What Lies Beneath: 4 Tips For Choosing The Right Carpet Padding

 When you're buying carpet, it's easy to get caught up in things like color or weave and forget about more practical considerations, like choosing carpet that will endure. To make sure your new carpet will last, start by providing a stable base in the form of carpet padding. Sure, it's not as much fun as comparing carpet swatches, but padding actually has a tremendous impact on how well carpet wears, how it feels underfoot and how long it will perform at its peak. Follow these four tips to pick padding that will pair perfectly with your carpet and help your floor look—and perform—at its best.

Compare Materials

Foam, rubber, fibrous matting and cork rank among the most common materials used to make carpet padding. While each has its pros and cons, the most important thing to consider is whether it will work with the carpet you plan to install. Check with the carpet manufacturer or ask your flooring installer for their recommendations as to the best padding material for your rug. If you're given several options, consider cork, rubber or natural fibers like wool to help muffle sounds and keep noise under control. Foam will generally be the cheapest option, while rubber may offer more long-term value. If insulation is your primary concern, pick cork for its excellent thermal resistance, or consider urethane foam or some form of natural fabric, like wool.

Check the Thickness

Don't be fooled into buying overly-thick carpet padding; thick padding may feel great underfoot, but padding that's too thick leads to seam damage, wrinkles and bulges in finished carpet. If you're installing carpet in a low-traffic area, such as a personal office, you can go a little thicker than usual for a bit of extra comfort. For higher-traffic areas, stick to 3/8 inch padding or thinner. You may be able to go as thick as 1/2 inch if you're using a particularly thick carpet,  but 3/8 inch should be considered max thickness for most low-profile carpet in high-traffic areas.

Consider Density

Denser padding offers greater weight, measured in pounds per cubic foot, which allows it to handle heavy traffic with ease. If you choose padding without sufficient density to meet the demands of your floor, your carpet ends up taking all of the abuse, and will wear out faster than if you used appropriate padding. The World Floor Covering Association recommends a minimum of 5 pounds per cubic foot in low-traffic areas, 6.5 pounds per cubic foot in medium-traffic areas, and 8 pounds per cubic foot or higher in high-traffic areas. 

Go Green

Carpet padding offers many opportunities for those looking to go green. The first thing to consider is indoor air quality; always look for padding with low or no VOCs to prevent unwanted gases like formaldehyde from off-gassing into your workplace. Materials with high thermal resistance like cork or natural fibers can help with energy efficiency, while these materials are also more easily recycled than other materials, including rubber or plastic padding.