How lovely to have a beautifully even floor – a pristine canvas from which your flooring fantasies can take flight. However, no floor’s perfect. Unless you’re putting flooring into a brand-new house, you’re probably going to find that there are issues with the floor’s evenness. This can include a gamut of grievances, from sags to slopes to salients.
Of course, older properties tend to wear their history loud and proud on their construction, and floors are no exception. Major episodes in a property’s life can leave their mark and can be all too visible, like wrinkles on a face. Thankfully, there are flooring solutions out there that can cope with ‘personality’ floors. Whether we’re talking little dinks, gentle undulations, or something more dramatic, there’s a flooring material that will have it covered.
We’ll look at some of the best flooring for uneven floors, as well as one or two of the worst. And, for when you have a floor that’s really got you floored, we’ll talk briefly about how you might go about leveling it up. It’s often more straightforward than you might think.
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Do I Have An Uneven Floor?
The first thing to do is to check the floor properly. You may have a general feeling that it’s not entirely 100% flat and level, but your senses can be confused by all manner of environmental factors, so you need something reasonably empirical before you start.
The good news is you don’t need any expensive equipment at this stage. Start with a length of pipe. Lay it on your floor. If the floor comes up to meet the pipe all the way along its length, that section of the floor is broadly even. Repeat as necessary.
Your floor may be even but not level. This may or may not be a concern. Most floors are tilted a little, one way or another, especially where old properties have done a bit of settling. You might want to use a spirit level just to see if there’s a slant. A slight slant is perfectly acceptable.
Anything more serious will probably need addressing unless you’re installing flooring in a Batman villain’s lair. (For the uninitiated, the 60s TV Batman always filmed lair scenes with what was known as a ‘Dutch angle’ to imply that these bad types’ worldview wasn’t on the level.) We’ll see how you can level up and avoid that Joker feel later on.
Best Flooring for Uneven Floors
- Epoxy Resin
Here’s a quick rundown of the best flooring types for an uneven subfloor. Keep reading for a detailed description of each flooring type and reasons why it’s fit for the purpose.
Back a few years, vinyl was laboring under a reputation for cheapness and relatively poor quality. Things have certainly changed. Vinyl now includes a broad range of options in terms of looks, quality, and price. It also comes in very different forms, as we’ll see.
(a) Vinyl Sheet
This is what most people who haven’t been keeping up with developments will probably think of when the v-word is mentioned. This form of vinyl has never gone away, and it’s easy to see why.
It’s relatively inexpensive, for one thing. In an area where it’s easy to go overboard with the spending, vinyl sheeting stands out as a bonafide bargain. You can often pick it up for around $1-$2 SFT, which, in most houses and on most floors, will not leave you penniless.
It’s also convenient. It comes in a roll (often 6’ or 12’ wide), and you apply as much as you need to cover the area. Stick it down, and you’re done. Obviously, some will find the process easier than others, but in the grand scheme of practical activities around the house, laying vinyl rolls is not one of the trickier ones.
In an uneven floor scenario, a vinyl sheet is ideal for the job. As long as it’s not too thick, it will adapt itself to the contours beneath it, hugging like tight spandex on Jon Bon Jovi. But won’t it reveal what lumps and bumps are under it, just like Mr. Bon Jovi’s trouser wear? This is where it’s important to choose the right vinyl.
Some examples of vinyl roll have felt or fiberglass backing, which is good at hiding the imperfections lying beneath the surface. Armstrong Progressions, for instance, will do a good job of minimizing a floor’s little lumps and bumps.
It’s important to note that it’s not wise to use any extra underlayment with vinyl sheet flooring. Why’s this? Although it’s tempting to think that a nice cushioned layer of underlayment will eradicate all ups and downs, it will more often than not result in significant instability.
This is because the vinyl sheet is a fairly pliable and cushioned product, and when you lay one cushion on top of another, you get an interestingly lively floor surface resulting. Great for kids’ parties (you’ll save a fortune on bouncy castle hires) but not terrific for everyday use.
One final point to mention here. A thinner vinyl will cope with floor unevenness better than a thicker, less flexible one. For instance, Tarkett’s CustomPro is only 0.055”, so it will, in all likelihood, be more pliable than Mannington’s Realities (thickness 0.08”), which means it will adapt better and bend where it needs to in order to accommodate your floor’s idiosyncrasies.
