How To Lay Carpet Tiles

Carpet tiles are one of the most cost-effective ways to change your flooring, and also one of the easiest to put in place. Here's what you need to know.

At first glance, carpet tiles look like a cheap substitute for conventional carpet, and that is one of the roles they play. However, they do have advantages aside from relatively low costs (a basic 50cm by 50cm tile costs around $5.25).

Compared to carpet, they are much easier to install — you can do a simple room in a couple of hours — and don't require anything much in the way of specialised tools. Because each square of tile is individual, you can easily create geometrical patterns if you so desire. It's also easy to replace an individual tile that has become worn or stained, eliminating the hassle of replacing larger areas of carpeting. Because of this, carpet tiles are often used in high-traffic areas such as hallways.

The obvious first steps are to measure the room so you can work out how many tiles you need. A typical tile is 50 centimetres by 50 centimetres, which means you need four for each square metre. If your room measures 2 metres by 4 metres, that's a total of 8 square metres, which means you'll need 32 tiles. If there's any complex cutting involved (to deal with gas heaters, door frames or other nuisances), you may want to grab a couple of spares to cover for mistakes. If they're not self-adhesive, you'll want some means of adhesion as well (discussed below).

Preparing your surface

As with most DIY jobs, the first job is preparing your surface. Whatever prep you do, the aim is to end up with a smooth, clean surface you can place the tiles on.

If you're lucky, you'll just have a plain cement floor in a brand-new house and all you'll need to do is vacuum. If you're unlucky (as I was with our example corridor), you'll need to remove an old and worn carpet first. In this case, lifting up the carpet, removing the underlay and the staples that held it in place, and then getting rid of the tacked frame used to hold the carpet in place was considerably more work than any other part of the process. I didn't need to remove the paint stains on the underlying wooden floor, but I did have to ensure no staples or nails were in place.

Laying out your tiles

Like any floor tiling project, you should lay out the tiles and ensure they're cut to fit before attaching them. This is especially important if you're mixing different tiles to create a pattern.

Best practice is generally deemed to start laying from the centre of the room (which you can identify by measuring both walls and calculating the location, or by running a string or chalk line diagonally between each corner). That means that any cut or uneven tiles will appear at the edge of the room and create a symmetrical effect.

That won't always be the best approach, however. The example corridor pictured here was just under a metre wide, so it was less work (and more likely to look neat) by starting in one corner and working out. Either way, however, you should lay tiles one at a time until you've filled the area. Fit them together as tightly as possible; you don't want any gaps.

Unless your room has precise dimensions, you'll end up having to cut some tiles to fit. You can do this using a sharp Stanley-style knife and a metal ruler. For simple square edges, work out where to cut by overlapping the tile until it fits, mark the area and then cut. For more complex corners, you may want to trace a paper template using a pencil beforehand.

Fixing your tiles

Basic tiles generally don't have any built-in method of attachment; you can fix them using either glue or double-sided carpet tape. The picture at the top shows a fairly sloppy application of the latter. (You need approximately two metres for each 50cm by 50cm tile.)

Lift each tile individually, apply the adhesive, then fit tightly back in place. More expensive tiles may be self-adhesive; in that case, remove the paper and stick in place.

If you've placed the tiles carefully, they will actually hold in place pretty well without being fixed in place. However, it's still a good idea to use some form of fixing to prevent someone unexpectedly tripping on them.

Lifehacker's weekly Reno 101 column covers the basics of renovation and DIY.


    should read: If your room measures 2 metres by 4 metres, that’s a total of 8 square metres, which means you’ll need 32 tiles.

      Indeed it should -- I think my brain was addled from dust from the old carpet! Fixed now, thanks for the spot.

    I've been renovating my clapped out house (for the last 4 years) and carpet tiles have done the trick over the bear wooden floor. They are durable and quite cheap. Perfect for me scuffing while renovating and great for when the tradies come in with their clompers.

    I got mine in bulk from eBay. They were pulled out of an old Wesptac branch. For $250 I decked out the whole house (I can't remember how many I got. I think they were about 1 dollar each).

    If you have to remove vinyl from an existing home, just make sure to have an asbestos check done on the glue used for the existing vinyl - in older homes it regularly contains asbestos, and you don't want to breathe that!

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