What Lies Beneath: What You Need Under Your New Wood Floor
Wood flooring, whether you choose an engineered laminate or solid hardwood, is a classic, beautiful and durable. Like the wood flooring infamous Monticello and Mount Vernon, with proper care and maintenance it will last a lifetime. But did you ever wonder what sits directly beneath a wood floor that can help increase its longevity? What lies beneath really does make a difference when it comes to how long your wood floor lasts and even how comfortable it feels.
Water and moisture is an enemy to all wood floor types. Once water gets absorbed into the grain of the wood, the floor swells, cups or warps and eventually cracks. To prevent water damage on the surface of your floors, you should immediately soak up spills and contain snow and rainwater by placing rugs near doors. However, what about water and moisture damage from below the floor?
A moisture barrier is a layer of material placed beneath the wood floor to prevent moisture from seeping up from the subfloor below. It protects your floor from the water you cannot see until the damage is already done.
Moisture barriers should always be placed when installing wood floors over:
- Concrete subfloors
- Any floor below grade
- Existing ceramic tile or vinyl floors
However, a moisture barrier is not needed if the subfloor is wood. This includes any plywood, particle board, planking or existing hardwood. A moisture barrier between two layers of wood will only trap moisture below it, causing the subfloor to warp or rot and promote mold growth.
An underlay is a padded layer of foam material that lies directly beneath a wood floor. This is not regular carpet padding, which is too thick and soft and would cause flooring joints to break when you walk on it. Instead, the underlay for a wood floor is a bit thinner but still serves several functions after installation:
- Reduces Noise. Wood flooring, especially laminate floors, is notorious for making footsteps sound louder. A layer of underlay helps muffle the sound of footsteps and other noises, which can be helpful if you live in a condo and have neighbors residing below you.
- Provides Cushioning When You Walk. A high-quality underlay adds an extra layer of subtle cushioning to your floor, which makes it more comfortable to walk on.
- Evens Out Minor Imperfections on the Subfloor. The subfloor should be as smooth and flat as possible before wood flooring is installed. However, small dips and flaws can still exist even after major problems are fixed. A layer of underlay smooths out those minor imperfections, which helps the wood floor stay more stable once it’s installed.
- Keeps the Floor Insulated. If you live in a cold climate, having a warm floor to walk on feels better, especially for pets and children. A layer of underlay keeps the cold away from the wood floor and makes your floor feel warm. The same is true in hot weather — underlay insulates the floor and helps it stay cool in the summer.
- Helps Resist More Moisture. In addition to a moisture barrier, a layer of underlay helps keep out moisture. This is especially true for concrete subfloors, which are capable of soaking up moisture and later releasing it.
Foam is the most common material used in the production of underlays, but cork has proven to be just as effective but with the added benefit of being sustainable.
Your wood floors should look stunning for years if you take proper care of them. You can protect them from moisture, increase your comfort and reduce noise levels by choosing a quality moisture barrier and underlay to place beneath them.