Does Waterproof Vinyl Flooring Need Underlayment?

There’s little more satisfying than installing new flooring in your home. Objectively, it’s not a particularly massive change – nothing nearly as extensive as removing walls or adding new rooms – but it’s an alteration that can alter the feel of your whole house. And when our homes feel good, we feel good! 

Although, actually setting out to make this change isn’t as simple as you might think. Before you ever make any purchases or start peeling up that surface beneath your feet, there are definite considerations to consider before making any purchases. Deciding whether to install underlayment is one of the primary things you need to decide on. The general consensus is to install it should you have the means, but what if you’re laying down waterproof vinyl? Do you still need it, or can you skip it entirely? 

The Basics of Waterproof Vinyl

To answer the necessity of underlayment, we need to review a few things – the first being what waterproof vinyl is. Waterproof vinyl is a flooring option that uses specialized types of materials for its core to stand up to topical moisture that would otherwise force plank swelling, damage your floor, and force it up long before its lifespan would naturally allow, ruining all that hard work you put in for installation. 

The actual core composition varies from vinyl to vinyl as there are a few waterproof rated options on the market today. However, three of the most used include:

  • WPC – WPC is a core made from the durable and effective combo of pulp and plasticizers. The fusion of these two leaves vinyl entirely waterproof while resisting swelling, even when moisture puddles on the flooring for long periods of time. 
  • Rigid Core/SPC – SPC, short for stone plastic composite, and rigid core options are among the best of the best if you’re looking for flooring material choices that can stand up to moisture or humidity. Because of how these vinyl plank cores are created and what they’re created from, topical water cannot penetrate them. This means any swelling or general damage that would result from spills or high humid conditions can be avoided from the get-go, protecting both your planks and your pocketbook.
  • Hybrid – A hybrid floor is precisely what you’d expect – a mixture that merges traditional vinyl with something else, hoping to reap the benefits of each aspect from the composite. Real wood with a rigid core is a fan favorite hybrid, giving people the feel and look of regular hardwood with the performance of luxury vinyl. Laminate vinyl hybrids are also quite common, offering a hard-wearing floor safe from water, swelling, buckling, and more. 

As to be expected, all of these specific compositions also bring particular benefits. Lifespan, precise durability, texture, and price all vary depending on what you choose. But regardless of your ultimate decision, every vinyl/core type does share something in common: they’re each only rated for topical moisture. Moisture can still possibly work itself around the floor’s perimeter or migrate from under the planks, potentially ruining the more sensitive subfloors underneath.

In other words, your vinyl flooring may be waterproof, but that doesn’t mean it is entirely resistant to water. Even with the best material choice possible, you can’t completely rule out that pooling water and humidity won’t cause problems for you down the line. Damage can still happen, no matter the rating of the vinyl you’ve chosen.

Why to Still Use Underlayment

Now that we’ve established what waterproof vinyl means on a more practical, real-world level, it’s essential to quickly go over the very purpose of underlayment. After all, it seems to be something many people aren’t clear about. To clarify, underlayment is meant for more than humidity or protection from spills, although that is an essential benefit for many consumers. 

Instead, the purpose of this felt, foam, rubber, or similarly comprised padding ranges everywhere from making floors feel better to help them last longer. The extra layer of material seems like it wouldn’t do much, but it truly makes the difference when it comes to comfort, absorbing some of the impacts from each footstep and ensuring your feet have a little bit of very welcomed cushioning. Walking sounds are dulled, too, because of this padding, perfect for those who hate the loud “thumpy” sounds typically associated with waterproof vinyl planks.

For some, these reasons are enough to opt for underlayment, even if your floor’s waterproof. But others might take a little bit more convincing still. Find yourself part of this camp? You might change your mind when looking at floor longevity because underlayment can dramatically increase the years you get to spend with your beautiful new surfaces. 

This is due to two factors: padding fixes the previously mentioned problem and smooths over subfloor imperfections. Since underlayment helps level the subfloor, the planks will lay together evenly, making it nearly impossible for moisture to seep through where the planks come together. The even surface for your floors to lay on will also prevent unfortunate plank shifting, cracking, or buckling. Both of those are impressive feats anyone should appreciate. 

What remains to be seen, though, is if this translates to underlayment becoming a necessity. Objectively, the answer’s “no.” You can have waterproof vinyl without underlayment. But our two cents is to get it anyways. It may be a higher cost, but the benefits of extra moisture protection, sound dampening, and increased flooring longevity will certainly outweigh the cons in the long term.

We have created an underlayment designed for the benefits mentioned above. QuietWalk Luxury Vinyl enhances all types of luxury vinyl flooring!

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