When you are in the process of renovating your basement, one crucial consideration is the floor. Because basements are usually cold and damp, flooring options like carpet and hardwood may not be such a good idea due to health considerations, as they may rot and/or promote the growth of mold and mildew.
So what flooring should you use for your basement? Read on to discover the best flooring for basements and detailed descriptions of each (including pros and cons) so you can make an informed decision about what you ought to put in your basement.
What Are the Top Flooring Materials for Basements?
The best choices for basement flooring are the following:
- Engineered Vinyl Planks or Vinyl Tiles
- Tiles (tile planks, porcelain tiles, stone tiles, or ceramic tiles)
- Polished or Stained Concrete
- Sheet Vinyl
- Glued Down Vinyl Planks or Vinyl Tiles
- Modular Raised Interlocking Vinyl Tiles or Carpet Tiles
- Carpet Tiles
Note: Carpet or carpet tiles are not a good option if you live in a damp area or in an area with flooding.
What You Need to Consider Beforehand
Basements are usually built on a slab of concrete, are almost always below ground level, and are oftentimes uneven. They may also be prone to a higher degree of dampness and/or flooding. These factors limit your choices in terms of what type of flooring you can use for your basement.
When choosing the floor for your basement, you may be unpleasantly surprised to discover that basement flooring options are oftentimes more expensive than you thought they would be, and you weren’t prepared to spend that much in the first place. After all, it’s the basement—you don’t spend all your time in there, so why should the floor be more expensive than what is in your house?
This means that you need to be prepared ahead of time to make certain trade-offs due to your budget and other considerations. You will need to consider the warmth and the softness of the flooring, how durable the material is, and how resilient it is to water, mold, and mildew. For instance, the cheapest, most durable, and most waterproof option may be the one that is the coldest and hardest on your feet.
So you need to decide which aspects are most important to you (and take into consideration the inclement weather in your area). If you are faced with the prospect of getting hard, cold, and uncomfortable but durable flooring, take heart in the fact that you can make it more comfortable by placing area rugs on the floor, adding space heaters, improving the lighting, and more.
What Is the Intended Use of the Basement?
Another crucial consideration is your vision for your basement. What will the basement be used for? Will it be a game room? Are you planning to convert it into a spare bedroom? Do you want to make it into an at home gym?
Will it be like a den for your children to run around in? Are you going to convert it into a home theater? What kind of furniture do you plan to put in your basement? Is it going to be used simply for laundry or for some extra storage space?
Who Will Be in the Basement?
Who exactly will be using the basement? What is the age range of the people who will use it the most often? Are they likely to be more sensitive to the cold?
Other Critical Questions to Ask Yourself
- Is the basement damp? Do you get a lot of moisture in your basement?
- How much are you willing to spend?
- What is the ambient temperature of your basement? Does that matter to you? Can you make it warmer with methods other than the flooring?
- Does it flood in your area?
- What material is your sub-floor made out of (plywood, concrete, etc.)
- How smooth, level, or even is your sub-floor?
- Do you need the basement floor to be soft? How soft? If you do, can you solve this sufficiently using other methods (area rugs, for example)?
Unfortunately, we cannot say what the absolute best flooring for basements for everybody is. Everyone’s needs and preferences will be different, and each basement is slightly different. The purpose of this article is to allow you to be better informed in terms of which flooring option will best suit your particular needs and priorities when it comes to your basement.
Best Flooring Types for Basements
Now let’s discuss each of the recommended types, including their advantages and disadvantages. Remember, if flooding in your basement is a serious (or even occasional) problem, I would suggest avoiding the last two recommendations (8 and 9) at all costs, unless you want to incur the expense of redoing your floors on a regular basis.
Engineered Vinyl Planks or Vinyl Tiles
Engineered vinyl planks/tiles (also known as luxury vinyl plank, EVP, or LVP) are an excellent option for many basements, particularly due to the fact that this type of flooring is waterproof. It also looks quite decent. It has the appearance of hardwood, but it is much more durable and waterproof.
