We get asked a lot about installing floating floor in a basement. In Vancouver we have many portions of our houses that have below grade rooms, which we usually call a basement. In places like Richmond, we do not have many basements, as Richmond is below sea level. But most parts of BC are well above sea level and homes are often built with basements. Basement are usually concrete subfloors, so this is a perfect subfloor for floating your floor. So to answer the question, can you install a floating floor in a basement? The answer is, yes! You need to do a few things to ensure it is a successful install, read on to learn what the top 5 things you need to do to ensure a successful project.
What is a Floating Floor?
Click lock hard surface floors, like laminate or vinyl flooring, as installed as floating floors. Often, many engineered hardwood floors (tongue and groove) are also installed as floating floors. A floating floor is simply a floor that is connected to other planks, side by side (all 4 sides) with either a click lock system, or, with glue. If you nail down, staple down, or glue down the flooring planks directly to the subfloor, this is not a floating floor. A floating floor means it ‘floats’ on top of underlayment. This underlayment (or underpad) can be either rolled out (you usually purchase underlayment separately in 200 square feet rolls) or some products have underpad already attached to the plank. Here is aa video showing a vinyl flooring, with pad attached already (this is SPC Vinyl flooring planks):
What do you need to do to ensure a successful floating floor installed in your basement?
1) Purchase a floor that can be floated. Yah, seems obvious, but if you buy tile or a solid hardwood or sheet vinyl, you won’t be floating these. Buy a click lock vinyl or laminate floor. The other option is purchase engineered hardwood flooring with the appropriate adhesive (glue) for the t&g. Then, assuming the product does not have pad attached, purchase underlayment.
2) Clean, smooth, subfloor. This is a vital step. You can’t have bumps or debris or nail heads, screw heads, dirty, or any other things protruding from the subfloor. Exposed rebar, anything that is not level to the floor needs to be cleared.
3) Level subfloor – you can not have dips or uneven subfloor. This needs to be addressed with self leveling compound. Dips in the subfloor put too much pressure on the joints of the flooring planks. You will have problems down the road if the floor isn’t level. Follow manufacturer warranties, but usually ¼” of an inch over 4’ is too much of a change and needs to be leveled.
4) Have a plan – you need to review your basement layout and ensure it is appropriate for a floating floor. If you have poles or lots of columns, it makes for a difficult installation with a floating floor. Remember #5 when installing a floating floor
5) Floating floors need to float. So they can not butt up against any structure. Not the wall, not the stairs, not a column, nothing. It needs expansion gaps in all 4 directions. So if you have a odd layout, or you have too many permeant (fixed) items in the room, then a floating floor installation style may not be for you. The finished looks may not look professional. Too many expansion gaps will look odd. It can be hard to hide them all and give a proper finished look.
Example: This is a harder type of layout to do a floating floor. Need to not butt up (have the float floor touch) these poles:
It can be done, but you need finishing skills and you need a plan.
Some extra comments (technical) on subfloors and moisture from National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) recommended installation guidelines. These are considered industry standards:
Wood Subfloor Specifications
- Subfloor panels should conform to should conform to U.S. Voluntary Product Standard PS1-95, Construction and Industrial Plywood and/or US Voluntary PS 2-04 and/or Canadian performance standard CAN/CSA 0325.0-92 Construction Sheathing. Other CSA standards also apply. B. Solid-board subflooring should be 3⁄4” x 51/2” (1” x 6” nominal), Group 1 dense softwoods, No. 2 Common, kiln-dried to less than 15 percent moisture content. C. Both CD EXPOSURE 1 plywood and OSB Exposure 1 subfloor panels are appropriate subflooring materials, but the proper thickness of the material will be determined by the factors noted below in Part IV – Panel Products Subflooring, E - Acceptable Panel Subfloors.
Note: the National Association of Home Builders’ Green Home Building Guidelines contains the following directive under Section 5.3.8: “NAB Model Green Home Building Guidelines, Section 5.3.8: “Check moisture content of wood flooring before enclosing on both sides. Ensure moisture content of subfloor/substrate meets the appropriate industry standard for the finish flooring material to be installed.” A. For solid strip flooring (less than 3” wide), there should be no more than 4 percent moisture content difference between properly acclimated wood flooring and subflooring materials. B. For wide-width solid flooring (3” or wider), there should be no more than 2 percent difference in moisture content between properly acclimated wood flooring and subflooring materials.
Subfloor Flatness and Integrity
- Wood subfloors must be flat, clean, dry, structurally sound, free of squeaks and free of protruding fasteners. 1. For installations using mechanical fasteners of 11/2” and longer, the subfloor should be flat to within 1⁄4” in 10 feet or 3/16” in 6 feet. 2. For glue-down installations and installations using mechanical fasteners of less than 11/2”, the subfloor should be flat to within 3/16” in 10 feet or 1/8” in 6 feet. B. If peaks or valleys in the subfloor exceed the tolerances specified above, sand down the high spots and fill the low spots with a leveling compound or other material approved for use under wood flooring. However, it is the builder’s or general contractor’s responsibility to
provide the wood-flooring contractor with a subfloor that is within the tolerances listed above. C. Inspect the subfloor carefully. If there is movement or squeaks in the subfloor, refasten the subfloor to the joists in problem areas. D. Protruding fasteners are easily remedied by driving those fasteners deeper into the subfloor.