What Are Subfloors?

The flooring in your home needs more than color and style. The look of a floor can add to the personality and character of a room—but without a solid foundation, that beautiful floor simply won’t last. That’s where subfloors come in.

Subflooring is a crucial part of the structure of your floor that supports the surfaces above it, keeping them strong and in good repair for years to come. When it’s strong and durable, the subfloor will keep your carpet and flooring supported and looking great, but if damaged, it may need to be replaced to prevent future problems.

Let’s explore the different types of subflooring and how subflooring fits into your flooring system.

Flooring System

Though you only see the top layer in your day-to-day life, your floor is made up of several layers. These layers compose the flooring system and include:

  • Joists: These are the bones of the floor—think of them as playing the same role as studs in a wall. You can’t see them, but they support the entire flooring system.
  • Subfloor: The subfloor is installed across the joists. It is a flat structure that can be made from a number of different materials (we’ll discuss the types of subflooring materials next). Subflooring is sturdy and strong, but definitely not pleasing to look at or walk on.
  • Underlayment: Some types of flooring can be installed directly on top of the subfloor, such as vinyl flooring. Other types need a middle layer, called underlayment, such as laminate,carpet and tile

Surface: This is the tip of the iceberg—the part of the flooring that you actually see, walk on, and enjoy. It’s comfortable, easy to walk on, and completes the look of a home.

Types of Subflooring

When it comes to a home flooring system, there are typically four subfloor options to choose from.

1. Oriented Strand Board

Often mistakenly referred to as “plywood,” oriented strand board is the most common material used for a subfloor. There’s a good chance that the floor you are standing on has oriented strand board supporting it. 

This material is both durable and cost-effective, making it an attractive option for most homeowners and builders. It is a manufactured wood made by glueing and pressing strands of wood together in alternating directions. 

2. Plywood

Plywood is another type of manufactured wood, made by gluing layers of veneer together, with the grain of each layer running perpendicular to the adjacent layers. Subfloors made of plywood are higher quality than oriented strand board—they last longer and can withstand more pressure over time. 

But they are more expensive, and plywood layers tend to separate when exposed to extreme heat, so it’s not ideal for warmer areas.

3. Particleboard

Particleboard is the least expensive, but least reliable, of the types of subflooring on the market. It is made from wood particles—basically, sawdust—that has been pressed and glued together. Although OSB and plywood also experience some damage from water and moisture, particleboard is much more susceptible, and tends to fall apart if it gets too wet.

Because particleboard is so unreliable, especially in humid areas, it isn’t used as a subfloor very often.

4. Concrete

Concrete is the strongest and most durable subfloor out there and often doesn’t even need support joists. However, it is porous, allowing moisture to get inside, and it tends to be cold underfoot, especially when placed directly over soil. Generally, an underlayment is recommended to protect from moisture and to insulate the floor above.

How to Identify a Damaged Subfloor

No matter what material they’re made from, subfloors are crucial to the structure and support of your floor. Damage to the subfloor can cause serious problems in your flooring and is often the culprit of any issues you notice with your surface-layer flooring. Signs of a damaged subfloor include:

  • Squeaky floors
  • Sagging floors
  • Uneven floors: may indicate water damage or cracked concrete
  • Foul smells: may indicate mold, water damage, or rot
  • Cracked tiles

Why Subfloors Matter

Flooring is a basic and essential part of your home, and the quality and condition of your subflooring make a difference in how it functions (and sometimes even how it looks). It’s hard to keep a flooring surface in good repair when the subfloor is in bad shape. 

If you suspect damage to your subfloor, repairing or even replacing it is your best option. These repairs can be a big investment, but letting damaged subflooring go unaddressed will cause more and bigger problems over time. 

One of the many benefits of the Empire Today shop-at-home service is that necessary subfloor repair can often be discovered while evaluating new flooring options, and those repairs can be included in Empire’s all-include price estimate.  It’s much better to plan for, and understand the cost of, needed subfloor repairs from the beginning. Of course, some subfloor repairs cannot be discovered until the old surface flooring is removed, but a flooring professional can often see this early-on while in your home.

With over 60 years of quality service and more than 3 million satisfied customers, Empire Today is  your best option  for beautiful new flooring with long-lasting durability and performance. Schedule your FREE in-home estimate today! Empire makes getting beautiful new floors easy!

Schedule an Appointment Now
Let us show you what's possible.

More Stories for You