In a perfect world, you could choose any flooring for your basement. But unlike above-grade rooms, basements are often prone to latent moisture—veritable mold factories. Additionally, since basements are the lowest point in the home, they are the collection point for flooding from dishwashers, water heaters, water supply pipes, and clothes washers.
Even if it appears that the subfloor is dry, given enough time, it may still give off enough residual moisture to ruin your floor covering. Moisture is the core deciding factor in basement flooring. Basement flooring must adapt to these conditions. What is the best all-around flooring for basements, as well as for specific activities?
Best Basement Floor Coverings
Vinyl sheet, plank, or tile
Ceramic or porcelain tile
Low-pile carpet (only for dry basements)
General Basement Conditions
Vinyl flooring, sheet or plank, is best as an attractive, 100-percent waterproof covering for basements that most homeowners can easily install. Sheet or plank vinyl flooring hits the middle sweet spot of requirements for basement flooring. It is 100-percent waterproof. It is easy to clean, in the event of flooding. And, in the form of luxury plank vinyl, it is attractive enough to pass muster for most homeowners.
The quality that tips vinyl flooring into the number one position for basements is the sheer ease of do-it-yourself installation.
Basement bathrooms can be a mixed blessing. If you have living quarters in the basement, you need a bathroom. If you have an entertainment space in the basement, it is highly desirable to have a bathroom there.
But installing basement bathrooms is a difficult process, owing to the fact that you are dealing with a concrete slab floor. Once the plumbing drain system has been installed in the slab, you'll want to cover it with a durable, moisture-resistant flooring such as ceramic tile, porcelain tile, sheet vinyl, or luxury vinyl plank flooring.
High or Moderate Moisture Basements
Ceramic tile or sheet vinyl work well in high-moisture basements. Inorganic materials must be used as your basement floor covering if you expect moisture. Concrete, sheet vinyl, and glazed tile (ceramic or porcelain tile) all qualify as waterproof.
Ceramic tile works best because water usually cannot infiltrate below the tile. The exception is with poorly grouted tile or tile that has become cracked. Cracks of nearly any size will introduce water below the surface.
Low Moisture Basements
Basements with manageable atmospheric moisture can use vinyl flooring and tile, as well as wood byproduct floorings such as engineered wood or laminate.
Vinyl and tile, plus laminate flooring and engineered wood flooring can also be used in basements with normal atmospheric and ground moisture.
Normal would be defined as a humidity level controllable by a dehumidifier and ground moisture that can be blocked with a waterproof subflooring system.
Carpet in basements is a debatable subject. While it is generally best to choose hard-surfaced flooring that dries fast, waterproof carpeting such as Shaw LifeGuard or Tigressa H2O is specially designed to prevent water for soaking through to the padding.
Basement Home Gyms or Yoga Studios
Soft flooring that is easy to clean is best for exercise flooring in basements. Rubber roll works well for floor exercises or for lifting weights. Rubber horse stall mats are one unusual way to cover concrete floors for gym purposes.
Basement Movie Theater
Choose a soft-surfaced flooring like low pile carpet for home movie theaters. Hard flooring installed into home movie theaters leads to confusing audio reverberations. Low pile carpeting is a soft floor covering that absorbs sound yet is easy to dry out if it gets wet.
Which Type of Flooring to Choose?
No single floor covering is perfect for every homeowner in every situation. However, vinyl or ceramic tile works best as all-purpose basement flooring.
Moisture in basements can range from outright seasonal flooding to mere condensation on the walls. Moisture is by far the biggest determining factor when shopping for basement flooring.
Avoid solid hardwood flooring as a basement flooring option. If you want real wood in your basement, choose engineered wood flooring. Engineered wood's plywood base is far more dimensionally stable than solid hardwood.
One simple way to test for moisture is to tape a square of clear plastic to your concrete subfloor. After several days, condensation will begin to form on the inside of the plastic if there is prevalent ground moisture. If the concrete is relatively new, too, it will give off moisture for several weeks until it is fully cured.