One last test of endurance

The theater flooring is finished.

The theater flooring is finished.

The bathroom, floored and equipped.

The bathroom, floored and equipped.

The floor is going down. Or I am.

It turns out that laying flooring is very hard work. I guess I figured it would be hard, but I didn’t realize the toll it would take. My knees hurt, my back aches, my carpal tunnel is kicking back in and my hands are a collection of cuts and scrapes.

I figure this is the final test of endurance. And I’m getting there. The theater and bathroom are done. With some help, I got the bathroom plumbing done and will have the wet bar plumbing hooked up by the end of the day, with luck. Once I get the office-side flooring in, all that’s left is the base trim and painting the stairs. After the flooring, that will seem like a piece of cake.

I think the office will go faster. There are no wet bars or entertainment centers to work around. The only oddity will be the angled fireplace, and the way that’s situated, it will be easy to place those planks. Plus, I’ve learned a lot on the way. For the nitty, gritty details of laying flooring, keep reading.

The first lesson had to do with the underlayment. I went with the recommended and well-reviewed underlayment for the Tranquility resilient vinyl flooring I’m putting in: Eco Silent Sound HD. It combines a film for a moisture barrier with padding. The rolls are 36-inches wide with an extra four inches or so of film on one side. I rolled out the first length between the bar and the wall the big screen hangs on. Then, following directions, I positioned the next roll so it was on top of that strip of moisture barrier film, but not overlapping the padding. Then — again, following the instructions — I removed the tape strip covering an adhesive on the edge that attaches the sheets together. And it was a mess. The adhesive is good. It stuck immediately, but the second roll of padding didn’t fall back exactly right, so everything was crooked and folded and, yeah, a mess. I straightened it out the best I could, and with the next row, I figured out a better method: Remove just a short part of the strip and pull it out to the side so it you can reach it. Then, position the padding correctly and pat it down. Pull the strip slowly, patting the exposed adhesive as you go and maintaining the proper alignment.

I did that with two rolls, and was proud of myself. Then I looked back at the first row. It wasn’t going to do. The pad overlapped by a couple of inches in some places. It’s a fairly narrow pad, but doubled up like that, it would create a ridge that I was pretty sure would show through the flooring. I didn’t want to toss the entire row, though, so I dug one of the tape strips out of the trash. I began pulling the second row from the first and, as I separated it, lining up the tape strip and recovering the adhesive. To be honest, I wasn’t sure it would work. But it did. I got the adhesive strip covered, then used the proper procedure to get it lined up correctly.

Another lesson I learned: When you need to make cuts in the underlayment to go around obstacles, mark the backside. The hardest run was the last one in the theater room. It was a narrow row, so I had to cut the underlayment lengthwise, with extended lengths for two doors and the entryway. I soon found that trying to cut the whole 26 feet at once just going from the tape measure was not going to work. After messing up the first cut, I took a different approach: I cut the roll to length, then turned it over so the adhesive-strip side was facing the wall. I marked the cut-outs on the back with a Sharpie, noting the depth of each one as I went.

And it worked well for the cut-out for the first door. But when I got out to the cut-out for the entryway, I accidentally cut all the way across the sheet instead of cutting a corner. I salvaged the first portion, then started over at the corner, making sure to write “Do not cut here” in the corner portion at each location. That worked.

Installing the flooring is, as the box promises, relatively easy, at least from the point of view not being complicated. You lay down the first row, locking the ends of each plank together with a tongue and groove system. You have to insert the tongue into the groove at about a 30-degree angle. Cut the last piece to length, then start on the next row, starting with the excess from the last plank or with one you cut down so the joints are nicely staggered and come out looking random. It gets a little more complicated on the second row, because you have to insert both the end and the long side into the adjoining planks at 30-degree angles, which involves lifting the piece attached to the short end. It sounds harder than it is, and by the third row, I had it down pretty well. I recommend buying the installation kit that includes spacers (which didn’t work well for me; I’ll get into that later), a pull bar and a tapping bar. I figured out too late that using a rubber mallet on the tapping bar is probably preferable to a metal hammer. The rubber bar broke in half about two-thirds of the way across the room. Anyway, a few light taps are usually necessary to get a good fit. You know you’ve got a good fit when the board lays flat instead of at an angle.

But all the time stooped over and on your knees is definitely not easy. Physically, this may be the most demanding aspect of the project since hanging the drywall.

It also gets a bit more complicated when you want the floor to run under a fixed object, like the stone front of the wet bar or a door casing. Remember, you have to get the flooring at about a 30 degree angle to attach it to the adjacent piece. That’s hard to do if there’s a door jamb in the way. I came across a few workarounds.

If possible, connect the piece where it’s clear of the obstacle, then tap it underneath, making sure to maintain at least a quarter-inch expansion gap between the edge of the plank and any immovable object (like the base of the bar beneath the stone). I found that a paint-can opener works well to judge that. Slide it under the obstacle, then pull it back until its touching the edge of the plank. Push it forward until it meets the base and see how much play there is. That’s the easiest way, but it’s not always possible. The way the flooring was laid in, it worked fine for the wet bar, since that’s where each row started. But when I got to the entertainment center, I was at the end of the row, and that wasn’t going to work.

