What is the Best Basement Floor?
Talk about a loaded question! Anytime I hear someone ask a question that starts with “best,” it scares me! Everyone’s opinion is different. However, when dealing with basements, the best question and answer is a bit clearer. We have a video on your flooring options for this particular area in your home. We try to break down this topic in an unbiased frame to give you the best information possible. Even though the best basement floor is a subjective idea, we still want to answer this question with the general population in mind. So, what is the best flooring for basements?
We recommend luxury vinyl plank for most people. LVP is waterproof, durable, and relatively inexpensive. These features offer a one-size-fits-all option to lay on a concrete basement floor.
Engineered hardwood flooring is another option for those who want a beautiful hardwood floor look in their basement. You may want your lower level to match the design of your living room. Many people use their basement floor to entertain guests, make a man-cave, or have a special purpose for the room like a library. We will talk about these options and more in our video and our continued post below.
Table of Contents
1. What is the Best Basement Floor?
2. The Big Basement Floor Questions
2.1 What is Your Moisture Risk Level?
2.2 What Do You Want From Your basement?
2.3 Do You Want a Hardwood Basement? Watch for its Kryptonite!
2.4 How Does Basement Hardwood Fight Against Moisture?
2.5 What are My Floating Floor Options?
2.6 Will your Basement Floors See Action?
3. Luxury Vinyl Plank is the King
3.1 Radiant Heat Application for Vinyl Plank
3.2 Stability of your Floor
4. Carpet Tiles
4.1 Radiant Heat Application for Carpet Tiles
5. Ceramic Tile
5.1 Radiant Heat Application for Ceramic Tile
6. Stained Concrete
The Big Basement Floor Questions
There are 2 big questions to ask when we are helping a customer select a basement floor. First, are there any moisture issues, or is there potential for moisture issues? Secondly, is your basement an extension of your main living space, or a dungeon that is perfect for sugared-up kids, or somewhere in between?
The following questions below should be raised about moisture levels, home maintenance history, and the DIY-friendly float installation options. If you plan to have a professional float your floors, you can rest knowing it’s possible they can get it done quickly. However, we know all too well how home improvement projects can take longer than planned. One obstacle to a floor installation is a moisture issue that needs to be fixed.
What is Your Moisture Risk Level?
Moisture is to most flooring like kryptonite is to Superman, so if you have moisture issues, your best bet is a waterproof floor, like luxury vinyl planks or luxury vinyl tiles. The newer floating vinyl floors are inexpensive, click together for easy installation, and virtually indestructible. Oh…and waterproof. Perfect for a wet basement. How old is your house? Is there a history of basement plumbing repair? Was basement molding a problem during the life of the home? These questions will help measure the need for a completely waterproof floor or the need for a water-resistant one.
What Do You Want From Your Basement?
Some people use their basements as an extra room when entertaining, and prefer their upstairs décor to flow into the basement. As the upstairs is usually hardwood flooring, we are frequently tasked with helping select the right hardwood for basement installations. Usually, basements require the use of an engineered hardwood floor, if you are looking to put down hardwood. As I have covered in other blogs regarding the construction of engineered floors, they are made of plys of wood. Each layer in a multi-ply floor would have the grain running perpendicular to the grain of another layer. These opposing grains in each ply will fight each other when expansion begins to affect the floor. This fight will effectively prevent expansion, warping, or cupping.
Do You Want a Hardwood Basement? Watch for its Kryptonite!
Do you remember kryptonite from Superman? Moisture generates a contraction and expansion effect in the floorboards, depending on whether the moisture levels decrease or increase. Both can be devastating to a solid wood floor, or even a low-end, cheaply made engineered floor. As a general rule, the more plys in an engineered board, the more stable that floor will be. A more stable floor can fight against moisture or expansion and win. If the floor you chose loses the fight, you can expect to see planks “cup” and curl into each for an unflattering look.
How Does Basement Hardwood Fight Against Moisture?