(b) Luxury Vinyl Plank
Growing in popularity, luxury vinyl flooring is a multi-layer item that comes in either tile or plank forms. Luxury vinyl is a great solution for those who want to combine an approximation of natural products with great waterproofing and endurance. But is it good for uneven floors?
Well, the qualified answer is yes, but it depends on how uneven the floor is. For instance, Mannington Adura can be laid over a floor that varies up to 1/32” over a length of 12’. Anything more than this, and the tiles or planks will struggle. This is because they are rigid, so will fail to follow precisely major dips and mounds in the underfloor, especially where those imperfections are concentrated in one area.
This, for a great many people, is the go-to flooring material for an uneven floor. Its very nature is flexibility, courtesy of its softness. And depending on the pile, it can mask a certain amount of unevenness. However, it’s not all roses. What do you have to bear in mind when carpeting an uneven floor?
First of all, you need to think about underlay. A decently thick variety should be used – this will go some way to leveling out the imperfections in the floor. Once the carpet’s on top, you may find it difficult to identify exactly where the unevenness was in the first place.
However, although good thickness underlay and carpet can remedy some unevenness, it should be borne in mind that more serious cases will benefit from another approach. This is because significant dips may result in the carpet tending to bunch a little. Sturdy carpet edge fixing will help, but it’s a tendency that will, in all likelihood, eventually show its face.
Another problem with carpets on a seriously uneven floor is the irregular weight distribution that results. This can take effect on the carpet in terms of excessive wear on certain areas of the carpet.
So, carpeting should really only be considered if your floor suffers just from slight unevenness. Any more than this, and you should either think about another flooring material or you might want to spend some time leveling the floor. We’ll come to that.
One final point to remember about carpeting. Unlike the other materials in this piece, it has no water resistance (unless you’re using very short-length fiber carpet tiles), so it isn’t, for example, the best flooring for an uneven basement where leaks might be expected from time to time.
We mentioned earlier how luxury vinyl appeals because it bears a resemblance to natural materials while boasting greater durability and waterproofing qualities. Another of these kinds of flooring materials is laminate, which is made from a thin layer of wood composite over a synthetic base.
This is another good choice for a slightly uneven floor because laminate has a degree of flexibility, so it can follow gentle contours. This means that it can be forgiving of some imperfections but not all. As a general rule of thumb, bumps of less than 3/16” high and variances of up to ¼” over a distance of 10’ can be laminated over.
Not Great For Bigger Bumps
Anything bigger than the above, and you run the risk of the flooring not sitting securely on the subfloor. This is because laminate tends to be laid using the floating method, i.e., there’s no adhesive tying it to the subfloor. So, if there’s a serious bit of bumping going on underneath, the laminate will not lie soundly on the surface.
If the laminate’s not lying flat on the subfloor, then you can get problems with air pockets. This is what causes the popping and cracking you hear when you walk on laminate that’s not been securely laid. There can also be problems with warping, which can lead to individual laminate sections lifting and putting themselves forward as prize trip hazards.
We can see then that laminate should only be used with a marginally uneven floor. One solution that can help with tackling a degree of unevenness is underlay. Again, just as with carpeting, you should use a thickness that will do the job properly – around 3-5mm is what you’re looking for.
Underlay is always worth considering with laminate in any case, even with a floor that has evenness to spare. It can help deaden sound (essential in shared accommodation) and add years to your floor’s lifespan. So, it’s worth undertaking underlayment under most circumstances.
Now we’re getting to the stuff that can handle the serious dips and peaks. Suppose you’re looking at the subfloor and thinking it has a certain Himalayan aspect. In that case, you need to consider a substance you can pour onto the tumultuous topography, which will smooth things out nicely.
One such material is epoxy, also known as resinous flooring. What is it? It’s a combination of polymer resins and hardeners, which, when mixed, gives a finished article that can be as beautiful as it is durable. The component elements of the floor not only stick to each other but also stick to the subfloor (usually concrete), making for extremely strong and stable flooring material.
