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Do You Need Underlayment for Vinyl Plank Flooring?

Vinyl plank flooring is wildly popular with homeowners. Today’s modern versions are a far cry from your grandparent’s vinyl flooring. Even still, some homeowners are leery about choosing vinyl for their floors because they aren’t sure if they will have to put an underlayment down.

Installing vinyl plank flooring does typically require an underlayment, but there are situations that allow you to get by without one. If you do decide you would need (or want) one, an underlayment it’s not as scary as you may think. Here are the facts:

What Is Underlayment?

Underlayment is the floor layer that sits directly underneath the finish flooring. It is designed to be somewhat structural and supportive. Not all flooring has an underlayment, depending on the type of flooring that is laid and the type of subflooring it is built upon. The main function of the underlayment is to provide a smooth surface to lay flooring on top of.

Subflooring 101

A subfloor is the ultra-important middle layer of your flooring. It serves the purpose of holding up the underlayment and also the finished flooring. By design, it is supposed to be a structurally sound, flat surface that is capable of supporting the underlayment. Ply wood is a common material used for subflooring because it is strong and supportive. Oriented strand board (OSB) is a popular subflooring material to use too.

Prior to installing vinyl planks, you’ll want to ask yourself a few important questions about your subfloor type and also about the purpose for which you would want or need your underlayment to serve.

What is the general condition of your subfloor? Is it smooth and dent free? If your subfloor is not in the best shape, you’ll likely need an underlayment to help support the flooring.

How old is your subflooring? If your subflooring is relatively aged, you should consider adding and underlayment for safety’s sake. Subflooring wears out over time, and you’d hate to have to rip your perfectly good planks out just to replace the subflooring beneath it.

What type of subflooring do you have? If your subflooring is comprised of concrete, an underlayment may be necessary to smooth the surface out for the planks to sit on without any bumps. Otherwise, you’ll need to sand the flooring to get rid of the bumps which is not ideal at all.

What is the condition around the subflooring? You may need an underlayment on top of subflooring such as concrete so it will form a vapor layer or moisture barrier. It also will serve as protection against cold weather and will provide extra cushioning.

Benefits Of Underlayment

Some of the many benefits of adding an underlayment include:

  • Adds years to your flooring
  • Adds cushion and comfort to your vinyl
  • Adds stability to your floor
  • Provides a soundproof barrier
  • Protects your flooring
  • Makes your floor warmer

More Deciding Factors

Some brands of vinyl planks recommend using an underlayment. If your does, it is wise to install one. Failure to do so may cause your vinyl planks to not perform well or to wear out early. You certainly don’t want to wish later that you had laid an underlayment prior to installation of the floor.

There is another possible scenario – a clapping floor. This happens when your floor develops a clapping sound that can be the result of even a tiny height difference between floorings – even as small as one millimeter.

In addition to helping protect your flooring from moisture such as overflowing sinks or toilets, an underlayment can also protect your floor from moisture that comes with humidity. If you live by the lake or ocean or are in a humid location, you’ll definitely want to have an underlayment to keep excess moisture at bay.

Vinyl planks that come with an attached pad very well may not require an underlayment. The thickness is also something to consider as thinner planks will most likely benefit from.

If you are going to have radiant floor heating, you’ll still be able to have an underlayment because they are compatible.

Types Of Underlayment

The two main types of underlayment are ridged and soft.

Rigid Underlayment:

Rigid underlayment generally includes underlayment panels and plywood. Plywood is the most widely used type when it comes to vinyl plank flooring. Sheets of 4×8 foot plywood at ¼ to ½ inch thickness is the best flooring underlayment set up. The A-grade side is ideal because it’s smooth – perfect for even the thinnest, lowest quality vinyl planks.

Rigid underlayment is stable and provides and better water vapor barrier than any alternatives do. There are some disadvantages to rigid underlayment, however.

Soft Underlayment:

Soft underlayment is also known as floating underlayment because it’s not attached or connected to the existing subflooring. They are designed for two functions – to create a smooth surface and for hiding imperfections such as small knot holes or protruding screw heads.

Soft underlayment is often used when rigid underlayment can’t be used or when it makes more sense to use it instead. If your flooring is too high to use rigid, you must opt for soft which is not as thick and high. Homeowners are gravitating to soft underlayment more and more even when they can use rigid though.

Choosing Between Soft And Rigid Underlayment

By assessing the criteria mentioned earlier – what condition your subflooring is in and other circumstances surrounding it, you’ll be able to know if you should use underlayment or not. If you do, ultimately, the type you choose will depend on the type of subfloor over which you plan to lay it and what you prefer. If you are working with a concrete slab, it would be best to look for a rigid underlayment. But if you are looking for something that can proof sound and make the floor feel softer underfoot, a soft underlayment would be a better option.

Interestingly, the best underlayment for any type of flooring is a thin one. Thicker ones have more cushion but are more to pose problems after installation. Transitions can be an issue and if the room has a low ceiling, a thick underlayment can reduce the height of the room. You may even have to trim under the doors if the underlayment is constructed of a very thick material.

Whichever way you go with all your choices concerning underlaying, you are now equipped to make an informed decisions.

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