It’s no surprise that laminate flooring is such a popular flooring choice. Strong, easy to clean and maintain, and available in a vast array of colours and styles, it’s a stylish and durable choice for just about any room in the home. With so much to choose from, deciding on the perfect one for you is a tough challenge – but it’s only half the battle! Before you can install those carefully selected planks, you’ll need to think about underlay.
But of course, you’ve already spent a lot of time choosing your perfect flooring, so let us take some of the guesswork out of choosing the right laminate flooring underlay. We’ve put together a quick guide covering what it does, what you need to consider, and some of the most popular choices on the market today.
And if you’re still deciding on your flooring needs, don’t panic! We’ve got a breakdown of the best types of timber look flooring to help you out.
What exactly is laminate flooring underlay?
Underlay usually consists of a thin material, sandwiched between the subfloor and the laminate flooring. Measuring just a few millimetres thick, the underlay provides protective cushioning and insulation, as well as acting as a vapour barrier to prevent moisture from reaching the subfloor.
Underlay is important during changing weather patterns, as laminate floors can expand and contract as the temperature and humidity changes. Laminate flooring is a “floating” flooring type, meaning it isn’t nailed or glued down. This means it can move when these changes occur – underlay helps hold the flooring in place and prevent any friction from that movement.
Underlay is also useful as a form of insulation and as a way to absorb sound from foot traffic. You might also find that it can help cushion your feet as you walk across your new laminate floors, as well as extending the lifespan of the floor.
Things to consider when choosing an underlay
When choosing your underlay, there are a few factors you’ll need to think about going in.
What type of subfloor do you have?
If you have a concrete subfloor, your focus will need to be on creating a barrier between the moisture released by the concrete and your new laminate floors. Some underlays include a vapour barrier as standard, though you can install one separately if needed. However, bear in mind this will make the installation process a lot longer. If you have another type of subfloor, you can instead focus more on things like sound reduction or increased insulation.
If your subfloor isn’t level, you’ll likely also need to fix that before installing any underlay or laminate flooring.
Where are you installing your laminate flooring?
Perhaps you live in an apartment complex and are concerned about managing noise. Or maybe you’re installing in a bathroom or kitchen and protecting your space from moisture damage is high on your priority list. Even somewhere as seemingly irrelevant as where you live can be a factor – local issues outside of your control, such as wet weather, extreme heat, and humidity can all have an impact on your floors.
This means that where you install the flooring can have a huge impact on the type of underlay you use. Different material types suit different purposes, so it’s important to find the right one for your needs.
If you are looking to install in spaces that will need you to manage moisture levels – such as a kitchen, bathroom, or basement – you might want to consider vinyl flooring over laminate. We’ve got a full breakdown of the advantages and disadvantages of vinyl plank flooring right here.
How much can you spend?
With any form of home improvement, your budget will certainly be an important factor. Some types of underlay cost more than others, though there might be a deal to be made if you have a particularly large project, as buying by the roll can be more cost effective than by the square foot.
And remember if you’re bringing in professionals to do the job, you’ll need to factor in labour costs too.
With all these factors in mind, let’s now take a look at some of the most popular laminate flooring underlay materials.
Types of laminate flooring underlay
Foam is one of the most popular and cost-effective laminate flooring underlay options. Versatile and easy to install, foam is a great choice for spaces where you don’t need to worry about moisture damage – though, of course, you can add in a vapour barrier or spend a little more on a combination underlay. This makes foam great for dry, even subfloors such as hardboard, chipboard, and even existing floorboards.
Foam is also a fantastic form of insulation, and, because it’s so durable, likely won’t need replacing for a long time.
If you’re looking for something a little denser than foam, felt is a great option. It’s a good choice for the environmentally conscious, as it’s made from recycled fibres and can be recycled itself at the end of its (lengthy) lifespan. It’s also particularly strong when it comes to insulation, sound absorption, and for adding comfort and cushioning underfoot.
The major drawback here is likely the cost, with foam and rubber options becoming cheaper over time. Felt is also a popular carpet underlay, so you’ll need to be sure you’re purchasing the laminate flooring-friendly version to avoid any problems further down the line.
Made from recycled materials, rubber is a fantastic choice for those looking for thermal and acoustic insulation. It’s popular across many flooring types, though if you’re going the vinyl route, you’ll need to be wary of staining.
Cork is one of the more expensive options for an underlay, but when it comes to noise reduction it’s a tough one to beat. It’s a bouncy, natural material that can handle a lot of weight, and it can even be useful in helping to even out the subfloor below. Cork also has natural antimicrobial capabilities, meaning mould and mildew can be easily managed – the addition of a plastic sheet between the subfloor and the underlay will help too.
However, as well as being more expensive, cork does lack some of the comfort of other types of laminate flooring underlay.
Combination underlays usually have a base material, such as foam or felt, but include that much-coveted moisture vapour barrier. This obviously makes them slightly more expensive than the basic underlay options, but if you need that extra protection, it’s likely better to get an all-in-one solution, rather than pay separately and extend the installation time, especially if you’re having someone do the heavy lifting for you.
You can also find laminate flooring with an underlay already installed. This will, naturally, make choosing an underlay a lot easier, but you’ll pay a little more for the convenience. These attached underlays likely won’t include a vapour barrier, so you may need to add one in yourself.
So, which laminate flooring underlay is right for you?
As with any project, the right option for you will depend on your own situation. Whether you’re looking for sound reduction as a priority or need to fit out a moisture-prone basement, you’ll need to take your needs and your budget into consideration.
And, of course, don’t be afraid to reach out to a professional. They can answer any questions you might have and can provide a quote if you’d rather not take on the job yourself. It’s a sizable project, after all, so you’ll want to get it right the first time!
- David Hernandez, 2019, “4 Questions for Choosing the Right Flooring Underlay”, Get Floors
- 2014, “How to Choose Underlay for Laminate Flooring”, Floorsave
- “Choosing the Best Laminate Flooring Underlay”, BuildDirect
- “What Is The Best Underlayment for Laminate Flooring?”, Zothex Flooring, Cabinets & More
- “The Ultimate Guide to Laminate Flooring Underlayment”, BestLaminate