Category: Flooring & Stairs


How To: Scribe Tile

Follow these tips to scribe tile correctly and achieve professional-level results in your bathroom or kitchen flooring project.

Here’s how to scribe a floor tile to fit around an uneven edge. Set the closest full tile in place, then use another full tile to mark the overlaps with a grease pencil. Keep moving the scribe tile to transfer the outline of the wall. Cut and trim along the penciled lines, then set the cut tile into place for a perfect fit.

For more on tile, consider:

Tiling Tools
How To: Cut Tile
Bob Vila Radio: Laying Tile


How To: Stain Concrete

Applying stain to a concrete floor can add beauty and depth to this hard-wearing material, and make it even easier to maintain. If your concrete floor is already in good shape, you're just a few easy steps away from a durable, dramatic new finish.

How to Stain Concrete - Basement Floor

Photo: dmarcht.com

Homeowners used to think of concrete as being strictly utilitarian stuff, resorted to only when a better-looking material would be either unsuitable or far too expensive. Today, many people appreciate not only the hard-wearing durability of concrete, but also its aesthetic qualities, which can be greatly enhanced by a number of different techniques. One popular way to finish concrete is through either acid- or water-based stain. I recommend acid: It lasts longer and looks better. The downside of acid stain, however, is that it can be somewhat unpredictable.

Rather than coating on like a wood stain, acid concrete stain generates color through a chemical reaction. Results depend in part on the stain you’ve chosen and how much of it you apply, but also on the concrete itself—its location, age, and mineral composition. The color you end up with may be quite different from the one you expected to get. And there’s no way to erase or undo the stain once you’ve applied it. Your only option is adding more stain to intensify the effect.

STEP 1
To stain concrete successfully, the first step is to prepare the surface, being sure that it’s free of residual adhesive, flaking paint, and similar debris. Scrub the concrete with a solution of TSP and water. Treat stubborn stains aggressively with a degreaser or chemical paint stripper. Mechanical abrasion is a last resort.

How to Stain Concrete - Open Floor

Photo: arkintilt.com

STEP 2
Tape off any sections of the concrete surface that you do not wish to stain. Do this very carefully, as it may prove impossible to remove the stain if it lands somewhere you didn’t intend it to go.

STEP 3
To get an impression of how the stain is going to look, test it in an inconspicuous corner or along a remote edge of the concrete. Don’t love how it looks? Adjust the stain accordingly, diluting or intensifying it.

STEP 4
Now you’re ready to start applying the stain. The goal here is to achieve even coverage. To that end, many choose to employ a sprayer (whose parts are plastic so as not to corrode upon contact with acid). After spraying—never so much that there’s puddling—use a shop broom to ensure that no parts of the surface look relatively darker or lighter. If necessary, spray again to eliminate marks left by the broom.

STEP 5
Different stains take different periods of time to set properly; consult the label on the product you have chosen. While the stain is setting, the chemical reaction actually continues. It ceases only when you neutralize it by washing the floor in a solution of water and detergent (and sometimes baking soda).

STEP 6
Finish up by protecting the stained concrete with a sealer. Again, consult the product label; it’s a good idea to use the manufacturer-recommended sealer. Indoor concrete flooring is usually sealed with wax, although in a high-traffic area, I would opt for epoxy beneath urethane. Note that you can use a buffing machine to facilitate the sealing process, so long as you are working on a floor surface indoors.


Pro Tips: Decorative Floor Painting

Painted floors can create a homey, warm atmosphere or make a bold graphic statement. Here are some helpful tips on how you can enhance any wood floor with a decorative pattern.

Painted Floors

Photo: jeanniebalsam.com

You can’t deny the decorative appeal of painted floors, whether they’re patterned in checkerboard, stripes, or some other graphic design. “Painted floors allow your unique creative expression to flourish,” says decorative painter Elise C. Kinkead, author of 50 Ways to Paint Ceilings and Floors. “Painted floors are also an inexpensive way to nudge a well-worn floor into a few more years of service.” But where to begin? Kinkead offers the following advice to guide do-it-yourselfers in the process.

PLAN
Browse magazines or search the Web in order to find a pattern that you love. Then lay out a paper version of the design, securing your “test run” to the floor by means of low-tack tape. Experiment with different positions around the room before deciding which looks the best. If the room in question has a focal point, such as a fireplace or bay window, consider orienting your floor pattern in such a way that it draws the eye toward that striking main feature of the space.

PREP
With the exception of laminates, whose damage-resistant finish does not accept paint well, most any wood floor can be painted successfully. As in other painting projects, it’s essential that you do a good job of preparing the surface. In the case of painted floors, proper preparation involves three steps. The very first step is to remove any waxy residue from the floor surface. Commercial wax removers are commonly available; inquire at your local hardware store.

