Floor facts – yes, it can be noisy. Start with the underlay!

Laminate panels are currently the most popular type of flooring.

The use of an underlay with the panels is often treated as a necessary evil. When choosing panels we often fail to consider the underlay, assuming that we will get something suitable before installation. However, it is a good idea to think about the underlay, because the right choice will help to significantly improve how the floor can soundproof the room.

Time to change our approach!

Choosing the right underlay is just as important as selecting the panels. While the use of the correct underlay is required to maintain the warranty, the underlay also makes better use of the floor and gives it a longer life.

Reflected walking and impact noises:

One of the important properties of some underlays is to improve the floor acoustics. People with laminated flooring often complain about two types of noise:

– reflected walking sounds – it travels around the room where the floor is laid, when people walk or play there, for example

– impact sounds – they go through the floor and can be heard in the room below.

While we cannot completely eliminate floor noises, they can be reduced significantly with a suitable underlay. Reductions in sound are specified as a percentage (%) for reflected walking noises (RWS) and in decibels (dB) for impact sound (IS). What does this mean? Well, a noise reduction of 10 dB corresponds to 50% soundproofing to the human ear.

The best underlays on the market have an RWS of nearly 30% and an IS of more than 20 dB, so standard PE foam or ecological boards seem much less useful in this area, as they have hardly any effect on noise reduction.

Important tip:

Sound reduction is measured using specially developed test methods (such as EN 16205 CEN/TS 16354 for RWS). Manufacturers of professional underlays use the same methods in their tests, as applied by the Association of European Producers of Laminate Flooring (EPLF) in its recommendations. If the manufacturer specifies incomparably high noise reduction parameters, it is certain that it uses other test methods and takes into account other conditions in the room.

Only the use of a common testing method allows the fair comparison of results. For example, one of the underlays available on the market advertises its RWS as nearly 40%, but at the same time in the small print says that the applied standard is IHD-W431, which involves a completely different test method and other floor and room conditions. This standard is NOT considered to be reliable by the EPLF.

What kind of underlay should we choose?

It is not easy to find a product that dampens both types of sounds well. Polyurethane and mineral underlays (such as: are the best choice in this regard, but in most cases we are looking for an underlay that better soundproofs the room or insulates the floor as well as reducing noise in the rooms below, and here we have a greater choice:

– polyurethane and mineral (PUM) underlays are characterised by a low thickness and can equally well eliminate reflected walking sounds and impact sounds. If we take into account their other characteristics, such as heat conductivity for underfloor heating, and they become worth their price.

– extruded polystyrene (XPS) underlays are much better at eliminating impact sounds, but here the IS value is associated with the thickness – the thicker the underlay, the better the soundproofing. As for reflected walking sound (RWS), the values for these underlays are in the 10-14% range, which still reduces footstep sound audible to the ear. An additional argument is the relatively low price, but if we are choosing an underlay with better soundproofing properties (thicker), we should remember that it will not work well over underfloor heating.

– high density polyethylene (PEHD) underlays are very good at reducing reflected walking sounds, but they also insulate impact sounds well, while maintaining a low thickness. A good solution at a medium price.

Naturally, soundproofing is one our requirements when we lay a new floor. When we choose an underlay we should ask ourselves what else is important to us: do we have any underfloor heating, does the room need extra thermal insulation, or will a heavily used floor require the additional support provided by a high load resistance underlay? Defining our needs well allows us to choose an underlay that will fully satisfy us.

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