Category: Flooring & Stairs


Bob Vila Radio: Exterior Handrails

If you have any stairs leading up to your home, you'll want an exterior handrail—and not just for safety.

Unless your home is at exactly ground level, you probably have a step or two up to your door. High ranches and colonials often have four, five, or even more front steps up to the entryway. And all of these steps, no matter how simple or grand they are, pose a hazard to anyone going up or down. A handrail can be a real help, and it doesn’t have to be an eyesore.

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Listen to BOB VILA ON EXTERIOR HANDRAILS or read the text below:

Exterior Handrails

Photo: front-porch-ideas-and-more.com

Handrails can be made of wood, wrought iron, metal tubing or almost anything, depending on what style you prefer. They can be freestanding or attached to a porch or wall, and some can look more like works of art than anything else. An ornate scroll on a side wall, for example, can be a beautiful yet functional addition to your steps, and can prevent a nasty fall if you lose your balance.

Building codes usually dictate how many steps you can have before a railing is required, and some homeowners plan entryways around that in order to avoid installing a railing. But even a single step can be dangerous at night, in icy conditions, or at any time for children and the elderly. So even if codes don’t require a handrail, consider adding one for extra safety.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.


How To: Replace Damaged Tile

Without disturbing the surrounding wall or floor installation, you can easily replace one or a few tiles that have chipped, cracked, or broken.

Here’s a way to replace damaged ceramic tile. Remove the grout with a grout saw. Crack the tile with a hammer and cold chisel. Remove adhesive with an old chisel or putty knife. Apply latex tile adhesive to the new tiles and press firmly into place. Force grout into the joints, removing the excess, and avoid contact for 24 hours.

For more on tile, consider:

How To: Grout Tile
5 Reasons to Love Subway Tile
Installing Porcelain Mosaic Tile (VIDEO)


Quick Tip: Reclaimed Wood Floors

Salvaged hardwood flooring offers an environmentally sustainable option for homeowners seeking a distinctive look that's rich in history.

Reclaimed wood floors give new life to old timbers. Made from lumber recycled from demolished buildings, heart pine, oak, and other woods are re-sawn into premium-grade flooring. Variable widths maximize the yield from the wood and can be used to create a variety of patterns. Wide boards show off the grain and give a historic look to a new floor.

For more on salvaged wood, consider:

Say Yes to Salvaged Wood
The Beauty of Reclaimed Lumber
11 Ways to Use Salvaged Wood in Your Home


How To: Install Laminate Flooring

With the right tools and some basic skills, you can install laminate flooring this weekend.

How to Install Laminate Flooring

Photo: doityoureslf.com

Laminate flooring enables homeowners to get the look of wood for less, and it’s easy to install. In fact, tongue-and-groove or snap-and-click joinery makes the installation of laminate flooring ideal for the average do-it-yourselfer. If you’re at least moderately handy, own some basic tools, and are able to follow directions, then you can install a new floor this weekend.

Tools and Materials:
- Tape measure
- Level
- Hand saw/coping saw
- Hammer
- Tapping block
- Pull bar
- Spacers
- Foam underlayment
- Laminate flooring

Step 1: Getting ready 
Before you tear out the old flooring, make sure you have on hand the necessary tools and materials for the project, because once you begin, a trip or two to the home center will only cause stress and delays. As you measure the room to determine its square footage, plan on purchasing 10% more than strictly necessary in order to account for boards that will be cut for end fittings.

Step 2: Acclimate the new flooring
Floors shrink and expand as temperatures and humidity levels change, so at least one week prior to installation, you’ll need to begin acclimating your flooring to the conditions of your space. Lay flat or stack the boards in the room where you plan to install them. Don’t forget to remove any plastic packaging; doing so promotes air circulation, which aids in the acclimation process.

Step 3: Prepare your subfloor
Remove and store base moldings before doing anything else. Then, working from the edge of one wall, carefully start lifting up the old flooring. As you go, remove nails and staples (or tack strips, if you are pulling up carpeting). Clean up debris and inspect the surface of the subfloor for areas in need of repair. Installing over concrete? Make sure it’s completely cured and moisture-free.

