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, reducing 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?

Energy Bill Relief

Remember my A/C blower motor fiasco from a few weeks ago? Frost on the indoor part (evaporator) strongly suggested the outside unit (condenser) ran for days straight. This is the power-gulping part of an A/C system.

I calculated that I burned through $190 of electricity.

I got my electricity bill today. It is $143.39, a very normal August bill!

When you normally run an A/C, the compressor fights against the heat that the evaporator (the indoor part) absorbs from the indoor air. With no indoor fan running, there is no air blowing across the evaporator, no heat being put into the refrigerant, and hence no load on the system. The compressor does the equivalent of freewheeling.

That’s my theory, and I’m sticking to it!

Lesson learned: Aren would be an awful meter reader.

A/C Blower Motor Event

Upon returning from a 11 day vacation (I’ll write about it later), I found that the house was 92 degrees inside:

This was despite a thermostat set at 85. My kitties weren’t happy!

Listening closely, I could hear refrigerant gurgling through the evaporator despite no fan.

Oh, no!

I shut the system off. Later, after inspecting the electricity meter, I found that the compressor ran almost constantly, chewing through about $190 of electricity before I caught it.

Here’s all the ice that formed on the evaporator coils (the part inside the house):

I could hide a penny in the ice:

Here’s all the water (and mold!) that accumulated next to the evaporator:


Ice even formed on the refrigerant return line:

Yes, ice was even on the refrigerant line outside in the upper 90s heat!

By the time I took that picture, most of the ice already melted off. The system had been shut down for a few minutes. The bottom of the condenser had a lot of water, suggesting that even the entire condenser was cool.

This is after I used my shop vac to vacuum most of the frosty ice off one side:

The ice in the very rear was solid, clear ice. I pulled that off by hand.

A new neighbor in the A/C business came by and helped me confirm that the blower motor died. He helped start it back up by manually turning it while switching on the thermostat.

Note of caution: those fan blades can eat fingertips when it’s moving. Be very careful doing this!

After unpacking the car, we left for supper and shopping. Returning about 2½ hours later, the fan had shut off again. It could not even maintain speed!

Fortunately, I already had taken off the next two work days, so the following day was spent replacing the fan.

Here’s the furnace. The blower assembly (fan) is in the back:

The blower assembly removed removed:

It’s so dirty partly because the previous owners used a low quality reusable filter resembling a thin wicker mesh coated in some blue substance. Very ineffective, and actually very costly, considering that a new blower costs a lot more than the value of a few saved filters. I could smell their nasty cigarette smoke while I was disassembling it.

Here’s the fan housing later all taken apart, with the blower separated from the squirrel cage:

Between figuring things out for the first time and dealing with a squirrel cage fan that didn’t want to budge from the blower motor, it took me about 45 minutes to do this. The bricks were used to support the bottom of the blower housing while I banged on the blower motor shaft to separate it from the fan.

At that point, I took the blower motor to my local Grainger Industrial Supply for a replacement.

Grainder technically doesn’t sell to the public; you need a business account. Fortunately, the salesman was nice enough to use my employer’s account. (I need to print up some DBA business cards so that I can register myself next time I come across this!) About $75 later, I walked out with a replacement fan and capacitor. (The capacitor sends a surge of electricity to the fan to start it up from a stop.)

Now here’s where things got a little hairy. The original Carrier furnace had a special connector to connect its primitive logic circuitry to the fan:

I knew I could rewire this, but I figured it would be best if I could find a similar connector so that I didn’t have to cut everything up. The original blower motor was permanently connected to this part, and the new blower motor just had wires ready to be crimped to something.

After a wild goose chase involving a nearby electrical parts supply, an air conditioning supply, and a motor supply house, I decided to just rewire it using standard blue butt crimps.

The new blower motor had a broken oil port cover:

Easily fixed by a dab of black RTV, left over from my Nova days:

Another problem with the motor is it had four studs that protruded way too far:

My Dremel and a cutting disk fixed that:

Test fitting the blower motor and the fan:

After about an hour of cleaning the grime and cigarette residue out of the fan and the case and reinstalling the fan assembly into the housing, I ended up with this:

Ready to be tossed back in the furnace! By the way, it was difficult to get that to fit correctly. The three arms slide into a band that is cinched around the motor. You had to hold your jaw “just so” to get it all in the right position as you tightened the band whose bolt and nut were barely accessible! That was frustrating.

