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September 2, 2008 11:09 AM   Subscribe

Advice/tips on re-tiling a kitchen floor...

I seem to have volunteered myself into helping a friend install new resilient tile in her upstate townhouse (kitchen) this weekend. I'm reasonably handy but three sub-issues have me head-scratching...

The previous floor and tile was scrapped because water leaked into it somehow... under/between the tiles, into the subfloor, which warped and bent, causing the tiles above to shift and pop out. After that experience with professional installers (reno a few years ago) she decided to do the replacement herself this time. I'm coming in late, after the floor is done but before the tiling.

The old water-ruined floor was ripped out, and the new floor has been built on top of the joists. (Two layers of 3/4 inch plywood plus a 1/4 super-smooth prefab underlay on top). I checked it out this past weekend, and the new flooring seems very smooth, solid and stable to me (no bouncing, no squeaking, no movement at all from what I can tell by walking/jumping on it), maybe because she used about six million screws to hold it down. She's busy this week using wood-filler to fill all the screw holes so it's a uniform smooth surface before tiling.

The tiles she already bought are resilient vinyl of the adhesive-backed kind (peel off paper backing, apply tile). They're thicker than I thought vinyl tile would be (I can bend them, barely, but they're very solid), and even textured like stone. Fancy. They're to be spaced like ceramic tile, with 1/4-inch grout, and she has bought some premixed grout for that (it's the consistency of sandy peanut butter, yum).

The instructions ask for no special pre-treatment to the floor other than a fresh layer of paint-primer, which I suppose improves adhesion. But the Lowe's person she bought them from "strongly" recommended also applying a few brush-strokes of floor adhesive to the (primed) floor beneath as she worked, so she bought a quart of that too.

That's the backstory and state of the project. Three questions...

(1) I dripped some water on the underlay and noticed that it beaded and stayed that way for hours, so clearly the underlay has some sort of water-resistance already. But is any additional waterproofing needed (varathane?) or will the resilient tile plus adhesive be waterproof enough? Obviously, she's paranoid about a re-occurance of the water-seeping-in damage in the future, and one should be able to spill water on a kitchen floor without worry, I think?

(2) I understand how to "start from the middle and work out" when tiling, because I've done some garden work with paving stones before, and I'm pretty good at these geometry puzzles... but here's a question that I can't settle in my own head: should she tile the entire floor, including underneath where the "built-in" kitchen cabinets will be (re)installed later, or just tile up to that point, and replace the cabinets on their bases screwed directly into the wood floor? (The cabinets had to be torn out to re-floor, so they're sitting in her dining room now.)

(3) Again on the water worry: is there any super-coating or special treatment that can or should be applied to the finished floor, on top of the tiles and grout? The tile, grout and adhesive instructions don't mention this either way. Teflon coating? Wax? What?

I have read a few things like this but they haven't helped me with these two questions.

Any other tips that will make me seem floor-tile smart when I return next weekend will also be appreciated. :)
posted by rokusan to Home & Garden (10 answers total)
I would stick with the manufacturer's recommendations, not with the Lowe's salesperson's advice regarding adhesive. That way, if anything goes wrong, there's a possible (although iffy) claim against the manufacturer; if you don't follow their instructions you would not have a leg to stand on.

That includes just priming the floor for adhesion per the instructions; don't go with any further waterproofing. It's the tile surface that needs to be waterproof. If water gets under the tiles, having additional waterproofing under them is not going to help you much; you'd just have a layer of moisture under your floor that would stay there and breed mold. Concentrate on being sure the top surface of the floor is totally water resistant.

Don't tile under the cabinets.
posted by beagle at 11:30 AM on September 2, 2008

I've never heard of grouting vinyl tiles. Unless they are very thick tiles (say 1/4" thick) the grout won't be any different than a thick paint. So unless there are some new fangled vinyl tiles I'd double check that bit about grout and space. In my experience you can get super fussy about straight lines and even intersections when laying tile, but at least tile has some open time. The stick on vinyl doesn't let you move it once it is stuck.
posted by Gungho at 11:56 AM on September 2, 2008

Response by poster: Definitely thick... might indeed be 1/4 inch, or close to it. Like I said, I could barely bend it. Definitely thicker, more rigit and fancier than any vinyl tile I've ever seen. I actually thought it was ceramic until I pressed a fingernail into it. The box said "groutable" (nice word) and showed both with and without options. Sadly, I didn't notice the brand name, but I could find out.

If the cabinets should go back in (on top of bare wood) before tiling, then maybe I won't be needed this weekend after all. :)
posted by rokusan at 12:16 PM on September 2, 2008

Mr. FK is at work, but I know enough about floors to hazard what he would say. You most likely don't have the Congoleum product mentioned above, and if you do you need to follow the directions from the manufacturer exactly. Duraceramic is not easy to install, IMHO. I don't think they make a self-adhesive version either.

In the event you have regular self-adhesive PVC/vinyl tiles, having a good, even subfloor is more important than having a waterproof one. You can wax after installation to make the floor more waterproof.
posted by fiercekitten at 1:05 PM on September 2, 2008

Response by poster: I'm pretty sure it's just (thick) vinyl, not that coated-limestone stuff, especially since I could bend it just a bit... and I'm very certain it has peel-off paper, sticky back.
posted by rokusan at 1:25 PM on September 2, 2008

There is good, illustrated advise in the Congoleum link about lay out away from underlayment seams, using spacers, etc., even if that is not the tile you have.
posted by lee at 1:32 PM on September 2, 2008

The reason you want to put the cabinets back first is that if you don't, and then you ever want to remove and replace the flooring again, you'd have a b*tch of a time. I've never seen flooring put down before the cabinets.
posted by beagle at 1:47 PM on September 2, 2008

And one more thing: before putting down the tiles, test the floor for squeaks. If any, you might want to put in some more screws to stop them.
posted by beagle at 1:54 PM on September 2, 2008

A bit of an aside, but a double layer of 3/4" plywood is overkill for vinyl tile.
posted by electroboy at 6:27 AM on September 3, 2008

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