Choosing the perfect underlayment for your hardwood floors is often a daunting decision, as it sets the tone for the rest of the flooring system. If you go too soft, then you may fall victim to moisture damage. Again, the wrong type of underlayment can weaken the hardwood planks from within. So, what is the best underlayment for hardwood floors?
Vapor deposition, noise level reduction, heat insulation, comfort, and structural stability – are the primary features of a good underlayment for hardwood floors. Normally, you can use cork, rubber, felt, sticky-backed, slotted, foam, etc. types of underlayment options with both solid and engineered hardwood floors.
But how should you decide on the best underlayment for hardwood floors? How can you ensure the longevity of the expensive hardwood planks after underlayment installation?
Well, that’s incisively what today’s write-up is all about. Including the pros and cons of the most commonly used hardwood underlayment options for both solid and engineered hardwood floors, we’ll also go over a brief how-to-choose guide at the very end so you can thoroughly weigh out all the options. So, stick around, folks.
Table of Contents
What Is The Best Underlayment For Hardwood Floors?
By acting like a protective layer between the subfloor and actual hardwood surface, a high-caliber underlayment can save you a lot of trouble. From the many options, we’ll suggest the slotted underlayment as the best one for solid hardwood floors.
And as for engineered hardwood floors, we’d recommend going for a high-quality felt pad or fiberboard underlayment. The latter doesn’t work with solid hardwood floors due to the extra-fastened exterior but they’re great for engineered floors!
From covering up the imperfections in the subfloor to ensuring the longevity of hardwood floors – these underlayment options can take care of all your needs. However, customized slotted and fibreboard underlayment flooring can be quite expensive at times. In such cases, you can go for the standard cork, foam, felt, etc. options as well!
Best Underlayment For Solid Hardwood Floors
With solid hardwood floors, you can stick to the standard underlayment options like felt, cork, foam, rubber, etc. Slotted foam pads can offer an all-inclusive package as well.
Moisture or vapor barriers are non-negotiable for solid hardwood floors due to the constant refinishing needs. Check out the following table to figure out the details of all the underlayment options for solid hardwood floors at once.
|Foam||-Great for heat retention|
|-Low-quality foam breaks down easily|
-Potential fire hazard
-Doesn’t move easily
-Can last for eons/decades
|-Low-quality adhesion can increase the stickiness|
-Can become heavy and damp
|Felt||-Popular and affordable|
-In-built moisture retention
-Added cushion upon impact
|-Can require frequent repairs|
-Can fall victim to shredding
-Desperately needs high-quality vapor barriers
|Cork||-Recycled and non-toxic|
-Great for sound absorption
-Lightweight and doesn’t apply as much pressure
|-Not inherently waterproof|
-Requires external moisture/vapor barrier
-Lacks sturdiness sometimes
|Rubber||-Most flexible option|
-Both organic and recycled options are -available
-Great sound & heat insulator
|-Lack of permeability|
-Doesn’t sit well with improper subflooring
-Needs a certain thickness
-Can create a puddle of water
|Black Paper Felt||-Heavy layers of felt|
-Extra cushioning & comfort
-Perfect for solid wood floors
-Manufactured from recycled materials thus environment-friendly
|-Can sometimes be too heavy for high storied flats|
-Certain insects can eat through layers of felt/wood
-Pricier than normal felt
-Doesn’t prevent molding
Best Underlayment For Engineered Hardwood Floors
The basic underlayment options such as cork, foam, felt, etc. can all be used for engineered hardwood floors too alongside solid hardwood floors. But it’s better to use the heavyweight options with engineered hardwood floors.
The reason is – the plywood sheathing with polyurethane finish already adds to the moisture prevention and heat retention capabilities of the flooring system. Hence, you should focus on stabilization and longevity more.
Here are a few good options for engineered hardwood floors!
-Quick peel-off installation
-Sticks to the subfloor for added stability
|-Bad adhesion can ruin the polyurethane finish|
-Birt particles can get trapped underneath the slotted pads
|Fiber Planks/Boards||-Great for stabilization|
-Helps to level the subfloor
-Standard STC ratings
-Requires professional installation & repair services
How To Choose The Best Underlayment Options For Solid & Engineered Hardwood Floors?
