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Carpet in Basement

Is Carpeting the Best Flooring for Dealing With Basement Moisture?

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You wouldn't think so, but debate rages about the issue of carpet in basement. It's certainly not an issue touching on matters of worldwide peace and understanding--but within the "world of remodeling," it's one that no one can seem to agree on:

Some doubt carpet's ability to recover from moisture. They note that even the least amount of moisture can cause mold growth, leading to healthy problems. Thus, they say, carpeting has no place in the basement. Others insist that carpeting is one of the best materials when basement moisture is prevalent. Who is right? Anyone?

Best Types of Carpet for Basements?

We won't go into specific brand recommendations here, preferring to steer you toward basic carpet qualities best-suited for basements:
  • Go Low Pile. High-pile (thick) carpet will only that much longer to dry out, should it get wet. The lower the pile, the easier the dry.
  • Go Cut-Pile. Carpet is usually made of fiber loops that can be left "as-is," cut, or combined loop and pile. Cut pile carpeting tends to be more durable and easier to extract water from, should the need arise.
  • Go Pad-Less. Padding makes carpet feel great, but it's also a way for water to get trapped underneath.
  • Go Man-Made. Carpet derived from organic materials (for instance, wool) will not stand up to moisture as effectively as man-made materials. Nylon, Olefin (polypropylene), and polyester are the most popular types of man-made carpet fibers.
  • Go Sectioned. If you buy wall-to-wall carpeting and part of it gets so soaks that removal is necessary, the entire carpet must come out. But if you buy carpet squares, you can excise the water-logged part of the carpet with surgical precision. Not only that, carpet squares are a DIY-friendly install.

Where That Basement Moisture Comes From

Basement moisture ranges the spectrum of woes. At one end of the scale, in certain climates, it can be seen as a fact of life that must be managed. At the other end, basement moisture can be a very huge issue indeed and a real estate deal-breaker (if you're lucky enough to catch it before the sales goes through).

Tracking down moisture in the basement prior to installation of flooring is a tricky business. The source often seems like a shifting target. But you can narrow down the sources of moisture in your basement into three categories:

  1. Leaks: This is the most obvious source. Water leaks can come from cracks in the foundation wall, up through cracks in the floor, down through air-vents in the side of the foundation, etc. You're not always so "lucky" as to catch an active water leak in process. But even dried-up leaks can be identified by remnants such as calcium deposits and other trailings that are left behind.
  2. Moisture in Air: Even upstairs rooms have moisture in the air. Can you imagine the amount of moisture in the basement? Sometimes the source isn't always what you initially think. A displaced dryer vent hose spewing dryer exhaust into the basement will drive up humidity levels like crazy. Even if you don't think you have moisture problem in your basement, a dehumidifier is a good idea.
  3. Moisture Through the Floor: Sure, a crack in the concrete floor will emit moisture. But did you know that even a stable, intact concrete floor can wick moisture?

Arguments For/Against Installing Carpeting in Basements

Both the pro- and anti-carpet-in-basement camps have valid points, and I think it's more a matter of personal choice than anything. Let's look at them:

Pro-Carpet

The "pro-carpet" side says that carpeting can be installed in the basement and will fare no worse than other types of flooring materials such an engineered wood or laminate. This argument runs that carpet has a "breathabiity" factor greater than other types, and that even light moisture can be mitigated with dehumidifiers. Additionally, in the event of large water leaks, carpeting can be dried out quickly enough before mold/mildew develop. However, this job must be taken on by professional water extraction companies.

Anti-Carpet

The "anti-carpet" camp says that there are far more durable basement flooring options than carpet. Straight concrete (stained or painted) and ceramic or natural stone tile are practically impervious to water leaks or condensation--with tile and sheet vinyl running a close second. Not only does carpet get water-soaked but its pad does, too. The argument extends to the mold and mildew that can develop in carpeting material, turning the basement into an unsafe environment. The main point is that water in carpeting can never be fully extracted, even if done by professionals.

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