Some types of floor
cover are more durable than others. Vinyl lasts longer than carpet. Ceramic tile lasts longer than wood block or strip flooring.
But no floor material has a life expectancy equal to that of the house itself. That makes flooring a popular focus in home
All floor cover requires a base that’s structurally sound, clean, level (to 1/4" per
10’ span) and dry (moisture content of the subfloor should not exceed 13 percent). Concrete makes a good base, assuming
the surface is smooth and incorporates a good vapor barrier. Untempered hardboard, plywood, and particleboard also make a
good base for flooring. Use either 1/4"- or 3/8"-thick sheets. Underlayment needs a 1/32" gap at the edges
and the ends to allow for expansion. Underlayment-grade plywood has a sanded, C-plugged or better face. If moisture isn’t
a problem, use interior type plywood. Otherwise use either exterior or interior grade plywood with exterior glue. Trowel on
a smooth coat of cement-based underlay to prepare nearly any floor surface for resilient flooring.
Recover or Remove?
Adhesive used to secure resilient flooring tends to deteriorate when moisture comes up through the
subfloor. If resilient tile comes loose, try resetting the tile in new adhesive that’s designed for use below grade.
If the resilient tile is cracked, broken or has chipped edges, it’s usually better to install new flooring. Matching
new tile with old tile isn’t practical. Resilient tile changes color with age. But it may not be necessary to remove
the old surface when installing new. If the old surface is scarred, stained, abraded or has been embossed by the weight of
furniture, apply a liquid leveler, or trowel on a cement-based underlayment to smooth the surface. Then install the new floor
cover. If unevenness in the underlayment is showing through, remove the old surface and do some leveling before installing
the new floor cover. Remove resilient tile if the new floor cover is also to be resilient tile.
If a wood floor is
smooth and free of large cracks, refinishing may put the floor back in like-new condition. Most wood flooring can be sanded
and refinished several times. Softwood flooring with no subfloor is an exception. Even one sanding might weaken the floor
too much. Plywood block flooring can sometimes be sanded and refinished. Thin wood flooring and wood flooring with wide cracks
usually has to be replaced – any patch would be obvious.
sheet vinyl with resilient backing, and carpeting can be installed directly over an existing hardwood floor, assuming any
voids have been filled and the surface isn’t loose. Shrinkage cracks are more common where boards are wide. Be sure
to check for boards that are buckling, cupping or cracking due to moisture. If there’s a moisture problem, solve that
before you lay new flooring.
You can install laminated wood flooring over ceramic, wood or resilient flooring, so
long as the surface is firm and dry.
New Wood Flooring
Hardwood flooring is available in tongue-and-groove
strips and blocks (parquet). Some thinner patterns of strip flooring are square-edged. See Figure 11-1. The most common hardwood
strip flooring is 25/32" thick by 2-1/4" wide and has a hollow back. Strips are random lengths and vary from 2’
to 16’ long. The face is slightly wider than the bottom so joints will be tight on the surface.
is also available in strips and blocks. Most softwood strip flooring has tongue-and-groove edges, although some types are
end matched. Softwood flooring costs less than most hardwood species, but it’s also less wear-resistant and shows surface
abrasions more readily. Use softwood flooring in light traffic areas such as closets. No matter which type of flooring you
select, give the material a few days to reach the moisture content of the room where it will be installed.
is normally laid at right angles to the floor joists. When new strip flooring is installed over old, lay the new strips at
right angles to the old, no matter what direction the floor joists run. Use 8d flooring nails for 25/32" thick flooring,
6d flooring nails for 1/2" flooring, and 4d casing nails for 3/8" flooring. Some manufacturers recommend ring-shank
or screw-shank nails. To help prevent splitting the tongue, use flooring brads with blunted points.
of tongue-and-groove flooring by placing the first strip 1/2" to 5/8" away from the wall. That allows for expansion
and prevents buckling when the moisture content increases. Nail straight down through the face of the first strip, as in Figure
11-2. The nail should be close enough to the wall to be covered by the base or shoe molding. Try to nail into a joist if the
new flooring is laid at right angles to the joists. Drive a second nail through the tongue of this first strip. All other
strips are nailed through the tongue only. Drive these nails at an angle of 45 to 50 degrees. But leave the head just above
the surface to avoid damaging the strip with your hammer. Use a large nail set to drive nails the last quarter inch. You can
lay the nail set flat against the flooring when setting these nails, See Figure 11-3.
end joints of strip flooring so butts are separated in adjacent courses. Install each new strip tightly against the previously
installed strip. Use shorter strips and crooked strips at the end of courses or in closets. Leave a 1/2" to 5/8"
space between the last course of flooring and the wall, just as with the first course. Face-nail the last course where the
base or shoe will cover the nail head.
