While the advantages make hardwood flooring a standard floor covering for most homes, homeowners should also know when an underlayment is necessary. There are reasons why using underlayment for your hardwood flooring is essential for sustaining your flooring.
Now it doesn't matter whether you're laying maple flooring or Hickory, underlayment is vital. While underlayment may not be visible underneath your eye-grabbing wood floors, this material has other benefits attached to it. Alongside more sound protection and added support, underlayment also helps your floor last longer and also in durability.
In essence, you would have to select the appropriate materials to get the most out of the underlayment. For this reason, the next segment explains in different subsections how you can find the best underlayment out there before picking our best. So hold on tight, as we explore the points below together!
Knowing the Underlayment Options
Underlayment comes in varieties of thicknesses and materials. Let's quickly observe some of the most basic types of underlayment for hardwood flooring.
This is perhaps the simplest type of underlayment. This type brings some primary moisture barrier and sound absorption capabilities.
This type of material is also an easy one to install and quite affordable. This type offers a high level of sound insulation, making it an ideal choice for hollow soundproofing noises.
This type of underlayment takes sound insulation to another new level, by easily taking-in disturbances and noises. All these great benefits come as a result of its flexibility and pliability.
Also, this type of underlayment is easy to install.
This type of material also comes with both sound absorption and temperature insulation. Besides, its constituents are made from natural material. If you're looking for an eco-friendly pick, the cork underlayment is your go-to choice!
Check the Hardwood Species
You should know that not every underlayment material combines perfectly with each hardwood species. So to identify the ideal match, consider the kind of hardwood flooring you’re looking to install.
This species is known for its cozy hues, warmth, and also one of the softest types of wood flooring out there. This type of material works best with an underlayment that offers extra padding and support, like rubber or cork.
This species is regarded as one of the hardest types of wood flooring. It works best with rubber underlayment or foam, as both provide a decent amount of insulation and support.
As with maple, Hickory is also known as one of the most durable and hardest species, to the extent that it can withstand much wear and traffic without needing much external aid.
This type of flooring material combs well with a flexible foam underlayment.
While this floor may look impenetrable, it happens to one of the softest types of hardwood flooring. Walnut would comb thoroughly with cork underlayment for added durability and extra support.
It doesn't matter the color you choose, whether white or red, oak is also on the softer side. Both types of trees combine well with rubber underlayment that offers the necessary absorption and insulation capabilities red and white oak needs.
Inspect the Subfloor Condition
While the species of the hardwood strongly matters in terms of the underlayment you choose, the subfloor should also be considered. With that said, it's vital to take note of both the material and condition as you lay the underlayment.
Also, note that subfloors that are damaged tend to work best with the most flexible underlayment option because these materials tend to make up for subfloor anomalies.
If you notice the subfloor is plywood, choose an underlayment that's semi-permeable. This type of underlayment gives room for both the wood subfloor and hardwood floor to breathe without taking in mildew and mold or merely causing the material to decay.
If you realize the subfloor is thick concrete, opt for an impermeable underlayment instead. The reason is that this type of material is meant to stop moisture in its path and prevent water from passing through the concrete into the hardwood floor.
Know the Purpose of the Room
In most cases, the room itself can determine the type of underlayment you'd be using. For instance, an apartment or a condo on a higher level of a building would need a rubber underlayment, which can provide additional vibration absorption and sound insulation that can offset disruptions in the unit below the floor.
Also, a room with a high level of traffic would need a cork underlayment that fosters durability and more supportive.
Give space for Radiant Heating
If your new wood flooring needs to allow space for radiant heating, you'd need to be pickier with the type of underlayment you use. The first thing you should consider is slashing out underlayment options with asphalt. The reason is that such materials tend to produce stringent odors when heated up.
And since radiant heating causes temperature swings, it produces condensation. Also, you can choose an underlayment type that can accommodate moisture without destroying either the subfloor below or the hardwood floor above.
Inspect Environmental Concerns
It doesn't matter if your goal is to minimize your carbon footprint or harmful chemicals; it's vital to access any environmental concern with your underlayment. A lot of rubber underlayment is created with recycled materials that make this type long-lasting.
Besides, cork is simple to recycle after each use, thus, making it one of the most eco-friendly options on the market. Before picking an underlayment, inspect the specifics to be sure the materials don't harm the environment.
Know the Building Requirements
If you would be installing hardwood flooring in a larger building, it’s recommended to check the building requirements for underlayment. The reason is that your building may require an underlayment with certain IIC (impact isolation class) rating, which can absorb footprints or another STC (sound transmission class) score, which can insulate sound.
Another thing to consider is materials that your building regulates for durability or safety reasons. In essence, before installing your hardwood floor, ensure the underlayment you choose exceeds or meets what your building needs, or plan for a second renovation sooner.
