Laying a new wood, laminate, or tile floor? Consider cork underlayment instead of foam. The same properties that make cork flooring such a great choice for your home also make it a terrific option as an underlayment.
Whether you’re installing genuine hardwood floors, a laminate such as Pergo, ceramic tile, or an alternative material like bamboo wood flooring, you don’t want to put it directly on a concrete or plywood subfloor. Foam is commonly used, but it has some serious shortcomings: it doesn’t offer very good sound insulation, it can deteriorate if exposed to moisture, and it isn’t the most sustainable choice (most foam is derived from petroleum).
Cork, on the other hand, makes a great buffer layer under flooring. Cork contains millions of tiny, sealed air pockets that make it exceptionally good for both thermal and acoustic insulation. It resists warping and deterioration from moisture, provides a solid feel underfoot when installed, and makes a great isolation membrane to protect flooring from cracks in the subfloor. Cork can be slightly more expensive than foam, but it’s long-lasting, it provides excellent comfort, and it’s an extremely environmentally friendly building product.
Related: Is Cork Flooring Waterproof?
One important point: cork’s excellent insulating properties mean it is NOT suited for use over a radiant heat system. Warmth from radiant heat tubing won’t be able to pass effectively through the layer of cork.
Cork underlayment is available in rolls or flat panels, in a variety of thicknesses. Rolls easily transported and cut to size; Pro Floor Source offers 1/4″ cork underlayment in 4′x50′ rolls for $118 (200 square feet of coverage at approximately $0.59 per square foot).
If you prefer working with panels instead of rolls, Texas-based WidgetCo. offers european cork underlayment at one of the best prices we’ve seen: a box of 2′x3′ panels (33 panels covering 198 sq. ft.) in 1/8″ thickness is priced at $77.22 (which works out to $0.39 per square foot). Shipping is free, and panels are also available in 1/4″ (6mm) and 1/2″ (12mm) thicknesses.