Bathroom Floor Installation Do’s and Don’ts: The Key to Success

by Raymond Alexander Kukkee

A bathroom floor renovation project can be one of the most satisfying and exciting do–it-yourself projects undertaken by the modern homeowner.

With increasingly beautiful flooring choices, modern sparkling fixtures, accessories, and innovative bath designs now available, bathrooms are no longer just that mundane, 5′ x7′ -three-fixture closet down at the end of the hall. It can be a showpiece, and a one-of-a-kind creation of your own doing.

This is one of the "don'ts" - an error in layout


To tackle a floor renovation without a carefully-devised plan and good advice can turn out more than problematic, so let’s go over a few of the most common do’s and don’ts of bathroom floor installations before we start.

Accept the fact that unexpected stuff happens on any project. At the last minute the sub-floor and joists are found to be decayed; the cousins from 90210 show up, the pipes need to be different, or the contractor’s only truck is mortally wounded for a month, –you name it, it happens. To top it all off, those exotic Italian tiles you so happily ordered may not show up for six months or more in spite of the hasty delivery promised by the gawky kid. Planning is key whether you’re doing it yourself or going the contractor route. Take a hard look at what needs to be done, and decide exactly what you want to achieve, when, and plan accordingly. Since the project is going to disrupt the household, make solid decisions and plan for the shortest possible delays–but also allow for the unforeseen.

‘Know your contractor’  is always sound advice –and get three quotes too.   If you decide to contract the job, take time to find out who is available. Check your chosen contractor’s reputation, and go see some of his workmanship. Ask for references.   Don’t assume he’ll know what you want done, he’s probably good, but not a mind-reader, so inspect the bathroom with him in tow. He can quickly show you what must be done, and might even throw in some helpful design ideas,   so make that all-important list that includes everything, keep a copy of it, and you’re good to go.

A signed estimate and a deposit of 20% to 25% should get the job moving and completed by any reliable contractor. By the way, don’t pay off the bill before the job is completed to your satisfaction, either; –doing that can prove to be problematic. Maybe you would prefer to call him on the Caribbean cruise he’s enjoying with your money, but your building center might be hounding you to pay the bill for supplies, and your project can be left an unholy mess of inconvenience. Caveat emptor, let the buyer beware — is best applied to contracted jobs, quality of workmanship and labour as well as materials.

Don’t forget building or renovation permits if they’re required for your jurisdiction. Municipal building departments don’t like that, and a simple oversight can result in long delays, especially if personality clashes happen to occur at the busiest times of the season. Avoid those problematic delays at all cost, get properly permitted yourself, or make sure your contractor has done so. Don’t let him plead insanity, he’s a pro, no kidding, he knows which permits are required.

A decent floor job can last 30 years, so if the other stuff needs to be replaced, now is the time

Let’s inspect the existing floor and all of the underlying structure carefully. One of the biggest problems is how to know when the bathroom floor needs replacing. Lift up a couple of those curled tiles by the toilet. Is everything damp and spongy? Is the toilet unstable? If so, the wax ring is probably leaking and water has been seeping into the sub-floor. Is the floor too flexible ? Trying to install a new floor, especially ceramic tile, on poor substrate is a waste of time, so plan on ripping out that bad underlayment and sub-floor plywood too, especially if it’s brown and punky.

Add a second layer of sub-floor to stiffen solid, but wimpy plywood if necessary. If you can push a penknife blade into wood or through it, without effort –it’s rotten, measure up for some new stuff and head out for coffee. You’ll be wanting to see nice new plywood and sub-floor put in anyway, and not a surprise, your new floor will last much longer too.

Don’t ignore those floor joists underneath either, while you’re at it, unless you want the bathtub in the basement the fast way. Checking floor joists might sound intimidating, but it’s simpler than you think Look at the top side of the supporting joists right under the bathroom, are they only a bit water-stained from the kid’s soaker fights on bath nights, or are they deteriorating, brown, soft and punky ?

See any mold? Give the joists  the old penknife test, especially along the top where the plywood sits. The top half inch might be bad, but the rest of the joist can still be solid and as good as new.    Consider applying additional supports alongside, immediately under the plywood, or even replace the joists if needed. The best foundation for any successful project is a solid one.

Design away before the fact, not after. Save time, effort and money too by changing and updating that bathroom design now –for something more modern and attractive.

Replace fixtures as needed, whether by necessity or design change wish-list. Everything that already looks out-dated, worn and tired will even look worse sitting on that sparkling new floor, so updating should be addressed before the floor is installed. A decent floor job can last 30 years, so if the other stuff needs to be replaced, now is the time, including the fixtures and plumbing accessories. Unless you know you’re going to be happy with the “Leave it to Beaver” retro look, there’s not much point in having to do the whole bath job over next year in the name of fashion. Besides, change-up is good, there are low-flow, environmentally greener bathroom products that can be used.

Choose your bathroom flooring design carefully. Will it match your existing decor, or look “out of place?” What will the  overall image project? Consider that “less is more” when installing heavily- patterned materials, which can make a small room look “busy” and smaller.

Choose quality flooring materials carefully. Use only flooring products recommended for bathrooms.  Some are better than others, and some aren’t recommended for bathroom use at all , so don’t go on the cheap. Quality pays in the long run, so always buy the best materials you can possibly afford even if your budget is squeaky-tight.

Do the whole floor while you can. Don’t ignore the footprint areas including the area under the vanity or sink, –unless you have a secret desire to try matching custom tile four or five years later when you suddenly decide to install a pedestal type sink, redesign the bathroom, or simply want to upgrade the vanity.

Use a professional layout for the most attractive flooring outcome. “ A layout that is just “good enough” usually shows up as inferior work. Down at the building center the pros are always happy to  discuss options including the best advice for layout   for your needs– free of charge.

Considering some of these tips can save the headache of facing the same  job with additional expense in the future.  Solid choices now are  the key to success, and it’s your project.


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