Underlayment is an important and necessary step for any laminate flooring installation. There are several factors you will need to consider when choosing an underlayment suitable for your project. The ultimate guide to laminate flooring underlayment will walk you through everything you need to know about selecting and buying laminate flooring underlayment.
What Is Laminate Flooring Underlayment?
Laminate flooring underlayment is thin foam pad, often made of polyethylene or polypropylene, which is laid on the sub-floor before installing the laminate. Most laminate floors on the market today require an underlayment to be installed, no matter the subfloor. While there are manufacturers who offer floors with an underlayment attached, this is a special feature and is not included with all products.
Why is Flooring Underlayment Necessary with Laminate?
Laminate flooring is not nailed or glued down, so it needs some form of cushion between the subfloor and laminate to allow it to float easily. Think of it like a large jigsaw puzzle, which will be expanding and shifting as the climate changes. To avoid any damage due to friction or moisture between the laminate and your sub-floor, the underlayment must be laid first to give the laminate a smooth surface on which to float.
What is the Best Laminate Flooring Underlayment to Use?
While the concept of underlayment seems simple enough, all laminate Underlayment is not created equal. Different manufactures offer different features, which can enhance the feel and performance of your laminate floor. To help you figure out which underlayment will meet your needs, we have put together some more information on the underlayment that we offer below. Before reading on, first ask yourself these two very important questions that will determine the type of underlayment you need.
1. Do You Have a Concrete, Wood or Existing Subfloor?
If you are installing laminate over a concrete sub-floor, it is very important that a vapor barrier is used to prevent any possible damage due to the moisture released by the concrete. This is simply a sheet of thin plastic material, like Visqueen Vapor Block, that will stop any moisture from being absorbed into the laminate core. Most of the underlayment from Bestlaminate offers 2-in-1 or 3-in-1 underlayment, which include a vapor barrier as well as padding. This saves you the time and money associated with installing a separate vapor barrier.
If you are installing over a wood or existing subfloor, you will not need to worry about a moisture barrier underlayment. Unless you require other properties, such as sound reduction, a standard foam underlayment will work for your project.
2. Is This A Second Floor Installation?
If you are installing your laminate floor in an apartment, condo, or on the second floor of your home, you may want to consider an underlayment that offers noise reduction. Many apartments and condo associations require a minimum sound rating from the underlayment. While laminate flooring is quiet to walk on, noise can easily be transferred to the floor below without the proper underlayment. Choose an underlayment, like Floor Muffler or Roberts Super Felt, that will give you a high sound reduction rating. We’ll talk more about sound ratings below.
What If My Laminate Has Pre-Attached Underlayment?
If your laminate flooring already has underlayment attached, you would not use another underlayment. Adding extra padding will put stress on the locking system and could cause your locking systems to break. The underlayment attached is meant to save you time from installing underlayment.
The exception to this rule is if you are installing above a concrete sub-floor. Attached underlayments will generally not have an included vapor barrier. You can install a thin vapor barrier that does not have extra padding to keep moisture from damaging your floor.
If you’re looking for a higher end underlayment with thermal or sound reducing properties, we would recommend finding a floor without attached underlayment and buying a higher quality underlayment for your needs.
Underlayment for Sound Dampening and Thermal Qualities
When reading the specifications of underlayment, you may come across terms like IIC and R-Value. These terms may leave you scratching your head, but don’t worry! Here are the most common underlayment terms explained:
STC & IIC
While looking at underlayment for your laminate floor, you may come across STC/IIC with a number next to them. What exactly are these and what do they mean? Put simply, these are ratings that tell you how well the underlayment will dampen sound. The higher a number is following these letters, the less noise will be transmitted. The effect of this is mostly noticeable in rooms underneath the room in which the underlayment and laminate are installed. This is why many apartment buildings, commercial offices buildings, and condo associations require a minimum rating where sound is concerned.
