Kitchen floor replacement = charlie foxtrot

My wife and I replaced our kitchen floor over Labor Day weekend.

Here’s what we started with:

Nasty old linoleum. I guess it was at least 16 years old, but may have been over 21 years old. It had slightly yellowed over time, contributing to a McDonald’s ambiance that we have slowly eliminated since moving in.

We were just going to apply embossing compound and put self-adhesive tile over the floor. A brief investigation assisted with a circular saw showed that, in fact, this was the second consecutive layer of linoleum, so flooring had to come up.

The kitchen had the original 55 year old tiling, then linoleum, then self-adhesive tiles, then 1/4″ plywood, then two additional layers of linoleum.

At a minimum, we had to remove the two top layers of linoleum. Further investigation showed that the linoleum wasn’t coming up from the plywood, so that had to go, too. Here’s where I started with a circular saw late Friday night:

The saw was set to cut just through the two layers of linoleum and the plywood.

I didn’t realize this, but I was using a really dull, nasty blade:

Not only did it take too much cutting effort, it kicked up plumes of smoke. We had to run the whole house fan and disable smoke detectors while cutting. The next day I picked up a new blade, and it made a huge difference.

This is all we got done that first night:

Had to move the refrigerator and range to the other side of the room:

The range eventually went into the adjacent room. The refrigerator is too big to fit through the door without removing the doors, so it played musical chairs the whole weekend.

Removing the two layers of linoleum and 1/4″ plywood–leaving in place the original tiles, the linoleum, and the self adhesive vinyl tiles–took until about 5:30 PM on Saturday, mostly because of the sheer number of nails needing removal.

In some places, presumably due to prior water infiltration, the self adhesive tiles came right up:

We left the vinyl tile over the vast majority of the floor, though.

We went out for supper. Here’s where we were at 9:30 PM Saturday night:

That is the first piece of lauan underlay. (See my other post about lauan underlay controversy.) It’s one 4’x8′ piece that I cut to fit.

Remember where the self-adhesive tile came up in some places? This is how the underlay smoothed it out:

(After the flooring was installed, we couldn’t even tell where this happens.)

We were up until almost 3:00 AM Sunday morning finishing the kitchen underlay. Needless to say, we didn’t make it to church.

Why did it take until 3:00 AM? We beat hundreds of nails into that floor, six and a half pounds to be exact. Every piece of wood had nails every 3″ around the perimeter and in a 6″ grid throughout. We were blistered and hurting when this was done.

We were really nervous about an animal barfing or doing something worse on the floor that night. One barf would have meant a lot of work ripping up and replacing that part of the underlay.

Fortunately, the pets were well behaved.

Here’s where the underlay lined up to the wall, with a small intentional gap:

First thing on Sunday, Jennifer applied a primer to all the wood. This primer both helps seal the wood and gives a good surface for the self-adhesive tiles to adhere.

After that, I applied a portland cement-based filling compound:

The compound is necessary in all seams, but I went ahead and put it on all nails. After sanding, it was evident that about half of them had minor hammer-caused divots. (We are not expert hammerers!)

For some reason, the filler sunk as it dried:

I was expecting to do the opposite.

We visited the wife’s parents that evening. While out, we picked up some wood filler which I later used to fill in these remaining gaps.

I sanded everything down during Sunday during the day and after returning from visiting the inlaws. I was careful to wear a N95 mask and run the whole house fan because both the portland cement-based stuff and the wood filler had those silicosis warnings. After sanding, I noticed a “blast zone” of dust spread into the adjacent room, and I found dust in a few other locations around the house.

I freaked out and went on a late night cleaning spree. I wasn’t happy until all the dust was cleaned up the following night.

It turns out my freak out was unwarranted. Silica-related health problems are hugely rare, and they usually occur with prolonged occupational exposure. See my other post on this.

All sanding was finished Sunday night except for a little follow up sanding on the wood filler.

The next day–Labor Day Monday–I broke out our new chalk line. (Even this chalk has silicosis warnings!) With this, I measured the halfway point on each wall and snapped a chalk line between them:

(The white stuff is the wood filler. It smelled just like Bondo. Hmm…) Another line was snapped on the halfway on the other wall, so I had a cross in the middle of the floor.

