CORK FLOORING IN THE BASEMENT: FLOATING FLOOR IS THE BEST CHOICE
The installing flooring in the basement is very different from above-grade installations. Cement slabs below grade often give off small amounts of water vapour (moisture) at a continuous rate. What most people believe to be a “dry basement” is often times a basement that has continuous moisture evaporating out of the slab and into the air. If there is a floor in the way, the moisture will sit underneath the floor causing mold or mildew to form.
No matter the flooring type; no matter the type of installation, proper moisture readings of a cement slab (below, at, or above grade) must be done prior to installing any form of flooring. All flooring professionals should offer this as part of their services-for-hire whereas many homeowners, “handymen-for-hire” and DIY enthusiasts have little knowledge of these basic requirements. Without the moisture tests before, during and after installation, all warranties become null and void should problems occur. .
The adhesives require to install cork flooring are extremely sensitive to moisture – especially in a cement slab. Hydrostatic pressure must be less than 3lbs/1000sf in 24 hours. By industry standards, this is ranked as “very sensitive”. For the uninitiated, most other forms of glue-down or mortar-in-place floors can accept 5-8lbs/1000sf in 24 hours before special measures must be taken. “Unsealed” basements often sit between 5-10 lbs/1000sf in 24 hours. Even “sealed slabs” can still exhibit hydrostatic pressure above 3 lbs/1000sf in 24 hours. .
For this reason a cork floating floor is the best option for a basement installation. Even when the concrete has a moisture barrier incorporated into the slab, a vapour or moisture resistant underlayment must be used. It may seem like “over kill” by the average homeowner, but every building professional knows a story or two about a slab that was overwhelmed by high water tables. .
The “industry standard” vapour barrier is 6mil polyethylene sheeting (usually black), with the seams overlapped by 8” and sealed with a moisture resistant tape (often found in the same area of the store as the poly-sheeting). Even when using a vapour barrier, moisture testing must be obtained and documented. Once the polyethylene sheeting is laid, the basement is ready to acquire a new floor. .
Cork underlay is an excellent option in basements. Unlike other laminate floor underlay, cork offers a solid, non-compressible material that will increase the R-Value of the basement as well as add another layer of protection between the cork floating floor and any moisture that escapes through the vapour barrier. Cork underlay is another way to achieve a cheap, easy “floor raise” if the cork is going to butt up against another floor – like a ceramic tiled floor. Tiled floors often achieve a height of ¾ inch. Forna’s cork floor is just a little less than ½ inch in height. By using the 1/8 inch or ¼ inch cork underlay, the cork floating floor can be brought into line with the existing tiled floor. .
The feeling of “bounce” that most people associate with a floating floor is not necessarily the floor itself – it is the result of a spongy underlay that compresses easily. Even the most expensive, most rigid floating floor will feel “cheap” when a soft, spongy under-pad is used. Solid flooring should have solid underlayment. “A floor is only as good as it’s underlay”. .
Some clients have tried to get around the “direct to cement” installation for the glue down cork floor. They decided to install a subfloor in the basement so that they can glue down the cork tiles as they were unwilling to have a click-together floor in their home. If this is the install of choice, the homeowner must be aware that a vapour barrier must be in place before the subfloor is built. Most flooring specialists know this, but some “handymen” do not. This is truly a “buyer beware” type of installation. Without the vapour barrier – the plastic sheeting – all warranties are lost. A glue-in-place floor that is exposed to moisture vapour from underneath (whether it is directly over a slab or installed onto plywood over a cement slab it makes little difference) will almost always fail before the warranty expires. Some glue down cork floors have failed in as little as a few months. .
Other homeowners have decided to use a click-together subfloor only to find out that the surface of these systems is often made up of Oriented Strand Board aka: OSB. Cork glue down floors cannot be directly attached to OSB board, so another subfloor material must be purchased, installed and prepared before the cork can be glued in place. This form of subfloor install + new plywood + glue down tiles is far more expensive and more labour intensive than a cork floating floor. And it still requires a moisture barrier installed over the concrete slab – something the average DIY installer is not aware of. .
In a basement, the simplest approach is often the best. Polyethylene sheeting can be purchased for $0.12/sf at any home renovation store. Forna Cork Underlay can be purchased for $0.32/sf (3mm or 1/8 inch) or $0.63/sf (6mm or ¼ inch). Forna cork floating floors range in price from $2.28/sf - $4.09/sf. The cost of materials to install cork glue down floor in a basement would most certainly double the cost of materials, and quadruple the time required for a proper installation. .
Moisture testing + polyethylene sheeting + cork underlay + cork floating floor = Most appropriate installation with the lowest cost. .
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