The Sound Transmission Class (STC) and Impact Isolation Class (IIC) ratings are measured in decibels reduced for certain types of sound. The STC rating pertains to airborne noise, such as voices, radio, television, etc. The IIC rating measures impact sounds, such as footfalls, dropped objects etc. The transmission of these sounds through floor/ceiling assemblies (such as those found in multi-level homes and apartments) will be inhibited by underlayment with higher STC and IIC ratings. The International Building Code (IBC) states that all multi-family buildings must have a minimum sound insulation rating of STC 50 and IIC 50.
In addition to the STC and IIC ratings, some underlayments may also have a thermal rating, or R-value. This refers to the underlayment’s ability to conduct heat. The higher an R-value is, the less heat will move through it. Many homeowners prefer an underlayment with a higher R-value to keep their feet warm in the winter months, however, if you have any kind of radiant heat system, a high R-value can inhibit its effectiveness.
R-values are measured in ft2*°F*hr./BTU, where °F is equal to the difference in temperature (in degrees Fahrenheit) between one side of a material and the other. An underlayment which has a value of 3 ft²*°F*hr./BTU will typically be represented as R-3. To put this in perspective, the typical R-value of a bat hitting fiberglass insulation is R-3 to R-5. Many polyethylene foam products have an R-value of 2-3, such as laminate flooring underlayment.
The Different Types Of Laminate Flooring Underlayments
Basic and Standard Laminate Underlayments
The first underlayment option is the no-frills, basic and standard underlayment. These are the most simple, cost effective underlayment options that we offer at Bestlaminate. Our basic underlayment is suitable for most installations, though they do not offer many features like vapor protection. These floors are suitable for above grade installations with wood or existing subfloors. They can be used in combination with a vapor barrier for concrete and below grade installations. These are the most popular choices with contractors, due to their low price and effectiveness in allowing the laminate floor to float.
2-in-1 Vapor Underlayment
A 2-in-1 vapor underlayment is another great option for basic installations. These rolls focus on cushion plus added vapor barrier. This makes it a safe choice for installing your laminate floor over concrete sub-floors with resistance to mold, moisture, and mildew. Like the Standard Underlayment, this material will fill minor imperfections in the sub-floor, giving your laminate floor a smooth, even surface on which to float.
Roberts Black Jack 2-in-1 Flooring Underlayment
If you want an affordable upgrade from standard foam underlayment, Roberts Black Jack 2-in-1 Premium foam is a great option! This 2-in-1 underlayment is a 2.5mm foam with attached vapor barrier. The added benefit to this underlayment is sound cushioning. This Black Jack underlayment has a unique closed-cell foam design, which helps resist moisture. Roberts Black Jack has a 4″ attached overlap and adhesive strip to make installation a breeze.
3-in-1 Vapor Underlayment
A step up from the 2-in-1 underlayment option is is the 3-in-1 Vapor Underlayment. This underlayment has an attached vapor barrier and the added feature of an adhesive strip for easy installation. It can be installed over any type of subfloor. All of these underlayment options are low density polyethylene. The biggest difference between a 2-in-1 and a 3-in-1 is that 3-in-1 underlayment usually has a sound dampening property.
All of these underlayments are low density polyethylene. While none of them have been subjected to sound or thermal testing, they do offer some sound reduction, and are suitable to use over radiant heating. The Standard Underlayment and 2-in-1 Vapor Underlayment do not come in pre-packaged rolls, and can be cut for custom orders, making them a great choice for anyone who does not want to purchase an extra roll to get that few extra feet2.
Adding onto the advancements, next we have the silent underlayment. These are the next tier in underlayment that we offer at Bestlaminate. All of our silent underlayment is suitable for most installations where sound dampening is key. Some of these underlayment also have vapor barriers attached, so be sure to look for these as you will get more bang for your buck if you’re installing over concrete subfloors. These are the most popular choices for people living in multi-family homes or apartments, or those who don’t want to hear their children playing around upstairs.
