Best Flooring for Basement – The Ultimate Guide
If you have done some flooring work in the house and racing to do your basement flooring project, stop. Read this before you move forward.
Basement flooring project is not your regular flooring project.
It’s a tricky one. Well, installation wise, for the most part, it is just the same. The trick is in choosing the correct flooring material.
However, with some understanding of what is involved and knowing the available options, you may be able to pick the right flooring option.
Good news is that we have a list of options to choose from to fit your basement room-specific needs.
Background on Basement Flooring
I am going to assume that your basement is below grade and it’s a concrete floor.
So, what is the best flooring to put on a concrete floor?
Before I tell you the flooring choices, we need to consider a few things.
The main issue lurking basement flooring is the moisture problem. The second being cold, albeit it’s just a comfort-related issue.
And you know very well that when moisture is an issue, Mold is its side effect.
Your goal is to avoid moisture issue. If it’s unavoidable, find a solution where it doesn’t bother your basement flooring, walls, insulation, and fixtures.
You should also consider catastrophic events and their effects on your floors. What I mean by that is your pipe burst, sewer back up and such.
Whenever you pick an option you should always have the moisture in mind and pick one that is either moisture resistant or find a way to seal the moisture from getting to the flooring material.
Ideally, you should consider a flooring material that can not only hold up to a moist underside but also a material that can tolerate or be immune to water spills on top.
Basement Flooring options
It might sound intimidating, but I am going to make it easy for you to know all the options and choose the right one for your basement.
I have listed down at least 17 different flooring options for your basement to choose from. Each flooring material has its pros and cons.
But before that, I want to lay the framework to think, which will help you choose the correct flooring materials.
Whatever material you use, it should come as a standard practice to do a few things
- Remove dust and debris
- Make sure any cracks are filled
- Your subfloor or the concrete floor is level
What to look for in the flooring material?
- Denser, harder materials work out the best. E.g. Tile
- Non-porous and inorganic materials hold better and need less maintenance E.g. Vinyl
Flooring material considerations?
- What kind of comfort do you want?
- Do you want a hard or soft surface?
- What is the ultimate use for that space?
- Do you see the chances of a disaster waiting to happen?
- What kind of life do you want out of the flooring materials?
Basement Flooring Ideas
1. Concrete Floors
This is the Do-nothing strategy when it comes to basement flooring. By far the cheapest, but the coldest.
Most concrete floors end up with a crack somewhere. Now you might think that’s just an aesthetic problem.
You are wrong. It is, in fact, the crack in the basement is THE problem that you want to avoid.
What, a small crack? Yes, it’s kind of a big. Two main problems just because of these cracks
The ground moisture seeps through those cracks and makes your basement moisture level high enough that mold grows. And Radon seeps through those cracks, which makes the basement not livable.
So, if you want to go this route you need to seal those cracks with a reliable crack repair kit. Most likely it’s an epoxy or some form of a hydraulic cement.
It is, however, a good idea is to seal the whole cement floor.
If you have a wet floor and don’t know how to solve the issue, I will always suggest a bare concrete floor with sealer. This is the best-wet basement floor option that I can think of.
2. Painting Basement Floor
The next cheapest and the easiest project is – after you fill all the cracks and crevices – to paint the concrete basement floor.
I’ve an article specifically detailing the steps to get the best result with basement concrete floor painting.
Not your regular paint. There are concrete specific paints that you can buy from big box stores.
While the first 2 options are good for a space such as a garage. Especially where you don’t care about the looks that much if you can have a clean space.
Is it that simple – NO. Of the paint jobs, painting on concrete is the trickiest.
Why? Glad you asked. Even after you filled the cracks, you can never be 100% confident there are no cracks. You might have small cracks where moisture comes off the ground, but the crack is barely visible.
Solution? Well here is what you must do. Get a 4 mil plastic sheet, a clear one, and lay it on the floor where you want to paint. Tape all four sides so the inside of the plastic is isolated from the basement ambient air.
