Underlayment is a layer of a thin material installed between the top layer of the finished floor and the subfloor at the bottom. It is used to cover the imperfections in the subfloor and provide support to the floor covering at the top.
The concept of underlayment might be confusing for some homeowners as each type of flooring needs a certain underlayment for the best results. In some cases, the subfloor is sufficient to give a finished look to the floors whereas sometimes the subfloor requires a specific underlayment for a smoother look. To clear this confusion, we have compiled the best underlayment for each type of flooring.
- Hardwood Flooring
While installing hardwood floors the common options for underlayment are either red rosin paper or builder’s felt. They reduce squeaking between the hardwood and the subfloor by acting as a cushion and provide moisture resistance in humid areas. However, these underlayment options are not good choices for absorbing sound and giving a finished look to the floors. If you want sound absorption while making the top layer smoother, then foam pads will be a perfect choice.
- Tile Flooring
Underlayment for tile flooring should be chosen with care because it must provide solid support to the tiles and grout to prevent cracks. It should also be flexible to balance expansion and contraction of the floor caused by the change in temperature and humidity. To meet these requirements, cement board underlayment (CBU) and uncoupling membrane are the best options. CBU is made of cement material and fibres the consist of wood or cellulose. It provides flexibility without damaging the floor. Uncoupling membrane is made of polyethylene with grid structures that act as a barrier against moisture and vapour, while allowing the floor to expand and contract without cracking.
- Carpet Flooring
Commonly used underlayment for carpet flooring is foam or rubber carpet pad. They are available in different thickness options. The thicker the underlayment, the softer the floor. Both options work best when the subfloor of wood or concrete is in good shape. Some upgraded underlayment options are frothed urethane foam for high-traffic areas, memory foam for more comfort and rebond padding with high-density foam.
- Laminate Flooring
Many laminate flooring comes with an in-built underlayment. But, if your laminate flooring doesn’t have one, then acoustical laminate underlayment and foam laminate underlayment will be your best bet. Acoustical underlayment is easy to install as it is available in rolls and can be cut with a knife or a pair of scissors. It reduces the hollow sound caused by foot traffic and provides support to laminate floors. Foam underlayment is durable and offers protection from moisture and vapour.
- Vinyl Flooring
Plywood (1/4”) is the recommended underlayment option for vinyl flooring. If the subfloor is in good condition, then you can lay vinyl on the existing plywood subflooring. It is better to use 4’x8’ sheets of plywood for larger areas and 4’x4’ sheets for smaller areas. When laying on a wood subfloor, use 1 1/8” underlayment nails whereas use plywood adhesive in the case of a concrete subfloor.
Underlayment is an important part of floor installation. Make sure that you get the right underlayment according to the type of flooring you are installing. For best results, hire a flooring professional and give a finished look to your floors without worrying about the durability.