Selecting the Proper Flooring Underlayment for the Job

By Deanna Summers, MP Global Products

Selecting the Proper Flooring Underlayment for the Job

It is easy to believe all flooring underlayments are created equal and that simply muttering the word underlayment automatically gives the chosen material a rite of passage of sorts. There are many attributes to flooring underlayments that help the finished floor covering perform better. Underlayment is the unsung hero under the new floor that not many truly understand its full potential until a floor fails or other overlooked problem is not addressed with the right underlayment choice.

Here are the six reasons you need underlayment for your wood or laminate floor installation.


  1. Underlayment evens out minor subfloor imperfections. Ensuring all flooring is installed on an even subfloor is a key element to greater stability and life. Major dips and flaws in your subfloor must be addressed prior to an install. A quality underlay can absorb minor imperfections without those tiny issues transferring to the flooring, creating larger issues down the road.
  2. Underlayment helps to reduce noise. One of the issues with floating floors in general, and almost a common complaint with laminate flooring specifically, is the noise of footfalls and the hollow sound produced when simply walked across. This has improved as flooring products have evolved, but a quality constructed underlayment can further improve the way the floor sounds and performs under critical impact noise reduction needs. This is especially important in multi-family living environments.
  3. Underlayment helps keep your flooring warm. One of the key elements to any floor covering is comfort. A big part of that is a warm floor. A good underlayment can act as a thermal break improving the comfort of bare toes all-year-long.
  4. Underlayment helps in moisture protection. This benefit is particularly true when you invest in an underlayment with an attached vapor barrier. Keeping moisture away from wood and laminate floors help max out the life potential of the floor covering. Especially when floating a floor over a concrete subfloor, this is one of the critical functions that underlayment performance that can’t be undervalued. Managing the long-term presence of moisture, already found in concrete, is where a quality underlayment will save consumers thousands of dollars in a short time.
  5. Underlayment as a cushioning agent. This circles back to the comfort factor and may be the best example of an important long-term detail. A quality underlay can make the simple act of walking across the floor more comfortable, just by providing a subtle cushioning effect.
  6. Underlayment supporting, not crushing, over time. Many floor coverings feature click together mechanisms or tongue-and-groove installation. A quality constructed underlayment supports those connections so they stay intact for the life of the floor. Cheaper foam underlays will crush or compress over time leaving joints vulnerable and susceptible to a floor’s failure over time.

Proper Flooring UnderlaymentLaying down underlay may not be the most compelling part of your project. Yet, the function it performs allows floors to perform to a greater degree. Some premium underlayments are made using recycled materials, helping preserve the environment by diverting post-industrial materials from landfill. In projects aiming for LEED certification, underlayment made from recycled content can contribute to the earning of LEED credits under the category of Materials and Resources.

Proper Flooring UnderlaymentFinally, because of the six examples mentioned above, it’s important for salespeople (retail and commercial) and installers to better understand the properties of the various underlayments available. By having a better understanding, they can help their customers select the one that best suits not only what their chosen floor coverings needs, but also what the subfloor requires.

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