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Underlayment: Suppliers serve up solutions for multi-family applications

June 5/12, 2017: Volume 31, Issue 26

By Reginald Tucker

 

Screen Shot 2017-06-09 at 11.04.52 AMUnderlayment suppliers are focusing more of their attention on the all-important multi-family sector of the housing market. Specifically, they are developing products that aim to meet or exceed the stringent building code requirements for multi-family dwellings while complementing the vast array of flooring products designed to coordinate with them.

That’s certainly the focus of companies like MP Global Products, maker of the well-known QuietWalk brand of sound-deadening underlayment products designed to quiet noisy floating floors such as laminates. “Our company has concentrated on acoustic underlayment almost since our founding 20 years ago—which incidentally is exactly the same year the North American Laminate Flooring Association (NALFA) was formed,” said Jack Boesch, director of marketing. “Together with NALFA, we helped the manufacturers of laminate flooring establish standards for underlayments with regard to several attributes, including sound attenuation.”

QuietWalk, MP Global’s hallmark product, is branded as such for its ability to draw sound in and deaden it. “The original train of thought was to help deaden the ‘clicky’ sound of laminate flooring within the room and make it sound more like solid wood,” Boesch explained. “During that process we also discovered that architects and designers loved our underlayments for use in condominiums and apartment buildings.”

Other major suppliers of underlayment products are busy at work tackling the noise-transfer issue in multi-family applications. For example, Diversified Industries, manufacturer of the popular FloorMuffler line of products, is looking to make sure it has all the bases covered in that respect.

“While flooring suppliers are working to develop products with better sound characteristics, the best solution for noise reduction is a quality underlayment,” said Colleen Gormley, national marketing coordinator. “We are continuously testing our products with the most up-to-date building code requirements to ensure flooring suppliers have a proven underlayment to partner with their flooring.”

Due to the advances in sound-reduction technology, Gormley is seeing the use of hard surface flooring becoming much more prevalent in multi-family construction than ever before—which is guiding much of the new product development within the company. “We have developed an entire line of products to provide superior noise reduction for every type of hard surface flooring installation. This includes our new line of rubber underlayments, FloorMuffler FLEX, which can be used under anything from tile to hardwood flooring.”

Dan Davis, national retail business manager, multi-family sector, HPS Schönox North America, also sees the multi-family market moving away from carpet and toward LVT. For its part, Schönox has developed several underlayments to address this trend. Chief among them is Schönox TS, an impact, sound-deadening underlayment made of cork and recycled urethane granules that not only provides impact and sound attenuation but also comfort underfoot. “This is used underneath LVT floors so the residents living below won’t hear anything,” he explained.

Schönox takes it a step further by focusing on the condition of the substrate prior to the application of a sound-deadening underlayment. To that end, the company offers AP, a dust- reduced synthetic gypsum compound that’s suitable over gypsum-based cement floors common in multi-family applications, and APF, a fiber-reinforced self leveling compound. “These are high-performance products that are proprietary to us and designed to go with these gypsum subfloors,” Davis said. “Our products are specifically designed to bond with gypsum subfloors, not separate or push away from them.”

Future Foam is also keeping a close eye on trends in the multi-family sector and is responding accordingly. “Multi-family is a very interesting sector for carpet cushion companies, including Future Foam,” said Mark Foster, regional manager. “We are often challenged by economic hurdles with carpet cushion, but we have seen an uptick in interest for sound abatement and comfort under LVT flooring.”

Builders, Foster notes, often lose sight of the advantages of providing a cushion under LVT floors. “Acoustical properties play a big role in deciding what is to be used in multi-family dwellings today, so Future Foam provides sound ratings for applications under numerous hard surface products. A cushion that provides comfort and sound absorption are the keys to these projects.”

Soundseal, which offers a range of underlayment products specifically for certain flooring categories, is also keenly focused on the red-hot LVT segment. “As new products become available we endeavor to find suitable products to use under them,” said Dale Asp, business development manager, Impacta Floor Underlayments. “We developed VC300 and Probase Vinyl to be used under LVT products in multi-family dwellings. We also offer our Cerazorb and Probase Rubber underlayments, which can be used under a broad base of flooring products.”

In that same vein, the increasing popularity of LVT has led WE Cork to its latest introduction, Silently-LVT, which provides a low-profile sound solution under floating and glue-down LVT. According to Ann Wicander, president, “Silently-LVT can also be used as a single-stick method over hard-to-glue to substrates—such as lightweight concrete or surfaces that are expensive to remove like asbestos tile—by loose laying the Silenlty-LVT over the floor and gluing directly on it. This method saves time and money during installation, and is the perfect underlayment for apartments offering a high sound insulation rating of Delta IIC 20.”

WE Cork has a long track record of developing products for the multi-family sector. Back in 1978, when condominium development began to take off, WE Cork initially offered sound-control products for ceramic tile applications under the WECU (WE Cork Underlayments) brand. That paved the way for Soundless +, a product Wicander called “the highest performing product under ceramic tile applications in a concrete structure without a suspended ceiling.” WE Cork then went on to introduce the Warm & Quiet product line for use under hardwood and laminates. “This offers an easy-to-install, lightweight yet highly insulating solution that meets all requirements in the U.S.”

 

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Underlayment: Education is key to upselling consumers

March 13/20, 2017: Volume 31, Issue 20

By Lindsay Baillie

 

Screen Shot 2017-03-17 at 12.07.00 PMUnderlayments are more than essential components that complete a hard surface or soft surface installation. They are also valuable accessories that help increase margins and generate higher ticket sales for specialty retailers.

According to various underlayment manufacturers upselling from an entry-level product to a specialty underlayment is achievable through comprehensive product education. This focus on education starts with the retailer and follows through to the customer.

“Retailers should take the time to educate themselves and their team on the benefits of a good quality carpet cushion,” said Todd Betz, territory manager, Innocor Foam Technologies. “Then they can help educate the consumer on all the benefits of a better cushion such as how it will last longer and make the carpet feel better underfoot.”

