AN IMPORTANT ELEMENT OFTEN OVERLOOKED
Residential carpet is often installed over a separate pad in the vast majority of cases, yet all too frequently, consideration as to the type of pad is either given very little thought or passed over completely. Whether it is referred to as padding, lining, underlayment or cushion, it is critical to understand that this hidden component of the installation can greatly affect the performance of the carpet. Use of the wrong carpet pad can cause even the best installation to fail. If the pad is too thick, too soft or poorly constructed, it may cause damage to the carpet or the installation and even accelerate wear.
PADDING DOES MORE THAN “FEEL GOOD”
The choice of a particular pad can frequently be as much of a personal decision as the selection of a style or color of carpet. Different desired effects based on personal taste can be achieved. The biggest misconception of padding is that its primary function is to make carpet “feel good”. Unfortunately, rather than educate the buyer and correct this misunderstanding, some retailers find it easier to perpetuate this myth and make their sales by offering a low density, thicker cushion. Although this type of padding is soft and bouncy when new, for long term use there are distinct disadvantages:
The pad can only bounce back so many times – eventually it will flatten.
The type of padding does not offer proper support to the carpet itself, thereby allowing the backing to stretch to an exaggerated degree under repeated footsteps. This can compromise the structural integrity of the carpet. The result may be buckles and/or delamination as the carpet’s ability to maintain the proper tension of a stretch-in installation has been reduced.
THE PRIMARY PURPOSE OF A PAD IS TO PROTECT THE CARPET
Other important functions of padding include insulation against extreme changes in temperature, and it provides sound insulation. Pad also increases the effectiveness of vacuuming by creating pockets of air that the vacuum can draw through the carpet. It also fills in minor unevenness in the subfloor. Of course, it does feel good to walk on!
Note: Carpets with featured texture and crush warranties may carry specific padding requirements set forth by the manufacturer. Please read the warranty thoroughly to ensure your padding selection meets these requirements. FAILURE TO INSTALL THE PROPER CUSHION MAY VOID YOUR WARRANTY.
There are specialty pads made for area rug use, which have specific non-slip properties to keep “loose laid” rugs in a flat position. As these are not used in stretch-in carpet installations, they will not be discussed here.
ROOM TRAFFIC AND PADDING SELECTION
Several factors must be taken into account when selecting padding for your new carpet. Heavy traffic areas should have a moderate thickness and firmer padding than areas that are lightly used. Examples of this would be stairs, hallways and rooms that will be subjected to heavy use. When carpeting a lightly used area (such as a bedroom) more resilience and insulation (both sound and temperature) may be indicated. Although a thicker padding may be considered in these areas for the comfort of foot traffic, density should remain high for its support value to the carpet.
CONSIDER CARPET STYLE WHEN CHOOSING A PAD
Certain styles of carpet will perform better over special types of pad. A prime example would be Berber carpets. The construction of this style of carpet does not hold up as well with a thick and/or soft cushion under it. Best suited for this style are the firmer types of pad such as hair and/or jute or the synthetic fiber versions of felt. If a little more resiliency is desired, a firm (six pound minimum density) rebonded urethane is appropriate in a 1/4 to 3/8 inch thickness. These same types of cushions would also be suitable in circumstances of special traffic. Examples of this would be for less sure-footed walkers such as the elderly or handicapped. Wheelchair traffic or where walkers are used for support must have a minimum of give (sink) to the pad.
MOISTURE CAN AFFECT PADDING Another consideration in the selection of pad is moisture. Natural fiber constructions are more likely to emit an odor even in high humidity or situations of sweating subfloors.
EACH TYPE OF PAD IS AVAILABLE IN DIFFERENT VERSIONS
There are many different versions and qualities of each type of cushion available and it is important to understand how they are sold. Thickness and density are unrelated statistics in defining a pad, although they are the two basic measurements used in rating urethane type of cushions. The thickness is a literal calculation of the depth of the pad which is usually from 1/4 to 9/16 of an inch. The density is the weight per cubic foot of a particular padding with no regard to the thickness of the pad itself. Different pads may have equal thickness but one may be heavier than the other and vice versa. The higher the density factor, the more resistance there is to the pressure of a footstep and thus, the less you will sink down into the pad. While many people like the softer “sinking” feel underfoot you should remember that if the weight of your footstep can cause the pad to fully compress to the floor underneath, the pad is doing little to support the shock to the carpet. With certain types of carpet, excellent serviceability may be obtained by using a thinner pad with a higher density.
Other types of pad such as hair and jute or rubber are classified by weight. This is expressed in ounces per square yard. As the weight goes up, so does the thickness.
HOW PADDING IS SOLD
Padding comes in standard roll widths, which vary depending on the style. Urethanes are typically six feet wide, while the rubber varieties are four and a half feet wide. The fiber type pads such as hair, jute and felt are usually twelve feet but may also come in six foot widths. Obviously, there will be more seaming in the pad than in the carpet. As long as the pad is installed properly, this will not be a factor in the performance of the overall installation.