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Basement Flooring Ideas
Basement flooring does not play by the normal rules of flooring.
Even when the weather is dry, basement flooring can leach residual moisture in the form of vapor due to its close proximity to the ground. In deluges, basements can be the scene of up-to-your-ankles flooding that we all fear and which keeps the insurance companies in business.
So your primary thought with basement flooring is always moisture: how to avoid it and how to wring the flooring dry in the event you cannot avoid it.
Understand... Below Grade vs. Above Grade
"Below grade" flooring does not refer to cheap, sub-standard flooring.
"Grade" is what a contractor, architect, or designer may say instead of "ground-level."
Everything above grade is safe from water vapor migration. It is safe, too, from most normal instances of flooding.
Everything at or below grade is at risk of water vapor damage and even mild flooding.
Below-grade, then, usually means the basement.
3 Basic Rules
- The Harder, The Better: Hardscape materials like tile and concrete outperform soft materials like carpet in basements.
- More Layers Mean More Problems: Multi-layered floor systems are harder to dry out if they should get wet.
- Enjoy Now, Prepare For Disaster: If you want carpet in your basement, get carpet in your basement. You may have 12 years of uninterrupted pleasure from having a nice, thick pile in that cold space. But be prepared for having to replace the whole thing in the event of water damage.
You Should Know
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- Does the Flooring Material Dry Out?: Flooring that will dry out (in the event of flooding) with no or little harm always are preferred. Ceramic tile is a perfect example. But this does not mean you have to stay away from the other types--laminate, wood, etc.
- You Already Have Concrete: Our overview assumes that you already have a concrete basement slab. This is the first step to any basement flooring.
- Flooring Straight on Slab: Some basement flooring can be installed directly on the concrete slab. Again, ceramic tile is the perfect example of this.
- Foam Underlayment: If installing laminate flooring, it is possible to install it directly on the concrete slab. By "directly," we mean with a foam underlayment between the laminate and concrete (no subfloor).
- Sub-Floor Sleepers: Other types of basement flooring require a sleeper system of plywood, two-by-fours, and underlayment to further raise the flooring off the slab. Resilient flooring and carpeting would require this type of sub-flooring.
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Basement Flooring Ideas: Conventional Vinyl/Resilient (Tile or Sheet)
Vinyl flooring--also known as resilient flooring--ranks up with concrete and ceramic tile as one of the better basement flooring ideas out there. But keep in mind that vinyl flooring comes in both tile and sheet form, and there is a subtle difference.
With sheet vinyl flooring, you create a nearly seamless, water-impervious surface on your basement floor, always a good thing where moisture might be involved. Tile vinyl flooring has multiple seams that may invite moisture infiltration if... water is left standing long enough.
- Keeps water at bay.
- Inexpensive, often pennies per square foot.
- Tile vinyl flooring is a fast DIY project.
- Warmer to the touch than ceramic tile or concrete.
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- Often considered a cheap fix.
- Needs a very clean surface for adhesion.
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Basement Flooring Ideas: Luxury Vinyl Tile (Stone)
Luxury vinyl tile (LVT), manufacturers claim, is not "conventional." That's because it looks just like real stone, both in appearance and in texture. Tile manufacturers even set up separate categories in their company literature to drive home the idea that LVT is different--and better. Better, of course, so that more money can be charged for LVT.
Stone-look luxury vinyl tile aims to replicate the look of slate, travertine, marble, and other popular stones, yet in the form of a vinyl... tile.
- Overall thickness up to twice as thick as conventional tile. This results in slightly better insulation against cold basement subfloor.
- Thicker wear layer, resulting in longer durability.
- More realistic look (see below).
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- Higher cost for a product that is still essentially vinyl tile.
- Between wood- and stone-look luxury vinyl, stone look's appearance still fall behind in terms of verisimilitude.
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Basement Flooring Ideas: Luxury Vinyl Plank (Wood)
It would seem that wood-look luxury vinyl flooring is just the exact corollary to the previously-mentioned stone-look LVT. Not so.
For one reason, wood-look luxury vinyl comes in planks around 6" x 48"--a completely different look than stone look's typical 16" x 16" squares. For another reason, it looks more like the substance it is trying to copy than stone-look LVT.
- Thick wear layer = greater durability.
- Overall thickness means slightly warmer floor.
- Many wood species look... amazingly like the real thing.
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- May not result in a better resale value. Uninformed buyers may still see it as just "vinyl floor," thus negating your costly purchase.
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Basement Flooring Ideas: Wood-Look Porcelain Tile in Planks
Wood-look tile is about as good as it gets. It's impervious to moisture. It looks surprisingly like wood (though in an attractive faux-surreal way). And it carries enormous cachet.
It's porcelain tile in long, narrow planks with sharply rendered graphics. There is no official name for it, and I just call it ceramic tile that looks like wood.
- Increasingly considered a status item.
- Attractive aesthetics; looks much like real wood.
- Rectified edges mean smaller grout lines.
- Because it is still ceramic tile, it feels cold under foot, unless you install radiant heating mats.
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Basement Flooring Ideas: Concrete
The first, and most obvious, of all the basement flooring ideas is simply concrete. You've already got the concrete slab, so now you need to fix cracks and either paint or seal it.
