Wood flooring in 500 sq ft room on concrete subfloor? Help!

BellsmomApril 24, 2013

This is a cross post from flooring. Glennsfc gave me some ideas there, but I usually post here. Maybe someone here can help.

We need to replace the carpet in our huge (by our standards, anyway) master bedroom suite. The carpet is old, ugly, hard to clean, and pet stained.

This 500 sq. ft. bedroom ''suite'' (bedroom, walk-in closet, and large bath) is an addition by a previous owner. The floor is heavy poured concrete with a full basement (mostly garage) beneath, so moisture should not be a problem. The basement was originally cisterns before city water was available, but the only water there now is a little seepage along a back wall. All basement walls are totally or partially above ground.

Most of the colonial-style house has red oak flooring, some of it pegged and all of it original to a 40 years ago remodel or the original 70 years ago build--except for the section we replaced when we remodeled the kitchen a year ago.

We have pets and are avid gardeners, and trying to keep carpet vacuumed with a shedding 80 pound dog, two cats, and muddy boots is a PIA.

I had planned to put in red oak when my available money recovered from the kitchen remodel, but when I recently cut out the floor of an elevated closet to slide in a new washing machine, I discovered the concrete slab is immediately beneath the carpet and padding. No sub floor.

I did briefly consider cork, but the room faces southwest, and sunlight definitely could cause a fading problem, which I now understand cork is subject to.

I really do NOT like the look of most prefinished flooring. I especially dislike the v-grooves between planks. I have neer seen a laminate I liked and that I thought would stand up to our heavy use.

I will be heading to local flooring stores to look at options next week. In addition, I have a great floor guy whom I have contacted, although he has not yet come to check things out.

What ARE my options?
What do you recommend?
What should I look at or for? What questions should I ask floor guy?
What website or sites might I check for info/ideas?

I HATE being so ignorant of the options open to me.

I REALLY will appreciate your help!


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Concrete is porous. It absorbs moisture. Putting wood on concrete is like putting it on top of a sponge. There is no such thing as "dry" concrete. There is concrete that isn't currently actively moist.

Engineered is the only SURE way to go if you want wood on slab. And, with the history of the building, it's the only way I would go. A slab above a used to be cistern with a history of moisture seepage and without any vapor barrier between the two floors WILL have moisture in the slab.

Do your own testing. Remove some of your current floor covering. Take some good quality duct tape and plastic sheeting. Tape a 2x2 section down. If you have condensation under the plastic in 3-4 days, then you have moisture. Too much moisture for solid hardwood.

There are methods of applying solid hardwood to concrete, but I'm not comfortable with them. I've seen mold blackened plywood ripped out that was under an oak floor. And I've seen those trowel on "moisture barriers" also not work as well. The only method that I've truly seen work is to put down roofing felt on the concrete, seal it at the edges, and then do pressure treated sleepers over that with a new subfloor. That works OK for garages and other buildings that are converted to living space, but not so well on existing living space that can't afford to lose the headroom.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2013 at 11:34AM
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Here are 2 video's showing how to install hardwood onto a concrete floor so it's possible. If you don't like pre-finished hardwood then absolutely have it site finished.



    Bookmark   April 24, 2013 at 12:30PM
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What about ceramic tile flooring?

    Bookmark   April 24, 2013 at 1:45PM
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live-wire, thank you for the info. I think engineered is the way to go. Can you--or anyone--recommend good quality engineered flooring that is also fairly reasonably priced? Am I looking at the $5-$6 /sq. ft. range?

eve72, I watched the second video. Couldn't get the Bob Vila one to open. I'll google for it when I have some more time.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2013 at 1:49PM
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Karen belle, ceramic flooring is not an option. I don't like the very hard, cold surface.

BUT I am beginning to think I should reconsider laminate flooring. Does anyone have information, recommendations about this? I was surprised when I looked at them today, and some of the Pergo XL ones weren't nearly as bad as the ones I have seen in the past.

Again, I apologize for my utter ignorance about these choices.

But then again, two or three years ago when I first came to GW and was planning my new kitchen, I knew nothing about my choices there, either. Now, I have some small knowledge, at least, about kitchens. Thanks to GW!!

So maybe there is hope.


This post was edited by Bellsmom on Wed, Apr 24, 13 at 15:54

    Bookmark   April 24, 2013 at 3:44PM
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We have solid hardwoods (2.5 inch wide white oak) glued-down on a concrete slab. They've been in our house since it was built 1988. We had them refinished a few years ago and handscraped onsite ... LOVE them! It is unusual but there you have it. They do have to use shorter boards; we had our front hallway changed out from carpet to hardwoods at the same time. They installed them the same way as our original floors. If you want to do it, find someone who has experience doing it.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2013 at 4:27PM
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We had the same dilemma, Red oak floors throughout and a slab family room. We ruled out engineered hardwood because it would have looked different from the actual hardwood floor. I did end up with cork. Cork is no more prone to fading than wood. I have had wood floors fade. We have had cork for over 2 years in a high traffic area with access to pool, garage, afternoon sun with no problems. We have a floating floor and used WE cork.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2013 at 4:37PM
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Kiko, thank you. I think my wood flooring guy may know the options, if they exist. Nice to know it worked for you.

