Tile Floor Transition

Whether Flush or Surface, Transitions Bridge the Gap

Home Extior & Interiors
John Keeble / Getty Images

If you are lucky--or plan well--your tile floor will be exactly as high as your non-tile floor.  In that case, butt the tile against the wood and call it a day.

But in so many other cases, you will need a transition if only because the tile turns out to be higher than the adjoining flooring.

Matching Adjoining Floor Heights:  Luck or Good Planning?

Whether porcelain or ceramic, marble, granite, or other materials, tile flooring requires a number of substrate layers for installation, and these layers are not dimensionally analogous to the layers found in non-tile applications.


Tile flooring requires a mortar bed, which is no standard thickness. A good, professional tiler can maintain a nearly-uniform thickness, but this can be difficult for DIY tilers.

So, you need a tile floor transition.  In other instances, you may be dealing with uniform substrate--laminate flooring's underlayment, for example--but the tile and laminate simply do not match up.  

And even if you do have matching levels, you may not even want the gap between the two different types of flooring.  Gaps are known dust-collectors.

But what kinds of transitional materials function the best under foot traffic, while not appearing to be an aesthetic imposition?

Full vs. Half Saddle Transitions

You are probably familiar with surface tile transitions. Typically made of light-weight aluminum, these tile transition strips are silver- or brass-colored and can easily be cut to width with a hacksaw.

Be sure to get the right type of surface tile transition strip.

They are not interchangeable.

  • Full Saddle Transition: This transition strip is for bridging between two similar levels.
  • Half Saddle Transition: This transition is for going from a lower level to a higher level.

Inexpensive, surface transition strips require little more than a hammer, nails, and hacksaw to install.

Surface transition strips have one huge downfall. No matter how well-installed, the "lip" on surface transition strips will eventually catch on something (a shoe, a toy, etc.) and begun to gradually loosen. Also, these metal strips create a quite noticeable "clack" when walked on.

One important installation note: beware of accidentally striking any part of the transition strip other than the nail. These aluminum strips dent easily, and these dents will distort the strips and thus prevent them from laying seamlessly on the floor. The only solution to a distorted transition strip is to buy a new one.

Flush Tile Transitions

Better-functioning and more attractive, but more difficult to install, are flush tile transition strips.

Unlike the surface strips, flush-mount strips take many different forms and even lend themselves to improvisation.

As you might imagine, flush transitions can only be installed when both flooring surfaces have straight, parallel edges. By contrast, surface tile transitions are more forgiving, because they can cover up irregular, ragged edges.

Two popular types of flush tile transitions:

  • Hardwood Transition Strips: A single transition strip that acts as a "ramp" from the lower hardwood floor to the higher tile floor. This strip can either meet the tile floor directly or can have a lip-over style, as shown in the accompanying image.
  • Marble + Hardwood Trim Strips: A marble or granite strip that abuts to the tile floor. This strip then adjoins to the lower floor with a hardwood trim piece.