Installing a Sub-Floor
copyright 2000 G.G. Alonzy
I am planning on replacing our tired old floor in the kitchen. I think I have the hang of laying down vinyl "self-stick" floor tiles, but my question concerns the subfloor preparation. The house was built in 1952 and the subfloor is old "cabin" wood flooring. The previous owner had installed 1/4 inch plywood, which as you might expect has bowed and warped over time. So how would you suggest installing the subfloor? Should I completely remove the old subfloor, or put new plywood over it?
GK from Dallas, TX
In my opinion, the first part of this job should be to remove the existing warped subfloor and replace it with fresh plywood. Vinyl tiles require a very smooth and solid surface. The installer of the original subfloor probably did not both glue and screw it down. The plywood lifted due to normal or even abnormal movement in the older floor underneath, pulling some nails in the process I am sure. To remove the old floor, you can try to pry up the plywood from the edges or take a few more minutes and remove each nail (or screw) individually. I let the conditions of the job determine the method... if the plywood breaks apart it is sometimes easier to remove the nails and remove each panel whole. If the plywood is rigid and can be pried up without breaking, try to bring up the sheets. Of course, you can also make cuts through the subfloor to break the sheets up into more manageable pieces. Just don't cut through the plank flooring!
Now, there is the question of the original wood plank subfloor. If there is any movement in this floor, 1/4 inch plywood will not stabilize it. So your next job is to nail or, preferably, screw down the old floor as necessary so that it is absolutely solid and squeak free. Then install the new plywood being sure to end sheets between the seams in the old floor. Construction adhesive can be used between the old floor and the new plywood to add additional strength and stability to your "floor sandwich". Yum.
It is generally not necessary to fill small spaces between the pieces of plywood. However, if the gaps approach 1/4 inch or if there are depressions or defects in the plywood face such as deep knots, they should be filled. These wider gaps can be weak spots that may cause breakage in the vinyl tiles if there is direct pressure applied to them, such as from a table leg or a high heel. Leveling compounds are powders that are mixed with water and handle somewhat like wall plaster. They can be poured into these cracks or troweled into the depressions. Follow the package instructions carefully and be sure to trowel the repair as flat as possible to minimize sanding. These products dry very hard, don't sand easily and tend to load up (stick to) the sandpaper.
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