I really wanted heated floors in our new bathroom. I demanded them, actually. I’m one of those people who’s always cold and always wearing three pairs of socks, so the thought of warm tile floors has always been pretty dreamy to me. Also, since we’re doing this whole major renovation thing, might as well go for it and do it right, right? 🙂 So today I thought I’d share some of our adventures with you and also walk you through the process if you’re thinking that this is the floor for you too!
So, once we had our bathroom built back up to a plain, basic box of a room, we were ready to go.
We researched a bunch of different heated flooring systems and bought the one that seemed like the best value and the best fit for our skill level. Here’s where we made our first mistake!
Now, all heated flooring systems are pretty easy to install, but you’ll find that some require some extra steps and there’s a big variation in the pricing on these different kits. We went with one of the kits where you get a basic wire and then you pour self-leveling cement over it to protect it and lock it in place. It seemed like it would be the most economical choice and also give us the most high-quality finished project. Cause we’re experts at this DIY stuff, right?
Although the project was a success and the kit wasn’t too hard to use, all the extra supplies that we ended up needing and all that cement we needed to fill all that square footage ate up any money that we saved by using this kit instead of the really really super duper easy kit.
You can get heated floor kits that are made up of an orange or black mat that already have the wire wound through it. Kind of like this one here. All you do is roll the mat out and lay your tile right on top! If (when!) we do another heated floor, that’s definitely that style that we’ll go with.
As it went though, we did it all by hand. First we used a glue gun with the special glue-stick provided in the kit to glue down all of the wire holders around the perimeter of the areas that we wanted heated. Keep in mind that you don’t need to heat under the vanity or the bath tub when you’re making your calculations about square footage!
It may have been unnecessarily time-consuming, but at least it was kinda pretty, right?
Here you can see how the wires fit right into their holders.
Once the wire was in place and hooked up to its special thermostat on the wall (another added expense with all different types of kits), we were ready to lock it in place!
Here’s where things got a little nuts.
You want to pour enough self-leveling cement so that the wires are covered and protected. You don’t want any exposed wires because you may end up slicing through them or even just their outer casing later when you’re laying your tile and that will cause the whole system not to work. Which would be a tragedy for us cold-footed folk.
To get ready for “cement day”, we prepared the room by making sure that the cement would run only where we wanted it to when we poured it into place.
We made cardboard frames to fit inside the ducts for our floor vents and we put plumber’s putty around the tub plumbing and the toilet drain.
A very easy, but necessary step! Once the cement was all set, we would be able to remove our cardboard and our putty and have perfect holes for these fixtures in the room.
Then it was time for the cement. The moment of truth. Or moments, rather, because it took a bit of time. 🙂
So we got all set up to mix our cement and pour it quickly before it started setting. We had a good corded drill ready to go, a mixing wand, and a big bucket all set up in the basement. We started mixing and everything seemed to be going well. For about 14 seconds. And then the drill started smoking and heating up. This was when we were on our first bag of cement and we had 5 more to go. Oops. We did end up getting through it all, thankfully, but the whole time we were wondering if the drill would just die and leave us with a half a floor, or blow up in our faces. We learned later that our mixing wand was too wide, and one with a smaller diameter at the bottom is a lot easier on your drill. So remember that! It’s very important if you don’t want to give yourself a heart attack! 🙂
We ran upstairs and poured each bucket down and then smoothed it out gently with a trowel.
So then we had a nice cement floor.
…or so we thought.
On closer inspection, we discovered that some of the wire was actually floating up to the top of the layer of cement and leaving a bit of the top of each wire exposed to the elements.
At this point, we were well aware that had we chosen the right kit, we wouldn’t be dealing with this whole cement issue at all, so after the almost-exploding drill, the mess, and now the exposed wires that were supposed to be protected by this cement, we were not happy campers.
Oh well! You live, you learn, right? We decided to press on and just try to be really careful when we were tiling. The tile mortar and then the thick layer of stone tile would surely protect the wires and keep everything in place! So we were good!
…until Chris got out his level.
Did we mention that self-leveling cement isn’t really all that self-leveling? If you’ve just started following along then let me fill you in on this: All projects that Chris works on must be level. Always. No exceptions. And this floor was not.
How in the world do you lay tile on an uneven floor? Well, with a whole lot of mortar and these things!
Let me tell you my friends, the great news is that you learn so much when you have projects that go a little awry.
We got like, really, really, smart on these floors.
So these little saviors here are called tile leveling clips!
Well, OK, there are some spacers in that picture too, but remember these clips! If you ever need them, you’ll be so happy to have them!
They just sit in between each tile with a little lip that fits under both sides of the gap. Then you add in the yellow wedge and it brings them completely level to each other. You can also use a really long level to make sure that you’re tiling job is level overall in the whole room and add more mortar under the next tile you do as necessary. When everything is completely dry, you just snap the whole clip right out and the little lip remains in place under the tiles. It’s a good idea to wait a few days to be really sure everything is dry because the snapping action can be jarring and can cause your tiles to become unstuck if they aren’t totally dry. Anyone want to ask me how I know about that one too? 🙂
So, in the end, after all of our little mishaps and wrong turns, we still ended up with a pretty great tiled floor.
Actually, this floor is pretty much perfect. It’s solid and level and it’s comfy and cozy.
So if you’re thinking of putting down one of these floors in your home, definitely go ahead and learn from our mistakes! And if you come up with some new mistakes of your own (which you probably will)? Just take a deep breath and be grateful for what a smart cookie you’re becoming! 🙂
In the end, if the floor is solid, looks good, and works like it’s supposed to, then you win!
Have you ever installed a DIY heated tile floor? Which kind of system did you use? What kind of fun learning adventures did you have along the way?
For more bathroom projects, visit the bathroom gallery page!
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Courtenay Hartford is the author of creeklinehouse.com, a blog based on her adventures renovating a 120-year-old farmhouse in rural Ontario, Canada. On her blog, Courtenay shares interior design tips based on her own farmhouse and her work as founder and stylist of the interior photography firm Art & Spaces. She also writes about her farmhouse garden, plant-based recipes, family travel, and homekeeping best practices. Courtenay is the author of the book The Cleaning Ninja and has been featured in numerous magazines including Country Sampler Farmhouse Style, Better Homes and Gardens, Parents Magazine, Real Simple, and Our Homes.