Folk wisdom tells us “keep your head warm and your feet warm and the rest takes care of itself”. While that is probably an exaggeration, most of us agree that a warm floor makes a big difference when we’re trying to keep comfortable in winter.
Warmer floors are also disproportionately comforting to our pockets. Floor insulation can be one of the cheapest ways to improve the energy efficiency of our homes. Officially, it’s estimated that 10-15% of the energy lost from a house escapes through the ground floor, but it can feel much more. Costs are usually recouped in just two years. Compare that to about 4 years for cavity insulation and 8 years for double glazing.
Most types of modern engineered flooring have good thermal ratings. They are often fitted over pre-existing solid floors or ill-fitting floor boards, so they can hardly make your insulation worse. The types that click and lock together provide considerable protection from drafts, which is half the battle.
Wood based products, which includes laminate tiles, as well as engineered wood floor boards, also have that warm-to-the-touch quality. They’re not as warm as a thick rug, but a lot better than cold stone, concrete or vinyl. Whichever grade you choose, you will be able to choose designs that simulate expensive and exotic types of timber (see woodfloorwarehouse for a range).
Underlay isn’t only for carpet, and is often laid beneath wooden flooring too. It may come as rolls of rock-wool, or as fibrous boards. It greatly improves thermal insulation.
Polystyrene-like materials are sometimes used. In recently built houses with solid floors, this may already be embedded below the top layer of concrete to improve insulation.
There are several benefits of underlay. As well as blocking drafts and reducing heat loss, it also suppresses noise. Bare wooden floors are often a problem because they don’t suppress sound, especially in flats. Underlay also protects your beautiful new flooring from irregularities in the subsurface and gives it a bit of bounce in response to impacts from above.
If you’re lucky enough to have some form of underfloor heating, then remember that your new flooring and insulation could obstruct it. Grades are available that are designed to work well with this kind of heating, but consult experts before you buy.