Following proper procedures are crucial to success when installing wood panel underlayment. A poor installation may cause an entire installation failure. (Photo courtesy Halex Corp.)

Premium plywood underlayment panels have enjoyed unprecedented growth over the last ten years. The popularity of premium underlayments has opened a door for retailers to develop very profitable upgrade opportunities during a resilient flooring sale; similar to the profitable padding upgrade of a carpet sale.  

Much of what is sold is the U.S. market is brought in by a broker/importer who has sold the product under a specific name or brand. The global recession has radically impacted the overall quality of many products; many manufacturers and importers are scrambling to hang on to this lucrative segment. Additionally, many foreign manufacturing plants have been forced to close due to the drop in business.  

The growing awareness in the U.S. market for legal, sustainable products that can be traced with a certified chain of custody has simply forced many products to relinquish market share. In addition, new technology and floating floors have reduced the need for plywood underlayment for residential installations.

The end result of this mayhem has brought new issues and challenges to the industry that can ultimately cost the retailer time, money and a lot of unwanted aggravation. For example, some brands may have changed production plants, which can radically change the underlayment’s performance characteristics without changing the panel’s aesthetic appearance.  

Also, some brands may be substituting the original stellar species of wood used to comprise the underlayment panels with substandard species that may be less stable, more prone to warping or staining. And sometimes the panels are simply manufactured with veneer of the claimed species on the face while replacing interior core with less expensive, inferior plies. Adding to the confusion, in some cases, a popular brand may be sold as multiple products under that one brand name.

The profile of a quality plywood underlayment must be dimensionally stable; have a smooth, fully sanded face so the graining or texturing will not show through; be resistant to both static and impact indentation; be free of any surface components that may cause staining, such as plastic fillers, marking inks, sealers, etc.; be of uniform thickness, density and porosity; and have a written warranty from the panel manufacturer or a history of proven performance.

An article from a back issue of Mannington Straight Talk spells it out clearly: “Ask pertinent questions of the panel manufacturer or supplier regarding suitability for intended use, structural requirements of the subfloor or any limitations of the panel concerning the specific types or styles of sheet vinyl being used. Knowing the installation requirements or limitations of the underlayment panel you select upfront certainly beats being surprised after the fact.”

There are many premium underlayment manufacturers such as Accuply, Halex, Homasote, Sound Seal, Traxx, TECPLY and Ultraply. Change is ongoing; so make sure the product you are buying is the same as it was 3 years ago. In addition, keep your eye on new products, such as TECPLY’s TC-PLY, a five-ply Meranti hardwood underlayment backed with a 10-year warranty.

Premium plywood underlayment is a great opportunity to increase sales while reducing claims. The choices are virtually endless. Make sure the wood underlayment brand you purchase has consistent quality, delivers all the criteria for successful resilient installation, is warranted, has available U.S. inventory and above all has a proven history of performance. Also, embrace the green attributes of premium underlayments now that your customers have become aware of FSC, CARB and TEFC certified panels. Green can mean more money in your pocket if you can tell the story.