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Flooring over flooring a concern

QuestionWe had vinyl flooring installed over existing vinyl flooring in the main bathroom on the first floor of our home. The existing flooring did not have any flaws; we just changed the plumbing and decided to replace the vinyl. After the warranty expired, the new flooring began to separate from the paper, causing it to pull away. It now has ridges where the flooring has moved from the separated paper and bunched up against obstacles such as the heating vent and the toilet (making the toilet a bit wobbly). The installer told us "tough luck" because the warranty was up. I would like to know if we could install a new floor over the existing if we peel the vinyl from its backing? In other words, can we lay the new floor over the paper? Can you provide any assistance?

AnswerI'm a little confused about which backing you mean—backing from the first floor covering or the second? In a nutshell, this shortcut just doesn't work. I have never believed in installing over existing flooring unless there is asbestos in the flooring or adhesive. Then, and only then, would I consider the special preparations required to lay new resilient flooring over existing.

Because I don't know the year of your home, I would be concerned about the possible presence of asbestos, which was a common ingredient in vinyl floor coverings, backings, and mastics, even in homes built as late as 1988.

Before you do any work, contact your local building department, your local air quality pollution control agency, and your state's labor and industries office for their guidance in determining whether or not asbestos is present. If you learn you have asbestos, you can remove or encase the flooring yourself but you must follow the rules governed by those departments and agencies. Encasement basically involves the installation of underlayment over the existing floor covering and is a procedure acceptable to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

If you would rather not work with asbestos, you can hire an asbestos abatement contractor to safely remove or encase the material.

Encasement can be a good approach even if asbestos is not present. Purchase and install an underlayment designed specifically for this type of application or use 3/8-inch exterior grade plywood. When installing a thin underlayment, apply adhesive under it and fasten it in place using ring-shank nails or screws; screws are preferable.

Be sure to check that the door opens and closes properly. The entryway where the bathroom floor meets the hallway or adjoining room may require some detailing. Additionally, the toilet flange or wax bowl ring may need alteration for proper reinstallation of the toilet.

Personally, if I knew that asbestos was not a concern, I would pull out the existing under-layment and flooring all the way down to the original subfloor. I would not pull up the vinyl to expose the felt backing. Installing a floor covering over existing material is risky because there's no guarantee the two will effectively bond. It may initially appear to bond, but sooner or later, as you know from experience, the top flooring will loosen.

If you have time and a second bathroom (and asbestos is not present), remove both layers of floor coverings down to the underlayment. At this point you can decide whether or not additional prep work will be required before laying the floor covering or if you need to install a thin underlayment (or you could remove the underlayment at this time). The advantage to this procedure is that even if you have to install underlayment, the overall floor won't be as high as it would be if you installed the underlayment over both floor coverings.

I should point out that if you lay vinyl flooring over the existing underlayment, anything left on the surface will telegraph through the finish vinyl flooring. The goal is to achieve a smooth substrate for a smooth installation.

Home improvement is one area where shortcuts, appealing as they appear on the surface, only create headaches and more expense down the road. Good luck with your project!

Copyright © 2004, 2006, & 2007 LAF/C.R.S., Inc. All rights reserved.
Question answered by Leon A. Frechette.

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