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Old 09-19-2019, 03:52 PM   #1
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Advice on installing tile when not much height space is available


We are planning on putting tile on a kitchen and a bathroom at our Mid Century house in South California.

The house was built in 1959 and we have a wood subfloor consisting on 6" wide x 3/4" thick planks running diagonally over 2x8 joists spaced approximately 16" between them. Over that we have a 3/8 think plywood. Both planks and plywood are solid and in good shape. Originally we had Linoleum in the kitchen and carpet in the bathroom, yes carpet so weird.

In the kitchen there is barely 3/8" height space before it will start hitting a couple of pocket doors. I know I can remove them and trim them but I was hoping I wouldn't have to, because they are a PITA.

My wife is so adamant to put tile in both rooms. I tried to convince her to put Marmoleum (a fancier type of Linoleum) in the kitchen since it might be easier and cheaper and we would not have to cut anything, but there is this stigma with Linoleum and she hates it.

In the bathroom we have a bit more space, about 3/4". But not only we have a couple of pocket doors there as well but also 4 closet doors with mirror glass attached to them. I would have to remove the doors and the mirrors from the wood doors and cut them, and that might be insane. I do not even know how to cut a massive piece of mirror.

I have also researched a lot about putting tile on wood subfloor and it seems that at least you need a minimum of a 1/2" plywood on top of the subfloor planks before putting any tile underlayment. That means I would have to rip off the existing 3/8" plywood I have and then replace it for a 1/2" leaving me with even less space.

I have had guys coming in for estimates. One told me that he would remove the 3/8" plywood and put a Hardie Backer (or something similar) and then put tile on top. Another guy told me to remove the 3/8" plywood as well and he would put black paper on top of the planks, then cement, metal lathe and then tile. But both options are with no plywood at all on top of the planks. That seems to be against everything I have been reading.

Do any of these options seem viable? Or am I going to find problems down the road?

If I do need plywood, can I just leave that 3/8" one instead of replacing it for a 1/2" one? If so, I might have enough space at least in the bathroom. We are installing a 3/8" thick porcelain tile there.

Any advice and/or suggestions will be gladly appreciated, I am so lost with this.

Thank you so much.

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Old 09-19-2019, 03:58 PM   #2
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Re: Advice on installing tile when not much height space is available


Not sure why you would pull the 3/8" if it is viable. Your support, however, will come from what is UNDER the plywood and subflooring. What size joists, spacing and total unsupported length are they? You will need to lay in either 1/4" cbu or use Ditra which will substantially reduce the height needed.
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Old 09-19-2019, 04:07 PM   #3
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Re: Advice on installing tile when not much height space is available


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Not sure why you would pull the 3/8" if it is viable. Your support, however, will come from what is UNDER the plywood and subflooring. What size joists, spacing and total unsupported length are they? You will need to lay in either 1/4" cbu or use Ditra which will substantially reduce the height needed.
Thank you Chandler for your quick response. The joists are 2x8 and spaced 16 inches between them.

So you are saying that I can put either the Ditra or the CBU over the existing 3/8" plywood without problems?

The only reason to remove the 3/8 plywood would be to gain even more space, but you can not put Ditra or CBU over just the planks right?
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Old 09-19-2019, 04:17 PM   #4
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Re: Advice on installing tile when not much height space is available


What is the unsupported span of your joists? Yes, you can install ditra or cbu over the plywood. But you can't do it over just the planks. You will need the planks and plywood for support. Neither cbu nor ditra offer support.
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Old 09-19-2019, 04:26 PM   #5
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Re: Advice on installing tile when not much height space is available


Thank you Chandler, I will have to check the unsupported span of the joists. But it is good to know that I can put either Ditra or CBU over my 3/8 plywood. Seems like the Ditra might be my best option since its thinner.
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Old 09-19-2019, 04:36 PM   #6
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Re: Advice on installing tile when not much height space is available


In most instances, adding 1/2" is called for, but I have found in older houses the wood that was used for diagonal subflooring is far superior to what we have today. This is an argumentative point, so get ready for rebuttal.
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Old 09-19-2019, 04:39 PM   #7
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Re: Advice on installing tile when not much height space is available


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Thank you Chandler, I will have to check the unsupported span of the joists. But it is good to know that I can put either Ditra or CBU over my 3/8 plywood. Seems like the Ditra might be my best option since its thinner.
I would keep pushing for lino. You will end up putting the doors and cutting them.
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Old 09-19-2019, 04:46 PM   #8
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Re: Advice on installing tile when not much height space is available


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In most instances, adding 1/2" is called for, but I have found in older houses the wood that was used for diagonal subflooring is far superior to what we have today. This is an argumentative point, so get ready for rebuttal.
You are totally right. All the wood that I have seen when knocking down walls and doing other projects in my house has been hard as a rock and it just feels much better. You can feel it when cutting it with a saw, it is much harder to do so.

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I would keep pushing for lino. You will end up putting the doors and cutting them.
It is a lost argument unfortunately. You know what they say: happy wife, happy life.
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Old 09-20-2019, 07:57 AM   #9
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Re: Advice on installing tile when not much height space is available


Buy or rent an undercut saw or toe-kick saw, if R&Ring the pocket doors is too much of a PITA. You only need to cut the part of the doors that would run over the tile, which would be easily accessible to use one of those saws.


