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Does Wooden Flooring Need Underlay?

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Don’t spend good money to have a beautiful floor but then skip an important step in the installation process and decide not to purchase and install an underlay. Without an it, your floor will be less stable and more vulnerable to wear and tear.

Does Wooden Flooring Need Underlay?

Does wooden flooring need an underlay? 

Yes, wooden flooring needs an underlay. An underlay will provide stability, sound dampening and cushioning, moisture barrier, compression resistance, warmth, and at the same time hide minor subfloor imperfections.

What is Underlay and Does Wooden Flooring Need it?

Underlay is a material that is installed on top of the subfloors before you install your new wooden flooring. Underlayments are very thin, typically they range between 2mm and 3mm in thickness. The underlay provides several key benefits that will enhance the longevity and comfort of your floor.

Key benefits of underlay for wooden floors:

  • Stability – Installing an underlayment provides constant stability and support to your flooring which will keep boards from buckling or pulling apart at the seams. Floating floors are increasingly popular due to their ease of installation and future repair or maintenance. They need underlayment stability even more than their glue-down and nail-down counterparts.
  • Sound Dampening/Sound Absorption – Hard floors if installed without an underlayment will usually have a hollow clicking sound when walked upon. Additionally, the sound of footsteps walking over hard floors can be heard in rooms both above and below. An underlayment provides a measure of sound dampening or sound absorption.
  • Cushioning – While most underlayments are not especially thick, they do provide a measure of cushion underneath your flooring that allows the hard surface of your floor to be gentler on your joints as you walk and stand upon them.
  • Vapor Barrier – While not all underlayments are equipped with a vapor barrier, the best ones are. A vapor barrier protects your flooring from accumulated moisture from the subfloor, which can cause serious problems to your floor planks if left unprotected.
  • Compression Resistance – Underlayments are different from just any old cushioning carpet pad. They provide the benefits already discussed while being resistant to compressions. This compression resistance will enhance your floor’s longevity.
  • Warmth – Hard floors are often cold as they simply absorb the cold from the subfloor. Underlayment will keep the cold from absorbing into your floor boards so readily. Additionally, many of them are specifically designed to be compatible with radiant heating flooring systems.
  • Hide Minor Subfloor Imperfections – While an underlay won’t fix major discrepancies in the surface of the subfloor such as cracks, protruding objects, or holes; it will smooth out minor imperfections.

What is the Best Underlay for Wood Flooring?

Type of Underlay depends on the desired flooring you would like to install in your house or apartment. I will cove three main types and I hope you learn something new.

Laminate

When you’re shopping for an underlay for your laminate flooring you need to consider the following things:

  1. What material is your subfloor? If you are installing over a concrete subfloor, you will need to concern yourself with moisture protection. This eliminates several of the cheaper underlayments immediately from your options because you need an underlayment that has what is called a vapor barrier.
  2. Does your laminate already have an attached underlayment? Some types of laminate flooring already come with an underlayment. Sometimes laminate floors that come with pre-attached underlayments have a vapor barrier, while others don’t. This will lead you back to the first question of what type of subfloor you have. 

I recommend the FloorLot Blue Laminate Vapor Barrier Underlayment. This foam underlayment comes equipped with a vapor barrier and is 3mm thick providing ample cushioning underfoot, and the benefit of sound dampening.

It is easily installed as well. Overlap tape strip that is easily removed along one edge will make sure you underlayment will fit side by side without gaps.

Moreover, this underlayment can be installed over concrete or wood subfloors, and will help to obscure minor imperfections in your subfloor.

This product is very economical, and cheaper per square foot than most economy line underlayments in the big hardware stores.
  • Tip: Some underlayment products come with a grid pattern to help installers with the cutting and installation. This underlayment comes with no such grid. Therefore, draw your own grid with a chalk box and a measuring tape.

Vinyl

Things to consider when purchasing underlay for vinyl flooring:

  1. What material is your subfloor? The same concern from laminate flooring applies here. Installing over a concrete subfloor necessitates a vapor barrier.
  2. Is the underlayment you are purchasing actually intended for use with vinyl floors? In my research, I have frequently found reviews and recommendations to vinyl floor owners for underlayments that actually are not safe for vinyl floors. Be alert of this and confirm that the underlayment you are purchasing is appropriate. 

My top favorite underlayment for Luxury Vinyl Plank floors is the QuietWalk Flooring Underlayment by MP Global Products. This one is a felt made of recycled microfibers, and comes with a lot of bells and whistles.

  • It’s VOC free, and approved for installation with radiant heating flooring systems.
  • It provides a good cushion underfoot with its 5mm thickness while it is also compression resistant to avoid strain on your flooring.
  • An attached vapor barrier allows this underlayment to be used over both concrete and wood subflooring as well.
  • Underlay has good ratings for sound dampening, and has adhesive strips to help with easy installation.
  • Furthermore, it’s appropriate for use with floating floors, glue-down floors, and even nail-down floors.
This underlayment is priced more in the middle-range for vinyl underlayments, but it is so much more than your basic underlayment and therefore a quality deal.

Hardwood

You can use felt, foam, rubber, or cork underlay for hardwood. So, when shopping take into consideration the following:

  1. Is your subfloor concrete? If so, you’ll need a vapor barrier. However, if your subfloor is plywood, consider a semi-permeable underlayment instead. It will let the subfloor and hardwood planks breathe a bit thereby preventing mildew or mold to take root.
  2. Is your floor oak, cherry, or walnut? These types of wood are softer and more vulnerable. Therefore, you should focus on stability and compression resistance.

I recommend a cork underlay because it is naturally antimicrobial which makes it bacteria, mold, and mildew resistant. My top pick is the Cork Underlayment by QEP because it is an affordable yet quality cork option.

A the same time, It has great sound dampening ratings and reduces thermal transmission. Moreover, it’s easy to install, and can be used for glue-down, floating, and nail-down flooring installations.

  • Tip: While cork is naturally resistant to mold and mildew, it is not a vapor barrier. If your subfloor conditions require a vapor barrier, you will need to purchase one separately to lay beneath the cork underlay.

What Flooring Does Not Require Underlayment?

Most flooring types need an underlayment, even tile and travertine. 

There are some circumstances in which LVP or luxury vinyl plank can be installed without an underlayment.

If your LVP already has an attached underlayment for instance you don’t need an underlayment. Or if you will install it over a below-grade tile floor, or over an existing cushion backed vinyl floor.

However, in general floors need at the very least, the stability and support that underlayments provide. 


Related Questions

Can you use carpet underlay for wooden flooring?

It is not recommended. Underlayments for hard floors are specially designed to also be compression resistant. If you install a hard floor over a carpet underlay you will have compression issues, which will stress the floor planks. Purchase an underlayment that is specific to your type of flooring.

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