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Sound Transmission and Flooring Types

When it comes to flooring, the more muffled the sound, the better, especially in a multi-story building, house, apartment, or condominium. Fortunately, there are several good flooring choices with effective sound dampening properties.

Sound is transmitted when hard objects, like hard-soled shoes, furniture, dropped objects, or even dog claws impact a hard surface, like tile or stone. Without anything to absorb it, sound waves can spread, multiply, and echo off the walls, amplifying even a small sound to a distracting crescendo with the right acoustics. Given a large room with high ceilings and hard polished floors, a simple walk across the lobby of an office building, for example, can become quite a distraction.

Sound Ratings

Sound transmission is rated using three different standards, each defining a different way in which sound is transmitted. Sound absorption of floor coverings may be measured on two of those scales. The third covers room-to-room transmission, more appropriate for walls.

IIC (impact insulation class) is measured in terms of sound impact, or how well sound vibrations travel through a floor to the room below.

IIC 50 has the least impact sound absorption quality. While this may be appropriate for ground floors, it would be unsatisfactory for most on a high floor without a great deal of insulation in the area between the floor and the ceiling below. Most stone and tile will fall into this category.

IIC 60 indicates a medium impact sound absorption quality and encompasses floorings such as wood, laminates, and some vinyls.

IIC 65 is a high level of impact sound transmission absorption and includes superior sound reduction materials like carpet and cork.

IIC is greatly influenced by the surfaces and areas under the floor and the IIC rating can be significantly enhanced by the addition of underlayment, insulation, or by floating the floor. The “loudest” floor is stone or tile laid directly over concrete. The IIC scale does not account for joist noises like squeaking or rattling.

NRC (noise reduction coefficient) measures the amount of noise that is absorbed by the material and not reflected. A room with a high NRC rating would eliminate background noise and echoes to help clarify speech. Theaters, for example, must be constructed to have a high NRC rating. Without it, sound waves would bounce off the walls and crash into each other, creating a cacophony of continuous sound, making individual words impossible to distinguish. Carpet, with an NRC rating of .40–.50 is the most efficient absorptive material. Vinyl, cork, and rubber have a fairly high NRC rating, with hardwood, bamboo, tile, and stone at the bottom of the scale for sound absorption.

Under the Floor

Sound transmission is affected by more than just the top layer of flooring. Other factors include the underlayment and subfloor, plus adhesives and sealants used during installation. If used on a higher floor in a multi-story structure, insulation between the floor of one room and the ceiling of the room below plays an important part in deadening sound. Any kind of insulation packed between the joists will not only help to trap and dissipate sound, it will block the loss of heat or air-conditioning, effectively lowering your utility bills.

Installation Materials

The use of flexible acoustic adhesives adds yet another layer of sound dampening properties to the floor. Applied around the edges of the floor, a flexible sealant is designed to fill gaps where the floor meets the wall or around doors or air ducts in order to block channels where sound can travel.

Flooring for Sound Reduction

Carpet

Number one on the on all counts is carpeting. By definition, carpet is the antithesis of hard, echoing surfaces. Sound waves are effectively absorbed and deflected by the carpet and by the padding under the carpet, and the level of sound absorption can be enhanced with a thicker pad. Carpet is usually the cheapest option in the short run, but also the most problematic in terms of durability, cleaning, and allergy aggravation because it tends to trap allergens and dust.

Cork

Cork is a great choice for sound reduction. It does more than merely dampen sound; it absorbs it, creating a blissful peace that everyone will appreciate, including downstairs neighbors. Cork is such an effective sound reduction material that it is used on walls to soundproof recording studios to produce clear soundtracks without background noise. The key is in the porous structure of the cork. Rather than bounce around, sound waves sink into the cellular structure of the cork and are broken up.

In addition to the obvious benefit of sound reduction, cork flooring adds natural warmth to rooms and a slightly springy give that makes it comfortable and easy to walk or stand on and may even save dropped objects from breaking on impact.

Vinyl

Quality vinyl flooring that is backed with foam and has a cushioned, flexible surface, makes it a good choice for a sound reduction, but as with everything else, you get what you pay for. While you can install any tile over an existing floor, the material of the floor will influence sound absorption qualities. Top quality vinyl will help nullify that factor and provide a nearly soundless surface that has spring and give for comfort.

Laminate

Laminate flooring can be a reasonably good choice for sound reduction with the addition of a quality underlayment. In addition to absorbing sound, a layer underlayment will add a feeling of solidity to the floor and reduce the hollow percussive sound that footfalls can produce when laminate flooring is floated over a subfloor without the benefit of underlayment. The underlayment pads a laminate floor much in the same way that a pad works under carpet, adding give for extra comfort and insulation for overall warmth.

