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What Is a Subfloor?

[Updated: Jan 05, 2021] Jun 02, 2020 by Aly J. Yale
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If you're remodeling a property or flipping a house, flooring is probably high on your mind. Will you go for wood? Tile? Maybe a little vinyl or carpet?

These are, of course, important decisions -- but they're not the only flooring-related ones you'll need to make.

In fact, before you can even get to the aesthetic choices, you'll need to decide on your subfloor.

What is a subfloor?

A subfloor is basically just a support layer. It goes under your visible floors, providing a flat, stable foundation on which you can build.

Subflooring can come in all sorts of materials, including

  • Concrete: This is one of the stronger options for subflooring, and it's commonly used in basements, bathrooms, and rooms with tile and stone top flooring. You'll also see it a lot in condos, apartments, and multifamily properties. It tends to retain cold, especially when used on ground floors.
  • Plywood: Plywood is a common choice for residential subflooring. It's affordable, it's easy to find and install, and it's generally very sturdy and durable.
  • Oriented strand board: OSB is one of the most popular options for subfloors. It's thicker than plywood, though it does tend to hold moisture -- which can cause problems later on. It's typically cheaper than plywood.
  • Wood planks: If you're flipping an older home, you may find wood plank subflooring when pulling up the top floors. Wood planks aren't commonly used nowadays, having largely been replaced with plywood and OSB options since the 1950s.
  • Particleboard: This is usually the cheapest option for subflooring, though it's also the weakest. Like OSB, it's also prone to moisture-related damage.

The right type of subflooring really depends on your budget, the type of top flooring you've decided on, and the weather conditions in the area. (Some are more susceptible to moisture; others can conduct cold in chilly climates, etc.)

Does your subflooring need replacing?

If you're flipping or renovating a property, you may or may not need to replace the subflooring before tending to the more aesthetic elements of the floor.

Generally, if you hear squeaking or other noises when you walk across the room, that probably means the subfloor is damaged -- at least in part. Dips or sagging areas in the floor also indicate it may need replacing.

Finally, if you notice a musty smell in the flooring (or there are obvious signs of mold or mildew throughout the home), the subfloors definitely need a closer look. Re-covering moisture-damaged subfloors will just cause more problems -- and pose more potential health hazards -- in the long run.

The bottom line

Just choosing the right flooring is not enough. If you want to ensure your investment stands the test of time, spending some time and energy on your subfloors is also critical.

Need more help remodeling or flipping a house? Try these home-flipping books or brush up on your home renovation basics.

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