Which Flooring?

Parent Q&A

Select any title to view the full question and replies.

  • Hi,

    We are replacing our old linoleum kitchen floor with a simulated wood floor.  The flooring company (recommended by BPN) suggested we use Gemcore.  The samples look nice, it seems very long lasting and is waterproof but I'm wondering if anyone has any actual experience with it.   A search of Gemcore on BPN turned up no results.  Thanks!

    Hi we installed Gemcore LVP this summer in our activity room on concrete and we love it. Remember to choose the thickest materials, which I believe is 28mm. It makes huge difference.  

  • Hi-

    I need to re-floor a room that flooded.  This is the first time I've been faced with installing flooring as I've just lived with what was here when I moved in.  I'm mainly interested in carpet but might be interested in other types of flooring.  My primary goal is something non-toxic.  I don't have any particular sensitivities or health conditions; it just seems like a good idea to not surround myself with toxic chemicals.  I haven't found the flooring stores to be very easy to navigate with this purpose in mind.  Living in the Bay Area, I would have thought many would have gone down this road before me but I haven't found any advice givers on the topic.  There are many blogs and websites out there leading to websites without prices and broken links.  I really would like some actionable advice- like store x has many options for that, talk to person y, look for a, b, c labels, x backing is as good as you are going to get, don't bother with y because its astronomically expensive.  It seems like there are two extremes- the uber pure, uber expensive option and everything else.  I was hoping to make a wise choice between these extremes based on what a mere mortal can do.  But it's tricky.  You can have the idea that something is really bad for you and then end up buying something that is actually worse because you weren't aware of the details.  I was hoping there was knowledgeable people out there.  Thanks in advance for any advice!

    I'd recommend taking a look at some of the resources provided by independent organizations like USGBC (US Green Building Council), Green Building Institute or Well Building Institute. Both those organizations manage certification processes for buildings, which means that they have developed standards for non-toxic and/or recyclable material for both flooring and other finishes. You can also look for products that advertise some of these certifications.Typically you want to look for natural fibers/materials and low-VOC adhesives.  For carpets, specifically, the Carpet & Rug institute has a Green Label Plus certification for products that meet its non-toxic standards. It may be easier to get an outside sense of important criteria before browsing what's actually available at the local flooring stores. (Another note is that many of these requirements have been codified into the Building Code these days, so the typical materials now available usually meet pretty high non-toxic standards already. Very different than 20 or even 10 years ago...)

    One thing that will also affect your flooring choices is the type of subfloor you are installing it over, and the potential moisture content. You don't say if the flooding was a one-time event, but if you're dealing with an onging dampness issue, you may want to consider some sort of resilient flooring over a water/air barrier, as it will be more durable than carpet in the long term.

    I don't have a specific recommendation but I've been just starting to do a little research myself for a home remodel. Have you checked out the EWG website (Environmental Working Group)? They are a great resource and have a section on healthier carpets and do's and dont's. In terms of other non-carpet flooring the best options are solid wood with a low-VOC finish, natural linoleum like marmoleum (personally I'm a big fan of this stuff), cork, and tile flooring are all good options.

    Have you tried Eco Home Improvement in Berkeley? They may be able to help. 

    The healthy carpet is generally very expensive. You may want to try putting rugs on top of another floor. As long as you can see the pattern on the back, the rug is generally pretty clean. If it is coated in glue (like carpet) or has a separate backing, steer clear, that is usually an indication of formaldehyde. 

    You can probably get a healthy floor in wood, linoleum, or cork. With wood, be careful of the finish, low voc only. With linoleum, true linoleum only, which is made of wood fiber. 

    Good luck. I hope you find the perfect solution. 

    We really love our Marmoleum kitchen floor by Forbo. It can be used anywhere, has great colors and designs, and is easy to clean and care for. It is also environnentally friendly and pretty simple in it's makeup.

    https://www.forbo.com/flooring/en-us/products/marmoleum/cfctp7

    Yours is a great question and i applaud you for considering safe alternatives. I am a retired architect with environmental sensitivities. With flooring, as with most finishes, you get what you pay for. I had a limited budget. Here's what I put in my house:

    Bedrooms: natural wool carpet (lots of color and texture options) on a natural rubber pad. Yes, costly, but very little maintenance, naturally stain and odor resistant, and very durable. I put it in 15 years ago and it still looks great, despite raising two kids who eat and do art projects in their rooms. Clean only with water, or a tiny bit of Woolite if necessary - seriously, this gets out even cat and human vomit; however, orange Gatorade is a nightmare. Many more natural wool offerings are available now than 15 years ago.  Check out www.abbeycarpet.com. For the pad, avoid standard rebond padding at all costs—highly toxic, out gasses more as it ages, and supports mold growth. Go with natural rubber, it's stable and hygienic.

