The “hardwood” rule is not a good idea, here’s why…

You probably read the proposal of a rule to require underlayment to be installed along with “hardwood” floors in the HMA complex. This rule is incomplete and does not address the issue correctly. And, by the way, we don’t need yet another rule, just common sense.

1) “Hardwood” is not a generic designation for “hard surface”:

It is instead a very specific type of flooring (see details below). Therefore, it would be very easy to claim that a specific flooring installation is not “hardwood”. Hardwood, such as alder, balsa (yes, balsa), beech, hickory, mahogany, maple, oak, teak, cherry, and walnut has a very specific definition, and it’s not always about hardness. For example balsa (one of the softest known woods) is classified as “hardwood”. This is because “hardwood” relates to specific type of tree and not necessarily the hardness of its wood, but instead to the way fibers are configured in the wood. For example, cedar, Douglas fir, juniper, pine, redwood, spruce, and yew are “softwoods”, some of them used in flooring. Confusing, eh?

Most “hard surfaces” are not “hardwood”:
There are many types of (very popular) hard surfaces used for flooring, such as bamboo, laminate, engineered wood, linoleum, cork, and ceramic tile or stone.
None of these would fall under the definition of “hardwood” and would be exempt from any rule about “hardwood”. Some of these options are becoming increasingly popular (for example bamboo and ceramic with wood patterns).

2) Such a rule could not be actually enforced:

Floor installation does not come under the purview of common property and does not require permitting or architectural review. It would therefore be effectively impossible for the HOA to enforce it or enforcement would come at the cost of lengthy lawsuits that could be easily dismissed because:

  • The HOA has extremely limited rights inside units when no permitting or architectural review is necessary.
  • The flooring project is not ” hardwood” (see too-specific definition above).

3) There is a better way:

Let’s take this opportunity to inform all homeowners that it is in their best interest to install thick padding or underlayment when they install hard surface flooring in their units.
Here’s why:

  • It will deaden sound, not only downstairs, but also in the unit itself because sound waves and shocks will not be transmitted through or reflected back in the same way as with a fully rigid surface.
  • It will save energy by providing better thermal insulation (valid for hot or cold).
  • It will make walking on the floor more comfortable, because the soft underlayment provides some “give”.
  • It will make installation easier and even cheaper (less man-hours) because the underlayment helps absorbing floor defects.

All these benefits come at the cost of less than $200/room, about $600 for a whole unit, or less than 5% of the cost of a typical re-flooring project. Any worthwhile contractor will suggest these options.

There are three basic types of underlayments that can be used for flooring projects:

  • Light foam: with a typical thickness of 3mm, it provides maximum sound insulation.
  • Heavy foam: with a typical thickness of 3mm, it provides maximum heat insulation.
  • Felt: with a typical thickness of 3mm, it provides both heat and sound insulation (30% more expensive).

Some foam underlayment products also feature an aluminum foil backing providing humidity protection (for example to prevent humidity to cause wood or laminate to swell).

Finally, to anyone re-flooring an upstairs unit, I would also personally highly recommend spending an additional $40 and buy a couple boxes of 2.5″ wood screws to tighten the connection between floor plywood and joists, this will prevent creaks (or fix existing ones).
Do it, because otherwise you will be stuck with the creaks with no option to fix them unless you remove your flooring.

I hope this helps. We don’t need more rules. Let’s be cooperative, not confrontational, everyone will benefit.

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