Basement Flooring Options | Finished Basements

By Todd Fratzel on Basements, Flooring

Finished Basement Flooring

drylock subfloor 300x300 Basement Flooring Options | Finished Basements

Finished basements are very popular today for a good reason. Properly finished basements can significantly increase the amount of living space in your home without the need for an addition. The key is the proper selection of techniques and materials to ensure a mold free, dry, healthy space for you and your family.

Basement Flooring Options

When it comes to basement flooring options for your finished basement the sky’s really the limit. Today it’s possible to enjoy every type of flooring in your basement as long as you pay attention to the details and specifications.

Tile

Tiling a basement floor is one of the best options when it comes to durability and performance. I say this because tile is a great choice for areas that may get wet. Tile floors can withstand moisture due to a flood better than any other flooring product. Tile can be installed directly over the concrete slab provided that the slab is in good condition.

Tile flooring is also a great choice if you have installed radiant heating in your slab. Even if you don’t have radiant heating in your slab you can add it before the flooring. One Project Closer has a great article about how to install electric radiant heating on a slab. Tile makes a great conductor of heat and works the best over radiant heat.

Carpet

Carpet is a popular choice for basement flooring. However, carpet in basements can lead to serious mold and mildew problems if you’re not careful. First off you need to be very certain that your basement has no water problems. If your basement gets a wet floor on a regular basis then that problem needs to be corrected before you think about installing carpet.

There are several methods for installing carpet in basements and I’ll just touch on each briefly. The most basic approach is installing the carpet directly to the concrete with an adhesive. This method is the cheapest and also the most appropriate if you have radiant heat. The other approaches involve installing a sub-floor first. I’ll go over the sub-floors below as they apply to both carpet and wood floors.

There are many different types of carpet to choose from. Be sure to check with your carpet supplier for carpet materials that may contain anti-microbial benefits to help prevent mold and mildew. Square carpet tiles have become very popular with DIY folks and they make a great choice for basements. The beauty of the carpet tiles is you can replace one or two of them if you do have a water problem without replacing the entire carpet.

Hardwood

Hardwood flooring is certainly the most popular flooring choice today. Like carpet, hardwood flooring can also be installed in basements if you take care to follow some important steps.  There are several installation methods available depending on the product.

Engineered hardwood can be glued directly to the concrete and this option works well for slabs with radiant heating. If your slab doesn’t have radiant heat then you may want to consider installing a sub-floor first. Sub-floors can help make the concrete floor feel warmer and also isolate the finished wood flooring product from the damp concrete. Sub-floors also make it possible to install solid hardwood flooring which is not typically recommended for basement floors.

Sub-floors

Installing a proper sub-floor over a concrete slab is one of the best ways to create a long lasting finished basement floor. Sub-floors are not really recommended or practical if you have radiant heating as they will drastically reduce the efficiency of the heating system. However, if you have a regular slab and you’re looking for a way to make the floor feel warmer and “softer” then I recommend you consider installing a sub-floor.

There are several approaches to a subfloor and they all work well. If you have a slab that’s dry all the time then you can install a vapor barrier (6 mil poly will work) and then attach 1/2 inch pressure treated plywood to the concrete using Tapon screws. If you have a slab that occasionally gets damp then I recommend one of the following approaches:

  • Install the DRIcore subfloor system. The DRIcore subfloor system is made up of 2′ x 2′ panels of 5/8″ thick OSB sheathing with a high density polyethylene moisture barrier on the bottom side that creates a 1/4″ air space under the floor panels. This system works very well and we’ve actually used it on several projects in the past with great success. I like this system because it’s very easy to install especially for DIY folks.
  • Install Delta-FL plastic subfloor system. The Delta-FL plastic subfloor system can be installed under a plywood subfloor to create an air-gap membrane to keep moisture from contacting the flooring materials. With this system you’d intall the Delta-FL first, tape the seams, then install a layer of 1/2″ plywood and screw it to the concrete with Tapcon screws. I prefer this solution if you plan on using carpet because it’s all screwed down.

If you’re looking for an insulated sub-floor then you should read our article on How To Insulated A Concrete Floor for more information.

Basement Flooring Options Summary

Regardless of which flooring type you choose it’s important to take your time and select a system that will perform well. Installing carpet in a basement that occasionally gets flooded is a serious mistake and one you’ll regret. Be sure to ask for recommendations from your local flooring suppliers and follow all of the manufacturers specifications.

