How to Install Carpet Tile in Your Home

Man installing carpet tiles on top of hardboard floor
Gary Ombler / Getty Images
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    Installing Carpet Tile

    Carpet tile is an easy and inexpensive way to completely renovate the look of a room. The materials are generally low in price, ranging from $0.50–$1.50 per square foot. It’s also relatively simple to install them, which can save you the added cost of having to hire a contractor. However, some things have to be accounted for to optimize the look and feel of the finished floor.

    Difficulty: Easy​
    Time: 2–3 hours, plus one day of dry time

    Required Tools

    • Carpet knife
    • Tape measure
    • Gloves
    • Putty knife
    • Fans
    • Vacuum/broom
    • Mop
    • Paint roller
    • Metal tray
    • Chalk snap
    • Wood 2x4

    Required Materials

    • Concrete patch
    • Concrete sealant or polyurethane
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    Remove the Old Flooring

    The best practice for installing carpet tile is to start by removing any old flooring that is in place. This will allow you to get to the subfloor, which can then be properly prepared. However, in some cases, they can be installed directly over an existing floor. While this can save time and work, it does have some caveats, including the risk of the adhesive not bonding to the material. Another issue is that If the floor has dimensional features such as grout lines or textures, it will be possible to feel that through the carpet.

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    Remove the Furniture

    You’ll generally want to get all of the furniture out of the space before you begin. Large pieces can be placed in hallways or spare rooms. This will free up the area so that you can concentrate on the installation itself. It also has the added benefit of letting you start fresh with decoration and arrangement once the procedure is complete.

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    Fill Cracks and Fix Gaps

    The surface that you install carpet tiles on should be completely flat and even. That is because any dimensional features will be felt through the material, which can cause dangerous gaps or peaks that will be hard to spot before they are stepped on.

    If you are working with a concrete subfloor, then you will want to use the concrete patch to fill in any cracks that have developed over time. This eliminates dimensional features, while also getting rid of areas that may be vulnerable to liquid penetration if something spills and seeps through the carpet. Allow the filler to dry overnight, and then use a putty knife to scrape away any excess until you achieve a smooth, flat surface.

    With plywood subfloors, you can use wood putty to fill gaps and repair cracks. You can also sand the floor lightly to remove any splinters or other dimensional features that may exist on​ the surface.

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    Vacuum, Sweep, and Mop

    Once the surface is flat, it is important to make sure that it is completely clean and free of any dirt, debris, or small particles. This is for sanitary reasons but is also important so that the carpet tile adhesive can form the strongest bond possible.

    Start by sweeping or vacuuming the entire area thoroughly. If you used concrete putty or sanded the wooden subfloor, then you will probably have a lot of small particles that need to be removed. Be thorough, working the room over several times until you are no longer able to generate any dust with your motions.

    Once you’ve completed a dry-clean routine, you will next want to damp mop the floor. Sweeping and or vacuuming will get rid of most of the offending particles, however, water is needed to ensure that the surface is completely free of debris. This can be done with a Swiffer or any standard mop or sponge. The important thing is that you do not use too much moisture. The floor will have to be completely dry before installation as well, and too much water can lead to delays while you wait for it to evaporate.

    Warm water on its own will be sufficient. Soap and or cleanser is optional but needs to be removed with plain water mopping once complete.

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    Apply the Sealant

    Concrete, wood, and most other subfloor materials are naturally porous, which makes them very susceptible to water. If the liquid can seep down into them, it can cause the growth of mold and mildew, while also warping and degrading the integrity of the structure. Unfortunately, carpet tiles are generally porous as well, and if a spill occurs, the moisture will quickly pass right through them, giving them a clear path to the surface below. That is why it is important to use a quality sealant to mitigate those kinds of damages.

    The type of sealant that you use will be determined by the type of subfloor you are trying to protect. With concrete, you will want to use a specific concrete chemical. Wood will require a polyurethane mix. These can be applied using a paint roller and a metal tray, or sprayed on using a water bottle or aerosol can. Generally, one or two applications will be enough. When complete, wait at least an hour for it to dry.