I went online and found a video that recommended one approach: Shave off the upper lip of the groove to create a second tongue on the plank that’s already down. This allows you to just slide the pieces together without angling the piece under the jamb. I tried that for the first piece that had to go under the entertainment center. It took a lot of utility knife work to shave the groove down properly, but it worked pretty well, and was a tight enough fit that I didn’t need to glue the joint.

AFTER: The saw, though it made a mess, cut much more cleanly, making the joint all but invisible.

AFTER: The saw, though it made a mess, cut much more cleanly, making the joint all but invisible.

BEFORE: Cutting the planks by the usual scoring method left a noticeable line at the joint.

BEFORE: Cutting the planks by the usual scoring method left a noticeable line at the joint.

Mark, my DIY mentor, had another suggestion: Cut the plank. Put in the end piece, then tap it into place, then put in the other part and get the pieces butted up tight against one another. When the next line of planks go in, they’ll be locked in tight by the other side. I tried that for the next row. I cut the plank using a miter saw, thinking that would leave a cleaner cut. Again, though, it made quite a mess, throwing up charred fragments of the vinyl. I cut the next couple of rows by scoring and snapping. But then I realized that there was a visible line where the two pieces of plank met each other. I tried pulling them closer (using the paint-can opener to get a grip on the piece under the entertainment center), but I couldn’t get rid of the slight, but noticeable gap.

I had to take up a lot of planks to make the fix, but, in the end, it was worth it.

I had to take up a lot of planks to make the fix, but, in the end, it was worth it.

I looked back over a few rows and realized there was no similar gap on the plank I’d cut with the saw. It was nearly invisible. I went back and forth with myself for a bit over whether to redo it. The joints weren’t THAT noticeable, really. And fixing it would involve pulling up a lot of planks, recutting several and maybe wasting the ones that had been scored. But, as Mark said, if I wasn’t happy with it now, I would grow to hate it later. So I took up the planks, recut the ones that needed to be recut. And it came out looking much, much better.

The next challenge was cutting around the end of the wet bar and joining up the main floor with the flooring behind the bar. Here’s where my problem with the spacers became an issue. I’d left, as recommended, a half-inch gap beneath the drywall and the concrete floor. The padding and the flooring together don’t add up to a half-inch of thickness, so there’s a small gap between the bottom of the drywall and the floor. That’s not an issue because the base trim will cover it, but it made it impossible to place spacers between the flooring and the wall. If the flooring pushed against the bottom of the spacer, the bottom of the wall would put pressure against the top of the spacer, and it would simply fall over. Now, the good news is that the drywall is half an inch thick, so as long as the flooring didn’t extend more than a quarter-inch under the drywall, I’d have a sufficient expansion gap. (An expansion gap ensures that as the floor shrinks and expands with temperature and humidity, it won’t bump against a solid object and cause the floor to buckle.) The bad news is that all those light taps add up, especially since they’re all in the same direction. I realized early on that the floor was moving, and I’d have to pause occasionally to take the pull bar and smack it back into place, measuring from a chalkline I had snapped earlier to mark the centerline of the room to keep the planks as square as possible in a room that’s anything but square.

Here's the portion where the flooring behind the wet bar is connected to the main floor.

Here’s the portion where the flooring behind the wet bar is connected to the main floor.

The flooring behind the wet bar was much lighter and more prone to movement, but also easier to put back into place. The problem was getting it lined up properly when it came time to join the two sections at the end of the wet bar. Judging from the issues I had the next few rows getting planks to line up, I didn’t quite get it right. It took some more adjustments to both sections of floor, but it worked out in the end.

So, the theater and bathroom are now floored. It looks great, I think. And, as I mentioned before, I’m hopeful the office will go more quickly.

The end of this two-year project draws near!

2 Responses to One last test of endurance

  1. Ken O. says:

    Hello Dan – Just found your blog with a Google search for Eco Silent Sound. I’m close to laying a Tranquility vinyl plank floor (coupla weeks from now) and wondered (1) How yours is holding up, and (2) are you happy with the Eco Silent Sound underlayment, or did anyone ever suggest anything cheaper, like Visqueen? Thanks very much!

  2. Dan Radmacher says:

    Ken,

    It’s held up okay, though it’s far more delicate than I’d like and scratches easily. The good thing is the scratches aren’t really visible up close. But, still, try not to drag anything across the floor. There are a couple of uneven spots, too, either a product of a less-than-even floor or a less-than-perfect installation, I presume.

    The Eco Silent Sound underlayment seems fine. The floor is not overly loud when walked on. No one ever suggested a cheaper option.

    All-in-all, the floor is what I’m least satisfied with, but I think the issues I have with it are more to do with my installation than with the product itself (other than the easy scratching).

    Hope this helps!

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