Deanna Summers, marketing coordinator, MP Global, explained that there are many features to talk about when upselling underlayment. It is important for retailers to learn the various underlayments they sell and share that knowledge with others. To help retailers learn more about underlayment, she suggests talking to the underlayment manufacturers as they should be able to help with point-of-purchase information.

“A retailer will likely have more opportunity to create interest in value-added underlayment, a product many customers may not even know about but should,” Summers said. “Oftentimes the customer will be much more particular on color and style vs. performance. Underlayment upselling is a way to hone in on performance characteristics the customer may not have given much thought to.”

Once a retailer is properly educated in underlayments, he or she should make it a point to include it in the conversation about flooring. “Making the subfloor an integral part of the discussion for any flooring project is the best way to ensure the customer gets what is needed for the subfloor, and the flooring professional maximizes the overall product offering in the sale,” said Thomas Trissl, principal, Schönox. “It’s a clear win for both.”

In addition to educating retailers and RSAs, experts say consumer education is also necessary. “Offering consumers product options and educating them on the difference in these options allow them to make more informed buying decisions,” said Colleen Gormley, marketing coordinator, Diversified Industries. “In order for a consumer to invest more in her purchase, it should correspond with some distinguishable value.”

That distinguishable value is what MP Global’s Summers believes makes upselling underlayment easy and rewarding. Once fully explained, the products essentially sell themselves. “Upselling underlayment for new hard surface flooring is a win-win opportunity every salesperson should take advantage of as often as possible.”

Screen Shot 2017-03-17 at 12.10.03 PMProponents believe premium underlayments can enhance a newly installed floor in terms of wearability and lifetime performance. They can also provide noise reduction, insulation, moisture dissipation and greater comfort underfoot.

“Other talking points can be specific to the type of floor in which the customer is interested,” Summers added. “For example, underlayment selected for use under laminate flooring should be both firm enough to support the overlaying floor but offer sufficent flexibility to smooth out little subfloor imperfections, helping eliminate any rocking of laminate panels.”

Another advantage Sarah Remillard, product manager, sports and reaction surfacing, Ultimate RB, pointed out is a quality rubber underlayment can make an inexpensive laminate or engineered wood floor sound like an expensive wood floor—adding even more value to the customer’s purchase.

Ultimately, providing customers with accurate product knowledge to make informed buying decisions help RSAs gain customer loyalty. “Not only do you increase your profit from the upsell of one product, but you retain that customer for future purchases,” Diversified Industries’ Gormley explained. “Additionally, customer satisfaction should increase when using a higher quality product.”

While educating customers on the various products can help upsell underlayment, it is also important to ask the right questions. This is crucial for purchases involving ceramic and stone underlayment which are all based on specific applications. As Julia Vozza, marketing manager, M-D Pro, explains: “The retailer simply needs to know the right questions to ask their customers when selling tile underlayment so they can find out the specifics about the particular application their customer is buying for.”

Some of these potential questions may include: Is the underlayment being installed below grade or in areas where moisture is a concern? Is the tile installation in an area where the tile would need to transition up to a thicker flooring surface like hardwood? Is there a need or desire to install an in-floor radiant heating system?

Dale Asp, business development manager, Impacta Floor Underlayments, suggests retailers also find out what the customer is looking to achieve with her new floor covering. From there the retailer can discuss the different options available while presenting underlayments that possess the greatest value. “When looking for a quality underlay product the benefits must be worth the increased cost. A quality underlayment can provide superior support for the flooring above, thus ensuring the new flooring will look and perform well for many years to come.”

Good, better, best
Screen Shot 2017-03-17 at 12.09.21 PM
Another proven strategy retailers can utilize is the tiered model, experts say. “Most retailers are familiar with the selling of the good, better, best [flooring] options for their customers,” said Ann Wicander, president, WE Cork. “Retailers who are successful in selling our underlayments use the same principle.”

When presented in the showroom, this model can help customers understand the differences between entry-level and specialty underlayments, along with the varying price points. “We’ve seen dealers really make it easy for customers to see the benefits by putting out a cushion walk in the store so they can feel the difference between a good, better or best cushion, which really helps them to realize the benefits of a higher-end product,” Innocor’s Betz explained.

In addition to using a cushion walk, Future Foam recommends showing customers a sample book—some of which can be custom made for each dealer. “These sample books fold up nicely so they are very portable,” said Mark Foster, Midwest sales manager. “They show the features and benefits while providing a walkable demonstration. Assisting the customer in an actual demonstration on how her carpet will feel over selected cushions is always a good way to help her decide what she truly wants and to show how more comfort can come from choosing the right cushion.”

Jack McMahon, vice president, Carpenter, suggests retailers flip the good, better, best model on its head and start with showing customers their best quality underlayment. He then recommends briefly explaining the cushion’s merits and closing the sale with the confidence knowing the RSA has offered the customer long-term value. “Better cushion will increase the consumer’s satisfaction with her carpet. Additionally, successfully selling better cushion is another way to reflect well on the retailer’s status as a strong business that believes in adding value to each sale.”

 

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MP Global: 20 years old and still innovating

February 13/20, 2017: Volume 31, Number 18

By Lindsay Baillie

 

Screen Shot 2017-02-20 at 3.48.37 PMDuring its first year of operation in 1997, MP Global—then known as Midwest Padding—employed 10 people. Today, the company has grown to about 145 employees and runs three shifts, 24 hours, seven days a week.

While MP Global had its start in carpet and futon padding, the company is most known for its wide range of underlayments. Interestingly, it used the same patented technology it developed 20 years ago to create the innovative range of floor covering padding products it offers today.