After cleaning the floor thoroughly and allowing it to dry out completely overnight, continue on to the next step: sanding. Lightly abrade the floor with 120-grit sandpaper secured to the end of a sanding pole (alternatively, rent a floor sander for the day). Once you’re finished, vacuum the sawdust and then wipe away any lingering grit with a slightly damp cloth. Again, allow the wood to dry completely.

Now complete the final step, which is to repair any cracks or gouges by means of wood filler. Of course, if you appreciate and prefer the look of a time-worn surface, then skip this step. Imperfections in the floor won’t compromise, and may even enhance, the project.

PRIME
Clean, sanded, and dry, the floor is now ready to be primed. Opt for an oil-based primer if you wish, but Kinkead prefers water-based products, both for their low odor and fast-drying characteristics. The primer coat goes on mainly with a roller; along edges or in corners, cut in with a paintbrush. Note that if you are painting the floor in a single hue, you can use a primer tinted to your chosen color to cut down on the need for multiple top coats. Remember also that primer may serve as one of the colors in a multicolor design. The point is that there are ultimately strategic, timesaving advantages to choosing a primer carefully.

Painted Floors - Taped

Photo: arvadacarpetcleaningbest.com

TAPE
Having given the primer ample opportunity to dry completely, proceed to outline your pattern on the floor. Do so with chalk or a carpenter’s pencil, making the faintest mark possible that’s still visible over the primer. Lay tape just to the edge of the marks, pressing down on the tape edges with a dull putty knife for optimal adhesion. At this point, wipe away all chalk or pencil with a damp cloth. And before you start to paint, check again to be certain the floor surface is still dry.

PAINT
Believe it or not, there are paints formulated especially for application on floors, and the range of available colors has only expanded over the years. Regular latex wall paint is fine to use, too, provided you finish it with a sealer. In applying the top coat, as you did with the primer, use a roller wherever possible and a paintbrush in those areas where a roller just won’t do. Allow each coat to dry before painting on the next one. For solid coverage, two coats ought to be enough. Remove the tape very carefully, at a 45-degree angle, only after the paint has dried.

SEAL
Plan on sealing your paint job with two coats of either oil- or water-based polyurethane (unless you’ve painted with an oil-based product, in which case you must use an oil-based poly sealer). Generally, a pad is the recommended applicator for sealers of this type, but manufacturers’ instructions vary. Read the label on the can of sealer you plan to purchase before committing to any specific tools for this final stage of the project.

For a slightly worn appearance, leave the floor unsealed for a period of time, or hand-distress the surface with sandpaper. Once it has developed the patina you want, proceed to add the sealer. How long does it take before you can bring furniture back into the room? That depends on the sealer. Again, read the label. Usually, you need to wait no more than 24 hours.


How To: Remove and Replace Grout

Even the best tiling jobs show their age eventually. When that day comes, remove the grout and replace it to rejuvenate the installation and make the surface gleam again.

How to Remove Grout

Photo: shutterstock.com

Several years after you complete a bathroom or kitchen renovation, it inevitably starts to show some wear. One culprit is grout: Over time, it stains, cracks, and becomes loose, even if it was professionally installed. And if the grouting was done poorly to begin with, then the job really isn’t likely to last very long. Fortunately, it’s well within the range of the average do-it-yourselfer to remove and replace grout. Indeed, regrouting tile can restore lost luster and is well worth the time and effort.

How to Remove Grout - Tool

Photo: milwaukee.com

How to Remove Grout
It’s certainly possible to remove grout by hand, the old-fashioned way, but it’s recommended that you opt for a power tool. Doing so makes much quicker work of what can be a labor-intensive, time-consuming, and potentially frustration-inducing home project.

If you’re up for taking the power-tool-free route, you need a manual grout removal tool. These typically come in one of two flavors. One looks like a screwdriver with a triangular carbide blade mounted on its end. How does it work? You pull the tool through a grout joint until at least one-eighth of an inch has been removed. The second type of manual grout removal tool features a carbide grit-edged blade—that’s why it’s sometimes known as a grout saw. To use one, you simply saw into the the old grout in the same way that you would saw into wood.

If power tools are more your style, you have at least a couple of effective options. One is to outfit your reciprocating saw with an accessory that is specially designed to remove grout (pictured at right). Alternatively, you can opt for an oscillating tool, such as the Dremel Multi-Max; these excel at smaller jobs, because they afford a high degree of control. No matter what power tool you end up choosing to help you remove grout, remember to keep a chisel or a flat-blade screwdriver on hand. The stubborn bits often need a little coaxing to come out.

Related: Top Tips for Cleaning Grout Lines

Regrouting Tile
The first step in regrouting tile is to mix a certain amount of grout powder with a specific quantity of water. Stick closely to the manufacturer’s directions. Whether you pick sanded or unsanded grout depends on the desired width of the joints between tiles. Unsanded grout is typically used to achieve relatively thin grout lines; the sanded variety is recommend for joints any wider than one-eighth of an inch.