About the author

Todd Fratzel

I'm full time builder for a large construction company in New Hampshire. I run their design-build division that specializes in custom homes, commercial design-build projects and sub-divisions. I'm also a licensed civil and structural engineer with extensive experience in civil and structural design and home construction. My hope is that I can share my experience in the home construction, home improvement and home renovation profession with other builders and home owners. I'm also the author of Tool Box Buzz and Today's Green Construction. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions, suggestions or you'd like to inquire about advertising on this site.

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38 Comments

  1. harmonsmith says:

    Very good and informative idea. I think Ceramic Tile is an excellent medium to explore both for functionality and design. Ceramic tiling is dense and strong, easy to clean, long lasting and does not absorb smell, water or carry allergens. It is excellent as a bathroom tile and it comes with knowledge it value increases more.. I have tiled my whole house.

  2. Corey says:

    Good tips Todd – will definitely have to refer back to this when I redo my basement.

  3. Dave B says:

    Todd,

    I am about to finish off a 2000 sq ft basement. I like the approach you are taking with the foam board for the walls, and I like the subfloor idea with its air gap. However, I am confused about something. In my case there are a couple rooms the previous owner framed in and finished off over the concrete floor, along with my staircase being framed and finished with drywall. Would the subflooring come up against the drywall on the finished off rooms? If I added more framed in rooms, doesn’t the subfloor go in absolutely last? I am guessing the obvious answer here is yes but I want to show this to my contractor and get him on board.

    Thank you

    Dave

    • Todd says:

      @ Dave B – Your assumptions are correct. Leave the existing walls in place and run the sub-floor up to them. Also, frame all your new walls before installing the sub-floor. Best of luck.

  4. DeeJay says:

    A couple of years ago I finished my basement floor with DriCore. Very nice stuff, and quick and easy to install. Not cheap, but, but when you consider the savings in installtion time and effort, probably not way off base from the other options. (I was lucky to buy it the only time I have ever seen it on sale!). I installed inexpensive laminate flooring over the subfloor and it looks great.
    One question: how do you provide the recommended ventilation? I cut regtangular holes at points around the perimeter and covered them with register covers, but the covers were too deep and I had to carefully cut them all down. A major PITA, and hard to do safely.

    TIP: Hang on to your cut DriCore scraps – they are great for keeping things off unfinished areas of your basement or garage floor to prevent wicking dampness.

  5. Troy says:

    Todd,
    I am finishing my basement. Due to heavy clay soils in my area (lots of expansion and contraction), my basement floor is “suspended”. It is made of OSB tongue and grove panels laid over metal floor joists. The joists are on 24″ centers and the floor is 12″-18″ above the dirt below.
    Some of the seams between panels have pushed together and “bowed” up. I need a way to create some space in the seams.
    Some of the panels I will be able to unscrew, take up, trim the edges and put back down. Although, even that is not simple because of the tongue and croove edges.
    I will not be able to pull up the panels on a couple of seams.
    Any idea on how I can get some space in those seams so that I can push the bow down and reattach them to the metal floor joists without taking up the panels?
    Thanks,
    Troy

    • Todd says:

      @ Troy – I must say I’ve never heard of a basement like yours before so it’s quite intriguing! Do you know what has caused this problem? I ask that because the cause usually helps dictate a repair. Typically OSB will swell when it gets wet so it’s like that moisture has caused this problem. Any chance you could sand down the bumps? Do you have any photos of this?

  6. Mark W says:

    Todd,
    Thanks for the good information. We’re finishing our basement now, so this will come in handy. We’ve lived in our Ohio home for 4 years, and are considering flooring options. I’ve addressed some exterior drainage issues and believe we won’t likely have liquid water agian, bit it’s certainly a possibility in any basement. We also have a slightly elevated radon level (5 pC/L), which I’d like to try to address through good sealing before trying active measures.
    Flooring options as I see ‘em:
    Tile: As you pointout, very durable and unlikely to be damaged by water. Cons: cold underfoot and I’m not sure I can block radon penetration with tile/grout. I suppose it might block the radon if I installed a plastic decoupling membrane under the thinset.
    Delta FL or Platon (sealed around the edges–unvented) with a 3/4″ later of XPS or EPS and then PVC “laminate” (Foresta brand) installed as a floating floor. The Platon (or Delta FL) is intended to stop the water vapor and radon, the EPS provides insulation, and the PVC floring is durable and not harmed by water. It can be installed over the foam without a wood subloor, as it efectively spreads the point loads over the foam. (Regular laminate flooring would work, but I’m worried about water). The main thing that concerns me about this approach is the potential to get water vapor trapped between the Platon and the PVC flooring, as both are vapor impermeable. I’m considering routing channels int he foam and actively venting it to remove water vapor and possible radon a few times per day.

