Introduction: Bathroom Linoleum Flooring Replacement Project
When we moved into our house in 2006, we had a lot of changes that we wanted to make. Windows, carpet, painting, etc. One adjustment that has been on hold for a while it to replace the linoleum in our master bathroom. It was worn and had a few marks in it that looked like a hot tire had been placed on it. Also, when I walked on the floor, I got the feeling that there was a little give. Like it wasn’t quite stuck down. In 2012, I finally decided that I was up to the challenge of changing the floor. My wife picked out a pattern and ordered a 12’ x 8’ piece. I've only attached pictures of the new flooring, I don't have a record of what it looked like before.
For reference, I used the following calculator to find out what it would cost to have a professional install this linoleum. I was surprised that the estimate was ~$6,000. for the job. Certainly I can do better than that! The estimate they provided for the linoleum material cost was very close to exactly what we paid for the replacement piece.
I decided to take off a week of work to do the project. I was hoping that I could do the job in 3 days and then have plenty of time to pursue other things. Little did I know what was lurking under that flooring…
Step 1: Tools for the Job
What you’ll need for the job.
• Work Gloves
• Eye Protection
• Pry Bar
• Vice Grips or other locking pliers
• Circular Saw
• Pneumatic Brad Nailer
• Pneumatic Stapler
• Tape Measure
• Crescent Wrench
• Hack Saw
• Dust Pan
• Cutting mat (if needed)
• Putty Knife
• Toilet Wax Seal
• Toilet Bolts (if needed)
• 2” Brad Nails
• 1” Flooring Staples
• 1/4” Plywood
• Flooring Adhesive tube (optional)
• Shower and Bath Caulking tube
• Spackle (I prefer the pink variety that turns white when it’s dry)
• Linoleum Adhesive
• Linoleum Adhesive applicator
• 12” long 2”x4” wood board covered with a cloth.
Step 2: Anatomy of a Bathroom Floor
Before I get too far, let me explain the structure of a floor. Although I’ve only replaced two floors, everything I have read indicates that this is typical. A linoleum floor is composed of three layers:
-- Linoleum: This is the top layer that your feet touch. Linoleum is approximately 1/8th of an inch thick.
-- Wood Flooring: Good quality 1/4” plywood that takes most of the force and provides the foundation for the linoleum. Any imperfections in the plywood will reflect on the linoleum that sits above it.
-- Sub-Floor: A rough layer that you would find in an unfinished house. The sub-floor should be at least 3/4” thick.
The linoleum should be one sheet if possible. If you're doing a large area that requires more than one linoleum sheet, you'll need to use some tool to merge the seam. (This is out side my area of expertise.) The wood flooring can be laid down in sections. The sub-floor is usually laid in full sheets. Linoleum is attached to the wood flooring with a glue and the wood flooring is attached to the sub-floor with 1” staples. The staples are placed every 2” and much closer around the seam of each wood flooring segment.
Step 3: Area Preparation
You will need to do some work up front to prepare the area for the floor removal.
Generally, the linoleum is abutted to tubs, showers and sink cabinetry. These items probably don’t need to be removed before pulling up the flooring, however toilets and some sinks are installed over the linoleum. These appliances will need to be removed from the floor before proceeding. Baseboards will also need to be removed, as they are installed over the linoleum. You shouldn’t have to remove the molding around doors. Usually this is installed over the linoleum and the replacement will slide under it. Remove any seams between the linoleum and other flooring. For example, in this case, there was a metal plate between linoleum in the bathroom and carpet in the bedroom.
Step 4: Old Floor Removal
Before proceeding, review your safety gear. I would recommend gloves, eye protection, and ear protection. First Aid kit available in the house? Remember, one trip to the emergency room will significantly impact the budget!
Now that the flooring is clear of any obstructions, you may be able to locate the wood flooring seams and choose a location to start pulling it up. I started at a seam I found between the bathroom and the bedroom. I scored the linoleum in a grid pattern to weaken it and give the flooring a place to break. I then used a pry bar and hammer to insert the pry bar between the sub-floor and wood floor. Then pry it up, find another position and repeat. Once a large enough section is up, break it off and drop it in the trash.
