What is the best option for sound barrier flooring for multi-family housing?

Nobody wants to hear every footstep his or her neighbor takes. When looking for flooring that offers a sound barrier, steer clear of hard, monolithic surfaces, like high-density wood composite paneling, gypsum board and ceramic tile, which don’t absorb sound. Instead, look for softer, variegated surfaces like carpeting and cork flooring, which help absorb sounds. Cork is known for having excellent acoustic and thermal properties, and with 200 million cork cells per cubic inch, each cell effectively inhibits the transmission of sound and heat. Cork is nontoxic, rapidly renewable and protects against moisture that can cause mold or mildew.

Here’s what you should do when planning your flooring project:

  1. Install sound-controlling underlayment in environmentally friendly materials such as cork and recycled rubber.

  2. Make smarter carpeting choices by selecting environmentally preferable carpet products with low-VOC off-gassing. Look for carpet that has been verified through independent, third-party testing such as CRI Green Label PlusFloorScore and GreenGuard. Also, look for products with high recycled content and made by companies that recycle old carpeting.

  3. Consider pairing a cushion with your carpet—it can help with soundproofing. Be be sure to select carpet cushion that doesn’t contain brominated flame retardants, or BFRs. Flexible polyurethane foam carpet cushion used to contain high levels of brominated flame retardants (BFRs), and although the amount of BFR has dropped since penta BDE was phased out in 2005, carpet cushion made from post-consumer recycled polyurethane foam may still contain residual BFR. Because the foam breaks down over time, these BFRs may be released into the house as dust. Remember that carpet cushion with post-consumer recycled content should be avoided unless the recycled sources are known not to contain BFRs.

  4. Keep your choices formaldehyde-free: For wood-panel subflooring, such as particleboard, select products that don’t contain formaldehyde binders, such as non-UF particleboard. Read more about formaldehyde in the home.