    Living Areas: 5/8" thick vertical grain bamboo (look for 5/8" solid bamboo with no VOC adhesives) with a water-based finish and wool area rugs (Dolma in Palo Alto and Menlo Park has a wide selection of quality rugs at great prices, when on sale). Again, costly, but little maintenance, very durable, still going strong. Caution: most bamboo on the market is bamboo laminate on a substrate and cannot be refinished. I purchased a www.teragren.com and www.bonakemi.com products. Search the sites for local dealers and installers.

    Good luck with you decision.

    I recommend that you go to Straus Carpets in Oakland. They have all kinds of flooring, not just carpets. I also had to replace flooring after a flood, and the salesperson who helped me (sorry, can't remember his name) was *very* knowledgeable about toxicity. We ended up going with what they call a "luxury vinyl plank" that met the high standards for being installed in schools. We're very happy with the floor and the service we received. In fact, a contractor I know had them install flooring in his own home. He could have done it himself, but wanted the excellent guarantee that came along with installation. You really can't go wrong with Straus. And if you don't go there, please avoid Lumber Liquidators at all costs -- toxic products and pushy salespeople.

  • Hi all,

    Almost 10 years ago, we bought a house that had been a rental for many years and has LOTS of deferred maintenance. We've been chipping away at needed items but the number of outstanding items exceeds our single-income budget.  We fortuitously had bought quite a bit of paint before SiP started and plan to repaint several rooms over the next few months.  However, we are at a loss for what to do with the carpet. The carpet is low quality put in by the previous owner to sell the house. Add to that 10 years of a family of 4 and 3 pets, it looks really, really bad in the high traffic areas. We get it professionally cleaned each year but the stains are permanent. And at some room junctures, the carpet is coming up or frayed. 

    The hope is that next year we can afford to buy new flooring. But wondering if anyone has ripped out their carpet (and baseboards)? Does the plywood underneath look crummy?  We already have area carpets in some rooms and could get a few low cost rugs for other rooms (but not the long hall) wondering if we would get splinters from the plywood?  Thanks for your insights and experiences!

    It depends on the age of your house and what the floor under the carpet is made of.

    If it is plywood, you can paint it with Home Depot's very cheap mistake paint or see if you can get some from Alameda County for free, it will be grey or beige. (I don't know if there are any low income requirements to get it, but it's worth asking.) That will help seal the plywood and protect you from splinters.

    If the floors are pine, sand them and you can just finish them with stain yourselves and if they are in good enough shape you won't have to replace it. Otherwise, just throw some rugs down until you are going to rip it all out and replace it next year.

    Also, if you remove your baseboards, do it carefully and save them because they are expensive to replace and you can make them look nice again by sanding and painting them before you put them back on over the edges of your new flooring. We're about to replace our baseboards and it's going to be about $500. (The previous owners ripped it all out and never replaced it.)

    Good luck from a fellow one income household with a fixer upper.

    Years ago I pulled up everything in a house in West Marin...revealed lovely straight grain fir commonly used instead of plywood. It had old paint on it...stripped the paint and resurfaced the fir with a low VOC gym floor seal from MacBeath Hardwood. Did it with my partner. Not too much trouble for a younger couple, but had to live elsewhere for a while. All in all...result: gorgeous.

    Also, I think Martha Stewart and others over the years have shown painted plywood floors, With nice effect.

