Basement flooring is a challenge for any homeowner. Basements are prone to moisture and can feel chilly and damp underfoot. They’re often the location of appliances like washers and hot water heaters that can break and cause flooding. Basement family rooms, game rooms and playrooms get a lot of wear and tear.
With all these challenges, it may surprise you to learn that many types of flooring will work in a basement—provided it’s properly installed. There are two main exceptions:
- Solid hardwood flooring
- Laminate flooring made with a fiberboard core that hasn’t been treated for moisture resistance
Both of these can absorb moisture and warp as a result. Solid hardwood may expand and contract with varying temperatures and humidity levels.
That leaves you with many basement flooring options, including vinyl, moisture resistant laminates, ceramic tile, and some engineered woods. Let’s take a look at each.
Vinyl Tiles, Planks and Sheet Flooring
Vinyl flooring is one of the most popular choices for basements. It can go directly over prepared concrete and comes in tiles, planks or sheets.
Some advantages of vinyl flooring for basements:
- Impervious to moisture
- Resilient flooring: Flexible and slightly soft underfoot for more warmth and comfort than tile or cement
- Tough, durable and virtually maintenance-free
- Available in a huge variety of colors and patterns
- Easier to install than tile
The main disadvantage to vinyl flooring is that even though it effectively mimics the look of wood, stone or tile, even the best grades look like vinyl up close. You’ll see a wide range of prices for vinyl flooring, ranging from relatively inexpensive to more expensive than hardwood for some top grades. It’s important to consider the durability and thickness of the vinyl flooring as well as the price when covering your basement.
Laminate flooring is constructed of dense fiberboard, plywood or plastic core with a photo realistic pattern beneath a clear plastic protective layer. It can be installed over a concrete slab or a foam pad.
Traditionally, laminate flooring was not recommended for basements because the fiberboard core could warp when exposed to moisture. Today, many laminates are made with treated plywood or plastic core that is moisture-resistant. Look for waterproof laminates when considering this flooring option for a basement.
Advantages of laminate flooring include:
- Huge variety of styles, colors and patterns that mimic the look of wood, stone or tile
- Liquid spills wipe up easily
- Stain-resistant and easy to clean: good for high-traffic areas
- Easy to install: most utilize a tile-locking mechanism
- Can be installed adhesive free
And the disadvantages:
- Not actually wood: the repetitive pattern can compromise realism
- Must be replaced once the outer layer has worn through
There is a wide quality range with laminate flooring. The best grades are very durable and scratch-resistant, and have a more realistic look, feel and sound.
Ceramic Tile Flooring
Like vinyl and laminate flooring, ceramic tile can be installed directly over prepared concrete. It is the designer’s choice due to its beauty, variety, and the ability to create custom patterns.
Ceramic tile flooring has many advantages:
- Available in many shapes, sizes, colors and textures
- Extremely durable and resistant to wear, scratches, dents and stains
And some disadvantages:
- Tiles can crack and some grout can stain
- Requires more time and skill to install
- Tile is cold underfoot: you can alleviate this with radiant heat in your flooring
Engineered Wood Flooring
Even though solid hardwood floors are a no-no for the basement, engineered wood flooring is often a viable option. Engineered wood floors have a thin solid wood veneer layer over plywood backing. Plywood is more stable than solid wood, able to withstand changes in temperature and moisture without warping.
If you do choose engineered wood flooring, make sure the option you choose is rated for below-grade basements.
Pros of engineered wood flooring:
- Look and feel of real wood with the moisture resistance of laminate
- Available in a wide variety of finishes and species
- Click-together planks and tiles available for easy installation; other varieties are designed to be glued to the basement floor
- Most engineered wood isn’t as durable as laminate
- More durable than solid hardwood, but wood veneer layer can still scratch, dent and suffer water damage
Despite the fact that it’s not water-resistant, carpeting is still the basement flooring of choice for many homeowners. It has several advantages:
- Adds warmth
- Adds a level of soundproofing
- Available in a wide variety of colors, textures and patterns
- One of the least expensive basement flooring options
The main disadvantage of carpeting is that it does not resist moisture, which can be a problem in a damp basement or if flooding or spills occur. Moisture-resistant pads cost more than standard carpet pads but are a good investment for the basement. Keep in mind that they won’t alleviate chronic moisture problems.
Carpeting also takes more maintenance than “solid” flooring.
Basement Bottom Line
When it comes to choosing basement flooring:
✔️ Don’t cut corners. Choose high quality, durable flooring that can stand up to active use.
✔️ If your basement is prone to moisture, look for waterproof flooring products and those specifically rated for use in basements. Keep in mind that water (or dropped drinks, pet messes, and other spills) can run between the seams of plank flooring, creating the potential for mold and mildew. Waterproof flooring and options like sheet vinyl alleviate this risk.
✔️ Installation makes a difference. While your flooring may be moisture-resistant, the concrete slab beneath is porous and prone to moisture. Moisture trapped between the flooring and the slab is a breeding ground for mold and mildew. Talk with a flooring installation professional about whether a vapor barrier or waterproof subfloor would be a smart option for your basement.