The Four Types of Subflooring


If you missed out blog on Tuesday, we briefly discussed what a subfloor was and how to prep your subfloor for a new floor installation. What we didn't mention was how many different kinds of sub-flooring there are. In fact, there are four different kinds of subflooring out there, each with their own unique attributes and challenges. Let's take a look.

First, you have your basic plywood subfloor. Plywood has been a preferred subfloor material since the 1950s and gained even more popularity among builders in the 1980s. These subfloors are fashioned by bonding layers of wood veneer together under heat and pressure. Contractors love them because they are strong, allow almost endless possibilities for the direction in which the top floor is laid, and won't warp or shift over time. They really are a fantastic foundation for most types of flooring.

A similar, less expensive alternative to plywood is an oriented-strand board (OSB) subfloor. This subfloor is made up of those boards that look like they're fabricated of hundreds of tiny wood flakes. And that's because they are. OSB flooring is essentially 50 layers of large wood flakes that are pressed together and sealed with a veneer. They are installed with the same interlocking tongue-and-groove system as plywood subfloors, but tend to be heavier, harder to work with, and more susceptible to damage, breaking and swelling. The good news, however, is that they are also smoother and more eco-friendly.

In a completely different league we have the concrete slab subfloor. This material is just as durable as you would imagine, but what catches people off guard is that it is susceptible to moisture problems. Just like with the other types of subflooring, you will have to monitor and stabilize the moisture levels of your concrete slab before performing an installation. While a few floors can be installed directly onto your concrete floor, it is always a good idea to invest in a moisture barrier to protect your floor later on.

Two of the other challenges that come with a concrete subfloor is the hardness and cold you will have to deal with. Durability comes at a price, and comfort is that price. While it is be more expensive, you may want to consider taking the extra step of applying what are known as sleepers to your concrete that will allow you to lay down a plywood subfloor over it. You could also opt for installing a floating floor that will have an extra layer of synthetic material to protect your feet from the cold, hard concrete below. Either choice will make a significant difference in how your floors feel.

If concrete, OSB, or plywood don't sound like the right kind of subfloor for you, you can always opt for good old-fashioned wood or particle board subflooring. These are relatively inexpensive options that do the job, though they are becoming less prevalent in the flooring world today.

Whatever kind of subflooring you end up with should be well-researched ahead of time. Not all subfloors are suitable for all kinds of top floors. Contacting a professional will allow you to rest easily knowing that your your subfloor and top floor will be a good match.

Happy Flooring!