Choosing new flooring for your home can be exciting, but also stressful. It’s easy to overlook little things when considering shades or finishing techniques, especially if you plan on handling the installation yourself. While vinyl flooring is known for its resiliency, it would be a major mistake to overlook the underlayment.
With certain types of flooring, the underlayment can be just as important as the floor itself. Wear layers and topcoats can protect the surface of your floor, but underlay adds a layer of protection to the bottom of your boards or tiles. In this guide, we’re going to discuss the best underlayment for vinyl flooring based on your budget and floor style. You might be surprised by the answer.
What type of vinyl floor will you install?
Vinyl is a unique material in more ways than one. It can handle stains and scratches that would damage other styles of flooring in seconds and is ideal in areas where moisture can be a problem. It’s also available in a wide variety of form factors as well with sheet, plank, and tile-based vinyl flooring.
Sheet vinyl has been around for decades. It’s something you’ve likely experienced in an older home and may have even covered up or removed during a remodel. Sheet vinyl is still popular today, and manufacturers have used new techniques to give it a much more modern feel.
That doesn’t mean you don’t need underlayment for sheet vinyl, however. If your subfloor had dips or damage, it could show through the vinyl over time. There are several types of underlayment for this type of flooring, and we’ve seen brands with a thin layer of foam pre-attached as well.
Vinyl tile is available in three main styles with VCT or vinyl composition tiles, peel and stick tile, and luxury vinyl tile. If you’re going to use peel and stick tiles, just follow the directions and make sure the surface you are sticking the tiles to is clean and level – you don’t need underlayment.
VCT are tiles that are made with a percentage of limestone, which adds to their appeal, but makes them porous unless properly sealed. Just like with the peel and stick variety, you’ll want to refer to the experts if you’re dead-set on putting something beneath them as underlayment generally isn’t needed.
LVT stands for luxury vinyl tile, and it’s the most popular style of tile that is made from synthetic materials. While more expensive than your other two options, LVT often comes with an underlayment already attached. It simplifies the installation but will add more to the price.
Vinyl Plank Flooring
Most vinyl plank flooring produced today falls into the luxury vinyl plank category. Flooring in this class is usually waterproof and made entirely from vinyl, although some boards are billed as water-resistant as well. You’ll also find two variants of luxury vinyl flooring with SPC and WPC planks, which are unique in their own right
The important thing to remember with LVP is that it can be a bit noisy unless your subfloor is completely level. While it also often comes with underlayment pre-attached, we’ve seen plenty of installers and salespeople recommended an additional layer of underlay. Unfortunately, that can be a problem as vinyl can be a very finicky product.
Underlayment for Vinyl Flooring
If you already have flooring in mind, it’s always a good idea to refer to the manufacturer to see what they recommend beforehand. If the vinyl has a backing layer or pad already attached, 95% of the time, they will not suggest anything at all, aside from a vapor barrier. Vinyl is quite resilient, after all.
That’s a good thing if you’re concerned about your budget, but it can also cause plenty of confusion. If you want to use additional underlayment with vinyl tile or planks that already have padding attached, you’re likely to experience some serious issues.
Any material that’s soft like foam can cause the locking system on your planks to separate when it gives. Indentions can be an issue as well, which is why most luxury vinyl tile and luxury vinyl planks are sold with a backing layer already in place.
There a few companies and product lines that are exceptions, but there is a strong chance that you could void your warranty if you attempt to install foam or cork beneath LVP with pre-attached underlayment.
Q: Which type of vinyl should I use in my bathroom?
A: Anything that’s rated as waterproof, not water-resistant. While vinyl flooring won’t swell like wood, water can get to the subfloor.
Q: Will installing a vapor barrier under my vinyl flooring cause any issues?
A: No, as vapor barriers are thin sheets of plastic that won’t cause separation, but will keep moisture at bay. Just remember, wooden subfloors need to breathe.
Q: Is foam-backed vinyl better than cork?
A: It’s cheaper, but not necessarily better, although there are several options to choose from. That said, most premium brands stick a backing layer of cork.
Q: Can I purchase LVP without padding attached?
A: Yes, but it’s becoming hard to find for a reason as the industry has moved to flooring with pre-attached underlayment.
Q: Is it okay to install vinyl flooring with underlayment with a radiant heating system?
A: You’ll need to check with the flooring manufacturer as that varies by brand and style.