Do I Need Underlayment for Vinyl Flooring on Concrete?

Image of a man laying vinyl tile flooringVinyl floors are a popular preference among builders today. This comes as no surprise as the floors exhibit exemplary qualities that perfectly suit modern households. If you have kids and pets within your homestead, vinyl floors are an ideal go-to, owing to their stain-resistant nature. The floors also exhibit a non-slip design to top it off, making them suitable for use in your bathrooms and laundry rooms.

Vinyl floors today offer a myriad of designs you can choose from, with affordability into the bargain. However, without proper installation, you may end up missing out on all these qualities. Installing underlayment is usually a critical step that precedes introducing your finished floor. Although underlayment comes with its benefits, it tends to create an additional cost, which could be a deal-breaker, especially if you’re on a tight budget.

In such cases, you might find yourself asking the question: Do I need underlayment for vinyl flooring on concrete?

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How Do You Prepare a Concrete Floor for Vinyl Flooring

Adequately prepping your concrete subfloor for vinyl flooring plays a major role in determining the durability of the finished floor. Fortunately, prepping a concrete subfloor is a fairly simple task that entails the following steps:

Clean the subfloor

Accumulated dust and debris can greatly compromise the adherence of your vinyl flooring to the subfloor. Consider sweeping the floor and following up with soap and water for best results. You may also use a degreaser to eliminate tough debris.  Alternatively, vacuum the floor to eliminate the stubborn particles. Cleaning also goes a long way in enabling you to inspect the floor easily.

Identify cracks and holes

Once the floor dries up, check for any high or low spots, such as cracks and holes that can potentially compromise the longevity of your vinyl flooring following installation. For this step, you can slide a four to six-foot beam level over the floor for accurate results. 

Level the floor

This entails filling up any cracks or holes and reducing the high spots on the floor. Use a patching compound or concrete filler to fill up the low spots. For large cracks, consider removing them completely and replacing the entire concrete slab. Follow up by smoothing the area using sandpaper.

High spots, on the other hand, require sanding, preferably using 40 or 60-grit sandpaper. Once you sand them down, be sure to clean or wipe away the remnant particles with a wet piece of cloth.

Check the subfloor’s moisture content

This is a crucial step when dealing with concrete floors owing to their porous characteristic. A simple way to do so is to use a reference scale moisture meter. Use the moisture meter to test dry concrete and note its reading. Subsequently, use it to test your concrete subfloor and check whether the reading corresponds or is almost similar to that of the dry concrete.

If there’s a significant difference between the two readings, with your subfloor’s reading being higher, it means its moisture content is wanting, and it’s advisable to seek a professional’s attention. If the reading barely differs from the dry concrete, consider dehumidifying the room to regulate the subfloor’s moisture content. Otherwise, if the reading barely exceeds three pounds for every 1000 square feet, you’re good to go.

More importantly, note that for previously installed concrete subfloors, you have to wait for at least two months for the subfloor to set in before introducing your vinyl flooring.

Types of Subfloors You Can Use Underlayment On

Consider the subfloor as the foundation of the entire flooring system because it lies underneath the underlayment, bearing all the weight. Therefore, the type of subfloor in question is a significant determinant of whether or not you need underlayment. Some of the most common types of subfloors you can use underlayment on include:

Plywood

We can attribute plywood’s popularity to its affordability and ease of installation. Modern plywood subflooring feature edges with a tongue-and-groove design that interlocks during installation.

Despite being a popular preference among builders, its design also has its downsides. While the tongue-and-groove interlocking system aims to create a firmness, the floor tends to become hard and therefore uncomfortable underfoot.

In this case, underlayment provides extra cushioning over the subfloor to enhance comfort underfoot. Additionally, suppose you have a story building, in which case, plywood subfloors may be noisy, causing discomfort in the rooms underneath. This is where underlayment comes into play by absorbing the unwanted sound.

Concrete

A concrete subfloor exhibits outstanding durability and fosters a smooth finish. However, being a porous material, concrete is more likely to retain moisture than any other subfloor, hence the need for underlayment. Moisture can be a great deal breaker as it weakens the adhesives of the finished floor, limiting their longevity. In addition, the accumulation of moisture can also lead to the growth of mold, which in turn stains the floor.

