What is the importance of laminate flooring underlayment?
Not many homeowners understand about underlayment, except those of homebuilders or homeowners who are used to DIY home improvement projects.
Functions of Underlayment
What is the laminate flooring underlayment, anyway?
It is the flexible and thin sheet of material that is pretty resilient and tough.
Remember, when you install a floor, you need the subfloor, and then the underlayment (on top of the subfloor), and then the floor you want to install. Each of these layers has its own function and use.
The subfloor is the foundational support (of the room) while the underlayment is the support for the flooring material. It can protect and enhance the floor.
The basic purpose of the having the underlayment is:
- It would level the floor so it will be completely even and flat
- It provides the cushion functionality (especially for the planks)
- It will reduce the sound transmission and echo
- It can affect the heat resistance of the floor, slightly
- It makes the floor more comfortable for standing and walking
Choosing the right laminate flooring underlayment can be tricky and challenging. It is a process that you can’t neglect or underestimate.
Keep in mind that the underlayment can seriously affect the feel of the laminate floor and how it wears as time goes by.
Feel free to skip the underlayment, so you work from the subfloor and straight to the laminate floor.
However, don’t be surprised if your laminate floor wears out pretty fast or it doesn’t last long than it should have.
When you want to choose the right underlayment, you need to consider these things:
- The environment
- The type of floor you choose
- Your personal preference regarding of the space
Don’t forget that you must follow all the directions that are given by the vendors.
Laminate flooring requires special instruction and you need to follow them to the letter.
Any improper installation or wrong move (including wrong types of underlayment) can lead to the warranty being voided.
So, make sure that you understand and realize the different types of floors, each characteristic, and how to prepare the laminate flooring underlayment correctly.
Plywood and Concrete Subfloors
Dealing with different types of subfloors would require different approaches and methods too.
What would be the most perfect laminate flooring underlayment for these two types of subfloors?
- Concrete Subfloors
Moisture is the biggest concern when you want to install laminate floor on the concrete subfloor.
You need to remember that concrete is actually porous. It enables water to seep into the floor and even makes way through the floor.
When it happens, the adhesive will get loose, the planks would warp, and then mildew and mold will develop.
Because of its characteristic, you will need an underlayment for the concrete subfloor.
The underlayment will act as the vapor barrier, prevent the moisture to penetrate through the laminate construction.
It would be wise to choose foam pad (the thin one) material which is made from polypropylene or polyethylene. This kind of underlayment is usually available in sheet rolls.
- Plywood Subfloors
If you have plywood subfloors (or OSB) and you are thinking about installing the laminate floor, you want to choose underlayment with breathable foam type.
You may want to avoid the vapor barrier one. You see, wood is a natural material and it needs to breathe.
When you install the vapor barrier on top of the plywood subfloor, you only trap the moisture. It can’t go out.
Once the moisture is trapped inside, it will lead to mold growth and material warping.
If you install the laminate floor in dry areas, such as bedrooms, living room, or home office, then vapor barrier is a bad idea go with the foam type instead.
However, if you install the laminate floor in areas with high moisture level (like the basements, laundry rooms, or bathrooms), then you should choose the moisture barrier type. You won’t go wrong with this kind of arrangement.
Be advised that there are different types of underlayment for different types of subfloor.
If you understand the layers of floors thoroughly, it would be helpful to find the features you want.
Considerations for Antimicrobial, Noise, and Insulation Requirements
Each underlayment has its own characteristic and feature.
You may want to consider these things before you march to the store to buy the laminate flooring underlayment, which you thought would be perfect for your needs.
It is related to heat conductivity. Different materials would lead to different performance and ability to the heat conduction feature.
Basically, higher R-value would lead to less heat being able to pass it. Naturally, lower R-value would lead to less insulation ability of the underlayment.
When you have high R-value for the underlayment, the floor feels warmer and more comfortable underfoot, especially in winter.
Some types of underlayment can be a superb noise ‘blocker’. It means that the floor is able to act as the barrier and absorb the noise altogether.
If you have some certain areas or working areas where it is imperative to maintain silent condition, then this type of underlayment is definitely crucial. Don’t forget that laminate can be noisy.
If you use the good underlayment with top-notch noise reduction system, it will help with sound absorption.
Some types of underlayment come with flawless antimicrobial properties. As you can guess, the floor would be healthier, safer, and somewhat more hygienic.
Certain materials already have this trait naturally, like cork. Others, however, may have to go through special manufacturing process to finally have those traits.
Laminate Underlayment Types
A lot of inexperienced homeowners make a rookie mistake by thinking that all kinds of thick or soft underlayment (or even carpet padding) will make the floor more comfortable for walking or standing.
They also think that such underlayment would be able to block or absorb the noise. However, this type of underlayment isn’t always the best for the floor, especially for laminate floor.
The right and proper underlayment is actually coming in very thin (foam) layers. It cushions the floor, but it doesn’t enable any noticeable movement underfoot.
The underlayment usually comes in the form of roll sheets. When applied on the subfloor, you need to roll them out and then use adhesive strips to seal the seams. The seams are sometimes pre-attached (to the underlayment).
Standard Foam Underlayment
As it was mentioned before, this type is a thin foam layer serving as the cushion sandwiched between the laminate floor and the subfloor. This is the type of underlayment used for OSB or plywood subfloor.
However, this one won’t be suitable for areas with high moisture level because it doesn’t have any vapor barrier characteristic.
This standard type is available in roll sheets. You just have to roll it out for the application.
Combination Foam Underlayment
This type would combine the standard type with the vapor barrier layer, designed to protect the floor from any moisture.
This one would be the right underlayment for OSB, plywood, and concrete subfloors. It is more flexible you can use it most environments.
This would be the right underlayment for moist locations, like bathrooms, basements, and laundry rooms. Because of the features, this one is generally pricier than the standard type.
This is often used in areas where noise reduction is needed.
It doesn’t actually provide more comfort or cushioning for the laminate floor, but it is handy to level out the surfaces of the floor, especially between rooms.
Cork has natural antimicrobial traits which make it one of the costliest underlayment types in the market.
In fact, be ready to have at least 50% of the installation cost when you use it. Keep in mind that cork isn’t moisture proof.
If you use it for bathrooms or basements, you need to lay a plastic sheet first (for the moisture barrier) and then lay the cork underlayment over it.
Laminate Flooring and Attached Underlayment
It would be easy for you to find laminate floors with underlayment pads attached to its construction usually on the underside of the floor.
If you buy this kind of laminate floor, you won’t have to use a separate foam pad underlayment.
For most homeowners, this type of laminate flooring underlayment is more efficient because it saves them prep time.
You simply install the laminate floor over the subfloor as long as the subfloor is in good condition and ready for the work.
Some types with higher end technologies and features can be used for wet and moist locations and you won’t have to add the extra vapor barrier seal or whatsoever.
Generally, the laminate floor with the attached underlayment would be more expensive.
But it also saves you money as you don’t need to buy the separate underlayment. Those are some of the basic info and insight about the floor underlayment.
Do your research carefully before you buy a particular laminate flooring underlayment.