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Community and Q&A

Basement floor options

Meafanti | Posted in General Questions on

Hello, I am planning to change out the flooring in my basement. I live in Westminster, CO a suburb of Denver. I have lived in a home with a basement nearly my entire life and have never experienced any water problems. My current floor is wall to wall carpet over the concrete floor. I am thinking about a hardwood option for the space which is around a total of 900 sq ft with the exception of the laundry/mechanical room and two of my children’s bedrooms that are down there. In total its probably about 650 to 700 sq ft. My main concern is durability since my children, their friends, our dog, and our two cats wreak havok on the area. The main area is where we gather for movies, reading, arts and crafts, and exercising. Any help would be appreciated.

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  1. Expert Member
    NICK KEENAN | | #1

    I'm reluctant to put any sort of porous material in basements.

    I've done two basements with vinyl plank flooring and I love it. It looks good, it's absolutely impervious to water, and it wears like iron.

    1. Meafanti | | #4

      Thank you I wasn't thinking wood per say, the engineered flooring was also an option I appreciate the feedback!

    2. Meafanti | | #8

      Also what have you done between the concrete and the flooring? Just underlayment then the flooring or something else?

      1. Expert Member
        NICK KEENAN | | #16

        The vinyl plank goes directly over concrete. It has a softer back that gives some padding and conformity to irregularities.

        Note that the product I'm talking about is specifically vinyl plank, not engineered flooring which is a broader category. It is absolutely impervious to water, you could soak it in a bucket of water. Most engineered floors are laminates of one kind or another and have varying water resistance.

        Lifeproof, available at Home Depot, is an example of what I'm talking about.

        1. Expert Member
          MALCOLM TAYLOR | | #17

          I've got to agree. I want to hate vinyl plank flooring, and I've no idea where it ranks environmentally, but for pure practicality, it's impossible to beat.

  2. Expert Member
    Peter Engle | | #2

    Before doing any new floor, you can do a simple test for moisture migration through the slab. Tape a plastic bag to the bare floor, making sure that all of the edges are sealed, and wait a week or so. If the floor and/or underside of the bag are wet when you pull it up, there is probably no vapor retarder, and you will have to be much more careful with what flooring you install. Note that this test only works well with unfinished concrete. If there is a coating on the concrete, you can sometimes get an idea of moisture issues by how badly the coating is bubbled and flaking, and/or if there are blisters filled with efflorescence.

    1. Meafanti | | #5

      Peter, thank you for the suggestion I will see if there is an unfinished portion that I can do that on, but I haven't pulled back any carpet yet. I will keep this in mind when I get closer to working this project

  3. GBA Editor
    Brian Pontolilo | | #3

    Hi Meafanti.

    Even if the slab and basement seem dry, you may want to monitor the humidity in the basement before installing a hardwood floor, which will expand and contract under even ideal situations. Engineered products are a bit more stable but offer the same look.

    Environmental conditions aside, the durability of a hardwood floor is all about the finish. If you do go this route, find an experienced floor finisher and maybe consider a UV cured finish. Or choose a top quality prefinished product. I have heard mostly good things about the durability of factory finishes on wood floors.

    And keep in mind that refinishing is possible with a wood floor, an advantage over some other materials.

    1. Meafanti | | #6

      Brian, I appreciate your input. I listened to you on the FHB podcast until you came over here. I was thinking about the engineered flooring options as well as I currently have actual hardwood in my first floor and need to refinish that currently so your finish suggestions will certainly be handy. Thank you!

  4. hughw | | #7

    we've used moisture resistant high end cork floor successfully in basement on several projects.....don't think "bulletin board" cork, this stuff is beautiful.

    1. Meafanti | | #9

      Thanks Hugh, I will check that out. How would you prep the floors before installing this?

      1. hughw | | #11

        the projects we did were new houses with good under slab vapor control...I would contact Expanko regarding your particular case. We've also used cork floors in show rooms and high traffic areas and it's held up well.

  5. Expert Member
    Peter Engle | | #10

    Be careful with cork. I've had a few that got moldy and had to be ripped out. These all had a hard (probably urethane) clear coating on the surface that acted as a vapor retarder, holding in moisture evolving from the slab. There wasn't much to see from the top, but the cork in contact with the slab was saturated and started to rot.

    1. Meafanti | | #13

      So if my slab is dry with the test you mentioned earlier is there something that should be done under the flooring surface, be it engineered flooring, wood, or cork, is there a moisture management underlayment that should be considered? Would finishing the slab with something thick that would act as a vapor retardant work better? My house was built in the 70's and was renovated within the last eight years and I have lived here for three.

    2. Expert Member
      NICK KEENAN | | #15

      I've had the same experience with cork. The think about basements is that if water is spilled there is no place for it to go. I had an eighth or maybe a quarter inch of water on my cork floor -- it didn't even cover the whole area -- and it was absorbed by the substrate. The cork swelled and warped and turned black and moldy. I had to rip it all out.

      My feeling for basements is it has to either be something you can pick up and wring out and dry, or something that is absolutely impervious like ceramic or vinyl.

      1. Jon_R | | #19

        +1 on this. I've seen leaks from the exterior, moisture from below exceed drying rate into the interior, toilet overflows, pipe leaks and condensation/mold from a dehumidifier failure. Hardwood will not be close to the permeance of carpet, so the second could be an issue, even in a "carpet has been fine" situation.

  6. gusfhb | | #12

    If you have carpet and no mildew, odds are it is dry enough for wood

    I used a vapor barrier glue made for this application, PT plywood mailed down with a T nailer, regular plywood then engineered hardwood. and tile in the bathroom

    It is as dry, and flat as it was 10 years ago.

    The floor also passed the taped down plastic test

    I might do some different things today

    1. Meafanti | | #14

      My concern with this assembly is the height difference to the bathroom where the tile was placed directly over the slab with just a layer of thinset. Not to mention the lowered part of the ceiling where the ducts are the entry to my son's room and the bathroom already have small doors that would be shortened further by this.

  7. gusfhb | | #18

    Making a custom threshold works, as I have VCT in the laundry and it interfaces with both the bath and wood floor. Making it large enough to be visible means no one trips and pretty much no one notices.

    I too have limited ceiling height. If it is a major reno, consider looking at that duct to see if a better solution could be imagined

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