Installing laminate hardwood flooring into your home can give you the expensive, polished look of a hardwood floor without the cost. For professional results to last, however, the laminate floor must be correctly installed with a quality underlayment beneath it. The underlayment provides adequate support for laminate flooring by absorbing sound, protecting it from moisture, and offering the best thermal insulation. Your underlayment determines the longevity of your laminate and minimizes the need for frequent floor repairs or maintenance.
So what is the best underlayment option for a laminate floor? While there are a number of good options in the market, cork and foam are the usual favorites for a laminate floor underlay. Depending on your lifestyle, you may appreciate cork for its thickness and sound absorption; foam, on the other hand, is an excellent, cost-efficient material that works as a moisture barrier.
Laminate flooring is often a thin flooring material, around 12 mm thick. It’s designed to mimic a polished wood floor, minus the expense or the maintenance needed. Unless your laminate or vinyl plank flooring comes with an attached underlayment, it’s safe to assume you’re going to need one -- especially in your basement, kitchen, and bathroom.
The laminate underlayment operates as a protective barrier in between a new laminate floor and the subfloor. A premium underlayment is usually around 2 mm - 3 mm thick, with 3 mm providing thick cushioning and insulation without compromising the joints between boards. Made of rubber, cork, rubber cork, felt, or foam, flooring underlayment is made with two layers; one layer provides cushioning while the other serves as a vapor barrier against mold growth and moisture. Typically, an underlay would also have adhesive tape attached to it so you can easily connect the material to the subfloor with no gaps.
You may be more accustomed to tile flooring, solid hardwood flooring, or engineered wood flooring which don’t require an underlayment. Laminate floors need them, however, as these floating floors are not nailed or glued down. They need a cushion in between the subfloor to float easily, especially because they are prone to expanding and contracting with temperature changes. The flooring underlayment supports floating laminate floors by:
Not all laminate underlayments are created equal, as different manufacturers come up with a number of great features -- which you may or may not need. It’s important to get the best laminate underlayment because otherwise, your laminate flooring won’t last as long as it should. So how do you choose among all the options? Here are six factors you should take into account:
Thickness is one quality most customers struggle with, in regards to underlayment. In reality, the thickness of your underlayment isn’t the most important thing to consider. An extra thick underlayment only works if you’re installing carpeted flooring or trying to smooth an uneven subfloor. Otherwise, an underlayment with extra padding can cause laminate or vinyl flooring to flex too much, which may break the locking system. Find an laminate underlayment that is around 2 - 3 mm thick; some distributors may falsely claim that a 6 mm underlay can double sound absorption. However, material and density are better indicators of soundproofing.
If your laminate flooring already has an attached underlayment, you don’t need to install another one as this attachment is meant to save you time. You may need to add a vapor barrier if you’re installing above a concrete subfloor, however, as an attached underlayment won’t usually include one.
If a laminate plank is going over a concrete sub floor, it’s crucial to install an underlayment as concrete is porous and holds water moisture. Putting in a vapor barrier against the moisture released by a concrete floor is essential to prevent possible damages to your floor. On the other hand, if you’re installing the laminate flooring over a plywood subfloor, you won’t need to worry about moisture. Instead of a vapor barrier, find an underlayment with better noise reduction and thermal ratings.
Each type of underlayment is assigned an R-value, a number that measures its ability to insulate. A low R-value equals less insulation, while a higher R-value means less heat will move through the underlay. If you’re living in a climatic area that requires a floor heating system, you may want to find an underlayment with a high R-value so there would be additional underfloor heating during the winter. Underlayments with a good R-value can also keep hot air out during the summer. As a reference, most underlayments have an R-value of 2 or 3.
Laminate flooring itself is quiet to walk on, but it does have the potential to be nosy when it flexes against the subfloor. Without an underlayment, the noise can be transferred to the floor below. A good underlayment would serve as a noise-reducing buffer between the two surfaces, sparing you from annoying creaks or squeaks when you walk by.
