Flooring for Wet, Flood Prone Basements: Best & Worst Choices

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The basement is one of the trickiest parts of the house to choose flooring because of all the hurdles you will encounter.

The majority of basements are built on a concrete slab below ground. This means that most will have an uneven surface which will limit your flooring options.

Also, basements are known for being wet, damp, and sometimes flood prone! This can affect your health if toxic mold and mildew grow down there

The ironic thing is that basement flooring options typically cost more than other areas of the house, yet people want to spend less because it’s used less. This leads to lots of people exceeding their budget.

Luckily not all hope is lost. We compiled this list of the top flooring options for wet, damp basements. We go over everything that you need to know about each method including the pros and cons.

Ready? Let’s get started!

Best Flooring for Wet, Damp & Flood Prone Basements

Engineered Vinyl Planks of Tiles

This is our first choice for wet basement because it looks almost like hardwood flooring but with the benefit of being waterproof. The cork underlayment provides cushioning and insulation, as well as sound absorption.

Related: Best brands of vinyl plank flooring guide

It’s a fairly new type of flooring that is a great option if you need something that will withstand water/moisture while still looking stylish. It sounds and looks more authentic than laminate that’s for sure.

Another thing we like about this basement flooring option is that it’s possible to install yourself if you are the handy type.

If you’re installing this flooring on a concrete slab then you’ll need to install a vapor barrier between the foundation and vinyl plank. This is because sometimes hydrostatic pressure from the ground can push water up from the foundation. This water can then get trapped between the foundation and the vinyl.

This usually only happens in early spring when the snow melts or after extreme thunderstorms or hurricanes. When it does happen it can cause a lot of damage though. The trapped water can cause mold to grow and eat away at the cork underlayment. Adding the thin vapor barrier is a simple fix that you don’t want to ignore!

Pros:

  • Waterproof
  • Affordable
  • Looks and feels authentic
  • Thick and warmer which creates insulation
  • Thick wear layer makes it last longer

Cons:

  • Can bounce if the subfloor is uneven (must level it first)
  • Material cost is higher than other vinyls

Tile plank floors, ceramic or porcelain tiles

Tile is obviously waterproof so for wet basements, tile may be the way to go. They are also pretty easy to clean with simple equipment like a mop and broom.

Durability is another thing we like about tile. They will last a very long time if you take care not to drop anything on them.

They also come in a variety of styles to suit most basements.

However, there are a few downsides to tile flooring. One is that if the weather is cold where you live then the tile will obviously feel quite cold on your feet.

Another downside is that tile is usually more expensive because of the labor involved. It must be installed on top of concrete, because installing on top of plywood will cause it to crack if the wood expands/contracts due to temperature changes.

Related: Porcelain tile vs vinyl plank comparison

It’s also important to make sure that the subfloor is level or else the tiles can crack. Installing large tiles on an uneven floor can cause them to not line up properly and cause toe stubbing or tripping.

Pros:

  • Durable
  • Waterproof
  • Increases home value

Cons:

  • More expensive than other options
  • Not comfortable to sit on
  • Cold on the feet

Sheet vinyl

If you’re on a budget then you might want to consider sheet vinyl. Sure, it’s more expensive than carpeting but still less than the other hard surface options.

We like that sheet vinyl is very resilient, as well as waterproof for combatting spills. It’s different from linoleum because it’s thicker and a bit more expensive.

If you live in a high humidity, wet climate then sheet vinyl could be a good option. Its seamless surface is great for resisting spills and other moisture.

One downside is that it looks a bit old fashioned and cheaper than other options. It also requires some floor prep before installation in order to smooth out the floor, otherwise, the surface of the subfloor will show through within a few months.

One thing that’s a bit annoying is that sheet vinyl comes in 12-foot rolls. If your basement happens to be wider than 12 feet you’ll have a seam and need to buy extra vinyl to cover the area and match up the patterns.

