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Ask the Architect

The finer points of kitchen renovation


Q. Our kitchen will be redone in six weeks, and I have several questions. We hired a contractor through the kitchen showroom, and they’ll have their own plumber and electrician. We want to have the floor done in tile with heating in the floor. The tile person is our responsibility, and the one we selected said we need to tile all the way to the walls, even under the cabinets, but that’s a lot more money for the material. A friend told us we don’t need to do the tile where it won’t be seen, only up to the front of the cabinets, and that the other areas can be done in plywood flooring. He also said that putting heat pipes under the cabinets can warp the cabinets and cause damage to things we store in them, like food or plastic items. Is this true, and what do you recommend?

A.    Unless you know the problems that can be created, the science behind the technique or the logic in how buildings function, you can easily make fast and arbitrary decisions, so it’s great that you took a step back and paused to ponder what can happen. This is a great question, mostly because there are so many problems created by not having a uniform floor height for the entire installation.

    Whether you selected tile, wood or resilient floor, the whole floor, even under the cabinets, must be at the same finished level. I’ve watched people struggle to replace under-counter appliances that are locked in by the floor, and that’s when the installers, at greater expense and time, start pulling out the wrecking tools to damage the floor so they can cut out the dishwasher, refrigerator, range. So avoid this problem with uniform height flooring.

    You don’t need to have the flooring match under the cabinets. You can choose a cheaper tile, for example, to go the rest of the way, hidden under the cabinets, all the way to the wall. The reason for using a similar material is because you want something that will resist water damage equally when the freezer malfunctions or the dishwasher hose springs a leak and water is now standing under the hard-to-reach places under the cabinets. When this occurs, either the inside cabinet base shelf or the front toe-kick recess panel is cut out, but if only plywood or absorbent materials suck up the water, you’ll have a much harder time getting out the moisture and potential mildew.

    Heating doesn’t need to go any farther than the face of the toe-kick recess, as long as your home is well insulated. When installing the kitchen, take out the wallboard and make sure the walls and ceilings, especially behind and above the cabinets, are done right, with no gaps. The plumbing should all be installed on the warm side of the wall. A heat-piping loop can be extended just under the sink cabinet. Good luck!

© 2020 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to yourhousedr@aol.com, with “Herald question”  in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper,  architect.