With the U.S. laminate industry boom, MP Global’s QuietWalk carpet padding evolved to become its primary underlayment brand. “I clearly remember the very first truckload of QuietWalk underlayment rolling away from our loading dock on its way to a well-known laminate flooring manufacturer,” said Jack Boesch, director of marketing, MP Global, recalling the beginning of the company’s shift into underlayments. “I remember the excitement and suggested popping open a bottle of champagne to celebrate such a large sale of our new product. Little did we know at the time QuietWalk would soon become our core product with multiple trucks of it shipping daily.”

QuietWalk contains 94% recycled materials comprising fibers that are too short to go back into textile operations. Noting QuietWalk’s success, MP Global has evolved its product to solve different installation issues. “We’ve taken QuietWalk innovation and improved it, specifically for over concrete where large amounts of vapor emissions may exist,” said Deanna Summers, marketing specialist. “This new underlayment called VentiLayer uses the same recycled fibers in our patented manufacturing process, but we’ve added a plastic mesh beneath it to elevate it off the ground and encourage airflow.”

This elevation, according to the company, creates venting to eliminate water vapor or hydrostatic pools of moisture under the underlayment. The new product will meet NALFA standards and provides sound absorption and moisture protection.

MP Global keeps its pulse on the market to stay in lock-step with industry-wide trends and developments. To that end, the company is working on a brand new, pressure-sensitive product called Sound Buffer Self-Adhere which aims to provide faster installation solutions for LVT products.

“[Sound Buffer Self-Adhere] is a 100% virgin latex material so it’s very dense, very supportive to luxury vinyl in particular,” Summers said. “We’re developing a niche-type product that goes one step further. For example, a large mall-type store wants to replace flooring but doesn’t want to sacrifice business hours for flooring installation hours. Using Sound Buffer Self-Adhere speeds up the installation time by skipping out on the glue drying process. It is a direct install product. The pressure sensitive adhesive already on the product allows the flooring to be stuck directly onto the underlayment.”

Rebranding initiative

PrintMP Global has rebranded itself as a “One Source” for retailers and consumers as a means to match its innovative products for all types of flooring. “We want [our customers] to think of us as the underlayment source,” Summers explained. “When a distributor or retailer thinks of underlayments, we want him to think MP Global. Many think of us as a fiber manufacturer and QuietWalk, but we have evolved into other products as well. We can source all underlayments, not just fiber. We are more of a solutions provider, really.”

As the industry expanded to offer innovative floor covering materials such as LVT and WPC, MP Global has likewise evolved to broaden its solutions of underlayment products to address these new flooring materials. “Having a reliable partner like us can offer peace of mind and also be more cost effective,” Summers explained. “We can consolidate trucks to fit a program of needs, which saves money—everyone wins.”

To complement its innovative products and rebranding, MP Global also plans to launch a new website at the end of the first quarter.

 

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Underlayment: Latest products fill category-specific needs

December 5/12, 2016; Volume 31, Number 13         

By Jana Pollock

 

When it comes to underlayments, what’s underneath really does count. There are seemingly countless underlayment options—each with their own features and benefits—so it’s important to know the specifications and attributes of each product prior to the installation.

screen-shot-2016-12-16-at-10-29-50-amIn virtually all cases, the type of underlayment selected is contingent upon the specific type(s) of flooring that will be utilized in a given space. For example, with tile, underlayment that provides support is preferred. Underlayments for these products must not only be strong enough that the tile and grout won’t crack over time, but also flexible enough to absorb movement and expansion and contraction from changing temperatures. Installers suggest cement board underlayment or uncoupling membrane underlayments for these scenarios.

The requirements are much different for other hard surface products such as laminates, which are typically installed via the floating method. Experts say laminate floors require underlayment products that provide stability and protection from moisture, as well as sound abatement. These options may range from foam products to cork or polypropylene. For hardwood floors, installers say, it’s wise to pick an underlayment made from felt, cork or rubber. Rubber or foam underlayments also work well for carpet in some cases.

The challenge for most manufacturers of cushioning and underlayment is to keep pace with new product development from the flooring suppliers. At Carpenter, for example, the emphasis is on introducing new products that provide more comfort underfoot.

“Unfortunately, carpet has dropped considerably in terms of market share over the last five years as millennials are coming in,” said Rob Heuay, senior vice resident. “But we have kept up by improving the feel of the carpet.”

Carpenter also focuses on developing underlayment products that can withstand a host of issues, namely pet accidents. “Many people have pets, so stains and cleanability of carpet is important,” Heuay said. “So the innovations have been in treatments of the cushion to reduce wear and to eliminate odors from accidents.”

One such innovation is Carpenter’s Serenity carpet cushion, which features Everfresh probiotic technology. According to Heuay, the 100% organic probiotic technology reduces odor naturally, continuously and safely. How it works: When pet accidents occur the urine is transformed into water and CO2 which evaporates, leaving no smell left behind and no lingering bacteria. “The floor covering industry recognizes the importance of living in a clean home without the worry of germs that pose potential harm to homeowners,” he said. “Serenity with Everfresh probiotic technology does just that.”

Keeping in lockstep
Experts agree that today’s underlayment products are geared more toward the bevy of new products being developed. “In years past, one pad was recommended for all available flooring installation types,” said Jeffrey Castor, national sales manager, Diversified Industries. “With the introduction of products such as LVT, that has since changed. Based on the characteristics of LVT/LVP, anything thicker than approximately 1mm has been subject to failure over time.”

Diversified Industries is working to stay ahead of the game. “In 2016 we’ve already introduced five new underlayment SKUs and anticipate the addition of at least 10 more by years end,” Castor stated. “We anticipate the needs of the industry so we are not playing catch up.”