In the case of concrete, consider installing underlayment that acts as a moisture barrier, especially if you reside in an area that exhibits cold temperatures. Concrete subfloors are hard, and underlayment fosters comfort by providing extra cushioning. Underlayment also provides warmth to counter the cold aspect of concrete.

An Existing Floor

Underlayment also comes in handy when you want to install a finished floor over an existing floor, such as tile or hardwood.  These could feel hard underfoot, and installing underlayment could go a long way in countering this drawback as it serves as an extra cushion.

Do I Need Underlayment for Vinyl Flooring on Concrete?

Fortunately, underlayment isn’t a requisite for vinyl flooring, as the floors come with an attached pad. Vinyl floors have evolved over time and currently feature more superior qualities that reinforce their convenience. The attached pad, for instance, serves a similar purpose to that of an underlayment, thus eliminating the need for the latter and, in turn, saving you money.

The pad acts as a moisture barrier, absorbs sound, and reinforces the floor’s stability by withstanding high traffic. However, note that different types of vinyl floors have different underlayment needs, depending on the type of subfloor in question.

Successful vinyl flooring installation is guaranteed if you adequately prep your concrete subfloor and ensure it’s devoid of moisture. Modern-day vinyl floors come with an attached underlayment, eliminating the need for an additional one.

However, whether or not you need underlayment depends on various factors. For instance, not all vinyl floor designs feature the attached underlayment. If you’re using floating vinyl plank flooring, installing underlayment is advisable to act as a moisture barrier. For glue-down vinyl plank flooring that comes with an attached pad, installing underlayment tends to compromise the adherence of the planks.

In essence, if your specific vinyl flooring design is devoid of an attached underlayment, it is advisable to install one to precede the finished floor. Although it isn’t a necessity, underlayment plays a major role in extending the longevity of the flooring system as it comes with a myriad of advantages, including:

  • Countering the cold aspect of concrete by providing warmth
  • Enhancing comfort underfoot by acting as an extra cushion on the hard concrete
  • Absorbing nuisance sounds originating from high traffic
  • Acting as a vapor barrier
  • Offering compression resistance.

Vinyl flooring designs vary, and it is good practice to consult the manufacturer before installing underlayment for preciseness.

How Do You Install Vinyl Flooring on Concrete?

Vinyl flooring installation comes after adequately prepping your concrete floor and allowing it to dry completely following cleanup. It is also advisable to store the flooring material amidst the prepping process to adjust to room temperature to ease the installation. Otherwise, the installation is mainly a DIY process provided you have the following equipment in place, alongside the flooring material:

  • A tape measure
  • Markers
  • Spacers
  • Rubber-made mallet
  • Tapping block
  • Chalk
  • Putty knife

Once these are in place, get the ball rolling by following the steps below:

Plan the floor

Planning the floor entails identifying the center of the room. You can do so by identifying the center of each wall, then marking using chalk lines across the floor for accuracy. Once you locate the center, use a tape measure to determine the dimensions from that point to the starting wall, minus a 5/16-inch expansion gap. Subsequently, mark the distance and finish off by drawing chalk lines perpendicular to the walls.

Lay the first row

For this step, ensure you leave room between the wall and the initial plank row using a spacer. The tongue-and-groove aspect of vinyl plank floors then comes into play. Install the first row by ensuring the groove of one plank clicks into the tongue of the adjacent one.

Ensure each plank fits properly

Here, the goal is to ensure the planks settle in perfectly while laying the subsequent rows.  You can do so with the rubber mallet while protecting the planks using a tapping block. Follow up by cutting the excess length of the planks and using the cutout to start f

up the adjacent row for uniformity.

Interlock the planks

This involves interlocking the plank rows while ensuring the seams fit perfectly. Consider fitting the plank rows together at an angle to ease the process.

Re-install the baseboards

Once the flooring is intact, reinstate the baseboards and seal expansion gaps with finishing molds using a brad mailer.

Do Luxury Vinyl Planks Need Underlayment?

Quality luxury vinyl planks feature an attached underlay, eliminating the need for separate underlayment. Additionally, their design is a hundred percent waterproof, meaning you do not have to install an extra layer to act as a vapor barrier. 

