The basement is a unique place. It is “down there” and can be creepy in an older home. Newer homes have tried to make it like just another part of the house with taller ceilings and large windows. But the basement still has some unique issues that should be considered when picking flooring.
The first issue is that it is concrete. Hard and cold. The second is that it probably has water coming through it in some form. Newer homes have tried to fight this issue, but when moisture is in the soil around a foundation, it will want to come into the basement. Even if not in visible, liquid water, it will come through the slab in the form of vapor.
Does that mean you should stay out of the basement and just use it as a place to cram your ever growing pile of unused board games and crockpots? No, except in extreme cases, there are still ways to make it work. Here are some flooring options with benefits and drawbacks.
Have the floor tested for moisture to help make better decisions about what will work for you.
$ Carpet This is the old standby. Soft and relatively easy to install it can work. But remember, carpet is extremely vulnerable to moisture. If moisture is a concern, consider a glue down carpet, or carpet squares. These are nice for play areas because they can be replaced piece by piece if they get stained or damaged.
$$ Stained concrete The floor is already concrete, so why not just stain it? Great idea. And this can really look good in a basement. But definitely check the floor for moisture content (in a couple of seasons) first. Otherwise you can end up with hazy white spots where the seal is trapping vapor in it.
$$ LVT This is the new kid on the block. Luxury Vinyl Tile comes in all sorts of patterns–both wood and tile. It is a great option because it is reasonably priced, fairly easy to install, and looks great. We have clients that have used this and their friends don’t realize it isn’t real wood. Also, it isn’t afraid of moisture. There’s a product from Kolay that we have used with great results!
$$ Hardwood I would almost always steer you away from a solid hardwood. An engineered wood can work though. It is reasonably priced and fairly easy to install. But just remember that wood changes size when it takes on moisture. In many basements this can be a big problem, even if it is just humidity we are talking about.
$$$ Tile Tile is not as sensitive to moisture, and needs a solid substrate, so installing on concrete can work great. It can start to look too busy in large spaces, so be selective in where you place it. It can also feel hard and cold. Since most people are trying to make their new basement space feel soft and warm, this can be a challenge. One nice feature is that it works great with heated floor options, so that can be a way to warm the space and the tile.