Q: My extended family is building a house on the shores of Puget Sound (Washington). The house is being built on a hillside, and the kitchen and great room are above the garage. Can you recommend a floor covering for the kitchen and great room? It’s a large space and will be subject to sand and dirt being tracked in, plus extreme moisture because of the rainy Northwest.
We’re open to unusual options, as long as they are moderate in cost and can be installed by nonprofessionals. My nephews are doing most of the work themselves, overseen by a cousin who is a general contractor. The guys have done a great job so far, and they’re sure not bumbling novices.
A: Building a house from the ground up is the consummate do-it-yourself project. We’ve been fortunate to experience this in our lives.
It’s no understatement when we say it’s a lot of work, with a lot of decisions to be made on a daily basis. Kevin’s lived in the house we built for 11 years now, and there’s not much he would change. But one of the things he is changing is the choice of floor covering in the bathrooms and the mudroom.
The mudroom is just off the garage entrance and has evolved into the main entrance for the house. It’s been subject to lots of dirt and sand over the years. Originally, the floor covering in all these rooms was vinyl. Over the years, the vinyl withstood the dirt and traffic in the mudroom. In the bathrooms, water infiltrated the seam at the shower pan and the tub, bloating the underlayment and raising the vinyl floor.
Kevin ripped out the mudroom floor last year and replaced it with ceramic tile. No more problems now. The bathroom floors are on the agenda for this year.
Assuming that the floor framing will handle the load — and standard framing will — our recommendation is that your nephews install a glazed ceramic tile floor in the kitchen and great room in your Puget Sound home. If the floor is properly installed, it will be tough, water resistant, cleaned easily, and not too expensive depending on your tastes. And, it will stand up well to the Pacific Northwest weather.
In addition, should a tile crack (for example, someone drops a bottle), repairs are pretty easy providing you have extra tile. We strongly recommend buying a little extra tile to deal with such accidents.
Ceramic tile is pretty easy to install. The toughest thing is to get the layout right. Snap two chalk lines: one for the length of the room, the other for the width. This will center the pattern. Adjust the lines so that a full tile falls at one end wall and one sidewall. We’d suggest you plan so that the full tile is placed before the exterior doors, if possible.
Make sure that the your nephews use cement backer board (Durock or Wonderboard) for the substrate. The backer board resists moisture and provides protection against any water that finds its way through the seams of the tile.
Backer board is screwed to the plywood subfloor with corrosive resistant screws. Once the backer board is laid, set the tile using thin-set, a cement-based mortar that is mixed with a latex additive. It provides a strong and moisture-resistant bond for the tile.
Finally, grout the floor. Grout locks the tiles in place and helps create a monolithic structure.
We’ve installed lots of tile over the years with good results. And we do not pretend to be professional tile setters. It’s not rocket science.
It sounds as if your nephews are quite capable, and we applaud their efforts. We know our overview here is a little sketchy, so have the guys get a good book that lays out the steps, and they’ll do just fine. On the off chance they make a mistake, removing a couple of tiles to get it right is not a big deal.
They must rent a tile saw. The other tools they’ll need — notched trowel, tile nippers, grout float and sponges — are inexpensive and will wind up in their toolbox for future use. Don’t forget a good set of kneepads.