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Why Should You Use Transition Strips for Floor Tiles?


There’s often a noticeable height difference when there’s a tile floor next to a wood floor. Instead of the costly option of raising or lowering one of the floors, a practical solution is to use a transition strip.

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What Are Transition Strips?

A transition strip is typically made of metal, wood, or plastic that covers the gap between two different floor types. It is a ramp-like bridge from the higher floor to the lower one.

In an ideal home design, floor coverings flow seamlessly from one room to the next without interruptions. Ideally, a single flooring type would be installed throughout the house in one go, suitable for all areas.

However, the reality in most homes is different. Flooring is often installed in stages over several years. Hardwood may be chosen for the living room for its warmth and beauty. On the other hand, in areas like the bathroom and kitchen, ceramic or porcelain tiles are preferred due to their durability and resistance to moisture.

Apart from functional reasons, aesthetic choices also lead to various flooring types in a home. This mix-and-match approach results in different floor heights. For example, tile floors are often higher than adjacent wood flooring. A transition strip becomes necessary in such scenarios to smoothly bridge the gap between the differing floor heights.

Reasons for Height Issues in Tile Flooring

Height difference in Tile Flooring
  1. Multiple Substrate Layers: Tile flooring, whether it is porcelain, ceramic, marble, granite, or another material, requires several layers of substrate for installation. These layers differ significantly in dimensions compared to the layers used in non-tile flooring.
  1. Difference in Mortar Bed Thickness: The mortar bed, a crucial part of tile flooring, can vary in thickness. This largely depends on the skill level of the installer. While professional tilers can achieve a nearly uniform thickness, inexperienced DIY installers might produce uneven tile heights due to inconsistent mortar application.
  1. Contrast with Wood Flooring: Unlike tile, wood flooring (including laminate) typically has a more predictable and uniform height, due to the standard combination of subflooring, underlayment, and wood flooring, forming a single-height surface.

How Do Transition Strips Work?

Transition strips effectively solve the height differences between tile and wood flooring. These strips, commonly made from wood or lightweight aluminum, are designed to ramp up or down, smoothing the transition from one flooring type to another. They can be conveniently cut to the desired length using standard tools like a miter saw or a hacksaw.

Not only are transition strips usually affordable, but their installation is also easy, often needing just a hammer or drill, nails or screws, and a saw.

During installation, avoid striking any part of the transition strip other than the nail. Aluminum strips, in particular, are prone to denting, which can cause distortion and prevent the strip from laying flat on the floor. If a strip becomes distorted, replacing it with a new one is the only solution.


Pros of Transition Strips

  • Transition strips provide a simple fix for the height difference between different types of flooring.
  • They can be installed quickly, making them convenient for bridging gaps.
  • They often come in neutral materials, offering seamless integration, especially when an exact wood match in species and stain to the flooring is unavailable.

Cons of Transition Strips

  • The edge of the strip can cause trips and falls if not correctly aligned or if it becomes loose over time.
  • Walking over the strip can sometimes produce noise, which might be noticeable and potentially disruptive.
  • Transition strips may not always match perfectly with the flooring on either side, leading to a visual discontinuity.
Metal Transition Strips

Transition strips are an ideal solution for solving height differences between floors. You don’t need to adjust the entire height of adjoining floors, providing a smooth transition that can either ramp up or down as needed. Installation is quick, usually taking less than half an hour, with some even completed in about fifteen minutes.

However, there are some considerations to remember. Even when installed well, the lip of surface transition strips may catch on objects like shoes or toys, leading to gradual loosening.

Metal strips, while sleeker, can create a noticeable sound when walked over.

Wood strips, if closely matching the adjacent wood flooring, can enhance aesthetics, but a poor match can be visually jarring. Wood strips with a higher profile may wear down quicker and show more signs of damage.

Different Types of Transition Strips for Flooring

A full saddle transition is ideal for connecting flooring at the same level. In contrast, a half-saddle transition is designed for situations where one floor level is higher than the other. If your flooring levels match, you can place the tile directly against the wood, though this will leave a small gap. To prevent dust accumulation in this gap, you can cover it with a transition strip.

plastic Transition Strips

Flush Transitions

Flush tile transition strips, while offering a more seamless and attractive finish, are harder to install than surface strips. These strips have various forms and allow for creative installation approaches. Flush transitions require that both flooring surfaces have straight, parallel edges. Surface tile transitions are more versatile, as they can accommodate irregular and uneven edges.

Hardwood Transition Strips

These strips are a ramp between lower hardwood and higher tile floors. The strip can directly meet the tile floor or have a lip-over design, depending on the installation preference.

Stone-to-Hardwood Transition Strips

This type involves a marble or granite strip that aligns with the tile floor, adjoining it to a lower hardwood floor using a hardwood trim piece. It elegantly bridges the gap between stone and hardwood flooring, providing a sophisticated finish.

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