Step 4: Lay the underlayment
Some laminate flooring is sold with pre-attached foam underlayment (also known as a vapor barrier). Otherwise, underlayment sold separately may be installed one strip at a time, starting with the longest wall. Follow the manufacturer’s directions on forming butt edges and sealing seams.

Step 5: Trim the door jambs
Once the underlayment is down, there’s one additional preliminary step to undertake: trimming the door jambs. To accomplish this, lay down one plank so that its edge runs along the side the jamb. Mark the board and using a hand saw, cut parallel to the floor, creating a cut-out that allows the board to fit neatly under the jamb for a clean, professional look.

Step 6: Install the flooring
Install planks parallel to the longest wall. Remember, the first plank is the most important—position it so that its groove faces the wall and is flush to a corner of the room. To allow for natural expansion and contraction, place half-inch spacers between the board and the wall at intervals of 12 inches. Once that’s done, proceed one plank at a time, matching tongues to grooves and gently tapping for a snug fit. (Avoid damaging board edges with your hammer or mallet by using a rag or tapping block to soften the impact.) For a lasting, attractive installation, be sure to stagger the end joints of adjacent boards.

Step 7: Finish up
Your last plank can be somewhat of a pain. It may be necessary to trim the board, or at least the tongue, to ensure that it’s flush. Complete the job by putting in thresholds anyplace there is a door, or wherever your laminate meets another flooring material. Last, take out the spacers you put in, then re-install your base molding. Now sit back and admire.

 

Author’s Note: Perry Miller has been a freelance writer since graduating from Missouri State University with a degree in journalism. Having worked on dozens of home renovations, Perry has completed projects from shower installation to garage rebuilds and asbestos removal. Read more at doityourself.com


How To: Install Ceramic Tile

Plan ahead and place focus on prep work for professional results when installing ceramic tile.

How to Install Ceramic Tile

Photo: shutterstock

Installing ceramic tile can be tricky. Successful tiling jobs are a direct result of good planning and a methodical approach. Take the time to do the right amount of prep work before you begin.

STEP 1: Assess
Begin by inspecting the surface upon which you plan to install the tile. The substrate, or what tile is installed on top of, is just as important as the tile itself. A flexing floor or a wall that is uneven can lead to broken tiles and failed grout.

Water-resistant backer board, not drywall, should be used under tile that is likely to get wet (shower walls and bathroom floors, for example). Whether it’s backer board, plywood, or concrete, the substrate needs to be sound, clean, and dimensionally stable. Surfaces need to be level or plumb and true to plane, as the pros say—that means no bumps. Wallpaper, loose plaster, flaking paint, peeling tiles or unsecured sheet flooring must be removed from the walls or floors that are to be tiled.

STEP 2: Measure
Walls—When tiling a wall, you’ll want to establish a top line that is level. Few walls are truly plumb, so use a level to mark the top line. Establish its height so that you won’t have to cut very thin tiles (or cut very thin shards from nearly full tiles) to come flush to the floor. Snap a top line on your walls, and then snap a center line, too. Be sure to lay out all the walls you plan to do before you begin tiling.

Floors—To make your finished ceramic tile surface appear symmetrical (even if it isn’t), you need to find the center of the surface first. Then measure in from the sides. Pay special attention to this step if you’re tiling a small area, where wide tiles at one edge and narrow ones at the other will make the whole job look out of balance.

In an older home, you may find the floor isn’t square, which makes the job more complicated. Use the most obvious wall as a baseline, so those entering the room will see tile lines parallel to that wall; your job will look more even.

Once you’ve identified the center and baseline from which you will work, snap a pair of perpendicular chalk lines. These will divide the room into roughly equal quadrants. You’ll want to work outward from the center point in each of the four sections.

