Bamboo Flooring in a Basement

inlaid bamboo basement floors
© Cali Bamboo Flooring

When installing a floor in your basement, moisture and humidity always have to be a concern. Since below grade locations are prone to moisture issues, solid hardwood flooring is not recommended for these environments.

Bamboo flooring is a material that looks very much like hardwood, but which is made from a type of grass. Because it has a lower absorption rate than hardwood, it is sometimes used in below grade installations. However, it is very important to understand the potential dangers before choosing to use bamboo as a floor in your basement.

The Dangers

Bamboo flooring is more resistant to physical damage from the presence of moisture than hardwood materials are. It is also resistant to the growth of mold, and mildew, which is another danger in below grade installations.

Resistance is not immunity, though; bamboo is still an organic material. If it is exposed to excessive moisture it can warp and or plump. Under the right conditions, mold and mildew can also grow on bamboo, despite its antibacterial properties.

In a basement, you have to worry about moisture which seeps up from surrounding soil, through the concrete slab, and then into your floor. That is why a proper vapor barrier is vital in any basement flooring project.

Even with a vapor barrier in place, moisture can still get into your basement. Depending on the level of the water table in your area you may be prone to flooding in the event of excessive rain. Flooding will often ruin a bamboo flooring installation.

You may also suffer from occupational flooding in the basement. This is usually the place where washers and dryers are located. It may also be the location of your homes hot water heater. A malfunction in any of these devices can end up causing a devastating flood.

The Tests

If you are considering installing bamboo in a basement the first thing that you have to do is test the concrete slab in order to determine how much moisture is present in it.

  • ASTM D 4263: This test requires you to tape a plastic sheet down over the surface of the concrete, and leave it for 72 hours. After that time a hygrometer is used to determine how much moisture was released from the slab.
  • ASTM F 1896: Calcium chloride crystals are taped down under a plastic sheet and left for 72 hours. After that, they are weighed to determine how much moisture they absorbed.
  • ASTM F 2170: A monitor is embedded in the concrete slab and left for 72 hours. This allows it to calculate the relative moisture content of the slab.

The problem: Each of these tests only determines the moisture content of the slab in one spot, at one given time. The amount of liquid present can vary across the surface and through the depth of the material. It can also change due to the relative humidity in the air. This can end up causing a problem for your bamboo floor down the line.

Engineered Bamboo Flooring

One option that you have for installing bamboo flooring in a basement without having to worry about many of the dangers associated with moisture issues, is to look into engineered bamboo flooring.

Unlike solid planks which are made entirely out of bamboo, engineered planks are made using fiberboard filler on the bottom, with a bamboo veneer over the top. This veneer is protected by an invisible wear layer.

High quality engineered bamboo is manufactured with a waterproof seal on the bottom, and the top of each plank. This sandwiches the fiberboard and the bamboo veneer between two impregnable surfaces. When combined with an appropriate vapor barrier this can create a very water resistant floor covering.

Engineered bamboo can either be glued down or installed using click together methods. With click together flooring the installation is generally easy, as is the removal of the product at a later date.

With engineered bamboo, you can get the look and feel of the natural material, while still ensuring that your floor is safe from moisture problems that can occur in the basement. The only drawback is that you will not be able to refinish the surface of this material if it becomes damaged or scratched. However, with click together flooring, you will be able to replace individual planks or tiles with relative ease.

The Warranty

When you purchase flooring you always want to ensure that it comes with a quality warranty, that will give you an estimate of how long the material will last. Generally, these warranties will contain a long list of stipulations that you have to follow closely when installing the floor or else risk voiding the agreement.

Before purchasing bamboo for a basement check the warranty and ensure that installing in a below-grade location is allowed. In addition, you want to follow all manufacturer's recommendations when installing. If the manufacturer says that a particular product should not be used in the basement, then you should follow that advice.