Homeowners often work on renovations from the center outward, leaving basements for the final project. But because basements sit below the house level, choosing flooring for them can present an interesting question.
Being below grade, moisture is always most likely to accumulate in basements first. Many people choose more moisture-resistant concrete, tile, vinyl or carpet for flooring, even if it isn’t their first choice. But did you know that with some planning, wood flooring could be used in basements, too? You can do so if the conditions are right.
Wood can make a perfect flooring to tie together a cozy family room, a bedroom area or an office in a basement. Because they can be chilly or dark when they’re unfinished, finished basements can be warm, inviting spaces with bright walls and welcoming lighting. Though wood floors aren’t perfect for every situation, they may be more doable in your home than you think.
Basements are by nature under your home. That means they are the likeliest candidates for mold or flooding from a variety of sources. Water can come from inside your home, courtesy of leaky pipes, which often run across the ceiling of a basement area. It can also come from cracks in the walls around the basement, where water that has seeped into the earth outside is pressing against the concrete walls and creating cracks.
However, water can also come from beneath, which many people may not know. Moist vapor can bubble up through cracks in the concrete foundation, letting moisture move upward and eventually condense in your basement area once it has made it through into the open air. This can increase the humidity level overall in the area and, in extreme cases, encourage mold to grow.
If your basement has regular flooding issues or serious leaks, it is not the best idea to install hardwood flooring. But moisture is common and not a definitive roadblock to getting the wood flooring you’re looking for.
Basements should ideally be kept below 50 percent humidity, regardless of whether they are finished or not, to prevent future mold growth. A dehumidifier can help you keep a constant level of humidity in your basement, and you should make sure other sources of water like pipes are intact.
Planning for hardwood
First, it’s important to consider what type of wood flooring you’d like to install. Not all wood floors are suitable for basements, and not all basements are ideal for hardwood floors. Solid hardwood is the traditional option, but engineered wood flooring can be a better option for basements and it’s usually less expensive than hardwood. Engineered wood may keep its shape better than solid hardwood flooring because this type of floor has a plywood base which makes the floor structurally sound and prevents moisture from damaging the floor. There are many types of engineered wood flooring, some of which have thicker upper layers that allow for sanding and refinishing over years, and the tops come in almost every species.
A good moisture barrier is critical, and must be applied above the concrete prior the wood installation. It will help shield your flooring from excessive water moving in from the subfloor reducing the chance of flooring buckling or warping. The hardwood will be installed directly onto a concrete by gluing it down instead of a traditional nailing job, so it may be more expensive than hardwood installation elsewhere in your home as well.
Finally, you’ll have to test the humidity in the concrete and hardwood flooring before installation and also regularly test once it is installed. It’s important to monitor what’s going on so you can address issues before they become huge problems. Even if you don’t see it, there can be small cracks beneath the floor that form in the concrete and let in troublesome moisture.
If wood is just too big of a leap of faith with the conditions in your basement, laminate can be a great alternative. It doesn’t have the sensitivity to humidity that real hardwood does, but it lends a similar look for a lower cost.
Laminate flooring is made by pressing wood chips together at high temperatures. An image is then laid on top of the pressed wood to give it the appearance of traditional wood planks. The flooring can be laid in sections, making it easier to install in some cases, and it can be a great option in areas where hardwood may or may not be practical. You can also purchase moisture resistant laminate flooring.
However, it isn’t as easy to repair as hardwood, as replacing sections of it can be difficult. Hardwood can be sanded or buffed and refinished to remove scratches and dents, while laminate cannot.
A third and most popular option for basements where humidity problems really hamstring wood flooring is luxury vinyl flooring (LVT) with the look of real wood. While it’s not made with organic fibers, and we know that is a good thing for below-grade areas, it’s easy to install, less expensive and can offer a polished look similar to hardwood when installed well.
In any situation, it’s important to get a professional opinion before making any decisions. Wood flooring isn’t impossible in a basement, and with some forethought, it can make finished basements as cozy as any other room in your home.