Paper floors on concrete
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Paper Floors on Concrete- The Prep

And without further ado, let’s start tearing stuff up so we can install some paper floors on concrete! Prep work is my least favorite part of any project but it really can make or break your project. With some advanced planning and patience, this will literally set the foundation for beautiful floors on a shoestring budget that can potentially last for years.

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Supplies:

Knife (https://amzn.to/3FTY8Bo)- a carpet knife will make your life easiest, but a utility knife will work too

Knee Pads (https://amzn.to/3nZSesh)- depending on how many tack strips you have to remove, you may or may not need these yet, but you will!

Hammer

Pry bar (https://amzn.to/3172C8H) -to remove carpet tack strips

Multi-tool (https://amzn.to/3nZIwWC)

Tarps, old blankets, sheets, etc- if you plan on removing tile yourself

Quickrete Crack Seal (https://www.homedepot.com/p/100318507)

Paper (https://amzn.to/3G0w13z)- paper is labeled by how many pounds a ream weighs so, the more “pounds” it is labeled, the thicker, and therefore heavier, the paper.

Old Floor Removal

Key point # 1: Start removing your old flooring days, or even weeks, before you plan to begin installation. Yes, that seems extreme. But trust me on this, PLEASE! It alleviates a lot of stress.

Carpet Removal

My hubby used a carpet knife to cut the carpet into strips about 3 feet wide. He then rolled them up, as well as the pad underneath, and took them out. We were able to get rid of them by putting them out for our recycling and bulk trash pick up. But it took several weeks to get rid of all of it.

Key point #2: Consider how you will dispose of your old flooring once it’s removed.

Don’t be tacky

We used a pry bar and hammer to pop up the tack strips and a multitool like this guy (https://www.homedepot.com/p/202530794) to scrape up the adhesive used for the carpet pad. My hubby called this guy the MVP of this project and that is no lie! If you don’t have one, do yourself a favor and put it at the top of your shopping list. We used it from start to finish.

Popping up the tack strips left holes in the slab. We tried a couple of different options to fill them. My hubby ultimately went with Quikrete crack seal (https://www.homedepot.com/p/100318507) to fill these and any other holes we found in the slab. There are some cheaper options that involve mixing powder. It was tricky to get just the right consistency and amount so, in the long run, we found the bottle of Quikrete to be the most cost effective and quickest method. If you’re doing a large area, I would also go ahead and get some good quality knee pads now. You will be spending a significant amount of time crawling around once you start laying the paper floors on concrete.

Tile Removal

Key point # 3: Cover EVERYTHING in tarps if you are going to remove the tile yourself.

UGH, I’m gonna get really real here…this was THE WORST! Before the ugly part, remove any quarter round/toe molding. Put it away for safekeeping if you plan on reusing it when you’re done. If you’ve removed carpet, you will probably need to buy quarter round for those baseboards as well once the paper floors are down.

For the tile removal, we rented a legit jack hammer and cart from Home Depot to do it ourselves. (And by “we”, I mean my hubby). As we were picking it up, I mentioned that we needed to tarp the entire downstairs. The Home Depot guy said it wasn’t necessary. “Just throw water down every now and then to keep the dust down”, he says. My hubby took his advice and went to work removing the tile while I was at work. OH. MY. GOSH! The Home Depot guy’s advice was a steaming pile of poop!

But did you die?! Almost!

When I got home, our entire house looked like I had narrowly missed being there during an air strike. I am not kidding! It was so stressful and upsetting! I was trying to decide whether to use the rest of our flooring budget for a divorce attorney or a hit man and defense attorney. EVERY. SINGLE. SURFACE. in the house was covered in a thick layer of dust upstairs and down. 

And, after 12 hours of grueling labor, most of the tile was gone but a ridiculously thick layer of mortar/concrete that still had to come up remained. I don’t know what it was but it did not look like traditional thinset. It looked more like something you would see at a fossil exhibit in a museum of natural history. At this point, we were nowhere close to having the floor ready and we needed to start installing the new floor ASAP.

Here is where it would have been wise to have followed my own advice and done this well in advance. We had each taken vacation time to install the floor. But we didn’t get the prep work done well in advance. So now we found ourselves in a pickle. We could burn more time trying to remove the remaining tile and risk not finishing in time. Or, we could hire tile removal pros and decrease our savings but forgo the aforementioned attorney.

