Basements all have one thing in common regardless of the style of your home – they are all below-grade. When dealing with basement flooring, there are special considerations you need to keep in mind as flooring is fickle. What works above ground, may not be ideal for your basement so you’ll want to keep our tips in mind and plan ahead before settling on a new basement flooring option.
Current Condition of your Basement
Basements come in many shapes and forms from sectioned spaces that house a variety of rooms to wide open concrete slabs. Before you can begin to think about the type of flooring you want downstairs, you need to consider the current condition of the room along with the subflooring and any future plans.
If you’re working with a slab floor, the world is your oyster as you'll have a clean slate at your disposal. Otherwise, you’ll need to think about how much work it takes to tear up the old flooring and put down something new. Some styles can be laid on top of the previous flooring with minimal effort, but you could have a large job ahead of you so look before you leap.
Planning ahead is important and can help steer you in the right direction. If you plan on going the traditional route and use your basement for storage, a few coats of latex may do the trick or some rubber tiles. The latter works well in any area you plan on using for a gym or entryways that catch a lot of mud as well. If you can’t decide between flooring types and have a segmented basement, you can use a different style of flooring in each room.
The Problem with Basements…
Whether your basement is a play area for your kids or a game room with a pool table, moisture, humidity, and flooding can be a major problem. Several other issues can arise from those problems as well if mold and mildew set in which could result in a very expensive remodeling project or temporarily put you out of your home.
Any room that’s underground can experience those issues, and a below-grade basement certainly falls under that category. If you’ve just purchased a home, you may not know what to expect, but the first thing you should do is check the grade or slope of the ground around the home. If it’s flat, that’s not a good sign as water can pool, then leak into the basement. It should slope downward on all sides, not towards your home and the same goes for driveways.
It’s not uncommon to see driveways slope down towards a garage depending on the layout of the area around your home. Water runs downhill, and sometimes those catch basins can be overwhelmed and send water straight in your direction. It’s also an issue in hilly subdivisions, so you’ll want to check out the lay of the land before considering something like carpet or hardwood in your basement.
Another overlooked concern comes into play with the upper floor of your home along with anything overhead. Is your basement unfinished? If so, you may have exposed pipes which can burst or leak. Even if you have drywall overhead, and a tub or sink overflows, the water is going straight to that basement once it finds a gap. Hot water heaters are also commonly found in basements, another thing to keep in mind. If flooding could be an issue in any way, remember organic flooring can rot whereas ceramic tile and concrete are inorganic and safe from that standpoint.
Cracks in your foundation, bad gutters, and poor landscaping are some other areas that can cause issues with water around your home whether you’ve just moved in or have been living there for decades. Before you begin looking for the best basement flooring, address any current issues around your home and the underlayment and state of your existing floor.
The Best Basement Flooring
You might be surprised to know there are dozens of inexpensive basement flooring ideas available, not just a handful. With that in mind, some forms of flooring are made for basements while others will require an extreme amount of care or preparation that make them more trouble than they are worth. Regardless of the style, keep seams in mind and the potential for floods even if the product is labeled as waterproof basement flooring.
Vinyl is and always has been a great choice for flooring in basements and other areas where you don’t want to install pricey hardwoods or carpet. Thanks to advancements in flooring tech, there are new forms of vinyl that can outperform engineered woods and other styles of flooring, and we’re going to break down the styles below.
One of the newer materials on the flooring scene, Luxury Vinyl is a great option for below-grade rooms. It can provide you with the look of hardwood or stone, and without the hassle and won’t warp as boards can in your basement.
There are several forms of Luxury Vinyl with LVT, EVT, LVP, and EVP. While that may seem confusing, the EV stands for Engineered Vinyl while LP is Luxury Vinyl and the last letter represents the type with P for plank and T for tile.
Engineered vinyl planks look and feel more like engineered wooden planks as they have a top layer, core, and bottom layer. They are resilient and a better option than real or engineered wood, but not quite as sturdy as LVP.
Luxury vinyl planks are thinner and don’t offer as much padding underfoot, but can install in a similar fashion and come with the same types of styles. The best LVP flooring is waterproof however and highly resistant to scratches as well. On the downside, if you’re installing this product in a “finished” basement, it’s not going to add value to the home the way other materials would. It’s still just vinyl at the end of the day.
If you are interested in Luxury or Engineered vinyl products, there are plenty of options available from big brands like Armstrong or Lumber Liquidators line of products. There are a number of specialty shops as well including Mannington with their ADURA planks or Tarkett with their tiles. We’ve seen pricing as low as $0.60 to over $3.00 per sq. ft. so the price point depends on the style, overall quality, and thickness.
Sheet Vinyl & Vinyl Tiles
Seams are one of the biggest issues with flooring installed in damp areas. Whether you’re laying down tile, wood or even vinyl, you have to think about the seams and may need to seal them in some instances. If that’s not ideal and you want to cover a lot of ground with minimal effort, sheet vinyl should be high on your shopping list.
Sheet flooring has changed considerably over the years and isn’t as bland as it was a decade ago. In fact, you can find the same styles and patterns as you would on luxury vinyl, so a stone or hardwood look is still an option. This flooring is one of the best cheap basement flooring options over concrete, provided your floor is nice and level. It can be cold, however, and doesn’t provide as much cushion underfoot as other options on our list.
Vinyl tiles have been around for ages and are still popular today. They are easier to install than vinyl sheets due to their size and much easier to replace if something goes wrong. You have more freedom with design, and there’s more room for errors with cuts, but the two materials share more similarities than differences overall.
