Low Moisture Levels are Critical for
Installing Certain Basement Floorings
By: Mark J. Donovan
One important design
consideration of a basement remodeling project is your choice in flooring.
However, your choices in basement flooring may be limited, or require extra
work, depending upon whether or not there is a vapor barrier underneath the
concrete slab floor. The vapor barrier helps to prevent moisture that is
underneath your basement from wicking up through the concrete slab.
A vapor barrier is simply a sheet of plastic that is effectively sandwiched
in between the underneath side of the concrete slab and the Earth. Without
the vapor barrier you will very likely have high levels of moisture that
wick up through the concrete floor.
Thus there are a couple of
otherwise viable basement flooring options you could not consider, e.g. wood
or carpet, unless you are willing to do some additional work.
To determine if there is a vapor barrier placed underneath the basement
floor, tape down a few small patches of clear plastic to your basement
floor. Make sure the tape covers all edges of each small piece of plastic. A
couple of days later take a careful look at the plastic. If you see moisture
clinging to the plastic or dark spots on the basement floor directly
underneath the plastic then most likely there is no vapor barrier underneath
your concrete slab. And as such, your choices in basement flooring are
limited, unless you are willing to either, (1) apply a waterproof sealer to
the basement floor, or (2) install a network crib of 2x4s, insulation, and a
plastic vapor barrier directly on top of the concrete slab, followed by a
layer of moisture resistant plywood to cover the crib. You may also want to
install a French drain around the perimeter of your home’s foundation
however a backhoe will be required and it will probably cost you a few
If your moisture test turned up negative, then you have a few additional
basement flooring options that you can consider.
Carpeting is a frequent choice in finished basements, even though it may
sound on the surface a bad idea. However, if the concrete slab has a
moisture barrier underneath it, or you’ve installed one above it as
described above, carpeting is a very viable choice. Also, carpet installers
can install a cellulose underlayment directly on top of the concrete slab to
act as a vapor barrier.
Carpet offers the advantage of acting
as somewhat of an insulator and thus is warm and comfortable feeling, as well as
very durable. It also acts somewhat as a noise damper, thus mitigating furnace
and drain pipe noise. Berber carpeting appears to be the most popular type of
carpeting installed in finished basements today.
Ceramic Tile Basement Flooring
Ceramic tile is a great choice for basement flooring. However, it can be cold on
the feet. Ceramic tile is also sensitive to high moisture levels, which may seem
somewhat surprising. High moisture levels can shorten tile life. Also, tiles
need to be installed on a level surface which sometimes can be an issue when
installing on a concrete basement slab. A self level compound may be required
prior to installing ceramic tiles on the basement floor. In addition, any
basement cracks should be properly sealed with a crack filler prior to
installing the tiles.
Free Floating Engineered Flooring
Engineered flooring is another common choice with homeowners in finished
basements. Engineered flooring sits on a foam underlayment that helps to
mitigate any unevenness in the concrete slab and to dampen room sounds when
walking on it. Because the engineered flooring effectively floats on the foam
underlayment it can expand and contract as moisture levels change in the
Engineered flooring is also perfect for basement flooring due to how it is
manufactured. It is fabricated via multiple layers of wood materials sandwiched
and compressed together.
This fabrication process helps to
prevent the finished flooring product from warping or twisting. The top coat
layer of the engineered flooring usually consists of a wood veneer that gives
the flooring product a natural hardwood floor look.
Engineered flooring can easily be installed by DIY homeowners.
As is the case with engineered flooring, laminate flooring also floats on an
underlayment. Laminate flooring is also manufactured similarly to engineered
flooring. It consists of a core base, with a top layer of photographic resin.
Since the top layer is a photographic image, laminate flooring can be made to
resemble wood or vinyl flooring. With laminate flooring, however, it must be
installed in low moisture areas. Otherwise the laminate layers could separate if
they come in contact with water or even high moisture levels.
Like engineered flooring, laminate flooring can easily be installed by DIY
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Painted Basement Floors
One low cost basement flooring option is to simply paint the basement floor
with a couple of coats of paint. This is a particularly attractive option if
you are on a very limited basement remodeling budget and are concerned about
the possibility of water getting into the basement.
In general hardwood flooring should be low on your list of basement flooring
options. Hardwood floors are very susceptible to high or changing moisture
levels. Even if there is a vapor barrier underneath the concrete slab it is
not a good option. If you are determined to install hardwood floors in your
basement, then at least first build the crib network of 2x4s over the
concrete slab as described in the beginning of this article. The hardwood
flooring can then be fastened over the plywood sheathed 2x4 crib.
For more help on Finishing
Basements and Basement Flooring, see HomeAdditionPlus.com's
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