Choosing a basement floor comes down to more than just appearance, especially when moisture is a factor. Flooding or damage from leaks are very real risks with basements and can cost thousands in repairs. Planning ahead for a cost-effective and waterproof floor is key to a successful basement renovation. But with so many types of floors available, it’s also a matter of ensuring you choose the right one!
Before getting into the best flooring options, there are a few other things to consider first. These will help narrow down those final options when it comes to your basement floors.
Questions to ask yourself first
Advances in flooring technology have helped blend the decision between function over style as floors now offer both. Basement flooring is no exception, but the function and role of the space itself still matter. For that reason, ask yourself these questions to help narrow down the best basement floor ideas:
What’s your budget?
Any renovation should always start with a clear budget, even if it’s just for a new floor. Since a basement renovation offers a high return on investment, you want a floor that will contribute to adding value. Don’t just focus on low-cost flooring, because the long-term value won’t be as high. Instead, invest a little extra on a quality floor that will last for years and have a higher ROI. Keep in mind that your budget should also include the cost of labour and in the case of DIYing, then the cost for any necessary tools.
What is the basement for?
What exactly are your plans for the basement? Will it be a rentable suite, a secondary living room, or a personal gym? Depending on its use, your choice of flooring will play a role. Tile flooring, for example, may not be the best fit for a gym with heavy machines. Luxury vinyl tile, however, is an excellent alternative and can work across multiple rooms. If the basement is going to be a new entertainment space, then factor in durability and wear resistance as well. You want a floor that will both last and look good over the years.
Part of choosing a floor should also include if your basement has more than one room, such as extra bathrooms or guest rooms. Different flooring in those rooms is an option, such as carpet in the bedroom and tile in the main room. Or, just pick one type of floor that will work across multiple rooms to save on costs and time.
Are you DIYing or hiring a professional?
Most flooring can be DIYed, but depending on your skills and time allowances, it can also be left to a professional. Installation methods such as floating, peel-and-stick, or tongue-and-groove are typical among most types of floors people choose to DIY. With a little learning and extra time, you can save some expenses. Otherwise, a professional can easily provide the same help and even save you some stress or time. More involved floor work, such as preparing the subfloor or installing tile, might be better left to an experienced professional. That way, you get guaranteed quality with a timely turnaround.
Issues to consider about basements
Moisture and flooding are the two biggest concerns when faced with basement flooring options, especially since basements are below grade. If an unknown leak or moisture does develop, it risks becoming trapped underneath the floor. Resulting mildew and mould growth is a serious health risk if not found and removed and can lead to costly damage and repairs to the floor. In severe cases, the floors will need to be removed to deal with the issue underneath. Waterproof flooring will help prevent this, but there are a few other methods to prevent any moisture.
Seal your basement: If your basement has flooded in the past or you live in a flood risk area, consider sealing the basement. Waterproof coating, materials, and techniques will help block any water from entering the basement. Other preventative methods include installing sump pumps or drains in an effective drainage system.
Install a dehumidifier: A cost-effective alternative to sealing is to install either a full-home dehumidifier or a separate one for the basement. Dehumidifiers control moisture levels, which prevents the conditions for mildew or mould to develop. They also keep the air cleaner, so people with allergies are less likely to be bothered by dust or other allergens.
Buy waterproof flooring: A final fail-safe is to choose a flooring that is already waterproof and so offers no risk. Installing waterproof flooring as well as sealing or dehumidifying the basement will double the protective benefits.
Worst floors for a basement
Even with preventative steps against moisture, some floors are still not recommended for basements. With that in mind, these are the least recommended floors for basements: hardwood, engineered wood, and laminate. These floors have very low waterproofing, making them an unnecessary risk to install. The cost of repairing or replacing damaged floors is easily avoided with a waterproof option.
Hardwood is timeless, beautiful, and is very popular among most homeowners and potential buyers. It adds value in any renovation but is also among the worst options for basements. Why? Wood naturally will swell and contract when it comes in contact with moisture or humidity. That can easily lead to cracks or splits and the costly bill to replace the entire floor. Worth noting, not all companies will have insurance coverage for hardwood installed below grade.
While engineered wood is designed to be resistant to water, long-term exposure will still damage the floor. Similar to laminate or hardwood, once it is damaged, the entire floor will need to be replaced.
Potential use: If your basement is carefully sealed and not usually at risk of flooding, this floor can work. Minor spills and moisture won’t immediately cause damage as engineered wood expands and contracts less than real wood. Still, keep in mind that it isn’t 100% resistant, making it a less recommended option.
Laminate is one of the cheaper flooring options, making it popular for cost-effective renovations. However, despite the advances in laminate flooring, it is still like a sponge when it comes to contact with a lot of water. If that happens, the floor will be permanently warped and must be replaced. The temperature drops as well, such as in basements, can cause the laminate to pull away from itself and leave gaps. While laminate has its benefits, overall it is not suited to the basement.
Best flooring options for a basement
With the worst options out of the way, it’s time to look at some of the best and most waterproof alternatives. Each floor varies based on appearance, costs, and ease of installation, but all make great additions. There’s no wrong choice—just personal preference!
