What is the best kind of flooring to choose?
Your flooring choice will depend on your preferences,
your budget, and where you are going to install it. Here are some of the main choices:
- Vinyl tile squares:
The least expensive type of flooring, vinyl tile comes in a wide variety of colors and
patterns. Because it is impervious to water, relatively easy to clean, and quick to
install, it is commonly put down in kitchens and bathrooms. As vinyl tile gets old it
tends to fade and discolor. It is easily scratched or cut, but individual squares can be
removed and replaced.
- Vinyl sheet:
Prices range significantly depending on quality. Vinyl sheet flooring is often selected because of attractive
patterns and because it covers a large area with no risk of individual tiles working loose at the edges.
It is impervious to water but can be cut or scratched easily.
Laminate flooring is constructed of several layers of plastic-type resins compressed under high
pressure to a hard fiber or particleboard core, with melamine backing and printed surface. It can be made
to appear like different types of wood flooring or even marble and flagstone. It is put together in tongue
and groove fashion and is not attached to the subfloor as are standard hardwoods. Many carry a 10 year
or more warranty against staining or fading. There is some difference of opinion, even among experts,
about whether to use laminate in a place where it will get wet.
- Ceramic tile:
Wide range in costs depending on quality, color, and material. It wears well and is not easily
stained. Because it also repels water if the grout is sealed properly, it is widely used for entryways,
kitchens, and baths. If installed over wood, it must have solid underlayment that will not flex and
subsequently crack the tile. Installing a solid underlayment, however, may raise the finished floor higher
than adjacent flooring, causing an uneven transition unless calculated in advance.
Hardwood floors cover the spectrum in color, types of wood, style, and price. They are available as traditional
tongue and groove strip and plank to parquet squares. Hardwood floors range from labor-intensive parquet
requiring on-site sanding expertise to factory finished products often installed by homeowners
themselves. Newer finishes and finishing techniques make wood floors much easier to care for than in the
past. Factory-finished floors come in a wide array of patterns and edge treatments. This type of floor
can be laid quickly and without sanding dust and odor. Unfinished floors offer a wider choice of wood
but require expert sanding and finishing in the house. The final appearance is more dependant on the
people doing the sanding and finishing than on the wood itself.
Can I install flooring over the concrete floor in my basement?
Basement floors are notorious for becoming damp, and moisture will
ruin a floor unless necessary precautions are taken. But once these are done, you can put down
many types of flooring, including vinyl, ceramic tile, engineered hardwoods, laminates, or carpet.
Flooring experts generally recommend against installing traditional strip or plank hardwoods below grade. Engineered or laminate flooring is a better choice in this case.
The ideal way to put down a wood floor over concrete that is subject to dampness is to first put down
pressure 2-by-4 inch "sleepers," or lengths of wood, on the floor that are spaced 16 inches apart on
center. Cover the sleepers with 6-millimeter plastic and then lay down 5/8-inch plywood. Cover the
plywood with 15-pound roofing felt, and then install the engineered or laminate floor. Engineered
wood floors may be nailed or glued to the plywood subfloor. Laminate floors, which may be tongue and
groove or snap-together, are "floating" floors and not attached to the subfloor. If the concrete
subfloor is always dry, however, engineered and laminate floors can be placed directly on the slab.
Carpet can be laid in the same manner.
- Vinyl tile:
For vinyl tile, skip the 15-pound felt and apply mastic directly to the plywood.
- Ceramic tile:
For ceramic tile, nail cement boards to the concrete floor with concrete
nails so they won't move, then apply mastic, tile, and grout. If you feel that despite all
precautions the basement floor may get wet, put down 2-by-4-inch sleepers, cover with plastic, and then
install the plywood as the subfloor.
Can I lay new ceramic or vinyl tile over the original one?
Yes, if the old tile or vinyl is smooth and in good
shape, as well as the subfloor. But that will raise the floor slightly, which can cause other
problems from fitting around a toilet to doors closing properly. It's much better to remove the old
floor, inspect and smooth the old subfloor, and then put down the new floor.
How can I remove pet stains and odors from my flooring?
If a pet stain has soaked
into a hardwood floor, it may not come out. You can try sanding it down
and then refinishing the damaged area. If that doesn't work, replace that
section. If there are pet stains and odors in the carpet, there are several
products on the market that might work. Check with a pet store in your
area for products containing enzymes to break down the proteins in pet
stains. If this doesn't do the trick, you can rent a steam cleaner to
go over the carpets. Often the offensive odor is trapped in the carpet
pad, which means you will have to pull back the carpet and replace that
section of padding. Check if the subfloor is also harboring odor.
What type of subflooring is best?
It depends on what type of finished floor you will
have. Most subflooring in wood frame construction today is either oriented strand board (OSB) or plywood.
Older homes may have boards laid diagonally across the floor joists. The subfloor thickness depends on
the construction designnamely the distance between the floor joists, which is specified in the plans. Plywood is less affected by rain during construction and holds nails and screws better than OSB, but OSB is usually less expensive.
Wood flooring and carpet can be installed directly on the subfloor. Any irregularity in a subfloor
will be visible through vinyl flooring, so it is normally installed over particleboard that has the
cracks and nail holes smoothed with spackle. Ceramic tile, marble, and other stone floors must be laid
over a rigid floor that will not flex and crack the tile or grout. Preferred subfloors in these cases
are a mortar bed or cement board.
My concrete slab floor needs to be leveled. What can I do?
If you need to level a concrete floor or patio to
install flooring, you should be able to find a leveling compound, much like a soupy mortar mix, at
your local home improvement center or flooring supply company. If the concrete has wide cracks,
broken pieces, and shows signs of sinking, this indicates a major problem and you should consult a
concrete contractor or even a structural engineer.
The seams on my vinyl floor are coming up. What should I do?
If it is a new floor, contact your contractor. On
an older floor, heat the seams with a blow dryer or steam iron placed on a towel so you can pull them
back to expose the subfloor. Clean any dirt from the area, make sure the subfloor is dry, then apply a
thin layer of vinyl mastic to the floor and press the seams back down. Place wax paper over it in case
the mastic is forced out of the seams and then weight the area down overnight.
How can I get that polished look to concrete?
This requires labor-intensive work and careful timing. First the concrete is leveled, then bull
floated to bring the cream to the top. When the water sheen has disappeared, you must begin repeatedly
troweling the slab with a rectangular steel trowel. Repeated steel troweling on firm yet
still wet concrete gives it the polished finish. You kneel on a square of plywood while doing this and
step to a second square of plywood when you must move. And you must move quickly before the concrete
sets too firmly. In other words, this is usually a job for an experienced professional.
How can I fix my squeaky floors?
Wood flexing and rubbing either in the subfloor or
the hardwood floor causes squeaks. If there is a crawl space or basement, have someone step on the
squeaky area while you pinpoint it from underneath. Then hammer in a thin wood shim between the
floor joist and the squeak. If that doesn't stop it, you can try running a screw through the subfloor
up into the planking above to draw it down tight. Be careful not to go through the planking. If
there is no access from below, you may have to pull up the flooring, screw down the subfloor, and
then replace the flooring.
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