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December 16, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, December 16, 2005

Remove or cover up? Remove or cover up? (December 16, 2005)

What's the best way to deal with replacing a linoleum floor?

by Lynn Comeskey

Q What's involved in replacing an old linoleum floor? Do you have to remove it first? Can you just cover it up?

A Good question. Usually, one removes the old linoleum and underlayment before installing new linoleum. In doing this, you have an opportunity to see if there is any termite or water damage to the sub floor. You can always go into the crawl space and look at the under side of the sub floor (under the linoleum area in question) to get an indication if there is a problem. If you do have a problem, you will know it when you see it!

If you remove the linoleum and there is asbestos in it, then asbestos will be released in the air in the removal process. This is not a good idea.

If the linoleum was installed prior to 1978, there's a good chance there is some asbestos in it; manufacturers stopped using asbestos after that. If you're not certain, you can send a sample to a testing lab. If it is determined there is asbestos in the flooring, then you should have a professional asbestos abatement contractor remove the linoleum. This removal process is elaborate in order to be safe and to provide a record of the transportation and ultimate disposal of the damaged goods. However, you will have the assurance that the asbestos is gone.

As you might guess, it is also expensive. I am not current on pricing, but last time I checked it could cost $700 to have an asbestos-laden floor covering removed from a small bath.

To answer your second and third questions, no, you don't have to remove the linoleum and you can go over the existing. "Overlaying" the existing linoleum is really a more practical and far less expensive solution than removing the linoleum. There are a few provisos.

1. You will be encapsulating the asbestos (if there is any), not removing it.

2. Much of the linoleum available in the past and the present has embossed surfaces. If the existing linoleum is not covered, the existing embossed surface will "telegraph" through the new surface and could provide an objectionable appearance. In addition, the covering underlayment will provide a better base for the new linoleum than a linoleum base. The installer will do this when she installs the linoleum. Underlayment is approximately 5/16" thick and is similar to particle board but denser.

3. Installing underlayment will raise the floor level approximately 3/8 inch. This may not seem like much, but if this is a kitchen floor, you should check to see if it is possible for your built-in appliances such as the dishwasher, compactor, refrigerator or range to accommodate the increased floor height.

Q How do you deal with a listing toilet?

A It depends if the list is to port or starboard. Not really. I will assume that the toilet was level at one point (as it should be).

There is a wax seal between the toilet and the flange at the drain pipe in the floor. The toilet is bolted to this flange and this seal keeps the byproducts of the toilet from leaking. Eventually, this seal deteriorates and the toilet starts leaking at the flange. The leaked matter comes in contact with the sub floor and the underlayment and causes it to rot over time.

My guess is that more rot has occurred on one side of the toilet than the other and the weight of the toilet and the water in it have compressed the rotted floor -- hence the tilt.

You can travel through the crawl space to the site of the toilet and observe the extent of the damage or call a handyman or a contractor who does small jobs to do this for you. Sometimes the damage can be patched from under the floor, but this would only be a Band-Aid. A knowledgeable professional will be able to evaluate the extent of the damage and recommend an appropriate solution. Assuming the sub floor is badly damaged, the proper solution is to pull the toilet, the finished floor, underlayment and/or sub floor (until you reach undamaged material) and replace everything and, most importantly, replace the wax seal.

Lynn Comeskey now works with Donatelli and Castillo Builders in San Jose. Readers can write Comeskey, care of the Palo Alto Weekly, P.O. Box 1610, Palo Alto, CA 94301.

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