Leave it for at least 24 hours and check for moisture trapped in the plastic sheet. If you see water droplets, you just have identified a seeping moisture issue spot.
As long you see nothing or feel no moisture on the side that touches the concrete, go ahead and paint the floor.
What If you miss this step, and if you have moisture issues? the paint will peel off and wouldn’t stick to the concrete surface. So be very cautious with just rolling the paint over before thoroughly testing.
3. Epoxy Basement Floor
Epoxy over concrete is becoming trendier day by day. I started liking it lately due to its versatility with the finishes.
Since it’s just a thin layer over the concrete floor, you are still left with a hard and a cold surface.
The advantage with epoxy over paint is that you don’t have to check for moisture issue.
As long as the epoxy adheres to the concrete surface and cures properly, it will seal off the floor completely.
However, you should clean the floor thoroughly and make sure all loose particles, debris, dust, and any grime are out.
Don’t be lazy with the pre-clean step. If you slack here, you will see flaking epoxy and fixing is going to be painfully hard.
Especially if you are trying this in the garage, you are sure to have oil and other residues. So, use caution.
Your goal is for the epoxy to seep into the pores of the concrete.
There are a lot of products to choose from and a lot of finishes to get out of.
Seriously, epoxy basement floor need not be a single color or a clear coat. You can do 3D epoxy finishes, metallic epoxy finishes to name a few.
Are you an abstract painter? You just got yourself a very big canvas. Enjoy!
4. Conventional Tile Flooring
This is an excellent option for your basement flooring. It is the most convenient way to decorate your floor.
As you know that tile is waterproof and pretty much maintenance free.
The main issue is it’s going to be hard on your feet and cold.
So, if you don’t mind concrete floor but just want a rich look, this might be a very good option.
There are cheap tiles and there are expensive porcelain ones. I would always go with porcelain.
Is your spouse careless with handling objects? Dropping heavy objects on to a tiled floor? It will crack.
And it’s pain to replace the broken tile. Especially the mortar job gets messier.
Porcelain tiles use hard clay material and it’s baked at a very high temperature. It also uses a high quality, finer clay to begin with.
It’s just more durable. It is also scratch and stain resistant.
If the look of the tile is what you want but hate cold feet, then there are several floor heating products in electric and hydronic variance. Install a radiant floor heater for basement or use one of the available basement flooring heating options before installing the tile.
5. Tile that resembles Wooden Planks
Everything I said above applies here. These planks are mostly porcelain tiles
I debated on calling it out as a separate item and finally, I did. Even though it’s the same tile, the final output is totally different and gives a different feel.
If you like the look of wood, then wood-like-tile is a serious contender. The technology has come so far that, the manufacturers produce high quality, scratch resistant tile planks, that resembles wood.
I have this in the heavy traffic area and I get serious appreciations from my friends. In fact, to my surprise, it just changed the look of the space.
6. Linoleum flooring
Do you know that linoleum is one of the oldest resilient flooring products in existence?
Yes, that is right. Linoleum flooring is outdated, yet it’s an option. However, due to green awareness, it’s making a comeback. Modern manufacturing has made it better with several design and color choices.
Linoleum is made using powdered cork, linseed oil, wood, resin, and other additives. It is a durable, eco-friendly product.
Many of the linoleum flooring products come with the scratch resistant coating.
It usually comes as a glue down product. Both in sheets and tile format.
I don’t like this product, as there are other better products on the market today.
But if you want an all natural product for your basement flooring, then Linoleum flooring is a wise choice.
It is often confused with vinyl. Vinyl is a chemical based synthetic product and linoleum is all natural.
It has a lot of characteristics of the vinyl flooring.
7. Vinyl flooring for basement – Sheet and Tiles
Vinyl flooring is an excellent choice for your basement. It is a forgiving material to imperfections in the flooring surface and is water resistant.
