Laminate flooring can hold up to general wear and tear as long as you take proper precautions. Tightly seaming the boards to protect them from moisture is one such precaution. Installing padding is also necessary for laminate flooring in most cases. You have two choices: purchasing laminate flooring with attached padding or purchasing unattached underlayment padding. Here's what you need to know about laminate flooring with a pad vs. without.
Pre-Attached vs. Separate Underlayment
More efficient installation process
Floors usually thinner than when using separate products
Gaps in padding
Have to lay the padding and then the flooring
Offers more control over products and price
Provides one solid padding surface with taping
Laminate flooring manufacturers typically recommend an underlayment. What happens if you don't put padding under laminate flooring is moisture coming through the subfloor can cause it to warp and mildew. And footsteps on the floor will be louder.
Underlayment is found in two forms:
- Separate: Unattached laminate padding comes in rolls of 3 mm polyethylene foam or felt that's laid on the subfloor and taped side to side prior to laminate installation.
- Attached: Many manufacturers offer laminate flooring with attached padding on the bottom of the laminate planks. This eliminates the preliminary step of rolling out separate underlayment.
Should You Buy Unattached Laminate Padding?
Many laminate manufacturers are going the way of producing planks with pre-attached underlayment, rather than planks that require separate underlayment. Even so, buying laminate flooring with separate underlayment is something to consider because it gives you more control over the installation and widens your choices.
For example, you might be looking to soundproof your space. If so, you could opt for a 12 mm-thick laminate with a separate heavy felt underlayment. Or if smoothing out the subfloor is your only aim, you could purchase a closed-cell polyethylene underlayment. You might not always find your preferred underlayment pre-attached to boards, so that's when it's time to look at your separate options to get the exact floor you want.
Separate Underlayment Features
Here are some factors to consider about installing laminate flooring with separate padding:
- It's inexpensive: It is usually cheaper to buy laminate flooring without attached underlayment because you have the ability to price out all your separate options. For example, polyethylene foam underlayment—the cheapest you can purchase—costs as little as 15 cents per square foot.
- It offers more control: You don't have to settle for whichever underlayment type is pre-attached to the boards, which helps to control the quality of the floor installation.
- It can improve thin laminate: If you're doing a flooring project on a budget, you might opt for thin laminate. (Boards under 8 mm generally qualify as thin.) But you can improve upon thin floor boards—adding cushion, protection, and sound absorption—by using a thicker, higher quality underlayment. And this can still end up at a reasonable price.
Brands With Unattached Padding
At one time, nearly all laminate required separate underlayment. These are now becoming more difficult to find. A few brands and lines that do not have attached underlayment are:
- Pergo Portfolio
- Shaw laminates without the suffix "Plus"
- Many Lumber Liquidators Dream Home laminates
- Lowe's Style Selections brand
- Home Depot's Trafficmaster brand
- Most laminates under 10 mm thick
Types of Laminate Flooring Underlayment
Foam underlayment is the most popular type of laminate floor padding, mainly because it is economical and easy to work with. It also is a waterproof laminate flooring pad. Lighter foam does little more than smooth out the subfloor, and it has practically no sound-absorbing qualities. Heavier, denser foam is better at limiting the transmission of sound.
Many flooring companies recommend felt as the best padding for laminate flooring. Felt underlayment tends to be over four times heavier than foam and at least twice as expensive. However, this recycled product carries higher sound absorption ratings than foam.
Pre-Attached Underlayment Features
If you're debating laminate flooring with a pad vs. without, here are some laminate flooring with attached underlayment pros and cons:
- Installation time is slightly reduced: With the pad and floor boards combined, you can skip the installation step of rolling out separate underlayment. However, note that it usually takes little time to lay and tape underlayment, so this shouldn't be a huge factor in your product decision-making process. Installing underlayment in a 400-square-foot room should take roughly 30 minutes.
- The flooring is usually thinner: Laminate flooring with pre-attached padding tends to be thinner than laminate flooring that gets combined with a separate underlayment. This can make it less resilient and sound-proof.
- There are padding gaps: Every board has its own underlayment, which means there is no continuous underlayment running across the entire area of the room. That leaves a higher chance of moisture seeping up through the padding.
Brands With Attached Padding
It's fairly easy to find good laminate with built-in underlay if that's the route you choose, as companies are filling their catalogs with more and more options. For example, laminate floor originator and leader Pergo now has a catalog with pre-attached underlayment on the majority of its products. Here are some brands to consider:
- Lumber Liquidators Dream Home and Dream Home XD, mostly confined to the 10 mm and 12 mm thicknesses
- Pergo XP, Pergo Max, Pergo Outlast+
- Lowe's Allen + Roth
- Shaw laminates with the suffix "Plus" typically have attached padding (for example, Shaw Biltmore Plus)