STEP 3: Lay out the tiles
After you’ve found the center point and squared the room for floor installations (or determined the top line level for walls), lay the tiles out to see how they will appear. Do it dry, before you mix the adhesive or mortar, within each quadrant of the grid.

The space between the tiles should be uniform. Use spacers if your tiles don’t come on mesh sheets. The larger the tile the larger the space should be between them. Some do-it-yourselfers will make the mistake of pushing tiles too close together to reduce grout lines. Without enough surface area, grout won’t bond well and can fail prematurely, leaving room for leaks and water damage. It’s also very important to let the adhesive cure fully.

When it comes to the actual tiling, work across to the outside edge of one quadrant, then to the top or bottom, one row or course at a time. Fill in as you go. Double-check by measuring at least twice with a tape and a second time by dry-laying the tile prior to adhering.

STEP 4: Cutting the tile
The first step in cutting tile is measuring the size of the tile you wish to cut and transferring the dimensions to the glazed surface of the tile via felt-tip marker. Position the tile on the tile cutter, aligning the center line of the cutter with the axis on which the tile is to be cut. To keep it square, the top of the tile should be held flush to the fence at the top of the cutter. Then, using the lever to which the cutting wheel is attached, draw the cutter across the surface of the tile, exerting a firm, even pressure. Make only one pass with the cutter. Finally, snap the tile.

Different snap cutters have different means of snapping tile. Some have a heel at the rear of the lever that has the cutting wheel at its toe; with others, the reverse is true. Whatever the design of your cutter, use the surface to apply pressure to the score line. In combination with a bead built into the base of the cutter, the pressure will cause the tile to snap in half. A little patience, some practice, a score and a snap, and you’re a tile cutter.

How to Install Ceramic Tile - Setting

Photo: shutterstock.com

STEP 5: Adhering Tiles
If you are using tile, chances are that it’s in a setting where moisture is a given—kitchen, bath, entryway and so on. Make sure you use a waterproof adhesive. You can use a premixed adhesive or a mortar, but if you choose the latter, make sure it’s a thin-set variety. (Thick-bed mortars require some practice and skill at smoothing to get the tiles to sit flat, and the additional mortar isn’t necessary for a watertight finish.)

Be sure to check the product container to determine how quickly the adhesive will dry. Spread the adhesive smoothly with a square-notched trowel, then set each tile with a slight twist to spread the adhesive. Begin at the center of the surface and work out to the perimeter. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and stay off the installation for the required amount of time before beginning grout work.

STEP 6: Grouting tiles
Grout is usually purchased as a powder and mixed with water or a recommended additive. Read the instructions on the package or ask advice at the tile store. Wear gloves and spread grout evenly, being sure to force it into the joints with a blunt stick or another tool.

One simple way to enhance your color scheme is to add a dye or pigment to the grout. White grout, even after it has been sealed with a grout sealer (which is recommended, especially for floors), may prove difficult to keep clean.

STEP 7: Cleaning and sealing
Make sure you sponge off the residue on the surface of the tiles before it has the chance to dry. This step will require several passes over a period of an hour or more. It’s a critical stage when you’re working with tiles that have a porous or variegated surface. Dried grout can prove almost impossible to remove from indentations.

Finally, apply a grout sealer according to the manufacturer’s directions, and your tile job is complete!


Wood Flooring 101

An overview of the types of wood flooring and a word about finishes.

Wood Flooring

Photo: flickr.com

Wood remains the most used flooring material. Its warm feel and appearance, affordability, and sheer variety probably account for its popularity. But ceramic tiles, carpeting, sheet flooring, and other options each have important uses.

Traditional “floor boards” are just what their name suggests, boards that have been nailed to the framed floor of the structure. But today there are a multitude of kinds of floor boards on the market.

The most common option is called strip flooring. It consists of solid wood with tongues and grooves on opposite sides of each piece.