Probably a safer way to do this that I will use in the future is to use a circular saw (with a carbide blade) set to a 3/8” inch depth (1/8” linoleum + 1/4” wood flooring) and cut the floor up into smaller sections. Then use the pry bar to pull each section up. The circular saw will come in contact with some of the staples. That’s why I would use a carbide blade for the job. These cuts don’t have to be perfect, they’ll just make the job easier by breaking the floor up into more manageable chunks. You’ll probably have less splinters than I experienced.
The next step is a bit tedious. I had to remove all the staples that didn’t have the decency to come up with the wood flooring. I estimate that I pulled around ~500+ staples that were still stuck in the sub-floor. I used a pair of locking pliers. Clamp staple, rock the pliers down onto the sub-floor and pry the staple out. With that many staples to pull I experimented with several methods of pulling the staples but unfortunately, I found that my original method was the most effective. I did 4’ sections at a time. Taking ample breaks to check the knees, back and sweep up the area. I had to inspect each section several times with a bright light to find all the staples. The sub-floor needs to be completely clear of bumps and lumps. Anything, even a staple, will push up the new wood flooring. If there are any staples that you can’t get up, it’s better to hammer them into the sub-floor than let them push up into the new wood flooring.
Step 5: Toilet Trouble
When I pulled up the wood flooring around the toilet flange I found some wetness and discoloration. The staples came out very easy in this area. I put a space heater in the area directed at the floor to dry out whatever moisture I could. I left the space heater on the area for about 12 hours just to increase the possibility that it dried out completely. I found out later that during initial assembly of the house, the builder installs a flange that has a pressure proof cap. Then they will pressurize the whole sewer system to verify that there are no leaks before they finish the walls. Before installing the toilets, they will break out the pressure cap with a hammer or other instrument. It appears that whoever did this one wasn’t a very good shot. They nicked the side of the flange and broke it.
This toilet has been slowly leaking for 13 − 14 years. If it had been any worse it probably would have been caught in the first few years by wetness coming through the sheet rock below. After a couple days delay, I finally found a plumber that would repair the flange for a reasonable price. The repair took the plumber about 1 1/4 hours to complete and he did a great job.
I’m comfortable doing flooring and toilets, but I’m not as comfortable working on water systems. Go figure.
Step 6: Anatomy of a Baseboard
The baseboard is a decorative element located at the base of a wall. It also serves several practical purposes. First, the baseboard covers up the edge of the sheetrock which can have some imperfections or mis-cuts. Second, it allows a painter to paint the sheetrock close to the floor without having to do the fine edging work needed at the seam between the sheetrock and the floor. The paint edge will be defined by the baseboard, which is attached over it during final finishing. Finally, the baseboard also covers up the edge of the flooring, in this case linoleum flooring. The gap between the flooring and the stud wall adds up to approximately 3/4” to 1”. This space will give the flooring some play on every wall where there is a baseboard. The play can significantly improve the chances that minor mis-cuts in the linoleum will be covered up.
The important thing to observe when laying out the measurements for a floor, are which edges do have a baseboard, and which edges to not have a baseboard. If possible, cut edges that have a baseboard and not edges that do not have a baseboard.
Where there is a seam between a shower or tub, the linoleum will butt up to the vertical and it will be sealed bathroom grade caulking.
Step 7: Flooring and Linoleum Layout
While I was waiting for the toilet flange repair to be completed, I occupied my time taking measurements of the bathroom and laying out the wood flooring and linoleum.
I decided to use Sketchup to capture all the measurements in a layout that I could reference while measuring and cutting. (see references) Sketchup is a 3D CAD (Computer Aided Drafting) tool that is free for personal use. It may seem like a little bit of overkill, since the floor plan is only a 2D surface, why use a 3D CAD tool? Well, first off it’s free, and second I have found that the dimensioning tools available in Sketchup to be very good. Here is the link to the Sketchup web site
The first drawing shows the dimensions for all the wood flooring piece. All these measurements were taken from the sheetrock to sheetrock after the baseboard was removed. As I described in Anatomy of a baseboard, these measurements should be within 1/8”. There is a little bit of room to play on edges where there is a baseboard, but none to play with on edges where there are no baseboards.