    But I recommend you look into the carpets from Hook and Loom. 100% wool with no dyes. Because I used them successfully to deal with your situation exactly: as a renter, I have old carpets that look horrible. I found a phenomenal rug company. Hook and Loom, and bought area rugs to strategically cover the greater expanses in the apartment. They lie right on top of the crummy wall to wall.  Incredibly inexpensive compared to labor to pull up rugs and refinish or install new wall-to-wall. Woven in lush thick patterns, or plain, they work with the various natural colors from the sheep. I have covered large and small areas with these rugs and obliterated  the ugly old rug from sight. These loomed rugs have no backing, so very spongy. Great for feet. I wondered about the rugs on top of carpet so I contacted the company and the owner and I discussed the situation. In fact, she had a gentle warning about not guaranteeing the ones I wanted if I was putting her rugs on top of rugs.  But the only rug that has slightly pulled is the 9 'x 2' runner, loom hooked, that my 6'3" son pounds up and down on, all day. Meanwhile, the 6x9 natural wool loom hooked rug cream rug in the living room is essentially the same as when purchased. Also, cleaning pure wool like this is super easy. Oils don't bond, the way they do in polyester based fiber. So, I spot clean, either water, or water and a little detergent. Rinse and good to go. I have gone from a stained cheapo carpet, to the hand loomed beauty of natural sheep's wool. 6x9 feet and only $475 dollars.It's classy, beautiful and light and clean looking.Be sure to order the swatches. They are really big so you can stand on them in your bare feet. Super helpful to make final decisions. And talk to the company. They really are very nice. And finally, if you move, you can take them with you. I am about to order more. (FYI: before I found Hook and Loom,  I searched and searched for ideas: like buying a bound edge piece of wall to wall carpeting. Many times more expensive than these rugs. Plus: out-gassing. But if you decide to investigate that route: be sure to check out Tradeway Flooring in Richmond for a big showroom with reduced prices. 

    You can rip out the carpet, mop the floor with a damp mop and a little cleaner dish soap works the best for me to remove any residue from the old pets, and trust me there is some there I'm sure.
    And just paint it with a satin/eggshell or semi gloss paint and you can get an inexpensive runner any size you need for the hallway (cut to size) at home depot. That will look and smell better until you can afford new carpet.

    Unfortunately, no one on the internet will know what is under the carpet in your home.  Can you can lift a small corner of the carpet to see what is underneath without damaging the carpet?

    If you have hardwood underneath, then you can use that without any real issues until you can redo the floors.

    If there is only subfloor (plywood or planks), then I would recommend against removing the carpet.  It’s unlikely that the plywood has perfect seams, and there could be small gaps.

    The biggest issue with removing the flooring is that you can’t qualify for FHA funding with exposed floorboards or studs.  If you need to refinance or sell your home, then you would be in the position of needing to buy flooring before you (or a buyer) could get financing.

    I found that the old carpeting in our house was not just hideous but also rather toxic to my allergic family. We ripped it all out and painted the floors! Mostly peach beige. I thought it would be temporary until we could afford new floors. However, I LOVED the look. In one room we painted a checked throw rug on the floor. With tassels.
    In another room the dog walked across with painty paws in a different color and we left the perfect paw prints on the floor. It was easy to clean. We had no splinter issues, but I think painting helped all that.
    We’ve since moved and have wood floors now. But remembering those floors makes me smile. Good luck!
     

    Yes, I gradually ripped out my carpets in my 1927 fixer years ago. It's possible there are oak floors underneath if the house is older than 1950. Find this out before you go any further. If you have oak floors(or douglas fir) you have saved yourself a lot of money. So find a out of the way corner you can peal back a foot or so. Watch your fingers for tacks! There will be tack strips all along the perimeter of the room. Pull back the carpet far enough (1foot) to get past those 2" tack strips & past the padding underneath. Lift up the padding to reveal the actual floor. It may be very dusty & dirty. Take a scraper, dustbuster & damp rag & see what you have. If it's not plywood you may be able to strip it all out (one room at a time). If you want further instructions let me know. If not, tuck everything back in place & save your money to have it all done later. 

    One more thing, I do have experience laying fresh plywood to use as the actual flooring. In a back section of my West Marin barn I build an artist's loft/studio rental from a very shabbily constructed workshop to work as an entry and living space attaching to the main artist loft space.. The old plywood floors were shot, completely uneven and splintered, so we tore them out and I went down to Golden Gate Lumber in San Rafael and personally selected 4 x 8 panels of veneer plywood for their unique grain patterns. I found some beautiful panels, laid them in and then, again, finished them with the low VOC, gym seal I found at MacBeath's in Berkley. Multiple coats later they were gleaming beautifully grained flooring. The seal I selected was not an oil based seal. Therefore it did not darken the flooring. It stayed it's natural creamy light color. Of course you can color and/or oil stain this wood if you prefer. The important thing, I found, was to get the construction guys to nail the sheets down along the seams in a perfectly evenly spaced series of nails, that matched on both sides of the area where the panels butted up against each other. Crew didn't get it at first. Had to persevere. To match your own aesthetic, know there are all sorts of veneer surfaces. Be sure to get panels thick enough they don't flex when folks walk and stand on them. 

