Floor Underlayment: Best Types for Every Floor

Jamie Sandford was the Owner and Chief Editor of Home Flooring Pros. After 12 years’ experience in screen and stage set construction, followed by a further 15 years working in the home renovation and remodeling business, he now writes and curates online home improvement advice.

Editorial note: Homefront (defined in the Disclosure below ) may earn a commission from affiliate partner links featured on our site. This commission does not influence our editors’ opinions or evaluations. wall panel

Most flooring materials need underlayment to cover imperfections in the subfloor, reduce sound and provide other benefits specific to each type of floor covering. Choosing the right underlay for each specific flooring material is an important step but one that many homeowners don’t give much thought.

The average total cost ranges from $9 to $20 per square foot.

The average total cost for carpet ranges from $5.67 to over $21 per square foot, depending on the quality.

The average total cost for laminate flooring is between $3 to $13 per square foot.

In this article, we will take you through the best type of underlay to install for each popular home flooring material. We include the best brands and prices. This guide will help you achieve the results you want whether you install the underlayment and flooring yourself or hire a contractor.

Our purpose here is to deliver a comprehensive guide to underlayment that will help you select the right type for your flooring or discuss your options with a flooring contractor. This underlay buyers guide includes underlayment prices for each type, names of the best brands and an overview of underlayment installation.

Underlay is the layer of material directly beneath your floor covering. If you were to tear up the flooring in your home, you would likely find many layers. When you removed the floor covering, also called the finish floor, you’d expose the underlay. Remove that, and you would find a subfloor such as oriented strand board (OSB), plywood or concrete. A moisture and/or vapor barrier might be found among the layers too, especially in basement flooring, or the underlay might include a barrier in its construction.

Each finish flooring material requires an underlayment specifically designed to optimize its appearance, performance and durability. Depending on the flooring you are installing, the underlayment might be a hard material such as plywood or cement board or a soft material such as felt or carpet padding.

Let’s get into the details here with a list of the most common types of underlay used in flooring today. We divide the list by the types of flooring, so you can zoom in on the products suited to your project.

Tile floors remain a popular choice, especially for bathrooms, entryways and other places a water-resistant surface is desired. The impressive variety of tile styles, shapes and colors allows you to customize your design.Tile underlayment must provide solid support, so the tile and grout won’t crack when walked on. However, it must also be somewhat flexible to absorb movement and any expansion or contraction that comes with changing temperature and humidity. Two materials meet these requirements exceptionally well.

CBU consists of cement material and fibers made from wood or cellulose. The fibers reinforce the cement and also give it a certain amount of flexibility that allows for movement without cracking the cement. Cement board is manufactured in several sizes including 3’x5’ which is the most popular and 4’x8’. Typical thicknesses are 1/4″ and 1/2″. It is also called cement backer board.

This premium underlay is manufactured from polyethylene with a unique design. DITRA features a grid structure of square cavities, the base of each cavity being larger than the top. This allows tile mortar, which bonds to the tile, to anchor within the cavity when it hardens.

The DITRA membrane, which is 1/8” thick, prevents the mortar from bonding to the subfloor. Instead, a fleece backing is laminated to the underside of the DITRA, and the backing is adhered to the wood or concrete subfloor using thin-set mortar.

DITRA is an underlayment that allows for movement and expansion/contraction while preventing the transfer of stress that commonly cracks grout and tile. This polyethylene membrane is an excellent moisture and vapor barrier too, and it can be installed over wood or concrete including floors with radiant heat. DITRA and the thicker DITRA-XL come in rolls 3’ wide.

If you’ve got an older home with concrete subfloors, then it is likely that those subfloors are cracked, uneven or have low spots caused by settling. You can’t install flooring directly over them and expect the job to look good or last.

The solution to installing flooring over concrete that is in poor condition is self-leveling underlayment, a concrete product that mixes quite thin and pours easily. Like any liquid, its surface will become level. This forms an outstanding platform for additional underlayment such as carpet padding, DITRA or plywood.

An additional benefit of self-leveling underlay is that it works well with radiant floor heating systems. The tubing the heated water is circulated through is placed on top of the old concrete, and the self-leveling underlay is then poured over the tubing.

Laminate flooring is an attractive and durable alternative to hardwood flooring, and it typically costs less. If you purchase high-quality laminate flooring, it might already have underlayment included in its construction. This simplifies installation by eliminating a time-consuming step. If your product doesn’t have underlay attached, you’ll need to select one of these products in order to cover minor imperfections in the subfloor and give the laminate greater stability.

Foam is the most basic laminate flooring underlay. The foam is 3mm (1/8”) to 6mm (1/4”) thick and comes in rolls of various widths and lengths.

There are two types of foam underlayment – combination laminate underlay with an included moisture/vapor barrier and foam with no barrier. Choose a combination product when installing laminate flooring in the basement or any area, such as a bathroom, where high humidity is often produced.

Upgraded foam underlayment for laminate is material that includes rubber or fibers to provide greater durability. It also helps to reduce the amount of noise that passes through the floor from level to level.

