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May 24, 2021
Underlayment: it’s not glamorous, and if it’s doing its job, you’ll hardly know it’s there. It’s the Batman of your flooring situation, protecting you and your floor from harm. But there’s so much to know, and so many options out there - what’s the best choice for your home? And not just for your home, but for the different spaces in your home? We’re taking the plunge into talking about underlayment, the different varieties out there and what you should be taking into consideration when you make your choices.
Let’s start with the basics. Underlayment is a thin layer that goes between the subfloor and the flooring coverings (meaning, the planks). You don’t need underlayment if you’re installing a floor that you glue or nail down, but it’s definitely something to consider if you’re going with a floating floor. It’s not a one-size-fits-all proposition - different types of flooring will require different varieties of underlayment. Tile, for example, which needs to be mortared and grouted to the subfloor, will have very different needs than click-and-lock SPC, which floats on top.
So we know what it is, but what’s it for? Underlayment can be a real multi-purpose hero. It adds some padding to make the flooring more comfortable underfoot. It adds extra support and stability to the floor to extend the longevity of your floor coverings. It also adds an element of sound protection, reducing impact noise both in the space and in neighboring spaces. Potentially most importantly, it also provides a moisture barrier, which is especially important in basement installations and in other spaces where damp is a real concern.
Let’s start in the bathroom - chances are that you’ll be installing tile, and since it needs to be mortared and grouted, you’ll need an underlayment that provides a lot of stability and support while still being flexible enough that the tile and grout won’t crack. A cement board underlayment that is secured to the subfloor will be the way to go. It’s durable, won’t mold or warp, and water-resistant, all very important for installation in a bathroom.
Foam underlayment is the most common and all-purpose choice - it’s kind of the MVP of underlayment. You can find it in various thicknesses, it offers noise reduction, it comes with or without a moisture barrier - it can really do it all. It’s also compatible with most kinds of flooring. When all else fails, go foam. One drawback here - if you’re installing an SPC flooring with a click-and-lock system, keep it thin. A layer that’s too puffy and soft won’t give the click and lock mechanism the support it needs to function properly and with longevity.
Cork is the more eco-friendly option, and offers the best acoustical absorption of the underlayment varieties. It’s also exceedingly durable and possesses antimicrobial properties, making it resistant to mildew and mold as well as hypoallergenic, and a great choice for insulation purposes. However - it’s definitely not waterproof, so keep it away from your basement or any other high moisture space.
Felt: heavy and dense, it’s an excellent insulator of both sound and heat. This can be another option for folks for whom sustainability is important, and you can easily find felt underlayments made of recycled fibers. It doesn’t emit any kind of VOCs or toxic vapors, and adds significant comfort underfoot. If you’re looking to install hardwood, felt underlayment is something you should consider.
Rubber underlayment is another recycled option with good sound and heat insulation. It can also come in a rubber/cork combination, which is a little thicker and softer - but, again, anything too thick or squishy won’t be an option for any flooring with a click-and-lock mechanism. You’ll want to double-check if rubber or cork underlayment will work for your flooring - they’re often not recommended for use with vinyl flooring because they can stain the flooring.
MAKING YOUR CHOICES
When you’re getting ready to make your choices, pay special attention to these things - your subfloor, your space, and your flooring coverings.
Your subfloor - it’s got to be as flat as possible. When you know what kind of flooring you’re going to be purchasing, take a look at the warranty and double-check the degree of flatness that is specified in the warranty, because if you aren’t following those directives, you might void your warranty. A self-leveling underlayment can help you here. It’s a very thin concrete product that you floor all over your existing subfloor, and, as liquids do, it levels itself out and provides you with a more level subfloor.
Choose an underlayment that addresses the needs of the space. Looking for your basement? Prioritize a moisture barrier. Bedrooms, though, won’t have the same requirements. Since they’re often upstairs, you’ll want to think about something with more sound reduction - you probably won’t want to hear every single step and sound downstairs in your living room. If you live somewhere with a lot of temperature variation, you’ll also want to consider insulation.
While you’re looking at the warranty for your flooring, you’ll want to make sure that it doesn’t preclude any varieties of underlayment. Some manufacturers specify that using certain underlayments will void the warranty, usually for the reason of undermining the integrity of the product. If you’re hoping to make use of that lifetime warranty, make sure you’re following all the parameters!
HOW DECORNER CAN HELP YOU
Decorner’s floor coverings are SPC luxury vinyl planks with an attached underpad and a click-and-lock mechanism. The attached underpad is 1.5mm thick and contributes under-foot cushioning as well as noise reduction, but doesn’t act as a moisture barrier, so, as already mentioned, there are some contexts in which you’ll require an additional underlayment. If you’re looking to install our SPC in your basement, you’ll definitely need an additional underlayment. Thanks to the floating install system, you can install the SPC on top of existing floors (not carpet, though); if you’re planning to cover tile, you might want an additional underlayment for that too, to protect your existing floor, especially if you rent! Beware of cork or rubber or anything too soft or squishy - anything too puffy will affect the integrity of the click-and-lock system. It needs a degree of firmness and stability to stay firmly anchored.
Looking for an underlayment to go with your Decorner SPC? Check out the AbaTec underlayment on our site. It’s produced specifically with our SPC in mind and is perfectly suited to be paired with it. It’s an IXPE foam - that means Irradiated Cross-Linked PolyEthylene - which is a 100% waterproof closed cell foam that is completely impervious to mildew, rot, mold and bacteria. It’s a zero VOC product, and very thin at 1.5mm, which won’t disturb the locking mechanism, while still providing excellent thermal and acoustical insulation. It acts as a moisture barrier so you won’t need any additional materials, and it’s compatible with radiant heat! We definitely recommend it if you’re installing SPC in your basement, but is also an excellent supplement for noise reduction. And if that’s not enough for you, it offers 1mm of smoothing as well, helping your subfloor provide the best possible foundation for your flooring. Renters: we also recommend the AbaTec underlayment if you’re installing our SPC directly on top of another floor that might need some protection.
Whether you ultimately decide you need it or not, the topic of underlayment is definitely one you’ll need to consider as you move forward with your flooring installation. It’s an unseen, unsung hero, and not as much fun as picking out your flooring colors or other decor elements, but if you want to do your space right, take the time to think about what will serve you best. It’s always easier to do things right the first time then to have to go back and undo then redo your hard work! Not sure what you might need? We’ve got your back! Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or give us a call and we’ll walk you through the whole thing.
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