Question: I am assisting my 90-year-old mother who still lives in her own home. She had a water leak in her basement and we are now working with the insurance company to repair the damage to the two rooms that were impacted. I am looking at flooring options and need some advice. The two rooms are a pantry area, which had vinyl linoleum adhered directly to the concrete, and a larger room that had a foam backed carpet glued to the concrete floor. There were fans and dehumidifiers in the room for several days after the flooding occurred. I do not want to run into any future problems with potential moisture, condensation and mold.
I was wanting to put vinyl plank in both rooms. However, I have been doing some reading about the challenges with putting materials over concrete. The house is a four-level-split and the room is the 4th level in the basement. The top of the room is approximately three feet above the ground. The exposure of this room is north and east, so there is virtually no sun on these walls. The flooring companies here in Medicine Hat are willing to tell and sell you anything. I need to know what is the best course of treatment for laying flooring in this room.
Can vinyl plank be put down without any future issues, especially given there will be a higher moisture content in the concrete with having had water on it for about four days? Given the previous flooring that was there, what kind of prep needs to be done to get the substrate ready for the installation? Should the room stand to dry more before proceeding with flooring and if so for how long?
I would appreciate any advice you are able to provide me.
Sincere regards, Bev Duke.
Answer: Replacing damaged flooring after basement flooding can be challenging, but also provides a great opportunity to upgrade to a more suitable product. Plank vinyl may be the only product I would recommend for direct application over the concrete floor, but incorporating a modular subfloor would provide the best job possible.
This may be an ideal time to address your excellent question, after having gone through a local deluge that caused more than a few basements to flood, following several months of almost no precipitation. Some of those situations may have occurred due to gaps between extremely dry soil and foundation walls, while others were due to plumbing issues such as broken sump pumps and blocked sewer pipes. Either way, this advice should be timely for any homeowners that found more than a trickle of water in their basements this past weekend. No matter what your flooring choice turns out to be, the longer you leave the concrete uncovered to dry, the better the final outcome will be.
The two types of older flooring you had adhered to your basement floor slab were popular choices for many years. That is primarily due to the limited choices available and the lower cost, compared to better quality products. Foam-backed carpeting was normally the cheapest option, with paper-backed vinyl sheathing a close second. Both of these products were usually glued down, to ensure they did not move over time. As long as the basement was dry, the easily applied and low-cost adhesive would work well for many years. While the foam backing of the carpet would eventually disintegrate from normal use, it would still be functional. The main drawback of the vinyl sheathing was often discolouration from the backing absorbing moisture from the cool concrete, which normally would not affect its overall integrity.
Most problems would occur in basements that were subject to occasional seepage, or that had excessive furniture or storage on top of the flooring. Those could cause periodic wetting, condensation and mould growth. Since the flooring was glued to the concrete, there was no real way to easily dry it when this occurred. As you have experienced, a larger basement leak or flood would permanently damage both these flooring types, requiring immediate replacement.
More modern advances in flooring have led to several types that are very durable but do not require permanent fastening to the subfloor. Various types of laminates have become quite popular, but they are not ideally suitable for direct application over your basement floor. Because the core is fibreboard, it can swell and become damaged with limited exposure to moisture. Vinyl plank flooring is made of solid vinyl, with no paper backing, so it is not subject to damage if it gets wet. That makes it ideal for application in your basement and it can even be pulled up and reused if there is another basement leakage event.
The main downside to application directly over the concrete is that it is a very hard surface to walk on. For this reason, a foam backing may be applied underneath, which makes it softer on the feet. But, for the best possible outcome a modular subfloor should be initially laid down, before covering with vinyl or laminate planks. This product normally has a corrugated plastic or foam backing secured to tongue and groove OSB sheathing. The bottom layer provides both a softer feel and protection for the sheathing from the cold concrete floor. The corrugations in the plastic also allow some air movement, which can help dry out any small amounts of moisture that may develop underneath. Laying your plank flooring directly over these interlocked squares will give you a much warmer and softer floor than by direct application on the concrete floor slab, itself.
Using plank vinyl flooring over your concrete basement floor, after all the old flooring remnants are removed, is a viable option. But, putting down a modular subfloor first will provide a much better and warmer end result.
Ari Marantz is the owner of Trained Eye Home Inspection Ltd. and a Registered Home Inspector (RHI)(cahpi.ca). Questions can be emailed to the address below. Ari can be reached at 204-291-5358 or check out his website at trainedeye.ca.