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vinyl plank floors- moisture in basement

Shelly J
5 years ago
I just finished a major remodel of my house which included finishing the basement. We installed luxury vinyl plank flooring over the concrete in the basement (some new concrete and some old). We've had a lot of rain lately, and yesterday the entire floor was damp. When you step, it leaves a small puddle (footprint) where pressure has been applied. I'm attachinga photo, though it's hard to capture. I have called the builder out, but wanted to know if anyone has experience with this or has resolved this issue in the past. I'm panicking a bit as it seems it is coming from below and we just finished the project.

Comments (39)

  • Shelly J
    Original Author
    5 years ago

    Thanks for the quick response. I have called the builder out to investigate. You mention the required vapor barrier. Is this just common knowledge or is it actually a requirement?

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  • Shelly J
    Original Author
    5 years ago

    Builder is claiming clogged gutters are causing too much moisture near the house hence the wet floors. This couldn't be the only cause correct?

  • Shelly J
    Original Author
    5 years ago

    Posting another update in case there are more opinions. Builder says the vinyl is waterproof so it's not an issue and we just need to clean the gutters. This AM there was a lot more water in the basement. I'm worried the water is trapped between the concrete slab and floor. Any thoughts?

  • SJ McCarthy
    5 years ago

    Builder is so wrong I could shoot myself! A VAPOUR BARRIER under the floor (anytime you install over concrete) is REQUIRED. Your builder just voided your flooring warranty!

    Vinyl may be water proof from water sitting ON TOP of the floor, but it is NOT a vapour barrier. In fact, the installation instructions for you flooring will spell that out at the TOP of the page in BIG BOLD LETTERS! (go to the internet site of the flooring manufacturer and then look under "installation instructions"...that's where you will find this document.)

    You NEED to remove the flooring to find out where this water is coming from. And you will need to find a COMPETENT General Contractor who can deal with landscaping and drainage as well as proper installation techniques for products - like flooring in a basement.

    You also need to remove all the wet planks because they will QUICKLY develop mold/mildew (another reason for the vapour barrier). The WET planks must be cleaned in a light bleach solution, towel dried and then allowed to sit in the SUN for half the day. Sunlight (UV actually) KILLS bacteria and mildew! What the mild bleach solution does NOT kill (mild because of the vinyl....you can't go too strong which means you can't go strong enough to kill bacteria/mold/mildew spores) the UV takes care of the rest. So laying out the planks "bottom side up" on the lawn is part and parcel of "salvaging" a flooded vinyl floor.

    But your builder messed this up. Improper installation technique makes him LIABLE for removing/reinstalling the floor PROPERLY. Ooooops. That's why he's trying to B.S. you into "doesn't matter the vinyl is water proof. Don't worry about it." The builder is blowing smoke.

    First thing's first. Get him in there to REMOVE the flooring ASAP! And PLEASE be there to photograph the removal. A plastic sheet under the vinyl MUST BE there...if it is not you have PROOF of improper installation. He/she owes you a newly and properly installed floor.

    But you need proof. And therefore you need to be there with your camera to document the removal.

    Good luck. Keep us posted.

    Shelly J thanked SJ McCarthy
  • Shelly J
    Original Author
    5 years ago

    Builder is still claiming that it's not necessary to dry out under the floors because they are waterproof and mold can't grow on vinyl / concrete. I know better as I'm a microbiologist. I'd like to find the specific requirement to install a moisture barrier, but don't have the exact type of vinyl floor that was ordered. I guess this is going to turn into an ordeal!

  • SJ McCarthy
    5 years ago

    Look at your invoice. There should be a description/make of vinyl on the paper that states how much you owe the builder. If there isn't, then demand that the builder provide a box (empty or otherwise) to you.

    You are the "final user" which means the warranty is YOURS...not the builder's. To make a warranty claim, you would need to know WHO MADE the stuff so that you can contact them.

    Your builder is SOOOOOO far into left field he's playing in right. You have EVERY RIGHT to know what is in your home - for warranty sake. Get the information using the "warranty" angle. See if s/he will comply.

    Beyond that, you will be looking at a protracted ordeal.

  • Shelly J
    Original Author
    5 years ago

    I found the floor type and they do require a 6 mil vapor barrier be installed over the concrete. The builder "doesn't know" if it was installed and they will get back to me. Is there any way for me to tell if one was installed without ripping up tiles?

  • Jen Covington
    5 years ago
    sounds like he knows, he is just biding his time to gather his defenses. he knows he cut corners.
    Shelly J thanked Jen Covington
  • SJ McCarthy
    5 years ago

    Yes there is....remove a baseboard (I would pick a short wall near the WETTEST area) and look for the tell tale signs of plastic sheeting that would run about 1" up the wall. The plastic is normally "trimmed back" once the floor is laid and then HIDDEN behind the baseboards.