The first course of strip flooring is “face nailed,” meaning the nails are driven through the top or face of each board. Those nails are subsequently hidden beneath the baseboard. Each course thereafter is “blind nailed,” a technique in which the nails are driven through the tongues of each board so that the groove of the next course hides the nail heads from sight.

Plank flooring is wider, typically 4, 5, or 6 inches. Oak, maple, cherry, ponderosa pine, Philippine mahogany, and numerous other species are milled into plank flooring. Vin­tage or recycled flooring has the same overall shape, but looks very different because it’s made from recycled boards, typically reclaimed beams or roofers. It’s character­ized by variations in color, stains, and other signs of age that give it an antique char­acter. Engineered flooring is still another option. Made of a thin ply of hardwood glued to a plywood substrate, engineered floor is very stable.

Which is best? Recycled flooring and wide plank flooring may match up best with an existing floor in an antique home. On the other hand, it’s less stable, and more likely to shrink and gap during the heating season. Most dwellings built in the twentieth century have strip flooring, which is highly durable, a very practical and perhaps the most economical choice. Engineered flooring is very stable and, when purchased prefinished at the factory, usually with an acrylic sealer, it saves time and mess during the final stages of construction. How­ever, this also adds to the price. Your builder can tell you how much. In addition, the factory finish can get scratched or damaged in installation or in the other stages of completing the renovation process.

For a variety of reasons, including tradition, solid wood flooring remains the most common choice. However, the quality of finish your new flooring will have depends upon many factors, among them the skill of the sander, the vari­ety and grade of the finish used, the number of coats applied, and care with which it’s finished.

There’s an ongoing debate about whether water-based or oil-based finishes are better. One old pro I know who just retired from the business is convinced the oil-based finishes are still more durable (though he points out water-based finishes are rapidly catching up). Yet he also admits he almost always recommended water-base polys because the oil-base gave off more noxious fumes; from an ecological standpoint, water-based is friendlier, since it requires no chemical solvent. Oil-base also takes longer to dry, which meant that he, as a flooring contractor, had to revisit each job site more times when using oil-based finishes and got paid a week or more later than when applying faster drying water-based polys. One good way for you to make a choice is to finish a few scrap boards with the polys your flooring contractor recommends, then pick the one that appeals to your eye.


Tiling Tools

Tiling Tools

Photo: shutterstock.com

For many years, ceramic tiling was regarded as arcane. It was a specialized vocation best left to the gifted few who, with their years of apprenticeship, were masters of the trade.

That perception has certainly changed. There are chains of retail stores today that sell only tile and tiling supplies, and most of their customers are homeowners. Tile is now widely used not only in bathrooms, but in kitchens, entry ways, and other locations in the home and office where durable, water-resistant surfaces are re­quired. Increasingly, the installation is done by novices, those of us who want the look of tile but don’t want to pay virtuoso fees for the privilege.

Enter the simple tools of the tiler. This doesn’t have to be long, because the tools are relatively few and fairly easy to use. There’s the tile cutter (it’s essentially a sophisticated version of the glass cutter) that scores and snaps tiles along straight lines. The nip­per, a cutting tool with jaws, handles, and a pivot, resembles a pair of pliers but allows the picking and nipping of little bits from a curve or compound cut. The notched trowel is used to apply the adhesive or cement for affixing the tile, and the grout float spreads the coarse mortar that fills the joints between the tiles.

You’ll need a few other familiar tools, like a tape measure, chalk box, framing square, and a level. These days, tiling is no longer solely the domain of the tilers’ guild.

Tile Cutter
Also known as a snap cutter, this tool consists of a platform topped by a frame along which a cutter wheel slides. The tile is posi­tioned on the padded platform, with one side flush to a fence at the head to hold the workpiece square.

The cutting wheel, quite like the wheel on a glass cutter, is mounted on a lever mechanism that allows considerable leverage to be applied. The wheel is pressed against the tile to score its glazed surface. The tile is then pressured with the cutter lever to snap the tile apart.

Tile cutters vary greatly in price. Some have hardened steel cutler wheels, others have carbide cutters (these cost several times as much, but last much longer). Some have larger tables, others can be set up to make accurate miter cuts.

