Dear Jerry: My house was built in 1953 and my basement is about 600 square feet. The flooring is 12-by-12-inch square vinyl tiles which are glued down with black material that looks like roofing cement to me.
I have showed this to a friend and he said that the tiles and/or the cement could be asbestos. I have no way of knowing so, but the tiles become brittle and they do break in pieces.
I would like to replace the whole floor, so here are a few questions:
Do I have to make sure that it is asbestos? How do I go about removing the tiles and cement?
Or, can I place new tiles, say 18 by 18 inches, over the existing ones? If so, what type of glue should I use that will hold them in place? The basement is very cool and there is no sign of water leaking in.
— P.G., Rochester
Your questions are very understandable and ones that flooring stores often hear. I called Peter Messner of Messner Flooring and he walked me through some of the options.
I suspect that the glue used to hold down the original tiles was asbestos-based, given the era of your home. Typically, asbestos tiles were 9 by 9 inches, although 12-by-12-inch tiles were also made. In any event, I think you should proceed as if both tiles and cement contain asbestos.
If you would like further information on the composition of either the tiles or the glue, then I would contact a testing laboratory such as Lozier Environmental Consulting Inc. in Rochester. It should be able to give you a definitive answer as to whether or not the tiles and/or glue contain asbestos.
Most flooring companies will not remove either the tiles or their mastic glue without calling in a professional abatement company. Given that, there are some less expensive options.
Although you state that your basement does not have water issues, Messner cautioned that installing new vinyl over the old tiles can cause moisture vapor to become trapped under the new flooring, affecting both the old tiles and the new flooring. Thus, it is important not to install any vapor barrier over the existing flooring.
The least expensive option is to install carpeting over the tiles. Not carpet squares, which may have a vinyl backing (and thus a vapor barrier), but regular wall-to-wall carpeting suitable for below-grade installations. This would be secured at the edges like most carpet installations.
Another possibility is to install an engineered flooring with a rigid core, such as CORtec. (This is not the old laminate flooring that appeared 20 or so years ago.) Often this product is installed with a vapor barrier under it, but in your case it should be installed directly over the tiles. Like carpeting, it will be secured only at the edges, and will “float” over the floor. This allows for expansion and contraction of the new flooring pieces.
If any of the tiles are missing, then gaps can be filled in with a product such as ARDEX Feather Finish. This will encapsulate the asbestos glue and provide an even surface for the carpet or engineered floor.
If the tiles are readily removable, a professional flooring contractor cannot remove them, but you, as the homeowner, can take them out and send them to a landfill as construction debris. Obviously, safety precautions in disturbing and removing the tiles should be rigorously followed. For further information, check with your local building department. In this case, the existing glue should be encapsulated with the ARDEX. Once the mastic is sealed, the surface can accept just about any flooring from carpet, to vinyl to engineered flooring.Remember, just because you do not have a “damp” basement, does not mean that moisture vapor is not a potential enemy. Therefore, you should select a floor that is designed for below-grade installation.