Low-maintenance and easily installed over cement subfloor, ceramic tile is a perfect basement flooring option. It always adds value in renovations and, in a basement, makes for a stunning addition. Appearance-wise as well, tile adds a sleek elegance and can be customized in various designs and patterns. With the right care, ceramic tile floors can easily last upwards of 75+ years.
Pros: It is incredibly durable so it can stand up to high traffic areas without being damaged or showing wear. Ceramic is completely water-resistant and low maintenance, needing nothing more than an occasional sweep.
Cons: It is labour intensive to install and does take more skill and time than other average DIY floors. Ceramic also doesn’t retain heat well, which may be an issue in colder basements. Installing underfloor heating can help with this, but it is an added expense to factor in. Unglazed grout is not water-resistant, so it must be regularly sealed to prevent mildew or mould growth.
Cost: Ceramic tile is a very cost-effective option ranging from $0.50 to $7 per square foot.
DIY: As it is a more involved process to both install the tile and prepare the subfloor, it’s generally better to hire a professional.
Luxury vinyl plank or tile
If you still want the look of wood flooring without the risks, then luxury vinyl tile or plank (LVT/LVP) is the perfect solution. Luxury vinyl can resemble most types of flooring, such as hardwood, tile, or natural stone. Any basement addition as well, for example, bedrooms, living rooms, or playrooms, will benefit from a luxury vinyl floor. On average, it will easily last between 25-30 years, making it a valuable long-term investment.
Pros: It is incredibly durable, so higher foot traffic, scuffs, or scratches won’t be a problem. Unlike real tile, LVT won’t feel cold on bare feet as it retains heat. It is also low-maintenance and only needs an occasional sweeping.
Cons: More preparation is needed to ensure the subfloor is level; otherwise, the final floor will look uneven or have gaps.
Cost: The price ranges from $2.50 to $5 per square foot.
DIY: A very DIY friendly project if you have the time to install or just hire a professional.
Rubber is an easy to install and popular choice for either home gyms or playrooms for children. Like LVT, rubber is also available as individual tiles making it even easier to install. Its wide variety of colours and patterns means you can choose a vivid colour scheme for kids or something neutral for a gym. With the right care, rubber floors will also easily last 20 years or more.
Pros: Rubber is incredibly durable, so heavy impacts, scuff marks, or scratches won’t cause damage. It can also dampen sound and is softer on the feet, making it ideal for playrooms, gyms, or even home offices. As a recyclable material, it is perfect for an eco-friendly option.
Cons: It is more specialized in its use, therefore, not the best choice for a living room or suite. Rubber also tends to have an initially distinct smell, although the smell will eventually fade.
Cost: The average cost of the tiles and rubber mats ranges from $1 to $8 per square foot.
DIY: One of the easiest floors to DIY.
This may seem like a surprising choice considering carpets and moisture shouldn’t mix, but it can work. In particular, synthetic-made carpets are the best choice as they can release moisture and thereby not risk developing mould. Like luxury vinyl floors as well, carpet can work well for most basement uses, especially for bedrooms or secondary living rooms. It can also be easily customized with different colours, fibre density, or paired with underfloor heating for extra warmth. Carpet lifespans vary based on various factors and styles but can easily last for many years.
Pros: Carpet is both warm and soft underfoot, making it ideal for a basement. It naturally adds an overall welcoming warmth to a room and is easy to install. Vacuuming or using a carpet cleaner will help keep it in top condition.
Cons: If your basement is unfinished or prone to leaks, even a synthetic carpet isn’t recommended. Professional washing is also recommended every 3-5 years to keep the carpet clean.
Cost: The material alone will cost between $3 to $4 per square foot.
DIY: An easy DIY option, especially for carpet tile.
More homeowners are starting to use concrete inside the home and not just outside. Concrete can either be painted or stained to change its appearance completely and making it a focal point in a basement. It is one of the most durable choices with minimal maintenance, so stains, scuffs, or heavyweights won’t be an issue. Once installed, concrete flooring will likely never need to be replaced in the time you own that home.
Pros: Concrete can be customized in a variety of ways from overlays, acid-stained, stamped, and more. Each option will create a unique appearance that will add value to any space. Since concrete doesn’t need a sub-floor, it helps save on expenses.
Cons: It is one of the coldest options unless paired with underfloor heating or layered with rugs. Specific rooms, such as bedrooms or a home cinema, aren’t well suited to concrete floors either.
Cost: The cost will vary widely as a result of different finishes and styles. Expect to pay anywhere between $3 to $8 per square foot for concrete. Designed or high-end concrete can cost upwards of $15 to $30 per square foot.
DIY: Concrete is more labour intensive than other floors making it a better job for a professional.
If you’re ever unsure about the best floor for your basement, then get a second opinion from a professional. They may have some added suggestions, new ideas, or things to consider that you may have missed. With a clear game plan and some professional tips, you’re guaranteed to find the best basement flooring options.
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