A much more expensive option is a wet saw, which is essentially a portable circular saw mounted onto a special frame and water-filled trough. A movable cutting table with an adjustable fence allows the tile to be presented to the cutting blade, which is in turn kept cool by jets of water.

The wet saw is invaluable for working with thick and shaped tile, and for shaping curves from tile. It makes smooth, regular cuts, when used with both skill and care. If you have used a circular saw, similar safety rules apply. Wet saws can usually be rented for reasonable fees on a daily or hourly basis.

For most simple tiling jobs, however, a snap cutter will do quite nicely, at a reasonable cost, and with no exposure to the risks of the power saw. When you buy tile, it may be worth asking suppliers whether they have cutters they are prepared to rent or loan to their customers.

Nippers
This is the second of the two essential tile-cutting tools (along with the tile cutter). Like the pliers they greatly resemble, nippers can be purchased in many sizes and configurations. A basic model will suffice for most jobs.

Nippers are used to cut curved or irregular tiles, or to nip away very thin strips from the edges of a tile. They work best when the area to be trimmed has been scored with a tile or glass cutter; the nip­pers are then used to clip off small sections at a time. Some nippers have one flat jaw that is held flush to the glazed surface of the tile; the other has a curved cutting edge that is designed to bite into the unglazed vitreous base (called the bisque). Others have two cutting edges. Both designs work well.

Notched Trowel
This tool is used to spread adhesive over walls or floors in order to apply surfaces such as ceramic tile. Also called a serrated-edge, ad­hesive, or mastic trowel, the notched trowel has a flat rectangular blade and a wooden handle mounted along the center of its back. The edges of the blade are notched, sometimes in two different profiles.

When you have finished laying out the job, you apply the adhesive to a small area of the wall or floor (say, a three-foot square) using the notched trowel. Smooth the ad­hesive or mortar evenly onto the surfaces, then draw the notched edge through it on a final pass, holding the trowel at a low angle. This will create a uniform series of ridged lines in which to bed the tiles.

The tiles can then be set in place, one at a time. They are pushed firmly into the adhesive, perhaps with a slight twisting motion to bed them thoroughly. As you finish each section, check the areas for plumb and level.

Grout Float
After the tile is in place and the adhesive or cement has set for twenty-four hours or longer (follow the instructions on the adhesive or mortar package), a thin, coarse mortar called grout is applied to fill the joints between the tiles. A sponge can be used for this pur­pose, but the job is made a good deal easier if you have a grout float. (You’ll still need a sponge, though, to clean the surface of the tiles after the grout is applied.)

The grout float looks rather like a trowel, with a hardwood handle at the center of its back. However, the body of the tool is also wooden, and its working surface is made of rubber (hence another name by which it is known, the rubber float).

It is used like a trowel, in that it is held with a long edge at a low angle to the tile, and swept across the area, with the pressure from the flat surface working the grout between the tiles. Follow with a sponge to remove the grout residue from the tile surfaces.


Enhanced Plywood and Subfloor Products

Protect an unfinished home from the elements by building a durable subfloor from new, improved options in engineered wood.

Plywood and OSB

Photo: Landisreedhomes.com

Plywood vs. OSB
When plywood was developed to replace solid-board sheathing for subfloors and decking, builders were generally reluctant to switch to the new product, which ultimately became the standard for subfloor applications. When OSB came on the scene as an alternative to plywood, detractors were quick to point out its deficiencies. The truth is that plywood and OSB each have strengths and weaknesses when used as exposed decking or subflooring.

When a roofless, partially built structure takes on water, both plywood and oriented strand board (OSB) used for floor decking can absorb water, swell, delaminate, and require sanding or replacement before finish flooring can be installed. The fix is to use water-repellent or water-resistant products in place of ordinary plywood or OSB.