Another way to control the effects of moisture on your hardwood basement floor is to choose special glues with moisture barriers. These adhesives will be urethane based, instead of water. When urethane is cured, it forms a moisture barrier between your concrete slab and your flooring. Some versions also include crack suppressant and sound reducers. While they can get expensive, having to reinstall a floor due to water problems is even more costly!
Sometimes we get asked, “Can I put solid wood on my concrete slab?” Yes. Should you put solid wood on your concrete slab? No! Even with the special (and expensive) glues that are available to block moisture from wicking up, there is just too much risk involved to validate using a solid hardwood on a concrete floor. I want to save you the headache. Engineered hardwood is the only hardwood option that can last for years to come in a basement. Next, let’s talk about the floating floor option.
What are My Floating Floor Options?
Don’t forget, most engineered floors can be floated. While floating floors in a basement will not be attached to your concrete, they are still susceptible to expansion. Extra expansion space around the perimeter of your room will help, but we like to recommend a high-ply floor to limit or prevent this as much as possible. Will more plys cost you more? Yes. Will they last longer than their lower ply counterparts in every situation? You can bank on the answer being yes 99% of the time. If you are looking at engineered hardwood for basements, the cheapest option isn’t always the right one.
Luxury vinyl plank can be floated as well. Most installers will recommend a floating install for plank vinyl because it is such a similar process to laying hardwood. LVP won’t carry any risk of expansion. The waterproof floor feature definitely shines in a basement floor environment. Many of our customers install luxury vinyl plank themselves because floating a floor is so simple. Saving money on the installation cost of a basement floor is something to ponder on as well.
Carpet tiles as we mention below can be considered a floating floor. These are nice because if they attract a stain or two, you can replace the individual tiles instead of the whole floor. Carpet tiles are another do-it-yourself friendly floor option for the basement.
Will your Basement Floors See Action?
Our second question was about your bottom floor usage. It seems like the most common uses for basements are for storage or a place to send the kids when a parent lacks the energy or will to enforce a civilized rule. Send them to the basement! Upon arrival, the kids quickly assume the behavior of a frat party at an Airbnb. It is at this point that the question of what is the best floor to install in your basement becomes more easily answered. Finally, we get to talk about the king of basement flooring.
Luxury Vinyl Plank is the King
Luxury Vinyl Plank, or LVP, is easily the best choice if your floor needs to withstand years of hard usage. The lifetime of a floor is determined by its change in appearance to most people. A high-quality luxury vinyl plank with a variegated color and a distressed or hand scraped surface is the way to go. A variegated color means it will hardly ever look unkempt, while the hand scraped surface means any damage it takes will hide among the other surface variations.
Another possibility to consider is buying an LVP with Aluminum Oxide, like Shaw’s Floorte Pro 6 Series Vigorous or 7 Series Nobility available at ReallyCheapFloors.com. Almost all hardwood floors come from the factory with aluminum oxide particles suspended in the finish. Very few LVPs have aluminum oxide finishes. Why? Because it is expensive! We talk about COREtec’s aluminum oxide wear layer options in our COREtec flooring blog as well.
While the addition of aluminum oxide will run the price of a floor up another 50 cents to a dollar, I can assure you it will lengthen the lifetime of your basement floor due to increased scratch and abrasion resistance. You can read more about ScufResist Platinum from Shaw by going to our shaw luxury vinyl plank blog post here.
Radiant Heat Application for Vinyl Plank
Luxury vinyl plank can work with radiant heat installed in your concrete basement. Radiant heat is a great option for a basement because is can help fight moisture coming up from the earth’s soil under your basement concrete slab. This flooring option is recommended never to have your radiant heat set to higher than 85°F. If you like your basement to be 95 degrees in a confined space, this flooring option is not for you. If you want your home temperature to be at 85°F or less, then this waterproof flooring choice is looking like a solid decision. Follow directions on your specific product for radiant heat installation. If you read our “what is luxury vinyl plank flooring?” post, you’ll notice that most LVPs are made in China and will have varying durability ratings.
Stability of your Floor
Another issue that needs to be addressed here is the stability of your floor. While LVP floors tend to be extremely stable, this is not always the case for cheaper products. In the diagram below, you see how the Shaw Floorte Pro luxury vinyl products are made.
