Below Grade Laminate Flooring

Below Grade Laminate Flooring

Below Grade Laminate Flooring

by Chris Copeland

Most all basements tend to be below-grade. That is a portion of their structure is below ground level. You can get into all different kinds of specifics surrounding that, but if your concrete basement floor has a section that is under ground, whether it’s just one wall or all of them, your basement is below-grade. Because of this, most flooring installed below-grade has to be either able to tolerate some exposure to water or be protected from it. Durability is a key here. Just think back to those winter thaws and spring rains, all that water seeps into the ground and makes the ground water level rise. And if it rises enough or becomes saturated enough around your home, you can expect to have some kind of moisture issues hitting your basement slab or walls. But it’s not only during those times, it can happen year round.

Because of that moisture, you’ve got to be a little selective around what kind of basement flooring you install. Sure, hardwood floors look great but are they really conducive in a basement environment? I guess with the right amount of time (and money) you could have hardwood flooring in your basement but you could also be in for a world of hurt if something ever happens to make the wood warp to where you have to replace it. And believe me, nobody likes a soggy carpet. If your basement is prone to moisture, these would be definite options to steer clear of.

Beautiful Solid Hardwood Flooring

Engineered basement flooring is another terrific option as well. You can still get that all natural hardwood flooring look in a protected piece of flooring. Engineered floor planks actually have a slice of wood embedded in it and typically urethaned or melamine resin or similar protective coating applied to protect the actual wood piece, so it’s not really solid wood. It’s fairly straightforward and easy to install and you can do it yourself if you are apt to. It’s a little less expensive than hardwood but a little more expensive than another option like laminate flooring.

Using laminate flooring though below grade can make for a really beautiful basement floor. Just like engineered floor planks, laminate floor planks are manufactured in the same style. However, instead of having that actual slice of wood, you get a photographic replica. Yep, it’s a picture. But, because of that, laminate floors come in a much wider range from woods to stones to tiles that can be used. That same type of protective coating is used to protect laminates from different stains and scratching. Plus, laminated flooring can be used in areas where the humidity changes frequently (like a basement) because it is far less prone to contract and expand like solid wood flooring with differing moisture conditions. That’s not to say it won’t, because it likely can, just not like hardwood flooring.

Laminate floors are floating floors. This simply means that they are not nailed down or directly glued to the concrete or sub-floor. It’s still not really recommended to install laminate floors directly on a concrete basement slab and you should use some kind of moisture barrier or subfloor for added protection and to keep the laminate away from any water that may seep through the slab.

Shaw Laminated Flooring

Saying all this, it’s likely that I’ve opened up a can of worms here and you’ve got questions. I know that I’ve been getting quite a few of them through the contact form as well as in the comments with people wanting to know more so I’ll take this to answer a few of the most popular.

Question: What is the difference between hardwood flooring, engineered flooring and laminated flooring? (From Jean Carlson, Ontario, CA)

One thing’s for sure, I like wood and the look it can bring to any home. Whether that’s through solid, engineered, or laminate. However, the classy selection has always been to where you can say you’ve got hardwood floors, there’s some real advantages to laminate. One is that solid wood flooring should only be installed above grade, while engineered and laminates can be installed below-grade. Solid wood planks are much thicker than the other two as the average size is around ¾” thick. Engineered and laminate planks however are typically only up to 3/8” thick and made up from several different layers of material. The top surfaces of those layers are the wood representation. In engineered, it’s an actual veneer. In laminates, it’s a high quality photograph. Price is also a variable difference. The cost will go down as you travel from solid to engineered to laminate. Because of their durability and affordability, laminates are becoming some of the most popular flooring options available.

Question: Do all basement laminate planks secure the same? (From Lee Woodard, New York)

Most all laminates are “floating floors” so they don’t really secure to anything. They simply float on top of the subfloor. But, if you are talking about how the individual planks “secure” to each other, than that’s a totally different question all together. There’s actually several different edge locking systems dependent on what brand or style of flooring you purchase. Some snap together by hand while others will require a gentle nudge with a soft rubber mallet to get it locked in place. Just check to see which one you are comfortable with and can afford. To me, no real one is better than the other as they all do their job. The difference comes in the manufacturing and type of material used for this locking system. Some are just cheap, and with cheap products you get cheap results. On those lesser expensive models you’ll sometimes find that you end up wasting planks when you go to snap them together as the tongue and groove will simply break or collapse. The ones that work still hold strong. While, on the other hand, using a good quality system like the ones in Pergo laminate flooring, you’ll find there is much less “waste” involved due to the locking. But that’s just one example.

Below Grade Laminate Flooring

Pergo Laminated Floors

Question: Are there places where you should not install laminated flooring? (From Eugene, Seattle, Washington)

Well of course there are, but just remember that laminated flooring is extremely versatile. You can put it in nearly any room. You can install it both below and above ground. You can even install it directly over concrete or wood or linoleum, as long as the surface is flat. However, there are certain places where you probably should not install laminate flooring. You should not lay laminate in places like a bathroom. Although it is possible if you take some added precautions, the bathroom is regarded as a “wet location”. And, since laminate is considered a wood-type product, it won’t do well in there. If you have other rooms that you consider “wet” rooms, then you should not put it there. Also, laminates don’t do well in outside areas like an enclosed porch.

Any room or location where there is a possibility for extended exposure to water could cause the material used in manufacturing laminates to swell. When laminate flooring swells, it will start to bubble up and become displaced along the seams causing an uneven and ugly looking appearance. That doesn’t mean that it can’t get wet occasionally due to a little mishap or spill, just that it needs to cleaned up and dried properly so it maintains its form.

Question: What are the three best advantages to using laminated flooring? (From Darryl, Minneapolis, Minnesota)

Well, the first one for laminated basement flooring is price, it’s the cheapest flooring that you can get and still have the look of solid hardwood flooring in your basement. Secondly, it is absolutely one of the easiest floors to install that you can do yourself. There’s no nailing involved and most all of them these days are floating without glue. The only level of expertise you’ll really need is being able to cut the right dimensions and corners. And finally, laminates are quite durable. They hold up really well to scratching and with the use of high-def photos, they are less likely to fade like other flooring materials.

And that’ll about wrap it up. Those are the four most common questions that I’ve got regarding the use of laminate flooring below grade in a basement. As always, if you have others, feel free to leave them below.


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