There’s no way around the fact that basements often get wet, especially in rainy Portland, Oregon. So whatever flooring you choose for your basement has to be either waterproof or easily cleaned and dried. Here are some thoughts on choosing the best flooring for your Portland basement.
Water can get into your basement in a number of ways. Because it’s the lowest level of your house, that’s where water will flow if you have a leak from a pipe or water heater or a flood from runoff outside.
But water also is very, very good at forcing its way through basement walls. The backfilled dirt around your foundation is generally softer than the compacted soil farther out, so it absorbs more water. That water builds up, presses against your foundation and, through the beauty of hydrostatic pressure, pushes through cracks in your concrete walls or floor, through openings for waterlines, through the joint between your basement walls and floor, or though the pores of the concrete itself.
So to avoid getting your basement flooring wet in the first place, you’ll need to be sure when your home is being built that your foundation and basement are designed with the highest levels of waterproofing and drainage possible, or your existing home is waterproofed by a professional.
What’s It For?
The type of flooring you choose for your basement will be determined by the uses you have planned for the space. In some cases, you might choose different materials for different rooms.
You’ll want a different floor for a bedroom than you will for a laundry room or home gym. Think about how warm you want the floor to be and whether softness is important. Assess how even the floor is, whether there is a plywood subfloor or just concrete, and how smooth it is. Also, are you aware of a water-intrusion problem that you just can’t quite beat? All of those factors, plus your budget, will come into play when you’re choosing flooring.
If comfort to bare feet is important, subfloor heating might be an option, or insulation, or carpeting.
Engineered Vinyl Planks
This relatively affordable material is waterproof, comes in patterns that look like wood or tile, and can be installed by a do-it-yourselfer. The planks have a cork underlayment for cushioning that shouldn’t get wet, but installing a thin vapor barrier on top of a concrete slab will keep the water away. This floor “floats”—isn’t attached to the subfloor—so it could bounce if your subfloor is uneven.
Tile Planks or Ceramic/Porcelain Tiles
Tiles are waterproof, durable, and come in a large variety of styles and colors. They can be expensive and should be installed directly onto an even concrete floor. They’re also cold on the feet, hard, and don’t absorb sound.
This can be the cheapest option, and it has the benefits of being soft on the feet and warm. Carpeting also works with various kinds of subfloors and can mask areas that aren’t completely smooth and even. Of course, carpet isn’t waterproof, so it’s not great if your basement is likely to get wet. Vapor-barrier carpet pads are available. You also could opt for carpet tiles with self-adhesive backs. They allow you to create colorful patterns, if that’s the look you’re going for. They are more expensive than wall-to-wall carpeting but still cheaper than hard-surface floor coverings. It’s relatively easy to replace individual tiles, but if you have a water problem, the adhesive backing can lose its stickiness.
Here’s another less-expensive choice. It costs more than carpet but less than some of the harder surfaces mentioned here. It’s waterproof and softer and warmer than concrete or tile. Some people think it looks dated or cheap, but it could be a solution for a specific room, such as the laundry. Vinyl will show unevenness in your subfloor if it’s not smoothed and leveled. You also could opt for glue-down vinyl planks or tiles.
Engineered Hardwood Floors
Solid hardwood floors aren’t a good basement choice because of the way wood expands and contracts with changing moisture levels, and manufacturers won’t warranty them below grade. But because of how engineered hardwoods are made, they aren’t as susceptible to expanding and contracting, although if you know you have a moisture problem, they’re not a good idea. Engineered hardwood can be glued down or floated on concrete, which should be level. This material looks great, and it’s easier on the feet than the harder-surface options. It’s also not cheap.
Interlocking Rubber Gym Tiles
This install-yourself option is great for the floors in gyms and exercise rooms. They are waterproof and can be picked up to dry out if your basement floods.
Raised Modular Tiles
These tiles are raised off the floor by plastic pegs, allowing air and moisture to circulate. That air space also acts as insulation. Raised tiles come with vinyl or carpet surfaces. They may not look as classy as engineered vinyl planking, but they could be a good solution for a basement with moisture problems.
Stained or Acid-Etched Concrete
You can obtain some amazing looks with stained and acid-etched floors, compared with painted concrete. Such floors are waterproof and don’t require a subfloor. Of course, they’re also cold, hard, don’t absorb sound, and are more expensive than you might expect because of the prep work involved.