It’s also not a good option for the average handyman because it requires special tools to install. The process is known to be pretty hard too, best leave it to the pros.

Pros:

  • Resistant to water/moisture
  • Affordable
  • Warmer than tile

Cons:

  • Requires some prep to smooth the floor
  • Looks old fashioned and cheap
  • Very hard to DIY

Interlocking raised modular vinyl or carpet tiles

Floating interlocking floor tiles are commonly offered by basement waterproofing companies in different finishes like carpet or vinyl.

The surface of this flooring is raised from the slab by pegs that allow the air to circulate underneath and the ground moisture to dry. They are waterproof and resist mold as well.

The pieces are easy to remove if needed as they snap into place. Due to being raised on the pegs there is an air pocket that acts to insulate the area and make it warmer.

Although the tiles will help to conceal minor floor damage, you will need to prep the floor beforehand to make sure that there isn’t more than ¼ inch difference or the tiles won’t line up properly.

One thing that we must note is that the majority of these raised tiles have proprietary patents and you probably won’t find them in stores and instead only used with certified contractors.

Pros:

  • Affordable
  • Easy to install on top of concrete

Cons:

  • Difficult to get
  • Don’t look nice

Rubber flooring/rubber interlocking gym tiles

Home gym enthusiasts finally have the perfect solution for their basement flooring dilemma! Rubber flooring is great if you want to have a home gym as they absorb shock really well. They’re also waterproof to defend against spills and moisture.

They come in interlocking pieces which makes it possible to DIY for those that want to. If the floor gets wet you can even take them off and let them dry before putting them back together.

These rubber tiles are pretty thick at ⅜ inch as a standard with thicker options available. The thickness really helps to camouflage any of the subfloor imperfections that you might have.

Creative types will like that you can create patterns with multiple colors. Or you can take the standard option and just go with one color.

An even cheaper option to consider is the soft rubber tiles made with EVA foam. These are commonly used in homes with kids or babies. They aren’t as durable as the regular tiles obviously but they are great for making specific areas even softer.

Pros:

  • Easy to install
  • Softer/easier on the feet
  • Waterproof
  • Good for gyms

Cons:

  • They are heavy which can mean high shipping costs
  • Don’t look very stylish

Stained concrete or acid etched floors

An option that has become more stylish over the years is stained concrete. The acid etched floors have a certain look that you won’t get with other options.

The stain permeates the concrete to give off a translucent tone, rather than the opaque look that paint gives off.

Creative types will like this option because it gives the freedom to create a colorful floor, as well as using neutral colors. You have unlimited options with this one.

Pros:

  • Moisture resistant
  • Can create fun patterns and colors
  • Doesn’t require a subfloor

Cons:

  • Not comfortable to walk on
  • Cold on the feet
  • Requires floor prep and labor because the floor has to be scoured first
  • Bad sound insulation

Glue down vinyl planks or tiles

We already mentioned why we prefer engineered vinyl plank flooring, however, it’s not the best option for some areas. If the subfloor isn’t even then the EVP can bounce up so here is another option.

Just like the name would suggest, these vinyl planks or tiles glue down to the floor. They can work on surfaces that are uneven because they don’t float. The subfloor still has to be even though or the glue down vinyl will still be uneven.

There are a couple different types of glue down vinyls to consider. Our favorite is the luxury glue down vinyls. Usually they are waterproof and are known to be durable.

You can get cheaper glue down vinyls as well but they are thinner and not as durable. You get what you pay for with this type of flooring.

Another cheap option is known as vinyl composite tile. These are rigid tiles that measure in at 12 x 12. They are commonly seen at places like laundromats and older schools, making them not the most attractive option that’s for sure.

Regardless of what option that you go with you’ll need to do the necessary floor preparation. Although it might not be necessary to level the floor, you might still want to do a couple of skim coats in order to smooth out the floor. This can help hide imperfections that might have shown through vinyl.

