The biggest challenge with basement flooring is moisture. Moisture from below, rising up through the concrete slab, and moisture from above, if the dreaded flood occurs. The second biggest challenge is concrete. It's too hard to nail into and it's prone to getting damp (yes, that is worth mentioning again). With vinyl flooring for basements, you've got both challenges covered. The right types of vinyl are highly resistant to water damage and they don't need to be nailed down...or glued down...or stuck down in any way.
Water Resistance of Vinyl Flooring
Vinyl is largely made of plastic, which makes it water-resistant. Does that mean it's waterproof? Some manufacturers may use this term, but cautious builders almost never use it. This is because there really are very few materials that aren't damaged by water. That said, quality vinyl flooring is pretty darned close, making it an excellent choice for covering a concrete floor. This is especially important in below-grade basement locations, which are prone to water damage both from moisture seeping up and from flooding issues that can occur (looks like that's worth mentioning three times).
Generally speaking, vinyl flooring won't be damaged by normal amounts of water on its surface, and it shouldn't be damaged by occasional dampness on the concrete slab below. If you have more water than that in your basement, you shouldn't be finishing it in the first place.
But it's safe to say that, next to tile, vinyl flooring for basements is the best bet against moisture. Just keep in mind that this water-resistance applies to the flooring itself. If you install plywood or other material under the vinyl — say, to add a little cushion to the floor — you're completely undermining the moisture-resistance of the vinyl, and you might void the warranty on the flooring.
Types of Vinyl for Basement Flooring
Suitable vinyl flooring for basements pretty much includes all vinyl flooring, but if you're looking for a "floating floor" that requires no adhesive and goes directly over concrete, two options stand out: sheet vinyl and planks. Durable vinyl sheet flooring is fiberglass-reinforced and does a nice job floating over concrete subfloors. It is installed as one big sheet that you cut to fit the space. If you need more than one sheet to cover the floor, you seam with pieces together with double-sided tape (ok, technically that's a form of adhesive, but it's just a single strip underneath the seam), then you seal over the seam with the manufacturer's seam sealant to create a smooth, water-resistant joint.
Vinyl planks, which are often categorized as "luxury vinyl," are wide strips of flooring that snap together to create a continuous layer that floats over the concrete. Installation for planks is easier for beginners than laying down sheet vinyl because you're working with small pieces, and if you make a bad cut you can simply cut a new piece.
Your flooring's manufacturer will tell you everything you need to know about laying their product over concrete, but here are some general tips for success:
- Clean and smooth the concrete. The slab doesn't have to be level for vinyl, but it must be smooth and relatively flat. Fill large cracks and dips with a floor-leveling compound designed for concrete. Sweep and vacuum the entire floor thoroughly before rolling out the vinyl. Any debris on the floor will show through the vinyl and will likely cause damage.
- Double-cut seams. When laying sheet vinyl in more than one piece, the trick to an invisible seam is to overlap the pieces at the seam, matching up the pattern, then making a double-cut through both layers, just like wallpaper hangers do.
- Leave expansion gaps. Most floating floors need a little wiggle room along the edges and vinyl flooring for basements is no different. A gap of 1/8" to 1/4" at all walls and other vertical obstructions is a typical recommendation. After the flooring is down, you cover the gaps with quarter-round or shoe molding.
- Tuck under trim but not cabinets. Where vertical door frame molding (casing) touches the floor, trim a bit of the molding away with an undercut saw, or jamb saw, so you can tuck the flooring under the trim, hiding the expansion gap at the wall. Don't install vinyl basement flooring under cabinets, which inhibits the floating floor's ability to move.