(112) Comments

  1. Valerie Erickson - Reply

    We are installing Coretec Plus LVP on concrete in second floor condo. We plan to use Proflex 90 or better as an underlayment . Getting different advice…is it too “Cushy ” for the vinyl ?

    • BuildDirect Product Expert Team
      BuildDirect Product Expert Team - Reply

      Hi Valerie,

      As long as the underlay specifies it can be used with a floating vinyl plank it should be perfectly fine. Most underlay will be made with the amount of compression in mind. Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any other questions!

  2. Hi,
    I have a 2nd floor condo that I rent out for the summer season. Over the winter months, my 3rd floor neighbors had their carpet removed and luxury vinyl plank flooring installed. When they had the carpet down, I heard only typical condo noises. Now I hear every single foot step. It’s quite loud even if its just 1 person up there. I asked her to at least put down some large area rugs with thick pads. She put down a 5×7 without a pad mostly under the coffee table. Which did nothing. I hear everything, I suggested maybe the floor was not installed correctly. I know they had to put down a self leveling compound, pretty sure no sound barrier was used and I believe it was glued and is not floating. In just the first few weeks of renting, I have had complaints and a very bad review posted about the noise from upstairs. I have a beautiful place and am heartsick over the whole thing. I will probably have to somehow sound proof my ceiling after the season. But for right now, do you have any suggestions? Could you tell me how her floor should have been installed? And where I can find info about soundproofing my ceiling?
    Thank you!

    • BuildDirect Product Expert Team
      BuildDirect Product Expert Team - Reply

      Hi Sandie,

      Sorry to hear about the noise! Even with a sound-dampening underlay any solid floor would be quite loud for the space beneath. Unless they are willing to take up the floor and add a better underlay there isn’t much you can do about the sound. I don’t have any direct information about soundproofing a ceiling but you should be able to do a quick google search or at least find a contractor in your area to ask their expertise. Good luck!

  3. Hi, we currently have floating laminate floors with no underlay just a moister barrier on the entire first floor of the house open floor plan. The subfloor is concrete. We got a new refrigerator and the noise/low humming/vibration is loud and we can hear it downstairs and upstairs in every room. Do you think I should add an underlay to the laminate floors to reduce noise? Or redo kitchen to tile floors with soundproofing underlay? I feel like the floating laminate is causing the sound of the frig to echo everywhere. Thank you.

    • BuildDirect Product Expert Team
      BuildDirect Product Expert Team - Reply

      Hi Lily,

      You will need to take up the laminate and install a full underlay that offers cushioning and moisture barrier. A moisture barrier alone will not be enough for the floor over concrete and the laminate could get small cracks in it over time. This underlay should also help with the noise. Please let us know if you have any other questions!

  4. Howdy! I installed 5.5 thickness vinyl planks (looks like fake hardwood flooring) in a villa with moisture barrier underneath. It’s on a concrete floor. Nobody lives above or below me. The association is insisting I tear up the floor and buy and install expensive ProFlex 90 sound barrier. This vinyl is very quiet and not noisy at all.

    May I please have your thoughts as to whether or not you think ProFlex 90 is really necessary, and if you don’t think it’s necessary, will you tell me why. Thanx a million in advance.

    • BuildDirect Product Expert Team
      BuildDirect Product Expert Team - Reply

      Hi Careen,

      The decision to install ProFlex 90 really is up to your building association. While the vinyl may not sound noisy to you, it will create a bit of noise for the people below you if anyone is there. It also may be in the building code that you need a certain sound barrier down. Please let us know if you have any other questions!

  5. Our church is considering new flooring in the Narthex. We currently have a direct glue down broadloom over concrete. The noise level in the adjacent sanctuary is very high when services are being held and there is a reception in the Narthex. Some want the carpet replaced with a “hard surface”. Are there any statistics about how much more noisey a hard surface is over carpet?
    Thanks!

    • BuildDirect Product Expert Team
      BuildDirect Product Expert Team - Reply

      Hi John,

      Unfortunately we don’t have any statistics on noise level but you may be able to find some. If you switch from carpet it will definitely increase the noise level though. You can always look into a cork floor, that may be the best option other than carpet for sound.

  6. Hi,

    We are planning on putting some click plank floating cork flooring down over red oak sub floor in our condo.
    We are on the second story. The HOA says that there must be ” at least a 1/2″ cushion or cork underlayment installed below” any hard surface.

