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Underlayments: Sound abating

by Jack Boesch

Acoustical underlayment can be a very valuable component of new flooring in multi-floor commercial and residential projects. Occupants of premium spaces expect sound performance that meets or, more likely, exceeds local building codes regarding sound abatement performance. If acoustical expectations are not met, the project developer or owner may all too clearly hear complaints about unwanted noise filtering through floors or ceilings.

When used under wood, laminate, ceramic tile or stone flooring acoustical underlayment can quiet impact sound (footfall noise) into the space below, dampen ambient sound in the room in which it is installed and inhibit stereo, TV and radio sound as well as live voices from traveling into the room below.

Local building departments differ in how they address sound levels in floor assemblies. Some municipalities don’t even have codes regarding sound abatement while others may only call for meeting minimum standards (formulated many years ago for HUD and adopted by the Uniform Building Code) that don’t mesh with today’s tenant expectations.

Owners, architects and general contractors should be made aware of the performance, economic and environmental benefits available from various acoustical underlayment options.

Underlayment with firm-but-flexible compression resistance can help even out minor imperfections in the subfloor so the finished surface lies flat while also reducing the strain of each footfall on knee and hip joints. This enables more comfortable walking, an attractive noteworthy feature for a senior residence, community center or nursing facility. Below wood or laminate, underlayment can help protect against subfloor moisture ruining the finished floor. Under ceramic, underlayment with appropriate elasticity can avoid transfer of concrete subfloor cracks through to the tile or grout. And, under most any type of finished floor, acoustical underlayment that contributes to the overall R-value of the flooring system can help boost thermal insulation and keep floors warmer in winter and cooler in summer, an eco-attribute that specifiers of many projects would find attractive.

Today, underlayment manufacturers offer a variety of combinations of features and benefits. For example, MP Global Products’ QuietWalk acoustical floating wood and laminate flooring underlayment is a full-service product that smoothes out minor subfloor imperfections while quieting impact noise and floor to ceiling noise. The filaments are randomly air laid to create a capillary effect that cushions a floating wood or laminate floor, helping to make the floor sound more like real wood. Certified to have at least 95% post-industrial fibers, QuietWalk adds an R-Value of .50 to the flooring system for added comfort. Although promoted as an upgrade that takes the place of polyfoam, it is competitively priced when compared to cork or rubber yet sports some of the highest sound ratings in testing conducted over a variety of subfloor assemblies.

Using well-matched acoustical underlayment in a floor assembly enables the finished floor to perform at optimal potential, reinforcing the value of the choice and quietly benefiting everyone along the supply chain.