How to install a kitchen floor and stay married

[Editor’s note: The following is a guest post by my daughter, Grace Pardun Alworth (her real name). She and her husband, Jim (also his real name) have been faithful readers of Gary’s Fix since the beginning. Any good ideas you read in this post probably came from Gary’s Fix articles. The rest of it, not so much.]

The hubster and I looked at the ugly floor in our hip, new farmhouse-inspired kitchen and said, “Ew. We should rip this out!” fairly regularly for about a year.  Then we finally ripped it out. Then we said, “Ew. We should finish this floor!” fairly regularly for an additional year.

Finally, on our 8th anniversary, we went to Big Bob’s Flooring (yes, this is a real place), and talked to Ryan (I was disappointed it wasn’t Big Bob himself.  In fact, Ryan was quite petite.)  He advised us to hire a professional to install a sheet of fancy vinyl. He proceeded to tell us about the horrors of peel-and-stick tiles and the mishaps naïve and motivated new homeowners like ourselves combatted. Ryan (not Big Bob) suggested that not only would the warranty protect the flooring, it would even protect our marriage.

“That’s a fairly compelling sales pitch you have there, Not Big Bob,” I conceded.  “Let’s run the numbers.”  Not Big Bob ran the numbers, and, well, let’s just say the hubster and I decided to continue our search.

Our quest took us to a big box store, where we found peel-and-stick black and white vinyl tiles for 67 cents a square foot.  The warranty only covers the tiles, but the hubster and I agreed, “We’ll take our chances.”

We are not professionals, but we did read the instructions on the box, which basically qualifies us to be professionals.

Our previous kitchen flooring was actually a half an inch of 60 years-worth of flooring on top of a hardwood subfloor.  The top layer was a sheet of linoleum that, even against Not Big Bob’s advice, was probably installed by naïve and motivated young homeowners.  If the installers were in fact professionals, I hope they found employment elsewhere.  Under that sheet was weird papery stuff and then particle board.  Then some glue.  Then under that, some fantastic geometric linoleum that looked like the molecular structure of asbestos.  And more glue.  More papery stuff. And this awful black tar glue that smelled like death.  It took us 20 hours total to remove all of those layers and to strip off the death tar.  And we removed about a thousand tacks.  This prep work was key to the success of our new flooring.  Never, never, never, ever leave previous layers of flooring.  Just strip it all down, clean it up.  Even if it takes 20 hours.  A good podcast or 20 will take the edge off the tedium.

Under all that, we found a hardwood subfloor that was fairly level and in great shape! We had two choices: refinish the hardwood or cover it up.  We chose to cover it up because our kitchen is the access point in and out of the house, the basement, and our one and only bathroom.  We also have two dogs and two cats.  There is no way we could lose use of the kitchen floor for the 3 days it takes to refinish. Therefore, we chose the peel-and-stick vinyl tiles.  Plus, I wanted the checkered look.

The hubster and I installed our kitchen floor in 18 (sometimes) easy steps.

Step 1: Move everything out of the kitchen.  The fridge, the oven, the cabinets, the trash, the floor mats, the recycling, everything.

Sweep and vac the subfloor
Sweep and vac the subfloor

Step 2: Clean the existing surface.  I used the shop vac for the big chunks like pasta noodles and plaster chunks (an explanation will have to wait). The hubster used the regular vacuum to get the dog fur and small crumbs.  Then we swept.  Vacuumed again.  Then we mopped.  I recommend a dish soap and apple cider vinegar with water mixture.  After mopping, we scrubbed the floor with a sponge.

Pull all of the nails
Pull all of the tacks

Scrubbing by hand is important, because we were able to see the tacks we missed the first time, as well as any other stubborn chunks on the floor.  You want the floor to be smooth before you stick anything on it. We removed the remaining tacks and chunks.  Then we wiped with a towel.

Step 3: Wait until the floor is completely dry.  I remarked to the hubster, “Wow, this floor looks so clean.  Maybe we should just leave it like this.” He just rolled his eyes at me.

Step 4: Discuss angles, patterns and plumb lines with the hubster. Consider calling the hubster “dumb line.”

Step 5: Tell the hubster you considered calling him “dumb line.” He laughs.  The job continues.

Step 6: Bring the boxes of tiles into the kitchen.

Step 7: Begin laying the tiles in the pattern you are considering.  Do not remove backing.  This is just a test.

Step 8: Confess to the hubster, “Yes, we do need a plumb line after all.”

Snap a chalk line down the center of the room and position the first tile
Snap a chalk line down the center of the room and position the first tile

Step 9: Snap the plumb line through the center of the room.  We chose to snap it through the center of the hallway and doorways since that’s where we will notice if the pattern is off.

Step 10: Lay the center tiles first, work your way towards the wall. You will find that the center tiles are easiest to lay.  Do them perfectly because they are setting up the pattern for the entire room.

Carefully align adjacent tiles.
Carefully align adjacent tiles.

Step 11: Stop and admire your work about halfway through.  This is the point where you will decide you still like your pattern and you still like your spouse.

Step 12: Cut approximately 80 different parallelograms, rhombi, triangles, and weird shapes to fit around all of those dang nooks you never noticed around the perimeter of the kitchen.

Step 13: Grab a glass of wine and begin writing a blog post on how to install kitchen flooring while the hubster heroically finishes all the hard pieces.  He currently is working on navigating around the radiator.

Cut edge tiles to fit
Cut edge tiles to fit

Step 14: Attach the transition pieces in doorways to join the new floor with the current floor.

Step 15: Clean the new floor. Choose to be impressed, rather than annoyed, that dog hair already got on the new floor.

Step 16: Move everything back.

Step 17: Post pictures on social media sites proving how handy you and the hubster are and how resilient your marriage is.

Step 18: Admit to the hubster that he isn’t a dumb line and that you appreciate all his hard work.  Offer to pour him his favorite cold beverage. He’ll say yes.


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