Carolmka, I am trotting into the BR every ten minutes or so this evening to check how much sun comes in that southwest window. I really like the idea of cork, which is not a facsimile of, but different from the wood floors we love in the rest of the house. A floating cork floor would certainly be simple--or so it seems to me with what I know now after such a few days.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2013 at 6:16PM
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Did you consider Marmoleum? We have had it in our kitchen for five months now and so far, love it.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2013 at 8:46PM
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We installed engineered wood over concrete in our living room and bedrooms. No carpet anywhere in the house. The engineered woods have come a long way. You can get nice wide planks that are 8ft or longer. We went with a handscrapped finish that is hickory. The wear layer (the layer of real wood on the top) can vary widely. I suggest checking a few samples. The pricing for this is very very competitive. I know you are DIYers so maybe that is an option. If not, many people recommended having the retailer you are buying it from also install it. Basically a singl throat to choke for any issues :) I was in major angst over this as well but now really like my floor. Most people who see it think it real wood until I tell them. They can also do a nice job with the transition to any tiled area etc. in the bathroom.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2013 at 9:20PM
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Engineered is real wood and if you look around, you can find unfinished engineered, so you can have it finished in place and not have the bevels if that is important to you.

I didn't look at the videos provided so this might have been covered but here in Texas almost all houses are built with slabs at grade level and most of the new ones have wood on the ground floor..

There are several acceptable ways to do it:
Plywood subfloor nailed to concrete and solid wood nailed to that (solid wood probably not as good in your case, these slabs all have vapor barriers under the slab, which you won't) or engineered glued to the plywood subfloor
Engineered wood glued to slab (do a calcium chloride or other approved moisture test first)
Vapor barrier and engineered wood floated over that. Many of the engineered woods allow floating installation, you have to glue the tongue and groove together.

Different products are labeled for different types of installation, you have to be sure to check what they are labeled for.

Find a reputable, knowledgeable NWFA installer, get them to do the moisture tests (the glue down a piece of plastic is not considered reliable) and then have them spell out your options.

Now guess how I know all this? :-)

    Bookmark   April 24, 2013 at 9:41PM
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For us it wasn't the quality of the engineered wood, our floor guy said it still won't look good with real wood. You could go with a totally different look of wood. But no matter what if your windows are not Low E the floors will fade. Before using low e glass I had wood, engineered wood, and carpet fade.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2013 at 2:43PM
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I live in Florida (a moist state) and had engineered hardwood installed throughout the house when we moved in. It is glued down on the slab. They use a moisture meter to determine which parts of the slab are moister than others; for those areas they use a different adhesive which cost a little more. We used Lauzon red oak with titanium finish and could not be happier. These floors are supposed to be good for 2-3 sandings and "unlimited" screenings.

However, if you do not like prefinished, you can also by glue down floors that you would finish yourself.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2013 at 3:39PM
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So. . . . As I understand it,
1. Solid hardwood, which is in most of the rest of the house, is not a good choice on the concrete slab in this addition that has no moisture barrier across the bottom

2. Pergo or other laminates might look sorta OK, but would NOT be desirable to most buyers in our area

3. Cork might have problems with my 80# labradoodle's exuberant claws AND might fade in the light from the BIG windows flanking the SW corner of the room

4. I don't want the look of an unbroken expanse of surface, as with marmoleum

5. So. . . I think engineered HW is the way to go.

Given that I have pretty much decided on engineered hardwood, can anyone guide me to specific brands to consider or avoid?

As always,
Many thanks to those who share experience and expertise.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2013 at 8:11AM
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Lauzon (which I have)
Mirage (which is equivalent)

They were definitely not the least expensive but highly recommended.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2013 at 12:17PM
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This is a basement, so there will be hydrostatic pressure even if it seems dry, that water is currently just evaporating through the carpet. I would definitely apply a sealer to the concrete, then apply a moisture barrier on top of it, then your flooring.

Have you considered luxury vinyl plank? Much of it looks more like real wood than laminate does, and it's not damaged by moisture.

You still need to seal against moisture to prevent mold growing underneath the flooring, even with vinyl flooring.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2013 at 3:27PM
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Thank you for the suggestions.
This room is not in a basement. The BR floor is probably from 10 feet to perhaps 3 feet above ground level. But the garage under the BR was once a huge cistern. This area is perhaps 6 feet below ground level at the back, totally at ground level at the front (garage entrance) side.

I did not think moisture would be a problem, but people have convinced me that concrete can wick moisture from the air, and here in the Ohio River Valley, we have lots of humid summer days.

And yes, I know now that I must use sealers and vapor barriers between the new floor and concrete, no matter what flooring we use.

Still haven't got a floor guy to look at the room and make suggestions. I have called two, but no visits yet.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2013 at 3:40PM
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