Floating Floor in a Basement | Ask the Home Flooring Pros 2021

Why Install a Floating Floor in a Basement?

A floating floor is the perfect solution for a concrete basement subfloor, allowing for the installation of a moisture barrier to protect your basement flooring against moisture damage.

Installing a floating floor is the first step to a fully finished basement with your choice of flooring. Vinyl, engineered hardwood, even laminate are all possible with a correctly sealed and watertight underlayment beneath a floating floor.

In our latest Ask The Pros post you will learn exactly why floating floors are a great basement flooring option, which types of flooring work best as a floating floor, how much they will cost and brand recommendations.

WHAT ARE FLOATING FLOORS?

The term “floating floor” refers to a method of installation that can be used with several different flooring materials. In this method of installation, the flooring is not attached to the subfloor with fasteners or glue. Instead, it uses an interlocking tongue-and-groove system that allows the pieces to snap into place, holding the flooring together while it “floats” above the subfloor.

DO I NEED A FLOATING FLOOR IN MY BASEMENT?

Your basement floor is concrete, right? The best practice is to cover the concrete with a vapor barrier. This stops moisture, which can travel through concrete from below, from wetting and ruining the flooring. This is the primary reason that a floating basement floor is an ideal choice, since with the barrier in between, the flooring cannot be glued directly to the subfloor.

WHY ARE FLOATING FLOORS GREAT FOR BASEMENTS?

Let’s take a look at advantages and disadvantages that will help you choose the best basement flooring.

PROS
CONS
  • Quick Installation – attaching the interlocking pieces usually takes less than a day in an average size basement
  • Most are inexpensive compared to other flooring methods such as ceramic tile
  • DIY Friendly – installing a floating floor requires no prior experience
  • Wide range of materials and styles
  • Easy to Repair – if a piece of floating floor is damaged, it can easily be removed and fixed or replaced
  • Can show signs of wear more quickly than real hardwood or ceramic tile – most is cheaper stuff, to be honest
  • Options like laminate and LVT can’t be refinished – the only exception being engineered hardwood, which can usually be refinished once in its lifetime
  • Hard floating floors can be louder underfoot or feel hollow – this issue can be nearly eliminated with good-quality padding

VAPOR BARRIER IS ESSENTIAL

A vapor barrier, also known as a moisture barrier, is a protective plastic sheet that goes between the concrete subfloor and the flooring underlayment.

If moisture seeps through the concrete, the vapor barrier will prevent water vapor from contacting the flooring, protecting it from water damage, mold, and mildew. Some flooring and underlayments come with a pre-attached vapor barrier. Don’t overlook this step!

WHAT ARE THE BEST FLOATING FLOOR OPTIONS/MATERIALS FOR A BASEMENT?

The best floating basement floor option for you will depend on what kind of basement you have.

Explained below are the three most common types of basements and the best floating floor options and materials for each type.

UNFINISHED BASEMENT OPTIONS

If you have a totally unfinished basement, with concrete floors and dampness issues, you will need to use a 100% waterproof flooring material.

Here are great options for a floating basement floor when waterproof durability is key:

Waterproof Composite Tiles

These tiles are made from recycled plastic and binders, all completely waterproof and therefore not susceptible to mold or water damage.

Installed Cost: $5.50 – $6.00 per square foot

Installation Time: 5-10 hours in an average basement

PROS
CONS
  • Waterproof.
  • Easy on the environment since recycled materials are the primary ingredient.
  • Interlocking tiles are easy to connect and cut at edges.
  • They have a “plasticky” feel underfoot.
  • Not insulated, so you might also find them chilly in cold weather.
  • Best Option: Place N’ Go Composition Floor Covering

Luxury Vinyl Planks & Luxury Vinyl Tiles

Luxury vinyl flooring available in planks and tiles gives you the look of natural wood and stone. Waterproof options are available that don’t react to moisture, so they are an ideal option for basements.

Installed Cost: $3.50 – $9.00 per square foot

Installation Time: 1-2 days for an average basement

PROS
CONS
  • Inexpensive. Using LVP or LVT is much cheaper than hardwood or stone flooring.
  • Beautiful appearance. LVP and LVT both come in a huge variety of colors and textures, allowing you to create a space that looks as beautiful as it is functional.
  • Thick material that makes the flooring sturdy
  • Long-lasting. LVP and LVT can stay in good condition for twenty years or more.
  • Fading. LVP and LVT are both prone to fade in sunlight over time. However, in a basement, this probably isn’t much of a problem.
  • Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are chemicals present in the manufacturing of LVP and LVT. They can escape the flooring as a gas that can be harmful for those with sensitive respiratory systems.

