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burnzyds 04-28-2009 02:35 PM

Tile after installing cabinets?
Ok, so I've heard that you should tile after installing cabinets. Our cabinets are being installed for us and now we are trying to figure out what to do with our floors. We currently have pergo flooring, which is in great condition (such great condition that we would keep it if the previous owners had been smart and purchased extra for us). The problem is we are getting rid of a peninsula and we knocked out a wall which had cabinets going from the floor to ceiling, so both areas need to have new flooring. We are thinking of doing ceramic tile. We tiled our bathroom and it wasn't that bad. The only question I have is what order it should be done in. If we tile after the cabinets are installed then would that mean we can't tile under our appliances? It seems like if we did tile under our appliances that they would then be too high (for instance would the dishwasher still fit under the countertop) and if we don't tile under them, then wouldn't they be stuck in place making it hard to remove them for any kind of repair or replacement? I would like to save the money and not waste all the extra tile going under the cabinets, but I'm trying to figure out how we get everything at the right height then. Any help would be great.

Nestor_Kelebay 04-28-2009 04:35 PM


Originally Posted by burnzyds (Post 30025)
Ok, so I've heard that you should tile after installing cabinets.

Regardless of what you heard, you can either tile first and then install the cabinets over the tile, or install the cabinets and then tile up to them. The only thing you SHOULD do is caulk between the cabinets and the tile if the cabinets are set on top of the tile. The reason why is that tile is set by hand, and so the tiling won't be perfectly flat, so it'll be necessary sometimes to shim between the cabinets and the floor. (Often it's necessary to do that anyway, regardless of what flooring you have.) You need to caulk any gap betwixt the cabinet and the floor because if you spill a bowl of soup near the cabinets, you'll create a bug's idea of heaven. The soup can run under the cabinet and bugs instinctively protect themselves by crawling into as tight a crevice as they can manage. The reason why doing this makes sense to a bug is that if he's in the smallest crevice he can fit into, then no bigger bug can get in there and eat him. So, a cabinet that's just a millimeter or two off the floor with plenty of food under there is sure to be discovered by bugs, and it'll make the ideal breeding ground for them to have lots of little buggies that all look just like dad. Caulking that joint will keep the food out, and then there'll be no reason for the bugs to want to live there.

I'd caulk that joint regardless of whether the tile or cabinets came first.


If we tile after the cabinets are installed then would that mean we can't tile under our appliances?
No, you set the tile in those places before sliding the appliances into place.


It seems like if we did tile under our appliances that they would then be too high (for instance would the dishwasher still fit under the countertop) and if we don't tile under them, then wouldn't they be stuck in place making it hard to remove them for any kind of repair or replacement?
It only SEEMS that way until you discover that all built-in dishwashers will have adjustable front and rear legs so that you can adjust the height of the dish washer to accomodate flooring of different heights. For example, linoleum versus ceramic tile. Typically, the front feet on a built-in dish washer will screw up and down, and there will be threaded rods on each side by which you can adjust the back feet. Typically, you NEED at least 4 to 6 inches of space above any fridge to allow the heat from the condensor coils (the black things on the back of the fridge) to convect into the cooler air in the room. Fridges will typically draw cool air in from a grille at the bottom of the front of the fridge, have that air rise as it flows over the condensor coils at the back of the fridge, and then allow that warmed air to escape through a gap between the top of the fridge and the underside of any cabinets above it, thus creating a convective current. And, that gap is big enough to allow for even the largest differences in floor height.

What you SHOULD do if you have a prefabricated plastic laminate counter top is paint the underside of the counter top over the dish washer with oil based paint. The reason why is because when you open the dish washer and all the steam comes out, you don't want that steam condensing on the bare particle board. If it does, it will be absorbed into the particle board and cause the particle board to swell. Often you see the laminate on countertops loose right in front of the dish washer and also often in front of the kitchen sink. The reason for this is that the particle board has absorbed moisture and swollen, and that swelling of the wood has resulted in the glue failing between the laminate and the particle board. You totally eliminate this problem by preventing the wood from absorbing water and swelling, and you can do that with a coat of high gloss alkyd paint applied to any wet areas or areas that will be exposed to steam.