    It is either HIGHLY visible (should sit a snick higher than the floor) or it is MISSING. Should take you 5 minutes to find out (includes the careful removal of the baseboard...which is needed anyways because the moisture could have intruded into the DRYWALL if the build was done improperly).

    Good luck. Feel free to send us photos of what you find. And while you are there, try to find out if the drywall/wood studs have been effected by the moisture intrusion. They would feel damp/moist. Using a dry paper towel up against the drywall for several seconds should draw out some moisture - if it is present.

    Shelly J thanked SJ McCarthy
  • Shelly J
    Original Author
    5 years ago

    I'll take some photos later. There's at least one baseboard that's already soft to the touch due to moisture, so maybe that's a good one to remove.

  • Shelly J
    Original Author
    5 years ago

    So we talked directly to the floor installation person, and as suspected, no liner was installed. I'm not sure where to go from here.

  • SJ McCarthy
    5 years ago

    From a flooring stand point, you can insist that the floor be removed (completely) and reinstalled according to manufacturer's specifications. At this point, the leverage you will use is improper installation due to installer error that has voided the manufacturer's warranty.

    You will need to be firm and well educated in your state's building laws/contractual laws. I suggest you draw up a new contract that specifically states all work to be done to manufacturer's specifications as well as local building code and "Best Practices" for the industry. Those three requirements *should cover you (an excellent lawyer can break any contract....but not many people can afford those types of lawyers ;-).

    Because the baseboards are starting to soak, you will need to move forward quickly with basement/foundation specialists who deal specifically with "wet basements" and moisture abatement. You may have to contact your insurance company to see if you have coverage for this type of an event.

    And you will want to speak to your bank regarding financing remediation for water intrusion in the basement.

    I suggest you hurry. It is possible to save a large portion of your remodel....but the longer you wait, the more water damage will become evident and will require removal.

    In essence, the flooring can wait because you have bigger issues to deal with.

  • Mark D
    4 years ago
    last modified: 4 years ago

    Thanks for this post and all the comments. After reading this I'm probably going to use porcelain tile or carpet in my master bedroom addition. I saw a Pergo video ad with a seal sloshing water out of a big freestanding tub onto the "waterproof" laminate floor. When I called Pergo to ask what if water gets under the laminate on the concrete she said, "Don't let ANY water get under the laminate. The locking joints will keep water from going thru and you need to silicone the 3/8" gap at the edge by the wall to prevent ANY water from getting under the laminate." I asked Pergo the water vapor permeability perm rating and tech support didn't have an answer. I don't think water under the laminate will ever evaporate. It will only sit there and grow mold. If I were you like the first comment said pull it up immediately before the mold grows and don't put it back down.

    https://www.buildingscience.com/documents/information-sheets/building-materials-property-table "Vinyl tile - essentially vapor impermeable--not recommended with concrete floors, particularly with high w/c ratios"

    That being said my son went to Orlando parade of homes and saw many high end houses with extensive vinyl laminate on concrete. I assume they did this because they are spec houses and laminate makes sense as a temporary floor to easily pull up after the parade when the new owner decides on travertine or granite.

  • Nasir Mohammad
    2 years ago

    That’s a huge mess. The whole flooring needs to be ripped out, the drywalls need to be cut 4 feet from ground. There are basement leak companies who will place 4 to 8 massive moisture sucking fans that are inter-connected and a pipe goes into the drain. You will be shocked to see how much water gets collected just from the air in the basement. Let the professionals handle it. If not taken care professionally, there will be permanent mold, moisture, musty smelly air and health issues Builder and flooring installer both might be at fault. I’ve gone through a small leak in water heater and the amount of water damage was extensive. Luckily it was a rental unit and Enercare paid for the repairs.

  • Holly Ann
    2 years ago

    I just ripped up 500sq feet of allure vinyl plank from my basement yesterday. No vapour barrier was used, there is dark and light mildew all across it just from very small cracks in the concrete. The carpet we removed prior was mildew free and had been there for years. Definitely should have used the barrier and vinyl and concrete can definitely grow mould. Like Nasir stated above this is a huge mess and should all be ripped up for health reasons.

  • Jocelyn Tarkoff
    2 years ago

    What do you do if there is a vapor barrier and there is a flood?


  • SJ McCarthy
    2 years ago

    A flood = throw out all flooring. That includes most porcelain tile installations as well. There is almost NOTHING that will survive standing water.

  • Jocelyn Tarkoff
    2 years ago

    Correction: vapor barrier and a leak. Water got under vinyl planks. Using dehumidifier. Will add fans.