With changing attitudes toward such utilitarian surfaces, concrete has come into wider acceptance by homeowners. But don't think that concrete has to remain in its raw state. It can be painted or stained to give it a different appearance.
- The most moisture-hardy basement flooring idea around.
- Requires the... least amount of materials.
- Does not require a sub-floor.
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- Does require more labor than you might imagine because concrete must be 100% clean before you do any work on it.
- Coldest of all basement flooring options, with no way to heat it.
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Basement Flooring Ideas: Tile
Of all the basement flooring ideas, tile represents the best of all worlds. It qualifies as a finished surface (meaning that it is not a raw surface, like concrete), yet this is a finished surface which stands up to water. Tile can be installed directly on your concrete slab. Worried about cold basement floors? Then it's no problem to lay down radiant heating coils under the tile.
- The tile will dry out and be undamaged in the event of flooding.
- Laying tile is a relatively easy DIY... project.
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- As cold as the concrete slab on which it is laid, unless you add radiant heating.
- The slab may need significant leveling and repair because there will be no intervening subfloor.
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Basement Flooring Ideas: Conventional Laminate
Laminate flooring has, in recent years, become one of the better basement flooring ideas in your range of options. One reason for this is the introduction of the so-called waterproof laminate, going under brand names such as Mannington iCore. But even conventional laminate flooring in the basement can be made to work with the installation of a proper sub-floor system.
- Laminate flooring rates as one of the warmer basement flooring ideas.
- Easy do-it-yourself installation.
- 100% waterproof... laminate available.
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- Subfloor installation required.
- Hollow feeling under foot.
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Basement Flooring Ideas: Waterproof Laminate
Waterproof laminate has no wood content, thus it will not swell and distend. It's still a product in search of a buying audience. But if you're really in the market for the "wood look" with zero moisture problems, this is it.
- One of the few types of basement flooring that is truly 100% waterproof.
- Will stand up to damp concrete installations (i.e., you don't need a vapor barrier).
- Helps you achieve the look of wood.
- Difficult to obtain in North America (more a Euro product still).
- Very... limited range of style choices.
- More expensive than conventional laminate flooring.
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Basement Flooring Ideas: Wall to Wall Carpet
Carpet is often vilified as the worst flooring material in bathrooms. Does this mean that carpet is also a bad basement flooring idea?
Not necessarily. With the exception of extreme circumstances like flooding, basements will, on the whole, have less moisture than even your average bathroom. And with the installation of sub-floor, carpeting in basements can be made to work.
- One of the warmest basement flooring ideas, even without installation of radiant heating.
- Fairly expensive.
- If... worst comes to worst, carpeting can be dried out.
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- Though carpet can dry, it often takes industrial-quality drying equipment or services to get the job done fast enough before mold develops.
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Basement Flooring Idea: Carpet Squares
Wait: don't discount this one out-of-hand.
When we say carpet squares, you might be thinking of those nasty indoor-outdoor squares that have been carpeting basement "dens" and "rec rooms" for decades.
Carpet squares have grown up. Styles and colors have evolved well past "Battleship Gray," and the piles are deeper. Witness the FLOR Chenille Charade pictured here.
Additionally, FLOR recommends "Fleece & Thanks" or "Rake Me Over" if plush is what you want.
True, carpet squares will get just as... soaked and ruined as wall-to-wall carpet. But you can selectively pull up and replace carpet squares. It's more difficult to excise portions of wall-to-wall carpeting.
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Basement Flooring Ideas: Engineered Wood Flooring
When we get into the organic materials--as opposed to materials like vinyl flooring--the question of basement flooring ideas gets more interesting. Because, as we all know, wood is derived from trees, it does not stand up well to moisture. Thus, solid hardwood is not a great type of flooring for basements.
But engineered wood flooring is dimensionally-stable. Its plywood base below the real wood veneer holds up well to moisture.
- Good, but not the absolute best, when it comes to... moisture.
- One of the more attractive basement flooring options.
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- Requires sub-floor.
- Most expensive basement flooring idea.
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Basement Flooring Ideas: Cork
Cork is the floor trend du jour. I think the main reason is because it's mostly a natural product, derived from cork trees.
- Cork provides good insulation against cold basement floors.
- Soft underfoot.
- More cachet than a vinyl floor, but with many of the same qualities.
- Since cork is organic, it is prone to deterioration.
- Roll cork can be hard to install (for that reason, try cork planks or squares).
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Basement Flooring Ideas: RubberGrade: D
Rubber flooring is commonly associated with gyms, garages, dance or martial arts studios, and pools. But what about basements?
If your basement is intended to be a play space, not a living space, you just might be in luck. Otherwise, rubber flooring won't work for most homes. Roll rubber, costing about $3 per square foot, is the kind you find at commercial gyms and offers the fewest number of seams. Interlocking rubber tiles, shown here, cost about the same and are easy to install,... since they fit together like a puzzle.
- Maximum insulation against basement subfloor cold.
- Soft surface for walking.
- Aesthetically, not appropriate for living spaces (i.e., bedroom, bathroom, kitchen). More for exercising, storage area, children's room.