Best Basement Flooring Options

Sheet Vinyl Flooring
Basement flooring does not play by the normal rules of flooring. Even when the weather is dry, basement flooring might leach residual moisture in the form of vapor due to its close proximity to the ground. And there are other ways that water can enter your basement. In heavy rains, basements can be the scene of the type of up-to-your-ankles flooding that we all fear and which keeps the insurance companies in business. So the primary concern with basement flooring is moisture: how to avoid it and how well the floor will dry out if it has become wet.

Below-Grade Flooring Basics
Below-grade flooring does not refer to cheap, sub-standard flooring. Commonly used by contractors and builders, the word grade is another term for ground-level. Everything above-grade is safe from water vapor migration. Above-grade flooring is safe, too, from most normal instances of flooding. Everything at or below-grade is at risk of water vapor damage and mild flooding.

Hard materials like tile and concrete tend to outperform soft materials like carpet in basements.
Inorganic materials work better in basements than organic materials. Tile, concrete, and vinyl are all inorganic materials. Solid hardwood, even though it is a hard material, does not work well in basements because it is a 100-percent organic material. Inorganic materials may grow mold, but they will not deteriorate. Organic materials will both grow mold and will begin to rot away when subjected to water over time.
Monolithic, one-lay floors are easier to dry out than multi-layered floor systems. A classic example of a monolithic floor is concrete. Not only does it have the advantage of being hard and inorganic, but it also does not have multiple layers which can trap water.
Some below-grade flooring, such as ceramic tile, can be installed directly on the concrete slab. If installing laminate flooring, it is possible to install it directly on the concrete slab with an intervening layer of foam underlayment.
Some below-grade flooring requires a raised subfloor. This can be in the form of a subfloor system or a traditional sleeper system built from scratch out of plywood and two-by-fours. Carpeting benefits from a raised subfloor. Laminate floor’s performance will enhanced by installing it on a subfloor system.

Sheet Vinyl Flooring
Vinyl flooring, also known as resilient flooring, ranks with concrete and ceramic tile as one of the better basement flooring options. Vinyl flooring comes in both sheet or tile/plank form, and there is a subtle difference. Sheet vinyl flooring creates a nearly seamless, water-impervious surface on your basement floor, always a good thing where moisture might be involved. Tile vinyl flooring has multiple seams that may invite moisture infiltration if water is left standing long enough.

Pros

Keeps water at bay
Inexpensive, often pennies per square foot
Warmer to the touch than ceramic tile or concrete.


Cons

Often considered a cheap fix
Needs a very clean surface for adhesion
Sheet vinyl installation is not usually a do-it-yourself project

Rubber Flooring
Rubber flooring is commonly associated with gyms, garages, dance or martial arts studios, and pools. Can rubber flooring work in basements, too?

If your basement is intended to be a play space, not a formal living space, you just might be in luck. Otherwise, rubber flooring will not work for most homes. Roll rubber, the type found at commercial gyms, offers the fewest number of seams. Interlocking rubber tiles cost about the same and are easy for homeowners to install since they fit together like a puzzle.

Pros
Maximum insulation against basement subfloor temperatures
Soft surface for walking on
Stands up well against moisture


Cons
Aesthetically not appropriate for living spaces as it is more for exercising or storage
Not completely waterproof as water can still leak between seams, especially with the interlocking rubber tiles

Cork Flooring
Cork is a natural product derived from cork trees. Soft underfoot, comfortable to walk on and warm, cork flooring would ordinarily be a good fit for below-grade areas except that it is an organic product subject to water damage. If you do decide to install cork flooring in your basement, you would absolutely need to install a subfloor system.

Pros

Cork provides good insulation against cold basement floors
Soft to walk on
Good sound absorption

Cons

Since cork is organic, it is prone to deterioration
Rolled cork can be hard to install on a do-it-yourself basis, typically requiring professional installation