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Flooring underlay - a buyers guide

A wooden or laminate floor can be an attractive option for any room in the house. It can be both a practical solution and a design feature, with the ability to stain it to match the room's fittings, or cover with rugs. However, it is not just the part of the flooring that you can see that is important; what is placed underneath – underlay - is also a crucial component. 

Why use Underlay?

There are several reasons why underlay should be used with wooden and laminate flooring.

Effective underlay helps to cushion the flooring. This makes it more comfortable to walk on.
This cushioning is also partly responsible for reducing the noise created by walking on the wooden boards. Good underlay can reduce in-room noise by as much as 50 percent, making for a nicer environment for your family and, if in a flat, for your downstairs neighbours too!

Underlay also acts as insulation. It reduces the amount of heat lost through the floor, which can help to lower your energy bills. The initial outlay on good flooring underlay could save you more money in the future. 

The underlay can also help protect your flooring from wear and tear. Absorbing the shocks of people walking on it and the inevitable bumps and scrapes will serve to keep your flooring in better shape than one without underlay. 


Types of Underlay

The are two basic types of underlay: rubber and felt.

Rubber is the most commonly used material for wood flooring underlay. Typically made from compacted shredded car tyres, they come in a variety of thicknesses, depending on the use of the room (thicker underlay is used as protection in rooms with several pieces of heavy furniture. It is particularly good at sound dampening, and is often the greenest option, given that the car tyres are being recycled.

Felt underlay is also comprised of recycled materials, typically jute and cashmere. It tends to become compacted more quickly than rubber, but is very effective at preventing heat loss. 

There is a third option, foam, similar to that used to insulate the loft. However, this type of underlay does not tend to be as effective as rubber or felt for wooden and laminate floors.

Whichever kind of underlay is used, whether for wooden or laminate flooring underlay, paper felt should be placed over the underlay to sit between it and the flooring. This provides a barrier to dirt and pests, helps to stop the flooring sticking to the underlay, and is a contributing component to preventing draughts. 


How it is Installed

First measure the floor space you want to cover. It sounds obvious, but you want to make sure you buy enough underlay to cover the room.
Check that the floor space is flat. It needs to be level so that both the underlay and the flooring sits true, which will avoid creaking and warping. Use a spirit level to check the space. Use levelling screed to even out any non level areas. 

It is often a good idea to lay a damp proof membrane below your underlay, in case of any moisture leakage.

Cut underlay so that it extends up the walls slightly. Install to the manufacturer's guidelines with appropriate glue, checking throughout the process that the underlay is level. Tape over the seams between strips of underlay with vapour-resistant tape.  Also remember to cut gaps in the underlay so that it is not in contact with any pipework.