Pros:

  • High-quality ones are waterproof or highly water resistant
  • Can use on wavy or uneven floors
  • Warmer than tile

Cons:

  • Hard to DIY
  • Not the most attractive flooring
  • Cheaper options are not waterproof

Worst Flooring Solutions for Flood Prone Basements

Engineered hardwood floors

Although you shouldn’t install solid hardwood in your basement because of moisture issues, an alternative you can consider is engineered hardwood.

It’s designed to have perpendicular layers which means there is less expansion and contraction than solid.

When it comes to the installation, this type can be floated or glued to concrete subfloors. With both options it’s crucial that the subfloor is level and even. If it isn’t the planks will pop up once the adhesive gets worn down over time or from high humidity. If the floors are floated on a surface that isn’t level it can cause them to bounce.

We have to note that this option is not for people that get moisture in their basement. Having flooring problems is inevitable over time. This is why it’s good to use a moisture meter to test the air and be sure. A dehumidifier doesn’t hurt either.

Pros:

  • Can increase the value of your home
  • Not as cold for the feet as tile
  • Looks stylish

Cons:

  • Bit expensive
  • Could require extra floor prep
  • Hard to sand and refinish
  • Not waterproof

Now that we’ve wrapped up our list of the top 10 options we’ll go over which flooring options you’ll want to avoid.

Carpet tiles

We separated carpet tiles and regular carpet because there are a couple differences.

One is that carpet tiles absorb less moisture due to their composition and backing being different. They are also easier to replace if a few happen to get dirty.

Carpet tiles look a bit better in our opinion and they behave more like a hard surface than actual carpet. The many different styles available that can help to conceal dirt or stains if you have pets or children.

The thing we don’t like about carpet tiles is that they are normally more expensive than regular carpet. Although they are still less expensive than other hard surfaces.

You also can’t use them on steps unless you had tile carpet that matched wall carpet.

If you’re looking for something that will last a long time then you might want to reconsider carpet tile in favor of something else. The pressure sensitive adhesive tends to wear out if it’s exposed to moisture.

Pros:

  • Easy to replace sections if they get dirty
  • Stylish and colorful
  • Absorbs less moisture than regular carpet, making it more resistant to mold, mildew, dust mites

Cons:

  • Can’t be used on steps
  • More expensive than wall to wall carpet
  • Moisture can cause the pressure-sensitive adhesive to wear down

Carpet

One of the most popular (and cheapest) options is good old carpet. If you’re on a tight budget then this might be the option for you. Carpet is flexible so it’s much easier to work with than other types in this list. Areas that aren’t level or smooth are not a problem when you pick carpet. It also helps to camouflage any imperfections that are on the subfloor.

Carpet is also a lot warmer to walk on and is a safe option for stairs. This is good if you have small children that like to run up and down stairs.

The downside to carpets is that they are the hardest option to clean. They get dirty fast and need to be replaced sooner than other options.

Also carpet is not waterproof which makes it a no-go if your basement has flooding issues. Even if you get a lot of moisture it’s not good either because of mold/mildew developing.

Pros:

  • Most affordable option
  • Soft and warm
  • Hides uneven sub floors
  • Safe for stairs

Cons:

  • Gets dirty easily
  • Wears out faster
  • Not waterproof

Solid Hardwood

The worst flooring option for your basement is solid hardwood. The thing about this choice is that you need ¾ inch plywood subflooring to nail it to. Sure it’s possible to nail this plywood into concrete and sleepers but at the end of the day this flooring is not ideal for below-grade use.

The reason for this is mainly due to temperature and humidity fluctuations during the year that commonly happen in basements. These fluctuations can cause the flooring to buckle.

The nail in the coffin for this flooring is that the manufacturer’s warranty is voided most of the time if it’s used below grade. This is why it’s not worth the risk in our opinion.

Yes, technically It is possible to install hardwood flooring in the basement by gluing it down directly to the concrete. However, it’s much better to either install subfloor first or use engineered wood flooring.

The reason for this is because a basement is below the ground and more prone to moisture and water leaks which could damage the floor since it’s not waterproof.

