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How to lay vinyl and carpet floor tiles

Difficulty rating: Medium

These tasks may be tricky so will suit you if you're experienced in DIY, or simply love a challenge.

Please take a moment to read through our DIY safety tips, before you get started on any of our 'how to' guides.

Tools for the job

1. Measuring up

  • It's easy to work out how many tiles you'll need. Start by multiplying the width of your room by the length to find the main area.
  • Then add or subtract the area of any bay windows, alcoves, chimney breasts or door thresholds.
  • Divide the area of the room by the area of a single tile, rounding up to the nearest whole number. Vinyl tiles vary in size but all Homebase carpet tiles are 50cm x 50cm - i.e. four tiles = 1m2.
  • Add 5% to 10% and this is the number of tiles you should buy.
  • Check your tiles have the same batch number so they match. And, of course, make sure they're the right type of tile for the area you're covering.

2. Choosing the right tiles

  • Carpet tiles are ideal for bedrooms. Generally, vinyl and carpet tiles are all fine for living rooms, bathrooms and kitchens.
  • It's best not to put floor tiles in your conservatory - intense sunlight and temperature can make them fade and shrink.

3. Preparing the sub floor

  • On old floors, remove all previous floor coverings and any adhesives used to stick them down.
  • If you're putting tiles on floorboards, overlay the boards with hardboard, smooth side up. You shouldn't use timber treated with wood preservatives as a sub-floor, even if it's overlaid with hardboard.
  • If you're laying tiles over a concrete sub-floor it must be smooth, absolutely dry and have an integral damp-proof membrane.
  • Remember, new concrete floors can take up to six months to dry. And they have to be completely dried out before you can lay new tiles.
  • Prime all porous surfaces - including concrete, sand and cement screed, plywood, hardboard and chipboard - with a diluted solution of PVA. Follow manufacturer's instructions.
Helpful hint...

You shouldn't lay vinyl tiles over underfloor heating as they can lift or warp. Carpet tiles are fine up to a maximum floor temperature of 28oC.

4. Getting the right adhesive

  • If your tiles aren't self-adhesive, buy the tile manufacturer's recommended adhesive.
  • You can stick carpet tiles down with a 'low tack' adhesive or double-sided tape so they can be lifted and replaced easily.

5. Planning and marking the room

  • You'll achieve the best look for your floor if the tiles are centred in the doorway.
  • Ideally you want the tiles around the edge of your room to be equal in width on both sides or ends - i.e. avoid narrow strips at the edges and in doorways. (Fig. 1 shows where the tiles should stop in a doorway.)
  • To do this, mark a chalk line down the centre of the room (fig. 2). Then, starting in the centre of the doorway, mark a second line at a 90-degree angle to the first line (fig.3).
  • 'Loose lay' tiles along these lines to see how the borders appear (fig.4). If you end up with awkward narrow strips of tiles at the edge of the room, simply adjust the chalk lines to avoid this.
  • Don't cover access to plumbing and electrical services.
The tiles should finish in a slightly different place depending on whether the door opens into or out of the room.
Figure 1
'Ping' a chalk line (a tight string covered in chalk dust) to mark a line down the centre of the room.
Figure 2
Starting in the centre of the doorway, mark a second line at 90 degrees to the first.
Figure 3
Loose lay a first line of tiles along the chalk lines.
Figure 4

6. Laying the tiles

  • Start laying tiles in rows along your chalk line. Lay all the centre tiles first. Leave out the last full rows and the row of border tiles (fig.5).
  • Don't put adhesive on the last full rows or borders until you've cut the border tiles and are ready to lay them.
  • Place each tile carefully - butting it firmly and squarely up to its neighbours. This should create good straight lines.
  • Don't slide the tiles as this can force adhesive into the joints and make a bad fit. Remove all excess adhesive with a damp rag before it goes hard (obviously you wouldn't do this for self-adhesive or carpet tiles).
  • If you're laying vinyl tiles, and the surfaces of adjacent tiles aren't level, you can usually even them out with a block of softwood and a hammer (fig. 6)
Lay the centre tiles first.
Figure 5
Use a hammer and a softwood block to level out the height of vinyl tiles.
Figure 6

7. Cutting the border tiles

  • To cut your border tiles, loose lay a whole tile (tile 'A' in fig. 7). Place another tile over it with its edge butting up to the wall.
  • Score the lower tile with a craft knife ('A' in fig. 7). You can bend a vinyl tile to break it. Otherwise use a safe blade to finish the cut. Always use a safe blade on carpet tiles.
  • Piece 'A' is now a perfectly fitting border tile.
  • Use the same method to cut the corners as shown in fig. 8.
To cut a border tile start by 'loose laying' a whole tile ('A')
Figure 7
To cut corner tiles simply use the method for cutting border tiles.
Figure 8

8. Tackling tiling around pipes and architraves

  • With vinyl tiles, don't shape a tile to go round the architrave. It's actually easier to cut out a section at the bottom of the architrave itself. But with carpet tiles, make a cardboard template and cut the shape out of the tile.
  • With a hand saw and chisel, remove a section of architrave to the same depth as your tile and slot the tile underneath it (fig. 9).
  • To fit vinyl or carpet tiles around pipes, you pierce a pipe-shaped hole in your tile that's slightly larger than the pipe itself.
  • To do this, make a cutter out of a scrap of pipe by sharpening the inside edge of one end with a file.
  • Mark the pipe's position on your border tile, then line up the cutter and hit it with a hammer (fig. 10).
  • Then make a single straight cut from the hole to the edge of the tile and fit it around the pipe.
To fit your tiles under an architrave, saw away a section at the bottom to the same depth as a tile.
Figure 9
To make a hole for a pipe, mark the pipe's position on your border tile, line up the cutter and hit it with a hammer.
Figure 10

9. Finishing around the doorways

  • Where your tiles finish in a doorway use a metal threshold strip to give a neat water-resistant edge. You can get threshold strips to suit surfaces that meet at equal or differing heights.
  • Measure the width of your door opening and cut the metal strips with a junior hacksaw. Then smooth the ends with a fine file. Screw the threshold strip into the floor.
  • To fix threshold strips into a solid floor, mark the screw holes. Use a masonry drill to bore holes to fit a wall plug and screw the strips to the floor

10. Carpet pile direction

  • To get the best overall look for your carpet tiles, lay them at right angles to each other. Arranging your tiles like this gives a checkerboard effect (fig. 11).
  • Arrows on the reverse of the tiles indicate the way to lay them.
  • If you prefer a 'broadloom' carpet appearance, lay all your tiles pointing in the same direction.
Helpful hint...

When buying carpet tiles, get a few spares to replace any tiles that get damaged or worn.

Lay each tile at right angles to each other to get the best overall effect.
Figure 11

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