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Sub-Floors: A Key to Long-Lasting Hard Flooring

Sub-Floors: A Key to Long-Lasting Hard Flooring

You decided to install new flooring in your dining room. You invested with an eye toward long term value and chose a fantastic hardwood. You have removed the worn out carpet and pad. The contractors who will install the gorgeous maple planks for a reasonable price, but you agreed to install a sub-floor yourself. So now what do you do?

What is a Sub-Floor?

A sub-floor rests between the top layer and the floor base material such as cement. The sub-floor fills two needs: it creates a sound cushion or dampener, and it provides a stable surface for the top flooring level-the one on which you walk, sit and place your furniture-without stress damage to your beautiful main layer.

Sub-floors are important when considering any kind of hard surface floor. Carpeting can and does muffle sound; hard floors echo and can amplify sounds, depending on other acoustic factors. The sound dampening contribution is almost imperative with tile, laminate or hardwood. What type of sub-floor used is influenced by whether the upper layer is solid, expands or floats.

Some types of bare flooring require a solid, stable base. Others require a floating base. Match the type of sub-floor material to the upper layer to account for connection requirements and adaptability as well as base material needs.

Types of Sub-Floor Material

The first step in preparing or installing any type of sub-floor is determining what materials work best with the upper floor layer. What works well with floating laminate may not suffice for ceramic tiles, for example.

One of the more common sub-floor materials used for sound dampening is called gypcrete, a material that looks much like concrete and is applied in much the same manner. Although it is relatively easy to install, it does not allow direct connection or fastening of the upper floor. Use this material as an acoustic buffer only and install another thin sub-floor to which you can securely attach the upper material if needed.

Wood sub-floor options include planking or solid sheets, such as plywood. Know if one is better for your upper hard flooring and install the appropriate composite.

Plastic sub-floors vary from thin sheets of plastic to interlocking pieces. Plastic is often used with tile and in areas where water damage is a concern.

Cement backers, different from gypcrete, are slabs that screw directly into the floor joists or to concrete, providing one of the most stable and solid types of sub-floor material.

Oriented Strand Board is an engineered wood that nails or screws into the floor joists, creating a solid base. It can also securely interlock to create a floating sub-floor.


Save your new or newly revamped hard floor with proper sub-floors. Before you install any type of flooring, inspect the current sub-floor and repair or replace it with appropriate materials and construction to extend the life and value of your home improvement dollar.