  • SJ McCarthy
    2 years ago

    When working with anything that has gotten wet, you need to pull all the wet planks. You then need to wash them in the tub (mild bleach) and then towel dry the planks. IF you can, set them out in the sunlight for the day (UV rays will kill what the bleach left behing).


    If you do not, you run a STRONG risk of having mold develop.

  • Nasir Mohammad
    2 years ago

    I believe vapor barrier temporarily protects whatever is installed above it, be it vinyl or laminate. The problem of seepage of water would still exist.

    How about if we seal the basement concrete with the best swimming pool cement you can get and install the new 8" x 48" Porcelain Wood look Floor Tiles?

    High quality swimming pool cement really works. In the past, I was living in a concrete house with a flat leaky roof in the south. I filled the flat roof 10' x 10" tile seams with a Made in Germany swimming pool cement. It was expensive and green color. The roof never leaked for as long I lived there for 7 years!




  • SJ McCarthy
    2 years ago

    Why not seal the basement properly? There is a way (a Best Building Practices Way) to seal a moist slab. It isn't cheap...but it works - which is why it is the Industry Gold Standard and is considered 'Best Building Practices'.


    Why spend $5/sf on something that *might work vs. spending $5/sf on something that DOES work?

  • HU-498983619
    2 years ago

    Question. We had a leak from a pipe. Definitely got under our vinyl plank flooring (in a brand new reno of course), and we have heated floors, so no vapor barrier was applied. Will the heat from the floors be adequate to dry out the underside of the floor? Do vapor barriers need to be placed on heated floors too?

  • SJ McCarthy
    2 years ago

    If your basement is a concrete floor, then yes you need a vapour barrier.


    No the heat is not enough.


    Yes, you need to pull these planks ASAP, then take them to the bathroom (or laundry sink...) and CLEAN THEM with a 5% bleach solution RIGHT AWAY. Do this by hand. Now rinse them with clean water and towel dry. Once dried, you can lay them out IN SUNLIGHT being VERY CAREFUL not to over heat them. Flip once during 12 hours of sunlight. The bleach kills MOST of everything whereas the UV rays from the sun kill everything else. You need BOTH to prevent the inevitable odour of mildew.


    Once you have done ALL of that, and cleaned up the concrete with a shop vac...you get to lay vapour barrier over top...(make sure it is rated for YOUR type of in-floor heating system) and then reinstall your vinyl planks.


    CAVEAT EMPTOR: Be AWARE you WILL LOSE as much as 25% of your planks BECAUSE the click edges are SOOOOO brittle (how brittle are they, SJ?) that you will lose the ability to click them together once again.


    That means you will use the 1-4 boxes of extra that you have put away for an event just like this. If you do NOT have the extras, you will want to go out and purchase the extra 25% you will need.


    Hopefully you will then give yourself a few extra boxes you will store for the next time something like this happens.


    Good luck. Many people have done this...and they find it a MASSIVE PITA...but it does work...with lots and lots and lots of work.



  • brianchandra
    2 years ago

    SJ, what is the product that you are referring to for sealing a moist slab? And did you say that porcelain floor tile also needs to come up if wet?

  • SJ McCarthy
    2 years ago

    A professional wet basement specialist is your first point of contact. They will grind the concrete, then spray or roll on 1-2 coats of moisture barrier, then prime and then add a layer of cementatious material. Now you are ready to install what ever you want. Should cost $5/sf or so.

  • Mark D
    2 years ago

    I think the only way to handle pipe leak it to keep the water from going under the vinyl. They told me to cork the edge of the room to concrete with silicone to keep water out. I guess the click edges are tight enough to keep water out? Today many have taped edges and I don't know if tape seal as tight as click?

  • worthy
    2 years ago

    [caulk] the edge of the room to concrete with silicone to keep water out.


    Curious if limiting edge movement will cause buckling elsewhere?

  • Ryan
    2 years ago

    SJ, have 1 year old LVT installed that had bubbles and ridges 2 months in. The problem has continued to get worse. Manufacturer rep inspected and we made a claim, they say the moisture level is too high on slab. Have never had a leak/standing water. Is this the installers fault? Is vapour barrier required for all vinyl even if its not a basement?

  • Mark D
    2 years ago

    Lowes told me Pergo waterproof warranty is for the top surface only. Warranty does not apply if there is water under the waterproof laminate. The waterproof laminate must be installed with the edges corked with silicone and backer rod. If any water ever gets under it the warranty is void. Their ad photos lead you to believe it really is waterproof???