Photo: shutterstock.com

Once you have properly mixed the grout in a bucket, apply it with a plastic towel, then use a grout float to press the mortar deeply into the joints. As you do this, hold the float at a 45-degree angle to the wall or floor surface. Once you are satisfied with the distribution of grout, the next step is to clean off the excess before it has the chance to harden. To do this, use the grout float again, this time holding the tool at an 80-degree angle to skim the excess grout from the face of the tiles. In concert with the grout float, a large, damp sponge can be handy for wiping off any lingering grout haze. (Rinse the sponge often and change the rinse water as it becomes cloudy.) Finally, allow the grout to harden for a period of 24 to 48 hours. Walk on the tile surface only after that amount of time has elapsed.


Quick Tip: Laying Tile

Before you start laying tile in earnest, set the dry tiles into the pattern you want, while marking those tiles which must be cut in order to fit.

When laying tile, here’s an easy way to save some time before applying any mortar. Dry-fit the tiles on the surface you’re working with. Next, mark any pieces that will need to be cut. That will help you determine how to get the best design and fit, and doing so will enable you to avoid the mess of pulling up the tiles after the mortar’s applied.

For more on tile, consider:

Tiling Tools
How To: Install Tile
Laying Glazed Ceramic Floor Tiles (VIDEO)


How To: Lay a Subfloor

Before you put down hardwoods, vinyl tile, or carpeting, you must first install a subfloor. Here, learn what steps are involved in this straightforward, important aspect of homebuilding.

Here’s how to lay a no-squeak subfloor. Apply a generous bead of panel adhesive to the tops of your floor joists. Lay sheets of 3/4-inch tongue-in-groove plywood, staggering the joints as you go. Use a sledgehammer against a two-by-four to drive the plywood together tightly. Secure each sheet in place with galvanized eight-penny flooring nails.

For more on flooring, consider:

Wood Flooring 101
Installing a Subfloor (VIDEO)
Enhanced Plywood and Subfloor Products


What Would Bob Do? Fixing Scratches on Wood Floors

Over time, a hardwood floor is bound to get scratched, nicked, or even gouged. Here are a few techniques for handling these imperfections—and some tips for keeping them from happening in the first place.

How to Fix Scratches on Hardwood Floors

Photo: shutterstock.com

I have various scratches on my wood floors. Some add character, but some are just too big and need to go away. What is the easiest way to fix scratches on hardwood floors without causing any lasting damage?

Apply wax or acrylic floor polish over light scratches in hardwood floors, but take caution: Over time, such polishes can dull and darken the floor, eventually requiring removal. That’s never an easy task; it involves powerful cleaning agents (for example, mineral spirits and ammonia) and no small quantity of elbow grease.

Related: Rx for Hardwood Floors

Alternatively, coat floors with a product specially formulated to renew the wood—Bona Pro Series Hardwood Floor Refresher, for example, or Hardwood Floor Reviver from Minwax. Sanding isn’t required, but to achieve best results, you must thoroughly clean the floor prior to application. Also, allow ample time for the finish to dry. Plan to reapply the product every several months and always refrain from using any such treatment on wood laminate or factory-finished floors.

If a scratch has penetrated deep enough to expose bare wood, there’s a low-effort way to conceal the imperfection: Simply fill it in with a stain that matches the floor color. Stain markers and blending pencils are commonly available in a range of tones; check your local hardware stores or home improvement retail chain store. But traditional wood stain works equally well. Apply it with a small brush or even a cotton swab—just be sure to wipe away any excess before it has the chance to dry.

To address a deep, wide gouge, opt for a precolored latex wood filler, one that closely matches the color of your hardwood. Apply the filler with a plastic putty knife, which is the tool least likely to cause any further damage to the floor. Once the filler has dried completely, use fine-grit sandpaper to level the surface so that no difference in elevation exists between the patch and its surrounding area. Finally, coat varnish (thinned with 10 or 20 percent turpentine) over the repair.

Whether from pets or children, boots or rolling furniture, unprotected wood floors are virtually certain to get scratched. If you’re committed to keeping your hardwoods in tip-top shape, consider the following tried-and-true methods of safeguarding wood against the most common threats to its flawlessness:

1. Position fiber doormats near all exterior doors, as tracked-in dirt and grit are the enemy of beautiful, pristine hardwood floors.

2. Encourage friends and family to remove their shoes upon entering the house—especially women in high heels!

3. Sweep often in order to contain any dirt or grit that manages to sneak in despite your best attempts at barring its entry.

4. If you are going to slide furniture across a wood floor, always place felt protective pads under its legs (or use a piece of leftover carpeting, soft side down).

5. Restrict medium- and large-size dogs from all rooms with hardwood flooring, or be sure to always keep their nails neatly trimmed.


