Home > Underlayment > Flooring Underlayment – Four Questions to Help Identify the Best Solution for You

Flooring Underlayment – Four Questions to Help Identify the Best Solution for You

Cork Underlayment Example

There are a number of floor underlayment products available on the market today and each product is designed for a specific purpose.  So how do you know what underlayment is right for you?  Here are 4 questions to ask yourself to help you best identify what underlayment product would be the right fit for you.

1. What is your purpose for the underlayment?

-Underlayment is used for a variety of reasons.  Foam Underlay can be used to add cushion under carpet.  Polyvinyl and plastic underlay can be used to provide a moisture barrier under hardwood flooring systems.  Cork and rubber underlayment offer the best solution for dampening sound transmission between floor levels and cork simultaneously acts as an excellent insulator against temperature transmission.  Recycled cotton and fiber underlayment products help to decrease sound transmission a little bit but also do an excellent job insulating against temperature transmission.

2. What kind of flooring are you going to install your underlayment under?

- For carpet, you will almost always use a foam carpet pad of which there are many different grades.  For Ceramic tile flooring where a thinset is used to adhere down the tiles, the best solution is a cork underlay or a combination rubber/cork product.  You can also install ceramic tiles directly over plywood or a cement board.  The reason for this is that thinset mortar sticks well to cork, wood, and cement but not much else.  When installing hardwood, laminate, or engineered wood flooring, the best underlayments are rubber, cork, and fibrous underlayment.  These underlays do not have as much give as foam and therefore do not flex underneath adjacent planks of flooring.  There are some extra dense grades of foam that can work under wood floors but they are usually not as durable as cork, rubber, or fibrous underlays.  For vinyl flooring, cork, rubber, a cork rubber blend, and plywood can all be used as an underlayment.

Rubber Underlayment Example

3. What kind of sub-floor are you installing your flooring on?

-If you are installing over concrete at ground or sub ground levels where moisture can be present, a moisture barrier would be needed to make sure any wood flooring did not absorb the moisture, expand, and buckle upwards.  Some cork underlayments have moisture barriers built into them and of course a plastic or poly vinyl underlay would also work in this situation. If you are installing on concrete or wood at above ground levels where moisture is not a threat, then a moisture barrier would not be needed.

4. Is price a factor?

-The average price of underlayment by material from cheapest to most expensive generally goes: Foam, plastic or polyvinyl, rubber, plywood or OSB board, fibrous, cork, and cement board.  However, there can be some fluctuations based on the features the underlayment has (i.e. a built in moisture barrier), the thickness of the underlayment, and the way the underlayment is constructed (rolled underlayment is usually less expensive than sheet underlayment as an example).

As you can see, there are a wide variety of options when looking for an underlayment to put under your flooring.  Before making any decision, we recommend that you identify exactly what features you desire out of your underlayment and how the underlay will be used.  If sound proofing your floor or insulating your floor from cold sub floors is important to you, we recommend one of our own cork or rubber products.  However, if you are looking for something different, we hope this quick guide has helped point you in the right direction.  Also, if you have any other comments or advice that would be helpful to our readers, please comment below.  Thanks for reading. :)

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  1. Woody simonds
    September 3, 2012 at 11:57 am | #1

    Could I use ice and water shield (roofing underlayment) under laminate flooring? I thought it might work as a shock absorber because of the rubber. Now I know they say not to use an underlay if the flooring has one factory added…but i thought because the ice & water doesn’t really have and “sponge” to it, that it would be ok.
    What I wanted to do was stick down the I&W, then throw in a staple every 2′, then roll out some Roberts 70-190 Super Felt Premium Underlayment, then lay out my laminate floor without a pre-attached underpad. Would this work?

  2. September 12, 2012 at 10:03 pm | #2

    Hi Woody, I suppose you could use a roofing underlayment under laminate as a moisture barrier however it probably wouldn’t help insulate the floor against temperature and sound transmission like standard flooring underlayments would do. So I would definitely then recommend using the Roberts Super Felt in conjunction with the rood underlay if that is your plan. It definitely sounds like it would work on the surface. Thank you for your comment.

  3. JL
    November 11, 2012 at 4:52 am | #3

    I live on the 2nd and we are planning to install 5mm rubber underlayment over gypcrete for our hardwood floor. Do I still need some kind of moisture barrier between the rubber and the hardwood floor?

    • November 15, 2012 at 10:05 pm | #4

      Hi JL and thanks for the question. Normally a moisture barrier is not needed on the second floor. Moisture barriers are usually only needed if you are installing hardwood flooring directly on a concrete sub floor in a basement or directly on a concrete sub floor on the first floor of a home with no basement.

  4. OSCAR
    July 16, 2013 at 2:56 pm | #5

    Hi, the latest two particular posts are interesting to me since I am planning on installing 2mm rubber underlayment over gypcrete for my floating hardwood floor on a 3rd floor. My concern is sound absorbtion, is 2mm enough to keep my downstair neighboughrs from being bothered? And my 2nd question is if I have a different option other than floating floors over gypcrete? (glue or nail)?

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