Other major suppliers attest to the rapid rate of new product development. Jack Boesch, president of MP Global Products, has also seen an increase in the popularity of LVT. This, he notes, has resulted in multiple requests for underlayment products that complement the installation. “As far as we know there are no requirements for underlayments in this category, but there’s always a need to deaden sound between floors in multi-family housing such as condominiums and apartment buildings,” he explained.

screen-shot-2016-12-16-at-10-29-56-amAnother factor in the choice of underlayment is the environment/region in which the flooring material will be used. Take ceramic tile and radiant heating flooring systems, for example. “These systems have been around for years; however, up until this past year there has never been uncoupling membranes that serve a dual purpose,” said Julia Vozza, marketing manager at Loxcreen Flooring Group, maker of the Prova Flex Heat+ system. “Now you can have heated tile floors while also avoiding tile cracking, which can extend the life span of a tile for years to come. The uncoupling membranes for use with in-floor radiant heating systems allow heating cables to be embedded or inserted into channels while the membrane can also serve its purpose of strengthening the overall tile installation.”

In most cases, the type of underlayment product selected will be dictated by the type of flooring material specified or installed. As Wil Younger, marketing manager for Regupol, explained: “From carpet to LVT, from engineered hardwood to ceramic tiles, floor coverings have different hardnesses and thus different acoustical performance. Typically, the harder the floor covering the louder is the noise in the room itself and the lower the damping and sound isolation to neighboring rooms on the same floor level, the level below or above. As a result, floor coverings require different underlayments in order to achieve the desired acoustical performance and comply with building codes.”

Some of the latest underlayment products have a dual purpose. Schönox DSP, for example, is a self-leveling compound that can also be used as an overlayment. This applies to applications where customers require a durable coating for concrete that can be polished.

“The flexibility and product attributes of of Schönox DSP are finding wide appeal in new construction, remodel and renovation projects where leveling as well as a top surface can be accomplished in one process,” said Doug Young, executive vice president.

Many underlayment manufacturers seek to leverage insight gained from consumer testing when developing products that offer desired performance features and benefits. “Our product development team then uses these insights, developing innovative solutions for this category that maximize the comfort and performance of our underlayment,” said Jeff Briney, vice president of sales, Innocor Foam Technologies, maker of the CUSHIONcor memory foam carpet cushion product. “It’s made with gel memory foam that provides the comfort and support consumers crave underfoot.”

 

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Underlayment: Success requires selling the complete package

August 22/29, 2016; Volume 31, Number 5

By Jana Pollack

 

Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 3.33.15 PMUnderlayment is a crucial component of a floor covering installation. It provides an acoustic barrier, insulation underfoot and sound reduction, among other attributes. And yet, many shoppers don’t give it much thought.

All this present a golden opportunity for retailers who are in a unique position to educate the consumer on the various attributes of underlayments while padding the sale by offering the complete package.

For starters, underlayment experts say sales associates need to understand why the product is so important. Next is conveying those attributes to the shopper. According to Jim Wink, vice president of sales and marketing at Foam Products, the inclusion of underlayment depends on the flooring. For example, laminate, WPC and vinyl wood composite materials have a tendency to create a hollow, “clicking” sound in situations where people are walking on the floor wearing hard soles or high-heel shoes.

“By putting a good quality underlayment down it makes the flooring solid—it sounds like ¾-inch hardwood,” he explained. Likewise, in a multi-story setting, the underlayment keeps noise from passing through the floor and disturbing other tenants.

Jack Boesch, president of MP Global, agreed. “I believe the two biggest benefits for certain upgrade underlayments are protection from moisture over a concrete subfloor and the acoustic benefits—especially in multi-family housing to inhibit the transfer of noise into the residence below.”

Then there’s the additional practical benefits that underlayments provide. “What we’re selling is comfort underfoot,” said Rob Heuay, senior vice resident, Carpenter. Peace of mind, too, especially as it pertains to absorption when accidents occur. For instance, Carpenter makes products that have a probiotic treatment that absorb the protein from urine or other spills. “The carpet still needs to be cleaned, but the protein in the spills of wine or other products like that will actually be eaten by these natural enzymes on top of the carpet cushion,” he explained.

More importantly, underlayments prolong the life of the product installed above it. “The correct underlayment under a laminate or LVT will help extend the life of that floor by absorbing and transferring energy,” noted Dale Asp, business development manager, Sound Seal Impacta.

Underlayments also play a critical role when installing tile. “Without an uncoupling membrane, your tiles will eventually crack due to the natural movements and stresses on the substrate,” said Julia Vozza, marketing manager for Loxcreen Flooring Group. “Uncoupling membranes like our Prova-Flex help create a separation layer between the tile and substrate which acts as a neutralizer for stress caused by natural lateral movement.”

Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 3.33.32 PMUnderlayment manufacturers encourage RSAs to glean as much information from the customer as possible in order to recommend the right cushion for her needs. This, they say, goes a long way in ensuring customer satisfaction with the job.

“Although the underlayment is the unseen component of the package, it carries a strong weight in the final performance of the purchased package,” said Jeffrey Castor, vice president of sales at Diversified Industries.

 

Product demonstrations

Suppliers agree that simply talking about the ways an underlayment can improve a flooring experience is not enough. In order to really drive the point home, the consumer needs to see it—and feel it—for herself. “To merely show a key ring of various underlayment products does not clearly tell the story to the end user,” Castor stated.

Wink agreed, citing one of Foam Products’ merchandising units that allow for a product demonstration. “We have a capping display that is small and can be put on a countertop that will show the difference in sound when using an inferior plastic underlayment compared to our high-density foam underlayment. That little tapping display is just incredibly effective when a consumer hears it. She can hear the difference immediately.”

Carpenter’s Heuay noted that it’s important for the consumer to walk on carpet cushion to help her make a purchase. “Just like if you buy a bed, you’re going to want to lie on it; you don’t go in and squeeze it with your fingers and spend $2,000 on a mattress. Same thing is true with a carpet cushion.”

In addition to using physical tools, the way the salesperson speaks about underlayment is key. However, there are conflicting opinions about the optimal way to present underlayment options. Heuay, for instance, believes retailers should not present consumers with good, better, best options. “They should take what they feel is their best carpet cushion, and that should be the standard.”