    The click plank cork has about 1/4″ of cork above with a layer of HDF and then a thin layer of cork below. Will the top layer of cork combined with 1/4″ underlayment be equal in sound abatement to the 1/2″ the are requiring. Does the HDF in the middle cancel out the noise cancelling properties of the top layer of cork?
    I’ve noticed cork products like acoustacork come in 6mm – does 1/2″ of sound cancelling cork seem like overkill?

    Thanks in advance for your help!

    • BuildDirect Product Expert Team
      BuildDirect Product Expert Team - Reply

      Hi Val,

      Thank you for getting in touch. The top cork may help with the sound-dampening but most HOAs don’t count that in the underlay. You would need to follow whatever requirements they lay out before installing. I would suggest looking at the IIC and STC ratings of the underlay options and bringing them to the HOA to see if they have a numerical value for both of those ratings that you have to follow. 6mm is quite thick so you may be able to find something thinner with the same sound ratings. Please let us know if you have any other questions!

  7. We are getting a floating engineered hardwood floor to install in a house with wooden joists. Relating to soundproofing, which would be more effective – 3/8″ thick rubber mat or 1/2″ thick cork? The cork is about 1/2 the price. Thanks, Brett

    • BuildDirect Product Expert Team
      BuildDirect Product Expert Team - Reply

      Hi Brett,

      Thank you for getting in touch! Technially the cork should be better in regards to sound but I would suggest checking the IIC and STC ratings of each underlay. These are the measurements used to compare sound-dampening in underlayment. Please let us know if you have any other questions!

  8. I am working on an 1893 3-story building that will have an apartment on each floor. Currently there is a wood subfloor and wood finish floor. I’d like to try to reuse some of the old wood for a finish floor — it will be really gorgeous when sanded and finished, but I need to find a way to insulate the sound between the apartments that are stacked one above the other. We will be putting in cellulose or roxul in the ceilings and using a channel system for applying the drywall to the ceilings, so we are trying to tackle the problem from the ceiling but also wonder if there anything I could use between the subfloor and finish floor to help minimize noise transfer, especially footfall noise? I was told that a product like homasote wouldn’t do any good because we would be nailing through it. Does plank flooring versus standard wood flooring make any difference?
    Thanks very much for any advice!

  9. My condo HOA architectural committee is telling me that I need to have sound barrier underlayment installed in installing porcelain tiles above the concrete subfloor where my condo unit is on the ground floor. Is it really necessary to have the sound proof underlayment installed? If so, can you please recommend a product? Thank you.

    • BuildDirect Product Expert Team
      BuildDirect Product Expert Team - Reply

      Hi Philip,

      Thank you for getting in touch! If your HOA says you need soundproofing I would suggest putting it in. We don’t have any that are recommended for tile but if you speak to your installer they should have a few options available for you to choose from. Please let us know if you have any other questions!

      • I thank you for your prompt reply. Is it really required to have sound proof underlayment membrane when the tiles are installed on top of a concrete slab subfloor that is located on the ground floor? Is the installation of soundproof underlayment to protect from sound transmission from the top to the area/room below of the floor? The tiles have already been installed and instead of soundproof underlayment, underlayment membrane for concrete cracks was used. I am now told to reinstall the tiles with the soundproof underlayment. I am trying to appeal my HOA architetural committee to reverse the denial decision. Any supporting suggestion or comment is appreciated. Thank you.

    • Phil,
      Yes, even if you are on the ground floor with nobody’s ceiling under you. This is because impact energy hitting your tile floor with no underlayment to absorb it will find a pathway up your walls and into HVAC ductwork and eventually disturb occupants on the floors above you. Best to do what the HOA requires rather than deal with a costly tear up/re-do later for violating the rules.

  10. We are on the first floor of a 2 storey commercial strata unit and the office above ours has either laminate or hardwood installed directly over the concrete floors and no underlay on the carpeted stairs. We hear noise all day long, particularly as most of the staff are women wearing heels. I want to offer to have underlay installed under their floors but want to ensure that this will sufficiently effective before offering to pay for this myself. We own our individual units and will be here long-term so it would be worth it to me to pay now for ongoing comfort.

    • BuildDirect Product Expert Team
      BuildDirect Product Expert Team - Reply

      Hi Greg,

      Sorry to hear about all the noise! An underlay will definitely help with the noise but it won’t completely block out the sound. The biggest issue is that you are not able to just pull up a floor, install underlay then re-install the floor. The entire floor would most likely have to be replaced. It may be more cost efficient to look into sound-proofing your ceiling rather than adding underlay to their floors. Please let us know if you have any other questions!