Notice the part called the balancing layer? LVPs, in some ways, are like an engineered floor, where more layers increase stability. Stability is essential when floors tackle moisture or direct sunlight. Entry-level products like our Floorte Series 3 Impress will not have this balancing layer, nor will any other manufacturer’s entry-level products. For this reason, we recommend that the Impress only be used in dry areas that do not have direct sunlight.
Something else you might want to consider is the use of carpet tiles. Carpet tiles have come a long way in the last 10 years, and are available for less than half of what they cost just a few years ago. Not only are the commercial carpet tiles offered, but so are residential products now. While the commercial products are typically more long-lasting and handle abuse well, residential carpet tiles provide a warmer, softer product. While we do not offer carpet tiles, you can see a wide selection of the tiles provided by Shaw Industries at any Shaw dealer. Carpet tiles can be a good choice if you have a very uneven concrete floor or uneven subfloor in the basement.
Radiant Heat Application for Carpet Tiles
Carpet is a traditional floor that accepts the energy-efficient and cozy radiant heating solution. Most carpet has thin padding beneath it to insulate the floor. Radiant heat is one of the rare circumstances where you want less insulated floors to allow more heat to travel throughout the home. Carpet padding is often 1/4″ to 1/2″ thick. A radiant floor isn’t suited for a pad that is thicker than 3/8″. Cheap carpet padding can be made from rubber and leak out a chemically charged fluid under your carpet. Look for an underlayment that is made from synthetic fiber or a sponge rubber material.
Radiant heat asks for a thin carpet, as well. Carpet tiles are typically thin and can be easily replaced if you run into a moisture accident in the basement. Carpet is the type of flooring than can range from 1/8 inch thick to 1-inch thick made of different materials. If you’re not sure if your carpet is Cut Pile, Saxony, Frieze, Berber, or something else, look up all the various carpet types here. Thin carpet works better for radiant heat systems. Carpet types like Frieze can create thick or thin products, so make sure to dig into specifics if you’re shopping carpet. Even with thin carpet and padding, this type of flooring will cause you to turn up the thermostat more to reach the desired temperature
We see ceramic offered often as a cheap basement floor option. It’s also a waterproof flooring option, so we like the train of thought for this recommendation! You will want to consider installing a moisture barrier if you are interested in putting this down on your floor. Although the product is waterproof, if moisture gets underneath the tiles, mold can begin to grow underneath the tile. It is simple enough to remove, but ripping up a floor and laying it back down every few years isn’t my idea of a fun vacation!
With a moisture barrier (also known as a vapor barrier), you will be good to go! Make sure you buy some replacement tiles when you make the purchase. Tile isn’t as nearly durable as hardwood or luxury vinyl.
Radiant Heat Application for Ceramic Tile
Ceramic tile synergizes well with radiant heating. Ceramic tile is not only a thin floor that allows heat to pass through easily, but it conducts heat. So your tile will heat up quickly and retain heat long after the system turns off. If your basement isn’t at risk from accidental damage due to low traffic. Radiant heat and this type of flooring is an excellent option for climate-controlled storage space.
Stained concrete is where I draw the line at “I don’t know much about this!” I know! It’s hard to believe I don’t know everything! It seems to me like this is a skilled floor creation that will vary on your service provider. I like to know when I shop flooring what a possible floor can look like in a room. I also want to know I can replace the floor after it’s seen 20 years of wear. Stained concrete can surely be re-stained or accept a new floating floor to be placed above it. I wonder how durable the visual is against drops or denting from accidents. Stained concrete would be a better option than laminate flooring. It is a more creative option than laying carpet. Your mileage will vary I’m sure.
The Best Floor For You
Not to keep harping about the same thing over and over, but the most crucial part of choosing a basement floor is knowing what you want and what your home will need. Once you get these questions answered, you will be on your way. The best type of flooring shouldn’t be 100 miles away now that you’ve read up on the options.
I hope I have been able to help with this question. If you have more questions, please do not hesitate to call us and ask. One of our flooring professionals will be happy to help. Shop all our products to find a great basement floor today.