What to install 1' thick or less to warm up concrete floor?

rosieDecember 4, 2010

Hello. Our unfinished daylight basement has a very cold concrete slab floor, and we want to finish rooms that will be comfortable in winter. It needs to be hard flooring, no carpet, as it's the throughway from the lower garden and shop.

It's an existing daylight basement, reliably "dry," i.e., never any visible dampness, but we are in a moist temperate climate. Whatever we lay can raise the floor as much, perhaps, as an inch, but that's about it without changing sills and doors on 2 entries, cutting down 5 interior doors, and--most significantly--making the last step down the stairs dysfunctionally different.

Our budget is pretty tight, not "basement" but far from luxury.

I've preliminarily been looking at floating engineered wood and laminate, but would prefer a non-wood look so it won't conflict with our old pine steps. Someone said vinyl won't do...?

Any recommendations with thought to insulation against cold will be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

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You don't have a lot of options if you do not want wood or vinyl but I think I would go with a heated tile floor. Find a warm looking tile with texture and install radiant electric heat underneath. If your budget is tight you can find some deals on 12x12 tile at Lowes and HD. I've seen some for 70cents a foot. Then splurge a bit on the heating elements so you get more coverage. I beleive a 30"x120" section is about 200 dollars. The thermostat, nothing fancy ( all you need is on and off ) is a bout 60 dollars. It really feels good on the toes on cold winter nights and if you plan it right it will heat the room quite cheaply.

    Bookmark   December 4, 2010 at 3:24PM
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What a lovely idea, Don. I'm afraid, though, that most of the energy would be drawn off into the ground, ultimately being too expensive that way and in material and installation costs. We're looking at about 1000 square feet down there that'll be finished as 2 bedrooms, bath, laundry room, and central hall.

Vinyl would be fine if functional, though, and engineered wood is definitely on the table.

I forgot to mention that we want to do the installation ourselves to save money.

    Bookmark   December 5, 2010 at 7:26PM
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Why did someone say no vinyl? Just wondering since that's what we're about to put in our basement. Flooring guys from more than one store told me it was the best option in our case. (Cracked painted concrete, can't raise the floor due to ceiling height, floor needs to hold up to dirt, dogs, and kids. We also have a walk-out basement.) There are videos on YouTube showing how to DIY the sheet vinyl we're getting, which is Flexitec... not that we are going to attempt it, but apparently it can be done.

Anyway, in about 2 weeks I'll be able to tell you if the cushioned vinyl is actually warmer than concrete. I hope so but I am skeptical and am not counting on it. If we had a bigger budget and/or concrete in better shape for tile installation, I'd be thinking about the radiant heat.

    Bookmark   December 6, 2010 at 12:11AM
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Rosie, With the floor heat system most of the heat goes up through 3/8" of tile and not the 4" of concrete. But I had not understood that it was such a large area and that would be quite pricey. I have installed quite a bit of engineered hardwood glue down. Some of it has been around for 15 years now and looks great. The floor needs to be very level with no dips or the glue will not contact the flooring. You would need to go around with a long staight edge, find the dips and fill in with leveler. Its a fairly good homeowner project. I've seen some flooring at Lowes for as little as 2.50sf Let me know what you decide to do, there might be some tips I can give you.Good luck! Don

    Bookmark   December 6, 2010 at 4:27PM
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Thank you, Don. I didn't think of the level factor. I'm not entirely looking forward to checking out our obviously nice and level floor with a straightedge. :) BTW, what do you think of no-glue or floating floors in general?

NorthCarolina, I saw your post on the decorating forum too. I am very interested in vinyl as an option. I had a probably 15-year-old sheet solid yellow textured vinyl floor long ago in the kitchen of a rental, and it was wonderful. One lone post on a flooring forum elsewhere, though, said it was bad with basement moisture, so here I am asking about that part of it. I'm looking forward to hearing what you think of yours. I guessing you'll be loving it, notably warmer or no. I'm getting pretty excited myself just imagining our own construction-strained concrete transformed. If I did vinyl, though, I'd still want to underlay with...something...as thick as our situation allows for additional insulation, although I expect slippers to still be mandatory.

