eichler restoration

eichler flooring: solid vinyl tile

February 14, 2018

It’s finally time to share about the big floor renovation of 2017.  As with most projects, we had some ups and downs with this one.  Here goes!

First up, a look at the floor today.  It’s made quite an impact on the look of the house, as you can see.  It is BRIGHT.

Preparation

How did we start?  Basically, after staring at our old floors for a while (years), I decided one evening that I’d had enough.  I borrowed a neighbour’s sledgehammer and chisel and smashed a corner of one room to kick things off.

The old floor was a basic ceramic tile, with a texture that made them pretty impossible to clean without a lot of scrubbing.  It was everywhere, and so we commenced demoing the entire house by hand.  With that one hammer and chisel.

(Thanks Farman, it served us well.)

The process was back-breaking but so satisfying.

We’re having fun here.  I swear.

I admit we didn’t go into this project with a plan.  We really should have had specific ideas about what the new flooring would be, but I figured we’d come up with that while we did the demo.  We smashed tile room by room, moved our stuff into a storage unit in our driveway, purged a lot of junk while we were at it, and piled the tile debris in our carport.

This went on for a few months, until it all 1600 square feet of ceramic was out of the house and it was time to decide.

 

Flooring choice

I researched a lot of options and eventually settled on solid vinyl tile for our main living spaces.  (The research really deserves its own post, if only as a sort of therapy for me to get out all the indecision I went through on this.  So if you want to hear about all of the options we considered, please let me know in the comments.)

The product we chose is Cortina Grande in Black & White (CG402).

We’d seen it installed in our friend Blaine’s beautifully renovated desert house.   It felt like a good choice for our Eichler, with its still-operating radiant floor heating.  The SVT doesn’t insulate the floor as other coverings do, allowing the heat to radiate properly.

It also closely resembles one of the originally specified floor coverings used in Eichler homes:  asbestos tile.  Luckily for us, the previous owners had that removed, and we found no trace of asbestos after a lifting up the ceramic tiles (phew!).

Geeky discovery

I have to share this, because if not here, then where?  Paging the archaeologists…

After the floors were up, I noticed some red lines in a few spots and decided to take a closer look.  Could these be original to the initial construction of the house?  A clue is that we have one that starts at a beam near our garage, then continues UNDER the kitchen, and all the way to the corresponding post at the back of the house.

Ah, Eichler-geek delight.

I even tried taking this pano while standing on a chair.  The lines are quite faint but one of them runs between these two posts.  We spotted a few others in the living room and our bedroom too.

Installation

After our DIY demolition, we had the floors prepped and installed by professionals (our wisest choice in this project).  This phase was completed by Jayson from Conklin Bros. Floors.

The prep required the slab to be perfectly smooth otherwise the tiles would telescope any bumps or cracks.  The leftover thinset from the tiles was ground by hand.

This generated incredible amounts of dust but Jayson did a great job containing it and cleaning up at the end of each day.  He also poured self-leveling concrete to make it perfectly smooth.

I love the velvety texture of that cement.  Concrete floors were one of my dream floor options, but one we passed on for practical reasons.  The main one being we’d probably be jack-hammering it soon enough, due to the inevitable leaks that our radiant heating pipes spring up.

The installation involved laying the tile and rolling it afterward, creating a nearly seamless look.

 

Finishing

After the install, we sealed the floors ourselves.  This is where things went VERY WRONG.  To anyone considering Zep products for SVT, please learn from our mistake:  Zep Floor Sealer is apparently not compatible with Solid Vinyl Tile (SVT).

We found that Zep Floor Sealer did not absorb into the tile as I expect it does with Vinyl Composite Tile (VCT), which is popular in Eichlers.  I’m only guessing that the chalk contained in the VCT helps it soak in.  On the SVT however, the floor sealer would pool into little bumps on the surface.  

The bumps hardened and remained visible after applying the subsequent coats of Zep Floor Polish, giving our floors a lumpy texture.  We also (most likely) didn’t wait sufficiently long between coats of polish, so we added streaks to the bumps.

Our ugly creation:

At this point, we had only done applied Zep Sealer to the floor in our living area, so we called in some more pros to fix the mess we made.

Heavenly Touch stripped the floors with chemical stripper and scrubbed them with a burnishing pad on their machine to get all of the Zep off.  It took them a few hours to get the floor perfectly stripped again, going through two of those pads.  They then applied ONLY two coats of floor polish.

The shiny, smooth result:

For the remaining rooms, we carefully applied Zep Floor Polish (no sealer this time!) and they turned out perfectly fine with no issues.

 

Feelings, thoughts, and caveats

We’ve been living with these floors for about six months now and we’re mostly happy with them.

They’re super tough and easy to clean.  Since the tiles are solid vinyl, they arrived in perfect condition when we ordered them.  No cracking or crumbling around the edges which I’ve seen with some VCT.

Since I’ve had questions about this specifically:  yes, our dog’s claw marks are somewhat visible if you look at the floor from the right angle.