  • Mark D
    2 years ago

    I'm selling a rental mobile home and the local flooring store said they only sell vinyl laminate now. They recommended using it in the bathrooms and thru out the home continuous. I suppose they cork the edges to the OSB floor and to the toilet and bathtub? $2/ft2 installation

  • SJ McCarthy
    2 years ago

    @Ryan Thanks for the question. A concrete slab that is sitting ON the earth (ie. not in a high rise on the 10th floor) always requires a vapour barrier underneath. Always. If anything, it maintains your warranty.


    There are three definitions of slab concrete:

    1. Below grade. This is normally poured concrete for a foundation that has been dug into the ground. Like a basement. Even if 1 square inch is 'below grade' we view it as ALL below grade.

    2. At grade. This is a common situation. Concrete is poured onto the ground and the house is built from there...going up; not down. Again, this is sitting 'on the ground' therefore it is considered 'damp' until proven otherwise. Even in the desert areas, we find dampness in slabs that are sitting on the ground. Moisture LOVES to condense on cold surfaces...like concrete.

    3. Above grade or 'suspended slab'. This is the 'high rise' situation. You don't have to be in a high rise. It just means the slab is suspended in the air. It touches nothing but air above it and below it. This is the ONE situation where you can 'get away' without a vapour barrier. But you still void the warranty as soon as the contractor starts laying the first run.


    The installer is responsible for installing product on-site. If you did not purchase the vapour barrier, then the installer did not install it. If you used the SHOP'S installer, then they are responsible for ensuring you purchase everything you need for the job. Which requires you to tell them what your situation is.


    You get what you pay for. A good flooring installer *should have pointed out you needed a vapour barrier. And then would have told you what to purchase for him/her, or they would have said, "I have some in my truck, it will cost another $1/sf for the materials plus $0.50/sf to lay it." Something like that.


    And the preparation of the concrete is another thing that should have been paid for and performed. But so many contractors just want a paying job, that they offer the 'no frills' install. They get there, they install what is needed/purchased/sitting out for them and then they go home with a pay cheque in hand.


    I've had experiences where my QUESTIONS to the homeowner caused them to hang up on me. Yep. The question, "Is this for a bathroom?" caused such angst they started to yell it was none of my d@mn business and hung up on me. OKee DOKee then.


    I don't know what your situation is. The above is just an example as to why a store, with highly trained FLOORING professionals (ahem...a flooring store and not a 'big box' store like HD) would miss something as simple as a vapour barrier for a concrete slab.

  • Ryan
    2 years ago

    Thanks @SJ McCarthy. Here is what we received back from product representative. Dealer/Installer is saying they think its a slab leak and we should go through insurance...(never had standing water or any wet spots on floor). I think they never tested the slab and it should be their responsibility. Is that how you interpret the claim? Appreciate the help.


  • SJ McCarthy
    2 years ago

    Not a slab leak. It is old slab without vapour barrier underneath. Did YOU purchase the vapour barrier?

    Did you pay for a vapour barrier to be installed? Did you pay for subfloor levelling?


    It all comes down to CONTACT wording as to what you paid for vs what received. If you DIDN'T pay for it, and you didn't get it then they are not responsible for giving you more.


    I know. It is frustrating. A HIGH END installer would bring the requirements to your attention...but very few others would. The building industry is the wild west.


    The people who install are often the lowest paid. They are often sent there to "get in, do the job and get gone."

  • Natalie DeSisti
    2 years ago

    I didn’t see an answer regarding what the vapor barrier would be? Also, would the vinyl tile work if the barrier is installed, or would tile be the only safe option? Is porcelain tile a safe option? We were just about to install luxury vinyl in our basement as well- so glad I came upon this article. We have the problem of occasional seepage from underground.

  • jejvtr
    2 years ago

    We decided to use loose lay after researching all the LVP options I did not like the idea of not being able to see what is under the flooring with any moisture issues - as noted even a vapor barrier is not a gurantee, porcelain same - still have plenty of breeding ground under any flooring in wet prone areas - Loose lay I can pull up easily clean the plank flooring underneath and not worry about brittle click edge breakage -

  • Karen Escobar
    2 years ago
    last modified: 2 years ago

    SJ McCarthy we just moved into a house about a year ago, now that we are settled in we decided to have our basement bathroom and floor renovated. We weren't sure if the vinyl planks were waterproof so decided to just have new waterproof ones installed because we noticed we had moisture bleeding out in some areas. After getting them installed we noticed we are still getting moisture from under the floor between the planks. Our contractor said the moisture will go away and it did but now there's glue-like stuff between the planks. What is this?

  • Nate S
    last year

    @Holly Ann - I just noticed the same spots on my Allure Trafficmaster Vinyl flooring that has been in my basement for 5 years. I installed it directly over existing asbestos vinyl tiles assuming that was a suitable vapor barrier. Are the spots from your planks like this?


    What did you do to replace your Allure and how has it held up? Trying to game plan our resolution to this issue.