If your sub-floor is fairly even, you can install this type of flooring yourself, if you are the DIY type. But because vinyl plank is floating floor material, if you try to install it on an uneven or bumpy sub-floor, the flooring may bounce or wobble a bit.
This may happen a few times during the year (like when snow is melting or after a hurricane). Just trust me and add the vapor barrier. It’s a really easy solution to this problem.
- Feels, looks and sounds like real hardwood
- Pretty affordable, especially if you can install it yourself
- Warmer, thicker material that provides some insulation and will feel like actual flooring to your feet
- Long lasting, durable due to thick wear layer and waterproofness
- Uneven or bumpy sub-floor will cause flooring to wobble or to bounce; may require floor prep and leveling
- More expensive than other types of vinyls (but you don’t need to spend extra money on adhesive and labor costs are reduced significantly)
Here are some tips on how to clean vinyl floors.
Tiles (tile planks, porcelain tiles, stone tiles, or ceramic tiles)
Tiles are a natural choice for those who live in an area that gets flooded frequently, since they are completely waterproof. Unfortunately, tiles can be rather hard on your feet as well as cold to the touch, so they may not be the best choice if your children are going to be running around in the basement.
One type of tile that is warmer than ceramic or porcelain is stone tiling. However, using natural stone tile flooring is usually prohibitively expensive. It is definitely a gorgeous, luxurious option, though, if it suits your needs and you can afford it.
Tile planks are a great style that is currently growing in popularity; they imitate the look of wood but are waterproof because they are tile. Other options include ceramic and porcelain.
Tiles are usually a more expensive option, not just because of the flooring itself but because of the extensive floor preparation and labor costs which are involved. For instance, you will need to ensure that the sub-floor is completely even and level. If not, the tiles may crack and come out unevenly—the tiles will not line up and your will stub your toes. So the sub-floor needs to be completely even.
Even though installing tile can be labor intensive and expensive, it is rather permanent and waterproof, so you can decide if this is the right investment for your basement and its intended use.
- Increases the value of your home (it is considered a capital home improvement)
- Durable; fairly permanent
- Is loud and reflects sound (not suitable for home theaters)
- Labor intensive; may necessitate a lot of floor prep to make sure the floor is level and even
- Uncomfortable to run on or sit on
- Cold and hard on feet
Here are some tips on how to clean tile floors.
Installing rubber flooring in the form of interlocking rubber gym tiles is another popular option, especially if you intend to exercise in the basement or turn it into a gym . Not only are they shock absorbent, softer, and insulating, they are also waterproof. If your basement gets flooded, you can simply pick up the pieces, allow them (and the sub-floor) to dry, and piece the tiles back together.
Rubber tiles are thicker and more forgiving to sub-floors that may not be even or level.
Soft EVA foam tiles (the ones used for babies’ play areas) are another cheaper option. They may not be as durable as rubber tiles, but they can soften and warm up an otherwise cold and hard floor.
- Excellent for home gyms and play areas
- Softer and warmer for your feet
- Simple to install and take apart in case of a flood
- Weigh a lot, so shipping costs may be expensive
- Dark in color, so they may make your basement seem darker or drearier
Polished/Acid Etched or Stained Concrete
Stained concrete or polished/acid etched concrete are a gorgeous, stylish flooring type that is as waterproof as you can get . In fact, if your basement floods regularly, this may be your number one choice for flooring. Acid etched concrete also looks particularly luxurious.
- May be extremely cost effective
- By far the most waterproof type of flooring
- Beautiful, luxurious patterns and colors can be achieved
- Sub-floor not necessary
- Hard on your feet
- Coldest type of flooring (with no possibility of adding radiant heat flooring)
- Can be more expensive and labor intensive than you think, since floor may need extensive prep/scouring
- Loud—sound echoes (not suitable for home theaters)
Here is how you clean concrete floors.
Sheet vinyl is among the cheapest of the flooring options (second only to carpeting). It is resilient and waterproof, and it creates an impervious surface that is practically seamless, which can help in regions which are more damp.
Unfortunately, the major drawback is that it looks cheap. Also, the sub-floor will need to be completely smooth, or else it will show through the surface of the sheet vinyl within six months. Also, it’s generally not something you can install yourself.
