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Is Underlayment for LVT Needed? Here’s What You Need to Know

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LVT (Luxury Vinyl Tile) is an excellent flooring option — especially for how easy it is to install. But before laying LVT directly over the subflooring, you need to consider whether or not your LVT needs underlay.

Generally, most luxury vinyl tiles do not need underlayment due to their base layer. However, underlayment offers extra protection to your floor from damp subfloor. It can also provide a layer of insulation that provides cushioning and soundproofing benefits.

How to tell if your LVT needs underlay? Or what is the best underlayment for LVT? This article will answer all of your questions related to underlayment for LVT.

What is Underlayment?

What is Underlayment?
What is Underlayment?

Underlayment is a thin layer of material that lies right underneath the floor, covering the subfloor. It is usually about 1/4- or 1/2 inch thick. The primary purpose of underlay is to provide a smooth and flat surface for the floor covering. It has other additional benefits, such as sound absorption, waterproofing, insulation, and cushioning, depending on the type of underlay you choose. It creates a vapor barrier that protects floorings susceptible to water damage.

Underlayment is generally made of fiber, felt, rubber or foam. Plywood, hardboard, and cement board are also common choices for underlay. Whether or not you need underlayment depends on your subfloor’s condition and your flooring material choice. However, most homeowners prefer underlay even if it is not necessary for its added benefits.

How to Tell If Your LVT Needs Underlay

How to Tell If Your LVT Needs Underlay

The condition of your subfloor and its material are the two main determinant factors when deciding whether or not your LVT needs underlay. If the subfloor is hard and cold, such as concrete with no insulation whatsoever, you can benefit from adding an underlayment. Underlayment softens the underfoot and soundproofs the floor, a major concern for concrete subfloor. Adding an underlayment in between can benefit you if you install LVT over an existing floor with insufficient insulation and uncomfortable underfoot.

The second factor you want to take into consideration is the condition of your subfloor. A flat, smooth subfloor is crucial for the longevity of flooring installation. Otherwise, you will run into squeaky floors, moisture problems, or even wear out in areas the subfloor cannot correctly support. Although underlayment cannot make up for large holes in the subfloor, it can take care of minor imperfections and bumpiness on the subfloor.

5 Reasons You Need Underlayment for LVT

5 Reasons You Need Underlayment for LVT
5 Reasons You Need Underlayment for LVT

Underlayment is an added layer of protection that can potentially increase your floor’s lifetime. Whether you essentially need underlayment for LVT or not, you can get on board with its bonus benefits.

Reduces noise

Hard flooring is a far superior medium for sound than soft flooring that absorbs the soundwaves. Depending on your personal needs, you might need to consider soundproofing options. For example, if you live in an apartment, condo associations might require you to soundproof your flooring — especially if you have kids and pets. House owners’ association (HOA) can also enforce rules to reduce noise levels depending on your family size and lifestyle.

Underlayment absorbs a room’s ambient noise partially much like a carpet — that would otherwise carry through the thin walls and floors. It also gives you peace of mind as you don’t have to worry about your downstairs neighbors with every step you take.

Insulates the floor

Stepping on cold, hard floors on winter mornings — a dreadful yet relatable experience. If you don’t want to wear slippers and socks for the entire season or place area rugs around the house, consider insulating your flooring. Luxury vinyl tiles already benefit from warmer underfoot compared to ceramic tiles, stone, or concrete flooring. With proper underlayment, you can achieve perfectly insulated flooring.

An underlayment performs as a form of insulation — hence, it blocks the winter chill from entering the room through the floor. If you have kids crawling around or walking barefoot, the floor’s temperature is an even bigger concern. It also keeps the heat in and saves energy by making your heating system more efficient. Proper insulation can turn cold areas such as the basement into a cozy, functional part of the house.

Improves comfort level

Hard flooring is uncomfortable for standing or walking on for long periods. Although luxury vinyl is not inherently uncomfortable, installing it over hard floorings such as concrete or tiles can make it painful to walk on. Underlayment adds a layer of cushioning between the subfloor and the floor — making it softer and more comfortable under your foot.

The comfort level of the floor is a big concern for parents, especially for kids’ rooms, as you can expect to spend quite a large amount of time on the floor. When your child starts to crawl or walk on the floor, you need to ensure the floor is not too hard, hurting their soft feet. Kids also tend to fall a lot. So, you need to consider underlayment to cushion the fall.

