How To Lay Vinyl, Cork And Carpet Tiles

If you want a floor covering that’s tough, good looking but doesn’t cost a fortune, then learning how to lay vinyl, cork and carpet tiles could be the answer. They’re easy to lay — all you need is a solid flat surface and a little forward planning.

Laying floor tiles — cork, vinyl or carpet — is one of the simplest and cheapest ways of providing an attractive, hardwearing surface underfoot. And providing you prepare the existing floor correctly, the job of laying the tiles is straightforward and quick. Even in an awkward shaped room it’s just a question of working outwards from the centre and cutting tiles to fit around the edges.

How to lay carpet tiles

Whether you decide to lay cork, vinyl or carpet tiles is partly a matter of taste. But there are practical considerations too, so it’s worth looking at the advantages and draw-backs of the various types before you start. Cork tiles have good insulating properties and feel warm underfoot, so they’re ideal for an area like a bathroom.

Of course, cork needs to be sealed if it is to provide a durable, watertight surface, but you can easily do this yourself once the tiles are in position by applying polyurethane varnish or wax polish. And if you are willing to pay a little bit more, you can buy tiles which are ready-sealed (usually with a thin plastic film).

Vinyl tiles are produced in a number of different colours and designs with either smooth or embossed surfaces. Some of the more expensive types have a cushioned backing to make them soft and warm underfoot. Many vinyl tiles are self-adhesive, with a paper backing which has to be stripped off before laying.

Vinyl tiles are easy to wipe clean, so they make a perfect floorcovering in a hall, kitchen or any area which gets a lot of traffic. Carpet tiles score over traditional carpet laid in rolls because they, can be lifted and rearranged so that wear is distributed over the whole floor. Before you buy, check that the tiles have a thick rubber backing — this makes the floor quieter and more comfort-able to walk on and also helps insulate the floor area.

If you want to find out what tiles are avail-able, visit DIY and department stores and see what they have in stock. You’ll be able to compare prices at the same time. Bear in mind that with vinyl or carpet tiles you don’t have to stick to one overall colour — by mixing tiles of more than one shade or pattern you can make up a whole variety of designs.

Some stores sell tiles loose, but usually they come in packs containing enough to cover one square metre (or multiples of one square metre). Sizes of individual tiles vary greatly, but generally cork and vinyl tiles are 300mm ‘wire and carpet tiles 400mm square or Hiure. It takes just over 11 300mm tiles to ever a square metre, and just over six [nth= ones.

Checking the floor

Your first step should be to examine the floor you intend to decorate. Tiles can be laid directly onto any concrete or timber floor even on top of other tiles — but the surface must be flat and free from damp.

Bumpy or pitted floors are not suitable for tiling since the surface defects are certain to show through, so level out the floor before you start. On a concrete floor use self-levelling compound; on a wooden floor cover the surface with a layer of hardboard.

You should never attempt to lay tiles on a floor which is damp: even if they stick to begin with, the tiles will soon lose their adhesion and start to curl up.

Tools and materials

Once you’ve checked the floor, measure up the room and work out how many tiles you’ll need for the job.

In a straight sided room without recesses or internal corners simply measure the two dimensions and multiply them to work out the area in square metres. Order tiles to fit this area plus 10 per cent to allow for cutting mistakes and tricky sections. If the room is an awkward shape, it is best to draw up a rough sketch plan on graph paper then divide the plan into squares, each square representing one square metre (or one tile if you know the size).

Add up all the squares, and parts of squares, to find out how many tiles you need. To be absolutely safe, you should again add 10 per cent for errors and problems. TIP: To help you draw up the plan accurately, make up a marking gauge using a timber batten about one metre long. Mark the batten off into tile widths with a felt- tipped pen. Use the gauge like a large ruler measuring around the outside of the room and marking this onto your sketch plan as you go.

If you intend to lay a patterned floor using tiles of different colours, it is a good idea to draw another sketch plan of how the floor will look, using coloured pencils to set out the pattern.

This will enable you to make sure that the pattern ‘sits’ centrally on the floor and help you calculate how many tiles of each type you need.

Metal edging strips should be fitted across the threshold of all the doors bordering on the tiled area. Measure up and make a note of these so that you can order up the strips at the same time as the tiles. There are different types for different tiles.

