Plywood floors for our kitchen?
May 11, 2010 7:44 AM   Subscribe

Are plywood floors a good choice for our kitchen?

Does anyone have experience with day to day living with plywood floors and are they a viable option for a kitchen floor? We've been looking into various floorings, and have ruled out ceramic and quarry tile; we have ceramic now, and trying to keep the grout clean is such a pita, plus I'm sick of the look of tile. The rest of our house is hardwood, which I love. We've ruled out bamboo because of the softness. I've seen a few photos of various plywood floor installations lately and love the look, especially cut into staggered width planks like the one I linked to. Ease of cleaning and maintenance is key this time - more important than looks, although that runs a close second. We currently have no pets and no small kids. Not really a fan of vinyl or linoleum of any kind. Is plywood a good choice? With finishing and sealing, will it hold up to the occasional wet spill? Is there another type of floor should we be considering?

Those vinyl laminates that look like wood are not an option.
posted by iconomy to Home & Garden (30 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Our kitchen has something called engineered wood, which is wood, but not solid hardwood planks - there's a veneer of wood on top with a particle board/composite material underneath. On the plus side, it's prefinished. On the other hand, your repair options are somewhat limited. Owing to the thinness of the top layer, sanding and refinishing isn't really an option, something I learned when a dishwasher leak got water all up under it before we realized what was happening. I actually posted to askmefi about it here.

So, whichever wood option you go with, make sure that it goes all the way up under everything. Our leak became an epic problem because the floor stopped halfway underneath the dishwasher, giving the leaking water an easy path under the floor. We didn't realize we had an issue until a large stain rose up through the floor, and by then we were sort of screwed.

If I had it to do all over again, I'd pick a real wood product, as it seems that the repair options are a little better - sanding/resealing, etc.

Another interesting floor option we saw recently was polished concrete. It looked as good as tile from a distance, but without any real grout. If you're done with the look of tile, though, it probably won't be a good fit.
posted by jquinby at 7:52 AM on May 11, 2010

I love the cork I have in my kitchen, but if "softness" is a concern, then you might not want to go with it. As long as you're not walking around the kitchen in heels or have dogs running around on it, you should be fine though.
posted by ODiV at 8:01 AM on May 11, 2010

Best answer: You'll need to coat the living daylights out of it with some kind of varnish/sealer/whatever. During our kitchen renovation this winter (done by my dad -- yay, Dad! I knew having a carpenter father would come in handy some day), part of my floor was plywood for a while because of [long boring explanation]. It gets filthy like you wouldn't believe and you really can't clean it. It doesn't like having things dropped on it (insta-dent). We have 2 cats and a dog, and it attracted dust like crazy.

In short, MAYBE if you sanded it down a bit and sealed the heck out of it, but the engineered wood is so much nicer. Actually, I ended up going with this and it's gorgeous, was super cheap, could be installed yourself if you're crafty, and is holding up well even with all the pets and such.

(The reason it's so cheap right now is they've got about a zillion cases of it in their warehouses and they're trying to get rid of it to free up space, the actual product itself is very nice. Even my dad, who is PICKY, ended up liking it).
posted by at 8:15 AM on May 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

The thing about plywood is you can't really refinish it. And it has a very thin veneer on top. A bit more here.

Are you ruling out real linoleum? Have you seen it installed recently? Not vinyl, but real linoleum. It has a depth to it, is incredibly easy to maintain and wash, looks great for a long time, can be polished, is great for kitchens, soft on feet. I've seen it installed where it looks rustic, homey, edgy, country-y, and modern. It depends on the colour and surrounding surfaces.
posted by barnone at 8:17 AM on May 11, 2010

Best answer: In terms of plywood, here are some thoughts if you're putting it in yourself:

You'll want to hand pick the plywood. It can come pretty ratty, so you'll want to make sure you're using the best stuff for your floor.

Since you'll be screwing it in, you'll want at least a 1/2" plywood. 3/8" won't give you the depth you'll need to countersink a screw and plug it. 3/4" is even better.

You'll want to use an adhesive (PL400 for example) in addition to the screws. The more glue you use the less you'll have to screw. Screws will make the floor slightly uneven, so thinning them out where possible is a good idea. By code (where I am anyway) the screws should be at most 8" apart.

You're going to want to sand the joints of your subfloor first. It was probably installed with no spacing which can cause some buckling. You want a flat a floor as possible as the plywood won't hide too much variation.

Since we're on the subject of buckling, you might want to leave a credit card sized gap in between boards. Wood expands and contracts with humidity and if there's no room for it to expand, it will buckle. Plywood is much better than hardwood on this front, but there's still some movement.

