Flooring solution for a slab floor and an owner with allergies.
November 29, 2009 6:23 PM   Subscribe

Very humid house on a slab -- what's the best kind of flooring to help alleviate my allergies?

I live in central Illinois. I am allergic to everything. We currently have carpeting in our entire house that traps all of the dust and allergens and funnels them directly up my nose. I can't sit on the floor for more than 10 minutes without a sneezing fit.

We would like to replace the carpet, but our house sits on a slab and we're worried about both the cold air and moisture (basically our town was once a swamp). What would be a good flooring option for us?

(I saw this product on a previous question -- but since I'm an ignoramus when it comes to taking care of a house (good thing I own one!) I'm not sure if it will work for my situation.)
posted by odragul to Home & Garden (11 answers total)
If your ceilings are high you might consider putting a sub-floor over the concrete. I did it once in a garage. I put down 6 mil plastic then 2x4s on their wide sides, rigid foam insulation between them, and plywood on top. Planned to put wood flooring on top of it but never got around to it. I've heard that bamboo flooring can be a good option, have never used it.

In the meantime get a serious dehumidifier.
posted by mareli at 6:40 PM on November 29, 2009

This list might help.
posted by watercarrier at 6:44 PM on November 29, 2009

I'd just go with Linoleum it's cheap or tiles if you have the money, easy to clean and minimal dust. You really need to get rid of that carpet. I'm also allergic to dust, probably not as bad as you but I absolutely hate carpet.

I'd maybe look around for some type of cheap waterproofing before you put the lino down if your worried about the moisture.
posted by Bacillus at 6:51 PM on November 29, 2009

You have two discrete but related issues:
1> Allergens captured in carpet and the attendant cleaning challenges
2> Humidity and moisture levels

This particular scenario (carpet on a moist and likely uninsulated slab) is a poster child for these sorts of issues.

If you have allergy problems you should absolutely plan to get rid of the carpet. When you do so (or hire someone to do so, if you have allergies that bad removal is likely to stir up lots of stuff you can't tolerate), check underneath immediately for moisture you can feel. Ultimately you may want a flooring professional to measure slab moisture levels, but it can be helpful to know where you stand.

With the carpet out you need to choose a new floor finish. Your best option is some sort of hardwood floor if you can afford it. This is an easily cleanable surface, warm to touch, softer under foot and beautiful. Other good options are linoleum (resilient and naturally biocidal) and various laminates like Pergo. In any case you will want to put down a vapor barrier which could be as simple as 6 mil poly (plastic) taped at all joints or as sophisticated as the product you linked to (probably overkill if your slab isn't distinctly moist to the touch).

Bottom line is that carpet is about the worst flooring material available for human health, but it is soft and inexpensive so we use a lot of it. Switching to a properly installed hard surface floor you can easily clean should do wonders. If you are still bothered you should start removing other porous materials and seeking appropriate replacements (drapery, furniture, even old cardboard boxes can carry lots and lots of allergens). And, if you have any suspicions about the rest of your house such as mold in wall fears get a professional to check it out. It shouldn't cost too much to check and it is better to know than to wonder.
posted by meinvt at 6:56 PM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

When we pulled up our carpets, we wanted laminate, but the flooring store recommended Konecto vinyl. Some of it is installed over ruined old hardwoods, and some of it is on the slab. The city I live in is as humid as it gets. We've had it about six months and think it's awesome. Here is a picture of ours (bonus: kitty!).

Laminate would probably work, too, the flooring store just didn't want to install it over our hardwoods. They didn't seem to be worried about the slab. From the research I did, Bruce and Armstrong (same company) are some of the more reliable lines.

We didn't want tile because it's cold and in the worst humidity, it will get wet when it's colder than the surrounding air. Also, anything you drop on tile will shatter.
posted by zinfandel at 7:51 PM on November 29, 2009

A good solution involves a vapor barrier (some sort of non-porous membrane across the whole slab) covered by plywood sheathing, with your flooring sitting on top of that. A good contractor can recommend something appropriate. The products you link to are basically doing the same as this, but are more of a DIY type of thing. Better to let a pro do it if you aren't confident in doing it yourself.

Some sort of smooth flooring is ideal for allergies. Hardwood or laminate (pressboard made to look like hardwood) can be good. Cork could be great but it can be a bit expensive - it's somewhat softer under your feet than hardwood but still durable and nice to look at. None of these solutions will work well if you just lay them right on the slab though - they need an appropriate subfloor and vapor barrier to avoid movement and damage due to humidity.
posted by drmarcj at 7:57 PM on November 29, 2009

Whatever you cover it with, I'd first lay down sheets of pink rigid insulation before covering it with plywood that has tongue and groove edges (like roofing plywood). I think you need the insulation because a vapour barrier by itself wont keep the slab from cooling down your carpet or linoleum to the point that dew is going to form on it. To a lesser degree, but he same thing is going to happen as happens with tiles (as mentioned above). Think of it as a basement floor.
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:07 AM on November 30, 2009

Definitely what bonobo the great says- you want the floor to be "inside" the insulated space.

One caveat is that I have heard that improperly sealing off concrete with plastic can lead to troubles. Water builds up and allows mold to grow between the concrete and the plastic sheeting. It eventually gets through and you have a hazmat situation. What I don't remember is what the solution was... Maybe a sealer of some kind on the slab beforehand?
posted by gjc at 5:52 AM on November 30, 2009

I had a wet floor in a closet, due to a hole having been made through the concrete slab for foundation repairs at some point in the past. The concrete patch was poor quality, and allowed moisture to come through. Tiling that floor eliminated the moisture transmission.

Your choices are tile (which is cold), or hardwood (which is warm, but more expensive). Be sure, as others have pointed out above, that the wood floor is properly separated from the wet slab. If a half-assed job is done you may be replacing that floor after a decade of use, instead of a couple generations if it is done right.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 8:45 AM on November 30, 2009

from this book (bottom layer to top layer):

6 mil poly plastic, taped
rigid foam insulation
1x3 sleepers
plywood subfloor
finish floor

this mitigates the moisture issue (nothing can really fix the slab at this point, but you can control where moisture and condensation accumulate) and provides insulation between the cold ground and your warm floor.
posted by Chris4d at 4:27 PM on December 1, 2009

Look around your building supply store for a product that has 2' square tongue and groove chipboard with rigid insulation glued to the underside. The insulation is dimpled to allow moisture to migrate freely. Sorry I don't remember the name (and it's probably expensive). If you don't have a huge area to do, this type of floating floor might be easier to install.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:56 PM on December 1, 2009

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