    What's under your carpet all depends.  We pulled up our carpet and found beautiful hardwood floors,  If you've looked under the carpet and have plywood I would leave the carpet.  If you can't afford new carpet, install tile.  You can do just as much as you can afford.  Over time you'll be able to replace all your carpet and have nice tile floors.  

    Perhaps this is an obvious question, but have you already pulled up part of the carpet in each room to check what is underneath? Even if you see only subfloor in one room, it's possible that's not the story everywhere. If you're lucky enough to have hardwood underneath in some places, it is not hard at all to pull the carpet up. Getting the nails out is time-consuming, but again, not hard. Tip: use needle nose pliers. When I did this it was not necessary to remove the baseboards, but there was a gap left. The gap can be filled with small molding called "shoe molding."

    What you do from there will depend on what kind of shape the hardwood is in. If you can refinish it, great. It's much less than a new floor. Alternatively you can paint it with a heavy duty paint made for decks. Definitely better than crummy carpet!

    If you only see subfloor underneath, though I would WAIT to pull the carpet up. Subfloor is not comfortable. Better to buy the cheapest indoor/outdoor rugs you can find and layer them over the wall-to-wall. I've seen interior designers in rental apartments use sisal carpets that way -- basically as a second layer wall-to-wall to cover bad floors they couldn't permanently change. However I wouldn't get sisal in a house with kids and pets. Durable well-priced indoor/outdoor rugs are your friend. I think you can find some that will give you some relief from the bad old carpet look without eating too much into your future new floor funds. Good luck!

    Original poster here--the house is mid-1970's and definitely does not have hardwood underneath (wish it did!).  Thanks to everyone for their suggestions.  I've since read/watched a few blogs about painting/staining plywood sub-flooring and it can turn out pretty nice (although area rugs still needed!).  However, I did see that in some states not having floor covering over sub-flooring could prevent a sale/refinance from going through.  Currently towards the end of a refinance but could conceivably refinance again depending on what interest rates do so definitely something to consider. 

  • Recommend a flooring installer

    (1 reply)

    Can you recommend a flooring expert/installer? We have been trying to work with one company, but it feels like pulling teeth to get the rep to respond -- we're still trying to get some samples of the materials! We are interested in LVP (vinyl planks) but understand that our floor needs some flattening first. We have a relatively small job (225 sq feet), so some companies have said we're too small to bother with. Any ideas? Thanks.

    Suggest you contact John Frick of Frick Flooring. I have hired him to install several, high quality floors in apartments and he has always done a wonderful job. He is honest, reliable and has reasonable pricing. His number is: 510-758-2122. You will be glad you hired him.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Questions  

 


Appropriate flooring for a new baby

Oct 2009

We live in a loft/warehouse rental where the wood floors are a bit beat and splintery in places. I am pregnant with our first baby so I hadn't given the floor much thought, but my mother seemed very concerned and wants to pay to have wall to wall carpet installed. My husband and I are not that into the idea of carpet because it is nasty on many levels, 1) formaldihyde, 2) it will get trashed and then have to go into a landfill (our dog likes to swim at the beach several times a week and despite rinsing off is still always a little sandy and wet) and 3) this is a rental. Anyone have a practical suggestion for a flooring alternative that would be not so toxic and hold up to a sandy wet dog and be nice for a crawling baby and not a fortune?


We were in a similar situation with both our kids - a rental with old-ish wood floors. I shudder at the idea at covering them up with carpet! Here are some ideas -

- If your mother is willing to pay for carpet, might she be willing to pay to have the floors re-sealed instead? That would at least solve the splintering problem. If not, could you negotiate something with your landlord?

- Small inexpensive rugs from IKEA, etc., that you can put in high-traffic areas where the baby will play. (Wait until s/he is born so you know where those areas are!)

- Foam mats, again in places where the baby will play

- Keep the baby in pants and socks instead of shorts, and s/he won't mind the hard floor. The splintering does seem to be a potential issue though, so consider the above-mentioned sealing or covering up with temporary mats/rugs. anon


You might try FLOR. They are carpet tiles that are made in an environmentally friendly way - the company will even recycle your old carpet when you're done. We have a cool modern looking area rug in our dining room made with a few different types of carpet tiles and wall to wall in our basement living room that we installed ourselves. The best part is when you have a spill you pull the tile up, wash it out in the sink and put it back down when it dries. The downside is that they are not very plush if you are looking for that. www.flor.com happy flor customer


I am a long time green architect and a mother and have consequently thought a bit about flooring issues. I agree with all of your concerns about wall to wall carpet. I would also recommend against hard surface flooring--it is hard to get any that are completely free of toxic chemicals, glues or finishes and given your pregnancy I would take every step to avoid them right now.

