We are thinking about remodeling; can we tile our...? That is the question we in the tile business want to hear in remodeling work. The statement is near and dear to the hearts of us all who sell construction products and services. Residential sales of ceramic tile have driven the market higher every year since World War II. Ceramic tile continues its higher percentage of growth against other floor covering products in the United States, and most feel we have a long way to go. With our current housing boom fading somewhat, remodeling continues to hold a substantial (or some would say equal) share of that residential market. Time has shown that when one segment goes down, the other goes up. The skill set for sales and installation of products in renovation projects differ from those needed for new construction. In new construction things are relatively cut and dried as you can visibly see how the floor or wall was constructed and easily select the appropriate materials for the job based on those observations. In remodeling projects, this is not the case. X-ray vision would be most helpful in analyzing the make-up of the structure and successive layers of flooring. Unfortunately, we on planet Earth do not have that option; we have to do it the old fashioned way: search and discover. Equally unfortunate, many do not search and discover, hence the start of profits slipping away due to unforeseen problems.
We will explore some of the more common areas of concern in this article. Manufacturers have come up with a plethora of products to allow successful installation of ceramic tile under a multitude of circumstances however; first and foremost, the structure needs the ability to support the tile installation. In my days of estimating it never ceased to amaze me that very few of my competitors ever looked at what was supporting the floor or examined the structure of the current floor system. That amazement has continued in my current position. One typical type of call we receive time and time again is from an installer where the tile has cracked on a job. When asked what the span of the joist, spacing of the joist and floor panel thickness is you get this big silent pause on the other end of the phone. Usually followed by a "how am I expected to know that?" or an "I don't know, couldn't tell." There is not a floor out there whose make-up can't be determined by some means. Some are more work than other to be sure.
For discovery of subfloor and underlayment(s) thickness, the best place to go is the heat vents; gas lines and refrigerator lines work well too. If worse comes to worst you may even have to drill a hole to determine total thickness, but having to go that far is extremely rare. The minimum thickness for a subfloor panel to receive a backerboard is 5/8-inch for _-inch boards and _-inch for 5/16-inch or _-inch boards under industry standards. Membrane systems typically require _-inch subfloor on 16-inch centers but requirements vary by manufacturer for 19.2- and 24-inch centers. Subfloor panels should be tongue and groove. If they are not, which is not uncommon in some areas, the seams must be blocked between the joists. Quite often in remodeling we discover multiple layers of underlayment and flooring material. While it is obvious that we would remove any carpet, what do we do about layers of vinyl or hardwood? What if there is pressboard on the floor or two layers of _-inch luan and sheet vinyl? This is where experience comes into play. There are always going to be judgment calls to make on renovation projects and these can be tough areas to call. The world is full of opinions on going over existing floor materials. Different systems come with different risks. We have now reached a point in the sale where the manufacturer wants to sell a product, the distributor or store wants to sell it for them, the installer wants a job, and the customer wants a floor. The decisions made here will have a great impact on cost. Removal of existing underlayment panels of floor covering materials is going to affect cost, there may be environmental concerns, and the final price is totally dependent on the direction the installation takes from this point. There is no clear right and wrong in many instances, it truly becomes your perception of risk. So let's take a look at some "what if'" situations.
The opinions expressed from here on are mine and mine alone. They do not reflect any industry position though they draw on experience from many areas of construction trades. I base these opinions on training, experience, and thousands of floors I have installed as an individual along with skilled company employees over a 28-year period. Please note: I did not say all were successful; they were not. There is a learning curve to success in remodeling and I paid for some of my training with trial and error just like everyone else. The purpose of creating the following conditions is to create a thought process, not make a specific recommendation. So let's take a look at a few scenarios.
#1: The customer wants ceramic tile and has a great support structure but there are two layers of _-inch underlayment with sheet vinyl. What to do now? Well, from the vinyl side of the flooring business, they wouldn't be all that excited to put another layer over that assembly; it's too compressive. If it is too compressive for vinyl, it certainly is the same for tile. Cover with a layer of backerboard? That would make a bad situation worse in my opinion and I would anticipate some cracked tile or grout. Every successive layer adds to the problem; it really needs to come out. You cannot nail all of the compressiveness out of the floor, especially with an air gun, which is commonly used today. Air guns will not pull the floor tight. But, what about the potential for asbestos in the sheet vinyl? A local environmental lab can answer that. If it does contain asbestos the laws of your state apply on how the removal needs to be done. Everyone wants to put his or her head in the sand on this issue but there is no way to avoid it. If it were a single layer of luan with sheet vinyl it is still a bad idea; two layers is way too much risk. Do yourself a favor and let your competitor do the job. If you are contemplating a stone floor, you positively need to go all the way back down to the subfloor.
#2: The residence has _-inch tongue and groove sub-floor with a 5/8-inch plywood underlayment and sheet vinyl. Can you go over the sheet vinyl? Any setting material manufacturer will say certainly with our super top shelf new and improved thinset. The conditions: make sure the floor is firmly bonded (many are not), clean and de-glossed (requires scrubbing the floor), fastened correctly (different requirement for fasteners from sheet vinyl), and of the non-cushioned variety. The last one is really tough as almost all modern floors have a certain amount of cushion. How much is too much? You are entering a very gray area. If the floor has a heavy texture it is probably too much. Ideally, the sheet vinyl should be removed however concerns about the ability to completely remove it and the adhesive along with environmental concerns can make that a challenge. In many cases estimators gravitate to installing a tile underlayment over the sheet vinyl. Depending on the compressive nature of the floor, it's not a bad idea. Too much compressivness will result in cracked joints at the panel edges at a minimum. As for bonding directly to the sheet vinyl product, you should double the initial cure time before you get back on the floor to grout. Bonding porcelain tile to sheet vinyl is a very bad idea in my opinion and certain to fail at some point if the floor is not properly prepared. Never use mastic over sheet vinyl with porcelain tile under any condition.
#3: The residence has hardwood floors; the customer wants tile. As usual, it would be best to remove the floor and get back to basics but depending on how it was installed, it can be some serious work. Going over the floor with a tile underlayment would be what most prefer. This is a tough call; most wood floors tend to cup with seasonal changes, in some areas much worse than others. If the home is acclimated year around that helps some but then the concern is moisture coming from the basement, crawl space, or slab. Covering the wood is certainly going to alter the ability of the wood to breathe. Lot of "what ifs" to this condition. If cupping has been a problem in the past, the floor really should be removed.
We are about out of space for this issue. This is a never-ending subject, and I have tried to touch on the more common issues we deal with on a daily basis. There is no clear right way or wrong way in many instances when faced with sales and installation issues in renovation. If you would like to hear more on renovation or have interest in other installation related subjects for a future issue please submit your ideas or questions to the editor.