An underlayment with sound absorption features are also a must if you have neighbors below. Apartments and condo communities require an underlayment with a minimum sound rating to prevent conflicts. For underlayments, there are two sound absorption ratings:
Both STC and IIC are rated with a number between 15 - 80. The higher the number is, the better the material can reduce sound. A standard wood floor would have an STC rating of 40, while a hardwood floor without sound insulation would have an IIC of 45. For best sound absorption, you should look for a product with STC and IIC ratings of 60 and above.
Floor underlayments are usually sold by square footage or in rolls, which accounts for a significant difference in pricing. Rolls can be cost-friendly for larger projects, but it may be safer to buy in square foot to avoid excess. It’s good to base your decision by comparing your budget against the cost, the brand, and the number of features the underlayment has. In certain locations, you can easily purchase a high-quality underlayment for under $.15 per square foot.
Certain materials like cork are naturally antimicrobial. However, there are some underlayments manufactured with antimicrobial benefits as a bonus. If you want to make your laminate floor installation more healthful, finding an underlayment with this feature would be ideal, as long as it suits your flooring needs and environmental conditions.
Even if you’re familiar with the qualities you’re looking for in a laminate underlayment, you may still be overwhelmed by the number of materials you can choose from. Among the four most common underlayment options, here’s what you need to know:
A foam underlayment is the most basic variety of laminate floor underlayment. Foam underlayments are a thin layer of foam material, around 1/8 inches thick. They’re among the most affordable, versatile, and easy-to-install types of underlayment. Despite the low price of a foam underlayment, it can serve as an excellent cushion between the subfloor and a vinyl, engineered hardwood, or laminated floor.
The standard foam underlayment is not an ideal vapor barrier for high moisture areas, which is why some manufacturers have developed a combination foam with a vapor barrier attachment. Combination foam underlay may be more expensive, but it can work well on a concrete, OSB, or plywood subfloor in basements, bathrooms, and kitchens.
Felt underlayment is a great choice if you’re looking for something eco-friendly. Made from recycled fibers, felt underlayments are denser than foam. They are good for increasing sound absorption, improving home insulation, and making the floor more comfortable underfoot. Certain brands of felt underlayment come with a built-in moisture barrier to protect the floor from spills, which is why they can be used for a variety of flooring like laminate, vinyl, and hardwood.
A rubber underlayment is an extremely versatile and easy-to-install choice for floor padding. As one of the most sound-absorbing and insulating underlayments in the market, rubber can protect your laminate flooring from any mold, mildew, or noise associated with a concrete or wood subfloor. Rubber underlayments are made from recycled rubber products, so they’re great if you’re conscious about the environment.
The only problem with a rubber underlay is that they can’t be used on a vinyl floor because it stains; rubber is more commonly used with wood, tile, or carpet floors. Some manufacturers have also developed a combined rubber and cork underlayment that expertly prevents cracks in tiles, which are caused by house settling and natural movement.
The cork material is often chosen when a soundproof underlayment is the priority. Cork is a natural material with enough bounce and density, so it handles weight and pressure without losing its original shape. A cork underlayment can provide good insulation and natural antimicrobial capabilities, so you won’t have to worry about mold growth between your subfloor and vinyl or laminate flooring. If you want to increase your moisture barrier, you can easily do so by placing a sheet of plastic under the cork underlay.
Cork may not be the most comfortable underlay to walk over, but it can help even out any subfloor imperfection on surfaces between rooms. The biggest downside to getting cork underlayment is that it’s expensive; you may expect a 50% increase in your floor installation costs by using cork.
The best laminate underlay products should be able to muffle noise, provide adequate thermal insulation, offer sufficient support for floating floors, and serve as an effective vapor barrier. Taking this into account, three great underlayment brands for laminate flooring are:
Zothex Flooring is a family-owned business, located in Sacramento. Since 2004, we have provided our world-class, one-of-a-kind customer experience to countless clients. You don’t need to worry about choosing and installing a new floor in your home; with Zothex Flooring on board, you can be assured of a beautiful floor that matches your home and lifestyle perfectly. Let our design team ease your worries. Call our office today to learn more about our products and services.
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