Q: What is the easiest and most effective way to remove linoleum from concrete so that I can put tile in its place? Do you think using a propane torch would work?

A: This brings back some painful memories. One of the projects Kevin undertook while working as a remodeling contractor was to reconvert a family room in an already converted garage into a tiled spa, complete with hot tub and garden windows.

The plan called for installing a ceramic tile floor over the existing garage slab. But, and this is a big but, when the garage was originally converted to a family room, asphalt tile flooring was installed.

To set the new tile, the old floor had to be removed. The project turned out great, but in the process Kevin got to know more than he ever wanted to know about removing resilient flooring from concrete.

Unfortunately, there is no easy way that we know of to remove linoleum, or for that matter asphalt or vinyl flooring, from a concrete slab. We’ve tried it a couple ways, both by hand and by machine. We’ve also made a futile attempt at using a propane torch in hopes of softening the flooring, which we hoped would make the stuff come off more easily. All we got was a gooey mess. The hand method worked best for us. The tool to use is actually called a floor scraper and it’s guaranteed to produce a bumper crop of sore muscles and blisters even if you wear gloves.

A floor scraper looks like a hoe, only the blade is flat. The operation is simple: With a chisel or flat knife gouge a hole in the flooring so that you can see the concrete slab. Then, insert the blade of the scraper between the flooring and slab and pry up the flooring. If you’re lucky, the adhesive bonding the flooring to the concrete will have decayed enough for you to remove large pieces. But, we’ve never been lucky.

If you go this route, make sure to keep the blade sharp. It makes life a little easier.

An alternative we’ve tried, without much luck, is a mechanical floor scraper, available at rental shops. The problem for us here was that the machine was hard to control, making it difficult to fit its blade between the flooring and the slab.

Another alternative to removing the floor, one we’d think real hard about, is covering the flooring with a cement backer board and using that as a substrate for the tile, rather than the concrete slab. Some adhesive and concrete nails to attach the backer board should do the trick. If you decide to do this, check with the manufacturer to see if there is a specific type of adhesive for this application.

But if you decide to remove the old floor, once the flooring is up, you’ll need to remove most of the adhesive in order to install the tile directly on the concrete. A solvent such as lacquer thinner or acetone works best for this. Make sure that you have the windows open to ventilate when you use these products.

An important word of caution: Older linoleum and the glue used to keep it in place oftentimes contain asbestos. Have a small piece of the material tested. If the test is positive for asbestos, contact a licensed hazardous materials specialist.

***

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