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Should I Install Hardwood in My Basement? Pros vs Cons of Installing Hardwood Floors Below Grade

Aesthetically pleasing and low maintenance, hardwood flooring is a popular choice for homes across the world. In addition to using hardwood for ground floors and upper levels, many are turning to wood flooring for their basements.

What Is Below Grade?

If something (in this case flooring) is below grade, it means that it is below the earth's surface. Though people commonly use below grade as a way to refer to basements and other sublevels, as little as four inches may constitute flooring as below grade. It is also important to note that a floor is considered below grade even if only a portion of it is lower than ground level.

Flooring made from organic materials is generally acceptable for below grade installation, but it is not recommended in areas with high humidity. Because the soil around and beneath your home is constantly absorbing water, any flooring placed below grade is exposed to higher amounts of moisture than it would be at the ground level. Couple that with an area that has high humidity and you run the risk of moisture and water damage to your floor.

To avoid these issues, ensure that the flooring and the walls around it are properly sealed and that any gutters drain away from the house. It is also a good idea to use engineered hardwood for below grade wood flooring.

Pros of Basement Hardwood Flooring

There are several advantages to hardwood flooring, one of which is the appearance. Wood offers a warm look, providing an almost effortless beauty to your home. It is also easier to match your d├ęcor to wood than it is to other flooring such as carpet, because wood offers a neutral look that gives you more options when it comes to decorating. This is especially useful when it comes to redecorating.

Another advantage to hardwood flooring is the ease of cleaning it. On carpet, even light spills have the potential to permanently stain your floor, whereas spills on a hardwood floor are able to be wiped away. Wood flooring is also great for those with allergies, as wood does not trap dust and other irritants.

Cons of Basement Hardwood Flooring

Though hardwood flooring does have its pros, there are disadvantages to installing it below grade. For one, wood flooring needs to be at the right equilibrium moisture content (EMC) to maintain integrity. Installing wood flooring below grade brings it closer to moisture, which can cause the boards to shrink, swell, or warp over time. And if a drain or pipe breaks, or if there is flooding, you run the risk of immediate and severe damage. If this occurs, the floor must be replaced, which is a costly and time-consuming process.

Proper installation and sealing of the floor and walls is a good way to prevent these issues, but any time you install hardwood below grade there is always a risk of moisture causing damage.

Engineered Wood Flooring

Engineered wood flooring is different from regular wood flooring in that it is made from multiple layers. The top and bottom layers are natural wood, but the core is built from layers of plywood that criss-cross. It is available in a variety of styles to suit a variety of needs and aesthetics.

Because engineered wood flooring has a highly stable core, it is less likely to shift or expand during temperature changes or increases in moisture. If you are laying wood flooring in a room below grade, engineered wood is a great way to go.

How Much Does Hardwood Flooring Cost?

The cost of hardwood flooring varies based on a variety of factors, such as the amount you need, type of wood, and any additional work that must be done before installation. What follows is a general pricing guide to provide an idea of what you can expect to pay for your hardwood flooring.

Traditional hardwood flooring is typically broken into low, mid, and high-levels:

  • Low-level wood, such as pine, has an average cost between $3 and $6 per square foot for the flooring and between $3 and $5 per square foot for installation.
  • Mid-level wood, such as cherry and oak, has an average cost between $5 and $10 per square foot for the flooring and between $4 and $8 per square foot for installation.
  • High-level wood, such as Brazilian walnut and mahogany, has an average cost between $8 and $14 per square foot for the flooring and between $4 and $8 per square foot for installation.

Engineered wood flooring is also broken into low, mid, and high-levels:

  • Low-level engineered hardwood with a three-layer core and a thin wood veneer has an average cost between $3 and $5 per square foot for the flooring and between $3 and $10 per square foot for installation.
  • Mid-level engineered hardwood with a five-layer core and a thicker veneer has an average cost between $5 and $10 per square foot for the flooring and between $3 and $10 per square foot for installation.
  • High-level engineered hardwood with seven or more core layers and the thickest veneer (around 1/6") has an average cost between $8 and $13 per square foot for the flooring and between $3 and $10 per square foot for installation.

If your subfloor or other structural elements require maintenance or repair, this adds to the cost of your installation, as repairs must be done before the floor is laid.

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