    I know–it sounds more like a science experiment than a sure-fore approach. Still, what do you think about it?

    Mark W.

    • Todd says:

      @ Mark – You’ve obviously done some homework so I commend you! Radon is certainly something to worry about so it’s good that you’re taking it seriously. I’m wondering if you might consider using Schluter Ditra underlayment followed by tile. You could also install electric radiant heat if you want to improve warmth. Then I’d also focus on good room ventilation to keep fresh air exchanges in the room. This way you try to seal out most of the radon then ventilate in case there is some residual left over. I really don’t like seeing laminate flooring go down if there is any chance of water.

  7. Mark W says:

    Todd,
    Thanks. The Ditra was what I was thinking about (but couldn’t recall the name) as a decoupling membrane. I think that would do the trick as far as reducing both the radon and the water vapor, and it’s certainly less risky and costly than any other approach I’m considering. The electric radiant heat would feel good on the toes–I’d be worried about the efficiency (electric resistance heat and the fact that I can’t easily insulate the back side and the slab is in contact with the heat sink that is the earth–as my Dad used to say when I’d leave the door open: “Hey! We’re not heating the whole neighborhood!”). Still, for a few selected areas it would be a nice luxury and only cost a few cents per hour to operate. In other areas–throw rugs.

    I agree on the inadvisability of laminate floor in the basement. This Foresta stuff is a different cat, though. It looks like laminate, but there’s no wood in it, only PVC. Still, it prices out to about $5-6 per square foot, so it’s not a cheap solution.

    Thanks again for the useful info and the quick response. You’ve got a nice site here.

    • Todd says:

      @ Mark – I’d never heard of the Foresta material before but it definitely sounds like a nice alternative for basements. Radiant heat is an interesting topic and one that has so many different opinions. I actually have hot water radiant in my basement slab with no under-slab insulation. It works very well and it’s reasonable to run. I’m not totally convinced of how important that layer of insulation is. Here’s why: If you install a layer of radiant heat just below a layer of tile then the resistance above the radiant heat is only 1/2″ thick at most. Where as below it’s an infinite mass. So for me it’s much easier for the heat to rise up through the tile than it is to heat the earth. Heat will travel in the path of least resistance. From my experience it hasn’t been an issue….just my two cents.

  8. Jeff says:

    Hi Todd,

    I have a good friend who wants to finish his basement. It is a very high end home in Greenwich, CT. ($7 Mil.) and I would like to hear your recommendations for flooring & sub-floors.

    – House is newer, about 5 years old.
    – concrete slab is in good condition with a few cracks, not near the control joints. Cracks are less than thickness of quarter at largest point. I am confident there is a 6 mil vapor barrier installed now under the slab as per code.
    – There is a radon pipe installed and vented, also 2 sump pits.
    – House sits up high and has a walk out at side to pool area.
    – I feel the basement is dry but still want to install the proper and best sub-floor system (if needed)
    – There will be a bathroom (underground plumbing is roughed)so he would prefer tile in the bath.
    – He would want a high quality pre-finished wood floor or tile installed.

    Being that this is an expensive home and money is really not the main concern, what type of sub-floor system would you install IF ANY?
    Basically, I want to it RIGHT, and do it with high quality materials so it lasts and does not “feel” cheap when walking on it.
    I would not want to feel or hear a clicking sound if you get my drift.
    Would you tile the entire basement, or is that not smart with the possibility of loosening grout and popping tiles if the slab expands and contracts?
    My original idea was to install 2X4 pressure treated lumber on the flat over another vapor barrier product and install 3/4″ T&G plywood and then new hardwood floors. This would also give me the chance to level the floor where needed.
    Sorry for the long question, thanks for any suggestions.

