Leveling the Bar

It’s September 1! How is that possible? The mornings are chilly and smell of the possibility of pumpkins, of orange and red, of sweaters not worn for a time. But the day still kicks up to 90, the sun beats its head down in laughter – shaking its golden rays into our days – reminding us of the continual, ever-present bend of time.

And we press on.

This is a post about a ridiculous project we shouldn’t have had to do – but did – and did to the highest degree of complexity possible.

Our Espresso Bar floor was unlevel. Quite unlevel in fact. 1.5 inches in 7 feet. Bam! Drop off the edge of the earth unlevel! Trip and spill your fancy cappuccino unlevel! Future tiling hell unlevel!

And it wasn’t just a straight shot —-

down….

No.

It was down, down, down… then… a bit back up at the end. Just to mess with ya!

We talked with a lot of experts.

  1. Flooring guy at Home Depot.
  2. My father.
  3. My uncle.
  4. The Internet.

After hearing the facts, these sources came to a pretty clear general consensus: it will be fine. Just tile.

But, these sources (bless their hearts!) weren’t HERE. Ah there’s the rub!

And when you’re HERE…

X (here)

(at Amber Lane)

(on the sinking floor)

you know… in your (sinking) heart of hearts… that you have to fix the floor.

And so you look around for someone to fix the floor and end up looking across the floor at the other worker bee – partner in crime – first mate – we’re in this together, Fitz! I won’t ditch you now!

So we begin:

DSCF0395

Gathering materials.

We started by identifying grade changes across about 10 feet of the floor. If you look closely in the picture above, you’ll see little green numbers all over the cement board. Those are marks, in 1/8″ increments, showing the floor’s inconsistencies – as it dips in and out of level (both left and right, and up/down). We used a long level to bridge the problem area of the floor, measuring how far below the level the floor dipped.

This took several hours.

Fitz did this by himself.

DSCF0406

Level.

That crazy looking Manhatten-esque shape is the result of Fitz’ little green number research. He gathered materials of several thicknesses and fabricated a puzzle of shapes in these thicknesses (ranging from 3/8″ up to 1″).

This took several hours.

Fitz did this by himself.

DSCF0423

Numbering the pieces.

Then, I was called in. You see… the amazing puzzle Fitz created needs to be UNDER the cement board.

It’s entirely impossible to explain WHY we didn’t (a) start by taking up the cement board and then doing the puzzle or (b) why we couldn’t just proceed with the wood on top of the cement board.

Seriously. I can’t explain. But we had our reasons.

So I proceeded to translate the puzzle to under the cement board.

This took several hours.

I did this by myself.

DSCF0430

Using a tarp to “pull” the shape down – remove cement board panels – and rebuild the shape on the wood floor beneath.

After that insanity, we decided to start working together. 😉 We nailed down every single board.

This took maybe an hour or two?

So “quick”!

Then… we further sealed the deal by thin setting across the wood, to feather out the grade changes. Remember, the pieces of the puzzle are different thicknesses – with an 1/8″ difference between adjacent pieces. So we needed to create transitions.

So far – so good.

As mentioned in the pictures above, you have to keep in mind we do not know what we’re doing.

At all.

This is uncharted territory. We are basically making it up as we go along here… Now, we are using prior experience – industry knowledge – and several DAYS of conversation – as benchmarks for what we finally chose to do. But… just remember… this one wasn’t in the manual.

Next morning: time to self-level!

The final step in our self-proclaimed “how to level a severely unlevel floor within a series of limitations too complicated to explain in a blog” was this self-leveling stuff. Why didn’t we just use it from the beginning?

Well: (a) it’s really expensive. (b) we would have needed a LOT of bags to get it 1.5″ deep. (c) like maybe more bags than you’re really even supposed to use. (4) it seemed hard to control – and, because we’ve never used the product before, we were a little hesitant to pour several hundred dollars on our floor in a vague, mis-directed, likely to back-fire effort.

And guess what? The only step to go wrong was this last one! It didn’t even really go that “wrong” but, after using the stuff, we quickly realized how it could have gone more “right.”

  • We weren’t sure how much it would spread out. The bag says it seeks its own level in minutes. We thought that meant it spreads. It does not spread.
  • We needed 4 bags… but we only had 3. So certain areas weren’t really “finessed” as much as they could have been.
  • We should have feathered the edges of the puddle.
  • I told Fitz to feather the edges. He didn’t want to – and does not remember me telling him to feather the edges.
  • Upon reflection, though, we should have feathered the edges.

BUT… despite this one minor set-back, the product actually worked pretty well. You have to mix it SUPER slowly. And the dust is pretty caustic. We wore face masks and mixed outside. One person poured (the 50 pound bag!) and the other hand mixed constantly… Until it was all incorporated. And then we finished off the mixing with the paddle mixer on a hammer drill. You want a super even consistency (no lumps because, obviously, you’re looking for level here!). And there is a certain technique to pouring it as well. We didn’t really understand how to work with the product once it was poured, in terms of spreading it out and feathering edges to blend to the level surface. But, we did our best.

The end result is SO much better than what it was beforehand. There are some inconsistencies in the level of our tiles, mostly resulting from the lip of the self-leveling product against the cement board. But, we have to remind ourselves what it could have looked like if we hadn’t taken the time to build out the sub-floor. The end result feels solid and safe – and was a near-to-perfect backdrop for our awesome Espresso Bar floors (to be featured in an upcoming post!).

It’s funny though… so much work for such subtle visible results. Just another example of the many behind-the-scenes projects at Amber Lane that will make Curio amazing! Only my blog readers will know! 😉

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