- Vinyl Plank Flooring/Vinyl Tile Flooring
- Rubber Flooring
- Ceramic and Porcelain Tiles
- Laminate Flooring
What Is the Best Flooring for a Basement?
When choosing flooring for your basement, moisture is biggest consideration. And it’s not just because of the potential for water leaks. Condensation and water vapor are moisture-related hazards unique to basements, and they affect the kind of flooring that makes sense downstairs. Check out these five top basement flooring options and learn how to protect yours from moisture damage and mold growth.
Vinyl Plank Flooring/Vinyl Tile Flooring
Vinyl plank flooring (VPF) and vinyl tile flooring (VTF) are similar to click laminate flooring, but they’re better in three ways.
- First, VPF and VTF are impervious to liquid and vapor moisture. This matters because even seemingly dry basements can have enough moisture vapor migration to trigger mold growth.
- Second, VPF and VTF are extremely durable. Both are made from the same materials, differing only in the shape of the pieces. Tiles are square and planks are rectangular.
- Third, vinyl flooring of this kind is flexible enough that it doesn’t need a super-flat surface like laminates do. It can easily lay over a fair amount of undulations in a concrete floor.
Many people install carpet in basements thinking it makes the concrete floor more comfortable and warmer.
That’s a fine goal, but never make the mistake of installing carpet and underlay directly on basement concrete. Summertime mustiness is one reason why. When humid summer air enters the carpet pile and come close to the concrete underneath, that air can cool to the dew point, releasing fine droplets of water within the carpet or underlay. That’s why finished basements smell musty.
Always install basement carpet on top of a vapor-impervious subfloor. This will raise the temperature of the floor in winter, make your carpet more pleasant to walk on, and most importantly prevent humid air from cozying up to the concrete and triggering mold growth.
This is a fancy, durable, moisture-proof and informal floor that makes good sense for basements, especially utility or play areas. Rubber flooring is unaffected by moisture, either liquid or vapor. It usually comes as interlocking tiles, and it can be easily removed or reconfigured after installation if your needs change. Rubber flooring is comfortable under foot, too.
Ceramic and Porcelain Tiles
These tough, attractive, hard-wearing options are perfect for basements, as long as the installation includes two important details.
First, never install hard-surface tiles such as ceramics and porcelain directly on concrete. Tiles should be installed on top of an uncoupling membrane to boost reliability. Sure, concrete is usually stable. But it can expand and contract at different rates than the tiles, causing tile cracks over time. An uncoupling membrane greatly reduces the chance of cracking because it allows a small but crucial amount of side-to-side tile movement relative to the concrete underneath.
The second issue is cold feet in cold climates. One solution for cold tile floors is to choose an uncoupling membrane that’s made to accept electric heating cables. The best systems include built-in insulation to stop the loss of heat downward into the concrete.
In 1993, a European company called Pergo introduced laminate flooring to North America and it has been a popular choice ever since. Today’s best laminates resist moisture, as my submersion tests have shown.
The durability of laminate flooring is exceptionally good if you choose one with an abrasion class (AC) rating of three or higher on a scale of one to five. The AC rating measures the resistance of laminate flooring to abrasion.
The only problem with laminates in basements is the need for a flat floor. Most manufacturers specify no more than a 1/4 inch of deviation from flat over a 10-foot radius. And while many concrete basement floors are not this flat, it is possible to use floor leveling compound to correct major issues. Laminates should always be installed over subfloor tiles, and the best subfloor systems accept leveling shims so you can create a stable, wobble-free installation surface.