A flooring underlayment or underlay as the name suggests is a thin material beneath the top floor covering. It is usually sandwiched between the top floor covering and sub-floor. It refers to different types of flooring surface-covering materials such as foam, felt, sponge rubber, plywood, cement-like materials, among others.
A flooring underlayment should be thin to prevent reduction of the room height space. There are different models of underlays designed specifically for different types of floors and for different purposes. Some materials are hard while others are as soft as a carpet padding. You also have a choice between fixed or floating floor underlayment.
Purpose of a Flooring Underlayment
The underlayment provides a smooth surface for installation of a top floor like laminate, vinyl, luxury vinyl tiles, tiles, carpets, and hardwood flooring materials. Sometimes the sub-floor is not flat and smooth and as such, an underlayment provides a better surface for installing the top floor. An underlay also works as a sound insulator by deadening footsteps. Besides that, you can use an underlay to reduce the wear and tear on your floor or to prevent moisture from moisture damage.
Must You Install a Flooring Underlayment?
Most subfloors are plywood, concrete, oriented strand board (OSB), and wood plank. An underlay is useful when the subfloor is in poor condition or if you require the underlayment for a specific purpose say, for example, sound insulation. Some homes have cracked concrete sub-floors where direct floor installation is difficult.
Therefore, brand new constructions rarely require a flooring underlayment but remodeling jobs most often require an underlay. This is because in most cases brand new floors are sturdy and level. As such it is possible to put only a layer of rosin paper when installing a hardwood floor and lay just a carpet padding when installing carpets.
Several factors like water damaged sub-floor necessitate floor remodeling. Sometimes when removing an existing floor, the sub-floor may suffer some kind of damage. In such a case the sub-floor won’t be as smooth as a new one. Moreover, some old flooring types like vinyl can serve as an underlayment for other top flooring materials. In the case of carpets, an existing hard floor can make a perfect underlay.
Popular Underlays for Different Flooring Types
Carpet Flooring Underlayment
Carpets underlayments are used even with a sub-floor that is in good condition. The underlay provides thermal and sound insulation, reduce carpet wear and tear, serve as a moisture barrier and enhance the carpet comfort. You should choose a carpet underlay depending on the sub-floor type and also the type of carpet. Common carpet underlays are felt, crumb rubber, foam rubber, and cork.
Hardwood Floor Underlayment
Hardwood flooring materials are diverse including engineered and solid flooring and different wood species that are either domestic or exotic. The flooring also includes cork and bamboo flooring. Hardwood floors usually require an underlayment to resist moisture. Noteworthy, if your area is very humid, then you need a moisture barrier too. The most common hardwood underlay is felt because it is dense. Other hardwood flooring underlayments include cork and rubber. Foam underlayment is popularly used for engineered wood flooring.
Vinyl Flooring Underlayment
A vinyl flooring may not require an underlay if the subfloor is plywood or OSB and it is in good condition. The most common underlay for vinyl floors is plywood.
Laminate Flooring Underlayment
A laminate flooring underlay gives the laminate stability while covering any imperfections. Noteworthy, innovations have seen the enhancement of laminate flooring materials with some high-end types having underlayments in their constructions. This saves time because only the top flooring material is installed. As much as it may be more expensive, but it saves you the money you would have used buying underlayment and hiring labor. For laminate floors requiring an underlay, you can use foam or acoustical laminate.
Tile Floor Underlayment
Tiles are a popular flooring choice for water-prone areas because of their water-resistance features. They expand and contract slightly with changes in temperature and humidity. A tile flooring underlayment should accommodate humidity and temperature changes. It should have flexibility to absorb pressure from movements on the floor.
Basement Flooring Underlayment
Installing a resilient flooring in the basement area is challenging because of high humidity levels. You need a flooring that will allow enough ventilation in the area. There are flooring underlays that are ideal for dispersing moisture from such floors and perfect for basement areas.
Factors to Consider When Buying a Flooring Underlayment
Before buying any underlayment, you should know the flooring type you are installing. You should also follow the manufacturer’s recommendations on the type of underlay to use on each type of flooring. In this regard, it is advisable to first purchase your flooring material before purchasing an underlayment. On the other hand, if you are installing a flooring for a specific purpose, for example, sound deadening, then you can shop for the best sound insulation underlays in the market. Worth noting, you should consider if you have an underfloor heating system and how compatible your underlayment will work with it.
Whether you are a DIY or you are hiring a professional installer, you should consider your flooring underlayment options carefully. For a good installation job that will stand the test of time, choose the right underlayment suitable for the purpose.