You'd like to finish your basement so it's more useful, but you don't want to spend a lot of money. You want a floor that's attractive, durable and cheap. No matter what flooring you choose, you need to eliminate any water or moisture that can affect it, so start by waterproofing the basement.
Repair any cracks or blemishes in your existing floor, as well, and level it if necessary. Then consider your use of the space. If there's a lot of foot traffic from outside, choose flooring that's easy to clean. If you're going for a cozy playroom or family space, consider an inexpensive carpet or rubber tiles to soften things up.
Epoxy and Concrete Paint
Paint is generally your cheapest basement floor option. Use a good quality epoxy, usually two-part paint, and follow the manufacturer's directions exactly. Some epoxies and concrete paints require sealing, etching or other preparation. You can vary the look by blending colors to make the paint look like granite or some other stone.
Concrete Stain and Sealer
Concrete stain is another inexpensive option. It is similar to paint, but stain soaks into the concrete to color it and is usually finished with a protective sealer. It is longer-lasting than paint because it soaks into the concrete rather than just coating the surface, but stain will not hide cracks and blemishes in the floor. Most concrete stains are water-based and go on easily with a brush or roller.
Linoleum or Vinyl
Linoleum or vinyl tile are common flooring options. Both clean up easily and are available in many colors and patterns. To install either, spread mastic or thin-set mortar on the floor and install the tiles on top of it. You can install either tile or linoleum yourself, but tiles are easier to lay than big rolls of linoleum. Prices vary widely, but both are more expensive than paint or stain.
Ceramic Tile Flooring
Ceramic tile is another good choice. It's generally more expensive than other options but also lasts longer. Because it's so durable, ceramic tile may save you money in the long run. You can cut costs by using larger tiles and installing them yourself with a tile mastic. Ceramic tile covers small cracks and defects in the concrete, but you must grout between the joints and seal the tile against spills or moisture.
Rubber and Foam Mats
Rubber and foam mats make an attractive and softer basement floor, usually comparable in price to vinyl or linoleum. Most have interlocking edges to hold mats together. They are comfortable, durable and waterproof, and you can vary the colors in attractive patterns. They're easy to install yourself because you can easily cut them to fit the space.
Traditional Carpet Flooring
Carpet is attractive and affordable. Indoor/outdoor carpet usually is the least expensive option and the easiest to install yourself. It's also more resistant to moisture. You can buy this in rolls or in squares with an adhesive backing so you don't have to fuss with mastic or cement. Regular pile carpet is more expensive and most subject to dirt and moisture problems. it does, however, help to soften the basement floor and dampen noise.
Laminate or Engineered Hardwood
Because it can harbor mold, hardwood flooring is a bad idea in the basement. If you want the look of wood without the risks, opt for laminate flooring. Laminate and engineered hardwood floors resist moisture and are easy to install since the pieces snap together. Laminate flooring can also mimic the look of natural stone and ceramic. Available at multiple price points, it's possible to install laminate inexpensively but get the look of a high-end finish.
Bob Haring has been a news writer and editor for more than 50 years, mostly with the Associated Press and then as executive editor of the Tulsa, Okla. "World." Since retiring he has written freelance stories and a weekly computer security column. Haring holds a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Missouri.