Underlayment: The softening of hard surface flooring
by Louis Iannoco
Every salesperson in the industry should know the importance of underlayment on the soft surface side, but with more and more hard surface products gaining popularity and market share, the emphasis and focus have shifted.
But what exactly should sales associates know when it comes to underlayments and hard surfaces? Does it really make a difference what is used beneath them?
“Quality underlayment for hard surface flooring cushions footfall and makes walking more comfortable,” said Duane Reimer, technical director of MP Global Products. “The cushioning effect is easier on the knees. Also, underlayment smooths out little imperfections on the subfloor and helps reduce movement in the finished floor that, in turn, can reduce the noise caused by that movement.”
According to Bob Cummings, marketing manager, Pak-Lite, in the world of floating hard surfaces, it’s important to find the correct mix between soft and hard. “We lean toward firmness when developing floating floor underlayments. If the underlayment is too thick and/or soft, it could cause a trampoline effect by making the floor feel spongy. To our knowledge, outside of gymnastics, overly bouncy floors are not desirable.”
Ray Rodriguez, president and CEO of Starline Associates, believes carpet and floating floors, like wood and laminate, share the need for a quality underlayment. “With soft goods it’s more of a feel. The consumer can purchase a short, tight pile that will last longer and feel like a thick carpet with the appropriate cushion.
With hard surface floating floors, he explained, “it’s more about the sound, removing the annoying clatter. You can’t have much movement with hard floating floors because it will jeopardize the joint integrity of the tongue-and-groove system.”
Andy Stafford, marketing manager for Healthier Choice, believes acoustical underlayment plays an important roll in multiple ways. “The main benefit it provides is the ability to deaden sound, making laminates sound more like solid hardwood floors. Other benefits include antimicrobial and vapor protection, and leveling of minor flooring imperfections. Hard surface underlayments differ from carpet cushion in that they’re used primarily to quiet floors and make them feel more solid, whereas carpet cushion is used to absorb the foot’s impact energy on the face yarn, thus making the carpet look newer longer.”
Selling the right way
According to Reimer, when it comes to selling the product, salespeople should start by explaining that quality underlayment is a key component in a high performing floor assembly. “The sales presentation should note that a premium underlayment tends to be denser and more durable and, therefore, will last longer under the floor than a basic underlayment.”
Other points to emphasize, he noted, are that some underlayments address moisture management and sound abatement, some are designed to make laminate floors sound more like real wood and many are odorless, non-allergenic and VOC-free.
Rodriguez believes the same, noting better underlayment should always be favorably introduced in all sales presentations. “The cost difference is usually insignificant in comparison to all of the other factors—the floor, installation, removal and disposal of the old floor when the new one is not floated over the existing floor, and the cost of new baseboards or moldings. The price difference from a mid-grade pad to a quality pad may only be 15¢ to 25¢ more per square foot for the end user, but the difference in sound makes it worth every cent.”
Stafford said the key to selling the upgrade is to make the price difference a secondary issue. “First, explain why an underlayment is important. Second, educate the consumer about the differences between economy grade and premium grade underlayments. Third, focus on the benefits that a premium product offers, such as higher IIC ratings, antimicrobial protection and moisture vapor protection. Then, the consumer can make an educated decision as to what she needs for her home.”
He added Healthier Choice offers two lines of acoustical underlayment. “Sound Solution is a premium acoustical underlayment used for laminate, engineered and solid wood floors. It’s also available with vapor bloc, a vapor barrier film with a lip-and-tape installation system. Our new Healthier Choice acoustical underlayment functions more like a multipurpose underlayment for use under laminate, engineered, solid hardwood, LVT and ceramic tile. It’s also available with vapor bloc.”
Cummings said that Pak-Lite’s goal for the past 18 years has been to develop advanced underlayments that make laminate and engineered floors sound more like solid hardwood from a psychoacoustic perspective. “We have a laboratory that measures reflective sound. When it comes to sound, both laminate and wood floors are essentially equivalent in decibel level measurements when walked upon. Rarely do you hear complaints about the sound quality emanating from a solid hardwood floor inside the room, but consumers have complained about laminate being ‘clicky’ or plastic sounding.”
Loudness is not the complaint actually, but sound quality is, he added. “On the other hand, transmission sound is a completely different concept and therefore is measured differently.”
Generally speaking, Cummings noted, Pak-Lite’s laminate and engineered floating floor underlayments can be used in different applications, “and quality does matter in this business. The higher IIC ratings generally perform better, but it is really about the entire assembly. We make a variety of products that meet specific needs and circumstances from sound to moisture protection,” noting how the company is the largest private label manufacturer of laminate and engineered hardwood flooring underlayment in North America. “All of our products are manufactured and licensed under the Pregis (Absolute) lip and tape patents.”
Rodriguez said Starline’s Silent Blue laminate underlayment delivers “the best sound control value for the money. New crosslink construction yields greater tear and tensile strength while remaining flexible enough to overcome small subfloor imperfections. Other laminate flooring underlayments are too rigid and cannot contour to subfloor irregularities, thereby creating hollow sound pockets, which increases tapping sounds from walking.”
He noted Silent Blue features two layers of Mylar film added to an already moisture- proof pad, “making this an impenetrable underlayment. It doesn’t require film to prevent moisture penetration. The product’s closed cell structure seals out water vapor to prevent mold and mildew while maintaining a waterproof environment. Silent Blue was created to maintain optimal joint movement and increase foot comfort.”
According to Reimer, MP Global offers several types of recycled fiber acoustic floor underlayments, including such brands as QuietWalk, VersaWalk and QuietWarmth, among others.
QuietWalk, he said, is an underlayment for floating wood and laminate floors.