Others beg to differ. “There is always a good, better, best solution within the underlayment category, so depending how much a consumer wants to spend relative to her individual needs is how an associate should be presenting underlayment,” Loxcreen’s Vozza explained. And Asp added: “I would recommend retailers sell it as a complete package, but with options from A to Z, good-better-best depending on the situation.”

The influence of the retail sales associate is important, but retailers also need to promote underlayments throughout their stores, experts advise.

“Point of purchase displays adjacent to the laminate flooring SKUs are the perfect reminder to attach a sale of underlayment to the sale of laminate flooring,” MP Global’s Boesch stated. “It should be an automatic reflex for the salesperson.”

 

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Underlayment: Suppliers stress sustainability

May 23/30, 2016; Volume 30, Number 24

By Reginald Tucker

Screen Shot 2016-06-03 at 4.16.57 PMToday’s vast crop of underlayments and cushions for both hard and soft surface applications do much more than provide comfort underfoot and sound abatement. They also provide peace of mind and reassurance for specifiers and end users looking for products that offer sustainable solutions.

A prime example is the QuietWalk brand from MP Global Products—a line of underlayments designed for use underneath floating laminate and engineered wood floors. According to Jack Boesch, president, the company’s recycled fiber underlayments are third-party certified for recycled content and designated as a clean air contributor by SCS. This certifies that QuietWalk has 94% recycled content and is certified as “Indoor Advantage Gold,” which basically means there are no volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that could off-gas and lead to sick building syndrome. MP Global underlayments also are treated with a safe antimicrobial additive to inhibit mold and mildew growth.

“Our company was founded on manufacturing recycled materials,” Boesch said. “From day one we manufactured padding from fibers used in the textile and carpet industries. These were post-industrial fibers that were basically too short for any use, so we patented a manufacturing process to utilize these fibers that would ordinarily have gone to the landfill.”

Other underlayment manufacturers are implementing innovative ways to incorporate recycled content in their products. For example, the ProBase line of rubber underlayment products from Sound Seal boasts 85% recycled content, which qualifies the product for LEED points. As Dale Asp, national business development manager, explained: “During the manufacturing process, our product is washed multiple times and magnets are used to remove all the steel that might be in there from the used car tires. This results in a product that’s devoid of oils and road grime inherent with recycled tires. It’s very crisp looking for a rubber product.”

In addition to ProBase, Sound Seal offers an array of underlayment products derived from recycled wood fibers. Lines include Jumpax, Paladin, Redupax and Superfloor. “The raw materials are all FSC certified so we know exactly where the wood came from and that it was harvested legally,” Asp said. “Our process allows us to utilize the materials to create a usable, environmentally safe product.”

Environmental consciousness is also a top priority at Carpenter, which produces both prime urethane and bonded carpet cushion for soft surface floor coverings. EnviroStep, the company’s flagship product, is made from 100% recycled urethane trim and is itself 100% recyclable. In addition, all EnviroStep products are ozone friendly—meaning they do not contain CFCs—and they exceed CRI Green label air-quality standards.

For its recycled products, Carpenter sources foam materials typically found in high-end mattresses. It then goes through an intricate grinding and cleansing process and is then mixed with virgin materials to make bonded products. The company also takes back old carpet cushion for processing. “Our product is different from our competitors in that a large portion of our trim is not post-consumer, it’s considered recycled trim,” Rob Heuay, senior vice president, explained.

Other underlayment manufacturers emphasize the fact they utilize environmentally friendly ingredients in their products. The Eco Ultimate Silencer from Foam Products, for example, uses soy-based ingredients as opposed to petroleum in its construction. It is designed primarily for wood floors, vinyl plank flooring as well as WPC. In addition, Foam Products offers a 20% granulated recycled rubber tile for hard surface applications.

“This provides a strong environmental story because we are not sending rubber tires to the landfill,” said Jim Wink, vice president of sales and marketing. “Plus, the end users get LEED credits there because they’re dealing with recycled content.”

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Underlayment: Step-up products present trade-up opportunities

March 14/21, 2016; Volume 30, Number 19

By Reginald Tucker

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 10.37.58 AM
Underlayment, from a strictly functional perspective, plays a critical role in the professional installation of the wide array of hard surface products available today. At the same time, this essential flooring accessory also has the potential to represent a lucrative profit center for specialty retailers and installers, providing it is positioned appropriately and presented to the consumer the right way.

Take laminate, for example. An ideal way to upgrade underlayment when selling these floors, experts say, is to sell the job by color and style first and then have the retail sales associate simply ask if the customer would like to upgrade the underlayment from base grade. At this point in the sales process, according to Ray Rodriguez, president and CEO of Starline Associates, showing the consumer samples to an upgraded underlayment product that more effectively reduces noise helps tremendously.

Another surefire way retailers and distributors can leverage underlayment as a profit center is through the use of displays and creative merchandising with “liked” products as well as product training, said Julia Vozza, marketing manager, pro distribution channel for Loxcreen Flooring Group. As she explained: “Seasoned installers walking into a distributor warehouse or showroom typically know what they are going to purchase for their job before they even walk in. However, this still provides an opportunity to better inform installers and perhaps introduce them to something they didn’t think they needed.”

Vozza believes distributors can become more profitable selling underlayment if they employ strategic placement of the product alongside related items such as tile, mortars, grout, tools, etc. Furthermore, if the distributor sells more than one type of underlayment with different features at various price points, she added, then they must have the knowledge and necessary marketing tools to communicate the distinction between the offerings. This goes a long way in simplifying the decision-making process.

