Installing vinyl plank flooring can instantly upgrade the look and feel of any room. With the popularity of vinyl plank flooring continuing to rise, more and more homeowners are exploring this versatile, affordable flooring option.
But simply choosing the vinyl planks is only half the battle – it’s also important to select the right underlayment during installation. Underlayment provides a smooth, protective layer under the vinyl planks while also offering benefits like insulation and noise reduction.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk through everything you need to know to find the ideal underlayment for your vinyl plank flooring project.
What is Underlayment?
Flooring underlayment is a thin, supportive material installed underneath vinyl planks or other flooring to provide a smooth, uniform surface. Underlayments for vinyl plank absorb imperfections in the subfloor while adding properties like sound dampening, insulation, and moisture resistance.
Quality underlayment ensures the vinyl planks lie flat, prevents damage from moisture, and improves comfort underfoot. It’s a critical component for successful vinyl plank flooring installation.
Why is Underlayment Important for Vinyl Plank Flooring?
There are several reasons proper underlayment is crucial with vinyl plank flooring:
- It smooths out the subfloor surface, preventing dips, bumps or cracks from telegraphing through the vinyl.
- It provides extra cushioning and comfort underfoot.
- It helps insulate against sound and heat transfer.
- It resists moisture from below, preventing condensation issues.
- It allows the vinyl planks to float freely, protecting the locking system.
In short, the right underlayment helps vinyl plank flooring last longer while enhancing performance and livability.
When Should You Install Underlayment?
Underlayment should be installed over the prepared subfloor immediately before laying the vinyl plank flooring itself. Underlayment creates the smooth, even foundation needed for proper vinyl plank installation and performance.
Underlayment is especially important if the subfloor surface is rough, uneven or prone to moisture. However, even with a pristine subfloor, underlayment is recommended to boost insulation and prevent floor noise.
Choosing the Right Underlayment Material
When it comes to underlayment for vinyl plank flooring, you have several material options. Let’s take a look at the benefits and considerations for each:
Foam is the most popular and affordable choice for vinyl plank underlayment. Easy to install, it provides excellent cushioning and insulation. The two main types are:
- Closed-cell foam: Made of small, closed air pockets that resist moisture.
- Open-cell foam: Features interconnected air spaces for cushioning.
The right foam underlayment prevents dents, provides comfort underfoot and absorbs sound. Just be aware open-cell foam absorbs moisture, so a vapor barrier may be needed.
Cork underlayment offers natural sound and temperature insulation. It absorbs impact noise while providing comfort and support. As a natural material, cork resists mold and mildew.
The downside is that cork is more expensive than foam. It also provides less cushioning and can compress over time.
Felt underlayment is a lightweight, inexpensive option. It provides reasonable insulation against noise and heat loss. Felt also makes an excellent moisture barrier.
On the downside, felt lacks cushioning and durability compared to foam. It can also buckle over time as moisture causes expansion and contraction.
Plywood creates a perfectly smooth, rigid surface for vinyl plank installation. It eliminates subfloor imperfections and provides a stable foundation.
However, plywood offers no moisture, heat or sound insulation. It must be combined with a foil or film vapor barrier to resist moisture issues.
Comparison of Key Underlayment Materials
*May require additional vapor barrier
Factors to Consider in Vinyl Plank Underlayments
Vinyl plank underlayment typically ranges from 2 to 6 mm thick. Thicker underlayment provides more cushioning but is not always better.
Check manufacturer guidelines, as excessive thickness can prevent vinyl planks from locking properly or cause clearance issues. A thickness of 2 to 3 mm is suitable for most vinyl plank flooring.
Moisture Barrier Properties
Vinyl planks are vulnerable to moisture damage from beneath. Liquid water, high humidity and vapor migration can all undermine vinyl over time, causing bubbling, discoloration and gapping.
Choosing an underlayment with a built-in moisture barrier, like a polyethylene film layer, is highly recommended. Alternately, use a vapor barrier underlayment and tape seams to block moisture.
Quality underlayments improve the insulation of vinyl plank flooring in two ways:
- Thermal insulation: Underlayment creates a thermal barrier, preventing heat loss through the subfloor so floors stay warmer.
- Sound insulation: By absorbing vibrations, underlayments dampen noise from footsteps, furniture scraping, etc for quieter rooms.
Cork, foam and felt provide the best acoustic and thermal insulation for vinyl plank floors.
Cushioning and Comfort Underfoot
A cushioned underlayment creates a more comfortable floor underfoot. The spongy, shock-absorbing layer also prevents fatigue by easing impact.
Foam underlayments tend to provide the highest level of cushioning and comfort for vinyl plank flooring.
Best Practices for Underlayment Installation
To achieve the full benefits of vinyl plank underlayment, proper installation is key:
- Ensure subfloor is cleaned, prepped and leveled according to manufacturer guidelines.
- Select underlayment thickness and material best suited for your vinyl flooring.
- Roll out underlayment and tape seams to create moisture barrier.
- Follow instructions for underlayment placement, fastening and joining.
- Install vinyl planks directly over underlayment using manufacturer technique.
Take care not to tear or over-stretch the underlayment during installation. For radiant heat flooring systems, use an underlayment rated for radiant heat.
FAQs About Underlayments for Vinyl Floors
Is underlayment necessary for vinyl plank flooring?
Yes, underlayment is strongly recommended for vinyl plank floors to smooth the subfloor, insulate against noise, and protect from moisture damage.
What thickness of underlayment should I use?
Follow the vinyl plank manufacturer’s guidelines, but 2 to 3 mm is typical. Overly thick underlayment can interfere with the vinyl planks locking together properly.
Should underlayment go under or over the vapor barrier?
Install vapor barrier first to protect the subfloor, overlapping seams. Underlayment goes on top to provide a smooth, cushioned surface for the vinyl planks.
Can you install vinyl planks without underlayment?
It’s not recommended, as the planks may not lie flat or lock together tightly. Performance will also suffer without the insulation, cushioning and moisture protection.
Choosing the right underlayment is just as important as selecting the vinyl planks themselves when it comes to durability, performance, and comfort. Take time to evaluate which underlayment material and thickness will best suit your particular vinyl flooring and subfloor needs.
Your new vinyl plank flooring will look great and last a long time if it is properly installed.