Basement Flooring Options

Low Moisture Levels are Critical for Installing Certain Basement Floorings

By Mark J. Donovan

One important design consideration of a basement remodeling project is your choice in flooring.
However, your choices in basement flooring may be limited, or require extra work, depending upon whether or not there is a vapor barrier underneath the concrete slab floor. The vapor barrier helps to prevent moisture that is underneath your basement from wicking up through the concrete slab.A vapor barrier is simply a sheet of plastic that is effectively sandwiched in between the underneath side of the concrete slab and the Earth. Without the vapor barrier you will very likely have high levels of moisture that wick up through the concrete floor. Thus there are a couple of otherwise viable basement flooring options you could not consider, e.g. wood or carpet, unless you are willing to do some additional work.


To determine if there is a vapor barrier placed underneath the basement floor, tape down a few small patches of clear plastic to your basement floor. Make sure the tape covers all edges of each small piece of plastic. A couple of days later take a careful look at the plastic. If you see moisture clinging to the plastic or dark spots on the basement floor directly underneath the plastic then most likely there is no vapor barrier underneath your concrete slab. And as such, your choices in basement flooring are limited, unless you are willing to either, (1) apply a waterproof sealer to the basement floor, or (2) install a network crib of 2x4s, insulation, and a plastic vapor barrier directly on top of the concrete slab, followed by a layer of moisture resistant plywood to cover the crib. You may also want to install a French drain around the perimeter of your home’s foundation however a backhoe will be required and it will probably cost you a few thousand dollars.

If your moisture test turned up negative, then you have a few additional basement flooring options that you can consider.


Carpeting is a frequent choice in finished basements, even though it may sound on the surface a bad idea. However, if the concrete slab has a moisture barrier underneath it, or you’ve installed one above it as described above, carpeting is a very viable choice. Also, carpet installers can install a cellulose underlayment directly on top of the concrete slab to act as a vapor barrier.

Carpet offers the advantage of acting as somewhat of an insulator and thus is warm and comfortable feeling, as well as very durable.

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It also acts somewhat as a noise damper, thus mitigating furnace and drain pipe noise. Berber carpeting appears to be the most popular type of carpeting installed in finished basements today.

Ceramic Tile Basement Flooring

Ceramic tile is a great choice for basement flooring. However, it can be cold on the feet. Ceramic tile is also sensitive to high moisture levels, which may seem somewhat surprising. High moisture levels can shorten tile life. Also, tiles need to be installed on a level surface which sometimes can be an issue when installing on a concrete basement slab. A self level compound may be required prior to installing ceramic tiles on the basement floor. In addition, any basement cracks should be properly sealed with a crack filler prior to installing the tiles.

Free Floating Engineered Flooring

Engineered flooring is another common choice with homeowners in finished basements. Engineered flooring sits on a foam underlayment that helps to mitigate any unevenness in the concrete slab and to dampen room sounds when walking on it. Because the engineered flooring effectively floats on the foam underlayment it can expand and contract as moisture levels change in the basement.

Engineered flooring is also perfect for basement flooring due to how it is manufactured. It is fabricated via multiple layers of wood materials sandwiched and compressed together.

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This fabrication process helps to prevent the finished flooring product from warping or twisting. The top coat layer of the engineered flooring usually consists of a wood veneer that gives the flooring product a natural hardwood floor look. Engineered flooring can easily be installed by DIY homeowners.

Laminate Flooring

As is the case with engineered flooring, laminate flooring also floats on an underlayment. Laminate flooring is also manufactured similarly to engineered flooring. It consists of a core base, with a top layer of photographic resin. Since the top layer is a photographic image, laminate flooring can be made to resemble wood or vinyl flooring. With laminate flooring, however, it must be installed in low moisture areas. Otherwise the laminate layers could separate if they come in contact with water or even high moisture levels. Like engineered flooring, laminate flooring can easily be installed by DIY homeowners.

Painted Basement Floors

One low cost basement flooring option is to simply paint the basement floor with a couple of coats of paint. This is a particularly attractive option if you are on a very limited basement remodeling budget and are concerned about the possibility of water getting into the basement.

Hardwood Flooring

In general hardwood flooring should be low on your list of basement flooring options. Hardwood floors are very susceptible to high or changing moisture levels. Even if there is a vapor barrier underneath the concrete slab it is not a good option.

If you are determined to install hardwood floors in your basement, then at least first build the crib network of 2x4s over the concrete slab as described in the beginning of this article. The hardwood flooring can then be fastened over the plywood sheathed 2×4 crib.

For more help on Basement Additions, see’s Basement Remodeling Bid sheet. The Basement Remodeling Bid Sheet will help ensure that your hire the right contractor so that your basement remodeling project is done correctly and you get the project finished on time and budget.

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