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.
In 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.
Another 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.”