What’s under your feet (or however you get around) is as important as anything when it comes to home. That’s why this fall, we collaborated with The Home Depot on an A to Z guide that’ll give you the confidence to make flooring choices you’ll love. Check out the A to Z handbook here.
Behind every successful home flooring effort, there’s 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 gone head-over-heels for the eco-friendly bamboo of your dreams or have the tile pattern for your kitchen just right. (Trust us, we know.)
But the critical importance of making sure your new floor has the support it deserves will guarantee you’ll be walking on something durable and beautiful for years to come. Thankfully, The Home Depot is a one-stop shop for flooring prep.
What’s under there, anyway?
“People always know what kind of flooring they want to put down, but what they really need 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 foyer has sheet vinyl flooring and you want to put tile, you first need to figure out what’s under the vinyl.
When you remove flooring that’s already in place and examine the condition of what’s underneath, you’ll find some circumstances simpler to tackle than others. “In the easiest situation, there’s carpeting that has plywood underneath,” Truini explains. “You rip up the carpeting, then in a couple of hours the room’s down to bare plywood and you have a clean slate to support whatever it is you want to put down.”
And keep in mind the new flooring you’ve selected. For example, with a floating laminate floor, the condition of the subfloor won’t really matter. But, there are important subfloor rules for materials like porcelain and stone tile, which isn’t flexible and can crack with any movement or deflection.
First things first: underlayment
One of the bedrock elements when installing a new floor is underlayment, which provides a cushion for the flooring that prevents squeaks and creaks when walking (particularly important if the floor is over, say, a living room). “The underlayment also evens out any little imperfections in the subfloor, so if the plywood has a little bit of an imperfection in the seam, you won’t see that in the floor,” says Truini.
Self-leveling underlayment, for example, is a more recent innovation that does exactly what its name describes: provides a floor protection barrier that seeks its own level within minutes of being rolled out. It also dries within hours, saving a great deal of time when laying new carpet, vinyl planks, or tile. It can even eliminate installation problems like bond failure, which is typically caused by moisture found in traditional underlayment. (More about underlayment can be found “under” letter U!)
When creating a base for any new floor, but particularly one in rooms that will be prone to splashing or wet rain boots, it pays to take waterproofing precautions. Look for waterproofing products like a sealant, whether roll-on or aerosol sprayed, to prevent seepage or cracks in tile and stone floor, or even opt for applying a waterproof backer board to the subfloor to create moisture barrier. (This comes in handy for bathroom renovations.)
Don’t forget the big picture
In addition to these hands-on, nitty gritty steps, preparing for a new floor requires a good bit of big picture thinking. Ensuring that the new floor won’t be too tall (or short) for existing external doorways is a big concern, as is double checking that major appliances and electronics are all turned off (and, potentially, removed) during the flooring switch up.
“Homeowners need to think about their role in the flooring job…Think about what ‘tools’ you can best bring to the table.”
And, generally speaking, know your strengths and weaknesses with the task 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 nuts-and-bolts installer? Think about what ‘tools’ you can best bring to the table.” In other words: be honest with yourself if this is best left to a professional instead of a DIY job.