You can see a bit of that above, where he likes to frantically bark at the squirrels in our backyard.  To remedy the scratches, we’re going to try polishing a small section again using Zep at some point, but it’s really quite minor.  The white colour does a great job at hiding things like scratches and dust.

One other caveat is that, once polished, these floors are as slippery as they are shiny.  I’ve found that when the floors are wet, they can be icy slick.  Something to keep in mind for those with small children or for anyone who is not steady on their feet.

The seams have started to look dark after about six months of use (you can see a bit in the photos above), but we expected it would happen eventually.  Patina is fine by me.

As far as regrets, my main one (as David will tell you) is the colour choice.  The product itself is great, but I’m actually not too happy with the brightness.  Initially I wanted to go with a dark floor then started to worry that it would make the house too dark … and then panicked when I realized my indecision had gone on for so long that it was time to make a choice, really ANY choice at that point.

The white has worked out in that, yes, the house is looks pretty nice and it’s very practical.  And we get some amazing light moments throughout the day thanks to the floor bouncing it everywhere.  I think the lesson here is to go with your gut, but white floors are also OK?  I haven’t figured it out yet honestly.

One place where I am happiest with it is in the kitchen.  A big goal for this floor was to make sure we didn’t put in something too slick for our Eichler’s original kitchen, with its slightly dinged-up edges and aging countertops.  The Cortina Grande really fits here.  Even the flecks of the black and white mimic our flecked counters.

Thanks to all of those who cheered us on through this process.  Hope this post was useful, and in case I’ve missed something, I’m very happy to fill in more detail in the comments.  Looking forward to what you think of the result!

 

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6 Comments

  • Reply Brooke February 14, 2018 at 11:17 pm

    Thanks for the great post on the flooring.

    We’ll be installing the tile ourselves in two weekends (eek, a bit nervous about that) so I’m hoping we manage to do a decent job (we’re on a wood subfloor). I was however thinking of hiring someone professional to seal and finish the floors but maybe if they only need to be polished we could manage that ourselves.

    Any tips on how to apply the finish so that it looks even/smooth? What kind of application method did you use (mop, rag etc)?

    We also went with the Black&white tile based on yours and Blaine’s house and I suspect my husband is going to complain/have the same concerns as you do about how bright/white everything will look.

    It looks amazing in your space. Thanks for all the info!

    • Reply Karolina February 15, 2018 at 3:21 am

      Hey Brooke!
      Good question. To apply the polish, we used a micro-fiber mop — looks like a rag mop, but with micro-fiber fabric strips instead of strings. The key for us was to apply gently, to keep any fibers from coming off on the tile edges. The instructions with Zep tell you to do a figure-8 pattern, which I think we took too literally making tight figure-8s on our first (messed-up) application. On our second round, we found that pulling the mop along in a straight line from wall to wall was best. That way you don’t smudge the polish that you’ve applied as it starts to dry.
      We were pretty paranoid, so we also watched a few videos online to get the technique down, like this one — the way the guy walks along the edges is what we did for the entire room. Definitely give it ample time to dry (I think we did at least an hour between coats). And we only did two or three coats of polish.
      Good luck with the install!

  • Reply Martin February 15, 2018 at 12:30 am

    I too have mixed feelings about the tile that we installed about 6 months ago in our Palm Springs home. Love the look of it, the color, the smoothness, the contrast with Teak wood is beautiful, but i feel im going to hate having to strip and repolish after a few years. Lol. We too have a dog and paw prints are visible, like you said, if you look at it from the right angle.

    I still think we made the right decision. If we ever get tired of it, it will be sooo much easier to remove than tile, and hopefully by then Terrazo tile will be much more affordable.

    Thank you for your advise over Instagram on not to seal it because we were definitely going to. We just applied Zep polish and it was good to go. The chemical smell of the product lingers for a while but thankfully we are just there on weekends, which made it much easier. Thank you again for the post and advise!

    • Reply Karolina February 15, 2018 at 3:23 am

      Hi Martin! So glad it helped you. And so true about the potential for future floors, haha! That slab sure is smooth now.

  • Reply Keely February 15, 2018 at 6:21 am

    Your floors are absolutely gorgeous! I can completely relate with second guessing yourself, but I truly think you went with the best choice! My husband and I ( and our 3 kids) started remodeling a mid-century home several years ago, and I *almost* went with white SVT or VCT floors. I ended up choosing dark walnut solid wood instead though, and regret it!!! Dark floors are gorgeous, but they show evvvvverything! Every dog hair, crumb, piece of wool lint. I’m literally counting down the days ( okay, the YEARS, *tear*) before I can refinish them in a lighter color. White is bright, but it hides so much more!

    Thank you for this post! It was fun to look at the process, and to see the beautiful end result! Your house is one of my favorite sources of inspiration <3

    • Reply Karolina February 15, 2018 at 6:47 pm

      Thank you for the kind words, Keely!

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