Demand for quiet between floors in multi-storey condos, highrise apartments and other tenanted buildings is on the rise, with less intrusion of neighbour noise seen not as a perk but an expectation.
Installing quality acoustic underlayment under new hardwood, engineered wood, laminate and luxury vinyl tile flooring is a sound investment. Building owners and property managers often pay a steep price when tenants complain about noise, forced to take action after the fact – when the new floor has already been walked on.
There are a number of factors that help differentiate between various underlayment options. These include: the type of floor (for example, glue-down or nail down hardwood, engineered wood, laminate wood, floating wood and composition); and the performance goals of the underlayment as part of the floor assembly.
The characteristics of high-performing underlayment can vary widely. Paramount among them is sound abatement and reduction in sound transmission between floors.
Sound absorbing or acoustic underlayment quiets impact sound and inhibits noise from travelling into the room below. Manufacturers offer acoustic underlayment in various materials, including polyethylene or polystyrene film, cork, rubber and fibre.
A fibre underlayment often performs better than a “foam” pad. It can furnish the sound-deadening benefits similar to those offered by cork and rubber but at a lower cost.
In addition to sound abatement, fibre underlayment has insulating qualities that act as a thermal break, helping keep a room warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. As well, it can help smooth floor imperfections and provide moisture protection.
Acoustic fibre underlayment with built-in moisture management reduces the possibility of mould growth under a finished floor and can wick away subfloor or incidental perimeter moisture that might otherwise ruin the finished surface.
Also, some acoustic underlayment enables engineered wood and laminate floors to sound more like real wood.
In a renovation project where new glue-down or engineered wood floor is going to be installed, acoustic underlayment can be glued directly on top of old vinyl composition tile, so long as the tile is secure. This eliminates the need for potentially hazardous tear-out that could release dangerous fibres into the air.
For “green” renovations or new building projects, eco-friendly underlayment is available. It is manufactured without any VOCs and may be third party certified to meet high standards for low emissions. As well, some eco-friendly underlayment is manufactured (in whole or in part) from recycled fibres, diverting material otherwise destined for landfill and further helping preserve the environment.
Duane Reimer is technical director of MP Global Products, a manufacturer of earth-friendly acoustic floor underlayment. He can be reached at 1.888.379.9695.