I would like to save the money and not waste all the extra tile going under the cabinets, but I'm trying to figure out how we get everything at the right height then.
Didn't you learn your lesson with the Pergo flooring. ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS buy extra flooring in case you ever have to replace some. If you were to drop a stainless steel pot on your kitchen floor, you might crack a tile and might want it replaced. If you were to come home pie-eyed from a night out with the boys and tried to juggle bowling balls just like Frank does, then you'd be likely to need spare tiles. Or, if in the future you decide to take out the wall between the kitchen and dining room for a more open look, then you're gonna need spare tile. Spare tiles are cheap when you're buying flooring, but they're priceless once you can't get them anymore.

Also, reconsider "Ceramic" floor tiles. The difference between ceramic tiles and porcelain tiles is that porcelain tiles are the same material all the way through the tile. So, if you drop a knife on a ceramic tile, you might chip the tile, in which case you'll see the difference colour of the "biscuit" of the tile (which is the fired clay body of the tile). If you do the same with porcelain tiles, you won't notice it as much because the tiles are the same colour all the way through. However, porcelain tiles are more expensive and the ones I've seen are smooth as a mirror, and would be very slippery in a kitchen where the floor could be wet or have spilled food on it.

Also, both ceramic tiles and porcelain tiles come in "hardness ratings" of one to five diamonds. (I've never seen a ceramic floor tile rated at less than 3 diamonds, so maybe the lower ratings are for other kinds of ceramic flooring, like clay tiles. The harder the tile, the more diamonds it's rated at.

About buying tiles:
Both ceramic wall and floor tiles will be made in "batches" at the factory, and each such batch will be given a "dye lot number". Boxes of tiles with the same dye lot number mean the tiles all came from the same batch, and should be absolutely identical in colour. If you order your tiles from a ceramic tiling wholesaler or retailer, they will know this and ensure that all the boxes of tiles you get will be from the same dye lot. However, if you buy your tiles from a hardware store or home center, then you'll want to inspect each box you buy to ensure it has the same dye lot number as all the other boxes. It doesn't matter what the dye lot number is, just as long as it's the same on each box.

(If you find that you can't find enough boxes with the same dye lot number in a home center, you're only two choices are to order the same tiles from a tile retailer, or buy tiles from different dye lots and mix them up before setting them so that the tiled floor looks like it was intentionally laid with tiles of slightly varying colour. Pay attention to the dye lot numbers because nothing is gonna pi$$ you off more than half your kitchen floor being one colour and the other half being a very similar colour.

Often there won't be any perceptible difference in colour between tiles from different dye lots. However, the only way to be sure is to ensure all boxes of tiles you accept have the same dye lot number. And, the dye lot number will be large on the box for quick and easy identification of boxes that are piled up on metal racks 15 feet off the ground. It won't be hard to find or read the dye lot number.

This stuff about dye lot numbers also holds true for other kinds of tiles as well, including vinyl composition floor tiles.

And, of course, you want to seal your tile grout with an ACRYLIC film forming sealer, not a penetrating sealer. Penetrating sealers are great for showers, but in a kitchen the greater risk is having a soft food like peanut butter or mayonaise mooshed into the grout where you can't get it out and will provide a food supply for bacteria. On a floor or counter top, you'
re better off with a film forming sealer that won't allow anything to penetrate into the porous grout in the first place. Also, there are two basic kinds of grout sealers; silicone based and acrylic. Silicone based grout sealers are more common and less expensive, but the problem is that you can't apply more silicone based grout sealer to silicon based grout sealer; it just won't stick well. And that's true of all silicates; you can't get new silicone caulk to stick to old silicone caulk. Acrylics stick well to each other, just like one latex paint will stick well to another. If you're looking for a good acrylic film forming sealer, here's the one I get from California, (import, actually) and am very happy with:

Hope this helps.

travelover 04-28-2009 06:32 PM

Good comments by Nestor.

I'd recommend shuffling all your ceramic tiles before you install them, even if they are from the same dye lot. Same goes with shingles. Nothing worse than stepping back and seeing a clear line where the color shifted. And buy extra of all the tile pieces, especially the trim pieces. It only costs a few extra dollars and you or the next owner will appreciate it if one is broken. Old tile is next to impossible to match. :2cents:

Nestor_Kelebay 04-28-2009 10:36 PM


Originally Posted by travelover (Post 30031)
I'd recommend shuffling all your ceramic tiles before you install them, even if they are from the same dye lot.

With utmost respect to Travelover, I have to disagree on this point. In my humble opinion, that's competely unnecessary. The whole point in assigning each box of tiles from the same batch with a unique dye lot number is so that wholesalers, retailers, contractors and DIY'ers can have complete confidence that every tile they're buying was made from identical materials under identical conditions, and therefore should all be identical.

