A properly-installed wood floor can last for years, adding warmth and character to the home while requiring little care beyond routine cleaning and polishing. If you fail to install floors properly, however, you can be faced with an endless stream of issues, from bowing and cupping to cracks, gaps and unwanted noise and movement. To ensure a successful installation, start by choosing the proper base layer, or underlayment. This material sits between the hardwood and the subfloor, acting as everything from vapor barrier to cushion and everything in between.
Solid hardwood floors are designed for installation with nails or staples, which creates a very stable bond between the floor and the subfloor. Because of this strong bond, the primary underlayment concern associated with hardwood is moisture control, not noise or cushioning. If you nail or staple hardwood directly to the subfloor, moisture will eventually permeate the floor, which can damage the wood, leading to cupping and bowing. A simple moisture or vapor barrier below the wood helps to prevent this issue. If your subfloor is wood, choose a permeable underlayment like black flooring felt or kraft paper. If you have a concrete subfloor, choose a non-porous underlayment such as polyethylene film or some other form of plastic.
Underlayment options for engineered wood depend on how the floor is installed. If you plan to use nails or staples, choose the same form of underlayment you would use for hardwood. This includes felt or kraft paper for wood subfloors or plastic underlayment for concrete subfloors. If you plan to float your engineered wood over the subfloor, however, you have some additional underlayment issues to consider. Floating floors tend to move much more than nailed or stapled varieties, and all that movement can damage the wood. A foam or padded underlayment protects the floor from damage, extending its life and keeping it looking new. Choose underlayment with a vapor or moisture barrier attached to prevent moisture damage over time while protecting the floor and adding a bit of cushion underfoot.
Laminate floors look like wood, but contain no actual hardwood. They are designed for floating installation, and this factor, combined with their lack of strength compared to real wood, means that they require a bit of extra cushion. A thicker cushion below the floor prevents noise and makes the floor feel more solid and comfortable underfoot. It also helps to prevent small imperfections in the subfloor from telegraphing through the surface of the laminate. Pick a heavy foam or felt designed for use with laminate to ensure a successful finish.
If you need help with flooring installation, work with a professional like MD Walk On Wood Floors to ensure you get the job done correctly.