Adventures in Flooring

I first ventured into the realm of home improvement by mistake. I was cleaning my new fangled condo with 409 and Baking Soda, the enemy of dirty grout lines. As I scrubbed, I destroyed the sealant between the shower and the floor, revealing quite a few interesting things. First, the floor started to curl up, which made me confused. Wasn't floor supposed to be wood or tile,  how could it possibly curl up? I pulled back the floor some more and saw that the floor was actually like wall paper! Next, when I stepped onto the area where the floor was curling, I would sink into the floor, much like stepping into a bed. What was going on! Into the rabbit hole we go.


Apparently floors have three layers The top layer, what you see, can be made of multiple different materials. The first layer is what you step on when you go take a shower. It can be either Vinyl, Hardwood, or Tile. One layer underneath that, the middle layer, is what your top layer rests on. Usually this is plywood or backer board. Lastly, underneath all that is the subfloor, which hooks into joists, which actually hold up the building. What actually happened to my floor was that my 409 / Baking Soda simply unveiled all the damage underneath and into the middle layer. Here's a diagram of a floor:


The middle layer, made of plywood, which normally held up my floor was corroded by mold and water. My simple $50 fix became a $1000 fix, oh yay for home ownership! Here's a picture of the damaged floor:


There are a few fixes depending on how much money you want to spend, and like the n00b I was, I spent a lot of time in Home Depot dazed and confused. BTW, Home Depot's customer service is amazing, they are really patient and used to stupid people looking at a piece of equipment with a lost gaze. This is what normal people feel like when they walk into Frys!

The fixes are two fold, assuming the sub floor (the bottom layer), isn't damaged. Because bathrooms have lots of water, installing plywood is the "cheap" choice, but the plywood will eventually become water soaked and damaged over time. Have you ever hiked in the mountains and seen water soaked branches that are fragile and destroyed? That happens to your floor! You can buy redguard, which coats the plywood with a rubbery overcoat that resists the water, leaving a pool on top of the plywood preventing damage from the water. However, the water has to go somewhere and it just soaks into your top layer. If your top layer is water proof, this might not be a problem, but then you need tile (which we'll get into).

Another option, is laying down cement, which servers the same function as plywood but with cement instead. This protects your subfloor but you still have the water on the top layer problem. What Home Depot recommended was Backer Board, which absorbs water preventing it from falling down. Now you can buy these pieces of backer board and put water resistant tape between the seams of the backer board, creating a water absorbing middle layer. Now we have a middle layer, what to put on top?


There seems to be four options depending on how much money you want to spend. First, you can install natural hardwood, but that absorbs water and is a bad choice for kitchens and bathrooms. Second, you can install vinyl or laminoid, which is essentially wallpaper for your middle layer. The materials can be water resistant, preventing water from soaking into the middle layer at the high end of vinyl. The third option is tile, which is water proof, but is more expensive to install. Each tile piece has to be cut, laid down, and filled with grout (which is a pain to clean!) between each piece. And finally, you can install natural stone if you just IPOed your company.

I went with option two, installing vinyl on the top layer. What we had and originally caused the problem was a layer of vinyl on top of the middle layer of plywood, followed by the subfloor. The plywood was damaged by moisture, which happens in every bathroom. We didn't touch the subfloor. We replaced the middle layer with water absorbing backer board and put a layer of vinyl on top. Here's the subfloor after throwing the other layers away:


Step one, how do we install the backer board onto the sub floor? First, you have to saw the backer board into the correct measurements for your bathroom. My bathroom involved two pieces of backer board, sealed between them with some water sealant. Each backer board is screwed into the subfloor with some nails. Next, you use the sealant along all the edges of the bathroom. The sealant prevents water from going into the subfloor along the small seams at the edge between the wall and the backer board.


Step two, how do we install the vinyl on top of the backer board? I bought this floor that claims to be the easiest floor ever to install. Each vinyl piece is like a puzzle that snaps together to form a whole floor. Each piece is cut using a utility knife. What really happens is that each vinyl piece is water resistant and made of very strong material, so strong that it had to be cut with a saw. The actual layering of each piece to snap together worked fairly well, but the whole floor is "floating". There is adhesive behind each vinyl piece that sticks the vinyl to the backer board, but there is nothing solid holding the floor together like there is with tile. I've read reports that after a while, the floor's joints become weak and there are open seams between the vinyl pieces. We'll see what happens soon.

Step three, can I finally shower? Once the vinyl is put on top of the backer board, you seal up the edges of the bathroom to prevent water from dripping below the vinyl. Thus, each layer of the floor except the subfloor are individually sealed along the edges for water protection. The sealant takes a while to dry, so I was told to not use the bathroom for a few days. I waited 3 days and now I can finally shower!

El Fin