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Removing ceramic tile

1 PUT ON YOUR SAFETY GLASSES, AND CHIP OUT THE GROUT BETWEEN THE TILES WITH A HAMMER AND COLD CHISEL. Once you've removed the grout, continue using the hammer and chisel to break the tiles free.

2 OPTION A: FOR CERAMIC TILE SET IN MASTIC, use a long-handled floor scraper to scrape away tile fragments and any adhesive residue. Sand the floor smooth with a floor sander if necessary.

2 OPTION B: IF THE TILE WAS SET IN MORTAR, YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO SALVAGE THE SURFACE BELOW. Cut the old subfloor into small sections using a circular saw with an old carbide blade. Pry up the sections with a pry bar. If the tile was laid on underlayment, cut through the underlayment and mortar but not the subfloor.

Removing wood flooring

1 BEFORE PRYING UP PLANK FLOORING, BORE OUT THE SCREW PLUGS—if any—and remove the screws that hold the floor in place.

2 SET THE BLADE ON YOUR CIRCULAR SAW TO CUT THROUGH THE FLOOR BUT NOT THE SUBFLOOR. In most cases this will be 1/4 inch or 3/8 inch, but start with a shallow cut and adjust the blade until you just cut through the floor. When the setting is right, cut down the length of one of the floorboards.

BETTER SAFE THAN SORRY - Wear safety glasses and hearing protection when running a saw.

3 PUT A PRY BAR IN THE SLOT LEFT BY THE SAW CUT AND PRY THE BOARD LOOSE. Put the bar under the next board and pry it free. Work your way across the floor, board by board. If the flooring has been glued down, drive a chisel under the board to break it free before prying it loose.

ASBESTOS ALERT - Asbestos, which can cause cancer, can be found in linoleum, vinyl flooring, and mastics made before 1978. The long, thin fibers in asbestos were used to reinforce these materials. Enlarged under a microscope, however, the fibers resemble tiny swords. The shape of these fibers allows them to be breathed deep into the lungs, where they get trapped. Scar tissue develops around the fibers, causing irreversible damage that can lead to cancer. If you think your house has asbestos-containing materials, don't panic. Undamaged (not cracked, gouged, etc.) asbestos is generally safe, and covering it usually eliminates the risk. (Engineered and laminate floors may be the perfect cover.)

If you decide the asbestos has to go, do not attempt to remove it yourself. Paint masks and standard respirators will not protect you from fibers, plus you're likely to track asbestos throughout the house, endangering your family too. Check with your state department of environmental affairs or your local health department for advice. They can tell you how to find a certified professional to test the flooring material and do whatever needs to be done. In the meantime, make sure you leave the material alone. Don't sand it, don’t break any of it away, and don't cut it. Until you get a professional opinion on your old flooring's makeup, leaving it undisturbed is the safest thing you can do.

Underlayment Options

LOOK BEFORE YOU LEAP - You have several options when removing old flooring. Analyze the condition of the existing flooring and determine the course of action. If the flooring is mildly worn or damaged, use an embossing leveler to smooth out the flooring surface to provide a stable base for the new flooring material. Remove the existing flooring if it is too badly damaged to resurface with the embossing leveler and is relatively easy to remove. If the surface is too rough for the leveler and too difficult to remove, cover the existing flooring material with new underlayment.

Choose the right underlayment for your job. Cement backerboard is best for ceramic tile, while plywood works well for carpet or wood.

POUR EMBOSSING LEVELER OVER CLEAN EMBOSSED OR MILDLY ROUGH FLOORING. Then trowel the entire surface to smooth it out. Leveler must be applied on a clean floor. It won't work on all surfaces, so be sure to read the label. Hold the trowel at a 60-degree angle and use light pressure. After the leveler dries, sand or scrape away any ridges.

APPLY NEW UNDERLAYMENT OVER EXISTING FLOORING IF THE FLOORING MATERIAL IS TOO DIFFICULT TO REMOVE and too badly damaged for an embossing leveler. This raises the floor, so make sure that when replacement time comes you'll have enough clearance to remove appliances such as dishwashers from under the counter.

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