Tools & Materials
Long before the advent of resilient sheet flooring and plastic-laminate planks, there was vinyl tile. Originally produced as an alternative to linoleum, vinyl tile grew in popularity because it was colorful, easy to clean and crack resistant.
Vinyl tiles remain popular today and are commonly installed in baths, foyers, laundry rooms and mudrooms. The 12×12-inch tiles come in dozens of colors, patterns and textures, making it easy to create checkerboard designs and floors with contrasting borders.
There are two types of vinyl tile: glue-down and self-adhesive. Glue-down tiles are set into a bed of mastic, which is a rather messy process. Self-adhesive vinyl tiles are a peel-and-stick product, making them ideally suited for do-it-yourselfers.
Here, we asked Jimmy Tiganella, owner of Classic Tile in Oakville, Connecticut, to demonstrate how to install a long-lasting vinyl tile floor, a job that starts with covering the old floor with plywood underlayment.
Tiling a Floor Overview
Strive for a layout that maximizes the number of whole tiles and the size of any cut tiles.
When awkwardly sized tiles can’t be avoided, place them where vanities will cover them later or out of the main sight lines from the doorway.
You shouldn’t step on any tiles until the thinset has cured for at least 24 hours.
Save until last all of the cuts requiring a wetsaw. Then rent the wetsaw for one day.
Put down Underlayment
Pry up any existing shoe molding from around the perimeter of the room.
Cover the entire floor with ¼-inch plywood underlayment secured with 1 ¼-inch (3d) underlayment nails. Make sure to stagger the joints.
Spread a thin layer of leveling compound along the plywood seams with a 6-inch drywall knife. Allow to dry completely (about 30 minutes).
Sand the seams smooth with a sanding pad with 100-grit paper.
Trim the Door Jamb and Casing
To trim down the door opening so the tiles will fit underneath, place a tile upside down in front of either door jamb to serve as a height guide.
Lay an undercut saw flat on top of the tile and carefully cut through the jamb (as shown).
Slide the tile around to the front and then cut through the casing in the same manner. Repeat these steps on the other side.
Lay out the Room in Quadrants
Measure the width of the room in two places and in each case mark its exact center on the floor.
Snap a wall-to-wall chalk line lined up on the marks.
Measure the chalk line and mark its center to indicate the room’s center point.
Line up a framing square along the chalk line at the center point, then make a line along the square’s tongue perpendicular to the chalk line. Do the same on the other side of the chalk line.
Snap a second wall-to-wall chalk line on the perpendicular lines to divide the room into quadrants (as shown).
Start Tiling at the Room’s Center
Sweep each quadrant clean.
Tile the floor one quadrant at a time, beginning at the center point.
Peel off the backing sheet from the first tile and set it into the corner formed by the intersecting chalk lines. Press the tile to the floor.
Set the rest of the tiles in the quadrant. Work out from the first tile in a step pattern, first out along the chalk lines, then filling in (as shown).
Continue until you reach the last course before the walls; then start on the next quadrant.
Scribe Tiles to Fit Along Walls
Place one full tile on top of the tile closest to the wall. Align the top tile so that its four edges line up with the already-installed tile below.
Set a second tile on top of the first and slide it up against the wall.
Draw a pencil line along the inner edge of the top tile, marking the middle tile (as shown).
Slide out the middle tile for cutting.
Cut Tiles to Size
To make very clean, straight cuts quickly, consider using a vinyl tile cutter. Similar to a paper cutter, this tool is available at rental shops.
Lift the tool’s handle to raise the hardened-steel blade. Slip the tile under the blade, then press down on the handle to slice the tile cleanly (as shown).
To make interior cutouts, notches, or L-shaped corner cuts, you’ll need to use a utility knife, first softening the tile with a heat gun.
Trim Tiles Around Heat Registers
If you come to a heat register (where a duct emerges from beneath the floor), remove its grille to expose the rectangular hole.
Mark a precise cutout for the hole on the vinyl tile by laying a full tile on top of the hole, pressing it tightly to the wall and penciling where it overlaps the duct.
Use an electric heat gun to soften the tile, then cut it along the line with a utility knife (as shown).
Test-fit the tile before peeling off the backing paper.
Install Shoe Molding
After laying all of the tile, roll the entire floor with a baker’s rolling pin or J-roller. That will ensure that every tile is firmly bonded to the underlayment.
Next, conceal the gap between the tiles and the baseboard molding by replacing the old shoe molding or installing new molding (as shown).
Secure the molding with 1 ½-inch (4d) finishing nails.
Tip: Don’t wash the floor for at least five days; that gives the adhesive time to cure fully.