Soundproof Flooring Materials

Categories of materials used in soundproof flooring. Know when to use them, and how to choose them.

stack of cement board panels
Image courtesy of Michael Holley
There is a vast array of products marketed for use as soundproof flooring materials, and the choices can be confusing. Your first step is to identify the noise problem(s) you want to address and apply the principles of soundproofing to outline a plan for your floor. Then you will know what kinds of soundproofing material you need, and you can choose suitable products from the categories that apply to your situation.

Be sure to check any relevant building regulations and covenants, as they may limit or even dictate the materials you may use. Also, certain types of finished flooring may require the use of particular materials for underlayment. Your soundproof flooring options will also of course depend on your available budget.

Solid Underlayment

Sheets of solid underlayment are used to add mass, which is the most effective soundproofing element in blocking airborne noise, such as people's voices. Commonly recommended materials for use in soundproof flooring are:

For the best noise reduction, heavier is better. When comparing materials, also look at whether they will swell when wet, if your floor could get exposed to water or excessive moisture.

If you will be using damping compound between these layers (always recommended), note that you can achieve more sound reduction per unit of thickness by using three thinner sheets rather than two thicker sheets of the same material.

Factory-damped or sound-engineered plywood is also available (such as Quietwood or Supress), and they do add a damping element to the mass of the plywood. However, it is cheaper to apply the damping compound on site, and this also allows you to select the damping compound to use.

You may see mass-loaded vinyl (MLV) marketed as a way of adding mass when soundproofing floors. There's nothing wrong with MLV as mass, but you can purchase the same amount of mass for far less cost with one of the types of panels listed above.

Resilient Underlayment

Resilient underlayment is used as a decoupling agent, which is the most effective soundproofing element for impact noise such as footsteps, dropped items, or furniture scraping on the floor. If impact noise is not a concern, resilient underlayment should normally not be used, since it introduces a resonant chamber that actually increases noise at a certain frequency.

Among the many materials offered as resilient underlayment, three of the most commonly used are:

If there is not already a lot of mass in the subfloor, a mat of recycled rubber is a great choice here because it gives you the added advantage of mass, for an additional soundproofing element.

Damping Compound

The soundproofing element of damping is crucial for addressing low-frequency noise such as in music. The standard product here is Green Glue Noiseproofing Compound, because of the abundant lab test data that attests to its effectiveness. It is applied between two rigid panels of similar thickness and stiffness, which are then screwed together, forming a constrained layer damping system.

Alternatively, a damping factor can be introduced by using pre-damped plywood panels, but you can save quite a bit of money if you are willing to apply the compound on site instead.

For the same overall thickness, the more layers you construct with damping compound between them, the more damping effect you obtain. For example, using three thinner sheets is better than using two thicker sheets of the same material.

Finished Flooring

Typical flooring surfaces are:

They may be fixed installations, or floating systemsicon which are not attached to the surface beneath. The flooring material doesn't directly contribute soundproofing properties, so you can choose based on taste, practicality, cost, and compatibility with the layers beneath.

Acoustic Sealant

Acoustic sealant or acoustic caulk is essential in any soundproofing application, to fill any gaps where sound may leak through. For floated flooring systems, use it to fill the expansion gap that is left between the edge of the flooring and the wall.

Carpet and Pad

If you are laying carpet, you can make your selection according to your aesthetic and financial priorities. For the best sound isolation, choose the thickest pad possible for your application. A heavier pad is also better. If your only concern is impact noise, carpet and padding may be all you need to fix your noise problem.


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