Budget Options: SmartCore vinyl flooring and TrafficMaster Allure vinyl plank flooring

Quality options: COREtec Plus flooring and Pergo Extreme luxury vinyl

Tip: Never use laminate flooring in an unfinished basement! Most laminate flooring has a fiberboard core that will swell and shrink with moisture. Even brands that are marketed as water resistant are not truly waterproof, and will be damaged by basement moisture.

PARTIALLY-FINISHED BASEMENT OPTIONS

If you have a partially finished basement that still has some below-grade issues like slight dampness, then you have plenty of options for a high-quality floating floor.

Vinyl is still the most waterproof and budget-friendly option, but if you’re looking for something a little nicer, check out water-resistant laminate or carpet tiles.

Below is a short description of each of these materials, followed by a list of pros and cons.

Laminate Flooring

Laminate is a man-made material, with a fiberboard core. In a partially-finished basement, make sure to use water-resistant laminate, and always install a vapor barrier. Laminate flooring is not suitable for an unfinished basement with significant moisture problems.

Installed Cost: $4.50 – $8.00 per square foot

Installation Time: 6-10 hours in average basements

PROS
CONS
  • Easy DIY. Laminate floating floors require no prior experience to install by yourself at home, which saves any installation cost.
  • Budget-friendly material
  • Versatility. Laminate comes in almost any style and color imaginable, so you can easily customize your flooring to be exactly what you want.
  • Not completely waterproof, so don’t install in a place that is regularly damp or flooded.
  • Can fade in sunlight
  • Can be loud underfoot

Budget Options: TrafficMaster laminate flooring and Pergo Portfolio with WetProtect

Quality Options: QuickStep NatureTek Plus and Evoke laminate flooring

Carpet Tiles

Water-resistant carpet tiles are a budget-friendly option if you want your partially-finished basement to be a more comfortable space. They are made by attaching durable carpet to a plastic base with interlocking sides.

Installed Cost: $2.50 – $4.50 per square foot

Installation Time: 5-8 hours

PROS
CONS
  • Easy installation
  • Easy to remove and replace. If your basement floods or moisture seeps in, you can easily remove carpet tiles to air out the area
  • Carpet tiles will not be damaged by getting wet
  • Noise-reducing and comfortable
  • Does not add value to home
  • Not 100% waterproof

Budget Option: TrafficMaster carpet and LifeProof carpet

Quality Option: ThermalDry

Note: Not sold for DIY, only available through certified installers

FINISHED BASEMENT OPTIONS

If you have a completely finished basement, with no risk of dampness or flooding, then you have a lot of freedom when it comes to floating floor options.

Because basements are below ground level, you can’t go wrong with waterproof or water-resistant flooring, like vinyl or laminate. However, if you’d like to explore other floating floor materials, below are two more options to consider.

Engineered Hardwood

Engineered hardwood, aka engineered flooring, features a base of plywood layers glued in opposite directions. The result is greater stability – it doesn’t expand and contract like solid hardwood with the changes in humidity common below grade. Not all engineered hardwood is rated for below grade installation, so check before you buy.

Installed Cost: $4.75 – $8.50 per square foot

Installation Time: 1-2 days

PROS
CONS
  • May warp if exposed to excess moisture
  • More difficult to clean than laminate or vinyl
  • Difficult to refinish due such a thin layer of hardwood

Budget Option: LM Flooring and LifeCore Flooring

Quality Option: Kahrs wood flooring or Anderson engineered hardwood

Cork Flooring

Cork is an increasingly popular floating floor material due to its eco-friendliness and hypoallergenic properties. It is slightly less expensive than hardwood, but not as affordable as vinyl or laminate.

Cost: $4.00 – $12.00 per square foot

Installation Time: 4-6 hours

PROS
CONS
  • Soft surface for feet
  • Eco-friendly, biodegradable material
  • Hypo-allergenic
  • Thermal insulation
  • Easily damaged by pets or heavy furniture
  • Not water-resistant
  • Stains easily

Budget Option: Heritage Mills 

Quality Option: WE Cork and Globus

FAQs

Q: Should a concrete basement floor be sealed before installation of vapor barrier and floating floor?
A: Yes. Concrete should always be sealed before installing anything on top. Sealer helps slow the transfer of moisture and will keep the surface in good condition. Concrete sealer can be found at most hardware stores, so you can DIY this part of the process too.

Q: Can I install a floating floor on top of other flooring?
A: Usually. It is easy to install a floating floor on top of most existing floors that are attached to the subfloor. Ceramic tile and glued-down vinyl are two good options. It is never advisable to install a floating floor on top of a floating floor.

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