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Basement Flooring: Cork, Here We Come!

The current flooring in most of the basement is vinyl, but it is not in good enough condition that we would keep it exposed. Initially, we thought that we would go with the simple option of getting the floor down to concrete and then painting it. Painted concrete is affordable and more attractive than you might think. With an eco-friendly paint or stain, this is also a good choice in terms of indoor air quality.

But, that wasn’t meant to be. First off, we realized how cold the floor would be—not so pleasant in the winter. But, then the even bigger problem showed up. As we started to talk with contractors, we began to wonder if there might be asbestos tile under the vinyl (due to the age of the house and because we have some of the tell-tale 8 inch square black tiles in our laundry room). Removing the vinyl would risk disturbing any possible asbestos, which would then have to be removed at great cost and health risk. In contrast, intact, undisturbed asbestos tile is perfect harmless. So, the current floor (and whatever is under it), needs to stay.

So, what can we put down over top of the vinyl that is environmentally responsible, suitable for a sub-grade space, and won’t freeze our toes off when we hang out down there? It turns out there is no universally right answer. However, here is how we processed through the options to find the best fit for us:

Carpet? Synthetics off-gas. Wool costs a fortune. I am not a fan of wall-to-wall carpet in the name of minimizing dust, dirt, and lead. This is a concern in an older neighborhood like mine that has old paint flaking off houses, which then becomes part of the dirt again. Plus, it is a basement and there is always that “what if” worry about moisture.

Hardwood? Our main floor is original 1950 hardwood and we love it, but most hardwood is not a viable sub-grade flooring option. If we went with a floating option, I knew I would obsess over how the wood was sourced and finding something that met my standards would lead to blowing the budget.

Bamboo? A floating bamboo floor can be OK for basements, but it isn’t a great choice for sub-grade. Plus, it is pricey and it can be difficult to install (or so we’ve heard). We do love that bamboo is rapidly replaceable, though.

Vinyl? Being that we minimize plastics in our home we never really considered this one. I mean, the good news is that vinyl is cheap; but the bad news is that it has no redeeming value in terms of production or indoor air quality. It is probably the most popular basement option, but adding new vinyl is not the right choice for our green goals.

Linoleum? Yes, actually linoleum made from linseed oil is still around. It is a great, eco-friendly choice and comes in every color of the rainbow. We looked at Marmoleum and quite liked it, but were not convinced it was the best choice for a sub-grade space.

Tile? This is another one that is a natural for possibly damp spaces like basements, but it is too cold for the main part of the basement. Plus, the firmness is too hard on my back—I need a slightly springy floor. Plus, that whole obsessing over the source thing: where was the stone quarried, was it done responsibly, is it over-quarried, etc. That said, I know that tile is a good choice for the bathroom. Amazingly, someone posted 70 square feet of new tile on Freecycle and we got it. Yay for free. Plus, since we are repurposing cast-offs, I feel freed of ethical obligations about manufacturing.

Cork? The first thing that came to mind when we heard about cork was a floor that looked like a giant bulletin board—spongy and light brown. Ugh! But since cork naturally resists mildew and comes from a renewable source, we wanted to learn more. We went to Amicus Green Building Supply and checked out several brands. We knew that everything at Amicus was carefully vetted to meet high environmental standards. There, we saw that some brands look very much like hardwood, plank floors and come in many shades. We discovered that cork has a natural warmth to it and has a very gentle springiness but yet is quite sturdy. Finally, we had a winning material! Read more about how amazing cork is, here.

Cork floors (like any product) are not equally durable or green—some cut corners on the backing, others don’t protect the cork well with a coating (or use an off-gassing sealant), some must be installed with formaldehyde-laden adhesives. Ultimately, were impressed by USFloors/Natural Cork, which is the only US producer of cork flooring. (Bonus points: they use solar at their facilities). We went with their Greenguard Certified Almada line, which is click-together planks (so no glues to install it), comes with a solid warranty, and is lovely.  Here is the stock photo of the flooring we chose:

US Floors’ Almada line  in Marcas Areia

In terms of cost, a high-quality cork floor is more expensive than vinyl , basic carpet, or basic tile, but is less than hardwood or bamboo. Coming in at over 10% of our project budget, flooring is likely our highest cost material.

Final Flooring Verdict:

-Living areas of the basement (about 600 square feet) will have cork with QuietWalk Floating Floor Pad as the underlayment
-Bathroom will have tile that we got off Freecycle
-Closets will have tile or cork, depending on which material we have extra of
-Unfinished laundry room remains the same with vinyl and asbestos squares (the laundry room is not part of the renovation)


About More Green for Less Green

Hi, I’m Pamm. Welcome to my little slice of the web! As both a pastor and crunchy homeschooling mom, I’m never quite what anyone expects of me. But, hey, that’s what makes blogging interesting, right? Join me as I try to wholeheartedly parent my three little boys, slowly fix up the trashed foreclosure we bought in 2009, and live simply.

{ 4 comments… add one }

  • April May June 19, 2013, 8:44 pm

    Thanks so much for saving me some effort! Investigating flooring for a basement and you have me sold on cork!

  • Dawn August 25, 2015, 9:43 pm

    Thanks so much for your thoughtful research! You have many of the same considerations I have about flooring, and your legwork has given me a good clear choice in my project.

  • Mia March 29, 2016, 2:26 pm

    Thanks so much for this blog entry. We have a very similar situation with our basement as you did with yours. Do you recall how much you spent per square foot on your cork floor? We have the same amount of square footage as you did to cover and we’d really like to do it with cork. Has your basement ever leaked since you installed the cork floor? If so, was there any damage done to the floor? Feel free to respond to me via my email address. Endless thanks!

  • Amanda A DeSonia February 2, 2017, 6:53 pm

    thank you so much for this info. Green flooring for a midwest basement is no easy task!

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