You'll want to run plywood counter to the subfloor to prevent wavyness. So if the OSB (or whatever) is going one way, put the plywood at a 90 degree angle.

Water can still be a problem as with all wood floors, but plywood has some inherent stability, which should help.
posted by ODiV at 8:27 AM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you've ruled out bamboo due to softness, plywood isn't going to be a good choice either. Anything other than furniture grade plywood is going to be southern pine, which is pretty soft.
posted by electroboy at 8:35 AM on May 11, 2010

I like that varried width look too. You need to talk to a good plywood distributor or dealer. You are going to want something with a thick top veneer and then put several layers of finish on top of it. There really are a great deal of plywood options out there beyond the few you will see at a home center.
posted by leetheflea at 8:50 AM on May 11, 2010

Best answer: If "ease of cleaning" is a big deal to you, hardwood is probably not the way to go.

The frequent cleaning and heavy foot traffic associated with a kitchen floor will have you sanding and refinishing it every 8-10 years.

Vinyl or Lino are really your best bets, and have come a long way since your grandmother's yellowed 1970s linoleum floor was installed.
posted by schmod at 9:03 AM on May 11, 2010

Water can still be a problem as with all wood floors, but plywood has some inherent stability, which should help.

If you get water in the joints of the plywood it'll puff up like a book soaked in water.

I had friends who installed laminate flooring in their kitchen and wet mopped a lot. Even that pressure treated stuff had the edges curling up at all the seams.
posted by Max Power at 9:05 AM on May 11, 2010

laminate flooring in their kitchen and wet mopped a lot

Good god. No standing water on wood (or similar) floors please. A spill now and then should be fine, but don't let it linger and don't intentionally dump water on it.
posted by ODiV at 9:07 AM on May 11, 2010

Nthing the vinyl for a care free kitchen floor. i would even suggest VCT (vinyl composition tile), which is the stuff you see in schools and hospitals. You can get attractive tiles and it is indestructible (which is why it is used in schools and hospitals). Any wood is going to require maintenance and cleaning. Well installed hardwood will do good (and is almost as durable as vct) but it is expensive and will require refinishing.
posted by bartonlong at 9:22 AM on May 11, 2010

Best answer: Don't rule out bamboo quit yet. We installed bamboofloors this past summer, and found woven strand bamboo to be exceptionally tough - 3000 on the Janka scale. 9 months later, with two cats and a lot of traffic, we have not a single dent to show.

(But like with everything else you have to be careful with water.)
posted by kables at 9:23 AM on May 11, 2010

Best answer: no, bad idea: i did this as a temporary solution. plywood is very soft and porous, even with multiple coats of polyurethane it still asborbed water. the cracks between the boards will collect kitchen crap and be hard to clean.

i mean, do it, if you want something cheap and quick but this will not hold up over time. if you like planks and don't mind a rustic look, you can put in wideboard pine. again, the cracks will collect crap and pine is soft and will look distressed fairly quickly but at least it is refinishable.
posted by at 9:23 AM on May 11, 2010

Best answer: If you never have a leak and never have standing water, plywood floors are fine if finished properly. If you have a leak or water: at best they water stain - at worst they buckle - especially if the water sits overnight (think about the dishwasher leak above or a freezer stops while you are on vacation). When they buckle, it is impossible to fix, especially the longer it has had to penetrate. The laminated layers separate and you have these great ridges and valleys. I am dealing with about 100 sq ft right now that will have to be removed and repaired and it isn't fun.

If I did want to do it again, I would plan it out so that ALL sides, including the edges and back, were finished multiple times before installation with a penetrating waterproof sealer, installed, and then epoxied over after installation. That MAY have cut down on the damage. But not for me ever again, nope, nope, nope.
posted by Tchad at 9:24 AM on May 11, 2010

Response by poster: Wow, thanks so much, everyone - I have to reread all of your comments and links, and investigate other options more, it seems. I will rethink the bamboo, consider cork and vinyl, and real wood. It sounds like plywood is not the way to go....I'm really glad I asked instead of forging blindly ahead as I usually do!

I love the idea of a concrete floor, jquinby! We're considering that for our counters, too.
posted by iconomy at 10:12 AM on May 11, 2010

Best answer: I love the idea of a concrete floor, jquinby! We're considering that for our counters, too.

FYI, I've done this and it's a whole lot of work. The results can be very nice so long as you appreciate rusticity; their appearance changes with use, unlike laminate, Corian, granite and other more conventional materials. You'd seal them, of course, but you have two broad categories of sealer to choose from -- shiny plastic films that can be cut and burned and make the counters look plasticey, and penetrating sealers that offer only marginal protection against staining and no protection at all against acid etching.
posted by jon1270 at 10:33 AM on May 11, 2010

FYI, I've done this...