    Note: Always follow the manufacturer's instructions for application and dry time. Do not walk on the surface until it is completely dry. Make sure the room is well ventilated in case the sealant used contains chemicals or has a harsh and irritating scent.

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    Measure and Mark

    It may seem like common sense to lay carpet tiles from the longest wall outwards. However, unless the area is sized very specifically, that method will result in one half of the space ending in full tiles, and the other having cut pieces. That can give the environment a skewed look. Rather, the work should start in the exact center of the room, with the floor divided into four quadrants which merge at that point.

    To find the exact center of the space, you have to find the middle of the longest wall and the one next to it. Then trace a line from each of those marks, across the floor, using a chalk snap. The point where they meet will be the center, and the quadrants they create will be your work zones.

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    Dry Layout

    At this point,​ it is often a good idea to do a dry layout. This is not always necessary, but it can be useful to see how the carpet will look when it is installed. That gives you the ability to get an idea for things like the orientation of the threads, or how different pieces of the pattern fit together. It also gives you a chance to make mistakes and learn from them before committing the adhesive to the floor.

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  • 09 of 12

    Install the Carpet Tiles

    Begin in the middle, and work toward the wall opposite the door. Tile boxes, tools, materials, and equipment can be stored in the area that contains the exit, as that will be the last one that installation takes place in.

    Many carpet tiles are peel and stick. That means that they have a paper or plastic backing that can be removed to reveal adhesive, which is ready to bond to the floor. Others will require you to add the glue yourself. In those cases, you need to choose a product that is appropriate for the material. This will often be a thin liquid that can be dribbled lightly onto the desired surface. In other cases, a spray may be used. Cover the area sparsely, a little at a time, stopping periodically to put tiles in place so that it doesn’t have a chance to dry.

    Some carpet tiles will have a specifically recommended orientation, indicated by arrow stickers on their surface. Following their guidelines will often result in the most pleasing look, but if you have an artistic eye you can also get creative with that.

    Note: Adhesives will have varying levels of harmful chemicals and some will emit noxious fumes that can be dangerous. Always read the label carefully to see if there are any warnings, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Even with mild products make sure that the space is well-ventilated with open windows and a fan going to circulate the air. Gloves should also be used to prevent skin contact.

    Press the tiles into place firmly, starting with the corner of the first meeting the intersection of the two chalk lines you created earlier. Then work backward along that line toward the wall. This will create a single row, which you can use to guide the rest of your efforts. As you work, try to keep your columns as tight as possible, and square against one another. That will help to eliminate seams and keep the installation even.

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    Careful When Peeling the Film Off

    With peel-and-stick tiles, be very careful as you remove the backing. It will come off easily the first time, but it can often rip, making it hard to remove it completely. It will also bond much harder if it is allowed to come in contact with the glue a second time. A trash can should be kept on hand to dispose of waste as the work proceeds.

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    Custom Cuts

    It is very rare for carpet tiles to fit perfectly into a room. In most cases, the pieces will have to be cut to accommodate overlap, corners, and installed ground features in the space. Some products will be harder to cut than others, but it is generally a tough process and will be the most difficult part of the installation. That is why it is important to have a quality carpet knife with a good sharp blade to help ease the process.

    Measuring for cuts can be done by overlapping pieces of carpet in the spaces where they need to go. A pencil can then be used to create a faint line, giving you a guide to follow. Cutting should be done on a hard surface where the blade will not cause damage. Work slowly and carefully, making sure not to endanger your safety. Generally, the backing will remain intact, allowing you to press the custom piece directly into place.

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    Things to Keep in Mind

    Carpet tiles are light, inexpensive, and easy to install. They come in a variety of colors, thicknesses, and threads, and are available online and from any retail hardware store or carpet dealer. That makes them a versatile choice for a variety of locations. If properly installed they can look good for several years, although they will often start to wear and or come loose after 5–8 years. At that point removal should be relatively simple, allowing you to spot replace particularly bad pieces, or uninstall it completely.