Vinyl flooring material comes in two main variations. Vinyl tiles and sheet vinyl that comes in rolls. Both are resilient, meaning they both are solid but have some give without cracking.
We recommend vinyl sheet flooring as the best flooring for the basement bathroom. This provides protection from moisture coming off the concrete surface and provides a water-resistant surface from spills.
If you walk into your laundry room, you are pretty much guaranteed to have this.
Of the two, I prefer a sheet vinyl because it doesn’t have any seams and so moisture seeping through the cracks is not an issue.
Don’t take it lightly with the installation. The glue down portion is going to make you sweat and it’s a moderate installation type.
Of course, you can get the vinyl tiles that come with the adhesive backing. It’s as simple as peel and stick. But you need to pre the space well before doing so for a great adhesion.
When I write a separate article on inexpensive basement flooring ideas, Vinyl tile will obviously come on top.
8. Luxury Vinyl Planks (Alternative to Wood)
This is my favorite lately.
It’s so versatile, I have used it on all my rentals. Not just basement floors but in all the rooms throughout the house.
According to the manufacturers, luxury vinyl planks are a waterproof basement flooring product. Even though there are seams, the interlock makes it watertight.
Let me also educate you on something. Your coffee shop, Nail salon and multiple other retail outlets that you thought were wood floors are these vinyl planks.
What are these vinyl planks that I am raving about?
It is in essence plastic and provides all the benefits of a plastic. However, it is a very flexible plastic material.
It is a very forgiving material. If your subfloor is not level, it will smooth it out a bit, bend over, contour and form the shape of the subfloor.
This is the best basement flooring option over uneven concrete. Well, it can take any twist and turn however it will result in a poor floor after completion.
So, it is best to level the concrete floor as much as possible before installing vinyl. However, if you have some imperfection, then vinyl will try to mask it slightly and provide the best basement floor over an uneven surface.
Well, that means, if you have dips and humps, that will show through, so make sure your subfloor is level. If you have debris, it will also telegraph through. But if you have small imperfections, Luxury vinyl planks will take care of it.
The technology is so advanced that they infuse it with other material so that it is flexible. And print a layer on top that resembles wooden planks.
There are a variety of wood types and color that these flooring materials carry.
I will always have people thinking my basement rooms have wood floors until I tell them it’s vinyl plank. If you know and install, you will start seeing the difference.
But the rich look of wood, for a fraction of cost, combined with the durability and other water-resistant nature is hard to beat.
Well, printing would look like wood but doesn’t feel like one?
Wrong! The technology not only prints but also embosses the true texture of a wood floor. And a box of these will have planks from multiple manufacturing batches.
So the whole floor looks very natural, with no pattern repetition problems.
Type of Vinyl planks
There are two main types; a peel and stick type and a floating type
Peel and stick might be a wonderful option for your basement floor where moisture isn’t an issue. You must clean the floor from all loose debris so the plank sticks to the concrete surface.
Floating type vinyl planks, however, has 2 variations. An overlapping sticking type and a tongue and groove interlocking type.
If you know how a laminate floor is installed using a click-lock method, then the tongue and groove do the same.
It comes in between 2mm to 8mm thickness. Don’t think it’s a cheap product based on thickness.
Luxury vinyl planks come with multiple layers of material, each layered with a purpose in mind.
This is my number one choice of flooring material nowadays due to the versatility, durability, cost, and ease of installation.
9. Luxury Vinyl Tile (Alternative to Stone and Tile)
What do you like your basement floor to be?
Morocco Slate, Baked Clay ceramic, travertine? Done, but not the real stone, but it’s exact replica using Luxury vinyl tiles.
Luxury vinyl tiles (LVT) have the same set of properties like the plank. However, it comes in small squares, so it wouldn’t be as flexible as vinyl planks, but definitely flexible compared to ceramic tiles.
If you badly want the look of a stone but hate the cold feel to it in the basement, then you are in for a surprise.
