Choosing and Buying Resilient Flooring

Resilient flooring—softer l\ underfoot than any other flooring except carpeting—is available in the form of tiles or sheet goods. Resilient tiles have been a popular do-it-yourself item since World War II, although they have changed considerably in size (from 9 to 12 inches square), appearance (from dull, streaked greens and beiges to vivid colors and patterns), and composition (from asphalt and asbestos to varying blends of vinyl).

Sheet goods have been around awhile also. Because they come in rolls up to 12 feet wide, installing them is more difficult. Installation kits are available, but be aware that a cutting mistake can ruin an entire roll, not just a single tile. Choosing the right resilient flooring depends to some extent on the type of use your new floor will get.

Cushioned sheet flooring, usually with a pattern printed on the surface, is soft underfoot, has a minimum of dirt-catching seams, and does a decent job of soundproofing. Some surface-printed tiles are similarly cushioned. “Commercial” tiles are less expensive, easier to install, and much more resistant to dents from items, such as chair legs. Also you should consider whether you want a smooth or a textured surface. Before you buy, be sure you are clear about the installation directions. Most resilient flooring can be installed on any sound subsurface. Install over existing resilient flooring only if it is firmly stuck at all points.

Beware: Resilient flooring does not cover up imperfections in the subsurface; this is especially true of surface-printed tiles and sheets. If the existing floor cannot be sanded smooth, install subflooring and underlayment above it. Because most of today’s tiles are 1-foot square, determining how many you will need requires only simple computations. Estimating the amount of sheet flooring needed is trickier, especially if there’s a pattern involved and a seam is needed. It’s best to make an accurate plan of the room on graph paper and then take it to a flooring dealer.

Caution! Asbestos Tile - If you need to remove tiles to lay a new floor, be aware that many older tiles contain asbestos. Some states require a licensed asbestos remover to take them out. Ask your flooring dealer how to test old tiles for asbestos and whether you need to hire a licensed firm to remove them.

Comparing Resilient Floorings



Relative Cost


True linoleum is making a comeback. This is a natural product with color that runs through its thickness. It hides scratches well.


Cushioned sheet vinyl

Several grades are available—from moderately durable to very durable. Durability ranges from that of vinyl asbestos tile to about one-half as durable. Resistant to abrasion and discoloration. Vulnerable to burns. Usually contains a vinyl foam layer.

Wide price range

Commercial vinyl or rubber tile

Often used for grocery stores and other commercial spaces, these tiles have random flecks or dots of color that run through the body of the tile. Tiles of different colors can be mixed to form patterns and borders. Rubber tile is a little more expensive, with a similar appearance and even greater durability.


Surface-printed vinyl tile

Basically the same composition and characteristics as sheet vinyl, but tiles are easier to install.

Wide price range


Installing Underlayment

Tools: Tape measure, hammer, straightedge, circular saw, and straight trowel.

The most common underlayment material is 1/4 inch thick and is available in 4x4 sheets. A series of + marks stamped on the surface indicates where to drive nails or screws. Underlayment only smooths a floor. To secure the underlayment, you will need lots of ringshank flooring nails or screws. Drive one in every 4 inches around the perimeter and every 8 inches across the sheets into joists.

1. Create an underlayment layout. Begin near the center of the room and arrange 4x4 panels so that four corners never meet at a point. As much as possible, avoid having to install a narrow strip at the perimeter.

2. Drive fasteners. Drive nails or ringshank flooring nails through the subfloor. If the subfloor is only a single sheet of plywood, use screws rather than nails to anchor the underlayment surface securely.

3. Mark a sheet for cutting. Along the edges of the room, slide a sheet of material against the wall, overlapping and squaring it with the previously nailed panel. With a scrap of underlayment or a straightedge as a guide, draw a line along the length of the edge piece. Cut the sheet along the line.

4. Secure the edge pieces. Fasten the edge pieces into place. Don’t worry if the fit isn’t exact along the wall. The base shoe will cover a gap of at least 1/2 inch.

5. Fill and sand. See that all fastener heads are dimpled slightly below the surface. Using a straight trowel, fill all fastener dimples and joints with flooring patch. Allow the patch to dry, then sand the floor smooth.

Laying Resilient Tile

Tools: Tape measure, framing square, chalk line, utility knife, and notched trowel.

Because thin surface-printed tiles show even the tiniest imperfections in the subsurface, it is necessary to prepare a floor surface that is very smooth. Thicker surface-printed tiles and commercial tiles can bridge small gaps like fastener dimples, but will show any larger flaws. Plan the layout first by making a scale drawing of the room, and then by setting out tiles in a dry run. Aim to eliminate any slivers at the perimeter, unless the area will be covered up by furniture. Self-stick tiles can be installed without adhesive, but they may start to peel after a year or two. Spread adhesive on the floor to ensure a solid installation.

Cutting Tools - Cutting resilient tile is not difficult, but it can be time-consuming. To pick up the pace, have a collection of tools ready at hand. Set the tile to be cut on a small sheet of plywood, to prevent damage to the floor. For a square, use a full-sized tile marked with an X so you will be sure not to lay it on the floor. Replace knife blades as soon as they start to become dull. If you have plenty of cutting to do, rent a vinyl tile cutter, which makes a straight cut in a couple of seconds.

1. Snap layout lines. Snap chalk lines between the midpoints of the walls. Adjust the lines, if necessary, so that the lines make a right angle.

2. Dry-lay rows of tiles. Dry-lay tiles in an L-shape, starting from the center. Check the border tiles. If necessary shift the L half a tile over, and snap new chalk lines.

3. Apply mastic. Use a small notched trowel or a paint roller to spread adhesive over as much of the floor as possible, as long as you can reach the layout lines without walking on adhesive. Allow the adhesive to dry until it is tacky.

4. Lay the tiles. Apply tiles starting with the L corner and building a pyramid. Be certain to keep the tiles square with chalk lines. Don’t slide tiles into position: Butt edges against adjacent tiles, fold down into place, and press firmly.

5. Mark for a straight cut. At the baseboard, tiles need not be cut precisely because the base shoe will cover about 1/2 inch. To mark for a straight cut, lay a tile on top of the last full one in the row. Put another against the wall, and mark the overlap.

6. Mark for a corner cut. Corners are not difficult to figure. Mark from one of the walls, just as you would for a border tile. Shift the tiles to the other wall (but don’t turn them), and mark again. Mark an X on the section to be cut out.

7. Use a template. For odd shapes, make a cardboard template first; cut with scissors, and transfer the pattern to the tile.

1. To lay a diagonal pattern, begin with chalk lines. For a diagonal pattern, locate the center of the room and snap chalk lines at 45-degree angles to the wall.

2. Then dry-lay the tiles. Dry-lay tiles along the lines and adjust for good border spacing. At the walls, you’ll need to cut triangles. Cut a tile in half at a 45-degree angle and use it as a guide for the cuts.

3. Add a border if you like. For an interesting look, border the diagonal field with a row of straight-laid tiles. Install the border first, then cut the diagonals carefully to butt against the border.

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