Square-edged strip flooring must be installed over a substantial subfloor and
should be face-nailed. Other than that, the installation procedure is the same as for matched (tongue-and-groove) flooring.
Wood strip flooring is always nailed.
Parquet tile is made from narrow wood slats formed into a square. Parquet block
flooring can be applied with adhesive over a concrete floor protected from moisture with a vapor barrier. Spread adhesive
on the slab or underlayment with a notched trowel. Then lay parquet in the adhesive. If you elect to nail parquet flooring
to wood underlayment, nail through the tongue, the same as with wood strip flooring. Minimize problems associated with shrinkage
and swelling by changing the grain direction of alternate blocks.
You can install particleboard tile over underlayment
the same way you install parquet tile – except particleboard tile shouldn’t be installed directly over concrete.
Follow the manufacturer's installation instructions. Particleboard tile is usually 9" x 9" and 3/8" thick,
with tongue-and-groove edges. The back is often marked with small saw kerfs to stabilize the tile and provide a better grip
Laminate Wood Flooring
Laminate flooring strips are made from layers of wood and finished
with a hard synthetic surface. Pergo® is one popular name. Most laminate flooring is loose lay; neither nails nor adhesive
are used. Instead, the flooring floats on a cushioning material designed to reduce noise from foot traffic. Laminate flooring
can be installed over nearly any firm, flat flooring material. Install strips parallel to the longest wall in the room. Keep
the strips about 1/4" away from the side wall and end wall so the floor can expand with changes in temperature and moisture.
Cut laminate flooring with the finish side down, using a carbide-tip blade.
Lay the tongue side of the first strip
against the wall. Continue laying boards along that wall, fitting ends snug against the previous board. Use spacers to maintain
a 1/4" gap between the flooring and the wall. Avoid short lengths of flooring at the end of a course. If the last board
in any course is less than 8", trim that amount off the first board in the course and move the entire course down by
that distance. Second and later courses lock into the previous course. Stagger end joints in adjacent courses. Finish the
job with base molding that covers the 1/4" gap at side and end walls.
Sheet vinyl with resilient backing smoothes out minor surface imperfections. Some sheet vinyl is designated loose lay and
doesn’t require adhesive. But use double-faced tape at joints and around edges to keep the covering in place. Manufacturers
recommend spreading adhesive under all parts of the sheet for most products. Others can be bonded at the perimeter and seams
only. Minimize the number of joints needed by using wider sheets – some sheet vinyl comes in widths up to 15’.
Granite and Marble Tile
Both resilient sheet flooring and resilient tile require a smooth surface
for proper adhesive bonding. You can repair an irregular surface with an embossing leveler or a masonry leveling compound.
When the surface is dry, spread adhesive with a notched trowel, following the adhesive manufacturers instructions. Lay the
tile so joints don’t coincide with the joints in the underlayment.
Seamless flooring, consisting of resin chips
combined with a urethane binder, can be applied over any stable base, including old floor tile. Apply this liquid in several
coats, allowing each coat to dry. A complete application may take several days, depending on the brand. You can repair a seamless
floor by applying another coat. Damaged spots are easy to patch by adding more chips and binder.
Cork is a natural sound absorber and insulator. It is quiet underfoot, and can last for decades when properly maintained.
Cork will expand and contract based on humidity, although to a lesser degree than wood. Cork tiles should be given time to
acclimate to the environment before installation. Remove tiles from their packaging and store them in the room where they
will be installed for at least 48 hours prior to installation.
Most manufacturers recommend using a water-based contact
cement adhesive for cork installation. Cork is porous, allowing the water in the adhesive to evaporate and create a strong
bond. It’s a good idea to test for proper adhesion before proceeding with the installation. Excessive moisture can damage
cork flooring. For kitchen, bathroom or other high-risk applications, follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for sealing
cork floors with urethane or floor wax.