Remember the way to find the length of the hypotenuse of a right triangle? x2 + y2 = h2. I can verify that the line intersection referenced above is at a 90 degree angle by using this rule: if I measure out 3′ from the intersection on one line, then measure 4′ on the other line, the distance between those points must be 5′.

To make a long story short, I mis-measured the chalk lines three times. Only on the third time was the hypotenuse within 1/8″ of 5′.

If you look closely at the above picture, you’ll see a faint blue line to the left of the dark line. I screwed up so badly because I was using mental arithmetic. (I tell people my degree is in mathematics, not arithmetic!) Thankfully, I remembered the rule “Measure twice, cut once.”

Using the chalk lines as a guide, we started laying the tiles in the center of the room and worked out in a pyramid pattern. We got the easy tiles done by 2:30 PM Monday:

Our tiles are pretty even, but in some places we developed some offsets:

That is probably our worst offset. We are not sure why this happened, but we suspect variations in the flooring and possible tile variations may have caused this. It’s also possible that in a couple of places, we failed to press the tiles together as tightly as we could.

Almost 8:30 PM, after a lot of custom tile cutting and cutting and nailing and painting the shoe rail:

This is where the refrigerator and range go.

12:47 AM Tuesday morning: we’re done and all cleaned up!

Nice change!

The other side of the kitchen, with our deluxe pantry:

I had 6 tiles that needed really fancy, precision cutting just like this:

Most of the time flooring layers just cut a tile into multiple pieces and slap them back together. This is one complete tile cut in a complex pattern.

Right by the deluxe pantry is one gap:

We have no idea how this happened. This is the only place where you get a good look at the underlay. I think I will eventually get some gray silicone and fill it in.

I still need to figure out something for the back door:

Technically I should have something covering the end of the tiles here. Right now they just butt up to the threshold.

For clarification, I called this a “charlie foxtrot” because we were on the job from 8:00 PM Friday night through 1:00 AM Tuesday morning. The only breaks were trips to hardware stores, eating, and the one trip to visit inlaws.

My wife and I swear we will never to another flooring job again. We’ll see!

By the way, if you don’t know what Charlie Foxtrot means, go here.

Is lauan underlay really that bad?

Lauan plywood is a controversial flooring underlay.

I went with 5.2mm lauan plywood from my local Home Depot with a recent flooring project because it seemed like the “obvious” choice. It’s recommended all over the internet on seemingly reputable sites, the University of Massachusetts recommends it,  a major tile manufacturer recommends it,  and my Home Depot Home Improvement 1-2-3 book recommends it.

However, after going through six and a half pounds of 6d 2″ ring shank nails and hours upon hours of work with my wife, I found some web sites highly critical of lauan.

Some allege that lauan board is inferior to regular plywood for various reasons, including inability to resist indentation, hygroscopic properties, oils in the wood, and so on. This is generally the opinion taken by an author for Floor Covering International.

I freaked out. We were in the middle of a major weekend project, we had no time for major problems, and going back would be a giant setback.

To add insult to injury, when we were finally ready to apply the tiles, we found instructions inside the box. The very first line of instruction read, “Do not use mahogany plywood.” AAAUUGGHH!!! (While technically incorrect, “mahogany plywood” commonly refers to lauan.)

We went ahead and finished the project as is because we had no better alternative.

Since then, I’ve calmed down. My experience working with the wood and further thinking suggests:

  1. Lauan plywood resists dings well. It took a solid, direct hammer blow to dent it, and those blows didn’t dent it too badly.
  2. Running our refrigerator over some bare lauan didn’t do a thing to it.
  3. The criticisms of lauan aren’t objective, nor are they quantitative. They appear to be both communally reinforced and based on fuzzy memories. I also suspect that confirmation bias may influence these detractors to blame lauan for bad projects that may have been affected by other factors such as bad installation practices.
  4. The only lauan in the plywood is actually an extremely thin top surface. As far as I could tell, the rest of the plywood is regular wood you might find anywhere.
  5. Lauan is used in boatmaking because of its water resistant properties.
  6. We primed the wood. While this isn’t a sealer per se, it should act as an additional barrier, reduce any moisture-related problems.

