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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.
First of all, basements are known for being cold, damp, and sometimes wet. All these things can have an impact on different types of flooring. It can also 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 your basement. 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 Basements (2020 Update)
Engineered Vinyl Planks of Tiles
This is our first choice for basement flooring 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.
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!
- Looks and feels authentic
- Thick and warmer which creates insulation
- Thick wear layer makes it last longer
- Can bounce if the subfloor is uneven (must level it first)
- Material cost is higher than other vinyls
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.
- Most affordable option
- Soft and warm
- Hides uneven sub floors
- Safe for stairs
- Gets dirty easily
- Wears out faster
- Not waterproof
Tile plank floors, ceramic or porcelain tiles
Tile is obviously waterproof so if this is a big concern for you then 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.
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.
- Increases home value
- More expensive than other options
- Not comfortable to sit on
- Cold on the feet
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.
- 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
- Can’t be used on steps
- More expensive than wall to wall carpet
- Moisture can cause the pressure-sensitive adhesive to wear down
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 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.
- Resistant to water/moisture
- Warmer than tile
- 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.
- Easy to install on top of concrete
- 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.
- Easy to install
- Softer/easier on the feet
- Good for gyms
- 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.
- Moisture resistant
- Can create fun patterns and colors
- Doesn’t require a subfloor
- 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.
- High-quality ones are waterproof or highly water resistant
- Can use on wavy or uneven floors
- Warmer than tile
- Hard to DIY
- Not the most attractive flooring
- Cheaper options are not waterproof
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.
- Can increase the value of your home
- Not as cold for the feet as tile
- Looks stylish
- 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.
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 approved 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.
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 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 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.
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.