  11. i have carpet layed over concrete on an upper floor condo I want to to change to some kind of tile or stone condo is in fla and carpet just seems hot and no good with sandy soil

    • BuildDirect Product Expert Team
      BuildDirect Product Expert Team - Reply

      Hi Joyce,

      Thank you for your inquiry! I would suggest going with a porcelain tile. It will be much more durable and easy to clean in that area. Tile will also keep the area much cooler. Please let us know if you have any other questions!

  12. I have an additional question with regard to my solarium question. Does it matter how much tiled flooring there already is in the condo? Does the percentage of tiled floor to the entire flooring space make a difference? The floor is tiled in two bathrooms, the kitchen, a breakfast nook area, a small hallway in the front of the condo and a closet for coats. Thank you!

  13. This section is very interesting and informative.
    In the section, it states: “IIC 50 has the least impact sound absorption quality. While this may be appropriate for ground floors, it would be unsatisfactory for most on a high floor without a great deal of insulation in the area between the floor and the ceiling below. Most stone and tile will fall into this category.” ” Without anything to absorb it, sound waves can spread, multiply, and echo off the walls, amplifying even a small sound to a distracting crescendo with the right acoustics.”

    Would tile be acceptable if an underlay with a rating of IIC 70 were used under it? I don’t know how sound waves travel. I am debating between using tiles or hardwood in a solarium in a condo. I was thinking of using tiles since hardwood fades in the sun. However, there is concern that tiles might not be sound proof enough. You sound very well informed. What do you think? Thank you!

    • BuildDirect Product Expert Team
      BuildDirect Product Expert Team - Reply

      Hi Shirley,

      Thank you for getting in touch! You can use an underlay with an IIC rating of 70 to help alleviate the sound from transferring to the floor below you. Tiles will make more noise than hardwood and installation of the underlay is much easier with hardwood.

      In regards to your second question, the amount of tile you have will not make a difference with the sound. It is just the actual material.

      Please let us know if you have any other questions!

  14. I live in a high rise condo and wish to replace my carpet with porcelain tile that looks like hardwood. Underneath he carpet is a cement/concrete floor. The tile store says I do not require a sub floor as they can lay directly onto the concrete and also that I do not need sound suppression as the tile is so solid that no sound would travel to the lower floors. Do you agree?

    • BuildDirect Product Expert Team
      BuildDirect Product Expert Team - Reply

      Hi Brenda,

      Thank you for your inquiry! This is definitely not correct, you will need some sort of underlayment beneath the tile to help with sound absorption. You should also check with your apartment building guides because they usually have a certain sound rating you will need to adhere to for the apartment beneath you. Please let us know if you have any other questions!

  15. Hello, I am working on a 30 -story condo building where the customer wants a final polished concrete floor no wood laminate or carpet simply a polished concrete floor. After leveling the floor can I put some sort of sound barrier in between the level floor and the layer of polished concrete?

    • BuildDirect Product Expert Team
      BuildDirect Product Expert Team - Reply

      Hi Chris,

      Thank you for getting in touch! Unfortunately we have not worked with poured polished concrete with an underlay before. You may be able to find something, there are quite a few apartments with polished concrete and most apartment buildings do have a specific sound barrier needed. I would suggest getting in touch with other contractors or installers who have used polished concrete to see if they have experience with a sound-dampening underlay. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if anything else comes up!

  16. I am considering the installation of COREtec Plus flooring in my home. The family room houses my hi end stereo system. I am concerned about how the stereo will sound with this flooring vs. the wall to wall carpet that is in the room now. COREtec flooring is a locking luxury vinyl flooring with a cork layer on the bottom of it. The cork layer should help to deaden the room. I am trying to eliminate beaming and echoing of sound from the stereo. Thanks for your comments.

    • BuildDirect Product Expert Team
      BuildDirect Product Expert Team - Reply

      Hi Tom,

      Thank you for getting in touch! The room will definitely be louder with the vinyl versus the carpet. Unfortunately the cork on the bottom may not work as you would like it to, that is more to add a cushion to protect the planks from the subfloor. I’m sure it will help a little bit but I can’t 100% guarantee it will actually deaden the sound of the stereo. You would want to go with an actual cork floor to help with that. Please let us know if there is anything else we can help out with!