And, that system works. If a wholesaler doesn't have enough of a tile in one dye lot number to meet an order, he won't just throw in some boxes of a different dye lot; he'll contact another distributor in the same company and get some of that same dye lot from that other guy. And, he can do that with complete confidence that all the tiles will match. And, people do that all over the world every day without us hearing horror stories about messed up jobs because tiles with the same dye lot number didn't match.

Now, we here on one web site decide: "that's still not good enough for us". (?) We want to be so sure that all our tiles match that we're gonna shuffle tiles from the same dye lot before setting them.

In my view, that takes the old addage "you can't be too careful" to a whole new level where you're wasting your time doing something that does not need to be done. The whole dye lot numbering system was set up to ensure this doesn't need to be done, but we're proposing to do it anyway just to be sure. Sorry, I firmly believe the time would be better spent doing something that does need to be done in order to make some progress in completing the project.

Both Travelover and I may have different opinions on this point because we've both had different experiences. But, we both feel that our primary obligation is to provide the best advice we can to people who don't know enough to have their own opinions on the matter. So, people reading this should take both opinions into consideration and decide whether to shuffle and how much to shuffle based on what experience they gain in their own work. It's only from your own personal experience that you form your own opinions. Until you have your own experiences to go by, you only have other people's opinions to go by, and personal experience trumps hearsay 7 days a week.

GBR 04-29-2009 12:27 PM

Be sure to follow your refrigerator's spec. sheet for the clearances required. Some static condenser (coils on back) require 1" minimum, some require 10". Refers with exponentially air over condenser (coils all underneath with a fan) can actively be built-in as tight as needed. Be safe, G

Jim McClain 05-02-2009 02:50 AM

Cabinets should NOT be installed on top of ceramic tile. You may not realize it, but ceramic tile (and many other hard surface flooring) expands and contracts with temperature and humidity. When the tile moves - and it will - you do not want to risk damage to the cabinet or counter tops' integrity (seams, grouts, joinery, etc.). Besides, many cabinets are attached to the floor, as well as the wall. It'd be difficult to do that when tile is under it.

If you know the thickness of your finished flooring, you can have the cabinets shimmed to that height when they are installed. You can mount them on plywood panels or small blocks of wood. Make sure not to go too high, or you will have to use something to hide the unsightly bottom edge of the cabinet. Of course, you may already have to use a baseboard, quarter-round or base shoe molding. The toekick plate should be installed after the cabinets and flooring are installed.

I used good plywood under built-in appliances that customers didn't want to waste flooring under. Stain and seal it to protect it from moisture and make it look half decent if it ever is exposed.

In 35 years of installing floors, I never saw a bug proof house. Never. Keep it simple. Install all products to manufacturers recommendations, then install the trim as neatly and as good a fit to the floor as you can get. Then practice good home hygiene. There is absolutely nothing the average home owner/do-it-yourselfer can do to keep every bug out by using caulks, sealers, moldings or head-standing. :rolleyes:



Nestor_Kelebay 05-02-2009 02:43 PM


Originally Posted by Jim McClain (Post 30136)
You may not realize it, but ceramic tile (and many other hard surface flooring) expands and contracts with temperature and humidity.

You see, this is exactly the situation the internet is now addressing. Jim McClain has 35 years of experience in the flooring industry (or claims to) and still has it backward. It is the WOOD that expands and contracts with changes in moisture and humidity, not the ceramic tile. Ceramic tile doesn't change it's dimensions in the slightest with changes in humidity and, being a ceramic material (like brick, mortar, concrete, stone and glass) has a very low coefficient of thermal expansion.
It is wood that expands and contracts with changes in the surrounding air temperature and humidity. This expansion and contraction is 100% of the reason why it's not recommended to install ceramic tiling over a wood substrate. Neither the thin set you set the tiles with nor the grout has the elasticity to accomodate the amount of expansion and contraction that you'll get in wood.
However, the expansion of wood with temperature and humidity should not be confused with thermal expansion (the way air expands when you heat it). Wood tries to maintain an equilibrium moisture content with the air surrounding it, and that equilibrium moisture content is dependant on the temperature and humidity of the surrounding air. This web page includes a calculator to calculate the equilibrium moisture content of wood knowing the temperature and relative humidity of the surrounding air:

Wood Equilibrium Moisture Content Table And Calculator

As the equilibrium moisture content of the wood goes up, that moisture ends up inside the wood cell walls, causing them to swell, with the result being that the wood cell walls get both thicker and softer. Since wood cells are shaped like long drinking straws, there are very many more cell walls as you go across the grain than as you go along the grain. As a result, the expansion of wood across it's grain is always very much greater than the expansion along it's grain, often being as much as 80 times as much across the grain than along it.

