How to Install Carpet Tile

Carpet tile is a cost-effective way to add the plush stuff to your floors for less.

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Carpet tile is one of the easiest flooring materials to install. It's lightweight, cuts with ease, wears well, and goes down quickly. When it gets worn in one place (as any flooring tends to do), you can pull up a tile or two and put down fresh ones.

Aside from quality differences, carpet tile falls into two general categories: self-stick and dry-backed. The application of self-stick tiles is more or less self-explanatory. Installing dry-backed tiles (which are usually a little thicker) means laying down a mastic or using doubled-faced carpet tape. Mastic applications usually leave a little more time to fine-tune the layout and keep the joints straight. Double-faced tape won't gum up the entire floor, a factor to consider if there's a chance you'll one day remove the tile from a solid wood floor. In either case, acclimate the tile to the room for 48 hours before you install it.

You'll need about 15 minutes to install each square yard of floor, not including subfloor preparation.

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What You Need

  • Utility knife
  • Tape measure
  • Metal straightedge
  • Chalk line
  • 100-pound roller
  • Carpet tile
  • Mastic or double-faced tape for dry-backed installation

Step 1: Prep Subfloor

Prepare the subfloor, then snap chalk lines from the midpoints of opposite walls. Square the lines and dry-lay the tile on both axes. Move the rows back and forth until you have edge tiles that are at least a half-tile wide and equal at each end.

Step 2: Examine the Arrows

Carpet tiles are made with a certain lay to the pile, indicated by arrows on the back. Most manufacturers recommend setting the tiles at 90 degrees to each other to minimize wear appearance. With arrows in the same direction, the carpet will look more like a broadloom weave.

Step 3: Lay Tiles

Peel off the backing from self-stick tiles and set the tile squarely on the intersection of the layout lines. From this point you can set the tiles in repeated concentric squares around the center or in quadrants. Dispose of the backing. It's very slick and can cause a fall.

Step 4: Keep Laying Tiles

Lay the subsequent tiles in the same fashion, setting the tile with its leading edges against the previous tiles. Lay the tile, keeping the pressure against those in place. Don't slide the tiles. Set the tiles in a stair-step pattern so you have two points of reference for the next tile.

Step 5: Roll the Floor

When you reach the edges, you will have to cut the tiles individually. Make sure you cut the tiles from the back. When you have installed all the edge tiles, roll the floor with a rented 100-pound roller.

How to Mark a Tile for Cutting

To mark a carpet tile for cutting, lay a loose tile upside down exactly on the last full tile already installed. Then lay a guide tile on this one and push it against the wall. Draw a line down the edge of the guide tile.

Remove the two tiles and, keeping the marked tile backside up, set a steel straightedge along the marker line. Make several light passes along the line with a sharp utility knife. When you have cut through the backing, bend the tile slightly and cut through it completely.

How to Apply Mastic-Set Tiles

Dry-backed tiles are set in mastic or adhered with double-sided carpet tape. Some tiles are suited to both applications. Check the manufacturer's directions before deciding on a method.

In either case you must snap layout lines in the center of the room and start the installation at the intersection of the lines. If you're laying mastic you'll use the quadrant method.

Apply the adhesive with a paint roller. Let the mastic become tacky if necessary, then line up your first tile on the lines. Push the tile into place or pull it up and reposition it. Most tacky mastics allow plenty of working time. Continue setting the tile in one quadrant, making sure the edges of the tiles are butted securely against each other.

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