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 10.37.52 AMIt’s a strategy already employed by many successful Loxcreen distributors, including Durox Flooring Accessories, part of the Prosol Group. Michael VanVugt, Ontario sales manager, believes the approach works particularly well at the retailer level, especially when a manufacturer program is supported by what he calls “push-through” marketing. Another plus: Step-up underlayment products go hand-in-hand with the advanced products hitting the market today, making upgrades an easy sell. “With tile in particular, as the formats get larger you can’t lay [the flooring] using the traditional methods,” VanVugt stated. “So a better underlayment product actually becomes a necessity when you’re working with these larger tiles.”

Some industry figures believe the retailer should consider underlayment an essential component of the installation and not simply an add-on. “Unless the floating laminate or engineered wood flooring that the consumer is purchasing has a pre-attached pad, underlayment is pretty much mandatory,” said Jack Boesch, president of MP Global Products, citing recommendations outlined by flooring manufacturers as well as industry organizations such as the North American Laminate Flooring Association and the National Wood Flooring Association. “What this means is selling an underlayment with certain floors should be automatic.”

That’s not to say an opportunity to upgrade should be overlooked. “It’s up to the retail salesperson to upsell the customer from a basic foam to an underlayment that will truly enhance the performance of the floor vs. something that just covers the basic requirements,” Boesch added. “It’s the same fast-food mentality of asking, ‘Would you like to supersize your meal?’ It never hurts to ask. In many cases, the margins are better in the step-up underlayment than they are in flooring, and a hungry commissioned salesperson benefits with a bigger paycheck.”

Asking additional questions as it turns out benefits both the consumer and the retailer. It’s an effective approach embraced by Sound Seal, maker of acoustic control underlayment for tile, vinyl and other hard surface products. “We advise retailers to find out from the consumer how she plans on using the property in which the flooring is going to be installed,” said Dale Asp, national business development manager for Sound Seal’s Impacta line of underlayment. “Is this the customer’s primary residence or a rental property? Once you have that information, you can either offer a base-grade underlayment—which is probably adequate for the job—or you can enhance the sound, feel and overall performance of the floor by upgrading to an underlayment that can give her more stability underneath the surface.”

When it comes to maximizing upgrade opportunities with underlayment, some observers strongly suggest taking a holistic approach. “I would recommend that retail sales associates approach every flooring project as a system, not just a floor covering with accessories,” explained Andy Stafford, marketing and technical manager for Healthier Choice. To illustrate his point, he equates the relationship between floor covering and underlayment to a car and its suspension system. “While I guess one could drive a car without shocks, you would quickly realize why someone would want to pay for the added comfort. Even though the benefits that an underlayment adds to the floor are much more subtle and nuanced than a car’s suspension system, they are still just as important for the system’s overall performance.”

At the end of the day, experts say sundry items such as underlayment represent a natural (and sometimes substantial) opportunity to generate profitable revenue for flooring retailers. “As the market for floor coverings has become increasingly more competitive, retailers are looking for new ways to increase their gross profits,” said Adam Zwickler, regional sales manager for Diversified Industries. “The sundry market represents the solution.”

The good/better/best debate

For many retailers selling underlayment, the multi-tiered strategy is the road often taken. But is it the optimal approach? Manufacturers remain split on the issue.

“I don’t think complicating the matter with too many choices is necessary for a product like laminate,” Starline’s Rodriguez said. “I prefer a simple showing of the base-grade product and only one strongly recommended alternative that can greatly reduce noise, moisture and adds to the enjoyment of the finished floor.”

For Loxcreen’s Vozza, using a tiered strategy often works as long as the end user understands the benefits, features and limitations that each product offers. At the same time, she doesn’t recommend offering a tiered structure that is solely based on price—if that were the case, installers and consumers would have the wrong perception on what they were buying and many would be missing out on the most up-to-date technology for flooring installations.

The key for Diversified Industries, whose FloorMuffler brand is available at outlets ranging from Floor & Décor to Abbey Carpet & Floor dealers and CCA Global members, is twofold, according to Zwickler. “Provide consumers options in terms of price points and performance,” he said. “Secondly, provide consumers with technical information so that they can make informed decisions. “

Ultimately, some experts say, offering a tiered-level program often funnels product sales to the middle because it makes price the deciding factor. According to Healthier Choice’s Stafford, the big box stores have employed this approach for years, leaving the customer to decide which product is right for her without the direction of a knowledgeable salesperson. His advice for specialty retailers? “Position the underlayment as a critical part of the overall system with an emphasis on benefits. I struggle to understand why any dealer would offer an inferior underlayment product to a customer knowing that he could simply upsell her to a great-performing product for pennies on the dollar. This approach does not help the customer and leaves money on the table for the dealer.”

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Underlayment: Options for keeping it quiet

December 21/28; Volume 30/Number 13

By Nadia Ramlakhan

Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 7.06.26 PMOne of the main reasons to consider using underlayment is the sound-deadening qualities it provides. Depending on the type of floor, underlayment is an essential part of sound abatement in both residential and commercial settings. This is especially true when it comes to laminate floors, which often sound hollow underfoot.

“Excessive noise is an irritating pollutant, and people prefer floors that do not produce sharp or harsh noises,” explained Duonne Erasmus, managing director, InstaFloor. “In commercial environments, a noise-generating floor is often perceived as cheap, while a solid, less noisy floor is perceived as more expensive.”

While quieter floors are more desirable, acoustic underlayments are often specified by architects because of local legislation. “The reason most consumers and retailers are looking for underlayments with sound-deadening qualities is to meet the criteria set forth by the International Building Code (IBC), which requires a minimum IIC and STC rating of 50 for multi-family buildings,” said Andy Stafford, marketing manager for Healthier Choice. “Underlayments allow for installation of a variety of floors throughout the building while still meeting code.”

Oftentimes, building owners will elevate the criteria to ensure a higher level of noise reduction for the comfort of their tenants. IIC represents impact noise, which is generated by anything that comes into contact with the floor such as footsteps or furniture, while STC pertains to airborne noise, which includes sound generated by voices, music or television. “These are necessary to ensure both the unit above as well as below are able to maintain a certain degree of quiet and privacy,” said Jeffrey Castor, national sales manager, North America, Diversified Industries.

