flooring which will keep boards from buckling or pulling apart at the seams.

Floating floors are increasingly popular due to their ease of installation and future repair or maintenance. They need underlayment stability even more than their glue-down and nail-down counterparts.

People sometimes think of carpet padding when talking about underlayment materials for wood floors. The problem with carpet is that it is so thick and soft, it fails to provide hardwood with a solid enough surface to be… well, solid.

Walking on solid hardwood flooring layered over carpet padding will cause the boards to bend and crack out of their straight and solid positions.

We know three main type of underlayments for hardwood floor. This are: felt, foam and cork.

I ask my costumers Two important questions when selecting type of underlay.

  1. Is your subfloor concrete? If so, you’ll need a vapor barrier.
  2. Is your wood floor Cherry, or walnut? These types of wood are softer and more vulnerable. Therefore, you should focus on stability and compression resistance.

Let’s explain each type little bit more in depth and name one product example which I highly recommend.

Felt 

15 lb black felt paper is ideal if you are nailing your new solid hardwood floors to the subfloor and if you are concerned with a budget. It is the most commonly recommended material for underlayment.

NOTE: Be careful not to mistake it for asphalt roofing paper, which looks almost identical, but releases toxic fumes when installed indoors. 

Felt can be made from recycled material, in various thicknesses to support sound reduction, insulation, and cushion. They often come with an attached vapor barrier.

One of the most popular and highly rated underlayments is Roberts felt Roll.

Roberts 70-193A Super Felt Cushion Roll

You can use Roberts felt underlayment Roll with engineered hardwood, laminate flooring and hardwood floors. It Features an adhesive strip and overlap for creating a tight seal when covering a large surface area. This felt roll is made from recycled materials, compressed with high heat. 

Roberts 70-193A Super 360 sq 60 in. x 72 ft. x 3 mm Felt Cushion Roll for Engineered Wood and Laminate Flooring Underlayment

You will also get moisture barrier so you can install your Hardwood flooring over concrete slab without any problems.

PROS
  1. Provides superior cushion and moisture barrier.
  2. Absorbs sound instead of deflecting it.
  3. Made to insulate, keeping your space comfortable and your electric bill steadier.
Check on Amazon

Cork 

Cork is a natural, renewable resource that truly appeals to just about everyone that is trying to live by the “green” standard. It is fantastic at reducing noise and providing a cushion.

Cork has the added benefits of being anti-microbial, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal, helping anyone in your home that suffers from sinus allergies. 

NOTE: If you choose cork underlayment, you will want to look into additional moisture resistance. Cork is not waterproof, and will not protect your hardwood from moisture on its own.

Cork underlayment by QEP

My top pick is the Cork Underlayment by QEP because it is an affordable yet quality cork option.

QEP Natural Cork Underlayment Roll - 1/4" (6 mm) - 200 sq. ft., 48

It has great sound dampening ratings and reduces thermal transmission. Moreover, it’s easy to install, and can be used for glue-down, floating, and nail-down flooring installations.

NOTE:  If your subfloor conditions require a vapor barrier (concrete), you will need to purchase one separately to lay beneath the cork underlay.

Check on Amazon

Foam 

Although mostly a little more expensive than the other types of underlayment, foam is well known to absorb sound and insulate better than most other products.

Floor lot is great example of high quality foam underlayment suitable for hardwood floors as well.

Floorlot Gold Premium Flooring Underlayment with Attached Vapor Barrier

You can use Floorlot Gold with laminate floor, hardwood, engineered hardwood, and bamboo flooring. Features a printed grid for DIY installation, and a self-sealing lip and tape system for easy and secure sealing. 

Check on Amazon
PROS
  1. Remarkable sound reduction
  2. High-quality moisture barrier built-in

What Happens If You Don’t Use Underlayment? 

Without underlayment, your new hardwood floors are not well protected from moisture damage. This is especially important if your house has a concrete slab subfloor.

Concrete soaks up moisture from the ground, especially when it rains. Skipping underlayment can mean rotting hardwood and rapidly growing mold, and you might be looking at replacing your floors in less than a year.

Also With any kind of sub-floor, noise can be an issue. Laying solid on top of solid creates a double impact effect, where you are not just hearing the sound of your son’s feet hit the floor, but also every vibration his footsteps are creating throughout the house, simultaneously.

Voices also bounce and echo off solid surfaces, making noise a primary concern in most household

A Note About Radiant Heating

If you have installed radiant heating to keep your floors warm, you should be aware of this when shopping for underlayment. There are some types and materials that will provide too much insulation for radiant heating to be effective.

PRO TIP: Look for underlayment with a low R-value, which means that underlayment material will allow the radiant heat to pass through to the floor, where it benefits you the most. A high R-value means the material is not compatible with radiant heating. 

Can you use carpet underlay for wooden flooring?

It is not recommended. Underlayments for hard floors are specially designed to also be compression resistant. If you install a hard floor over a carpet underlay you will have compression issues, which will stress the floor planks. Purchase an underlayment that is specific to your type of flooring.

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