Ask any contractor and they will tell you one of the most important parts of any building’s structure is its flooring system because it carries the weight of the interior walls, roof, your furniture, flooring and appliances. How well your flooring structure is built will determine how much weight that your floor can carry.
- Joist – the joist of your floor is the bottom-most layer that holds up your entire floor. Some floors, like concrete do not require joists.
- Subfloor – the structurally sound layer, usually plywood.
- Underlayment – this is used to smooth out the subfloor with a thin layer of plywood, cement fiberboard or cement board providing a flat level surface.
- Finished floor – your decorative top layer flooring such as hardwood, tile or laminate.
There are a few different types of subfloor materials that you can use for your flooring.
- Plywood – the most popular material used in subflooring is ½” plywood
- OSB – Orientated-strand board, or also known as OSB, ranks up right up there with plywood, but tends to be a more cost effective option.
- Cement Board – is more like an underlayment because it sits on top of plywood or OSB and is only used for when installing tile.
- Foam & Cork Padding – this material helps cushion your step when you are installing laminate flooring.
- Radiant Heat Subfloor – warmboard is 1 1/8” thick with grooves cut into the surface to accommodate PEX tubing, which heater water is ran through to warm the floor.
What is the best subfloor to use with certain flooring options?
- Hardwood – plywood is the best option for when installing hardwood floors. Plywood ranging in thickness from ½” – ¾” will work very well for hardwood installation. You can also purchase tongue and groove plywood that will help in reducing squeaks.
- Tile – since you want to avoid flexing with tile flooring installation the subfloor for this material can be very sensitive. You want to avoid cracking of the grout so applying plywood on top of the joists and then using a cement board underlayment is most ideal for this medium.
- Laminate – can be installed just like hardwood on top of plywood, but you also will have to add a secondary underlayment of thin plywood. Since laminate is a thinner material than hardwood or tile it is not as forgiving for things such as dents, grooves and ridges.
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Important Tips When Installing Your Subflooring
- You always want to keep your plywood or OSB sheets as large as possible to provide the most strength.
- Make sure to rest the edges of the plywood or OSB on top of the joists.
- Always stagger the plywood or OSB when installing it to avoid all four corners meeting.
- Allow and 1/8” gap between all of your sheets and also the walls to allow for any expansion or contraction.