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Sustainable Underlay for Wooden Floors

By: Chris Hogan MSc - Updated: 3 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
 
Underlay Wooden Flooring Flooring

If you are laying wooden or laminate flooring and you've researched the sustainability of the flooring to the hilt you'll only be doing half the job if you ignore the underlay. Wooden flooring, whether it's glued or click-fit, needs to 'float' in order to let the boards expand and contract with temperature and humidity. Underlay that allows this floating is essential.

Reasons for Fitting Underlay

There are other reasons to fit underlay, some of which will be more or less important depending on the type of property you live in. They are:

  • Sound insulation
  • Damp-proofing
  • Heat insulation
  • Smoothing out undulations
  • Softening the feel underfoot
If you are laying wooden flooring on an upstairs floor or live in a flat you might be wise to look at sound proofing qualities. Older properties might need more in the way of damp-proofing (but note that even the best underlay will not replace a proper damp proof course) and thickness to iron out imperfections in the supporting floor.

Plethora of Products

There are now so many different materials being used for underlay and very little information on their sustainability that choosing an environmentally sound product is very difficult. The products on the market will come either on a roll or in the form of boards, the latter being better at evening out a bumpy surface.

Many of the newer super-insulating underlay products are made from mineral wools and foil layers so they are likely to be poor on the sustainability front. The cheapest materials are expanded polystyrene which doesn't stand up too well either. One low end product is two layers of PVC film with polystyrene beads in between so it's a reasonably safe bet that its eco-sensitivity rating will be low. If you have to use one of these products it will unfortunately be a case of trying to prise information out of retailers in order to pick the best performing product.

Boards and Cork

Boards are more likely to score higher on the sustainability front as many of them are made from wood or wood by-products. Even some of the polystyrene boards are made from 100% recycled materials but they can be hard to find. Cork is a great material for a wooden flooring underlay but it is expensive and can be difficult to find in larger board sizes that lend themselves well to underlay.

Cork has excellent sound insulation properties but do make sure that you don't get self-adhesive cork tiles. As well as some of the glues used being a bit suspect the floor needs to breathe and move.

Reuse Rather than Recycle

Of course the most sustainable underlay is one that doesn't have to be manufactured for your personal use. You can achieve that by getting hold of someone else's used materials, as long as they are up to the job. Check on local web sites and email groups where people offer items for others to use, in order to keep them out of landfill sites.

Try being creative too. A secondhand natural fibre carpet would work well as underlay in some cases and do a good job of soundproofing. It wouldn’t matter if it had been well used as long as there weren't too many large depressions. Equally if you are laying wooden flooring in a bathroom or kitchen you could consider laying it on top of the existing solid flooring like lino or vinyl. You'd still need underlay if it was over a concrete, stone or tiled floor though.

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