We chose the potentially marriage and life saving option. I found a local company that was able to remove the remainder of the tile and adhesive the next morning. It took a chunk out of the amount we were saving but was worth every penny! The take home lesson: if you choose to do the tile removal yourself, allow plenty of time and tarp EVERYTHING. If not, find a good, dust-free, tile removal company and consider it money well spent.

Don’t be trashy

We did not rent a dumpster to dispose of all the tile but that is an option to consider. We only had an entry, galley kitchen, powder bath, a couple feet of “hearth” and laundry room of tile. But it was far more and far heavier than we expected. It took us several weeks but, once again, we put it out with our recycling. If you have large areas of tile to remove though, I would consider looking into renting a dumpster. You should also ask the tile removal company about the options they offer. Keep in mind that disposal of the old flooring might be something you need to budget for.

Slab Prep

Key point # 4: Allow yourself ample time to find and repair holes in the concrete slab.

Once you’re down to slab, allow at least a day or two to walk on it before laying the paper. This allows plenty of time to find and fill all the holes and divots in the concrete. You will regret it if you don’t do a thorough job at this. It WILL result in holes in your floor. We missed several spots and it didn’t take long for the paper to get punched through from regular use. The good news is, these floors are simple to repair if you need to. But it’s better if you can avoid it altogether.

Also be aware, any ridges, lines, bumps, etc in your concrete WILL show up in your floor. And the more light in the area, the more apparent. So now is also the time to identify those areas and address them accordingly. We were fine with it as it lends to the “movement” of the floor, sort of like movement in granite. But if that’s not something you want, you will need time to correct those things.

And keep your wet mop handy as you walk around on the slab for a few days because it gets chalky.

Here you can see the outlines of the inconsistencies in the concrete below the paper.

Key point # 5: Tear and crumple your paper in advance.

Paper Prepping

Another thing I recommend doing in advance is tearing and crumpling your paper. That became our TV watching activity in the evenings. My hubby would tear and crumple and I would uncrumple and bag them up in a garbage bag.

Different paper accepts the stain differently. Sometimes even opposite sides of the same paper will stain differently. You should consider this when choosing what you will use. If you want a dramatically varied look, you may also choose to include paper from a variety of sources. You can use paper from packages, pages out of old books, old sheet music or theater programs, photos, etc. There are endless possibilities to create a cool floor that is uniquely you. But, once again, let me stress, it may turn out very different than what you expect. Take the time to do some test areas if only one specific look will do for you.

Size matters

We purchased a 900 foot roll of 24 inch wide, 40 lb. paper. It was just right for the ~1400 square feet we were covering. The heaviest paper we could find was 40 lb so we went with that for some added durability. Initially, we started by tearing it into roughly 12” x 12” squares. We found these to be good for smaller spaces. But we quickly decided to go with larger pieces (at least 24 inches on one side) for larger rooms.

If you choose to stain your floors, the edges of the paper pick the stain up much darker. Some pieces tend to stain darker too. When you have a lot of smaller pieces, this makes the appearance of the floor much busier. It’s a matter of personal preference. Also, needless to say, it goes down faster with the large pieces. So that was a plus for us as well.

It’s okay to be rough around the edges

Regardless of what size paper pieces you choose to use, leave the factory edge on some of them. You will use these along the walls. You can always tear the straight edges off the pieces you don’t use.

Now you’re ready to start the fun part. The next post will cover the paper application and you will have new paper floors on concrete in no time!

BONUS TIP!

If you are doing the floors in your laundry room, your washer and dryer should be out of the room. Take this opportunity to clean out your dryer vent. This takes a little elbow grease and time but is well worth it. The lint that builds up creates a dangerous fire hazard that most people are completely unaware of. Doing it now makes the task a snap!

Key Points

  1. Remove old flooring well in advance of the date you plan to begin installing the new one.
  2. Consider how you will dispose of your old flooring once it’s removed.
  3. Cover EVERYTHING in tarps if you are going to remove tile yourself.
  4. Allow time to identify and repair divots and holes in the concrete.
  5. Tear and crumple your paper in advance.

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