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Old 09-20-2019, 08:15 AM   #10
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Re: Advice on installing tile when not much height space is available


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You are totally right. All the wood that I have seen when knocking down walls and doing other projects in my house has been hard as a rock and it just feels much better. You can feel it when cutting it with a saw, it is much harder to do so.



It is a lost argument unfortunately. You know what they say: happy wife, happy life.
It only took my wife twice of cleaning our kitchen's tile floor and she was wanting our previous home with the vinyl floor kitchen back. And she and I both were SO impressed when the realtor showed us our present home with its porcelain tiled floors. And how much extra work the tile man had done to "enhance" the boring pattern of just slapping tiles down on a floor.

And then one day while I was mopping it and cleaning the grout, I noticed what is in the pic. Just like brick, all it takes is just ONE piece of screwed up tile and my eye goes to it every time I walk passed it.

A permanent screw up in our kitchen tile floor that will be showing forever, or at least until the next owner replaces the tiles with HW or LVP maybe.

And also, so many of these "flippers" or renovation people do not ever go under a home and see if the floor structure will easily handle the added weight of a tile floor. Our kitchen floor that is sitting on 1960 model 2"x8" floor joists spanning 12 feet on 16" o.c. , are sagging now.
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Last edited by Gregsoldtruck79; 09-21-2019 at 04:10 AM.
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Old 09-20-2019, 02:14 PM   #11
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Re: Advice on installing tile when not much height space is available


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Buy or rent an undercut saw or toe-kick saw, if R&Ring the pocket doors is too much of a PITA. You only need to cut the part of the doors that would run over the tile, which would be easily accessible to use one of those saws.


This is amazing! I didn't know this tool existed. This makes me feel more confident to go with the tile route. Thank you so much huesmann
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Old 09-20-2019, 02:25 PM   #12
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Re: Advice on installing tile when not much height space is available


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It only took my wife twice of cleaning our kitchen's tile floor and she was wanting our previous home with the vinyl floor kitchen back. And she and I both were SO impressed when the realtor showed us our present home with its porcelain tiled floors. And how much extra work the tile man had done to "enhance" the boring pattern of just slapping tiles down on a floor.

And then one day while I was mopping it and cleaning the grout, I noticed what is in the pic. Just like brick, all it takes is just ONE piece of screwed up tile and my eye goes to it every time I walk passed it.

A permanent screw up in our kitchen tile floor that will be showing forever, or at least until the next owner replaces the tiles with HW or LVP maybe.

And also, so many of these "flippers" or renovation people do not ever go under a home and see if the floor structure will easily handle the added weight of a tile floor. Our kitchen floor that is sitting on 1960 model 2"x8" floor joists spanning 12 feet on 16" o.c. , are sagging now.
I guess in the end it is all a matter of taste and preferences. I totally agree that vinyl and linoleum are more practical but my wife does not like the look, so what can I do. I finally convinced her to go to a store today to see it in person and she hated it. I didn't think it looked that bad and I liked the fact that it is a green product (we were looking at the Marmoleum, which is a type of linoleum). On the other hand our previous linoleum was scratched everywhere and it was extremely hard to clean, which made it look horrible. But I am guessing that was very old and cheap (I don't know for sure how old since it was already there when we bought the house 8 years ago). Maybe it all depends on the quality of the floor you are putting, no matter if it is tile, wood, vinyl or linoleum. I am sorry about your tile, but it does not bad on the picture.
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Old 09-20-2019, 05:53 PM   #13
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Re: Advice on installing tile when not much height space is available


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I guess in the end it is all a matter of taste and preferences. I totally agree that vinyl and linoleum are more practical but my wife does not like the look, so what can I do. I finally convinced her to go to a store today to see it in person and she hated it. I didn't think it looked that bad and I liked the fact that it is a green product (we were looking at the Marmoleum, which is a type of linoleum). On the other hand our previous linoleum was scratched everywhere and it was extremely hard to clean, which made it look horrible. But I am guessing that was very old and cheap (I don't know for sure how old since it was already there when we bought the house 8 years ago). Maybe it all depends on the quality of the floor you are putting, no matter if it is tile, wood, vinyl or linoleum. I am sorry about your tile, but it does not bad on the picture.
I completely understand your position. We have to compromise with our spouses or we may end up with no one to compromise with...

I found a pic of the pro laid sheet vinyl floor that my wife still wishes she had. Easy to keep clean, no grout scrubbing, super tear resistant ((more $$$) . Even its fake grout lines are great, and not boogered up like our present porcelain tile floor is. (the grout line is too wide because the diagonal tile was cut too short... in the red circle). Just keep clicking on the pic to zoom in.
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Old 09-20-2019, 07:02 PM   #14
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Re: Advice on installing tile when not much height space is available


Oh now I see it. Yeah that would bother me too. But that could be avoided having a good tile installer do the job, although that translates into more $$$.

But I hate tile grout too. No matter how good it has been installed it is always what gets more damaged and more dirty and then it is a PITA to clean.
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Old 09-21-2019, 09:01 AM   #15
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Re: Advice on installing tile when not much height space is available


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This is amazing! I didn't know this tool existed. This makes me feel more confident to go with the tile route. Thank you so much huesmann
Sure thing. In case it wasn't clear, the toe kick saw would be used in this case rotated 90 so that the blade is parallel with the floor.
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