One of the most important parts of solid hardwood floors isn’t the planks … it’s subfloors.
Think of a subfloor as the base of your flooring. A subfloor is what lies beneath the hardwood planks you’ll walk on and enjoy for years to come. It’s the foundation that gives your flooring a place to rest, a place for strength and durability as you go about your busy days. Without a strong subfloor, your hardwood floors would be compromised, and would not provide the results you’re looking for.
Maybe you’ve been shopping for hardwood flooring for a while now. Maybe you’ve pinned different samples trying to make up your mind on species, color, and width.
Before you settle on what planks to install, it’s worth a few minutes to learn all you can about subfloors, and to make the very best decision there too.
What is subflooring?
When you do a search for subflooring online, you might find a mix of articles talking about subflooring and underlayment. What’s the difference?
When your house was first built, flooring was created with three parts:
Joists – this is the structural component of your floors. These heavy-duty beams run across every room in your house, giving it structure and stability over time. You can see the joists by looking up if you have an old, unfinished basement.
Subfloors – this is the material that covers the joists. In most cases, it’s nailed into place. The subflooring helps distribute the weight evenly across the joists as you move throughout your day.
Flooring – this is the finished material you can see. This is what gives your home personality and good looks.
Every house will have subflooring in place. This is what creates the structure and stability for flooring installation.
Yet some flooring materials need more than what a subfloor has to offer. That’s where underlayment comes in. Underlayment is a special surface between the subfloor and finished flooring to provide reinforcement. It may be needed for extra strength if you choose a particularly heavy flooring material. It can act as a sound barrier if you’re trying to create a quiet atmosphere. It might provide a waterproof barrier, especially important if the room is prone to moisture.
What are subfloors made of?
Subfloors can be made from a variety of materials. The purpose of the subfloor is strength and durability, and that can come in the form of many different types of materials. A level, smooth, and dry floor is necessary before you install your finished flooring. You can achieve that with one of these materials:
Plywood – the most common type of subfloor. Plywood is created from sheets of wood veneer held together with glue. It’s affordable, easy to work with, and provides durability for most flooring installations.
Concrete – you’ll often find basements with a concrete subfloor, and sometimes on the ground-level floor if there isn’t a crawlspace or basement. If you’re working with concrete as a subfloor, it’s important to test for moisture before you install your finished flooring material. A proper vapor barrier will protect your final flooring from moisture, if necessary.
Oriented strand board (OSB) – this material is created from chunks of wood held together with adhesive. It functions like plywood.
What’s the best subfloor for hardwood floors?
When you’re buying hardwood floors, you’ll choose from solid hardwood or engineered. They each have their own set of rules and requirements.
Solid hardwood floors require a sturdy, durable subfloor, especially if the planks will be nailed or glued into place. In both cases, installers will use either plywood or OSB, with the final subfloor being at least ¾ of an inch thick.
Of course, installers may also add underlayment material, depending on the situation.
Installers often lay an underlayment of felt building paper down between the wood subfloor and your hardwood planks. This provides a necessary bond that will lessen the chance of squeaky floors and help control moisture.
For engineered hardwood, they often are installed with click-together floating floors. This means they aren’t attached to the subfloors, with underlayment requirements rarely in place. Just follow the manufacturer’s guidelines and your flooring will be good to go.
Should you replace subfloors before installing new hardwood?
Whether you currently have carpet, tile, or hardwood planks in place, adding new subfloor material may be part of the process of installing new flooring. If you install new hardwood over a compromised subfloor, no matter how well you maintain it, the hardwood will wear out quickly because it won’t have the necessary support from underneath.
The subfloor sets the foundation for a quality floor. Without a quality subfloor, your flooring material will never give you a full lifespan. That’s why a reputable flooring dealer will always tell you to take a step down in quality of your final flooring selection in order to increase the quality of your subfloor material.
It makes a difference.
When homeowners don’t invest in a proper subfloor, they very quickly start experiencing compromises in quality. They usually complain of:
With any of these problems, fast action is required to prevent the problem from further compromising your flooring.
Do subfloors matter? They are the integrity of your hardwood floors
If you’re reading this, we know you’re on a quest for finding and installing the perfect new floors. Solid hardwood floors are beautiful, and can last for years – decades even. Yet that won’t happen if you don’t install it using the best materials and installation processes possible. Without a proper subfloor in place, you’ll compromise the lifespan of the materials, making you replace your floors long before their time.
Have we answered your questions on subfloors and installing hardwood floors in your home? If you have any additional questions, we welcome them here. Or feel free to contact us, or stop by our retail location.
We’re here to ensure you fall in love with your new hardwood floors from the moment they’re installed. And to keep loving them for years to come.