When you want to minimize the hollow sound caused by foot traffic, acoustical laminate flooring underlay is the right choice. Cork and felt varieties are available, and most have a moisture barrier included. They’re 3mm (1/8”) thick to 6mm (1/4″) and require only basic skills to install.

For our discussion of underlayment, a wide range of flooring comes under the heading of hardwood. It includes domestic solid hardwood flooring such as oak, maple, hickory and ash, and exotic varieties like Brazilian cherrywood, koa, teak or sakura. Engineered flooring with a layer of solid hardwood on top and layers of composite material beneath is included. We’ll throw in cork and bamboo too, since the underlay options are the same as for hardwood.

The most common hardwood flooring underlayment is felt, typically manufactured in rolls. It is very dense, and most products are 3mm (1/8”) to 6mm (1/4″) thick. The felt offers decent resistance to moisture from below, but in very humid areas, a moisture barrier should be installed too.

Cork is also used beneath hardwood flooring, and you’ll find products with and without a moisture barrier included. Generally speaking, wood should be allowed to breath, and hence, no moisture barrier is needed.

However, in high-humidity locations, it’s safer to use a barrier. Remember, solid hardwood shouldn’t be installed in basements or wet locations.

Rubber underlayment is a third choice for use with hardwood floors. In addition to excellent moisture resistance, the rubber does a good job reducing noise. It does not need to be glued down, and that saves time and hassle during installation and removal in the future.

Available from 2mm (5/64”) to 9mm (3/8”), rubber underlayment offers a moisture barrier and better sound-reducing qualities than foam or cork. Rubber also offers superior insulation. It is easy to work with, but it costs more than other underlayment options.

Foam is a versatile underlay that provides good sound absorption, resists mold and can be recycled. Upgraded foam includes rubber or fibers of other material to increase density, moisture resistance and durability. You’ve got your option of foam with a moisture barrier included, often called combination foam, or foam without a barrier. The combination foam is the right choice where high-humidity conditions exist in the room or in space beneath the room where hardwood floors are installed. This underlay is similar to the foam underlay for laminate.

The primary type of carpet underlay is foam or rubber carpet padding, especially when the subfloor of wood or concrete is in good condition. Today’s padding options are larger than ever. Popular types include:

Your carpet retailer will be able to suggest the proper carpet padding based on what the subfloor is made of and the carpet you’ll be installing. Perhaps it’s worth noting that the Carpet Cushion Council recommends padding at least 1/2″ thick for cut pile carpet, less for Berber style carpeting. Most carpet padding includes a moisture barrier.

The preferred underlayment for sheet vinyl flooring is 1/4″ plywood. Some installers will lay vinyl over existing OSB or plywood subflooring if it is in excellent condition. Plywood is available in 4’x8’ and 4’x4’ sheets.

If you’re planning a DIY project, take time to learn all you can about installation before you start. For your flooring to look as good as possible and perform as it should, it must be properly installed. When hiring a professional to install your flooring, it makes sense to get multiple estimates from local flooring contractors. Learn about their experience and check their references. This is the best way to find a quality flooring installer at a competitive price.

A thin foam underlayment of no more than 3mm is sufficient and this type of underlayment often comes pre-attached to high quality vinyl plank floors.

Yes, but be aware that some laminate flooring comes with underlayment pre-attached so for these products it is not necessary to purchase and install further underlayment.

To underlay something is to support or raise something from underneath, for our purposes that means your flooring.

Editorial note: The name “Homefront” refers to the alliance between USA TODAY and Home Solutions that publishes review, comparison, and informational articles designed to help USA TODAY readers make smarter purchasing and investment decisions about their home. Under the alliance, Homefront provides and publishes research and articles about home service and home improvement topics.

Homefront has an affiliate disclosure policy. The opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Homefront editorial staff alone (see About Homefront). Homefront adheres to strict editorial integrity standards. The information is believed to be accurate as of the publish date, but always check the provider’s website for the most current information.

Jamie Sandford was the Owner and Chief Editor of Home Flooring Pros. After 12 years’ experience in screen and stage set construction, followed by a further 15 years working in the home renovation and remodeling business, he now writes and curates online home improvement advice.

Are foam floor tiles any good? Foam flooring is certainly cheaper than rubber flooring but foam tiles can’t really compete when it comes to performance and durability. Foam tiles work well for low impact exercise and playrooms but under perform for a serious home gym. For homeowners looking at options for a home gym, garage…

Here at USA TODAY Homefront you will find in-depth guides on all the major flooring options available for your home. And whether you are looking to install cork flooring, Linoleum flooring, trying to find the cost of vinyl plank flooring, or prefer carpets and rugs throughout your home, you will find price guides in each section to give you some idea of…

When you are always trying to save a buck, you want to know where your money is going. I is it cheaper to pay someone to epoxy the garage or would ie better to do it ourselves? How much does it cost to epoxy a garage floor? Epoxy garage floor cost is $2.50 to $9.00…

Floor leveling compound is a versatile product that has many applications for leveling and finishing concrete floors. There are two types of products given this name, and while they are very similar and the names are often used interchangeably, there is a minor difference: There’s more detail below in the discussion of the Types of Floor Leveling…

plastic pvc sheet © 2024 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Satellite Information Network, LLC.