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Flooring advice for cold basement

March 5, 2019

Need advice on flooring choice for basement, which contains main entry, mud area, exercise area, laundry alcove, and storage closet. There's a concrete floor which is ICE-cold year-round (I live in northern New England) and has previously been carpeted primarily for insulation reasons. The concrete itself, and a tiled area in the laundry alcove, are so cold that you can't stand on them for more than a few minutes even in the summer, and without some insulating material, it would be difficult to heat the rest of the house The house is heated with zoned baseboard hot water heat, including the basement.

The above arrangement would be fine, except the carpet has been subjected to multiple plumbing leaks from a variety of sources, and I'm tired of dealing with Serv-Pro, carpet replacement, etc, etc., so I'm looking for another option. My contractor wants to put radiant hot-water heat in the floor and then tile for the flooring. I'm leary of putting more plumbing in that basement....what happens if/when that leaks? Right now, I can turn the heat off down there in the summer, but I won't be able to do that if there's tile on the floor. This option seems very energy-inefficient to me.

Is there some material that would be more user-friendly than carpet when the inevitable next leak occurs? Something that provides some insulation? Something modular that can be removed and dried out? Any other suggestions?

Comments (12)

  • SJ McCarthy

    Adding in-floor radiant heat will also reduce the ceiling height because of the amount of material you would have to add to insulate the slab (you would have to lay/embed foam insulation then coat in concrete then lay radiant heat then your floor). You could loose as much as 2" worth of floor height. If you have 8' - 9' ceilings down there then you are fine. If you have 7' ceilings then this is going to get very tight.

    As a former cork flooring professional, I would recommend a 6mm (1/4") cork underlayment underneath a 12mm cork floating floor (a total of 3/4" worth of flooring). This will insulate the room, reduce your heating bills and offer a quiet floor that is possible to go barefoot even during the winter. No I'm not kidding. I sold this exact floor to people in N. Saskatchewan (just below the border with the Northwest Territories). The winters routinely hit -40 C (-40 F). The basement is now the warmest spot in the house. It is also the teenager hangout for ALL the local kids because NO ONE can hear them! They do all their gaming in that basement and no one upstairs even knows they are there.

    As for a "leak proof" floor, you need to WANT to have tile to get that option. And yes, it is expensive to install in-floor radiant heat. And it is expensive to run if you do NOT put the insulation down underneath it. And in your situation the best you can hope for is a warm floor (takes the chill off). All the heat will come from your baseboard heaters anyway.

    In floor radiant heat is not cheap. The hydronic is certainly not cheap (I've seen $25K installation fee for a basement set up of around 1500sf). And you still have to purchase/pay for flooring to go over top.

    If you want warm and functional, cork or carpet. If you want water proof/life proof then go for tile or finished concrete. Without a MASSIVE investment, you won't be able to have both.

    warmfridge thanked SJ McCarthy
  • PRO
    G & S Floor Service

    You can use a electric radiant floor heat and have hardwood or tiles installed over it. Check out Thermosoft.com

  • ShadyWillowFarm
    Vinyl planks? The fancy ones? Then buy an inexpensive rug to put on top.
  • chocolatebunny123

    I live in the Midwest where it gets pretty cold in the winter. We just finished our basement and put LVP there (floating). We didn't want the chemicals with the adhesive so that's why we opted to float it. When it was unfinished it was just concrete and freezing. Now you can go down there barefoot. I'm amazed at how much warmer the basement is just by finishing it.

    We used Coretec that has a cork layer like SJ McCarthy suggested, but we did not add an additional cork layer, just the floating floor on top of the concrete and it's still pretty warm.

  • worthy

    If the height is available, consider 1"-2" of extruded polystyrene (XPS) followed by a layer or two of ply or OSB. The XPS is impervious to water--we use it for floating docks--and provides R5 per inch.

  • sandk
    Take a look at epoxy floors. Not the garage floor kits from the home store, but professionally installed epoxy. I put it in our basement family room and am very happy with it. It’s much warmer underfoot than the plain concrete and no worries about water on top of it. If your water issues are coming from below then it won’t be a good choice. I believe the brand used was Reflector. We recently had a plumbing leak and the floor part of cleanup was a breeze.
  • warmfridge

    Since my original post, I've had another water event in that basement. We've abandoned the idea of radiant hot-water heat under the floor because of installation difficulties and expense, although running baseboard hot water along an additional wall may be a useful option that won't break the installation bank nor cost any extra to run. It's also become apparent that the floor surface and perimeter need to be sealed to prevent any water seeping and pooling under the floor. Epoxy isn't insulating enough and area rugs aren't large enough to be useful.

    We're looking at some type of system that incorporates insulation over the concrete, electric radiant heat, and tile. My contractor is checking out Schluter-Ditra and similar products. I'm trying to find out how much this is going to impact my electric usage, and if anyone has any links to info about those costs, I'd be grateful.

  • PRO
    G & S Floor Service

    Which area of New England are you located in? We serve eastern Mass.

  • SJ McCarthy

    What is causing the "water events"? Is it due to EXTERNAL water (rain, puddles, poor gutters, badly sloped lot) or is it internal plumbing issues? Until you fix the BIG issue, the type of floor you put in won't matter. It will always need replacing until the real concern is dealt with.

    And to be clear, the electric systems can be expensive to run if you do not have the insulation integrated UNDERNEATH the slab. A retro-fit can be very expensive to run. And the electric stuff HATES to be submerged in standing water (like a small flood from a 'water event'). The electric systems can be shorted out if they are exposed to standing water.

  • warmfridge

    G&S--I'm in northern NH.

  • PRO
    G & S Floor Service

    Winnepesauki area? All the snow is melting and causing water issues throughout the area, including Mass. this time of year. If, you have the head clearance, I suggest installing a subfloor on sleepers, if, you are only getting inches of water. That will at least allow water to stay below the actual flooring or interior french drains.

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