Plywood and OSB are considered “structural panels,” and building codes treat both materials equally. Compositionally they are different, however. Plywood is made from glued strips of wood veneer that are layered at alternating 90 degree angles and placed in a hot press. The resulting cross-laminated and layered material is structurally enhanced and resistant to the expansion and contraction that affects wood.

OSB uses 3-inch to 4-inch strands of wood that are also layered and configured in a crossing pattern, then glued and pressed. OSB is heavier than plywood, absorbs less moisture, and is considered a more structurally consistent product. Furthermore, OSB does not have the delamination issues that can plague plywood. However, OSB is prone to edge swelling when exposed to moisture, and does not dry out as fast as plywood. In addition, a couple of national ceramic tile associations have discouraged the use of OSB as a subfloor or underlayment below a tile or ceramic finished floor, due to the problems encountered by edge swelling. “Wood and water just do not mix well,” says Jeff Key, marketing manager for wood products at Georgia-Pacific. To address these water issues, OSB and plywood manufacturers are refining their products.

Enhanced OSB
Products like AdvanTech, an OSB product by Huber Engineered Woods, were brought onto the scene to meet the need for moisture-resistant OSB. Essentially an enhanced OSB material, AdvanTech uses a resin integrated with the wood to resist water absorption and reduce the swelling that plagued the original OSB subflooring. Huber even offers a 50-year warranty on AdvanTech.

Using a water-resistant subfloor product saves the builder time and money because they make compromised deck sections a thing of the past. “I use the AdvanTech sheets so I don’t have to worry about sanding the edges later,” says James Langeway, a Vermont contractor. Louisiana-Pacific offers Top-Notch, an enhanced subflooring system with an edge coating to prevent water absorption and a self-draining notch design that drains standing water away from the panels.

Enhanced Plywood
Acknowledging that some builders are going to be loyal to plywood, Georgia-Pacific recently went national with its new line of enhanced plywood, called Plytanium DryPly. DryPly is plywood treated with a water-resistant coating. “Our product comes with a 100 percent builder satisfaction guarantee against delamination, edge swelling, and joint sanding,” says Key. By combatting moisture issues, this new generation of plywood aims to go head-to-head with the enhanced OSB products. “There really isn’t another plywood product out there like it,” adds Key.

This evolved plywood may claim an overall advantage over OSB, since plywood is a stiffer, longer-lasting subfloor option. It will also hold up better under flooring accidents like leaks or flooding, and has greater nail withdrawal strength to hold the nail in under stress. “The difference with plywood is not felt initially during the first walk-through by the owners,” says Key. “It is made for long-term durability.” This sentiment is backed by Georgia-Pacific’s lifetime warranty on the product.

Comparative Costs
The cost of any wood product will fluctuate by region and supply. OSB is generally less-expensive than plywood, which is why a good number of high-volume builders have turned to it. The cost of plywood will vary depending on wood species, a factor that can also affect performance. Enhanced building products will cost more, but the savings come in time and materials when a second subfloor is not needed and finish flooring can be installed directly on top.


Green Home—Flooring

Flooring products have benefited from green technologies that serve the consumer as well as the planet.

Green Flooring

Photo: dehocorkfl.com

The interest in environmentally friendly floors is growing as people learn about deforestation, air quality, growing landfills, and other issues. Whether you’re a core green consumer, interested in health issues, or just looking for great products at a good price, homeowners can discover many eco-friendly flooring possibilities.

Issues of Concern
Many factors figure into the idea of green flooring. Those looking at hardwood or engineered wood floors have at least two concerns. “First, there is an increasing awareness today of the destruction of the world’s forests,” says Lewis Buchner, CEO of EcoTimber in San Rafael, CA. “Forests hold the vast majority of Earth’s plant and animal life. The destruction of forests is the second-largest cause of carbon emissions worldwide—more than all cars, trucks, boats and planes combined. People want to do the right thing and don’t want their flooring decision to add to this destruction.