If you are laying vinyl or cork tiles and certain types of carpet tiles) you will also need a suitable adhesive to stick them firmly in place. The type and quantity you require will vary according to the tiles you are laying, so check the manufacturer’s instructions.

If you need to resurface a wooden floor, buy sheets of 3mm hardboard plus 25mm hardboard or screw nails to fix them in place; you will find the 1220mm X 400mm or other smaller boards easier to handle, but if you have a large area to cover it may be worth getting the full-size 2440mm X 1220mm sheets. Try to use tempered hardboard which has been treated to withstand damp.

For a pitted concrete floor, buy some self-levelling compound; this is only laid on a few millimetres thick so you don’t need very much. To give you an idea of quantity, a 10kg pack should be enough to cover about 5 sq m. A paintbrush or trowel and a small plastic bucket is needed to apply the compound.

Apart from the tiles and adhesive, you’ll need a sharp trimming knife and ‘metal straightedge, plus a small offcut of hardboard or chipboard to act as a cutting board. For cutting patterns it is useful to have some pieces of card and scissors to make up tem- plates. Alternatively, buy a profile gauge such as a Mimic — a tool with adjustable teeth which is used as a template for cutting around awkward shapes like door frames.

If you are laying carpet tiles in a large room (anything over 10 sq m), it is difficult to keep Them in place; so buy a large roll of carpet tape to stick down every third row.


Acclimatize your tiles for a few days before laying, preferably in the room you intend to decorate: this will allow any potential expan-sion to take place if the tiles have been stored in a cold or damp environment. Remove the tiles from their packaging and stack them loosely one on top of the other on a flat surface. Take this opportunity to ‘shuffle’ the tiles between packs to even out slight differences in colour. If you intend to cover a timber floor in hardboard, stack the sheets in the room they’re to be laid in.

Allow air to circulate by pushing a number of small timber offcuts be-tween the boards.

Tempered hardboard should be condi-tioned before laying by sprinkling the reverse (rough) side with water. Make a final check that all nail heads are punched well below the floorboards. Also, check the gap below all of the doors opening into the room: laying the tiles will raise the level of the floor slightly and may make it impossible to open the doors. If so, remove them and plane a little off the bottom of each one.

Floor tiling always starts from the centre of the room — so find this first. You can then `dry lay’ the tiles (without adhesive) and plan the exact layout to minimize cutting.

Start by stretching a chalked line down the length of the room, parallel to the longest walls. The line can be fixed at each end around a nail driven partway into the floor or into the base of the skirting board. Stand at the end of the room — a doorway is a good place — and adjust the line so that it looks square and straight from where you stand: this is more a matter of ‘eye’ than anything else, but it will help the rows of tiles to look right once they are in place.

Now stretch a second chalked line across the room at right angles to the first and adjust it so that it cuts the first line in half.

Snap both lines so that the chalk marks are made across the floor; then remove the lines.

Dry-lay two rows of tiles down each of the chalk lines with their edges butted to the lines. Examine the gaps left at the end of each row: these will have to be filled with cut tiles and it’s important that they’re all roughly equal in size, or you’ll be left with thin slivers in some places which are impossible to stick down. Adjust the gap widths by moving the lines of tiles, but take care to keep the tiles butted against your chalked lines otherwise the whole layout will be thrown out of true.

Many rooms have built-in fittings and awkward corners, so it makes sense to dry-lay

additional rows of tiles out to these to see whether a small adjustment will avoid yet more fiddly cutting. The idea is to work out a compromise between appearance and the amount of cutting you have to do, so keep try-ing out different positions until you get the best result. There is of course nothing to stop you dry-laying the whole floor — and in a small awkwardly shaped room it makes sense.

Once you are satisfied, remove all of the outer tiles until you are left with the original two rows. It’s a good idea to mark down each side then clear the floor ready for laying.


Always start at the centre and work out-wards, leaving all the cutting and filling around the edges until last. The chalk lines on the floor effectively divide the room into quarters; aim to complete one quarter at a time before moving on to the next.

The techniques used vary according to whether you are laying cork or vinyl tiles (which are laid basically in the same way) or carpet tiles.

Cork or vinyl tiles

First spread adhesive thinly but evenly across the floor with the serrated spreader provided (if you are using self-adhesive vinyl tiles, just peel off the paper backing before application). Never apply more adhesive than you need for two or three tiles at once, otherwise adhesive may get onto the face of other tiles — or even onto your shoes or clothing.

