What’s under your feet (or how you get around) is as important as anything when it comes to the house. That’s why this fall, we collaborated with The Home Depot on an A-to-Z guide that will give you the confidence to make the flooring choices you’ll love. Read the manual from A to Z here.
Behind every successful flooring effort, there is a strong support system in place that ensures all new projects have a proper foundation. It can be tempting to dive right in when you’ve fallen in love with the eco-friendly bamboo of your dreams or have the tile pattern for your kitchen. (Trust us, we know.)
But the critical importance of making sure your new floor gets the support it deserves will ensure you’ll walk on something that lasts and looks good for years to come. Fortunately, Home Depot is a one-stop-shop for flooring preparation.
What is there underneath, by the way
“People always know what kind of flooring they want to lay, but what they really have to ask themselves is, “What’s on the floor now?” says general contractor Joe Truini, who is also the host of “Simple Solutions” on Today’s Homeowner TV. Meaning: If your fireplace has vinyl flooring and you want to install tile, you must first determine what is under the vinyl.
When you remove an existing floor covering and examine the condition of what is underneath, you will find that some circumstances are easier to deal with than others. “In the simplest situation, there is a carpet with plywood underneath,” says Truini. “You tear up the carpet, then in a few hours the room is reduced to bare plywood and you have a clean slate to support whatever you want to lay.
And keep in mind the new flooring you have selected. For example, with laminate flooring, the condition of the sub-floor won’t really matter. But there are important sub-floor rules for materials like porcelain and stone tile, which are not flexible and can crack with any movement or deflection.
First of all: the underlay
One of the basic elements when installing a new floor is the underlayment, which provides a cushion for the floor that prevents squeaks and creaks when walking (especially important if the floor is over- above, for example, a living room). “The underlayment also evens out small imperfections in the subfloor, so if the plywood has a little imperfection in the seam, you won’t see that in the floor,” Truini says.
Self-leveling underlayment, for example, is a more recent innovation that does exactly what the name describes: provides a protective floor barrier that seeks its own level within minutes of deployment. It also dries in a few hours, saving a lot of time when laying new carpet, vinyl planks or tiles. It can even eliminate installation issues like bond failure, which is usually caused by moisture in traditional underlayments. (You will find more information on underlays “under” the letter U!)
When creating a base for any new flooring, but especially in rooms that will be prone to splashing or wet rain boots, it is worth taking waterproofing precautions. Look for waterproofing products like a sealer, whether roll-on or spray, to prevent seepage or cracks in tile and stone floors, or even opt for the application of backerboard waterproof on the sub-floor to create a moisture barrier. (This is useful for bathroom renovations.)
Don’t forget the big picture
In addition to these practical and concrete steps, the preparation of a new soil requires a good overall reflection. Making sure the new floor won’t be too high (or too short) for existing exterior doors is a big concern, as is double checking that major appliances and electronics are all turned off (and, potentially, removed) for change of floor.
“Homeowners need to think about their role in the flooring job … Think about the ‘tools’ you can best bring.”
And, generally speaking, know your strengths and weaknesses with the job at hand, advises general contractor Mark Clement. “Homeowners need to think about their role in the flooring job. Are you the designer? Are you the color expert? Are you the texture person? Or are you the installer of the nuts and bolts? Think about which “tools” you can best put on the table. In other words: be honest with yourself if it is better to leave this to a professional rather than a DIY job.