How To: Clean Porcelain Tile

A beautiful and extremely durable flooring option, porcelain tile will retain its sparkling finish for years—so long as it's cleaned regularly and appropriately. Here's how.

How to Clean Porcelain Tile

Photo: porcelanosa-usa.com

Porcelain tile consistently ranks as a preferred flooring choice among homeowners, partly due to its beauty—the material comes in a veritable rainbow of hues—and partly due to its stain- and moisture-resistance. Though it loses luster over time, porcelain tile can be easily cleaned and restored to its original shine.

Related: Top Tips for Cleaning Grout Lines

Regularly maintaining porcelain tile is the best way to keep it in tip-top condition. As often as two times per week, sweep with a soft-bristle broom before vacuuming (with the brush attachment). Once a month, mix 1/4 cup white vinegar with two gallons of water (or purchase one of the many suitable commercial cleansers), then apply the solution with a sponge mop. Rinse with plain water, then dry the surface completely with a clean towel or a microfiber cloth.

There are different types of porcelain tile (unpolished/unglazed, polished/glazed, or textured) and for each type, a different set of care recommendations applies:

Cleaning Unpolished/Unglazed Porcelain Tile
• Vacuum and sweep the area thoroughly to remove dust and dirt.

• Taking one section at a time (two or four feet square), saturate the tile surface with a vinegar-and-water mixture or a commercial cleanser.

• Allow the cleanser to soak into the tile for five to ten minutes, but do not allow it to dry.

• Scrub stained areas with a soft-bristle brush.

• Wipe away the dirty cleaning solution and rinse the area with clean, hot water.

• Dry the tile with a clean towel or a microfiber cloth.

How to Clean Porcelain Tile - Wenge

Photo: designbuildmn.com

Cleaning Polished/Glazed Porcelain Tile
• Sweep and vacuum debris and dirt, then go over the area with a dry dust mop.

• Now use a hot water-dampened mop, never allowing moisture to puddle or pool on the tile.

• Loosen heavier soil with a soft nylon-bristle brush (or an old toothbrush).

• For stains, use a vinegar-and-water mixture (or a commercial cleanser diluted to half strength).

• Mop with your chosen cleanser, mopping again with hot water before the cleanser dries.

• Dry the tile surface with a clean towel or a microfiber cloth, being sure to rub out any water spots.

• Once dry, buff the tile to a high shine with a piece of cheesecloth.

Cleaning Textured Porcelain Tile
• Sweep the area twice with a soft-bristle broom, first in the direction of the tile, then on a diagonal.

• Vacuum to remove all dirt.

• Saturate the tile with a vinegar-and-water solution, allowing it to soak for five to ten minutes.

• Scrub the floor with a soft-bristle brush, again working in two directions.

• Rinse the floor with hot water in order to thoroughly remove the cleaning solution.

• Go over the floor with a clean, damp mop.

• Dry with a clean towel or a microfiber cloth.

While porcelain tile boasts exceptional durability, there are few cleaning products and techniques you should take pains to avoid:

  • Never use a product containing ammonia or bleach (or any type of acid-based cleanser); these can alter the tile color and/or stain the grout.
  • Never use oil-based detergents or wax cleaners.
  • On unglazed porcelain, never use any cleaners that contain dye or coloring.
  • Never use steel wool on porcelain tile—small particles of steel can become embedded in the tile and grout, eventually causing rust stains.
  • Never use hard bristles or scrub brushes, as they can scratch the tile surface.

Regular cleaning and polishing with a soft cotton or microfiber cloth will ensure that porcelain tile retains its “like new” shine for many years.


How To: Reclaim Wood Flooring

Rather than tear it up, reclaim wood flooring the next time you undertake a major remodeling project.

When you’re renovating, save and recycle old hardwood floorboards for patching and repairing. Using a pry bar at each nail, carefully remove the board to minimize splits and damage to the wood. Tap out the old nails, then reinstall the flooring as needed, staggering all joints. When it’s refinished, you won’t be able to tell where the repair was made.

For more on flooring, consider:

Wood Flooring 101
Quick Tip: Reclaimed Wood Floors
Installing a Reclaimed Wood Floor (VIDEO)


How To: Build a Winding Staircase

By means of an ingenious shortcut, it may be easier than you think to build a winding staircase.

If space is a consideration in your remodeling project, you might want to consider building a winding staircase. You can build this simple version yourself. Think of it as a stack of wooden boxes with a portion removed for each successive step. Build each box step in advance and stack them on top of each other. Secure each level with panel adhesive and nails, then finish off with a straight run to reach the next floor. Remember to check with your local building inspector.

For more on stairs, consider:

How To: Paint a Staircase
Building Winding Stairs (VIDEO)
A “Step by Step” Solution: Pre-Cut Treads and Risers