Laminate floors are a great way to recycle wasted wood jobs, and they can also save you a lot of money. But laminate floors are not actually made of true hardwood, and special products like that can require special attention too. This means you’re probably wondering if you need to add an underlay between the laminate flooring and the subfloor. We have carefully researched if your wood laminate needs an underlay.
It is never a good idea to install laminate flooring without an underlay, even though you can. Laminate flooring only uses a layer of imaging to resemble real wood. It does not work like a traditional hardwood floor. Laminate designs are not secured directly into the ground. They are also known to be less stable and vulnerable to moisture, despite newer improvements. This means an underlay will be essential for proper durability.
Laminate flooring can look just as gorgeous as regular hardwood floors, but it just won’t perform the same. You’ll have to learn how to take special care of laminate floors if you want them to last. Keep reading to learn about the relationship between underlayment and laminate floors, as well as alternative kinds of flooring.
What happens if you don't use underlayment under laminate flooring?
If you don’t install an underlay, you can run into some serious problems. This is particularly true for laminate flooring. To begin with, you’ll have to understand some terminology in order to recognize the advantages of an underlay.
Laminate floors are made up of four different layers, which are not secured to the ground. Instead, laminate floors are considered to be “floating.” They involve interlocking planks that use a tongue and groove system.
The floor itself is actually made up of multiple layers, too. Underlayment would sit between the subfloor and the laminate flooring above, which is what you see. An underlay will help you compensate for flaws in the subfloor.
The subfloor is the base of your flooring, and sits on those familiar wooden beams called joists. A subfloor is typically made of plywood. Unless your subfloor doesn’t have any dings across the entire surface and is already perfectly flat, then you will need an underlay.
An underlay can be made of many different materials. The correct material is absolutely necessary to work with your individual flooring. But underlayment always serves the same purpose.
An underlay will provide better stability in the floor by creating a smooth, perfectly flat foundation. A laminate floor could easily become unstable without it. An underlay will also protect the flooring against water, sound, and even temperature. Underlayment is also a great cushion for areas with more foot traffic.
Despite the best laminate flooring options, laminate designs are famously weak against water. And no one really wants sound seeping through thin laminate floors.
Do I need underlayment for laminate flooring over hardwood?
Laminate flooring is very easy to install, because of the interlocking plank system. It doesn’t require nearly as much time or effort as fixing hardwood to the floor throughout your home. Solid hardwood floors must be glued or nailed down.
More importantly, laminate floors are much easier to take care of than real wood. Actual hardwood comes with a lot of problems, and it’s notoriously frustrating to repair or clean. It could easily cost more to repair an entire hardwood floor than to purchase and install laminate flooring.
As such, it has become increasingly popular to throw a layer of laminate flooring over the original hardwood floors. Some people are more comfortable with having the easy maintenance of laminate floors, instead of the value and texture of real wood.
But this combination of layers is a little odd and raises the level of the entire floor. This probably has you wondering about underlayment. Unfortunately, it is still best to add an underlay. This is true even if the hardwood floors have their own.
That’s because water could still seep through the laminate flooring. This would damage the hardwood floor underneath. Also, you will definitely need the cushioning of an underlay. Even when your hardwood floors are cushioned by their own underlayment, a new layer of laminate would feel uncomfortable.
Do I need underlayment for laminate flooring on plywood?
In a basement, the subfloor is generally made of cement. Otherwise, your subfloor is likely going to be made from one of two popular materials. This will include either OSB (Oriented Strand Board) or plywood. Both plywood and OSB are just engineered wood, although OSB is heavier.
Bear in mind that the subfloor is the most essential layer of your flooring. It is the reason your floor can withstand so much weight, from everyday things like furniture. A subfloor will already come with every home you enter, and it’s probably made of plywood. So, you should continue to follow the rule of adding an underlay between the subfloor and the laminate flooring.
However, there are other circumstances to consider.
Plywood is known for its durability because it is made of multiple plies of wood. Specialists like Home Flooring Pros agree that plywood is an inexpensive option, too. Plywood is also known to be unusually smooth. As such, it’s even used as a surface layer with some flooring.
This means you could be planning to install laminate flooring on top of plywood. In that case, you still wouldn’t be able to rely on the plywood alone. You need a protective barrier between the layer of plywood and the layer of laminate floors. Otherwise, you will have the same problems as installing laminate floors on top of hardwood.
What flooring does not require underlayment?
It’s possible that you’re just trying to avoid the time and costs of adding an underlay altogether. If this is the case, then you will need to consider very specific materials for your flooring. This alternative would have to be flush with the floor, smooth, naturally cushioned, and water-resistant. That can be a challenge to find.
Vinyl flooring is one of the few options that can get away with avoiding the underlay treatment. You should keep in mind that vinyl floors are indeed built from PVC. This is an acronym for polyvinyl chloride, which is simply a solid plastic substance. Vinyl floors are also known as “LVP,” which stands for Luxury Vinyl Plank.
Experts like Flooring America advise that vinyl floors can be thick, waterproof, and also provide thermal insulation. These are the qualities that an underlay has to add for wooden alternatives. This is only possible because of the plastic base in vinyl floors. For example, plastic is highly water-resistant.
Vinyl is built from multiple layers, just like laminate floors. This means that you can purchase any level of quality for the wear layer and top coat on the surface. As a result, your desired strength level is only limited by your total budget for the job.
If you're looking to clean either vinyl or laminate floor, you can read this post to learn if you can use a Bissell Crosswave on those flooring materials.
Carpet tiles can also be installed over pretty much any other kind of material. The tiles are applied one square at a time, instead of using lengthy rolls. These square tiles generally come with their own built-in underlay or adhesive substance.
Because these tiles are bonded directly to the subfloor, they won’t require an underlayment. Also, carpet tiles are already going to provide a good cushion. So, adding an underlay isn’t necessary for comfort. In fact, usually, you won't find much of a difference in sound reduction when you use an underlay beneath carpet tiles.
Further, pros like Home Depot suggest that an existing floor should not be more than an inch thick when you install carpet tiles. If you want to keep your previous floor under an inch, then adding an underlay probably isn’t a good idea. Typically, you will actually have to remove an existing underlayment before you begin installing any carpet tiles. You can read this post to learn if carpet is cheaper than laminate or wood.
Wood laminate flooring can be beautiful, easy to install, and still save you plenty of money. That’s why it’s so common to add on top of existing floors. But laminate floors have their own set of disadvantages. It’s important to acknowledge the benefits of an underlay. Now that you know how underlayment works with different materials, you can make an informed decision before you set up the entire house with the wrong flooring!