Tile tips: Before tackling floor, be sure to have a plan


February 13, 1993|By Gene Austin | Gene Austin,Knight-Ridder News Service

Self-adhesive vinyl 12-inch tiles give do-it-yourselfers a relatively simple way to resurface floors, but careful planning and installation are needed to ensure an attractive and lasting job.

One virtue of self-adhesive tiles is that they can be installed over many smooth, clean, dry floors without elaborate preparations. Suitable surfaces for direct installation include existing vinyl or vinyl-asbestos tiles and firm vinyl-sheet flooring. Tiles should not be installed over a cushioned vinyl-sheet floor with a soft or springy surface.

Self-adhesive tiles can also be installed over concrete or wood.

Cracks, holes, low spots and embossed patterns should be filled with latex underlayment, which is much like patching cement and is sold at flooring-supply stores.

If a floor has many cracks or is otherwise unsuitable for a direct installation, install a layer of plywood or hardboard underlayment panels over the existing floor and lay the tiles over the underlayment.

One of the trickiest parts of an installation is finding the correct starting point near the room's center. The installer works toward the walls, usually doing a quarter of the room at a time. The tricky part is to avoid having narrow strips of tiles at the walls, which can give the room a poor appearance and which may later work loose.

For a professional-looking installation, the starting point should be adjusted so the edge tiles are at least 6 inches deep.

Finding the starting point requires a tape rule, a carpenter's chalk line and a carpenter's square. The chalk line is a tool that coats a piece of string with chalk dust. When the string is stretched across a surface and snapped down on it, a straight line is marked with the chalk dust.

To find the starting point, measure opposite end-walls of the room with the tape rule and mark the center of each wall. Stretch the chalk line between the two wall centers and snap a line across the floor that divides the room in half.

Use the tape rule to find the center of the chalk line, then use the carpenter's square and a pencil to make perpendicular pencil lines extending on both sides of the chalk line toward the side walls. Using the pencil lines as a guide, snap a second chalk line from side wall to side wall, perpendicular to the first chalk line. The second line divides the room into quarters.

Starting in the room's center, with the first tile lined up with the intersection of the two chalk lines, lay a loose row of tiles toward an end wall and a side wall. The backing paper should be left on the tiles for this test run.

If the distance to the wall from the last tile in each wall is at least 6 inches deep, no adjustments are needed -- the existing lines can be used as the starting point.

If a space less than 6 inches deep results at the end of either row of tiles, make a new starting line for that row 6 inches from the first line. The new line can be on either side of the original line. If necessary, adjust the perpendicular line in the same way. Chalk lines that won't be used can be erased with a damp cloth.

When laying tiles, butt the edges tightly against each other and line up corners carefully. Press each tile against the floor with the hands. The finished floor also should be rolled with a rolling pin to improve adhesion.

Edge tiles, or tiles to be fitted around obstructions such as fireplaces, can be cut to fit with sharp scissors. If possible, warm edge tiles before cutting by placing them near a heating register or radiator or in a sunny spot. Cold tiles are somewhat brittle and can crack during cutting.

When tiles must be cut to fit odd-shaped spaces, such as around toilet bases, I find it useful to make a pattern. The backing paper from a tile can be used for pattern paper, but is slightly oversized and must be trimmed at the edge to exactly match the tile size.

Press the paper into the space to be occupied by the tile and mark a cutting line on the paper with a pencil or felt-tip pen. When a perfect fit is achieved with the paper, mark the outline of the pattern on the tile and cut the tile to fit.

Readers' questions and comments should be sent to Gene Austin, c/o The Baltimore Sun, Box 8263, Philadelphia, Pa. 19101.

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