- Fairly affordable
- Waterproof and seamless impervious surface
- Warmer and slightly softer than concrete or tile
- Looks cheap
- Cannot be installed by yourself
- Requires extensive floor prep (smoothing)
Glued Down Vinyl Planks or Vinyl Tiles
If engineered vinyl planks are not possible due to a sub-floor that is not even or level, you can consider using vinyl planks or tiles that are glued down (as opposed to engineered vinyl planks, which are floating). They will suit uneven or wavy floors better than engineered vinyl plank.
But if your floor is uneven, the vinyl planks that you glue down will still come out a bit uneven, so you will still need to do a bit of floor smoothing first.
- More expensive types are water resilient or waterproof
- Warmer and softer than concrete or tile
- Can be used on slightly uneven and wavy floors
- Less expensive kinds may not be waterproof; cheap adhesive wears down in damp regions
- Generally cannot be installed by you
- Colder to your feet than engineered vinyl plank
Modular Raised Interlocking Vinyl Tiles or Carpet Tiles
You can use raised modular carpet or vinyl tiles which are floating and interlocking. Because the tiles are raised, air can circulate underneath, eliminating the problem of moisture accumulation. The tiles are also resistant to mold and are waterproof or water resilient and can thus withstand a flood. You can also remove them if necessary and snap them back into place.
The raised floor also leaves an air pocket that serves as insulation, so they are warmer underfoot. The fact that they are raised also hides imperfections in your sub-floor. Unfortunately, these tiles can be hard to find and don’t look particularly luxurious.
- Easy to install
- Can be installed directly on concrete
- Water resilient; allows for air circulation
- Warmer and softer for your feet than concrete or tile
- Can look cheap
- May be hard to find
Now we come to good old reliable carpet. It is usually the cheapest option and it is very forgiving in terms of floor unevenness (and will hide that unevenness). It can also be used with all types of sub-floors.
Carpet is soft, warm, and the best and safest option for the basement steps. Carpet can make your basement feel much warmer, more insulated, and homier. It absorbs sound (instead of reflecting it) and is thus a good option for home theaters.
But carpet is of course a no-go if your house is prone to frequent (or even occasional) floods. Even if you don’t have basement floods, if you have excessive moisture, carpet is more prone to mold, dust mites, and mildew.
And carpet gets dirty more easily and is more difficult to clean. It is also less durable than other floor types.
We recently did a post on the best carpet brands.
- Almost always the most affordable option
- Softest and warmest
- Flexible; hides uneven or bumpy sub-floor
- Absorbs sound
- NOT WATERPROOF; should not be used in areas with floods or excessive (unless you like mold and mildew and/or replacing your carpet several times a year)
- Harder to clean and is dirtied more easily
- Will require more frequent replacement due to limited durability—can be more expensive in the long run
Here is the best way to clean carpet.
Carpet tiles are slightly more resilient to water than regular carpet (so they can be used if you get only a bit of moisture), and individual tiles which get dirty or worn out can be easily replaced, as opposed to replacing the entire carpeted area.
You have more freedom in terms of color and design choice with carpet tiles.
The disadvantages are that carpet tiles generally cost more than regular carpet and cannot be used on steps. They also should not be used in areas which flood or get excessive moisture.
- Create your own patterns, styles, and colors
- Individual tiles can be replaced if dirty or worn out
- More resilient to mold, mildew, and dust mites than normal carpet
- Costs more than regular carpet
- Adhesive wears down in damp areas
- Cannot be used on the basement steps
What to Avoid
Types of flooring you should not put in the basement include the following:
- Bamboo flooring
- Solid hardwood flooring
- Laminate flooring
- Cork flooring
- Carpet flooring (if your area gets floods or excessive moisture)
- Engineered wood flooring (if your area gets floods or excessive moisture; engineered wood flooring can tolerate only a tiny amount of moisture)
Hopefully, this guide has been helpful in allowing you to determine the best flooring for your basement. Remember to consider your preferences, weather, and the intended use of the basement when deciding.