“There’s also the issue of indoor air quality. Remember the fiasco surrounding formaldehyde emissions in the FEMA trailers housing victims of Hurricane Katrina? Most of those emissions came from the adhesives used to bind wood products together. These adhesives are also found in many engineered wood flooring products,” says Buchner. EcoTimber offers domestic and exotic hardwood and bamboo flooring, including prefinished engineered and floating floors with no volatile organic compounds and formaldehyde-free adhesives.

The growing amount of waste going to landfills is another concern. Shaw Industries is one such eco-friendly company. Keeping carpet out of landfills is a key part of its Green Edge program. Public Relations and Media Relations Specialist Mollie J. Allen says the company’s Evergreen facility in Augusta, GA, recycles Type 6 nylon (N6) carpets and rugs, the ones typically found in American households. The facility breaks down carpets to the raw N6 nylon and remanufactures it into new fiber that can be used over and over without loss of beauty or durability. Since it opened in February 2007, the Evergreen facility has recycled more than 87 million pounds of post-consumer N6 carpet. Visit Shaw Environmental or call 800-434-9887 to locate a designated collection site.

Shaw also has introduced Epic® hardwood which uses up to 67 percent recycled content. Epic’s dense inner layer, EnviroCore®, is composed of wood fiber created in the manufacture of other products, especially sawmill by-products that would otherwise be burned or put into landfills.

Mohawk Industries has a different kind of recycling in its business operations. Mohawk’s everSTRAND® carpet fiber is made using PET (polyethylene terephthalate) extruded from recycled plastic bottles. The company uses about 25 percent of the country’s recycled PET plastic drinking bottles—more than 17 billion since 1999. PET bottles are sorted, ground up, cleaned, melted, extruded into fiber, and spun into carpet yarn. Even the bottle cap and label are used, making the cores around which the carpet is wrapped.


Walking on Glass

Glass block floors invite more light into your home and provide a unique decorative accent.

Glass Block Floors

Photo: gemhome.com

Glass block floors add a unique accent to wood, tile, stone, and concrete floors. Consider them a dual purpose floor: Glass block panels enhance a living space by illuminating both the walking surface of a room, as well as the ceiling surface of the room below. While typically found in contemporary residential and commercial designs, properly planned they also add a modern touch to more traditional homes.

Options
Glass block panels are bought either as a kit that includes hollow glass pavers and an aluminum or pre-cast concrete frame, or as prefabricated and ready-to-install panels. The framework for the panels is available in standard shapes (usually square or rectangular designs), or can be custom ordered in unique configurations. In general, glass panel kits are more appropriate for interior applications where weather and water will not be constantly encountered. Prefabricated panels are factory sealed against moisture, and are better suited for use in decks or other exterior-facing applications. The glass pavers (the glass block portion of the floor) must be specifically designed to serve as a flooring material. The glass block stocked in home centers for use in windows and walls does not have the proper strength for flooring applications.

To assemble a floor panel, the glass blocks are set into the concrete or aluminum framework and sealed against moisture (each manufacturer has its own assembly process). The panels are designed to act as load-bearing system, and properly installed can easily withstand the day-to-day rigors of family traffic. When used in an exterior facing application, glass block panels are thermally efficient, with an insulating R-value equal to that of double-pane glazing on high-performance windows.

The glass pavers are available in a range of sizes, usually from 6-inch to 12-inch squares. Many manufacturers suggest that glass block pavers be bought in a sandblasted finish. This improves slip resistance and diffuses light sources for a glare-free surface. Additionally, when used in private areas like bedrooms and bathrooms, sandblasting the glass blocks ensures privacy.

Installation
Glass block floor panels are manufactured by a handful of companies in the United States, including Circle Redmont and IBP Floor Systems. While the panels come with detailed installation instructions, proper assembly and mounting is a job best left to professionals. Because a glass block floor panel will not generally fit in between existing floor joists, the joists must be cut and a support frame built into the floor. Glass block panels are extremely heavy; a 4-foot-square panel can weigh up to 300 pounds, making installation at least a three-person job.