Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Using a Water Level to Overcome Uneven Floors

One of the challenges fun things about living in a 100-year old home is trying to make something level on the original floors. This is no easy task when you sometimes feel as though, while standing in place, one foot is cooler than the other due to its higher altitude. If this sounds scary, just imagine trying to install a 10-foot run of cabinets across these peaks and valleys so that the faces of the cabinets all line up cleanly, and don't resemble something that belongs on the Earthquake ride at Universal Studios.

I have honestly been struggling with approaching this for awhile, but now that we've removed the old vinyl flooring (and its excessively fastened underlayment), we have to confront the issue. To my initial shock, our kitchen designer, David, had a simple solution: water. Even more elegantly, water: in a long tube. The concept is similar to the familiar bubble seen on most carpenter's levels, but works even better for multiple data points. There are ways to do this by yourself that involve a bucket, but it's even quicker (and simpler) with two people. In between playing gigs at CBGB years ago, David spent his days as a carpenter remodeling apartments in New York, and had worked on many floors in much worse shape than ours.

David offered to help us create a benchmark using a water level last weekend, and we started by taking about 20 feet of clear tubing and filled it most of the way with water. David went downstairs and capped the end of the tube with his thumb while I filled the tube most of the way with water (we left about 5 feet of air). Then we grabbed both ends and draped the middle off our balcony (so the tube was in a long U shape), to get rid of any air bubbles. As tiny air bubbles slowly rised (with help from us tapping the tube), the two water levels became closer together until they were finally level. Then we went back inside to our kitchen.

On the wall with the cabinets, we decided to arbitrarily make a benchmark measurement at a 40" height at what seemed like the highest point in the room. At this height, once we snap a chalkline for our benchmark all around the room, we can see where the peaks and valleys are on the floor. Additionally, we will be able to simply measure down from the benchmark line to mark the top of the base cabinets, and measure up to mark the bottom of our upper cabinets.We marked that first location's position at 40"with a pencil and I stayed at that initial point as David moved along the walls. At each corner, David would hold up his end of the tube and move it up or down as I kept my end of the tube stationary. The water line would move up and down at first, but once it stopped moving, David marked the water's level on the wall.
After the first line had two points, we both simply capped our ends of the tube to avoid spilling any water, and David moved along to another point along the wall. We did this along each wall with at least two points (sometimes more if an obstruction might get in the way of a straight line). Once we were done, we snapped a chalk line, and voila! Truly level benchmark!

Only one mishap occurred. As I was explaining this process to Jen, I realized that for a few of our marks, I had not taken my thumb off the tube to let the air escape and the water equalize! So we had to back and redo a few marks that were too high. Listen up kiddies and don't do what I'm doing in the photo here - air and water must mix for a level! It's a good thing we discovered that now instead of after lifting and mounting the cabinets.

Anyway, thanks to David, we now have a point of liftoff for the cabinets to be installed. And just in case we need it again in the near future, I capped both ends of the tube and hung it in the basement (perhaps a picture rail?). Hopefully we'll be trying for the cabinet install next weekend.

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

Spiffy! I've heard of those. It was recommended to us for installing our fence. We were lazy. I don't think our fence is level OR plumb.

Looks like it was pretty easy! I'll keep that in my "bag of tricks".