Can cork underlayment be used on a concrete basement floor?

Asked by Eva Sandlokk
Athens, OH

Can cork underlayment be used on a concrete basement floor? I want a basement that breathes, no vapor barriers. Some recommend vapor barriers, some not. Currently, there's a carpet directly on concrete down there. There's no moisture problems or musty smells. I live in southern Ohio, so we do not have very cold winters. We are also insulating our basement, and are considering open-celled foam, again, to let the concrete breathe. I am confused, and need some advice! There's no point in having semi-permeable walls and then putting down a vapor-barrier on the floor or vice versa? If I choose open-cell foam, would there be any point in putting Delta FL (acts as a vapor barrier, but has an air-gap underneath) on the floor? I want to put many layers of varnish on my floating cork floor to protect it - are there types that does not act as a vapor barrier?

Help greatly appreciated, thank you,



Polly Bart

Answered by Polly Bart

Reisterstown, MD

Greenbuilders, Inc.

October 21, 2010

Hi, there. Several questions here but if I understand you your primary concern is whether your cork floor can be permeable.

I can't think of any finish which would be super-durable and also permeable -- I'm referring to your intention to put "many layers of varnish" on the cork floor.

  • If you're going to do that, ie you expect lots of wear, might you consider another material? Cork is not particularly resistant to heavy wear, eg dog claws.
  • As far as under the cork, you can only install cork over concrete if it's really dry. You can test for that: look up ASTM F 1869 calcium chloride test, should not exceed 3lbs/24hrs/1000sq ft. This sounds like a technical test, but isn't.
  • If you want something breathable to coat the concrete with, use a concrete sealer based on siloxane. AFM Safecoat makes a couple of products of that type and they are excellent.

Your best source for lots of great material on cork flooring and on putting it over concrete specifically is the Expanko website. Check their installation guidelines here.

One way of avoiding all moisture problems on an otherwise dry floor is to use dri-core squares available from Home Depot. They have a plastic raised backing covered with wood.

  • Not particularly environmentally-friendly, but you can put almost anything over that as a substrate without moisture problems, and it's vapor permeable.
  • You would still have to resist coating the cork with lots of layers of poly or other impermeable coating if you want the whole area to breathe.


For more information:

Check our basement flooring Q&A to see what other homeowners and contractors are saying about cork, carpet, laminate, etc."

Tagged In: basement flooring, basement remodeling

Do you have a question about greening your home? GreenHomeGuide invites you to Ask A Pro. Let our network of experienced green building professionals – architects, designers, contractors, electricians, energy experts, landscapers, tile & stone specialists, and more – help you find the right solution.