By which I meant countertops, not floors.
posted by jon1270 at 10:34 AM on May 11, 2010

My brother-in-law & wife floored their attic bedroom with plywood, sealed with poly. It looked great, and apparently went in easy-peasy [they laid it at a 45-degree angle to the walls]. He was shocked [i tell you, SHOCKED] at how much poly it took to seal it. This was a room maybe 400 sq ft, and IIRC he said it took something like 15-20 gallons before the wood stopped just soaking it up.
posted by chazlarson at 10:47 AM on May 11, 2010

Response by poster: jon1270, which sealer did you use? I would go with a penetrating sealer, both on counters and on floors. Do you have any photos of the counter?
posted by iconomy at 11:30 AM on May 11, 2010

Very interesting about the polished concrete sealants. We saw them in a condo we stayed in last fall (down in Mexico) - floors and countertops. In the usual packet of information left for us by the condo's owner, there was a very clear warning about cutting limes directly on the countertop, use the cutting boards, please.

Even so, jon1270 is on the money about the rusticity of the look and feel. Very distressed looking, but (to us) warm and nice. It was painted (and sealed?) a nice terracotta color that fooled us into thinking it was tile until I took a closer look. Along several walls, a border of smooth river rocks had been set into the surface. It was pretty nice. If memory serves, the floor (in a smooth joint) curved up the wall a few inches as well.
posted by jquinby at 11:38 AM on May 11, 2010

Pics here.

The sealer I used was AquaMix's Enrich-n-Seal, bought from a high-end stone and tile place at about $60 a quart.
posted by jon1270 at 11:40 AM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ah, posted some pics of the condo floor and countertop here.
posted by jquinby at 11:53 AM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

jon1270, magnificent work! Those look beautiful.
posted by jquinby at 11:58 AM on May 11, 2010

posted by jon1270 at 12:02 PM on May 11, 2010

Best answer: You mention reconsidering vinyl, but really - reconsider actual linoleum. It looks and feels (and wears) much different than vinyl. The joke is you'll go into a flooring store, say "I'd like to see some linoleum" and they'll say, "Of course! We have some excellent vinyl flooring right over here..."

BUT they're NOT the same! This has happened to me multiple times. Something to keep in mind when you're looking at options.
posted by barnone at 12:25 PM on May 11, 2010

Best answer: Like everyone said, plywood in a kitchen is a bad idea. But if you're looking for a hardwood look, you might want to check out Trafficmaster Allure plank flooring. We did almost our entire house in this stuff. It looks like wood, but it's actually vinyl, and waterproof. And they have tons of color options. Installation is simple - it's a floating floor with planks that overlap and stick to each other. You can lay it over the existing flooring, and it's easy to remove if you decide later that you want to change it. It holds up well to our 3 large dogs, is simple to clean, and did I mention it's waterproof?
posted by thejanna at 12:40 PM on May 11, 2010

Best answer: A friend had plywood floors, sealed with lots of varnish. possibly marine varnish. Low maintenance, looked interesting, comfortable to walk on. Not cold under bare feet. Medium toxic to produce because of glues. Can be painted if you tire of the look. Will never look like a standard floor. affordable.

Commercial vinyl (sheet or tile) is cheap, easy to clean, lasts a long time, rather toxic to produce. Cold under bare feet. affordable.

Real lineoleum is pretty, lasts a long time, easy to clean, comfortable under bare feet, not toxic to produce or dispose of. Not cheap.

I'm living with the commercial vinyl tiles that were already in place, and will make some painted floor cloths, but I've been to this subject before. There are other renovation projects that I can do while I make up my mind.
posted by theora55 at 1:24 PM on May 11, 2010

Response by poster: Oh wow. Charlie approves of the counters and so do I, jon1270. They're gorgeous! And fascinating to see the whole process. I didn't think of tinting the concrete. It looks modern and industrial and yet warm at the same nice. I want.

jquinby, I love the floor! And the counter too - love that rounded edge and the rustic look. Definitely leaning towards concrete counters now....

Thank you for your insight and advice, everyone. It really helps. This may be the first of many kitchen renovation questions so I hope you don't get sick of answering ;)
posted by iconomy at 1:54 PM on May 11, 2010

TONS of advice on concrete countertops on Apartment Therapy too. That's a link to the search - if it doesn't work, type "concrete counters" or "concrete countertops" in the search box. Lots of threads (and tutorials) will come up.
posted by barnone at 2:56 PM on May 11, 2010

JQuinby & Jon1270, kudos. Gorgeous work.
posted by theora55 at 4:25 PM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

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