The wood flooring cuts do not have to be perfect, but it should be pretty close. The wood flooring should go all the way to the dry wall but there should be at least a putty knife space between each joint. This space between joints is to accommodate for humidity changes that may cause the plywood to expand or contract. If you butt them together, they may squeak at some point in the future.
I cut the larger sections first and dry fitted them in place. Then I double checked the measurements for the smaller pieces. I measured and cut the hole for the toilet flange last — after I was sure that that section of flooring was positioned as it would be when I stapled it. I used a drafting compass with a marker taped to it to get the right radius. Then I used a jigsaw to cut it out. The hole for the toilet flange is within 1/4” of the diameter of the toilet flange.
Now for the linoleum measurements. I agonized over this part because it really is not possible to un-cut linoleum. I’ve done this twice and this bathroom was harder than the first. On my first linoleum replacement project, the layout contained two perpendicular walls that did not require any cuts. These two walls were the basis for all my other measurements. They were a constants that I could depend on. However in this case, there was only one wall that didn’t suffer a cut of some kind.
I chose two sides, the right and bottom side, as the basis for all my measurements. This is where I let Sketchup do the heavy lifting of calculating all the measurements for cuts. Only the right side did not require a cut. See picture
To remove any curling in the linoleum, I laid it out in another room where I could leave it flat for several days I used a long straight edge and a red water washable marker to mark all the cut lines. I used some heavy duty scissors to make the cuts, however in retrospect, a box knife and a cutting mat would have worked just as well and probably would have been less stressful on my right hand.
After cutting out the linoleum, I held my breath, carried it to the bathroom and dry fitted it to see if I had made any major mistakes. Fortunately, all my double measuring had paid off, and it was close to a perfect fit. I found one spot where a wrinkle was pushing up the linoleum. After some detective work, I found that an edge of the linoleum was pushing in and causing a wrinkle across the linoleum. I found that the top edge of the linoleum was not quite square — it was off by about 1/4” from edge to edge. If it wasn’t causing a wrinkle it would not have been an issue. I decided to mark up the change on the spot by rolling the edge back on the it’s self and making the cut with a box knife, cutting mat and metal square. (This is where I found that a sharp box knife would cut the linoleum very well.)
Step 8: Wood Flooring & Linoleum Application
Now that the flooring and linoleum was cut, and the toilet flange was repaired, I was ready to do the final assembly. The first step was to do one final sweep up of the floor, and make a list check for any staples that had evaded my previous inspections. (I found two!)
I prepared a caulking gun with a tube of flooring adhesive. In the past, I haven’t used needed flooring adhesive, but I decided to use some around the shower and toilet in this case. I think that the adhesive will act as a moisture barrier between the flooring and sub-flooring. I would much rather have water visible on the floor rather than letting it seep into the cracks. I also prepared a pneumatic stapler with plenty (~1000) 1” staples available to staple into the floor.
I applied the adhesive to the sub-floor along the shower, and around the toilet flange. Then I laid down a wood flooring section and shifted it into a good position. Then, using a pneumatic stapler, I started on one side of the sheet and stapled every 2” working across to the other side — adding an additional staple along the seam. It’s important to move evenly from one side of the flooring to the other in order to avoid any wrinkles or binding the wood. I attached the larger wood flooring sections first and filled in the smaller ones afterwards.
Next came the linoleum. I would highly advise to have some help with this part. Linoleum is a bit heavy and unwieldy. You should avoid folding it or stepping on a seam. The crease may or may not come out depending on the quality of the product. Unfortunately, I had to do this job by myself. So I spent a some time assessing the best way to lay the linoleum before I cracked the seal on the adhesive.
Some things I considered:
Where will I escape to if I find myself covered in linoleum adhesive. Is the path clear, and do I have the materials to clean up with? What kind of footwear will I be using? Am I prepared to get a bit of adhesive on it? Can I roll out the linoleum in a controlled way without causing any creases or seams? Finally I reminded myself to check my footwear regularly for adhesive. Tracking adhesive across a newly laid floor can cause uncontrollable cursing.