Ray Rodriguez, president and CEO of Starline Associates, added, “Sound abatement or reduction is equally important for the room where the noise can be created and any rooms that are near or underneath to keep things more comfortable for anyone in the affected areas.”

Form and function

All flooring products provide some level of sound attenuation, however, certain products are specially engineered to reduce noise. Healthier Choice manufactures two lines of underlayment: Sound Solution and OmniChoice. Both have proven acoustical properties and are available with or without an attached vapor barrier. Sound Solution is designed primarily for laminate and hardwood floors, while OmniChoice is used with LVT, LVP, ceramic tile, porcelain tile and stone in addition to laminate and hardwood.

Starline Associates’ acoustic underlayment offering, Silent Blue, is made for nail-down and floating wood floors as well as laminate flooring. A firmer and thinner version is available for use under vinyl floating floors, which typically do not produce the loud noise associated with other floating floors.

InstaFloor’s InstaLay offers at least one product that is compatible with each specific type of flooring, including carpet, carpet tile, wood, laminate, LVT and ceramic, porcelain and natural stone tiles. These products have been specifically developed with a patent-pending self-adhesive membrane to create a flooring installation system that provides the reduction of impact noise. Other benefits include durability, comfort, speed of installation, reduced subfloor preparation and environmental friendliness.

FloorMuffler by Diversified Industries is a patented, premium-grade polypropylene foam. It can be used for floating and double glue-down installations for most laminate and engineered and solid hardwood applications in both residential and commercial settings. It is tested in an independent laboratory with an IIC rating of 74 and an STC rating of 73. In addition, it is lightweight, allowing for a quick and easy installation for both professionals and DIYers, according to Diversified Industries.

QuietWalk, MP Global’s underlayment offering for floating wood and laminate floors, is designed to smooth out subfloor imperfections while quieting impact sound and floor-to-ceiling noise. Its filaments are randomly air laid, creating a capillary effect to cushion the floor and absorb sound simultaneously.

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Underlayment: LVT requires unique product

September 14/21; Volume 30/Number 7

By Nadia Ramlakhan

Screen Shot 2015-09-21 at 1.56.02 PMUnderlayment is an integral part of the floor covering installation process; without it a floor may reveal a “clacking” sound when walked on, feel cold and harsh underfoot or allow noise to travel from room to room. Although often taken into consideration at the last minute, choosing the right underlayment for a particular application is vital in order to achieve optimal results. “Density, stability, durability and acoustic performance all play a part in selecting the correct underlayment,” said Bas Vangenderen, managing director for InstaFloor.

Generally, end users look for a few things in an underlayment, including sound reduction, leveling of subfloor imperfections and comfort underfoot. Regarding luxury vinyl tile, some qualities are more important than others. “All underlayments are designed to meet specific needs,” said Bob Cummings, sales and marketing, hard surface, resilient and carpet tile, Pak-Lite. “Vinyl flooring underlayments are specifically designed for vinyl flooring. They need to have very high compression-set and compression-strength attributes to support the flooring joints, while also providing enhanced sound transmission attenuation.”

Because LVT is known for being a softer and more flexible product, its compatible underlayments come with different requirements than other hard surface products. “The laminate industry as represented by manufacturer members of NALFA [North American Laminate Flooring Association] helped determine standards for underlayment beneath their floors,” said Jack Boesch, director of marketing at MP Global Products, who explained that no such regulations exist for LVT underlayments.

“What might work well for one type of flooring may not work well for another,” said Duane Reimer, technical director at MP Global Products, noting that LVT underlayment can be installed under other hard surface flooring but not the other way around. Some manufacturers have addressed this by creating a product that adheres to the requirements of multiple hard surface products. For example, InstaFloor’s InstaLay 25hg is suitable for LVT and can also be used for engineered and solid hardwood as well as ceramic and porcelain tiles.

“There are no industry standards for LVT underlayment, so the characteristics that an installation requires may vary from job to job,” Reimer continued. Despite the lack of these standards, manufacturers agree the product’s most important attribute to note is its density.Screen Shot 2015-09-21 at 1.56.08 PM

“LVT is a softer product than laminate, so the underlayment has to have a great deal of resilience and density vs. what may be used under a laminate floor,” said Andy Stafford, marketing manager for Healthier Choice. “[Other hard surfaces] can use foam that is soft and easy to crush. Because the potential of denting is commonplace with vinyl flooring, you need a high-density, heavy-duty material under it.” In other words, underlayment that is compatible with LVT cannot be too soft otherwise denting can occur and interlocking floating LVT tiles can uncouple.

OmniChoice by Healthier Choice is one example of a high-density acoustic underlayment with a heavy weight construction that ensures it will remain resilient and functional as an acoustic membrane, outperforming other lightweight acoustic underlayment that can crush and fail from the weight of heavy foot traffic.

Another rule of thumb to remember is underlayment for LVT must be thin. “What we’ve found in all of our testing is any underlayment thicker than 1mm tends to fail over time due to the compression characteristics necessary,” said Jeffrey Castor, national sales manager, North America, Diversified Industries. “Compared to laminate, we had to make our product half the thickness and more than twice the density in order to withstand typical LVT activity over time. Anything thicker than 1mm provides too much cushion and cannot handle the wear and tear.”

LVT is also known for its moisture resistance, a quality that makes it attractive to consumers for various spaces in a home; underlayment manufacturers have created products that don’t compromise LVT’s moisture-resistant capabilities. In fact, due to its composition, FloorMuffler LVT by Diversified Industries works as a moisture barrier without an additional film, complementing the similar attributes of LVT. It can be installed with both floating and glue-down floors and its lip-and-tape system offers a complete seal against moisture as opposed to roll-out formats that leave room for seams and tapes that aren’t moisture resistant.