Granite and marble tile
Common granite and marble
surface finishes include polished, honed, and flamed. A polished surface is highly reflective, and is best suited for low-traffic
areas. A honed surface has a duller, more slip-resistant finish that’s less likely to show scratches. Flamed tiles have
a deeply textured surface that’s useful for applications requiring additional slip-resistance.
Marble is softer
and more porous than granite, so it’s more susceptible to scratches, but it can be repolished when necessary. Marble
is also susceptible to damage from alcohols, oils and acids commonly found in the home. A penetrative sealer is generally
recommended when installing marble in high-risk areas such as kitchens and bathrooms.
Colors and grains will vary from tile to tile and batch to batch. To assure the installation will have a uniform look,
be sure you have enough material to finish a complete area. Consider using tiles randomly from different boxes when allocating
material for the job. This will more-evenly distribute irregularities, and may actually create a more homogeneous look.
Flooring over concrete
A concrete floor that stays dry in all seasons probably has a good vapor
barrier under the slab. If the surface is also smooth and level, nearly any type of resilient flooring or carpet can be installed
directly over the slab. If a basement slab is both uneven and moist to the touch, one remedy is to lay a vapor barrier over
the existing slab, then cover the entire surface with a 2"- to 3"-thick concrete topping. Another approach is to
lay a good-quality vapor barrier directly on the slab, then anchor furring strips or sleepers to the slab with concrete nails
or shot fasteners. You can then install hardwood strip flooring directly over the sleepers. See Figure 11-4. For tile or sheet
vinyl, nail underlayment or plywood to the sleepers before you install the finish floor.
Ceramic tile can be set in either mortar (thin-set or thick-set) or applied with adhesive. Adhesive is more convenient
because no mixing is required, though cleanup takes a little longer. Tile is set on backerboard, cement board reinforced with
polymer-coated glass mesh. Common names are Durock®, WonderBoard®, RhinoBoard® and Hardibacker®. For floors
and counters, set the backerboard in adhesive on 3/4" exterior grade plywood. For walls, affix backerboard to the studs
with cement board screws every 8". On ceilings, drive cement board screws every 6". Regular drywall screws don’t
have enough holding strength for use on backerboard. Cover panel joints with fiberglass mesh and joint cement. One side of
backerboard is rough for use with tile in thin-set mortar. The other side is smooth for use with tile adhesive.
tile sizes range from 1" square mosaic to 12" x 12" and even larger. Mosaic tile are usually sold in 12"
x 12" squares held together with a mesh backing. The most popular tile size for walls and counters is 4-1/4" x 4-1/4".
Avoid using tile with a bright glaze finish on floors. A highly-reflective finish tends to be slippery and offers less
resistance to wear. Vitrified porcelain tiles are hard to cut accurately with a tile cutter and may require a circular ceramic
wet saw. You also have to apply adhesive to both the tile and the floor when you’re installing porcelain tile.
Ceramic tile definitions
• Field tiles make up most of the job, the "field".
• Border tiles are trim pieces set around the edge of the field.
• Listello tiles have a decorative design
different from field tile and are generally used on the edge of the field, like the frame of a picture.
tiles, as you might expect, have a rope design, usually in raised relief, and are used on the border.
Tips on Ceramic Tile
Most ceramic tile carries a PEI (Porcelain Enamel Institute) wear rating:
1, no foot traffic. Interior residential and commercial walls only.
• Class 2, light traffic. Interior residential
and commercial walls and residential bathroom floors.
• Class 3, light to moderate traffic. Residential floors,
countertops, and walls.
• Class 4, moderate to heavy traffic. Residential, medium commercial and light institutional
floors and walls.
• Class 5, heavy to extra-heavy traffic. Residential, commercial and institutional floors and
Indoor vs. outdoor tile
Tile that absorbs water will crack when exposed to freezing
and thawing. Tile with an absorption rating of 3 percent or less is usually considered acceptable for outdoor use. That includes
vitrified and porcelain ceramic tiles. Outdoor tile is very dense and doesn’t break easily. Use thin-set mortar with
a latex admix.
Matching styles and batches
Tile colors and glazes can vary from batch to
batch. To make matching easier, many tile manufacturers emboss batch numbers into the back of each tile.