I think your best bet would be to get an area rug that is either braided cotton or all-wool with a jute backing. For at least 6 months you can just plop your baby on the rug and she/he won't stray. Hooked rugs have a fairly even surface and are good for floor games.

My daughter grew up on older wood floors, with area rugs. Neither she nor her friends (or us for that matter) ever got splinters from the floor. And I can think of a friend who's house had some fairly bad patches of termite damaged wood--again no issues with splinters. Cate


When our baby was on the way we got 2 large wool carpets with bound edges. Not cheap but they have lasted years very well, no outgassing and stain resistant. Since we rent they move with us. It's nice to have a soft surface for crawling, pulling up, reading, etc. We got an underpad for one to make it even more soft. Kristine


Small hallway, heavy traffic - what flooring?

Jan 2009

We have a small hallway area (maybe 9x9?) in the center of our home that sees a lot of foot traffic (the dining room, kitchen, two bedrooms and a bathroom all open onto this area). Currently it is carpeted and the carpet is in terrible shape. We would like to replace it with some other sort of wood or wood-like flooring and are looking for some recommendations. A few things to note:
1. This is a rental home, so it doesn't have to be the BEST choice, just one that looks nice enough and is serviceable. For the same reason, cheaper options would be better.
2. Underneath the carpet is some sort of vinyl flooring. The owners thinks it is likely to be asbestos-backed, so we do NOT want to remove it and create a hazard. Rather, we want something that can just be installed on top of it. [The house is an old bungalow in Rockridge, so you'd think there would be hardwood underneath, but it really doesn't look that way . . ., plus there's the asbestos issue anyway.]
3. We are thinking about some sort of hardwood or hardwood subsititute (laminate, pergo, etc.) but don't know enough about it to choose what would work in this situation and be affordable.
4. We are not handy and so would likely need to pay for it to be installed (or have landlord pay).
Suggestions? Any idea of how much this would cost all told?
Thanks. Lost in the woods


We put in cork flooring in a small space that we bought from EcoHome Improvement on San Pablo. They have all different patterns and colors. Its floating tiles, so we put them over an existing vinyl floor. Its held up very well and we think its beautiful. EcoHome recommended an installer. For a space 3 times the size you describe, I think we spend $1300. But with the economy how it is, I know you can get great deals these days. Carrie


Try marmoleum tile (www.themarmoleumstore.com). If you are at all handy, you can install it yourself, if not, it's cheap to get someone to install it for you. In any case, I'd strongly recommend installing some sort of ''stick on'' or ''glue on'' tile over the top of your existing tiles. You could try to test the underlying floor for asbestos as well. If you find asbestos, you'll want to be careful with it, but I tested a sample at a house I owned and was happily surprised to find no asbestos. This lab in Emeryville is excellent: http://www.labmicro.com/ Judiah


Asbestos in kitchen floor

Oct 2008

I recently learned my kitchen floor (where my older child crawled and my younger child is about to start crawling) is made with asbestos. We're deciding between just covering it with a new floor, like linoleum or glue-down cork tiles, and having it removed. We think there is a nice fir floor underneath and would love to have that refinished. Anyone deal with this? What did you do (cover it, remove it, or choose to live with it) and how happy are you with the outcome? want safe floors


We removed our asbestos floor in our kitchen of our previous home while I was pregnant with our first child. We found a beautiful fir floor underneath that was easy to refinish. We did have to pay a hazardous materials fee for the floor to be removed. I don't remember the cost (almost 9 years ago) but it could not have been too much as we did not have that much to spend. Good luck. Lisa


My family has gone through asbestos removals. They are expensive and the best contractors get sloppy. If you have it removed hire another company to test the contractors work and don't let the contractor arrange to have the air tested. Have the testing company use a process that tests specifically for asbestos particles and not general particles in the air, it is expensive but worth it. My personal opinion and the one of many physicians is to have the asbestos covered up. It is not hazardous unless pulled up. concerned parent


Are you sure that there's asbestos in the tiles? In most cases, it's the glue where the asbestos resides, and since the glue is under the tiles instead of on them, they're of no danger to you UNTIL you disturb it. IF this is the case, and you're set on tearing it out, the demolition needs to be handled very carefully. Use an expert company like Synergy, and beware the contractor who poo-poohs the condition, lest he contaminate your house. Berkeley Choate