Although some manufacturers recommend installing underlayment in all applications above ground level, it is not typically required under LVT unless there are sound requirements or building codes to be met. “Single-family homes normally do not have any acoustic requirements to meet,” Boesch said, “however multi-family housing such as condominiums and apartment buildings often require specific IIC or STC test scores to deaden sound between floors.”

OmniChoice Universal by Healthier Choice is specially designed to abate airborne and impact noise associated with hard surface floors. It also works to reduce noise levels as well as floor-to-ceiling sound transmission in multi-family homes.

“When it comes to underlayment for vinyl flooring, it is all about room-to-room transmission sound control,” Cummings said. “Vinyl flooring works well to dampen in-room sound, however it is poor at controlling sound transmission to the rooms below.”

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Underlayment: Sustainable solutions come in various forms

May 25/June 1, 2015; Volume 29/Number 4

By Nadia Ramlakhan

Making sure the environment stays clean and safe remains a priority for underlayment manufacturers today, and is evident through the numerous sustainable products available in the marketplace. What most people tend to forget, however, is that creating environmentally friendly products isn’t the only way to go green; companies have taken additional steps to reduce their environmental footprints through innovative manufacturing technologies and protocol in warehouses and factories.

“Sustainability is important because the choices and actions we make today will affect the future,” said Ray Screen Shot 2015-05-29 at 3.53.22 PMRodriguez, president and CEO of Starline Associates, whose Silent Blue product has been made from 100% biodegradable pads with an easy to remove recyclable film since its inception. “We should make decisions now that will not limit the choices of future generations.”

Manufacturers agree that the move toward sustainability saw significant growth in the recent past but has dwindled due to a new standard. “When I grew up we never worried about lead-based paint because that was what everyone used,” said Jack Boesch, director of marketing at MP Global Products. “As generations go by, more is learned about what is harmful. Years ago there wasn’t a concern for running out of space in landfills and people didn’t care what went into them. Then we found out underwater streams were being contaminated; with so many health problems out there you want to make sure you’re not contributing to it.”

Since then most manufacturers and retailers have created “green stories;” some of today’s consumers, especially millennials, have come to expect them. “I don’t believe the focus is as strong as it was two or three years ago,” said Andy Stafford, marketing manager for Healthier Choice. “A standard has been set. It’s still very important to consumers—you just don’t hear a big buzz because most manufacturers moved to meet their demand.” Healthier Choice emphasizes health and safety, along with sustainability, within the home and makes use of a renewable resource in its underlayments. By replacing a percentage of its petroleum-based polyall with a polyall made from soybeans, Healthier Choice provides sustainable, safe and healthy options for the home.

In addition to consumers, architects and designers have also come to expect green solutions from manufacturers, especially in California where requirements and standards are the strictest in the country. Most companies aim to comply with California standards so they carry throughout the rest of the states.

“The A&D community is searching more and more for green products,” Boesch said. “We found out early on that our products need to meet certain requirements to be used in multi-family projects in California. Anybody doing business there needs to be cognizant of the environmentally friendly manufacture of products and services because California leads the nation. They set the bar for sustainability, clean air, etc.”

MP Global has installed slicing and opening equipment to harvest fibers from recycled carpet that would have otherwise ended up in landfills. Waste fibers from textile manufacturers are brought in truckloads at a time to be used as raw material. The company has also pioneered a process that regrinds underlayment to reuse post-consumer fibers.

According to Stafford, the recent “60 Minutes” exposé had an affect on the underlayment segment as well as the various floor covering categories, and brought the issue of sustainability back to top-of-mind for consumers. “All of a sudden, how healthy or how safe their flooring products were became a priority for consumers. It was an eye-opener—to what is in the home, what is safe and what is not.”

Although many shoppers in general seek sustainable alternatives, performance is still the main factor in a consumer’s decision to purchase, while a higher price continues to drive some away from green options. “People care about the environment,” said Jeffrey Castor, national sales manager, North America, Diversified Industries, “but performance is still the No. 1 characteristic in terms of buying patterns.” The company’s EcoStep Ultimate contains 98% recycled content, is made in the U.S., and is offered at a price comparablScreen Shot 2015-05-29 at 3.53.31 PMe to many non-green products without jeopardizing its performance benefits. “A lot of the green products on the market don’t offer the same performance values. This gives you equal performance qualities as well as the ability to use recycled content.”

Manufacturers can take simple steps to ensure their products are sustainable such as attaining third-party testing and specific certifications, information that retailers in turn must relay to the consumer. But sustainability is more than just recycled or recyclable products; for Bas Vangenderen, managing director for InstaFloor, it’s about using fewer materials and generating less waste. “Our underlayment has an adhesive layer attached. Having just one material is much better for the environment.” The company’s InstaLay is also Cradle to Cradle certified; the product is made by bonding together ground car tires found in landfills that can be recycled after use.

At Diversified Industries, employees are continually challenged to come up with ways the company can reduce its carbon footprint. In addition to offering EcoStep Ultimate, Diversified changed all of its light bulbs (throughout its offices and entire plant) to LED lighting, installed a new roof that will naturally keep the site cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter, and is currently working on a $500,000 investment that will include installing magnifying skylights to make use of natural light and conserve energy.

“Artificial lighting is one of the largest sources of energy consumption in a manufacturing plant,” Castor said. “Our skylights will allow our lights to be turned off approximately 70% of the working day. This kind of investment, although costly on the front end, will not only save money in the long run but will help to save our planet for future generations.”

As far as marketing a manufacturer’s sustainability initiatives to consumers, Boesch recommends showing potential customers a product’s seals and certifications as well as educating them on what they mean (MP Global’s products contain certification seals on packaging and marketing materials). At Healthier Choice, a sample bag is used as the main marketing tool in a retailer’s showroom. The product’s features and benefits are prominently stated on the bag and more information can be found inside.