Every time in human history that we've had improvements in communication, there has been a resulting increase in human knowledge. With the advent of the printing press, people would carve "wood cuts" which were essentially diagrams that portrayed ideas. Using a blacksmith's bellows to squirt water on a fire was one of the earliest leaflets printed. Back then, when there was no insurance of fire departments, a fire meant losing everything you owned, and the idea of squirting water through a window to put it out was a very good one, worth the cost of carving the wood cut and printing it. When the telegraph was first invented, it's ealiest use was for sending morse code signals, and that made it possible to communicate over great distances. It was morse code that announced that the unsinkable Titanic had collided with an ice berg. Radio in the 1920's and 30's announced news so that people could learn about world events almost immediately. When the Hindenburg crashed, the whole world knew about it that same day thanks to radio. It's only through television that almost all of us know what the Taj Mahal looks like, or what a mushroom cloud from a nuclear explosion looks like.
Now, we have the latest form of mass communication; the internet. And, I have every expectation that it's also going to kick up human knowledge and understanding a notch or two too, starting with Jim and his new understanding that it's the wood that swells and shrinks with changes in the surrounding air's temperature and relative humidity, not the ceramic tiles.


When the tile moves - and it will - you do not want to risk damage to the cabinet or counter tops' integrity (seams, grouts, joinery, etc.).
And that point would also apply if the wood swelled instead of the tiles. However, indoor temperatures are relatively constant year round, and you don't get as large a change in humidity indoors as you do outdoors either. The other thing to consider is that wood is a relatively soft materials and does "give". For example, fir lumber will expand and contract for more than fir plywood simply because the expansion and contraction in wood is primarily across it's grain. The expansion and contraction along the grain is small. So, in plywood, the alternating orientation of the wood grain curbs the amount plywood expands and contracts. (This is beside the point, but when they make plywood, they dry out the wood to a very low moisture content so that they can glue the plies together successfully. As a result, plywood typically expands after it's put in service, rather than shrinks after being put in service the way lumber does. This is why plywood panels typically require a gap around them during installation to accomodate expansion, but lumber shrinks to cause drywall nail pops and floor squeeks after being installed.) But, it's the fact that wood has a lot of "give" to it, that results in plywood expanding and shrinking much less than lumber. The alternate plys prevent the unfettered expansion and contraction you have in lumber.

Absolutely no offense intended Jim. One of the biggest problems with so many trades is that they aren't actually taught anywhere. So, if the guy that trained you was under the misunderstanding that it was the tile that expanded and contracted with changes in humdity and temperature, then you're gonna think that, and everybody you train is gonna end up thinking that too. It's a problem with our system. I believer there ought to be training courses for people to learn to tile, install carpet, paint, install garage doors, install drywall and plaster. Instead, it's apprentiship that rules the day, so misunderstandings get passed from the old guys to the new guys, and it keeps going that way. I've met painters that couldn't tell me the difference between dry latex paints and dry oil based paints. I've met plumbers that couldn't explain what the flux did to make solder stick to copper. The internet is making a big difference to DIY'ers and professionals alike, and it'll greatly enhance knowledge and understanding amongst all of us over the coming years.

Jim McClain 05-02-2009 03:09 PM

I stand by my comments, Nestor. I have seen many of your DIY replies to "help" other DIYers over the years. Your help is usually voluminous, but sometimes misguided or flat out wrong.

PS: if you question my experience, you can do a little searching. it's well documented.

Nestor_Kelebay 05-02-2009 06:55 PM


Besides, many cabinets are attached to the floor, as well as the wall. It'd be difficult to do that when tile is under it.
No, you can't drive a nail through a floor tile, but you can drill through the wood, switch to a masonary bit to drill through the tile and tile backer, then use a smaller X-tra long drill bit to drill a pilot hole for a screw.


Originally Posted by Jim McClain (Post 30171)
I stand by my comments, Nestor. I have seen many of your DIY replies to "help" other DIYers over the years. Your help is usually voluminous, but sometimes misguided or flat out wrong.