I am not flooring expert, but the evidence suggests that lauan is actually a fine underlay choice as long as you get the right quality.

The only valid criticism might be that lauan is a tropical wood and its use may contribute to tropical deforestation. However, even then, there are lauan tree farms, so this might be able to be managed?

Asbestosis and Silicosis–Overblown Fears

Remember the great asbestos scare of a couple of decades ago? In hindsight, the fears were exaggerated.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 3,750 deaths in 1999 were attributable to asbestosis or mesothelioma, the two main asbestos-related diseases.

This means the average US resident has a 0.0014% chance of catching either disease.

Further affecting this scant probability, the vast majority of cases involved extended occupational exposure. That is, you work with asbestos-containing substances for years. On top of that, smokers appear to account for the majority of asbestosis deaths. (The same smoking link does not hold for mesothelioma.)

It’s almost impossible for the average American to suffer asbestos-related harm.

The hoopla over asbestos, especially the associated litigation, is vastly disproportionate to the actual harm. This suggests asbestos fears are a profiteering ruse by trial lawyers.

It doesn’t end. The next big scare is silicosis.

Many home improvement products, including stuff as diverse as cement and wood filler, now have silicosis warnings. These products can release fine silica when disturbed, such as when sanding. This fine silica gets in the lungs and causes silicosis.

CDC stats show that 1999 had 187 silicosis-related deaths. At 0.000069% of the US population, that represents a drastic decline since the late 1960s.

A detailed study of three states found that silicosis deaths are highly correlated to the victim’s occupation and industry, again suggesting extended occupational exposure is key to suffering harm.

I believe that the average person, especially even the hobbyist or “do it yourself” person who repeatedly disturbs materials containing substances, has little to fear. The vast number of people who already do this without suffering harm should be enough evidence. It takes persistent, long-term exposure, sometimes coupled with smoking, to cause harm.

Data sources:

Thinkpad function keys randomly pressed

Update: See the bottom of this post for updates.

I have a work-provided Thinkpad X60 tablet PC. Great little laptop.

It has an annoying software bug. With certain drivers installed on a Vista OS, the laptop will randomly do one of the following every 2-30 minutes:

  • The speaker mutes.
  • Keyboard light tries to turn on.
  • Screen zoom activates, drastically changing the screen resolution from the native 1400 x 1050 to 1024 x 768 then back.
  • Screen brightness goes to lowest setting.

When these happen, a green indicator briefly shows on the screen (except for screen zoom). It’s just like if I activated the function manually. For example, if I press the mute button, I’ll see this on the screen:

And if I hit Fn + 12, I’ll see this:

(It’s for a keyboard light, which is actually not on this model!)

Two drivers cause this bug:

  • Thinkpad Tablet Shortcut Menu, available through the ThinkVantage System Update software. (Strangely, it’s not available at this laptop’s software download page on their web site.)
  • “Lenovo – Other Hardware – PS/2 TrackPoint” as available through Windows Update. Even though Windows Update says it was released by Lenovo in April 2007, it never showed up until the following September.

As long as I don’t install either, I am fine.

Unfortunately, I did install “Lenovo – Other Hardware – PS/2 TrackPoint” a few days ago. Immediately after installing, I got the random function key activations. Worse yet, after uninstalling the driver and rebooting, my mouse stopped working. Installing the TrackPoint driver off Lenovo’s web site didn’t fix it, either. Neither did using System Restore to revert my system to before the Windows Update session that installed the driver.

Somehow I futzed around enough to get a working mouse, but it doesn’t work the same as before. I will probably just reload Vista soon.

Update: I wiped and reinstalled my ThinkPad in mid-December. I allowed System Update and Windows Update to install everything, and no problem recurred. I figure that Lenovo finally worked kinks out of its drivers or I had some unknown interaction with my laptop’s prior configuration.