What's Wrong With DriCore?
is an excerpt from my new booklet, Planning and Building a Safe,
Non-Toxic, and Mold-Free Home Renovation,
currently in development.)
According to the brochures and advertisements, DriCore is the perfect
subfloor for your basement renovation. In their promotional materials,
they say that DriCore keeps water away from your basement, allowing it to
flow into floor drains or evaporate and vent out through the 1/4" spacing at the edge of the
wall, with a raised plastic barrier (with 1/4" air gap) glued to the
bottom of the highly-bonded chipboard panel. According to the "What Is DriCore?" web page, "DRIcore won’t split, peel or warp." (Quoted
http://www.dricore.com/en/ausdric.aspx on January 19. 2010).
The website goes on to claim that the Dricore plastic barrier is
"molded with dual wall cleats that are durable and act as a raised
moisture barrier" and that "independent lab tests confirmed that the
DriCore polyethylene moisture barrier does not support the growth of
mold." (Quoted from
http://www.dricore.com/en/faquest.aspx, on January 19, 2010)
Sounds ideal. So I bought it for my own basement renovation, about
$800 worth at Home Depot. But before I finally installed it, I began to have
doubts about it. I was trained in physics, electrical engineering, and
computer science, and my primary work life for the last 14 years has been
in quality assurance, so I'm not afraid to experiment. Here's what I
1. DriCore does not remain dry. Like any chipboard product, the
DriCore panel is not perfectly bonded, especially at the
tongue-and-groove edges and wherever you need to cut it to fit at the
edges of the room, closets, etc. Moreover, the plastic barrier does not
cover the edges of the panel. These panels, like any chipboard products, when
exposed to very high humidity under the panel, which is typical of
basement floors if you seal them away from the room above,
will warp and expand (bulge) at the edges of the panels. Since the panels
are forced together by their tongue-and-groove edges, signs of warping
may be impeded temporarily, but eventually the physical forces of warping
and expansion will make the problems obvious.
2. The DriCore plastic barrier is not well sealed against the DriCore
panel, especially where the panels are cut, and the cleats are hollow, so
that water vapor will likely condense in them. Worse, if there is a small
water leak in which the water is 1/4" high anywhere, it will soak the
bottoms of any exposed panels, and the cleats will fill with water. There
is no mechanism for venting or evaporating this water. This creates a
long-term 100% humidity environment between the panel and the moisture
3. Like most chipboard products, the DriCore panel is not mold-proof
or even mold resistant. It supports mold growth at its edges. A simple
test of a piece of DriCore kept in a humid environment and seeded with a
tiny amount of ordinary mold yielded a very large colony of mold along
the entire edge of the panel. (Note that the DriCore promotional
literature says that the polyethylene moisture barrier does not
support mold growth. It does not say anything about the panel itself.)
The 100% humidity expected below the barrier (see points 1 and 2) will
likely eventually cause the growth of mold. It will certainly grow mold
if there is a leak in which the water level is more than 1/4" high,
soaking the bottom of the panel. See picture below.
4. Like most chipboard products, the Material Safety Data Sheet for
DriCore indicates that it contains phenol formaldehyde, a proven
carcinogen and promoter of allergies. It will likely outgas this
formaldehyde into your basement for a long time. This is not anything
different from most kitchen and bathroom cabinets, plywood, and other
composite wood products, but it is not a good product to use if you have
5. As a side note, the shims sold with the DriCore panels are flimsy,
very thin molded pieces of plastic (HDPE). They are certainly not built
to hold much weight: they bend, making a loud crackling noise against the
concrete floor as they do so, especially if they are stacked. Not
designed well, in my opinion.
So, for all the reasons above, I'm not using it. I have approached the Home Depot
management to suggest that this may not be a good product to build safe,
stable, non-toxic, mold-free basements, and they gave me a refund for the
DriCore that I purchased.
My overall impression is that the DriCore product was yet another
scheme to sell commercially useless trees (aspen) at a premium price.
Aspens are very pretty to look at, but they are the bane of forest
product companies. They grow like weeds, and once they are cut down,
aspen logs just get in the way. This is the stuff that should be going
into a wood stove as kindling, not basement subfloors.
Here's some recommendations for what you should do for your basement.
1. Don't use gypsum wallboard. Only use magnesia board (Magnum Board,
Vogue Board, or DragonBoard). Get samples and try them out. I would
recommend 7/16, I used 1/2 and it was kind of overkill, weighs 80 lb per
board. Some say 3/8 will do. It will never, ever rot in any way. You can
get it totally wet. No paper. Use steel studs and join the boards
off-stud (you use strips of the magnesia board behind the wallboard
edges. This is to prevent cracking at the edges, as both steel and wood
studs increase in size laterally with temp. You can use a pneumatic
nailer for the jointing, 1" stainless steel brads will hold it together.
Always use stainless steel for everything, by the way. You may need to
use stainless screws to hold the wallboard against steel studs. (Vogue
Board has a website where they have a video showing how it's installed.)
2. For floor, Bob Vila actually did a video on using plain SnapLock
interlocking tiles, they are 1/2" high and 12x12. Vila recommends
screwing them down to the concrete to prevent them crackling against each
other if they float. You'll need plastic shims or leveling of the floor
(concrete). Snaplock has a bottom similar to DriCore, but it's part of
the structure of the tile, and there's no wood.
3. Put in underground plumbing and floor drains if you have plans to do
any plumbing. If not, put in drains to the underfloor and a sump pump at
the lowest point under the floor. You'll need to use 2-level drains,
concentric, one level with the finished floor on the inside of one level
with the concrete floor.
4. For ceiling, I would recommend ACP 1" hangers and 24:square plastic
ceiling tiles, but get the substantial ones, 1/16" thick, I got the
ultralight stuff and it's really not satisfactory, it droops in the
middle. This will allow access to electric, plumbing, etc.
5. Insulate the walls with Firestone Polyiso Resista. It's made for
roofing, very tough, does not support mold, cuts with a rotary saw, comes
in various sizes, 2.5" is R16, and you can go thicker if you want to. Its
sheathing is fiberglass mat, so wear gloves and mask when cutting and
handling it. It costs about $30 per sheet, try to find out if it is
available at a local dealer, otherwise you'll need to buy about 40 sheets
of it (minimum truckload). I used it for insulating the ceiling too, but
if you care it's not a very good sound insulator, so I'm still looking
for something better to recommend.
6. Paint any wood (studs, etc) with a 50-50 mix of clay and concrete
mixed with water so that it is paintable.
7. Use LED lights throughout. You won't need to worry about overheating
the ceiling tiles.
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