It’s no secret that hardwood flooring is in trend for many homeowners and buyers—not just because it’s aesthetically pleasing, but also because it’s a good investment. A USA Today study using data from the National Association of Realtors found that 54 percent of homebuyers were willing to pay more for a home with hardwood flooring.

With the growing demand for hard-surface flooring including hardwood, laminate and vinyl, there is a growing need for sound-reduction underlayment to alleviate noise caused both directly and indirectly by hard flooring surfaces.

FCI reached out to several underlayment manufacturers for their expertise and insight on the latest sound-reduction products and technologies.

Sound Reduction Trends

Soundproofing is an important element of commercial and residential buildings, such as apartments, condominiums, hospitals or offices, says Dustin Prevete, senior product manager at Laticrete. These types of buildings require minimal impact noise from floor spaces above so they can provide quiet comfort levels for occupants.

“As homeowners switch from soft carpet flooring to hard surface wood, laminate and vinyl flooring, the acoustical underlayment is critical,” said Jim Wink, vice president of sales and marketing at Foam Products Corp. “Acoustical underlayment is extremely important in reducing the sound transmission between floors—especially in condos, apartments and multi- story family homes.”

Flooring installations that require sound reduction can benefit from using an adhesive or underlayment mat, adds Prevete.

“Both work to eliminate the transmission of substrate cracks from transferring to the finished floor, but for some, adhesives are the preferred method because they allow for faster installation and are best suited for ceramic and porcelain tile finishes as well as natural stone,” said Prevete. “However, adhesives are not ideal for all types of floor coverings. As a rule of thumb, underlayment sheet mats tend to work best under other types of glue-down finishes, such as hardwood, making them more versatile when various finishes require sound control.”

Another important thing to note about sound-reduction products is that there are a variety of building structures used in sound reduction, says Deanna Summers, marketing specialist and account manager at MP Global Products.

“Understanding how the assembly is built beneath the floor next to the ceiling of the neighbor below is important when considering an underlayment, as tests are based on the entire floor-to-ceiling structure and materials—not just the underlayment itself within that structure,” said Summers. “Many underlayment manufacturers try to appropriately test the most common structures, but that roadmap is less defined.”

Sound Reduction Improvements

Sound reduction is a constantly evolving segment in the flooring industry with new developments in underlayment and mortars for tile and stone applications, says Prevete.

“Manufacturers are offering thinner structures without compromising on meeting product standards. This makes them more dependable in installations where thinner system profile build-up is required,” said Prevete. “Further improvements include products that function with a variety of installation solutions rather than limited to a specific type of application. Underlayment mats that come in a variety of thicknesses and IIC ratings or versatile mortars that can be applied to various flooring materials are examples of this.”

High-density materials that are environmentally friendly and GreenGuard Gold-certified are proven to be the best sound-absorbing materials, adds Wink.

“With a high-density polyurethane or latex underlayment, the material simply rolls out over the subfloor and lays flat,” he said. “No curling on the end of the rolls like the cheaper plastic materials.”

There have also been improvements in impact sound control, according to Larry Lyons, director of sales and marketing for flooring and construction products at Amorim Cork Composites. 

“The harder the flooring material, the more impact noise it generates when subjected to the tapping machine used in measuring IIC performance, said Lyons. “The more impact noise generated, the greater the thickness of a resilient material that is required to dissipate the sound energy generated.”

Best Practices for Installing Sound-Reduction Products

When it comes to installing sound-reduction products, it’s important for flooring installers to know the build-out, says Timothy Abbott, CEO of Proflex Products.

“Know what your substrate is,” Abbott said. “Do you have a ceiling assembly? What is the finished flooring that you are installing and what effect does it have on the sound numbers of the membrane? If it is a high-rise condo, do they have a condo board that requires certain products?”

Installers should also consider the building code requirements for the project’s jurisdiction before working with sound control products, adds Prevete. Final build-up thickness requirements should also be taken into consideration.

“A product’s sound-reduction capabilities are typically measured by the products’ IIC rating, which determines how well a building floor attenuates impact sounds, such as footsteps,” he said. “Likewise, Sound Transmission Class (STC) is another way to measure airborne sounds, which includes speech, music, television, traffic and other common daily sounds that can penetrate through flooring.”

To avoid making mistakes when installing underlayment for sound reduction, it’s important for flooring contractors to follow installation instructions and know the building code requirements.

Learn more about best practices and materials for subfloor prep

“One of the biggest issues with any flooring product is the lack of floor prep either in cleaning the floors or what the requirements are for the finished floor,” said Abbott. “If you have a question, call the manufacturer and read all of the data sheets for the membranes and for the finished flooring.”