What's underneath your floor goes a long way towards your overall satisfaction when walking on your freshly installed carpet, laminate, vinyl and more. The right kind of underpadding or underlayment can make your new floor sound better, feel warmer underfoot, and may even extend the life of your warranty.
What You Need To Know
When buying flooring, most homeowners decide on the kind of flooring that they want, and what is underneath it is usually an afterthought, or in some cases an "Uh oh, I didn't budget for this." Therefore, it doesn't hurt to do a bit of research into the different types of underpad or underlay available, as it can make a huge difference in the performance of your new engineered hardwood, laminate, carpet, or vinyl floor. So let's dive right in.
The difference between underlayment and underpadding is easy. Underlayment goes beneath hard surface flooring, and underpadding goes under carpet. Both are a type of cushion layer placed in between the home's foundation and the new flooring material itself. With laminate, engineered hardwood, luxury vinyl tile (LVT), luxury vinyl tile (LVP), or vinyl, it's very important that you get the right kind of underlayment that's specific to that type of hard surface flooring; too much or too little cushioning can be a problem. Most manufacturers make specific recommendations that are paired with the type of floor you are choosing, because they have spent money testing which underlay will give optimal results. It's a good idea to listen to these recommendations. Otherwise you may run into problems down the line with floor squeaks, cracking, an irregular surface, or seam failures/open seams, to name a few. The use of good-quality, compatible underlayment is essential to proper installation.
With regards to carpet underpad, this layer of cushion tends to be thicker, and is designed to provide a comfortable and soft feeling underfoot. More importantly, use of proper underpad absorbs shock, which helps prevent the carpet fibres from breaking down and the carpet backing from stretching. A correctly chosen, high quality carpet underpad can actually add years to the lifespan of your carpet, and in many cases it can impact your carpet's warranty! Too thick, and your carpet will bottom out when you walk on it. Other problems include wrinkling, buckling, seam separation and, as mentioned, warranty issues. To be specific, the rule of thumb is no thicker than 7/16" and no less than 1/4" with at least 6 lbs of density. For low profile or berber carpets, choose closer to 3/8" thick with at least 8 lbs of density. If this sounds too technical, just ask an End Of The Roll Flooring Advisor to make a recommendation based on your choice. Most carpet manufacturers have information on their products noting which type of underpad works best, and we recommend sticking to their guidelines.
Cork flooring is a unique product in that it is both hard surface, yet soft to walk on at the same time. Check manufacturers guidelines which may vary according to product and sub-floor conditions. In some cases, underlay may not be needed at all.
Questions To Ask
Try to get a good idea of your sub-floor before you make your purchase. Ask your spouse, your installer, or the person who measures your floor what characteristics of the floor you should take into account. Is it concrete or plywood? Is it in a basement and a little bit damp - should you put in a moisture barrier as well? Some under cushions are anti-microbial and can prevent mould, mildew and bacterial growth. Ask all the questions, and of course we are happy to help you figure out the best options as well.
While underlay and underpad are both highly important, don't let these get in the way of making a good decision about your choice of floor. While they are not always factored into the initial budget, we do offer incredible financing plans that can help you achieve the goals you have set in terms of look and performance. With flooring technology getting better every year, your investment can last for 25 years of more. It's not a small throw-away investment to take lightly, it's a decision with long-lasting implications, and it should be done right the first time.
Contributed by Krista Lusted & Stephanie Gilchrist.