You can get luxury vinyl tiles with finishes such as slate, flagstone, ceramic, and porcelain tile in LVT.
Well, if you are thinking of the cheap 50 cents tile used in your laundry room then you are misinformed.
What I am talking about will look exactly like the stone it’s trying to replicate. Color, texture and the finish.
The way to install is just like the tile, with spacers in between. You come back and fill it with grout.
So it feels like a stone finish to the touch. Except, it is not going to be cold and it is waterproof.
10. Plush Carpet with underlayment
Is Carpet good for basement?
It is very comfortable, and if you use a very good underlayment, you will be able to enjoy a plush flooring
A good carpet and a perfect underlayment will also keep the cold down.
Since it’s not a good idea to install the carpet pad over concrete, it is suggested to use a vapor barrier sheet. Usually a 2 mm poly sheet before installing the carpet pad.
This will ensure that the carpet doesn’t soak in the moisture and keep the carpet mold free.
Carpet is a great material for the basement. It provides comfort for your feet and keeps the basement flooring warm.
Use a synthetic fiber-based carpet and not a natural product. The synthetic product naturally doesn’t soak in moisture and hence is mold resistant.
Same goes without saying for the underlayment pad. Use a polyurethane foam-based pad and don’t use any natural product.
But if you ever have a water incident, you will end up with a mess and most likely will have to redo the carpeting.
Avoid carpet, if you know of a moisture issue in the basement.
11. Tiled carpet
This is more of a commercial product, however, I am seeing Tiled carpet enter the residential space lately.
Manufacturers have come up with solutions to combat the vapor issue, to some degree. There are basement flooring tiles with a built-in vapor barrier.
Instead of sticking the carpet directly on the concrete, they have created tiles that have a plastic backing. The plastic backing has ridges and furrows that let the vapor move around.
There are vinyl products instead of carpet tiles with the built-in vapor barrier. The concept is still the same.
12. Regular laminate floor
I know the question that is running in your mind now.
Good question. Let me try to explain.
Traditional laminates are not suited for below grade flooring installation. But, manufacturers have created products specifically to go on concrete.
Laminate flooring products have multiple layers – a backing board layer, a core decorative layer, and a top surface scratch and waterproof layer.
When moisture comes in contact with the backing board, it absorbs moisture and starts warping.
I have seen contractors suggesting a vapor barrier and installation on top. Not a great idea.
This is totally not on my list. It looks and feels cheap too, due to the hollowness.
The other option that gets thrown around is a moisture resistant subfloor, and laminate on top of that.
Problem with that is, it increases your cost and second is that it shaves off a good few inches off the floor.
Since basement space is already tight with respect to headroom, adding ductwork would make it even tighter.
Using a solution such as this – with the subfloor and a laminate – is going to make the basement very confined. I would try to avoid sub-floor-based installation at all cost.
13. Moisture resistant laminate
If you are a fan of laminate, then moisture resistant laminate is your answer.
Traditional laminates are not suited for below grade flooring installation. But, manufacturers have created products specifically to go on concrete.
When the backing board layer is replaced with a plastic board, then the product is rated for below grade installation. Humidity can still be a problem, so I don’t personally prefer laminates for the basement.
The plastic backing board only seals the moisture from the ground. But if you have indoor humidity problems and moisture issues from other sources, then even moisture resistant laminate might not be a great choice.
Especially when you have other options, this is way down on my list.
14. Engineered Wood
Engineered wood (a.k.a man-made wood) is manufactured using a range of wood products and binding and compressing the strands to make several thin layers.
The top layer is usually a real wood veneer and the core has several thin layers of wood much like plywood.
There are certainly some advantages. Especially with temperature variations and humidity and moisture content exposure, they perform well without expanding or contracting much.
But with all those benefits, you are still dealing with several layers of wood. One-time small exposure is one thing, but a basement is a notorious place for moisture issues.
