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What is the best type of flooring to install on a slab?

diagram of different types of flooring displayed on slab

Most of the homes built in Santa Fe since the 1980s feature slab construction. Back when saltillo tile was all the rage, this was just fine as the tile installation was very straightforward. But now that more contemporary styles are in fashion, is there a place for wood floors on slabs?

You may have been told that some types of flooring, including wood flooring, should never be installed on slab because they cannot be nailed to the concrete. (Basement slabs are very different as they are subject to more moisture.)

However, technology has allowed materials to be installed over the slab that wouldn’t have been in years past. Here are some types of flooring that are appropriate for installing on raw concrete.

Engineered Wood

Many people are surprised to learn that wood can be successfully installed over a slab, but it must be done the right way. In many cases, prep is as simple as laying down a combination padding/moisture barrier, then laying the flooring over this.

Basement installations require a simple sub-floor of 2 by 4 inch sleepers, cover them with plastic, then cover the plastic with plywood. The plywood in turn needs to be covered with roofing felt before the engineered wood planks or strips are finally installed. Engineered wood is tougher than solid wood because it is made up of perpendicular layers of plywood pressure glued together beneath a veneer of quality wood.

Vinyl

Vinyl is unusual in that it can be installed directly on the concrete if it is dry. Modern vinyl can mimic all kinds of flooring, from hardwoods to natural stone to ceramic tile.

Rubber

Rubber tiles come with tongues and grooves that allow them to snap together, so they are an easy type of floor installation. All they need is a vapor barrier over the slab. Rubber tiles can also be removed now and then to let the slab breathe and dry out, but reinstalling them is easy.

Laminate Floors

Because laminate floors aren’t actually attached to the slab, they can be installed over it in the same way as engineered wood. If laminate flooring is to be placed on the slab, the homeowner must make sure that the slab is always dry.

Carpet

Homeowners no longer need to rule carpet out as flooring over a slab. It needs to be installed the same way as engineered wood, but it also needs padding right beneath the carpet to guard against mildew and mold. The best types of carpet to install over a slab have a low pile and are made of synthetics such as nylon.

Ceramic Tile

This type of flooring is probably the easiest to install after rubber. Concrete boards need to be nailed to the floor, then the tile is placed on top of it. If the homeowner is still nervous about the slab getting wet, they can put down sub-flooring as they would with engineered wood.

Concrete

Installing a concrete floor on a concrete slab may seem strange to some homeowners, but concrete is the most moisture resistant of all the flooring materials. It can, of course, simply be poured over the slab and doesn’t require sleepers, plywood or vapor barriers. Modern concrete can also be dyed, polished and textured to resemble other materials such as porcelain tile, wood, stone or even glass.

In conclusion, concrete is a commonly used material in home building. For more information about laying hardwood flooring on slab check out our blog here.