3-in-1 Silent Vapor Barrier Underlayment
If you’re looking for something that will help to muffle sound, but won’t break the bank, the 3in1 Silent Vapor Underlayment by Feather Step™ is a great option. This incredibly durable underlayment is a 2mm, cross-linked polypropylene, giving it a higher density than the open-cell polyethylene foam underlayment. Because of this, the Feather Step™ Vapor 3-in-1 absorbs sound and offers enhanced moisture protection. The attached foil moisture barrier works in conjunction with the foam itself to ensure that your floor is protected from any vapor given off by the sub-floor. This underlayment includes an adhesive strip for easy installation.
ProVent Silent Vapor Barrier Underlayment by Kronoswiss®
ProVent Silent Vapor Barrier Underlayment is a polyethylene foam is 3mm thick with an attached vapor barrier. This underlayment not only protects against moisture, but it is specially designed with micro ridges that, when walked on, actually pump moisture out to the sides of the room to vent out moisture. This underlayment is a great choice for any job, including basements, first or second floor, apartments or condos. The Kronoswiss® ProVent can be installed over any type of sub-floor, and will absorb minor flaws, giving your laminate the proper surface to float.
Roberts® Silent 3-in-1
The First Step™ underlayment from Roberts® is one of the most popular choices in the laminate industry. Another great option for muffling sound, the Roberts First Step has an air flow layer which is similar to the Kronoswiss® Pro Vent. Polystyrene beads are substituted for a foam pad, allowing air to move freely through the underlayment to vent- preventing harmful mold and mildew build-up. This patented design also allows heat to be easily conducted, making this an excellent choice for sub-floors with radiant heat systems.
Floor Muffler® Ultra Seal
The Floor Muffler underlayment is the top of the line for sound reduction, with the highest STC/IIC ratings on the market. This makes it the number one choice for multi-family buildings around the globe. Similar to the Feather Step™ vapor 3-in-1 underlayment, the Floor Muffler® is made of a cross-linked polypropylene to give it more density. This directly contributes to its ability to cut down on unwanted noise. This also helps to block moisture, though it does not have a vapor barrier attached. The density of the Floor Muffler® underlayment keeps out any vapor released by your sub-floor, making it a safe choice to install over concrete subfloors.
Felt Flooring Underlayment
Felt underlayment is made from recycled fibers vs. the usual foam options. This underlayment is a versatile choice, featuring sound-dampening properties to create quieter living spaces, moisture resistance for enhanced floor protection, added warmth and comfort, subfloor protection, easy installation, and long-lasting durability.
Bestlaminate 3-in-1 Felt Flooring Underlayment
Bestlaminate’s 3-in-1 Felt Flooring Underlayment is an ultimate choice for sound dampening, insulation and a vapor barrier. The felt underlayment can be used for laminate and engineered flooring installations. Durable and easy to install, this underlayment comes with a tape strip to easily seal the rows of underlayment together.
Roberts Super Felt Flooring Underlayment
Similar to the Bestlaminate brand, the Roberts Super Felt Premium Felt Underlayment provides a vapor barrier, insulation, and sound reducing properties. At 3mm, this thicker underlayment will reduce noise while keeping the moisture out!
Other Laminate Underlayment Products
Visqueen Vapor Block PE Film
Visqeen PE Vapor Block PE Film is not an underlayment, but simply a vapor barrier sheet that may be used as on concrete sub-floors. This is the perfect option if you are laying a floor which has a pre-attached underlayment on a concrete slab or any other stone floor where there is potential for moisture.
Along with the underlayment listed above, we have many more options for your laminate flooring underlayment. You can view all of our underlayment here.
How To Select Laminate Flooring Underlayment
Each underlayment is a little different and has their own manufacturer instructions. You must read the instructions to fully get an understanding on how to properly install. We’ve prepared a variety of installation tutorials that will give you graphical step-by-step guides on how to install your underlayment.
View them here: Flooring Underlayment Tutorials