You can purchase vinyl sheets or tile at a variety of online retailers and hardware stores. This material is typically sold in either 6 or 12-foot sections and can be cut to length at places like Lowes or purchased in rolls. Tile is just as easy to find, but you’ll likely have a larger selection of options to choose from. Both are budget-friend with prices between $1.00 – $3.00 per square foot although sheet vinyl tends to be a little cheaper than vinyl tiles.
When you want something durable and easy to clean, it’s hard to go wrong with rubber flooring. It’s an excellent alternative for basements and other rooms that may get wet and something typically found in high traffic areas for a reason.
If you’re installing flooring for a gym or playroom, rubber is an obvious choice but overlooked for basements. It’s one of the best materials for dealing with water and provides you with more cushion that tile or wood flooring. It’s easy to care for as well and very durable so dogs, heels and other things that would beat up hardwood, won’t bother rubber.
Rubber tiles can be installed by anyone, but they may bother your nose for a few weeks as some can produce a strong rubbery smell. Seams can also be an issue, but generally not a problem unless you’re gluing these tiles down. Part of the draw of this type of flooring is the ability to remove or replace it as needed, even if they can be quite heavy.
Rubber tiles are another great basement flooring option, and easy to track down locally or online. They come in several different sizes from 12 to 36-inch squares but can be expensive depending on the quality of the product and its thickness. You won’t get stuck with simple black or gray; however, as there are colorful rubber tiles and products from companies like Greatmats that actually look like wood.
We’ve already touched on vinyl and rubber tiles, but traditional ceramic or stone tile is suitable for basements as well. It can give a touch of class to an otherwise drab downstairs room, and some tile is considerably tougher than wood. It’s one of the best basement flooring options for concrete as long as you take a few precautions.
One of the reasons we love tile in a basement is the fact it’s completely waterproof. If your grout joints are solid and the subfloor is sound, water will never be an issue. Ceramic and porcelain tile is easy to clean but can be slippery unless you choose textured tile whereas stone gives you more traction. You’re also going to have a lot of options at your disposal with classic ceramic and stone along with unique alternatives like marble, terracotta, and slate.
Tile doesn’t have any flex like vinyl or similar types of flooring that can give a little when problems arise. Instead, tile can crack, buckle or pop loose entirely depending on the problem. You need a completely level surface and may have to use a special layer of underlayment like an uncoupling membrane. It’s also not as easy to install as other types of flooring and can be expensive depending on the style.
Tile is the one material that’s tough to gauge from a price standpoint. An 18 x 18-inch Crema Marfil marble tile will set you back around $6 per sq. ft. while a classy black textured porcelain tile can be found for as low as $3.00 per sq. ft. while this patterned tile with a basalt limestone mixed mosaic is priced at $12.99 each.
When you can’t decide on a material for your basement or water is something you’ll have to deal with more often than not, your best option may already be under your feet. Concrete is the most durable type of flooring commonly used, and as long as you seal it, water will never be an issue. A concrete floor will outlast other types of flooring by decades, not just a few years but it is hard on your feet and cold to the touch.
Grey may not be the best color to brighten up a room, but you can treat concrete in a number of ways to give it some additional character. Dying concrete is one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to liven things up, and Direct Colors has several vivid options to choose from. Acid-staining is another technique that can have dramatic results, but not something everyone will want to try as you can see from the video below…
Want something a little more modern and natural? Well, you can always polish your concrete slab although you’ll need to rent a grinder or call in a pro. Polished is priced by the foot just like flooring while the other methods depend on how much material you need. You can also use a combination of all three techniques or even slather on a thick layer of epoxy.
Proceed With Caution…
In truth, you can install any type of flooring in your basement, but you’ll have to pay the consequences with flooding or when moisture is present. While all of these options will also work in a basement, they may be more trouble than they are worth if you have to install a subfloor or go to extreme measures. In other words, we don’t recommend them if you have better alternatives available.
Engineered wood isn’t the worst option for basements, but it certainly isn’t the best considering it uses an amount of real wood in the product. While it will look amazing in any basement, it can swell like any other organic material if your basement floods out. Some types of engineered wood flooring can handle water better than others, but you still need to prep the subfloor or slab.
You can laminate the right subflooring and there plenty of patterns that would look good in a basement. Unfortunately, laminate flooring is known to swell. If your flooring has to deal with water for an extended amount of time, you’ll have to rip it up and replace it. It is not the best choice for basements that may see water damage although there are a few waterproof versions of this material available.
We love cork and think it looks great in homes as it provides a distinct look not found with other woods. You can also use cork flooring in a basement, but it’s an organic just like wood, which means it’s prone to the same issues including rot. While it’s comfy and quiet, you’ll need a dry room and excellent subfloor before considering this one.
Have you ever had to clean up a significant amount of water from a carpeted room? If so, you already understand why it’s a bad idea to install carpet in any room below ground that may get wet. That includes basements as mildew and mold are drawn to this material like moths to a flame. If you still want to use carpet, take a look at carpet tiles as you can remove those in sections if an accident happens to occur.
Hardwood is the oldest type of flooring and still one of the best when it comes to overall durability, style and adding value to your home. It’s usually not found in basements for the same reasons as engineered wood or laminate – water damage. Hardwood flooring is the most expensive type of wood to replace or install in basements and arguably the worst chocice.