There are, in fact, several different kinds of epoxy floors, including epoxy mortar floors and anti-static epoxy floors. The one we’re looking at here is the self-leveling epoxy floor. This kind of floor does what you’d expect, that is, spreads out on an uneven floor and sets as an even surface. To do this effectively, the epoxy needs to be in the region of 3-5 mm thick.
More serious unevenness can be tackled with the application of more epoxy, but it should be noted that it’s not the cheapest of materials. In other words, keep an eye on your outlay as you lay out.
So, epoxy can help when your floor’s too uneven for any of the other materials so far covered.
Firstly, epoxy can look stunning. It sets as a seamless surface, giving wall-to-wall homogeneity. It’s available in a range of striking colors and patterns and gives a depth of finish that looks unlike anything else.
Secondly, its durability is extraordinary. It can take enormous pressure from the heaviest items without cracking or showing any wear. It’s also resistant to a lot of acids and corrosives.
Thirdly, although earlier incarnations of epoxy flooring were spectacularly bad for the environment, with volatile organic compounds pouring out of the stuff, developments have been ongoing, which have resulted in a zero-VOC totally green epoxy being available.
What’s the downside of epoxy flooring? Because water can’t seep into it, it stays on top, which is fine from a floor protection perspective, but it does mean that you have a slip hazard. This can be tackled by using one of the other varieties of epoxy, such as epoxy with quartz added for its anti-slip properties.
Another disadvantage of epoxy is that it doesn’t deal with the outdoors very well. Weather takes its toll on epoxy, so don’t be tempted to give yourself that epoxy patio you’ve always wanted.
Often considered solely suitable for subfloors, concrete is actually a great material for flooring per se. Similar to epoxy, it will deal with the most interestingly textured subfloors because when it goes on, it’s in liquid form. It can then spread and self-level before it dries. And when it dries, it dries hard.
Just as concrete is among the best flooring for uneven concrete, the best subfloor for concrete is, well, concrete. However, there are certain steps you must take to ensure that the new concrete sits nicely on the old. Just like when you give a surface a key so that paint will happily stay on, you need to rough up the old concrete a little.
You can do this with etching acid and a wire brush. Then apply some water to the old concrete (this will stop it from absorbing moisture from the new concrete).
Then apply a 1 to 2-inch layer of new concrete. Spread with a rake, then use a smooth straight edge to encourage the concrete to set in a nice level manner. Then leave it for up to four days to dry good and hard.
Why Choose Concrete?
Concrete’s favored for all sorts of reasons. Firstly, and perhaps most surprisingly, it can look fabulous. This can be achieved with the addition of dye to the concrete to give the floor the color of your fancy. Another increasingly popular approach is to polish the concrete, which results in a luxurious look way beyond what some might think concrete is capable of.
If you want to do the polishing yourself but you have no idea where to start, you can do a lot worse than take a look at this Youtube instruction video. It’s well worth getting a good grinding, sorry, grounding in the subject before you start. You may save yourself a major headache. (On that subject, don’t forget to get some ear defenders. And to warn your neighbors.)
Secondly, its durability is legendary, being impervious to a vast range of materials and utterly waterproof. It’s just as happy outside as in and is pretty much maintenance-free. OK, it likes to be kept clean, but what floor doesn’t?
Thirdly, it’s cheap. Concrete itself is extremely inexpensive, and you can hire a polisher (even the walk-behind heavy-duty ones) for between $100 and $300 for the week. Just don’t skimp on preparation (making sure you’ve got the right gear, including a mixer) or time because you have to factor in all that drying.
Worst Flooring Options for Uneven Floors
As we’ve indicated, not all the above options are good for all levels of unevenness. However, there are some flooring options that are just totally unsuitable for anything other than a super-level floor.
The problem with these is that, as durable and as attractive as they can be, they have absolutely no give in them. This means that they can’t deal with the tiniest bump. Any unevenness will leave your tiles not sitting as solidly as they need to – there will be tilts and slopes that will look terrible and lead to a greater tendency to break under pressure.
Additionally, you can’t put cushioned underlay under them because this will result in cracks in the tile, the grouting, or both. No, ceramic tiles demand a strong, inflexible base; otherwise, disaster will ensue. And that strong, inflexible base has to be level.