    Jeff

    • Todd says:

      Jeff – Thanks for stopping by the site. When money isn’t an issue the sky’s really the limit. First you need to consider a few things. If you install a sub-floor what type of ramifications will that have on doors, stairs, etc. If you lift the floor 2 inches will the last stair to the basement still meet code? Will the step out the walk-out door work with the patio or pool? Those are the biggest issues for you so that the project doesn’t spiral out of control. I suppose you could tear out the stair case and re-build that, re-set the entry door, etc if you wanted to.

      After that it really depends on flooring choice for the home owners. If they want wood then you really should install a sub-floor in my opinion. If they like tile then you could go on top of the concrete, but I’d install a layer of Schluter Ditra to deal with cracks in the concrete.

      If you go with a sub-floor then check out some of the products like Barricade.

      Again start with the dimensional issues then pick the flooring material.

  9. mike says:

    I’d like to install electric radiant heat in the basement of my chicago area home but I’ve been reading conflicting info on the need for a thermal break between the existing slab and the cables.Anyone know what options there are that are not going to eat up the headroom.

  10. Tim says:

    Todd,

    I have to say, your site is a God-send!!

    I have a problematic basement that I want to finish. The home is 100 years old and the basement walls are made up of courses of “red clay tiles” up to grade, then above grade, the walls are sandstone (I think). I have a few questions on how to solve a few problems…

    1) My basement walls seep water during hard downpours and it trickles across the floor to the drain. I know I need to solve this problem first and because of the construction of the walls, digging up the outside is not an option. I’ve researched waterproofing and came up with “Sanitred” and was wondering if you are familiar with it. I was hoping to seal the walls and floor with this stuff first.

    2) If this waterproof stuff will work, Do you have any recommendations on how to get the old paint (looks like the previous owner tried to use cheap water-seal paint) and grime off? I thought about a pressure washer but I’m concerned about the spaces between the tiles. I don’t want to knock anything loose that is needed!!

    3) I was looking at Dricore’s website and it recommended that the sub-floor should be installed first and any stud walls could then be built on top of the sub-floor. I like your method better with the composite decking then the stud wall on top of that. So, what do you think is best, go ahead and build the stud walls and install the Dricore afterwards?

    Sorry that I got off topic… I’ve been reading all of your threads about basements and just decided to ask all my questions here instead of the different threads.

    This project has been haunting me and finding your site has re-energized my resolve to get this done!!

    Thank you!!

    Tim

    • Todd says:

      Tim – Thanks for the compliment.

      1. I’ve never used that product before but a quick review of their site it actually looks pretty good.

      2. Other than a press washer I’d have to say you’ll be forced to use some type of mechanical removal (grinding, brushing, etc)

      3. From a structure point of view it really doesn’t matter. By building the wall on top of the Dricore you’ll be able to maintain that water path which is really quite important.

      No worries….this site is all about questions and answers! Good luck!

  11. Amy says:

    Hi Todd,

    We’re DIYers remodeling the basement. All the walls are completed and we’re looking for the right flooring choice. We live in Wisconsin and while we don’t have water problems, it’s always possible. We looked into Allure adhesive planks by TrafficMaster at Home Depot, but we’re not sold. We’ve been told that once it’s installed (6 mil vapor barrier below), it’s waterproof. But our questions are what if water seeps up from the concrete? Or we have a washer hose let go and it floods the laundry room? We’re very concerned about possible mold growth.

    What option(s) would you recommend? The flooring would be installed in a rec room, laundry room and storage room. We have such large temperature variances here, we want to make sure whatever we choose will work, but not cost us an arm and a leg.

    Thanks!

  12. Jim says:

    I am still doing some research on how to floor my basement. One of my concerns is that i have 3 “drains” in the concrete floor. One is a standard flip up slotted drain, another is a overflow that is hooked to the sewer on my house (this has backed up before when the drains were clogged and i needed to snake my drains using a power snake), and another is a 3″ PVC cap, that i used to put the snake down that is a direct line to the sewer in the street. I’m not sure sure if/how i should cover these to handle before putting carpet in my basement.

    any help would be appreciated.

    • Todd says:

      Jim – Sounds like you have one floor drain and two sewer access points or clean-outs. The floor drain could have a fixed cap installed flush under the carpet (unless you need access to it more often).

      The sewer clean-outs should have finished floor caps installed. Typically for exposed sewer clean-outs we use a special fitting that gets set in the concrete that will accept a brass plug. However, you might still be able to find something like that. I’d remove the PVC cap and bring it to a plumbing supply house and ask if they have any similar ones for finished flooring applications.

      Good luck.

