For the past few weeks, we’ve bee getting pretty steady, pretty heavy rain in my area. Now, this isn’t particularly out of the ordinary – it happens every couple of years. Unfortunately, every couple of years when it happens, my nearby relatives’ finished basement floods. Like clockwork, despite resealing the walls and floor and adding a new drainage ditch, yesterday they walked downstairs to a wet carpet…again. Having gone through three sets of carpet flooring in about eight years, they’re definitely ready to try something new. But what kind of basement flooring do you choose when you know it’s just going to get wet – either from flooding or just from condensation or humidity from the walls?
Sealed, Painted, Or Stained Concrete
The least expensive (and most effective) option is to leave your concrete foundation more or less as it is. After all, if a bare concrete floor gets wet, there isn’t anything for water to get trapped under, and there isn’t anything to mold or mildew – the floor can’t get ruined, and it won’t ever have to be replaced. It’s why most unfinished basements just leave the floor as-is. A coat of sealant will help repel water and is just as easy to apply as a coat of paint. Paint made specifically for concrete can add a splash of color, while concrete stains and epoxies can mimic the look of stone. The main drawback of this type of flooring is that it doesn’t provide any padding or insulation, though it’s easy to cover the surface with throw rugs that can be removed in the event of a flood.
Any type of flooring or underlayment made out of an organic material is a big no-no for a basement at risk for flooding. This includes not only the obvious ones – hardwood and carpet – but also common alternatives, like laminate, which are made out of plywood and are ultimately just as susceptible to moisture. Even minor flooding can mean these materials need to be replaced entirely. Vinyl flooring, on the other hand, is made entirely of synthetic materials, and other than concrete, it’s one of the materials that stands up best to moisture.
Wood print vinyl planks are a popular option, but vinyl can be made to look like ceramic or stone tile as well, and can even come in a variety of colorful patterns. It also comes in many sizes and shapes, from standard squares and wood sized-and-shaped planks to very large sheets. Sheet vinyl flooring provides the greatest protection against moisture as there are fewer seams for liquid to seep through, but any type of vinyl is easy to install for a confident DIYer.
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Ceramic tile is another excellent choice for a basement with water problems – after all, it’s the same material you use to manage water in the bathroom. Ceramic tile can be a little more expensive than some of these other options, not the least because they’re much less DIY friendly, so you’ll need to factor in the cost of a professional installation. That said, ceramic tile is both beautiful and versatile, available in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. Some manufacturers even offer ceramic tile printed to look like stone or wood, which can help you mimic these materials in a part of your home where the real thing wouldn’t hold up well.
Like concrete, ceramic tile is often cold to the touch and not particularly forgiving to the feet, but easily paired with area rugs. Also, it’s very important if you’ve already had a flood to know where the water is coming from. If it’s coming through one or more walls, ceramic is a perfect choice, but if water is seeping up through your concrete slab, it can become trapped beneath the tile and even loosen the mortar. Like vinyl and some concrete finishes, ceramic tile is meant to offer water protection from the top down, not from the bottom up, so be sure you know the source of your problem before you choose your new basement flooring.
Finally, rubber flooring is a very forgiving form of basement flooring. Unlike carpet, it’s made of materials that won’t mold or mildew when wet, and when applied loosely with removable adhesive, it can be removed entirely and taken outside to dry in the event of a flood. Rubber flooring can either be purchased in sheets (which offer slightly better water protection, but can be cumbersome and heavy to roll up and move) or in puzzle piece-like squares that snap together, which are a little easier to remove, but can make your space look a bit like a gym. Obviously, this method is a little less effective than some of the other ones listed here, but it’s also the only one that offers any kind of underfoot padding, so other than a very large area rug, it’s the next closest thing you can get to carpet in a flood-prone basement.
It should go without saying that if you’ve experienced a flood (or any kind of significant water problem in your basement) picking out and installing a new floor shouldn’t be your first step. There are all kinds of causes for flooding in a basement – poorly placed gutters, less than ideal grading in your back yard, or any other number of other factors, and it’s important to have these addressed first before you commit to re-finishing your basement. The nature of the problem might even dictate which option is the best for you – so be sure to address the underlying problem before you tackle the cosmetic one. What kind of basement flooring are you looking to replace, and which do you think will work best for your space?