Luxury vinyl planks even have an underlay that is specific to them. This underlay tends to be thinner and provides a soft and warm feeling underfoot. Underlayment comes with its benefits, including concealing any subfloor imperfections. 

Therefore, if your luxury vinyl flooring doesn’t feature an inbuilt underlay, it is advisable to use the LVT underlay rather than regular underlayment. Using regular underlay with vinyl flooring will most likely compromise the adherence of the planks to the subfloor.

Vinyl Flooring With Attached Underlayment Pros and Cons

Over time, the evolution of vinyl floors has made the flooring more convenient through various aspects, including the pre-attached underlay. However, like any other product, vinyl flooring with attached underlayment has its drawbacks. Here goes some of the pros and cons that accompany vinyl floors with attached underlay:

Pros

  • Cost-effectiveness: Flooring materials, including the floor itself, can be costly as they have to be of good quality. Vinyl flooring eliminates the extra cost you would otherwise incur while purchasing separate underlay by featuring inbuilt underlay.
  • Ease of installation: Typically, installing new flooring begins by prepping the subfloor, installing underlay then topping it off with the finished floor. In this case, you can install your finished floor as soon as the subfloor is ready. This eliminates the hassle of installing underlay separately, saving you time and effort.
  • Water resistance: Vinyl floors that feature an attached underlay are often of good quality and exhibit complete water resistance. The underlay also reinforces the floor’s water resistance, in turn enhancing its durability.

Cons

  • Less effective compared to regular underlay: The attached underlay tends to be thinner than regular underlay. Therefore, if you’re installing it over a concrete subfloor, for instance, it may fail to adequately cushion the feet from cold, especially if you reside in an area with cold temperatures. Also, the underlay might fail to adequately absorb sound, especially if installed over a plywood subfloor, unless you opt for vinyl flooring with thicker underlay.
  • Higher risk of moisture damage: In the case of vinyl plank flooring, each plank has a pre-attached underlay. This means that the underlayment isn’t continuous, and water can seep through the gaps between the plank rows.

Here is a video showing how to install vinyl flooring over concrete:

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQS)

Is luxury vinyl the right choice for you?

Opting for luxury vinyl for either commercial or residential use is a smart choice. It is among the most pocket-friendly flooring options today, with superior quality into the bargain. In addition to that;

  • It requires minimal cleaning and maintenance
  • Luxury vinyl is scratch and stain-resistant
  • It is relatively durable
  • It offers different designs, colors, and tones that mimic tile, wood, and stone.

Thanks to these and many more exemplary aspects, luxury vinyl perfectly satisfies the needs of any modern household.

Should you use a special underlayment for laying vinyl on concrete?

You can choose to refrain from installing underlayment, especially if your vinyl flooring features an inbuilt underlay. Otherwise, if you opt for underlay installation on a concrete subfloor, go for one that is more of a vapor barrier to counter the porous aspect of concrete. However, ensure you choose vinyl-specific underlay or, better still, consult the manufacture to avoid any mistakes.

How thick should underlayment be for vinyl flooring

Vinyl flooring underlayment often ranges between one to six millimeters in thickness. Your thickness of choice mainly depends on the type of subfloor and your floor’s needs. Generally, vinyl plank flooring performs better with thinner underlayment. However, for noise reduction, as in the case of plywood subfloors, consider opting for thicker underlay.

For concrete subfloors, moisture resistance rather than thickness is a prime factor to consider. Opting for a very thick underlay will prevent the planks from adhering properly and compromise their durability in the long run.

Conclusion

Installing vinyl floors is one of the best decisions any builder or household owner can make. Thanks to significant advances in the vinyl floor industry, the floors are suitable for use even in the kitchen, bathroom, and laundry room due to their complete water resistance. Their scratch and stain-resistant aspects guarantee durability even in households that include kids or pets.

However, without proper installation practices, all these qualities will go down the drain.

Do I need underlayment for vinyl flooring on concrete? Although underlayment isn’t a necessity during installation, the need for underlayment depends on your floor’s needs and the type of vinyl flooring in question. With knowledge of the aforementioned benefits and downsides of installing underlay, you can easily establish whether or not underlayment will come in handy in your case.

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