    • BuildDirect Product Expert Team
      BuildDirect Product Expert Team - Reply

      Hi Tunde,

      Thank you for getting in touch! Unfortunately I am not 100% sure whether cork in available in Nigeria, I don’t see why it would not be. I would suggest checking with local contractors and installers to see if they have an idea of where to source it. Please let us know if you have any other questions!

  17. Hi! We currently have timber boards throughout our house upstairs. We have a unit underneath and were hoping to reduce the low frequency sounds of people walking upstairs on the boards. I really don’t want to put carpet through the entire house due to allergies and having a toddler! What would your advice be on the best option for us please? We have been given differing opinions from every local company we have asked. Thanks for your time!

  18. We’ve been seeking approval from our strata to install laminate flooring. The newly passed bylaws require soundproof ratings for both the underlay AND the flooring material itself. We’ve spoken to the contractor, the flooring manufacturer and other people knowledgeable about flooring and they all say that such ratings apply only to the underlay, and that the flooring material itself does not have any soundproofing capability or ratings. But somehow our strata is convinced that there are soundproofing specifications of the flooring material. I suspect they don’t understand how flooring works. Can you suggest any resources or clarification that might help us explain to them how the IIC and STC ratings work, and that they don’t apply to the flooring materials alone? The flooring we plan to use is 8mm laminate Kraus Solido Perform, with underlayment SolidSound Plus (IIC 75, STC 73). Thank you so much for your help!!

  19. My mom currently lives on the third floor in a condo. Right now only carpet is allowed to be put down because of the noise factor. I s there any kind of laminate flooring that has the sound proofing capabilities of carpet. My mom has bad allergies and really need s to get rid of the carpeting in there. I need something that I could present to the board on this. any ideas?

  20. Question:
    I live in a condo with a concrete floor. My next door neighbor installed laminate flooring and when they didn’t like the color they installed laminate over top of it. The noise levels are through the roof now. Could this be from installing laminate over laminate?
    Also, I don’t know if any acoustic underlay was used under either layer of flooring.
    Thanks

    • BuildDirect Product Expert Team
      BuildDirect Product Expert Team - Reply

      Hi Shannon. Thanks so much for reaching out to us! It could be from that, but it’s hard to say exactly without knowing what sort of underlayment was used, or if one was used at all. We don’t recommend installing a floating floor on top of another floating floor, so it is best to pull up the old laminate before installing a new floor. Please let us know if you have any other questions. Thanks!

  21. We are installing tile on a second floor apartment and the landlord is saying that we are unable to because of the nosie in the future. But the carpet seemed to make more noise due to the wood subfloor. Thank screwed down the wood then placed a black paper over that after the hardie backer then installed the tile they want use to take the tile out even though the nieghbor below said that it was less noisy is there. Would the tile be louder than the carpet over time??

    • BuildDirect Product Expert Team
      BuildDirect Product Expert Team - Reply

      Hi Stephanie. Thanks so much for reaching out to us! It’s hard for us to give you a definite answer on that without being on site. With that being said, the acoustics will not change over time, so a tile floor will not become louder in the future. It sounds as though the noise has been reduced and with tile being more durable than carpet, it definitely seems like the better option for your project. Please let me know if you have any other questions!

  22. Hi there, I’m currently living in a second story flat! I have carpet in there at the moment but I want to replace it with laminate but without tearing up the carpet! I was wondering if I could lay the laminate over the carpet and effectively use it as underlay! Also would that prevent the laminate flooring from being too loud for the residents underneath me!

  23. Hi, I need to re-do flooring in my home office and carpet is not an option due to allergy issues for my husband. I conduct live online webinars and want to make sure the flooring does not make me sound like I’m in a barrel. Would engineered wood be satisfactory for this? We are in Florida, so the humidity would prohibit wood, I think, and we three animals, I am concerned about not being able to “fix” laminate. If engineered wood wood be a logical choice, is there a specific underlayment I should look for or a specific brand of engineered wood that already has an integrated acoustic underlay? Thank you SO much for your help!

    • BuildDirect Product Expert Team
      BuildDirect Product Expert Team - Reply

      Hi Linda,

      Thank you for getting in touch! Engineered wood would be a good option for you. Another couple options that could work well are cork or luxury vinyl plank flooring. They will both absorb the sound much better than natural wood. In regards to the underlay, that would provide a bit more sound-dampening but I really think going with cork would be your best bet. I have included the links below to our cork and luxury vinyl plank options below:

      https://www.builddirect.com/Cork-Flooring-Results.aspx

      https://www.builddirect.com/Luxury-Vinyl-Tile.aspx

      Please let us know if there is anything else we can help out with!

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