Can you install foam boards directly against basement walls?


Can you install foam boards directly against basement walls?

Ted Gorab Oct. 3, 2019Last updated: Feb. 26, 2021

I read in one of your articles when putting up rigid foam to Install two inches of rigid insulation board directly against concrete.  A mold expert told me to put the board on top of the framing, not directly onto the concrete wall so the house can breath.  What is the right course of action? Thank you

Responses (16)

Ted Gorab Oct. 7, 2019, 4:11 p.m.

The mold guy said houses are meant to breath, I'm not sure which way to go. There is no signs of water, just humidity.

Mike Reynolds Oct. 8, 2019, 3:38 p.m.

Wow, if understand correctly that is a terrible idea. Cinderblocks are porous, so they will continue to absorb moisture from the ground unless they are well-protected, and I mean with at membrane and not just the bitumous spray. Since you likely don't have such a membrane on the exterior, the blocks will always have a certain amount of moisture content. And due to the laws of physics,  moisture will always want to go where it is dry, which in this case will be your studs, at least until they are completely saturated to the point of equilibrium and the wood just stays as wet as the concrete wall.

If there is dirt against the outside of the blocks (which I assume there is) then it can't dry to the exterior, and by covering the stud wall with XPS insulation boards (which are a vapor barrier) you would be ensuring that the wall cannot dry to the interior either, so what you would have is an ideal mold incubation chamber. 

If you are still able, I would move the studs away from the wall, and see if you can get a 6 mil poly vapor barrier behind it, if not, I would make sure to use breathable materials. The best insulation for a basement stud wall in your case would be mineral wool, Rockwool and then drywall overtop. a 6 mil poly barrier before drywall will prevent your wall from drying, hopefully your municipal building inspector will let that pass if you're dealing with one.  This way the moisture in the cinderblocks can pass through to the interior of the basement and be managed by ventilation equipment or even  a dehumidifier. 

Read those links above, and I would say start with the one about why basements are moldy, and I think all this will make more sense. I would for get yourself a dehumidifier down there and see if you can keep it at 50% RH or lower. 


Rocky Ford
Rocky Ford Jan. 20, 2021, 10:25 a.m.

I have built a block masonry house I want to put 2-inch foam on the inside for now does the block need to be painted before I put the foam against the block are waterproof and what with.

Mike Reynolds Jan. 20, 2021, 3:46 p.m.

Hey Rocky,

At 2 inches thick EPS and XPS insulation both work as a vapor barrier, so no need to paint them first. 

Robert J. Pierson Feb. 24, 2021, 7:19 p.m.

Here's a project done recently in BC - panels stuck directly to concrete walls with low expansion pro Sikka foam as per manufacturers recommendations ( Airboard ), then they were taped to really seal them up - before and after readings on the humidity were like night and day, and the temperature with zero additional heat in the basement.

Insulating bare concrete basement walls with rigid foam panels
Insulating basement walls with foam bare concrete high humidity low temperature
Insulating basement walls with foam bare concrete foil faced
Insulating basement walls with foam bare concrete lowered humidity raised temperature


Scott Frazier
Scott Frazier May 11, 2021, 9:58 a.m.
I have an old pourous foundation that has some infiltration during heavy rains. Do you think those panels would be ok to put on walls like that? I have a drainage system under the walls.
Mike Ortiz
Mike Ortiz March 10, 2021, 4:07 p.m.

How about painting the cinder block walls with Drylok then placing your rigid foam board insulation do your framing throw in some batting for further insulation then finish off with your green board basement sheet-rock and h y our good to go. 

Mike Reynolds March 11, 2021, 10:06 a.m.
Hi Mike, Painting it first won't do any harm, but rigid insulation panels will be doing the job of stopping vapor diffusion from the foundation wall anyway, so painting it is not really necessary.
Mary Franklin
Mary Franklin March 11, 2021, 12:03 a.m.

Can rigid foam go on cement walls showing some moisture and lime stains.  Exteriors not sealed.  Daylight basement gutted due to mold in drywall.  Working with blank slate sort of speak.  Seattle homeowner DYI cause single parent.  Wise advice appreciated.  

Mike Reynolds March 11, 2021, 10:03 a.m.
Dan Ellement
Dan Ellement March 13, 2021, 11:08 a.m.

You must be as useless as your comment to go attacking a single mom on a foam board Q&A forum. 

Mike Reynolds March 14, 2021, 12:23 p.m.
Comment removed Dan, Thanks for stepping in before we saw it.
R Mark
R Mark April 7, 2021, 3:13 p.m.

Is half inch rigid enough? I already have framing in their but enough to squeeze in half inch against a rock foundaiton (built late 1800's). Trying to decide if I water proof paint wall AND rigid. Nor rigid w/ paint and roxul. Or no paint, rigid and batt. Apprecaite feedback as I can;t decide what's best as I'm trying to retrofit my basement.


Mike Reynolds April 10, 2021, 9:15 a.m.

Yours is a bit of tricky one R Mark, you have to be careful with stone foundations. With no insulatuion the stones have likely stayed warm, so insulating from the inside could subject the foundation to much colder temperatures than it is used to and that can put the mortar at risk of freezing and cracking. Before you do that it's worth a look to make sure the mortar is in good shape. In a perfect world you would insulate it from the exterior if possible, that way you keep your heat but you also keep your foundation warm.