While choosing the perfect underlayment for your lavish hardwood floors, you need to prioritize the environmental conditions alongside the wood quality and feasibility. Meanwhile, the price point matters a lot too since most of these insulated barriers aren’t cheap in the slightest.
For best results, don’t forget to talk to a professional while purchasing or browsing the options. And here are a few factors you should watch out for beforehand –
Use soft cork, rubber, felt, etc. types with comparatively malleable subfloor options. Too much insulation isn’t good for the subfloor because the wood needs to breathe too.
Again, you can get a fibreboard underlayment to fix the leveling issues between the subfloor and the hardwood.
If you live in an area with constant humid weather, then you need a balance between insulation and permeability. In this case, vapor barriers will help with the situation.
Cork, rubber, etc. can actively prevent molding, algae/moss growth, etc. So, you should go for these options with such environmental conditions.
Heavyweight options like black paper felt fibreboard, etc. are great for engineered hardwood floors. But if your apartment is pretty high up, switch to lightweight options like cork, rubber, foam, etc. instead for proper stabilization.
Frequently Asked Questions
Will vapor barriers damage my hardwood floors?
The job of vapor barriers is to literally prevent the moisture from creeping up the layers from the sub-floor to the top.
Even if a portion of the subfloor gets damaged due to moisture, the underlayment will act as a barricade between the hardwood & the subfloor. Vapor barriers won’t damage your hardwood floors unless you fail to refurbish the damaged subfloor in time.
Should I install a separate underlayment despite already having an attached underlayment with the flooring?
If the flooring system already comes with an underlayment, you don’t have to necessarily install a separate underlayment. Too much insulation is actually harmful to hardwood floors as they lock out the heat and moisture completely.
Which underlayment should I go for maximum sound absorption facilities?
For max sound absorption facilities, you should definitely go for an underlayment option that has felt or cork as its base. Both cork and felt pads are great at absorbing sound alongside providing moisture and heat insulation.
What are the main differences between solid and engineered hardwood floors?
Engineered hardwood floors normally have a repolished plywood sheathing over the wider hardwood planks. Hardwood floors with solid surfaces have narrower planks and you can sand and refinish these floors over & over again.
Can I use unused carpets as an underlayment for floors?
You should never use an unused or old carpet as an underlayment for hardwood or any other type of floor. However, you can choose a standard underlayment FOR a carpet flooring system, but don’t use carpets underneath.
Because carpets need regular cleaning and steaming to get rid of germs, dust particles, etc. If you place them under the planks as underlayments, they’ll just keep getting dirtier and dirtier over time and might even start to rot the wood within.
Why is my floor swelling up during the rainy season?
If you’re using an underlayment without moisture or vapor barriers, then soft floors like solid hardwood floors can swell up during the rainy season due to the build-up of moisture. Again, it can also happen if you’re using old carpets underneath the surface for extra cushioning.
The rainwater can seep in through the windows and gradually make the carpet fibers wetter and fluffier. The same can happen to jute fiber and felt underlayment options without a vapor barrier system as well.
Without proper counteractive measures set in place, the underlayment can’t hold more than a certain amount of water & thus, the planks start to swell up.
So, what is the best underlayment for hardwood floors after all? Turns out that pretty much all the traditional options such as felt, rubber, cork, foam, etc. work really well with both engineered and solid hardwood floors. And hey, as long as you’re not trying to pass off the old carpets as a viable option, you can hardly go wrong with this procedure.
With solid hardwood floors, you should double down on moisture resistance and stabilization. Again, since you’ll probably be sanding and refinishing the solid hardwood floors multiple times a year, you should invest in a strengthened yet considerably malleable underlayment there.
On the other hand, engineered hardwood floors have better counteractive properties against heat and moisture. Additionally, the plywood sheathing adds to the overall structural integrity of the engineered hardwood floors. Henceforth, starting from normal underlay to fiber boards to slotted underlay designed mainly for solid hardwood floors, anything goes with engineered hardwood floors easily.