Laying Sheet Flooring

Even professional carpenters often shy away from installing sheet flooring, for one simple reason: If you make a single cutting mistake, you could blow the whole job and have to buy and install a new piece. Your chances of success are good, however, if you purchase a sheet that comes with a cardboard template and take the time to double-check all your measurements.

It’s important to choose a high-quality sheet that is thick and durable. An inexpensive, thin sheet can easily rip while you unroll it. If possible buy a sheet wide enough so you need not make seams. It is possible to butt two pieces together in the middle of the floor. The seam will not be as durable as a continuous sheet, however. Installing genuine linoleum (rather than vinyl) is a different process. The sheets tend to be narrower, but seams are not much of a problem because this product virtually welds itself together. For the same reason, cutting mistakes are also much less of a problem.

Tools: Framing square, flooring knife or utility knife, chalk line, notched trowel, long straightedge, pry bar, hammer, nail set, handsaw, compass, and rented flooring roller.

1. Cut a template. Remove the base shoe and any other obstructions. Install underlayment. Undercut the casings so the sheet can fit beneath them. Find an area larger than the room you will be flooring. If necessary work outdoors. Unroll the vinyl sheet completely and remove the cardboard template that is rolled up inside. Position the cardboard in the room to be floored and cut it to the exact dimensions of the floor. You will probably need to tape cardboard pieces onto the template where the cutting gets difficult. Double-check that the template is the exact shape needed.

2. Cut the sheet. Lay the template on top of the vinyl sheet. Tape it down in many places to prevent it from slipping while you are working. Use a flooring knife or utility knife to cut the sheet around the template. Use a straightedge to make long, straight cuts.

3. Lay the sheet and trim it. Working with a helper, roll the sheet up from both ends toward the middle, like a scroll. Set the sheet in the middle of the room and unroll it carefully. Avoid creasing the sheet while unrolling or it may rip. Check that the sheet lies flat at all points and make any necessary trim cuts.

4. Apply mastic. Weight half the sheet so it cannot move; roll up the other half. Sweep the floor absolutely clean of debris. Following the manufacturer’s instructions, spread mastic using a notched trowel.

5. Lay the sheet. Unroll the sheet onto the mastic. Once you are sure the alignment is correct, roll up the other half of the sheet, apply mastic, and unroll the second half.

6. Roll out bubbles. Use a rented flooring roller to remove any bubbles under the sheet. Force a bubble out by moving it to the closest edge.

7. Install shoe and thresholds. Install a new base shoe or reinstall the old shoe; drive nails into the baseboard, not into the flooring. Cover all exposed edges with a threshold.

1. To make a seam, cut through two sheets. Lay both sheets in mastic, with one sheet overlapping the other according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Tape both of the sheets together so they won’t slip out of place. Use a straightedge and a sharp utility knife to cut through both sheets.

2. Seal the seam. Lift up the sheet that was on top, and pull out the cutoff strip underneath. Gently smooth the two pieces together and wipe away any squeezed-out mastic. Insert a seam sealer between the sheets and squeeze out glue as you run it along the seam. Wipe away excess sealer and run a roller on the seam.

Choosing Ceramic Floor Tile

Ceramic tile is rock-hard, but most types will crack if not installed properly. The subsurface must be firm and inflexible. A home center typically carries a modest assortment of ceramic and stone tiles. Visit several tile stores to find a much wider selection. Be sure to buy floor tile; most wall tiles are soft and will crack, even if set in a very firm substrate.

High-gloss glazed tiles have a pleasing glow and are easy to keep clean, but are slippery when wet. Some glazes have bumpy surfaces to make them less hazardous. If you install small tiles, the grout lines will add traction. Mosaic tile comes in sheets composed of many small tiles held together by a mesh or paper backing. Mosaics may be made of any of the materials in the chart at right. Mosaic sheets are only slightly more difficult to install than standard tiles.

In addition to standard field tiles, you may choose to sprinkle the floor with colorful accent tiles. Field tiles may need to be cut to make room for the accent tiles, or the tiles may come already cut in shapes designed to accommodate the accents. For a hefty price, you can purchase preassembled decorative groupings. Placed in a prominent location, even a small section of decorative tile can have a big visual impact. Choose grout along with the tile; a tile store has many colors to choose from. In most cases, floor tile grout should blend with the tile. For a geometric effect, however, you may choose grout of a sharply contrasting color.

Comparing Ceramic Tile




Glazed ceramic

Wide selection of colors, glazes, surfaces, and shapes. Durability varies according to type.

Snap cutter or wet saw


Extremely durable. Can mimic the look of glazed ceramic, rough stone, or polished stone.

Wet saw only

Polished stone

Marble is soft and easily scratched; granite is extremely hard. Other types, such as travertine or onyx, are in between.

Wet saw only

Tumbled or honed marble or granite

Pleasingly informal appearance, but very soft and porous; it must be sealed to make it practical.

Wet saw only

Terra cotta

Soft, so it needs to be sealed. Comes in earth tones. Some types, like Mexican saltillos, are handmade and irregular in shape.

Wet saw only


Hard and durable, but with a matte rather than glazed surface, so it needs sealing.

Snap cutter or wet saw


Gray and reddish tones, with a bumpy surface because it is split rather than cut. Some slate is polished, while other slate is rough. Moderately hard.

Wet saw only


Actually small slabs of concrete, covered with vivid colors. Some types are not very durable.

Wet saw only


Stunningly beautiful but expensive and easily scratched, so it is usually only used for accents.

Not meant to be cut


Can be brass, copper, steel, or even iron. Used as accents.

Not meant to be cut


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