Basements below ground level, also known as "below-grade," are more likely to have problems with moisture, cold and dampness, all of which contribute to mold if left unchecked. Even with a moisture barrier and an insulated subfloor, many flooring products, such as hardwood, are not warrantied for the interior environmental instability that a basement can present. Commonly used materials include tile, carpet, laminate and engineered hardwood, and options such as finished concrete, vinyl, and cork are becoming more readily available.
Regardless of flooring type, it is always advisable to ensure the material is approved for below-grade installation.
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Whether wall-to-wall carpeting, carpet tile or one or more area rugs, carpeting is appreciated for its relative softness and warmth underfoot. However, carpet can act like a sponge and soak up any moisture. Wall-to-wall carpet may also stretch and pucker over time, especially when laid over uneven surfaces.
If carpeting is preferred, carpet tiles are easier to maintain, and individual tiles can be lifted and replaced when damaged. Similarly, area rugs can be lifted and moved elsewhere to properly dry -- or be replaced -- should water penetrate the basement.
Unfinished basement floors are often left as a concrete subfloor with no special insulation or treatment in a standard finished home. Though the existing concrete floor can be sealed, it will remain hard and cold underfoot. If the floor is sealed improperly, moisture may penetrate from below, possibly resulting in cracks and the growth of mildew or mold.
For a warmer concrete finish, install radiant flooring before applying another concrete layer. This new concrete topcoat can be sealed, stamped, tinted or covered with an epoxy finish.
A natural product, cork has great acoustical properties, cushions footfalls, and will not rot when exposed to water. Before installing cork, ensure its suitability for below-grade.
Many glue-down styles of cork flooring are not recommended for below-grade applications.
Laminate and Engineered Hardwood
When the look of wood is a “must have,” laminate or engineered hardwood deserves consideration. Both options can be installed as a floating floor, are moisture-resistant, and can generally withstand more scratches and dents than a regular hardwood floor.
Luxury Vinyl Tile
LVT can realistically mimic the look of wood, natural stone or ceramics, is easy to clean and install, and is resistant to water. It is softer and warmer than stone or ceramics and the tiles (or planks) may be butted up against one another or laid with a grout-like insert. For glue-down applications, verify that the glue is suitable for both the tile and below-grade usage.
Ceramic or Porcelain Tile
Porcelain and ceramic tiles are designed for wet use, so spills, leaks or moisture exposure is easy to clean; simply mop up the excess. A plethora of options