Designer Tips, Technical Flooring Tips

What’s underneath matters; the right underlay for your perfect floor.

We’ve talked about subfloors previously, and we’ve also talked about fitting strategies (glued or floated..). But what we haven’t flagged is, more often than not, there is a layer between your wood floor and subfloor. It’s the filling in your flooring sandwich, and as with sandwiches, what you choose makes a difference.

Remember, you only get one shot at this – you can’t change your filling once the floor is down!

Floated Floors

Here we’re talking about underlays, and, believe it or not, there are many different types.

I had no clue about underlay before we started the business, and it’s the same with most of our clients. Yet, the quality of underlay can make a real difference, and the costs, when set against your flooring budget, often make it a no brainer to upgrade.

Underlay can be used to smooth a subfloor, improve sound proofing, increase heat insulation and create a moisture barrier. Our typical use case for premium underlay is when a client wants less heat loss (think basement flats..) and the subfloor is uneven. Uneven subfloors and floated floors are not a good combination; there’s always a risk of creaks or bounces. To fix this, clients can opt to level the floor with a levelling compound, but that’s expensive. Alternatively, they can use a thicker underlay, which is the next best thing.

Levelling out the subfloor

At Kite, we use a 5mm underlay product made from recycled tyres and cork. We’ve used this product over some pretty uneven subfloors, and the floors have moulded to a perfect fit, with very little creaking or movement. By contrast, we see far more creaks and bounces with thinner products. To upgrade, on a standard flooring project, you’d end up paying around £200 extra, so it’s definitely worth the extra spend.

What about sound proofing?

In many flats, leases will stipulate “a premium underlay” must be used for timber floors. Good underlays will have a specification sheet that lists performance, and what you’re looking for is the Db reduction. This relates to footstep sounds on your floor, and a higher Db rating will mean you’ll hear less footsteps beneath your floor. Our entry level underlays have a rating of 17Db, premium underlays can be as high as 28Db. If the underlay doesn’t have a spec sheet steer clear; when you come to sell the flat, a specification sheet is evidence you’ve complied with the lease.

A typical spec sheet. Phoooooaaaarr look at that dB rating 🙂

Heat insulation

On the specification sheet, you’ll also see a Tog rating. This is a measurement on how effective your underlay is at insulating heat; the higher the tog rating, the less heat will transfer through your floor. For wood floors, underlays can have tog ratings of anywhere from 0.3 to just over 1.

This product has a high tog and dB rating…. OMG. It’s also called Serenity. Although don’t choose your underlay based on the name.

Blocking moisture

Damp is the nemesis of the wood flooring, and we discover it pretty regularly on our travels across East London, especially in basement flats. A Damp Proof underlay is a low cost tool to protect your new floor against moisture, but note this doesn’t fix a damp problem, it merely stops damp getting to your floor.

Yes. It’s a plastic sheet. But a very thick one. In flooring TPE (Thick Plastic Sheet), doesn’t sell well, so it’s often called a DPM (Damp Proof Membrane)…. or a Vapour Transmission Barrier or Moisture Reduction Enhancer (..we made that one up.._)

What about underfloor heating?

Of course there are situations where you need an underlay that transfers heat instead of insulating against it. Normally, this means a very thin underlay, but on some electric underfloor heating systems, you float the floors directly onto them. Our advice is to always check with the heating manufacturer. They are almost always very helpful, and will advise on the best build up strategy.

You often float wood floors directly onto foil, electric underfloor heating systems.

Glue Down Floors

You cannot glue a floor to most underlays. So, what happens if you want a Herringbone floor (that has to be glued down), but you need sound proofing? This is a common scenario for us in new build developments or leasehold flats with strict leases. Here, if the subfloor is floor boards, typically, 6mm ply will be stapled, and then a special underlay made of rubber and cork is glued to the ply, with the flooring glued to this. There’s a lot of glue, and a lot of material involved, but it gets you the floor you want, and complies with the lease.

Wood, glues, and an insulating underlay.

So, there you have it. A lesson in what you can use between floors. It’s probably not something you thought you would ever have to think about. But it’s really important when choosing a floor. Get it wrong, and you’ll be thinking about it a lot. And you won’t be able to change your flooring sandwich.

Happy project planning.