The Ultimate Underlayment Tile Guide For Successful Flooring

Stepping into the world of home renovation can be thrilling. Imagining your space transformed with a fresh, new tile floor that reflects your style is nothing short of exciting. But, like any good story, there’s more to it than meets the eye.

Beneath the beautiful surface of your floor lies the bedrock that plays a significant role in the success and longevity of your flooring project — the underlayment.

In this handy underlayment tile guide, we’ll cover the different types of underlayment, along with the selection and installation process, so you can bring your project to life.

Laying the groundwork: the role of underlayment

Before diving into the specifics, it’s crucial to appreciate the role of underlayment in the grand scheme of your flooring project. A high-quality underlayment serves as the backbone of your tile installation. This layer of material, positioned between the subfloor and the tile, fulfills several crucial roles that directly impact the durability and longevity of your flooring. It provides a smooth, stable surface for tile installation, ensuring your tiles remain level and well-aligned. It also enhances the comfort of your floor by providing a cushioning effect and sound insulation.

More importantly, underlayment plays a significant role in moisture management. In rooms prone to dampness, such as bathrooms and kitchens, the underlayment serves as a critical barrier that prevents moisture from reaching your tiles. Without proper underlayment, moisture can compromise the adhesion of your tiles, leading to loosening, cracking, and even fostering the growth of mold and mildew.

Aside from its protective role, underlayment also contributes to the aesthetic appeal of your flooring. It can improve the lay-flat characteristics of the tiles, leading to a cleaner, more professional-looking finish.

On top of all that, certain types of underlayment can even make your floor warmer underfoot, enhancing overall comfort.

Types of underlayment: finding the right fit

When it comes to choosing the right underlayment, understanding your options is essential. Here are some of the most common types used in tile installations:

  1. Cement backer board

Cement backer boards are rigid panels composed of cement and reinforcing fibers, offering excellent durability and resistance to moisture. They are ideal for bathroom and kitchen installations and are especially suited to underlay ceramic or porcelain tiles.

  1. Uncoupling membrane

Uncoupling membranes are plastic, grid-like underlayments that prevent cracks in the subfloor from transferring to the tile. This type of underlayment allows for independent movement between the tile layer and the subfloor, reducing the risk of tile cracking due to subfloor shifts.

  1. Plywood

Plywood is a cost-effective option suitable for dry areas or flooring requiring an additional subfloor layer before installing a secondary underlayment like a cement backer board or an uncoupling membrane.

Each type of underlayment has its specific advantages and applications, so consider factors like your subfloor condition, the type of tile you’re installing, and the moisture levels in the room before making a decision.

The step-by-step underlayment installation process

  1. Preparation

Before beginning the underlayment installation, ensure your subfloor is clean, dry, and level. This involves removing debris or existing adhesive residues that might interfere with the underlayment’s adhesion.

As early as this stage, using high-quality flooring tools from trusted sources, such as top-of-the-line carpet tile removal equipment and tile scraper blades, can simplify the process and enhance the outcome.

Next, assess the subfloor for uneven areas, dips, or bumps, and level them as necessary. This may require sanding down high spots or filling in low spots with a leveling compound.

  1. Layout planning

Just as with the tile installation, planning the layout of your underlayment is important. This involves deciding the direction of the underlayment sheets and determining where the seams will fall. Ideally, the underlayment seams should not align with the tile seams to provide maximum support and stability.

  1. Cutting and fitting

Once you have a layout plan, it’s time to cut the underlayment sheets to fit your space. Be sure to account for any odd corners, doorways, or fixtures.

  1. Securing the underlayment

Secure the underlayment to the subfloor using the appropriate method for your chosen type. This could involve screws for a cement backer board, thin-set mortar for an uncoupling membrane, or nails for plywood.

  1. Seaming

For cement backer board and plywood underlayments, it’s important to leave a small gap between sheets to allow for expansion. These gaps should then be filled with thin-set mortar or a special seaming compound and covered with mesh tape. The sheets or rolls typically overlap for an uncoupling membrane, and the seams are sealed with thin-set mortar during tile installation.

Setting the stage for successful flooring

With these steps, your underlayment is now ready for tile installation. The underlayment’s role in the success of your tiling project cannot be overstated. Therefore, when planning your tile installation, it is essential not to overlook this crucial component. Selecting the right underlayment and installing it correctly will protect your investment, increase your floor’s lifespan, and ensure the results are as visually appealing as they are durable.

Let Specialty Equipment prep your floors for success

An accurately chosen and properly installed underlayment sets the stage for a successful tile flooring project. And at Specialty Equipment, we’re committed to helping you every step of the way.

Our wide range of professional-grade tools and equipment — including floor scrapers, grinders, polishers, burnishers, dust collectors, shot blasters, scraper blades, and much more — will ensure you’re well-equipped for every aspect of your flooring project.

At Specialty Equipment, every salesperson on our team is a seasoned veteran in the flooring industry with practical experience as a contractor on floor removal projects. Our approach to customer service is driven solely by your project’s needs, not by sales quotas, commissions, or bonuses. This ensures the information and advice you receive are genuinely focused on achieving the best outcomes for your project.

Give us a call today to get started

As a Factory Authorized Service Center, we provide direct access to qualified, trained technicians who can answer your questions or concerns over the phone. Our floor scrapers and grinders are designed for ease of use and maintenance, allowing our technicians to assist you with 95% of any repair or maintenance task over the phone.

Whether you’re a seasoned contractor or a determined DIY homeowner, we’re here to support your flooring journey from the ground up. Reach out to Specialty Equipment today, and let’s make that vision a reality.