Laminates are floating floors that can stay over any subfloor. So, does laminate flooring need an underlayment?
Laminate floors need an underlayment, especially if the subfloor is wet or uneven. The underlayment will provide a flat and sturdy base for the planks to sit on.
It will also protect the planks from water leaks and moisture (from underneath) that can cause damage to them. If exposed to water, a laminate plank without an underlayment will start to buckle or raise. So, installing one is necessary.
What Does an Underlayment Do?
An underlayment improves the durability and stability of a floor. It prevents water from getting underneath the floor and damaging it. Also, it provides soundproofing and helps the planks to lock in place without buckling or lifting.
Here is why you should install one:
1. Moisture Protection
A waterproof underlayment will protect the planks from water damage. If you don’t have one. the planks will be prone to moisture damage. Water will get underneath the floor and cause the planks to warp, buckle, or separate.
2. Even Base
The subfloor (or base) must be even for the laminate planks to click (stick). If the base isn’t even, the click and locking mechanism of the planks won’t work and they will separate.
However, an underlayment will provide an even base for the planks to sit on. Since the planks have an even base, they will click (lock) and won’t separate.
The foam padding of the underlayment will limit the noise from the floor. Since laminate is a floating floor, the planks will make a lot of noise that will echo when you walk over the floor, but an underlayment will reduce this echoing sound.
It also eliminates the cracking and squeaking noises from the floor.
4. Easy To Walk On
A foam padding underlayment will make the floor easy to walk on.
What Happens If You Don’t Install an Underlayment For Laminate?
If you don’t install an underlayment for laminate, the floor will be uneven and become wrapped due to the moisture on the subfloor. Over time, the floor will develop problems such as lifting, wrapping, and buckling planks.
The underlayment adds a protective barrier (or layer) between the subfloor and the planks. So, if you don’t use one, there won’t be a protective layer between them. This means anything that affects the subfloor underneath will also affect the laminate planks.
For instance, if the subfloor is affected by a water leak from underground, the planks will become waterlogged since there’s no waterproof base to protect (shield) it from the water.
Also, if there’s no underlayment, the floor won’t be comfortable to walk on and will be noisy since there’s no soundproof layer underneath. So, installing one is necessary.
Which Type of Underlayment Can You Use?
Some types of laminate floors come with an in-built underlayment. These laminates have it installed underneath each plank, meaning you don’t have to install an extra one. So, you can install them directly on the subfloor.
But, if they don’t come with pre-installed underlayment, here are the types you should use:
1. Foam Underlayment
Foam underlayment is made from hard foam materials compressed together that form a strong base. This underlayment comes in wraps (or rolls) and has a 1/8-inches thickness, meaning it’s thin. Also, it doesn’t have waterproof qualities, so you shouldn’t install it in high-moisture areas.
2. Felt Underlayment
Felt underlayment is made from different types of recycled fabric and textile material that are woven together to create an even base. It also has impressive soundproofing and insulation features which makes it ideal for cold areas.
Felt underlayment makes floors more comfortable to walk on, but it doesn’t have waterproof qualities so you shouldn’t install it in high-moisture areas (floors).
3. Cork Underlayment
The Cork underlayment is designed by using strong and dense cork materials, meaning it can handle the weight and high traffic. You can use it on high-traffic floors. However, it’s expensive and isn’t waterproof; but, it can long the moisture for a long time because of its moisture-resistant features.
4. Combination Underlayment
Combination underlayment is produced by combining different materials such as foam, cork, rubber, and felt. The complex structure makes it durable enough to withstand heavy furniture and high traffic without giving way.
Combination underlayment is waterproof because it has plastic sheeting over the top layer. Insulation, comfort, and soundproofing are all features it possesses.
5. Tile Underlayment
Tile underlayment is used for vinyl tile floors, but it can be used for laminate flooring too. This underlayment is designed to mirror the features of a tile floor. It’s easy to install and has impressive moisture resistance. Some types even come with a vinyl backing, meaning it has improved moisture resistance.
What is The Recommended Thickness For Laminate Flooring Underlay?
Use an underlayment with a thickness between 3-5mm for laminate floors. If you don’t want to increase the floor height or have a problem with the subfloor, don’t use an underlayment that is thicker than 5mm.
The thickness is measured in terms of thickness (or height). The thickness determines how high the floor will be and how well the locking mechanism of the laminate will click and lock in place.
If the laminate flooring underlay is thinner than 3mm, it won’t provide enough support. Also, if the underlayment is thicker than 5mm, the planks won’t lock or click properly due to the increased height. So, it’s best to use a height between 3-5mm.
Can You Install 2 Layers of Underlayment?
You shouldn’t put two layers of underlayment under a laminate floor. That’s because the subfloor will be thicker than 5mm and the floor height will be higher, meaning the laminate locks won’t lock and click properly.
Using two layers of underlayment will make the floor unstable and weak, meaning the floor will be incapable of supporting weight and traffic.
A weak and unstable floor will become soft and bouncy and increase the pressure on the locks every time you walk. Over time, the lock will dislodge, causing the planks to separate and create gaps in your floor.
So, installing two laminate underlayments won’t increase the durability or support of the planks. Instead, it will cause the floor to separate and be unstable.
How Long Does Underlayment Last Under Laminate?
Laminate flooring underlayment lasts as long as the planks last, sometimes even more. On average, it lasts between 20-25 years.
However, the durability of the underlay depends on the type, material, and subfloor. For instance, a waterproof underlayment will last longer than a regular one since the waterproof type withstands water (or moisture) better.
Also, the cork or combination underlayment lasts longer than standard foam underlayment since they are designed to handle traffic and weight better.
The type of subfloor also determines the durability of the underlayment. If the subfloor is exposed to constant water, it will last less. If the subfloor is durable and not exposed to water, it will last longer.
Installing an underlayment before installing laminate planks is necessary. If you don’t, the planks will be affected by moisture, water, and other damage.
It’s best to install a waterproof and durable underlayment for your laminate planks. The type you will use depends on the condition and the structure of your subfloor.
For flooring with high traffic, use cork underlayment. For flooring that needs moisture protection, use combination underlayment.