What are the worst floors for a basement?
Previously I posted on the most recommended flooring for your basement, and listed the conditions we are trying to handle. With temperature taken care of, moisture remains the big concern. If you've recently been shopping through the wide variety of flooring types available here, then you probably noticed some absences from that list. This post should complete things. Unlike those offered in the previous one, none of these floors would survive any kind of flooding, and all will require some additional moisture control before being put in.
So here are the rest of the floors, top to bottom, that you might consider for a basement, and what we think of each as an option. Remember that the best options are in the previous post. We picked Vinyl Plank.
"Special Care Required" Options
If your situation and the kind of cork available are right, cork can be a fantastic option. It is very soft underfoot, and provides some of the best thermal insulation you can get in floor materials. Cork doesn't rot; a nice durability factor. It absorbs more sound than most other flooring, and the material is naturally resistant to pests, mold and other allergens.
But it is only resistant, not impervious. Cork is still organic, so you must check your manufacturer's information on the particular line of cork flooring to make sure that it is recommended for basements. Some are just not right for this environment. You would need to control the moisture so that it does not directly contact the cork. Two layers of vapor barrier are usually recommended, free of holes and gaps, but a moisture test may reveal that your moisture issues exceed even the protections of a set of plastic barriers. The need for a vapor barrier also limits you to floating cork floors, or gluing down to a super-subfloor with its own moisture protection. Gluing cork directly to the concrete subfloor will likely lead to the cork 'delaminating' and peeling up as moisture rises through the concrete.
The fact is that some basements are not made for laminates, and some laminates are made to be in no basements. For the latter, check with both the manufacturer and a flooring specialist, and only go this route if both agree that you're fine. Many laminates have a moisture resistant core, which helps them deal with humidity, but no laminate flooring is 100% waterproof, so spills, floods, water seeping in from below - these are all destructive to the flooring itself. You can see some of the effects in our Aquarium Test video. If you have a consistently dry enough basement and this option is deemed okay, a moisture barrier will still be essential.
Engineered Bamboo Flooring and Engineered Hardwood
Only the engineered types of bamboo and hardwood, using the floating method of installation, are recommended for basements, because of their moisture resistant cores. A moisture barrier system will need to be in place, as the surface directly under these floors must be perfectly dry, and must stay that way year round.
With engineered flooring, always check the manufacturer's information, especially the warranty. If they recommend installation below "grade" (ground level), but do not warranty the flooring under those circumstances, don't buy it. In fact, don't buy anything from that manufacturer. The reason engineered hardwood and bamboo are a possibility is because their cores really are moisture resistant, so if you get the water contact issues settled, presence in a consistently humid environment will not be the issue it will be with solid wood or bamboo.
"Just Say No"
Solid hardwood must be nailed into place, so putting it directly onto the concrete is out of the question, but even with the physical option of nailing it to a wood super-subfloor, no one recommends solid hardwood for a basement. Solid wood will expand and contract with environmental changes above ground level. Below grade, the situation just gets ridiculous. It will absorb even the slightest high humidity, then will warp, crack, stain, and become a rich farmland for molds which may have been dormant since the Cretaceous era. If someone tries to sell you on this option, run, don't walk, to the nearest available exit.
While the most commonplace of floor coverings, basement carpets are also commonly replaced because they handle moisture in the worst way. Organic carpets are mold restaurants. Even inorganic fibers will hold onto humidity. If you've put in a wood super-subfloor, the carpet will provide the moisture needed to grow mold and mildew with the wood being the food. Any flooding from a storm, burst pipe, missed spill, or a pet is going to stay wet for a long time because of the raised humidity of the basement, so most times these ruin a carpet. They are soft, and they are warm, but for anything other than a perfectly waterproof basement, carpet should be the first option crossed off the list.
In each and any case with the flooring listed above, and the better options in our prior piece, you must thoroughly check the documentation for your flooring. Shop carefully, read up on your products, get free advice from salesmen or your installer, if you plan to hire one and you trust her, and you can be on your way to having an entire new section to your house. Your basement can have a floor. It really can. Just not any old floor.
Are all of the above impossible? No. But at best, they are all likely hassles to make work in a moisture prone basement.
Now before posting this, we poked around the web to see why anyone else thought any of these would be good for basements, and in all honesty, we did find some affirmatives, but what we did not see were positive reasons which took these concerns into account. We found a seller of carpet saying that carpet is the best because it's warm, which it is. We found sellers of only laminate flooring saying that it's best because it's more moisture resistant than hardwood, which it is. What we did not find was such recommendations acknowledging, or suggesting great ways to handle, the things we listed above. We love flooring, but we're honest about the limitations of this or that type.
However, the internet is a big, ever-changing place, and we love to find out we're wrong when it opens up the possibilities. Do you know something that can make one of these problems a non-issue? Tell us about it!
If we ever get our comments section back...
More basement information: What is the best flooring for a basement?
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David is has written and made videos about flooring products and installation since 2011 at Floors To Your Home (.com), where he is also the PPC Manager, a Researcher, a Website & Marketing Strategy Team member, Videographer, Social Strategist, Photographer and all around Resource Jito. In my spare time I shoot and edit video, put together a podcast, explore film history, and mix music (as in ‘play with Beatles multi-tracks’). Connect with W. David Lichty
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