Protects flooring from moisture

Although luxury vinyl tiles are waterproof and are not susceptible to moisture-caused damages, it never hurts to take extra precautions. LVT works well in moisture-prone areas such as bathrooms, laundry rooms, basements, or kitchens. Since LVT comes in contact with water frequently in those areas, installing a waterproof underlayment underneath can give it an extra bit of protection. Also, in case of a plumbing leak or subfloor damage, the waterproof underlay will prevent the water from reaching the floor covering.

If you install luxury vinyl tile directly over concrete, using a waterproof underlayment is essential. If water passes through the concrete, it can trigger a chemical reaction that damages the LVT. It can also cause mold growth, a massive headache for homeowners.

Prepares the subfloor

The condition of your subfloor directly impacts the longevity of your flooring. Although luxury vinyl tile is more forgiving on the subfloor in comparison to other flooring options, you still want to get your subfloor in the best shape possible before installation. Otherwise, the more significant subfloor imperfection can translate to the top of the floor. The dents can make noise every time you step on them.

Underlayment creates an even and smooth surface for the luxury vinyl. Even though it cannot compensate for the large dents and holes, it can smoothen the minor imperfection. Subfloor repair is lengthy, expensive, and often requires professionals. If underlayment can resolve the issue, then it is worth trying. 

When is Underlayment for LVT Not Needed?

You will not need an underlay if you have chosen a loose-lay installation for your luxury vinyl. This type of luxury vinyl comes with a cut-to-fit design, eliminating the need to accommodate expansion gaps. Also, if you live in a warmer climate, you will not need an underlay for insulation. Some LVT comes with a pre-attached underlay, so you will not require any additional.

What is the Best Underlayment for LVT?

What is the Best Underlayment for LVT?
What is the Best Underlayment for LVT?

Before discussing the best underlayment for LVT, let’s discuss the different rating methods explicitly developed to rate your underlayment’s quality. The four applicable underlayment ratings are –

  1. Sound transmission class (STC) – Refers to how well a building element reduces airborne sound. The higher, the better the sound muffling.
  2. Impact insulation class (IIC) – Refers to how well the floor ceiling reduces structure-borne sound. A higher value means more effectiveness.
  3. Delta IIC (ΔIIC) – Shows how much a product improves the IIC performance when added to a specific assembly. A higher value means more improved IIC performance after the addition.
  4. Thermal resistance (R-value) – Represents resistance to heat or how well the material insulates. The higher the number, the less heat transmits through it — consequently, lower energy bills.

Best Underlayment for LVT

MP Global Products Insulayment

MP Global Products INSUL100 Insulayment Multi-Purpose Acoustical Underlayment for Glue and Nail Down Flooring, 3′ x 33.4′ (100 sq ft), Gray
  • No attached vapor barrier, allows excellent adhesion with wood-flooring adhesives and thinset mortars
  • Approved for Infloor Heating Systems
  • Smoothing out minor sub-floor imperfections
  • Added insulation value (R-value of .57)
  • Ideal for glue-down or nail-down wood flooring as well as ceramic tile

Rating & Specification

IIC Sound Rating – Impact Vibration Sounds  60
STC Sound Rating50
Delta IIC Sound Rating20
R-Value0.57
Moisture barrierNo Moisture Barrier

Insulayment from MP Global Products is made from recycled materials in a patented process where air-laid filaments create a capillary effect to absorb impact and airborne sound. The acoustical underlayment insulates the transfer of impact noise to lower-level rooms.

Insulayment’s sound rating meets or exceeds most building code requirements for multi-family dwellings. The higher insulating value provides comfort during seasonal changes. It contains no VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) or off-gassing from materials. It is also reasonably priced compared to other available underlays of similar ratings. However, since it is not waterproof or does not have any moisture barrier, it is not suitable for moist environments.