    Bookmark   December 6, 2010 at 7:40PM
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I LOVE my vinyl floors...both kinds. One was as expensive as hardwood (Congoleum Duraplank)--we had it installed. The other we DIY'ed and the flooring itself was $1.99/sq ft at Home Despot. (Allure traffic master.) There are lots of negative posts on the internet about both...but I've had my original TM Allure since 2007 (laundry room), the Congoleum since 2008, and we just laid another room in allure the weekend before Thanksgiving.

The key to getting a good result with ANY vinyl product is having it on-site and letting it acclimate for awhile before install.

Our floors were not having any wetness-from-the-ground issues...but both have gotten inundated from above more than once. Both dried out with no mold/musty issues. Also--our slab is far from level...but both floors are holding well. The Allure floats...the Congoleum is a glue-down. (I wanted a floating floor for the basement BR we just re-did so that it is easy to remove when we get the money together for more congoleum.)

Here is a picture of the congoleum (natural light):

The above floor got soaked from one of the window wells when the remnants of a hurricane came through and my rainbarrel couldn't keep up. I'm talking a good two inches of water on the floor in a fairly wide section. TWO DAYS after the install was finished. It was fine. (And I moved the rain barrel.)

Hall with flash (so you can see a long run)

Traffic Master Allure we just put down (golden maple pattern):

Traffic Master that went down in 2007:

It still looks like this--in spite of the front-loader and having been drenched a few times.

    Bookmark   December 7, 2010 at 6:30PM
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Very nice! I wish I had a picture to show of my old solid-yellow sheet vinyl floor, which was still in good condition after 15 years in the kitchen of a retired couple. For decades until my current pine-board floors, that was head-and-shoulders my single favorite floor. If only I could go pick that one up at Home Depot... :)

    Bookmark   December 8, 2010 at 7:55AM
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Oh, suddenly I feel very useful! We have a basement condo (11 windows, so, not *too* basement-y) and we put down resillient vinyl planks in the back 1/2 of the house back in May. Hallway, office, and bedroom all on a concrete slab. I'll just say, the look is good, the price was great, the durability is fantastic, but the floor is FREEZING.

We live in DC. It gets smoldering hot in the summer and very frosty in the winter. Even with my shoes or slippers on, I am not loving sitting at my desk. It's quite frustrating, especially since it was such a bear to put down (all glue-down). Aside from more rugs, which I don't want to do, there is not much we can do but replace it at some point. We're looking at a low-pile carpet or maybe cork to warm things up. We have to keep it inexpensive. Tile is out (re-sell, people hate tile in a basement condo) and wood would likely be too expensive. Argh!

Good luck!

    Bookmark   December 9, 2010 at 10:07AM
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What about getting a small oil-filled radieant heater to set under your desk?

    Bookmark   December 9, 2010 at 12:40PM
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It's a thought. I'm just tired of getting more "stuff". We only have 1,000sq ft between 2 people and a corgi puppy. Plus, I hate to buy another cord for her to chew on!

    Bookmark   December 9, 2010 at 1:57PM
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Tile wouldn't be any warmer, regardless. I understand about not wanting the corgi to chew the cord. Wigwam socks might help. ;^)

Our floor IS warmer since installing the congoleum glue-down vinyl...but perhaps my house is better insulated.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2010 at 5:25PM
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Our sheet vinyl went in the basement yesterday, and I can report that it is significantly warmer to the touch than either the ceramic tile or the concrete in adjacent rooms. It feels about the same temp-wise as the wood stairs. It's a bit slip-resistant too, especially compared to the concrete (and even compared to laminate), so I think our dog will be OK on it without me putting down nonslip mats for him as I had planned. The one we got was not the highest end; it's total gauge 100 with a 10 mil wearlayer thickness. It wasn't inexpensive by any means, but the install was a huge part of the cost. As for the look -- it's terrific (though really anything would have been an improvement, haha). It has not been below freezing, I believe, since the floor went in; so it might feel colder when the ground temp drops. We'll see.

    Bookmark   December 21, 2010 at 11:17PM
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f.y.i. if anyone puts down heat cables and tile: the best is with a membrane (as an insulator or heat break) so that the tiles get more of the heat in the long term, and the slab is not acting as a heat sink. If you are DIY I find the cost is low and the quality is high.

    Bookmark   December 22, 2010 at 5:02PM
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