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Options For Basement Floors

People renovate their basements to make them an integral part of the home, but below-grade flooring can pose some additional challenges. How prepared are you to lead your client through the many basement flooring options?

When selecting the right option for basement floors, the main challenge for remodelers is helping clients find flooring materials that can be dried, repaired or replaced as easily as possible, says Megan Lynch, a design consultant at Schloegel Design Remodel Inc. in Kansas City, Mo. 

Because basement floors need to combine practicality and innovation, many remodelers look to new trends, including:

Carpet squares:

Carpeting may warm up the basement floor of a home, but it’s not the best solution for moisture prevention, which is why one growing trend is to lay carpet squares over concrete. “If there is a water issue you can rip a square up and quickly mop the floor before mold starts to occur,” Lynch says. 

Tile innovations:

You don’t have to cover the whole floor with one material. “We mix a lot of flooring in terms of usage and functions,” Lynch says. For basement remodels, she suggests broadening your offerings to include porcelain tiles that are finished to resemble wood planks, natural stone or concrete.

Cork Flooring:

Because it’s soft and it breathes, cork may provide more comfort than a concrete floor. “Cork doesn’t rot,” McMillan says. “If it gets wet, just sponge it up. It’s a very durable material and is being used more in lower-level kitchens and bars.” Just be sure the product manufacturer recommends it for below-grade or basement installations.

Sustainable flooring:

This is one of the fastest-growing areas of flooring. Look for labels with certifications that guarantee high percentages of biodegradable or recycled content in carpet, ceramic tiles and wood flooring.

Commercial-Inspired Floors

People are using more traditionally commercial applications in residences as a wider variety of style choices become available, says Michael McMillan, president of Charlotte, N.C.-based McMillan Construction Management. Two common choices:

Stained concrete floors: 

“One of the newer trends is staining and finishing concrete basement slabs,” McMillan says. Though not always ideal for walking around, it’s a durable and inexpensive option for workshops and large open game rooms. 

Linoleum floors:

Previously associated with drab colors and industrial construction, Lynch says, linoleum is coming back in rich, bold colors. It is a sustainable material, made of linseed oil, and doesn’t emit toxins like vinyl floors.  

Floating Subfloor System

Certain raised subfloors are designed specifically as options for basement floors by providing a moisture barrier that allows the concrete to breathe. This works with floating subfloors that have built-in air vents — they go directly onto the concrete, reducing the possibility of mold growth.

In flood-prone areas however, McMillan suggests steering clear of options like raised subfloors and floated engineered wood floors, which aren’t secured to any subfloor. “It creates a micro-climate between the concrete and finished flooring where mold and insects can grow,” he says. “Typically, once you have a micro-climate in between assemblies, you’re stuck with it unless you want to rip out the whole floor.”

How to Keep Moisture Out of Your Basement

To give new flooring materials the best chance of survival, address moisture issues before installation. 

“My expertise is getting water out of basements,” McMillan says. “Most of the time it’s not the finishes but the substrate material underneath” that’s causing the problem. He recommends three ways to avoid wetness:

1. Check the sloping.

Many basements are built without the proper sloping to naturally eliminate water, McMillan says. In those cases you should offer to do some intense waterproofing and install a drainage system before getting to the floor itself. “Allow for the grade to have proper slope prior to installing the stone base,” he adds.

2. Do a moisture test on the slab.

“If it’s above 10 percent moisture content, there may be reason for concern,” he says. “You’re going to have problems with whatever material you’re putting down.” 

3. Check the carpet permeability rating.

“Many companies are unfamiliar with this,” McMillan says. The permeability rating tells you the rate of water vapor passage through the material — the higher the perm rating, the more it allows moisture to transfer through it, potentially avoiding mold and mildew buildup.

The same idea goes for products like porcelain tiles, which range from non-vitreous (low-dense and highly absorbent) to impervious (very dense and non absorbent).

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