Hardwood flooring is another no-no for an uneven floor. You might think to yourself that natural wood will be able to deal with a little bit of roughness; after all, most woods have a degree of flexibility. However, the truth is that if the boards aren’t laid on a perfectly even surface, they can be placed under severe stress when walked upon. This can result in cracking and general wear and tear that will look sub-optimal in no time.
Right from the start, your lovely hardwood flooring will look as uneven as the subfloor on which it’s laid. When you’ve gone to all that expense, you want that wood to look its best. Consequently, in this case, you’d definitely need to get the subfloor as even as possible. We’ll turn now to how you can do this.
How To Level Out An Uneven Floor
When it comes to dealing with an uneven floor, you have several possible approaches to take. Some are more arduous than others. We’ll deal with each in turn.
Eradicating Traces Of Old Flooring
Oftentimes you’ll be faced with remains of old flooring materials. It might not be the flooring you’ve just taken up. It could go back way before, or it could be stuck down lino dating back to the 50s. That stuff had staying power! The trouble is, you want it gone.
Your best bet is to use a sturdy and sharp-edged tool to really go at that sticky sucker. Or suppose it’s something like concrete that’s chipped and generally uneven. In that case, you’ll need to get your hands on a concrete grinder (similar to a concrete polisher but with a much coarser grade) to smooth out those imperfections.
There are a couple of ways to remove epoxy flooring. One approach is to take a cloth, soak it in acetone, then rub it vigorously into the floor for several minutes. You can then use a plastic scraper to remove the freshly softened material. Another approach is to grind or sand it, just like concrete.
One note of caution – whenever you’re using a grinder, always remember to wear the right PPE. Goggles and respirators on, please!
Laying Plywood Boards
This approach involves securing plywood all over the floor. It’s good for dealing with localized small bumps and lumps, resulting in a smooth plane all over. The effect is enhanced if you’re suspending the plywood over a raised frame, clear of any unevenness beneath.
However, be mindful of the following. Firstly, you must use floor-grade boards. This means that they have to have a minimum thickness of ¾”. Anything less than this, and you risk damage when walked upon.
Secondly, be prepared for a lot of drilling. And when you’re drilling into a subfloor like concrete, you need to be confident that there’s no danger of going into any pipework or cables lying hidden underneath.
Thirdly, following all that drilling, you’d better have a lot of screws to hand. And they need to be countersunk, or you’ve just reproduced all the unevenness you were trying to eliminate.
This usually comes in a powder form, to be combined with water for an application layer of usually between 1/10″ and 1″. The compound spreads, levels, and dries reasonably rapidly when poured onto the subfloor. It can be fiber-reinforced for extra strength or come with latex included for better flexibility and adhesion.
Very simple to apply and good for use over subfloor heating systems, the self-leveling compound can be regarded as a bit of a no-brainer. However, there are three points you should remember.
Firstly, it dries quickly – 20 minutes or so. This means you need to ensure it’s smooth and level in that time. Secondly, it’s only as strong as the surface it’s laid on. If the original subfloor is cracked or unstable, the compound will not give you a sound layer on which to lay your floor. Finally, it needs a clean surface to adhere. So make sure you give that subfloor a good sweeping first.
The thorny issue of having to put flooring down on an uneven surface is something that most of us will face sooner or later. Perfectly even subfloors can be rare items indeed. But hopefully, this guide will have shown you that there are several very good candidates for the title of best flooring for uneven floors. Plus, some terrible ones. And, if the worst does come to the worst and you have to get that uneven subfloor dealt with, you now know how you can go about doing this.
Thanks very much for reading, and we do hope you’ve got some insights into real-life flooring matters. There’s loads more information on all manner of issues to do with what can be laid on what, so do what the clever floorer does and make sure you’ve got everything nicely researched and organized. Before you rev up that beast of a grinder.
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Can you lay flooring on uneven floors?
There are some materials, such as vinyl, that can cope with slight unevenness, and others, such as concrete, that can manage more serious unevenness.
Can I install flooring on uneven floors myself?
With the right preparation and a modicum of practical ability, it’s possible to do it yourself.
Is it possible to level up uneven floors?
Leveling an uneven floor is eminently possible by grinding or laying down a self-leveling compound.