Carpet vs Laminate in a Basement: Which is Better?

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Whether it is time to build a new basement or to make an existing basement more habitable and attractive, choosing the correct flooring is an important aspect.  Carpet and laminate provide affordable and comfortable project options; however, basement humidity features require additional material and process considerations.  To facilitate your decision-making process, we have gathered flooring data from home improvement and scientific experts to help you determine whether carpet or laminate may be the best route.

Carpet is a thick woven floor-covering that comes in various colors and patterns. Laminate is a multi-layer board topped with a protective layer over a photographic design that resembles wood, stone, or tile. As a general rule, laminate has an edge over carpet for basement flooring projects. 

In most cases laminate – 

  • tends to be more affordable when rated with carpet of the same quality standard.
  • offers many design colors and styles with varied comfort options.
  • provides mold and moisture protections not found in carpet.
  • is an easier preparation and self-installation project when compared with wall-to-wall carpet.
  • is durable and provides easy repair or replace features.

Basement flooring selection has special considerations not required for floors in the rest of the house. Let’s look at the various aspects that comprise carpet versus laminate basement flooring determination.

Modern renovated basement with carpet floor, Carpet vs Laminate in a Basement: Which is Better?

Affordability and Quality

While both carpet and laminate provide affordable options compared to other home floor improvement materials, the quality, low or high, of either help determine durability.  Consumer Reports testers rated laminate as the least expensive basement flooring tested (engineered wood, laminate, porcelain tile, and vinyl).

You can obtain bargain carpet for around $1.00 per square foot; however, the synthetics that work well in basements usually average $2.00 to $4.00. Laminate prices start below $1.00 per square foot, with water-resistant laminate varieties averaging $1.00 to $3.00.

Professional installation will likely come at a minimum fifty-percent cost addition over materials compared to self-installation methods. Keep in mind that free or professional installation of either laminate or carpet may become more costly with additional fees for stairs, wall shape, baseboards, subfloor prep, and other standard home complexity features.

Appearance and Comfort

Just as the durability and installation ease have improved over the years for both laminate and carpet, the attractiveness and design options of each have made incredible strides. While some feel carpet is needed to warm the home, laminate styling with the correct underlayment can provide needed insulation, sound-reduction, and design; nice rugs can offer an easy clean and dry option laminate for basement floor warmth and design. Under-floor heat can help reduce coolness and moisture while increasing warmth.

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Can laminate flooring resemble tile?

Less expensive than true tile options, laminate tile-look flooring provides authentic ceramic, stone, and marble texture and appearance. Install laminate tile flooring in planks visually divided into tile sections or in tile-sized squares. For basement installations, one must consider the waterproofing required for laminate that is unnecessary for authentic tile floors; however, the installation ease and lower price tend to make laminate a preferred option for many.

Can laminate look like real wood?

With a wide variety of color and wood-like finishes, laminate offers the authentic look of hardwood floors at a much lower price. To better replicate the hardwood floor look, use wider laminate planks to represent the appearance of wood floorboards.

Moisture and Mold

Either carpet or laminate installations will require wall waterproofing walls, sealing floors, and providing proper under-surfaces.  Rated the least expensive basement flooring option by Consumer Reports testers, laminate was the runner up for mitigating damp conditions in basements. (Vinyl came in first at a higher cost.) Because carpet is naturally absorbent, it may be harder to clean up any water-related mishaps; synthetic carpets are advised to reduce absorbency.

FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) describes flood damage-resistant material as ‘any building product capable of withstanding direct and prolonged contact with floodwaters without sustaining significant damage’ and provides carpeted flooring as an example of one that does not meet this requirement.  In considering indoor air quality, the EPA (the United States Environmental Protection Agency) advises avoiding carpet installation in chronically damp areas. Liquid or vapor water may rise from a basement concrete slab, may seep into and inhibit drying of padding below the carpet, or may generate from slab coolness and cause air moisture to condense on the slab causing consistent moisture and, subsequently, mold growth.

Is laminate flooring waterproof?

Laminate comes in waterproof, water-resistant, and traditional versions. Waterproof laminate is recommended for basements unless a subfloor will be used to help prevent moisture issues. While some newer laminates are top and bottom waterproof, some waterproof laminates are protected for top spills only; these laminate installations require moisture protection for the bottom of the laminate.

Preparation and Installation

While laminate provides an easier installation process, proper base floor leveling and door jam preparation are required. No matter the floor covering selected, the surface needs to be clean and thoroughly dry before installation, and basement waterproofing materials and techniques (sealants, drains, sump pumps) must be utilized to resist water penetration. Use a vapor barrier before a subfloor, carpet pad, or laminate underlayment is added to prepare for installation.

Carpet Preparation and Installation

Other than individual carpet-tile installation, carpet installation projects often require special tools and knowledge of stretching and securing the carpet, a job many choose to leave to the professionals. To facilitate cutting, stretching, and other carpet installation needs, tools may be purchased individually or in carpet-specific tool kits.

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Should you put padding under carpet in the basement?

Carpet padding, specifically open-cell carpet padding, is needed in the basement to facilitate warmth, comfort, moisture resistance, and insulation. Most carpet padding is now open-celled. It is a cheaper and more breathable padding choice.

Laminate Preparation and Installation

Because of the locking planks and installing it over existing floors, laminate installation is, typically, easier than carpet installation. Laminate floor installations in the basement need to be left ‘floating’ rather than glued to facilitate repair needs. Floating installations also allow for the natural swelling of the laminate planks from any residual moisture.

Like the prices of the materials, installation tools vary in price and quality. A flooring saw makes a cross, miter, and rip cuts in the laminate installation room, reducing the time needed if one must go outside for table or miter saw aspects.

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If you are willing to put a little more effort into the cutting process, a less expensive option is a manual laminate floor cutter.

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What do you put under laminate flooring in a basement?

Laminate flooring vapor barrier underlayment combines the vapor barrier and foam sound absorption features of the individual products. It includes a tape and overlap seal and provides coverage for subfloor imperfections that may interfere with laminate flooring endurance. Carpet padding may seem like a good laminate underlayment; however, laminate products cushion without allowing laminate planks to loosen.

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Durability and Maintenance

Depending on quality, floor traffic, and room use, most carpet or laminate installations can last one or more decades. Laminate may have a distinct durability advantage for the basement because of repair ease and moisture resistance, especially with newer waterproof versions versus wall-to-wall carpet.

While laminate flooring is typically low maintenance, products are available to repair laminate scratches, restore shine, and fill in chips. Laminate planks or tiles may be easily removed and replaced if they become too damaged to repair. Carpet must commonly be removed due to staining or damage; a process made easier when carpet tiles are used instead of wall-to-wall installations.

Both carpet and laminate require regular cleaning with no frequent maintenance updates. Laminate cleaning involves sweeping or vacuuming with steam or laminate cleaner mopping. Carpet requires regular vacuuming and spot cleaning with annual or biannual deep cleaning.

What is good flooring for uninhabited basement?

Laminate versus carpet determination should include the intended use of the basement space. If a basement space will be used as an uninhabited storage area, laminate provides maintenance and functionality advantages over carpet. If surface scratching is a concern, you will want to use a little more care; however, the cleanliness and durability features of laminate provide a bonus over carpet.

Carpet vs. Laminate in a Basement Recap

With material quality being equal, laminate seems to be the better basement flooring option. Both products require pre-installation moisture mitigation and offer style and comfort variations. Laminate is typically cheaper and easier to install and resists the moisture found in most wall-to-wall carpet installations.

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