Check to Confirm the Manufacturer’s Approval
Lastly, remember to check the flooring manufacturer’s approval. Most hardwood flooring manufacturer advice on certain types of underlayment to use with their products. You would want to ensure the underlayment's thickness, material, and installation requirements work well with the flooring.
Besides, choosing the best underlayment for the hardwood flooring ensures that your floor feels comfortable, looks fantastic, and stays for years on end.
Also, keep the tips above in your mind as you lay the right underlayment with your hardwood choice. Now let’s list our top picks in their various use-case.
Our Top Picks
In the list below, we categorized them into different use-cases like best overall, best for noise reduction, best for tile, best for cork, and best for laminate.
The Best Overall: The FloorLot Blue Laminate Flooring Underlayment Equipped with Vapor Barrier
This underlayment stands out as the best because it not only provides cushion and an attached vapor barrier but also has each roll cover at 200 square feet, and it's quite easy to install based on reviews.
This 3mm FloorLot Blue underlayment is ripe and best suited for engineered (any type) or laminate floors.
One exciting feature is the attached adhesive strip that aids in fast installation and seam sealing. So this means you won’t have to purchase a separate adhesive, all you’d have to do is peel and apply the built-in tape strips.’
One other thing to take note of is while this underlayment doesn’t have pre-printed grid lines that aids in its installation, people still find it quite easy when installing. Also, after installation, it helps in reducing flooring squeaks and creaks, and it also helps in providing plenty of cushions.
•Has coverage of 200 sqft per roll
•Comes equipped with Vapor/Moisture Barrier
•Has an extra thick 3mm foam that aids in sound absorption
•Asides from being the best overall, it can also be used for laminate and engineered floating floors.
•It comes equipped with tape and overlap for smooth installation.
•Comes in three varieties, FloorLot Blue, FloorLot BlueMax, and FloorLot Gold
•Little to no complaints.
Best for Noise Reduction: QuietWalk Underlayment
With QuietWalk Underlayment working well for most floors, where it stands out is in noise reduction due to its superior sound reduction feature. Also, for hardwood floors that desire a bit of flexibility, the tile surface naturally moves towards rigidity. The combination of grout and tiles would disintegrate over time with flexible underlay.
In that case, more robust and denser materials tend to be the best choice for offering a solid foundation to keep the floor safe.
•Works well with floating floors
•Has no petrochemical smell—no need to bother about your house reeking like a tire shop.
•It is built to last—hard to tear due to the built-in moisture barrier film coupled with its dense fiber.
•Not too thick or thin—no holes can be created due to the accidental dropping of tools during installation.
•Lays comfortably flat on the floor
•Easy to install
•Finally, it has a superior sound reduction in-built mechanism.
•Few complaints about the adhesive not lining up correctly. However, it was just one review.
Best for Cork: QEP 72000Q Cork Underlayment
The QEP 72000Q Cork does a beautiful job of reducing sound. It also stands out when it comes to having a more balanced and cushioned floor when compared to the standard flooring over a bare subfloor.
This option is recommended for those interested in installing an eco-friendly underlayment. The QEP has a natural cork underlayment with a thickness of .25inch, and it works well with laminate, hardwood, and tile floors. In addition to reducing stress cracks in your flooring, QEP can also repel pests lurking around your home.
All that you need to do is allow the underlayment to adjust to your home's temperature levels before installing. However, it should be relative to the installer. Also, when installing the underlayment, handle the cork carefully. Users have complained of a possibility of tearing it if not done with proper care. Ensure it used with a moisture barrier, especially if it’s installed in a room where such is a concern.
While it comes out pricey than other underlayment options—it’s an allergy-friendly, eco-friendly material with lots of perks.
•Insulates sound transmission from both the surface of a floor and also through living spaces below
•It also reduces thermal transfer, therefore enhancing the effectiveness of floor heating systems.
•Easy to install whether in loose-lay or glue-down configurations.
•It has a coverage of 200 sqft per roll.
•It can be used under hard floor surfaces like ceramic tile, marble, laminate, stone, and engineered floors.
•Can be expensive
Best for Tile: Schluter Ditra 1/8 Underlayment
The Schluter Ditra helps in cushioning hard surface flooring, whereby proving adequate protection. This underlayment uses a unique grid interface supported by a fleece underside.
The buildup of this multi-layer tile underlayment offers a suitable uncoupling layer that allows for in-plane movement while adding a vapor barrier and waterproofing membrane.
The way to go about it, as usual, is to follow the manufacturer's manual while taking advantage of thin-set mortar—based on what others used. Many users find this tile underlayment to be a great pick.
•It happens to be lightweight and cuts easily for installation.
•Can be used over cement before laying tile
•54 sqft per roll
•Not ideal for all floors, but mainly for hard surface flooring
We've come to the end of our favorite picks. By now, you should already know which one we think is ideal for your home flooring. The FloorLot Blue stands out as the best because it is suitable for use under laminate or engineered floors (which can be any type of floor). Also, it comes at an affordable price with so many excellent and beneficial features.
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