5 Subfloor Systems for Drier, Warmer Flooring

Systems That Eliminate Building Subfloor From Scratch

Man installing wood flooring

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Some basement floor coverings such as vinyl or ceramic tile can be installed straight on concrete or, in the case of tiles, with a separating membrane like Schluter Kerdi. When installed in this fashion, the floor covering is usually hard and cold and is meant for utilitarian basements devoted to storage. But to make your basement comfortable and welcoming for longer-term occupancy, you need a proper subfloor system under your floor covering.

The traditional solution is to build a subfloor system from scratch, layer by layer, from plywood, plastic, and wood sleepers. While this is still a perfectly acceptable route, a newer and easier solution is the subfloor system. Subfloor systems translate the basics of the homemade subfloor into smaller tiles that are dry and insulated, faster to lay down, and require less construction know-how.

What a Subfloor System Is

Subfloor systems are not true subfloors. A subfloor is usually 5/8-inch plywood or OSB installed atop wood joists. Subfloor systems are less a structural device and are more like an underlayment that must be built on top of another, more stable base, typically concrete. Subfloor systems intervene between the lowest level of concrete and the highest level, the floor covering.

Some types of subfloor systems are composed of individual tiles, each approximately 24 inches by 24 inches. Each tile is a sandwich consisting of a moisture barrier at the bottom, an elevating surface in the middle (usually no more than an inch high), and a composite wood top, usually OSB board.

Other subfloor system brands eliminate the OSB top altogether and are composed entirely of plastic. Finally, another type of subfloor system is flexible and comes in rolls, similar to carpeting or underlayment.


Local home centers will nearly always stock subfloor systems, but quantities of tiles may be limited. To obtain enough for a full-scale project, you usually need to special order from the store or purchase tiles online and have them shipped to your house.

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    DRIcore Subfloor System

    The DRIcore subfloor system was developed by a former home contractor who had frustrating experiences with the classic hand-built basement subflooring system of two-by-fours and poly plastic vapor barriers. 

    Each DRIcore tile is a raised high-density polyethylene moisture barrier base that is bonded to an engineered core. This allows air to flow underneath the subfloor system. The airflow inhibits mold and mildew and helps keep the floor covering warmer and drier. In fact, DRIcore system tiles will help raise the temperature of the floor covering by at least 6 degrees F.

    Each DRIcore tile is 7/8-inch thick and measures 2 feet by 2 feet. Tiles attach to each other with a tongue-and-groove system. The top of DRIcore is OSB and the bottom is a cleated, raised design. 


    One benefit of subfloor system tiles is that they ensure moisture protection without complicated construction techniques. Also, because subfloor tiles are shock absorbent, they are ideal for home gyms, play rooms for children, or yoga or dance studios.

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    Delta-FL Subfloor System

    Produced by the German company Dorken, Delta-FL is a hybrid subfloor system: a combination of a traditional underlayment (similar to the type used under laminate flooring) and a solid, wood-based subfloor tile.

    Delta-FL is a roll-out polymer that is 5/16-inch high with a dimpled pattern to promote airflow. Since each roll is 5 feet wide by 65 1/2 feet long, installation is fast. If your finish flooring is a hard surface, such as laminate, you can install it directly on top of Delta FL.


    Subfloor systems tend to be four or five times more expensive than scratch-built subfloor systems. While subfloor systems are an excellent and fast way to create a smooth underlayment for your floor covering, the steep cost can be an obstacle for some homeowners.

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    SpringStep Subfloor System

    SpringStep represents a sharp departure from other subfloor tile products. For one, it is primarily intended for dance studios and stages. For another, it uses a unique base system of foam cubes. Even though it is often used in commercial operations, SpringStep can also be used in general areas of the home. 

    The main difference is that SpringStep is much higher than other subfloor systems: either 2 3/4 inches or 1 1/2 inches high. It is built out of two layers of up to 100 half-inch foam cubes or blocks. SpringStep is a do-it-yourself product. Even though it is a niche item, its price is competitive with that of other subfloor systems.

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    DryBarrier Subfloor

    Much like DRIcore, DryBarrier is a subfloor system of modular hard subfloor tiles that lock together from side to side. For ease of installation, DryBarrier tiles can either be staggered or placed in a grid fashion. Either way, the subfloor tiles provide 1/4-inch of space underneath, between the top of the concrete and the bottom of the tile.

    Like DRIcore, DryBarrier is primarily for below-grade installations for finishing out basements, but it can also be used in above-grade applications. Tiles are 24 inches by 24 inches, each tile weighing 2-1/2 pounds.

    A unique feature of DryBarrier is that it does not have a fiberboard or OSB layer. Any type of wood layer like this is prone to mold, mildew, and insects since it is organic. DryBarrier is 100-percent a thermoplastic elastomer material,

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    ThermalDry Insulated Floor Decking

    ThermalDry is a subfloor system that's a continuous layer of rigid foam insulation panels. Panels are made from inorganic materials. They elevate the flooring covering by 1-inch and provide airflow underneath.

    The difference between ThermalDry and other subfloor systems is that ThermalDry is a service, not a product. A homeowner cannot purchase ThermalDry Insulated Floor Decking alone. Instead, Basement Systems, Inc. arranges for the product to be installed by its network of contractors.