The adhesive has the consistency of yogurt and is pretty forgiving. In my case, it cures within 2 hours, which is plenty of time to do some last minute adjustments by sliding the linoleum into place.
After assessing the situation, I decided on a plan of attack. I rolled the smaller section of flooring up onto the larger section. In this smaller section, I poured out approximately 2 cups of adhesive onto the floor and used the applicator to spread it out evenly. Working from the corner toward the remainder of the room. Don’t over-do it. Excess adhesive will cause a bubble. And once a bubble sets up, you won’t be able to get rid of it. If you find that you have too much adhesive, scrape it back into the container.
Once I had covered the smaller section with adhesive, I rolled the linoleum out over it. Next, I lifted up one side of the larger section, and inserted myself between the linoleum and the wood flooring. I worked my way under the linoleum from the opposite end back to toward the exit. I worked my way toward the exit and emerged from under the linoleum. Then I came back in on top of the linoleum now and spread it out on the adhesive. If I had assistance, I would have had them prop the linoleum up on a broom handle while I worked below.
Finally, I walked over the whole floor several times, pushing the linoleum down into the adhesive. I inspected the linoleum with a bright light to find any bubbles. Removing them by using a small 2”x4” board covered in cloth to work the bubbles to the nearest seam.
Step 9: Trim and Finish
Once the linoleum flooring was down, my focused shifted to the finishing touches: Baseboards, toilet install and caulking.
I used a miter saw to cut the baseboards to size as well as make the 45 degree cuts for corner joints. In most cases, the baseboards fit seamlessly against the wall. I pushed the baseboard against the wall, and then pushed it down onto the new linoleum flooring. I used a brad nailer with 2” brads to attach the baseboard to the sheetrock. Starting from one end of the baseboard to the other end of the baseboard I set two brads approximately every 4”. The pressure down into the linoleum will help keep the linoleum flat over time — even if the adhesive looses it’s grip. I did not use brad nails within 1-2’ of the locations where the toilet water feed comes out through the wall. (I have nightmares of a brad nail causing a slow leak in a water line!)
In a few cases, the wall at the baseboard was not quite square. After discovering the issue, I filled the gap with spackle and let it dry. The spackle shim doesn’t have to look great because it’ll be covered with a floorboard. After it had dried, I checked again for square and it was close enough. Next I scraped some spackle along the top edge of the floorboard before setting it in place and nailed it down with brads. After the spackle dries, any excess spackle that pushes out can be broken off with a putty knife. Any that doesn’t come away with a putty knife will clean up with a moist sponge.
After I attached all the baseboards, I pushed spackle into the top seam between the wall and the floorboard to fill in any gaps or imperfections in the sheetrock and also pushing some spackle into the brad nail holes. After the spackle dried, I wiped all the seams and holes down with a damp sponge to remove the excess.
Next came the toilet re-install on the new toilet flange. I centered the new toilet wax seal on the flange, slipped the new toilet bolts into the flange, and carefully placed the toilet into position on the wax seal while lining up the toilet bolts with the bolt holes in the toilet. After that’s all lined up, then Sit down on the toilet to squish it into the wax seal. Gentle direct pressure and resist the temptation to rock back and forth — just let it ease down into the seal. Once it’s stopped moving, then bolt it down. Tight enough, but not too tight. Too tight will cause the toilet will crack. I reassembled the tank and re-attached it to the water line. Here is a link to a good article specifically on toilet assembly
Finally, I caulked the toilet, the seam between the tub and linoleum as well as the seam between the shower and the linoleum. I cut the caulking tube for 1/4” bead and laid down a a bead at the seam between the toilet and the linoleum. Then I used a wet finger to press into the bead and push it into the seam. Ideally the seam should look something like this.
Over time, I’ve found that the less I think about caulking, the better seam I can create. So I generally do it very quickly and don’t even consider going back to re-do an edge. Whenever I do that it turns out to be more of a mess.
Well, that’s about all to it. The job took about 24 − 32 hours total. It depends on how I count the time it took to get the toilet flange fixed. Overall I’m very happy with the outcome. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my description of the work.