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Floating Tile Floors: Intro & Installation

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Floating ceramic tile floors have some great benefits. They keep what’s good about the tile and get rid of many hard parts of the installation. These floors are based on the idea of a floating floor. In this design, the floor pieces connect but not to the layer underneath.

This method is common with laminate and many vinyl floors, but only sometimes with ceramic tile. Can floating tile floors be an excellent alternative to setting ceramic and porcelain tiles using wet mortar and grout?

A floating tile floor is a unique kind of floor where ceramic tiles connect side by side but not to the floor underneath. The tiles sit on plastic trays. Each tray attaches to the next one using a system like a puzzle. The tiles don’t join directly; only their trays do.

These trays help to space the tiles evenly and keep them aligned. You don’t need to use thin-set mortar under the tiles, but fill the spaces between the tiles with grout.

This floating floor method is also used with other flooring types, like laminate and luxury vinyl tiles. The heavy weight of the entire floor and friction keep the floor stable and in place.

Floating tile floors come with three main features:

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1. No Need for Thinset Mortar Bed

  • In traditional tiling, tiles are placed on a layer of thin-set mortar. You spread the mortar with a trowel on the underlayer or subfloor. The trowel’s teeth help get the right amount of mortar for setting the tile. This mortar sticks the tile to the surface underneath and fills gaps between the tile and that surface.
  • Floating tile doesn’t need this mortar bed. Instead, tiles fit into plastic trays. These trays have some of the functions of mortar, but not all. Once tiles are in these trays, they can’t be taken out. Some floating tiles are also fixed to a flat plastic board with edges that fit together like a puzzle.

2. Automatic Spacing

  • Traditional tiles need grout-filled seams, which can take much work. Tile spacers, shaped like crosses, help create even seams. These spacers are removed later.
  • In floating tile, the plastic trays have built-in spacers. These trays have teeth on their edges that lock together, connecting the tiles. The gap is usually about 3/16 inches.

3. Synthetic Grout

  • With traditional tiles, you use either sanded or unsanded grout. You push this grout into the seams between tiles using a float rubber tool. Sanded grout has fine sand in it, and unsanded grout doesn’t and is better for thin grout lines.
  • Floating ceramic tiles use a different kind, a urethane-based grout. This grout works well with the slight shifts and movements in the floating floor system.
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Pros

1. Automatic Spacing and Leveling

For many who install tiles themselves, applying thin-set mortar can be challenging, often leading to uneven tile surfaces. Floating tile floors eliminate this issue. Their design ensures that as long as the subfloor is level, the tiles will be too, without the wavy or uneven appearance that can happen with traditional tiling.

2. Simple Installation

The plastic base or tray attached to each tile replaces thin-set mortar. This makes installation easier and removes the problem of lippage – the height differences between adjacent tiles.

3. Efficient Process

Installing floating tiles is faster than traditional tiles. There’s no need to mix mortar or wait for it to set. Once the tiles are connected, you can grout them immediately, speeding up the process.

Cons

1. Limited Production and Availability

Only some manufacturers produce these types of flooring. Unlike the extensive range offered by traditional mortar-down tiles, the result is a small selection of colors and styles.

2. Higher Cost

Compared to traditional tiles, these floors often have a larger price tag. The added expense relates to the additional components, such as the plastic base or tray.

3. Fewer Design Options

Choices in design and color are fewer for these floors. In contrast, traditional tiles present thousands of options, allowing for greater customization.

4. Fixed Seam Widths

The gaps between the tiles have a set width. This limits flexibility in design, a contrast to traditional tiles where seam widths can vary according to preference.

5. Extra Cutting Steps

Cutting these tiles involves an additional step – cutting the plastic backer. While a wet tile saw easily cuts through all the materials, using a rail-style or snap tile cutter may require a separate cut for the plastic backer after cutting the tile.

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Tools

  • Nail Gun + Ammunition
  • Pneumatic Silicone Gun
  • Tape Measurer
  • Duct Tape
  • Utility Knife
  • Rubber Mallet (Not a hammer)
  • Drop saw or Table saw
  • Pencil & Rubber
  • Broom & Dust Pan
  • Spacers

Materials

  • Sufficient Floorboards
  • Sufficient & Appropriate Underlayment
  • Scotia & Skirting Boards
  • Silicone Filler
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Step 1: Preparing The Subfloor and Underlayment

1. If your existing subfloor has battens, add a plywood layer on top. Secure it with nails to create a flat surface. But if your subfloor is already flat, made of concrete or wood, you can skip this.

2. For a concrete or wooden subfloor with more than 3mm unevenness per 2 meters, sanding down the high spots is a good idea. Newer homes have relatively even subfloors, so this might be optional.

3. Begin in one corner and unroll the underlay over the concrete or wooden subfloor. Start against the side of the longest wall and go to the other end of the room or hallway.

4. Keep doing this until you cover the entire room.

5. Use a utility knife to trim off any extra underlay so it fits well along the walls.

6. The underlayment often has adhesive for easy sticking. If it doesn’t stick well, use duct tape to keep it in place.

Step 2: Lay Floating Floorboards

1. First, place a spacer against the side of the floorboard every half meter and one at the end of the board. Position this edge at the room’s corner. These spacers create the 6 – 12mm expansion gap required for all floating floors.

2. Attach spacers to one side of the next floorboard. Click lock it into the end of the first board that isn’t against the wall. Continue this process until there’s no room for another full piece. To finish the first row, you must cut a board to the needed size. For guidance on cutting the floorboards, refer to the instructions in the ‘Cutting the Floorboards’ section.

3. After finishing the first row, start the next row with the leftover piece from the last cut. This approach saves material and helps stagger the flooring for a more natural look. Remember to place a spacer on the side of the plank that touches the wall.

4. Repeat the same steps for each subsequent row. This involves attaching spacers, clicking the boards together, and cutting pieces as needed to fit the space. Keep the staggered pattern for a professional and aesthetically pleasing finish.

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Step 3: Cut The Floorboards

1. Set up your saw either outside or on a veranda. This way, cleaning up the sawdust is easier and less of an issue.

2. You need to measure the board accurately, including the 6 – 10mm gap for expansion away from the wall. Mark precisely where you should cut the board to get the correct length.

3. How you place the floorboard depends on your saw’s cutting direction. If the blade moves towards you, put the board upside down. If it moves away, keep it right side up. This helps prevent the surface from splintering.

4. Wearing ear protection that cancels noise is significant because cutting can be really loud.

5. When cutting, hold the plank steady with one hand and use the other to handle the saw. Keep the board as still as possible, and avoid the blade, especially if it’s still moving.

6. Remember to disconnect the power once you’re done cutting as a safety measure.

Step 4: Cleaning Your New Floating Floor

After learning how to install floating floors, cut floorboards, and fit skirting boards, knowing the best way to clean up is important. Renovations can be quite messy, and you’ll often find yourself with a floor covered in dust, not yet shining as it should. It’s also crucial to take the proper steps to protect your new flooring, ensuring it remains in great condition for a long time.

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