Empty furnace:

Furnace with fan and wires connected using butt crimps:

My special tool to keep the door switch depressed while testing (the neighbor taught me this one!):

I got the fire extinguisher ready, crossed my fingers, turned on the thermostat, and IT BLOWS! Even though this is almost an exact replacement–almost identical specifications as the old fan–it blew much more strongly. That old fan must have been ready to go.

I can already tell this new blower has improved air conditioner performance. Temperatures are somewhat more consistent in all rooms.

The best part is I only gouged one finger:

It bled through three band aids before it came under control.

I spent the next evening sealing up a major air leak in the system. This air leak pushed nasty crawl space-smelling air into the living area of the house. The bad thing about this leak is it was across the width of the unit in the very back, where the furnace sits on the evaporator housing. (Basically, the thermostat housing’s bottom opening protruded about 1/2″ past the edge of the evaporator housing.) 2 hours of fun with foil tape and improvised tools got the leaks mostly sealed up, at least well enough that I don’t get crawl space moldy stink in my house every time I run the A/C.

Bad installation instructions on Home Depot’s universal dishwasher connection

(Skip to the very bottom if you want the instructions on how to use this hose.)

I finally have a new dishwasher installed (more details later). Thanks to instruction defects on Home Depot’s GE Universal 6′ Dishwasher Connector, the installation was significantly lengthened.

The first of these hoses leaked out of both ends:

This is what the end looked like when I was done with it:

I returned it as defective and got another one. The second one also leaked:

…out both ends!

Notice that this time, I used Teflon. Didn’t help.

What is going on? I double checked the instructions:

…and couldn’t find where I went wrong.

Note how the instructions say “DO NOT OVERTIGHTEN.” What in tarnation does that mean? Thanks for being so helpful and specific, GE!

Here’s what I did:

  1. Hand tightened.
  2. Wrench tightened until the nut doesn’t back off after I remove the wrench. Before that point, the nut would back itself up about 1/32 to 1/16 turn when I left off the wrench.
  3. Turned on the water.
  4. Watched both fittings leak.
  5. Throw tools around the room and curse Home Depot and GE.
  6. Storm around the house in a rage, pulling out my hair and banging my head on light switches and doorknobs.
  7. Tightened each fitting about 1/8 – 1/4 turn at a time until the leak stopped. Except neither leak stopped, leading to…
  8. Eventually bottomed out each fitting to where I couldn’t tighten any more.

I didn’t think I was overtightening in step 2, but I’m sure that it was way overtightened by step 8.

Back at Home Depot the third time, I asked the resident certified plumber what I was doing wrong. He said I need to get it pretty tight. (Gee, thanks, hadn’t that method failed me twice already)

Doing the same wrong thing over and over again is insanity, so I thought I would try a new tactic this time. I followed the same instructions that came with some faucet hookups: hand tighten, then turn a wrench an additional quarter turn.

Hand tightening got difficult because the 3/8″ fitting fit had smooth sides and fit in a 5/8″ wrench. But I did it that way on both ends, and it held! And didn’t leak!

Here is the under-sink fitting:

…and the under-dishwasher connection:

My gentle readers may wonder, “Aren, don’t you feel guilty returning a product that you screwed up?”

No. This is a product defect. Part of a product is its instructions. The fancy packaging clearly denotes this as a DIY-oriented product. Therefore, the instructions should be appropriate for DIY types like me who have never done this before. Simply stating “DO NOT OVERTIGHTEN” when you really mean “hand tighten and then wrench tighten an additional quarter turn” is a gross defect in the instructions.

Another part of the product is the design. There is no need for the flat edges on the nut to engage the wrench. If the nut had been enlarged and equipped with a grip-able surface, then no wrenches would be needed at all. Human strength would be able to provide enough torque.

DIY people are used to fittings where you need to crank them reasonably tightly. Almost all copper fittings are that way, almost all metal-to-metal fittings in a car are that way (except for Vortec intake manifold bolts when you use the plastic manifolds!), etc. Home Depot should have done a better job of policing its products, especially for one that’s 50% more than the equivalent at Lowe’s.