  13. Mary Read says:

    I plan to use Robert’s 3:1 underlayment then top it with laminate flooring in my basement. Can you recommend a cover plate or access for the sewer clean outs?

    • Todd says:

      I would check with your nearest plumbing supply house. Show them what you’re trying to do and they can suggest a trim. Some floor clean outs are adjustable so you can raise them up to the finished floor and then use a brass cover.

  14. Levi says:

    Hey todd i was wondering if its okAy to put 1/4 or 1/2 underlayment foam on basement concrete followed by pad and carpet.?

  15. Anthony says:

    Hey Todd, thank you for the awesome, informative website for us DIYers. I am in the process of planning a finished basement. I’ve been reading up on several products and wanted your opinion on them. Have you heard of DMX 1-step? If you had a choice, which one one would you choose Platon, Delta FL, or DMX 1-step? The Platon and Delta FL product have roughly a price point of .49/sq ft, while the DMX 1-step has a price point of 1.10/sq ft. I have not encountered any water issues in my basement and the temperature has been fairly comfortable for an unfinished basement. I’ll have plenty of questions as work my through this process. thanks again

  16. Todd says:

    Anthony – I’d like to clear up some pricing information on the DMX 1-step that you quoted. DMX 1-Step retails for $79/roll at The Home Depot and it contains 110 sf. So the price is actually about $0.72 per sq ft.

    • Natasha says:

      Is that online, bc it’s 97$ now. Dmx seems like a great product. It has an r value and also antibacterial foam backing, helps to avoid the click or hollow sound in delta-fl.

  17. Rod Beyers says:

    Todd,

    I am considering vinyl plank flooring that looks like wood and then using area rugs in certain spots. They advertise that it is waterproof, good for basements and can be applied directly to the concrete. Some of these products are thicker planks and lock together like laminate and others are peel and stick. What is your opinion on doing this? Would mold be an issue since it is vinyl? I’d love to carpet the whole basement but my thought is that this would be better if we ever had water damage, we could roll up the area rugs. Could it be used as the vapor barrier if I decide to carpet the whole floor later?

    Also, can the epoxy made by Rustoleum, Valspar, etc., act as a vapor barrier under basement flooring and base plates for 2×4 framed walls?

    Thanks,
    Rod

    • Todd says:

      Rod – Vinyl flooring is a great option. Mold needs food to grown, without a source of food it’s not likely to do anything. Not sure if you could carpet over it later but you certainly could inquire about that with a professional flooring installer. Some sealants can work but my experience is that a more physical barrier is preferred.

  18. Cindy says:

    We are putting a floor down on our basement in New England. We had a French Drain installed with a sump pump 6 years ago and have not had a flood since nor significant standing water. However, there is some seepage and perhaps condensation from humidity as we are lax in keeping the dehumidifier going.
    For the floor we bought 2’x2’x1″ foam puzzle-locking tiles like you would find in an exercise room. We realized we would trap moisture and get possible mold growth if we put it directly on the concrete floor so we were looking at a vapor barrier type underlayment. Could we use the DMX 1-Step or the Delta-FL and put the foam tiles directly on top of that product? Could mold grow there? Does the DMX and other products like it allow the moisture that is under it to evaporate or is it trapped?
    Thank you!

    • Todd Fratzel says:

      Cindy – I’d try to put some sort of vapor barrier below the underlayment to keep out as much moisture as possible. Delta-FL will likely provide quite a bit of airflow which will also help. Good luck.

      • Cindy says:

        Todd, thank you for your reply. Do you mean directly on the concrete floor and then put an underlayment product down? Wouldn’t mold still possibly grow under the vapor barrier if the seepage does not have a chance to evaporate by being exposed to the air? And what would you use as a vapor barrier? My husband was thinking of just 7mil plastic but on top of any underlayment we put down to protect our foam tiles. My local home store carries DITRA. Any experience with that stuff and is it basically the same as the DMX? The DITRA in the store has it’s own vapor barrier material on the bottom, then the dimples or channels and then we were thinking of putting the 7mil plastic and then the 1″ thick foam tiles… What do you think? Thanks!!

        • Todd Fratzel says:

          Mold needs temperature, water, oxygen, and a food source. By placing the vapor barrier down first, you stop moisture from getting up into the underlayment and tiles. I’d put down the poly, then any of the systems you’re thinking about, then the tiles. Good luck.

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