How To Install a Composite Tile Floor

When I bought my house, the studio apartment over the garage had tile the color of Band-Aids. Yes, Band-Aids. But taste aside, it was also poorly installed with big gaps between the tiles and along the baseboards, as well as long cracks and bumps where the subflooring below was uneven. The budget was tight, but I wanted to go with the greenest and longest wearing solution I could find quickly…

...so I settled on Armstrong Commercial Flooring with its low VOC rating. Armstrong is not the only manufacturer of composite flooring, but they had the color I wanted and it was easy to order locally. Since the completion of my floors, Armstrong has come out with a slightly greener version of this tile.

Some of the steps I'll walk you through will be unnecessary for many of you. For example, I had to do A LOT of scraping of existing adhesive when I removed the original floor tiles. If you have sheet linoleum, it should be a much simpler task for you. Also, I came across some old termite damage, so to be safe and protect from future infestation, I brushed a termite treatment onto the subfloor before I installed the new tile. I made the mistake of using a copper-based solution because that's what was recommended to me, but have since learned that a borate wood preservative (boric acid, basically) can be just as effective and has a very low toxicity.

What You Need

Materials
Enough tile to tile your space (40 - 12"x12" tiles per box)
Composite tile adhesive
Floor leveling compound (if your wood or concrete subfloor is not level)
Composite flooring polish (optional)

Tools
Utility Knife
Spackle knife (if removing old tile flooring first)
Trowel
5 gallon bucket (if using floor leveling compound)
Tape measure
Ruler
Sharpened pencil
Level
Flooring roller (if you have a large enough space)
Gloves (recommended)
Eye protection (recommended)

Instructions

1. Measure the length and width of your room. Multiply to get the square footage. Add 10-20% and use that number to calculate how many boxes of flooring you'll need. They come 40 tiles to a box and each tile is 12"x12".

2. Remove existing flooring. If you're lucky, you have sheet linoleum and it will come up quite easily. If you're like me, you will have to use considerable elbow grease to scrape up each tile with a fairly rigid putty or spackle knife.

3. Scrape up any existing adhesive. You can use a solvent to dissolve it, but then you run the risk of any solvent residue interfering with the new adhesive you will be putting down. If you need to treat the wood for termites, now is the time to do it. You can see the holes near the top of the image where I found pockets of termite residue. I consulted with a handyman and he recommended against replacing the subfloor because it was such old damage and the rest of the wood didn't have dry rot.

4. Check to make sure your floor is level. If it is drastically off, or there is damage to the subfloor that will cause cracks and bumps in your new tile, you will need to use a self-leveling fluid. If this is the case, follow the instructions on the package to mix it to the right consistency (it comes in a bag similar to concrete or sand, but available in the flooring department of your hardware store).

5. Slowly pour the leveling fluid on the floor and make sure it is spreading out evenly. Use the trowel to gently help it along. Allow to dry according to instructions.

6. Choose where you will start your tile pattern and lay them out to see if you'd like them to all go in th same direction, or if you want to alternate the patterns. You can have a lot of fun by alternating colors, for a checkerboard effect. I took the easy route. Many installers recommend starting from the middle and working outward. I knew all my cabinets would be lined up against the wall, so I chose to begin the tiles on the opposite wall, not caring that the partial line of tiles would be hidden against the opposite wall. I also did this to have as little waste as possible.

7. With a clean trowel, apply a thin coat of adhesive on an area that will completely cover the space of a few tiles. Practice laying the tiles down and adjusting them so they are tightly pressed together. The adhesive stays tacky for approximately 2 hours, but the more tiles you have down, the harder it becomes to adjust them.

8. Once those first few tiles are placed to your satisfaction, you can apply more adhesive and apply more tiles.

9. I found that when I came to an area where I had to trim tiles to fit, I would wait and trim all those tiles at once. I would measure the size that it needed to be trimmed to and mark it lightly with a very sharp (or mechanical) pencil. When using your utility knife, use your ruler as the guide and press firmly but moving slowly and carefully. You will only need to run the knife over it 2 or 3 times to score it, then you can simply bend the tile and it will snap apart to your desired dimensions.

10. If you have a large enough space, you will want to rent a flooring roller. It's the same idea as a steam roller, but obviously smaller and human powered. By pushing this heavy metal roller over the tiles, it presses them down evenly.

11. If desired, you can sponge on 2-5 coats of floor polish (wait 30 minutes between coats) to protect your floor and give it a nice gloss.


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(Images: Michelle Chin)

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