Reader Mailbag – Adding floor heat, thermofoiled cabinets, and removing glue

Q: I really enjoy your weekly column, and was hoping you could help with a question. We are having a sunroom added to our house, and we were wondering how difficult it would be to add a floor heating system in just this room. Our contractor has never done one, and we don’t know where to start. -Keiko A.

A: Adding a floor heating system for individual rooms, or even just specific spots within a room, is actually pretty easy. Both hot water and electric cable floor heat are readily available, but for individual rooms in a remodel situation such as yours, you’ll probably find that the electric systems are the easiest.

Electric floor heat comes in two basic forms – heat pads and heat cables. The pads are available in a wide variety of standard square and rectangular sizes, or you can have custom size mats made up as well. For larger or more irregular areas, the cables might work better. In either case, the pads or the cables are installed first on the sub floor, then covered with thinset, then with tile or other masonry. Some types of mats and cables are also compatible with carpet, vinyl and other types of flooring.

Depending on the size of the mat or the length of the cables, both 110- and 220-volt systems are available. Either one is controlled by a wall-mounted thermostat, and there are a variety of those available as well. Floor heating mats are commonly available through distributors of ceramic tile supplies. Cables are available through retailers and wholesalers of electrical equipment, and through some home centers. As for installation, your contractor should be able to arrange for it through a joint effort between the electrician and the tile installer.

Q: We are building a new house, and were wondering if you have any experience or opinions about the difference between thermofoil and laminate cabinets. –Gary H.

A: Gary, thermofoiling is a process that uses heat and pressure to bond a thin – 8 to 16 mil – pvc film to a substrate, typically medium density fiberboard (MDF). Since the film is so thin, it can bond to very intricate shapes, which allows for the creation of doors and drawers with raised panels, routed edges and other designs that can’t be done with solid laminate. 

Thermofoiling is a relatively new process for cabinets in comparison to laminates, and the long-term durability of the film is something of a question mark. There have been some reports of problems with yellowing of the pvc film over time, particularly in high heat areas, such as over the cook top or around the oven. Laminates, on the other hand, have a proven track record of durability and ease of care, but lack many of the popular design options available with thermofoil. 

If you are interested in thermofoil-faced cabinets, I would ask the dealer how thick the film is (thicker is typically better); if the entire door is thermofoiled, or just the face; and what guarantee they offer against yellowing, cracking and other potential problems. 

Q: I read your column every week and have great respect for your expertise. I need some help with the removal of old square cork tiles from the bedroom wall. We can remove the tiles, but are left with pockets of glue. Is there a process or product that will remove the glue from the plaster and not do damage to the surface for future painting? -Sally E.

A: Sally, you’ve stumbled upon one of those irritating dilemmas that face just about every remodeler at one time or another.

There is no single answer to this, since it depends on what the existing glue is and what the underlying surface is.  Since you mentioned that your walls are plaster as opposed to drywall, this makes things a little easier. Plaster is typically harder, smoother and less porous than drywall, so it’s a little more forgiving.

Since it’s plaster, my first suggestion in your case would be to try heat. Using a heat gun – you can buy one inexpensively at most home centers – start on the lowest setting and apply heat to one of the glue areas. Watch it carefully to see when it begins to soften, then immediately remove the heat and scrape the adhesive off with a putty knife. Be sure that you have adequate ventilation in the area where you’re working, that you wear safety gear to protect yourself from fumes and heat, and that you don’t create a fire hazard by overheating any of the glue. Be forewarned that this is a slow process, and don’t try to rush it by using excessive heat or an open flame such as a torch.

If heat doesn’t work, there are a variety of chemicals on the market for glue removal, ranging from acetone and lacquer thinner to stronger stripping compounds. How well they will work again depends on the adhesive and the wall surface. I would check with an experienced paint store for their recommendations on specific products, and I always recommend starting with the mildest one available and applying it in a very limited quantity in an unobtrusive spot. Also, be sure you follow all of the precautions listed on the product’s container. 

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