Cork vs. Foam Underlayment: Choose The Best Eco-Friendly & Soundproof Underlayment

You have come to the right place if you are new to flooring and have no idea what underlayment is. If you are here because you are tired of creeping about your house (even during the daytime!) to avoid making noise on your flooring, underlayment is the best way to go. Flooring, whether vinyl tiles, hardwood floors, or ceramic tiles, has a general problem; they are hard surfaces and amplify sound. Underlayment is the layer of material placed between your subfloor and your floor. If used on a higher floor level, underlayment is the material placed between your new floor and your ceiling assembly, i.e., the joists, trusses, and subfloor that make up your floor and ceiling.

But sound reduction is not the only purpose and benefit of underlayment. Underlayment increases the longevity of your floor by protecting it against friction. Underlayment protects your flooring from moisture, and it provides more support and stability for your flooring. You can use underlayment to hide and smoothen subfloor imperfections. Underlayment adds softness to your flooring if you have or want soft flooring.

Now that you know what underlayment is and why you should consider getting one, you should also know what is best for you. There are different types of underlayment, so you may get overwhelmed in choosing. The subsequent paragraphs will discuss, in detail, the differences between cork and foam underlayment.

Cork underlayment absorbs sound better than foam underlayment. Foam underlayment is versatile and can be used under different flooring types, but cork underlayment is not suitable for all environments, especially water-prone areas. Cork underlayment is sustainable and eco-friendly, making it more expensive than foam underlayment, which is affordable and easy to install.

Cork vs Foam Underlayment

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 Cork UnderlaymentFoam Underlayment
PricesThe cost of cork underlayment is generally more than other types of underlayment. Its price depends on the thickness of the material and the kind of cork underlayment: sheets or rolls. Cork underlayment ranges from $0.50 to $1.99 per square foot. Rolls are usually cheaper per square foot, but they require a lot of labor.  Foam underlayment is often sought after because of how cheap it is; in fact, it gained a foothold in the underlayment market because of how affordable it is compared to other types of underlayment. The cost of foam underlayment depends on the thickness of the material; the kind of foam underlayment it is (basic foam underlayment or 2-in1 underlayment with a built-in vapor barrier). Thus, the price can range from $0.22 to 40.45 per square foot.  
MaterialCork underlayment is 100% natural and recyclable. It is harvested from the bark of cork oak trees without harming the tree.Foam underlayment is made of foam, fibers, and rubbers. Unlike cork underlayment, it is not sourced from completely natural resources.

Cork Underlayment

The significant differences between cork and foam underlayment lie in numerous factors: their differing capabilities to absorb and reduce sound transmission, their structures, and the resulting capabilities. For example, cork underlayment is a good insulator because of its cellular structure.

Sound Reduction

How does sound absorption in cork underlayment work? Sound absorption and reduction are determined by the type of underlayment, its density, and the thickness of the material. Cork underlayment does a fantastic job absorbing sounds; it absorbs sound better than most underlayments. The cellular structure of cork is such that it can provide natural insulation of sound. Cork’s cellular structure is not unlike a memory foam’s; it can compress, release and regain its original shape. This ability serves as a barrier against sound waves.

Depending on its thickness, how much sound reduction can cork underlayment achieve?

ThicknessSound Reduction (in decibels)
3mmUp to 13dB
6mmUp to 23dB
12mmUp to 48 dB

The Sound Transmission Class (STC) rates the effectiveness of soundproofing in a building. STC is often used to rate doors, windows, ceilings, floors, and more. An STC rating of 38 to 42 is suitable for residential areas, but an STC rating of 50-65 is ideal in commercial and professional spaces. Cork underlayment that is 6mm thick will often have an STC rating of 50, and 12mm thick cork underlayment usually has an STC score of 75.

Thermal Insulation

Cork underlayment does a great job of insulating heat in your house. It is one of the best natural building materials for insulating a building. Because it aids and increases the efficiency of your house’s heating system, cork underlayment helps you save money that you would have spent on heating.

Sustainable and Eco-Friendly

Cork underlayment is made from the bark of cork trees. It is 100% sourced from nature and, because of this, it has natural protection against certain microorganisms. The natural antimicrobial nature of cork underlayment ensures that mold, mildew, and bacteria do not grow. Cork also contains suberin, a fatty substance usually found in the cell walls of cork that allows it to repel rodents, gases, and woodworm.

Foam Underlayment

Sound Reduction

Foam underlayment is one of the most versatile underlayments in the market. Its sound reduction capabilities are not as good as cork’s, but it does a good enough job. Over time, foam underlayment may lose its sound absorption capabilities. Why? Because, unlike cork underlayment, foam cannot endure ongoing, continuous pressure over a long time.

Easy to Install

One of the selling points of foam underlayment is that it is straightforward to install. Installation of foam underlayment is so easy that even people new to flooring will find it relatively simple. It often comes in large rolls, so you can cut it according to your needs and install it in a way that fits you best. Some foam underlayments come with an adhesive strip, so you only have to stick it onto your subfloor.

Prevents Moisture Damage

Foam underlayment is a good choice for laminate, wood, and vinyl flooring, but it is perfect for laminate flooring. If you install laminate flooring in moisture-prone areas such as bathrooms, basements, or kitchens, a foam underlayment is a better option than a cork underlayment. Foam underlayment will shield your floor from moisture damage; if you get a foam underlayment with a vapor barrier, it does an even better job of preventing moisture damage. A vapor barrier prevents moisture from passing through the subfloor to the floor above.

Similarities Between Cork and Foam Underlayment

Thickness

There is no real difference between the thickness of foam underlayment and cork underlayment. You can easily find foam or cork underlayment in varying levels of thickness, depending on what you want for your flooring. For example, you can discover 3mm-thickcork and foam underlayment in the market.

Comfort Level

Cork and foam underlayments provide high comfort levels with the added cushion beneath your flooring. But foam underlayment is often softer than cork underlayment, and it may give a bit more comfort. With either of these underlayments, you are sure to experience comfort while walking or standing.

Conclusion

Cork and foam underlayments are top choices for anyone looking for a suitable underlayment. They offer different things that suit your needs, and it is up to you to choose which is best for you. Suppose you want an excellent underlayment that significantly absorbs sound, and you have the money to buy a more expensive underlayment worth every penny spent. In that case, cork underlayment is a good choice. But you should consider foam underlayment if you want a cheaper but functional underlayment.

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