Jim: Let me sincerely apologize if I offended you. I had no intention of doing that. I only intended to point out how this new mass media of the internet is resulting in an increase in knowledge and understanding just like that of all the other forms of mass communication have through history. I did not mean to disrespect you in the slightest, only to point out how misconceptions and misinformation is being cleared up amongst diy'ers when they all exchange ideas on the internet. In your case, you have laboured under the impression for 35 years that ceramic tiles swell and shrink, and now you're encountering a different viewpoint. That's no shame to you, it's just proof that the internet is getting rid of so many of the misconceptions and so much of the misinformation that runs rampant in the trades, including amongst experienced tradesmen.


PS: if you question my experience, you can do a little searching. it's well documented.
It is neither your experience, nor your skill, nor your honesty, nor your motivation to generously donate your time to help the inexperienced homeowners on this site that is being questioned. None of those things are in question, and all of us including myself honestly appreciate the sage advice that comes with years of experience in the field.

It is your dogged determination to hang on to this belief that ceramic tiles swell and shrink with changes in humidity and temperature. It's that idea about swelling and shrinking ceramic tiles that I am questioning. All you have to do is put a ceramic wall tile in a bucket of hot water to realize that what you're saying can't be correct. If you're right, the tile should expand as it absorbs worm moisture from the water. But, if it did expand, why wouldn't the glass surface on that tile crack? If the tile expands, then the glass surface on it must stretch. But, I've never known glass to stretch without breaking first, and so that's more than enough evidence for me to question the notion that the tile expands.

Sure, ceramic tiles will get ever so slightly larger as they get hotter just like other things, but that's not what we're talking about. We're talking about the swelling and shrinking that accompanies changes in temperature AND HUMIDITY in some building materials, specifically wood or ceramic tiles.

The University of Massachusettes at Amhurst has a program called "Building Materials and Wood Technology" that's part of it's Department of Natural Resources Conservation. Here's the web site:
Building Materials and Wood Technology - UMass Amherst
One of the instructors in that program was Dr. Stephen Smulski, who has since left to start his own consulting company. While he was still teaching at the university, he wrote this paper:
Detailing for Wood Shrinkage - Publications - BM&WT - UMass Amherst
which is devoted entirely to the shrinking of wood as it dries after the tree is cut down, and how it swells and shrinks with changes in it's equilibrium moisture content once it's in service. It's a great read.

One of the statements made in that paper is that wood can shrink from 4 to 8 percent depending on which way the lumber was cut from the log. That works out to a dimensional change of from 1/2 inch to a full inch in a fir 2X12 floor joist! That's an awful lot.

By contrast, the dimension change of common ceramic building materials like bricks and concrete and marble and granite are typically about 5 to 15 parts per million per degree Celsius.

That means, if I have a cold shower (at say the freezing temperature of water, O degrees Cesius) and then turn off the cold water so only the hot water runs (up to say boiling, 100 degrees Celsius cuz the thermostat on the water heater don't work) the swelling of the ceramic tile, presuming it's about the same as other ceramic materials like marble, brick, granite and concrete will be: (using marble like you find in marble floors or shower walls)
100 degrees x 11 parts per million per degree C = 0.0011 or 0.11 per percent

So, wood can change it's dimensions by 4 to 8 percent at room temperature just due to changes in it's moisture content, but you have to go from freezing to boiling to get just over 1 tenth of one percent change in size in marble (or fired clay ceramic tiles).

Thermal expansions are absolutely negligible compared to the swelling and shrinking that wood goes through with changes in it's moisture content.

And, I did not look for any web pages that talked about dimensional change in ceramic tiling due to temperature and humidity changes because I know that you are confusing ceramic tile with wood here. I don't want to argue with you about it, nor do I want to show any disrespect for your knowledge, experience or skills. I am sure that you have skills and talents commensurate with 35 years of service in the flooring business.

However, it is wood that swells and shrinks a lot with changes in air temperature and relative humidity. Ceramic tiles expand only with changes in temperature, and the amount by which they do is very very small, smaller than other materials like metals or plastics.

Jim McClain 05-02-2009 07:30 PM

Give it a rest, Nestor. You are NOT changing my mind. I gave my professional opinion. You gave your opinion. Let the reader decide which to follow. Unless you just want to argue, which, as I have always done with you over the last 6 years or so, I decline. Maybe we can discuss it in more depth at the next floorcovering training event... oh wait, that's right, you've never been to one of those. Never mind.


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