VEVOR Waterproof Membrane

VEVOR Waterproof Membrane, 3 x 135 ft, 10 mil Polyethylene Fabric with 441 sq.ft Large Covering Area for Wall or Floor Tile Underlayment in Bathroom, Sauna, Steam Room, Gray
  • Durable PE Material: Item Size: 3 x 135 ft; Color: Gray; Thickness: 10 mils. The three-layer designed waterproof membrane features a modified polyethylene core with non-woven polypropylene on both sides, which is tough, tear-proof, and can be used for years to come.
  • Water & Vapor Impermeable: This shower membrane is compatible with tile, ceramic, or stone wall tiles, which helps keep water build-up from forming beneath your tiles and causing further damage.
  • 10 mil Thick & Cuttable: Thickness: 10 mils. Our membrane roll is highly flexible, making it easy to cut into strips with scissors or a paper cutter. Convenient for sealing corners.

The three-layer designed waterproof membrane from VEVOR features a modified polyethylene core with non-woven polypropylene on both sides, which is tough, tear-proof, and can be used for years to come. The cut-to-fit membrane can be easily cut using a knife or a pair of scissors and completely cover the corners. It is easy to install and works well in wet areas such as bathrooms, steam rooms, saunas, and kitchens. It keeps water from penetrating the floors and makes the flooring more durable.

However, keep in mind that this product will not offer any sound deadening or insulation benefits. It is more suitable for areas that come into contact with water frequently.

MP Global Products QuietWalk Plus

QuietWalk Plus QW360PLUS All Flooring Underlayment with Attached Vapor Barrier, 6′ x 60′, Blue
  • Use with Laminate, Floating Engineered, Nail Down and Glue-Down Flooring.
  • Superior Sound Reduction ‐ Recycled fibers absorb sound and keep it from traveling to other rooms. Makes click-together floating floors sound solid underfoot
  • Compression Resistant ‐ Dense recycled fiber structure supports the click-together mechanism and will uphold its supportive configuration under the consistent traffic of the overlying floor.
  • Moisture Protection ‐ Recycled fibers allow installation over concrete to &; breathe; ‐ managing vapors from becoming bulk moisture. The attached vapor barrier protects the overlying floors from harmful moisture.

Rating & Specification

IIC Sound Rating – Impact Vibration Sounds 71
STC Sound Rating66
Delta IIC Sound Rating22
R-Value0.58
Moisture barrier.423 lbs / 1000 sq ft / 24 hours

QuietWalk Plus from MP Global Products features more versatile applications with the particularly attached vapor barrier allowing glue or nail down applications. It offers superior sound ratings, reducing unwanted traveling noise. It also provides excellent moisture protection and proper compression to support the tongue and groove —an improvement compared to the previous products from MP Global Products. Due to its flexibility, QuietWalk Plus smooths out imperfection on the subfloor surface while being firm and supportive.

QuietWalk Plus is made from recycled materials and does not include any VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) or off-gassing from materials. The higher insulating value provides comfort through seasonal changes. It is also approved for in-floor heating systems.

STEICO Wood Fiber Flooring Underlayment

STEICO Wood Fiber Flooring Underlayment for Laminate Vinyl LVT LVP Hardwood Floor 6 mm 1/4 inch 90 SqFt Natural Sound Insulation Barrier
  • Increased room comfort: Room comfort is enhanced by The High-performance sound control and acoustic improving properties of the underlayment.
  • Highest rated sound proofing: US tested and certified after passing the strictest acoustic tests (6” concrete slab without ceiling assembly) which guarantees optimal sound proofing.
  • Enhances safety: Absence of VOC and other poisonous emissions makes the living space safer and more valuable. Natural product made in EU of pure wood fiber material without any glue additives. Easy to handle and install using commonly available household tools.

Rating & Specification

IIC Sound Rating – Impact Vibration Sounds 50
STC Sound Rating55
R-Value0.5
Moisture barrierVapor open system

The Wood Fiber Underlayment from STEICO is an all-natural underlay ideal for a wide range of flooring materials. It is free from VOC, formaldehyde, glue, and toxic emissions. Instead of synthetic adhesive, it uses “Lignin,” a wood resin secreted in the process of milling wood and acts as a binding agent of the wood fibers.

The Wood Fiber Underlayment comes in two thickness levels to compensate for the imperfection on the subflooring surface. Its unique vapor open system makes it a breathable material that prevents mold growth in a moist environment while protecting the flooring from water. It is light and also easy to handle and install. 

Do you have any questions about underlayment for LVT? Comment below and let us know!

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