We covered our asbestos-backed 1950s vinyl flooring up with bamboo, laid right over the top of it. You could do this with cork, linoleum, laminate, hardwood, etc.; I've known a number of people who handled it this way. The asbestos only becomes a problem when it starts flaking and gets into the air, so sealing it up with another floor covering is a good way to go. If you want it removed, it will cost quite a bit more. You will have to disclose that it's under there whenever you sell the house, but otherwise I don't think it's a big deal to leave it, as scary as it seems when you first find out about it. Practical


We had tested a cross-section of kitchen floor coverings in our 1910 house and were told that there was asbestos in one of the layers. I had read somewhere that the glue that is used to affix flooring can be dissolved with boiling water. As water will prevent flaking asbestos from becoming airborne, we put on high construction boots (from Ashby) and rubber gloves, borrowed a linoleum scraper from the tool lending library, got out all our large pots and filled them with water, boiled and poured it on the floor in sections, then scraped it up! What a mess. Took about a half day to complete. A large string mop and squeezer mob bucket completed our set of tools. Bagged it all (put a heavy duty trash bag in the backyard) and discarded it as hazardous waste. We have an unfinished basement so the water did drip down a bit but most we mopped up before it seeped through. Not too difficult and the price was right. We then sanded and varathaned the fir floors underneath. Spectacular difference! Kathy


We had a new kitchen floored installed. The old floor had asbestos in it (I cut off a small piece and had it tested by a Berkeley lab). We hired an asbestos abatement firm to do the removal, and we're glad we didn't trust the job to the flooring contractor. Obviously, we paid extra but came away with peace of mind. Anon


asbestos tile is not super dangerous because it's comprised-- but when you pry it up, be sure to keep things damp to avoid friable particulate matter from getting into the air. Lem


[Editor] see also: Advice about Asbestos


Ice cold floors!

Feb 2008

I live in a one-story Berkeley bungalow with a 4 ft. crawlspace beneath and wood floors - in some rooms, the original douglas fir subfloor is the main floor - and our floors are ice cold. Radiant heat is out of the question financially, but I've heard suggestions of either putting spray or traditional insulation under the house to help keep the floors warmer. Are there other suggestions out there that people have tried (and worked)? Slippers and area rugs help, but maybe there's another way to better insulate the floor, period? Thanks! Cold Feet


It sounds like you need to insulate your floors! I had the floors insulated in my 1920s house and didn't mention it to my tenant. My tenant called me that night to thank me for making the house so much more comfortable.

In the last year I have worked with All Seasons Insulation and McHales. I recommend you call All Seasons at 800 905 7965 to get your floor joists insulated ASAP.

Regarding radiant floors, a radiant heating system does not need to cost an arm and a leg if kept simple. If you were really interested in keeping your toes toasty warm that would be the way to go. George


Dear Ice cold feet: you (or i) can install traditional insulation between the floor joists. It is a dirty job but it can most likely be done in a day. I did this in my house in Massachusetts and it worked very well. -Oren


I installed R19 under my wood floors, this helped slightly but the floors were still cold. Radiant heat made a huge difference. If you are handy it's inexpensive to install in homes with crawlspaces. I spent about $1600-$2000 in parts cost and a lot of my own labor but it was worth it. Berkeley has mild winters, your water heater and a single pump are plenty to heat a small house. This is called an ''open system.'' You need to plumb it so a shower flushes cold water through the floor keeping the system fresh. There are at least two websites that sell packages that cut down on the amount of plumbing you need to do, I bought some parts from them, some from ebay, easier to just get it all from one place. Search for ''radiant heat'' on google and look for the two stores that provide both prices and info (diagrams etc...)

What's required:
1/2'' pex tubing roughly 1.2 feet per sqft, tube talons or pex staples mylar coated bubble wrap and R19 insulation Grundfos UP15-18SU pump , controller and thermostat 3/4'' one way valve, ball values and other 3/4'' copper fittings and pipe, pressure test kit and bike pump. 3/4 copper to 1/2 pex compression adapters. 1-1/2'' drill bit and right angle drill (tool library should have this)
Skills: Copper sweating, Basic wiring, Ability to bend pex tubing without kinking it (takes practice)

You could start with one room for about $800 in parts and add a room at a time for roughly $300 in parts. Big cost is labor, it is at least a week of work to get one room up and working for someone inexperienced. Alex