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What's Wrong With DriCore?

(This 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 from 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 found.

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 barrier.

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 chemical sensitivity.

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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What's Wrong With DriCore?

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