Carpet Underlay Made Simple
If you are looking for long-lasting results, choose the right type of underlay. Underlay is the unsung hero of flooring; selecting the wrong type means you'll be stuck with a poor-performing floor, an unhappy client and extra costs.
It's so important to use the right kind of underlay, but often with so much choice on the market, it can be confusing. To help you decide, we've put together some simple guidelines to point you in the right direction.
WHAT'S THE POINT OF UNDERLAY?
You'll never see the underlay, so it's easy to overlook the importance of it. Apart from acting as a cushion between the exterior floor and carpet, it increases underfoot comfort greatly. Underlay works as a shock absorber, and has environmental and cost-cutting benefits such as increasing insulation, reducing noise and making the carpet last much longer.
It should be a vital part of the flooring decision you make, as it will also improve the look of the carpet, as it will support the pile and prevent it from flattening. A good underlay also improves hygiene, as it acts as a barrier between the carpet and general grime or dust on the floor.
WHAT'S UNDERLAY MADE FROM?
Traditionally, underlay is made from rubber, felted wool or polyurethane foam. Modern underlay is manufactured from recycled post-industrial materials, which improves sustainability and is especially good where clients have environmental concerns or targets. Wool is particularly good for insulation, as the thicker the underlay, the more comfortable it will be underfoot. When using rubber underlay, which often holds pockets of air, it's really important to choose one of a high calibre. The denser the underlay, the better the carpet will perform over time.
SO, WHICH SHOULD I CHOOSE?
The right type of underlay for your project will vary, depending on what's underneath it, what's on top of it, and the purpose and position of the space.
Sub-floor is usually of two types: concrete or wood. Underlay for concrete may need a damp-resistant coating, an inbuilt vapour barrier, or damp-proof membrane that'll prevent moisture rising to the flooring above.
NO UNDERFLOOR HEATING
You'll have more choice of underlay as there'll be no tog issues to contend with, meaning you could go for a thicker underlay for greater comfort underfoot. Conventional in-room heating benefits from a higher tog rating too, so less heat is lost through the floor.
WHAT'S ON TOP?
Engineered wood and laminate flooring can be laid as 'floating floors', called that because they're not permanently fixed to what's underneath. For wooden floors, a compression-resistant underlay keeps the joints strong and secure. You'll find plenty of noise-reducing underlays on the market, and some that double as thermal insulation too.
Good underlay will also prevent rucking, and will hold the carpet in place firmly. In addition, underlay minimises indentations from furniture, which is cosmetically useful in an office or hotel environment.
PURPOSE AND SPACE
Underlay for carpet in high-traffic commercial areas usually has a higher level of requirement than for the domestic market. Yes, underlay for both needs to be high-comfort underfoot, but for commercial or contract carpets, there might be more considerations to need to be taken into account.
For commercial areas with heavy footfall, carpeting must be practical and hard-wearing, which means the underlay should be of high durability, as well as noise-absorbent.
There will be high-traffic areas in domestic environments, such as stairs and hallways, but these won't have the footfall of a commercial environment so you could opt for comfort rather than resilience.
QUALITY & COST
When you've chosen an underlay that suits your subfloor, flooring, heating requirements and space, the issue is then one of quality.
Choose the highest quality underlay you can afford. As we've discussed, so much depends on a quality underlay: comfort, hygiene, warmth, sound reduction, as well as the lifespan of the flooring itself.