If you insist on installing hardwood in your basement then here are your options depending on the situation:

Plywood Sub Floor and Ground Level Basement

If this describes you then things will be a bit easier than the other options. You have some flexibility when it comes to choosing your wood. You can use solid hardwood if you are a grade and nail it into the plywood.

You can also use engineered hardwood and nail it into the plywood. This installation method costs less than others. Beyond that it depends on your budget and what type of wood you want.

Plywood SubFloor and Below Ground Basement

If this describes you then you have to install engineered hardwood. This is because solid hardwood can buckle and split due to large variance in humidity and temperature. Engineered hardwood has layers and can handle this better.

With the plywood subfloor it would be a good idea to get standard engineered hardwood that can be nailed to the plywood.

Concrete SubFloor and Below Ground Basement

In this scenario you will have to use an engineered hardwood floor. If your concrete floor is smooth then you can glue a regular engineered hardwood to it. Obviously you’ll want to make sure it’s extremely level otherwise the adhesive won’t stick and the floor could get detached!

If the floor is not level/smooth then it’s best to level it which can be expensive. If the floor is level but not smooth then you can go with a clickable hardwood that can be floated on top.

We have to note that if the floor is uneven then there could be a lot of movement. In this case it’s better to select a different type of flooring.

Concrete SubFloor and Ground Level Basement

If this is your scenario then you have options depending on the construction of your home.

  • option 1: Install an engineered hardwood on top of the concrete by either gluing it down or floating it.
  • option 2: install a plywood subfloor and put the solid hardwood on top of it. If room permits, you can install a ¾ inch plywood subfloor. This will make for 1.5 inches of height with the plywood and the solid hardwood so make sure that it doesn’t interfere with doors, cabinets, appliances, or transitions to other rooms.

If this is an option for you then the next consideration is budget. You’ll have to pay more to install the plywood and it’s more expensive to install the plywood over concrete than it is to add it to wood flooring joists. Concrete requires the use of hilites and nail guns in order to secure the plywood onto the subfloor. This can get expensive!

So to sum it up: if you add plywood to the floor then you have the choice of either solid or engineered hardwood. Whereas if you don’t add a plywood subfloor then you have to use an engineered hardwood.

Bamboo flooring

Bamboo is another poor choice for the basement, and other areas of the house if we’re being honest. Although bamboo is marketed as being eco friendly and cheap, there are significant downsides.

The main one is that bamboo is not very durable at all. It gets dented and scratched easily, as well as being very prone to water damage. In fact, you’ll have a hard time finding many people that are happy with their bamboo floors a few years after installation.

It’s also ironic that it’s marketed as being eco friendly considering it uses a lot of adhesives that emit VOCs. We say to give bamboo a pass.

Laminate floors

Laminate flooring is manufactured using recycled hardwood. It will usually have an MDF or HDF (medium density or high density fiberboard) coreboard. The problem with this coreboard is that it absorbs moisture very well.

This means there’s a good chance of laminate flooring expanding and contracting after installation. Once this happens it can buckle and the locking mechanism won’t line up anymore.

It’s also hard to repair laminate because you have to work from the side wall inwards towards the damaged pieces. More pieces usually break too as you start, making for a frustrating experience.

Although laminate is cheap it’s not a choice we would recommend for your basement, unless you accept that it won’t last too long.

Cork flooring

Cork flooring has the benefit of being comfortable to walk on. It’s also eco friendly which is always nice.

The issue we have with cork is that the edges are not always fully sealed. This allows extra moisture to damage it.

Conclusion

When it comes to the best flooring options for your basement, you want to get the one that is best suited for YOU.

Factor in budget, durability, installation difficulty, appearance to choose the one that is good for your lifestyle.

Also, don’t forget to consider the long term vs short term costs. Because getting a cheaper option like carpet might be cheaper in the short term, but will need to be replaced sooner which will drive up the long term cost.

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