Eventually, the engineered wood will start soaking up the moisture and will start to warp and delaminate.
If you are gung-ho about using engineered wood for your basement, then use all the precautions mentioned above. Fill the cracks, use a vapor barrier and install Engineered wood.
15. Wood Flooring
Wood flooring is usually not the first option for basement flooring. Especially with the variety of other options, we usually trash the idea.
If you want the real look of wood and not one of those fake planks, then there is no question.
Make sure your budget allows for it and see if your basement space needs that much of a show.
If you are deadset on using wood, then make sure not to install glue-down wood directly on to the floor.
A Floating/interlocking type is preferred, after using a protective vapor barrier.
If you are a fan of glue-down hardwood, use a moisture resistant subfloor and then glue down over the subfloor.
Wood is not the cheapest or the safest and the risk of something going wrong is high in a basement. I will not go the hardwood flooring route for basement considering the amount of risk that can ruin the flooring.
16. Rubber flooring material
What’s always associated with rubber? No, not that. With respect to floors….
Gym, Yoga studio, and Martial art studios.
Well, that’s not reserved for commercial spaces alone. If you want to utilize your space for special purposes, well, rubber flooring might just be for you.
Home gym, playrooms and your home yoga studio might just use rubber for your basement. And your spouse and kids will thank you.
Most commercial installations use a rubber roll seamed together with other rolls. You may do that, but you have a better option.
For ease of installation, vendors manufacture rubber tiles. It works great for residential installation. It comes with the interlocking design for simple installation.
I usually don’t prefer organic products such as wood. But, rubber flooring is an exception, both from being waterproof and from degradation. It is, in my opinion, the best flooring for basement playroom.
All organic materials decompose but the rubber flooring has more life to it than other flooring materials.
- No need for a sub-floor. Can be installed just as is
- Waterproof flooring for basement
- Very comfortable. Especially very soft on your feet. Kids love it
- Excellent insulation from cold
- Limited uses due to poor aesthetics. Very specific to Gyms, playrooms, etc.
17. Cork flooring
Cork is a natural product. It’s considered a resilient floor due to the bounce back. So, it ends up providing the comfort and warmth you want.
What I don’t like is the aesthetics, unless you want a hard but bouncy floor for your workout room or your kids’ play area.
It is a green product and is bio-degradable. Very easy on the environment, but is it good for your basement?
You must install cork after a layer of vapor barrier. In fact, you should also use an underlayment that is mold resistant.
There are a couple of installation methods. Glue down and interlocking. I don’t think glue down is a good choice for the basement.
In either case, you need to have a sub-floor installation and then glue the cork down. It becomes tedious and expensive.
Don’t just pick any cork flooring product off the shelf. There are special cork floorings for the basement, that comes with several layers designed to deal with the moisture issue.
So, if the manufacturer has not rated for below-grade installation, don’t install.
I personally don’t prefer cork in the basement. It’s a natural product and since the basement is prone to moisture, the material eventually degrades.
However, cork flooring is my second-best flooring option for basement playroom.
I like the cork as a product in the kitchen and other areas due to its other benefits. Great for areas where things frequently drop. Dent resistant, provides warmth and such.
There you have it. I have provided some of the best basement flooring options to choose from.
The 3 most important items to look for in a basement are the moisture, temperature and the use of space.
Your choice of material should be such that it provides warmth and at the same time is tolerant to moisture. Ideally resistant to moisture and related issues such as mold growth.
It is better to have a flooring material that is seamless, so the moisture wouldn’t make it into the basement air through the cracks.
Always fill the cracks and fix any chronic moisture and water intrusion issues before taking on the flooring job.
Where possible, use vapor barrier as a layer to protect the flooring material.
If you are in one of those basements where your floor to ceiling height is not above 8.5 Feet, to begin with, then consider using a flooring material without subfloor options.
What then? Find the best one that suits your needs and budget, install and enjoy a new floor.