Tips For Choosing A Paint And Sealer For Your Basement Floor

When finishing a basement, one of the most common flooring options is basement floor paint. Homeowners choose this route frequently for a number of reasons.

  • Paint is a common DIY skill
  • Paint is generally one of the less expensive options
  • Paint is less susceptible to water damage than many other options
  • Paint is quick! Decide today, done tomorrow.

Painting basement floors isn't quite as simple as it may seem, however. Homeowners shopping for basement floor paint or basement floor sealer often find themselves a bit confused. They face advice from various sources and often don't know who to trust. This article will help explain some of the issues you may want to consider when learning how to paint a basement floor.

Types of Paint for Basement Floors

The use of the word "paint" in this case can be a bit misleading. We use it in a general sense to refer to any coating applied in the traditional painting methods such as a brush and roller, spray equipment, or spreading with other tools such as sponges or rags. This includes a number of types of products.

Latex Paint - This is essentially house paint. Not really designed specifically for floors or basements. Latex paint is easy to apply and does have some advantages for basement floors, but it's not a specific floor coating material typically recommended for sealing a basement floor.

Oil Based Paint - Traditional "oil-based" paint is less common these days due to environmental concerns and health safety issues, but it is still available, particularly in primers and stain-blockers.

One Part Epoxy - Think of this as a paint that has a fair amount of hardener added. One part epoxy finishes are a common choice for homeowners looking to seal a basement floor quickly with a material they hope will last awhile, but without too much fuss.

Two Part Epoxy - These finishes are much harder than one-part epoxy and are great for garage floors which take heavy abuse from cars, bikes, and garbage cans. These finishes require the strict adherence to directions for mixing the two parts which are 1) Finish and 2) Hardener. Once these are mixed, there is a limited time to apply the material before it, you guessed it...hardens.

Clear Sealers - Used as both a finish coat over raw concrete, or a top-coat over porous paints such as latex or stain, clear sealers have one main duty which is to act as a vapor barrier. These products simply aim to keep liquids from passing through them, in either direction.

Concrete Stains - A decorative finish, concrete stains act similarly to wood stains and seep into the concrete, altering the color of the surface. Applied correctly, the finishes possible with concrete stain are nothing short of miraculous. However, application by someone lacking experience can have very unwanted side-effects if the concrete absorbs the stain unevenly, which isn't uncommon.

Consideration Number One - Water

Basements are often looked at as a singular thing, when in fact they are part of an overall system which is much larger. This system will determine how much unwanted water is presence in the basement. Some of the key elements involved in determining basement moisture are as follows:

  • General ground-water levels. If you live in a natural watershed, near a body of water, or in an area with constant rainy conditions, the ground can be saturated, making anything below ground level very hard to keep dry.
  • Ground slope around the house. It's not uncommon for basement moisture conditions to be greatly improved by simply adding backfill around the house walls to keep water from rain and condensation running away from the walls. Homes that have flat ground around the house or, even worse, where the ground slopes toward the wall are prone to wet basements.
  • Basement wall waterproofing. Basement walls are the most common issue in basement moisture. Water seeps through the porous concrete wall and condenses on the interior. It then runs down the wall to the floor and forms puddles. Walls that have been sealed on the exterior prior to back-fill, or which are sealed on the interior (or both) can improve water conditions in the basement.
  • Basement drainage. Physical drainage can be provided both inside and outside the basement. This includes French drains, drainage channels and sump pumps. The presence of proper drainage will have a significant effect on the reduction of basement moisture.

Dehumidification - Even basements with no standing water can be humid places at times and in certain environments. Dehumidification through equipment such as stand-alone dehumidifiers or standard heating and air-conditioning units can convert that musty basement to a place of comfort.

How to Seal a Basement Floor in Wet Conditions

I can picture a scenario where my wife marches up from the wet basement, points down the stairs and simply says "Seal Basement Floor, now." While I understand the desire to fix the problem, often sealing the floor with a waterproof sealer before actually fixing the water problem can be a really bad idea.

If water is coming up from beneath the floor due to the natural forces of hydrostatic pressure in the ground, then sealing the basement floor can lead to other issues caused by trapping the water. You may get rid of the puddles for a few months only to be faced with a much larger structural problem down the road.

The first step if you have very wet conditions is to resolve the water issue. This can be done through improvements in drainage outside the home, through channels in your basement floor along the wall, and through the use of sump pumps.

If you're not able to resolve the water issue either for lack of time, funds, or because it's just too naturally persistent, don't seal the floor. Choose a porous finish that will allow the concrete to breath.

Good porous finishes include latex paint and concrete stain.

What to Choose if Water Isn't an Issue

If you've got your water issues taken care of and your basement is dry, then you've got a much wider range of options available to you and other criteria come into play. Here are a few questions to think about and some direction for various circumstances.

1. Do you plan to cover the painted surface with another flooring material?

If you plan to cover the floor with another material after sealing a basement floor, then you can skip the really expensive options such as two-part epoxy. You also don't have to worry too much about look since the paint will be covered. A good choice in this circumstance is either a sealer or a primer. An oil-based primer would be a good option.

2. Do you plan to use the painted surface as a finished floor?

If the paint work you're doing is intended to be a finished floor, then you'll of-course be concerned with the way it looks and how durable it is over time. Often a specifically designed epoxy floor paint system is a good choice. A less costly, but also less durable, option is to use a good primer/sealer first and then top it off with a number of coats of quality paint. A key to this working out well is to really let the paint cure before using the space. Remember to keep in mind how you'll use the space. If you expect heavy use, go ahead and take the time to apply more coats of paint now.

3. Is your basement just to be used for storage and utility purposes?

A clear sealer is often a good choice because it makes the floor nicer to walk on and easier to keep clean but it won't hide some moisture issue that happens to occur after you've done the paint work. You still see the slab and can take action if you start to see discoloration in moisture prone areas.

Whatever your specific needs may be, there is always a solution that will allow you to get a wonderful finished floor in your basement and create a space you can use to enhance your home and your life. Just make an honest evaluation of what the current status of your basement is and how you plan to use it. Armed with that information, you can find the perfect answer to the common question "how to paint a basement floor?".

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