Place the first tile in the centre of the room and line it up carefully with the chalk marks. If it has a directional pattern, or arrow on the back, make sure that this runs the correct way and then smooth it down by running a soft cloth over the surface. Lay the next tile down with its arrow or pattern in the same direction and butt it tightly up against the first; wipe off any excess adhesive which

strays onto the surface of the tiles immediately with a damp cloth.

Continue in this way until you have laid all the whole tiles in one section, then start on the next. Stop work occasionally and check that each line of tiles is correctly laid in relation to the original chalk marks.

Carpet tiles

These are laid in the same way as cork and vinyl tiles except that they are not normally stuck to the floor. Because of this, your main difficulty is in stopping the tiles from slipping, particularly in a large room.

Some manufacturers deal with this problem by making tiles with ridges of rubber on the back so that they slide easily in one direction but not in another (the non-slip direction is usually indicated by a small arrow on the bottom of each tile). The idea with these is to lay them in pairs so that each tile stops the other from moving but some arrows refer to direction of pile.

Otherwise, it’s a good idea to stick down every third row of tiles with double-sided carpet tape to help ‘anchor’ the rest in posi- tion. Run the tape down the middle of the row


Marking and laying border tiles, even around awkwardly shaped obstacles like architraves and pipes, is relatively

straightforward; it does, however require care and patience.

If you are sticking the tiles down it is best to cut all of them to size before fixing: this avoids adhesive from the adjoining tile stray-ing onto the face of the tile you are marking up. To ensure that you replace all of the cut tiles in the correct order, number each one and its position on the floor with a piece of chalk. Before you start, clean any excess adhesive around the border with a wad of cloth moistened with solvent.

Tiles which simply need to be cut along a straightedge — across a doorway or along a skirting board for example — are the easiest.

Take the tile you want to trim to size and lay it directly over the top of the last whole tile before the edge. Lay a second tile over it; butt one edge against the skirting and make sure the sides are aligned with the tile underneath. Using the back edge of the top tile as a rule, draw a line across the tile underneath with a pencil. Then put the marked tile on the cutting board and cut along the line with the trimming knife using a metal straightedge to guide you. The tile you cut will fit the gap. You may, if you’re careful, cut the tile direct.

When cutting, always hold the straightedge over the section of tile you intend to lay. Then, if your knife does wander, it will cut through the waste rather than destroying the piece you want.

You can use the same technique on outside corners, except that this time you will have to mark off from two positions — one on either side of the corner. Start at one side and place your two loose tiles in position with the lower tile directly over the last stuck down tile and the top tile butting against the skirting board. Draw a line onto the tile below, then swop across to the other side (without turning the marked out tile around) and repeat the proce-dure. You will then have a clear L-shaped line you can cut to. The process is quite simple but if you find it confusing, just compare the shape you draw with the space it is to fit into and make sure the ‘L’ is the right way round.

For other complicated cuts — around the pipes, internal corners or doorways — it is best to make up a paper template or use a proprietary profile gauge to achieve the correct angle or shape.

This is just a matter of trial and error and you will probably have to remove the paper template a number of times and trim it to size before you are satisfied. Place the template on top of the tile, mark the area to be cut and trim away the excess with the knife. You are unlikely to be able to use a straightedge to guide you, so you’ll have to follow the line as best you can. Make sure when you do this that your fingers stay behind the knife blade at all times.

Finishing off

On a vinyl or cork surface, don’t walk on the floor for 24 hours to allow the adhesive to set hard. Any hardened adhesive should then be scraped off with a razor blade. On a carpeted floor, give the tiles a vigorous brushing to remove dirt and help close any gaps.

Untreated cork tiles should be sealed with polyurethane varnish or wax. Apply at least three coats of varnish; the first coat should seep into the surface, so thin it down with a little white spirit.

Leave the varnish to dry hard and rub it down gently between coats with a piece of fine abrasive paper. At all times ensure that the surface is clean and free of dust and dirt by giving a quick wipe over with a pad of soft cloth dampened in a little white spirit.

Wax is easier to apply, though less effec-tive. It should be applied with a soft cloth and rubbed well into the surface of the tiles.

Finally, cut the metal edging strips to size and screw them across the threshold of each door. Make sure that they are fully tightened down so that the door closes over the top.

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