GIMME SHELTER-Toppers: Tile over vinyl problematic

Bradley Burditt, Old Dominion Tile

Q: Can I put tile down over the vinyl flooring in my kitchen? Or should the vinyl be removed? What's the best way to prepare the floor surface?

A: About two years ago, I got a call from a lady who was noticeably upset. As I listened to her talk, I could hear her husband in the background saying, "I don't need an expert, so hang up!" The lady asked if I could look at the floor in her kitchen, and I agreed. The whole time I kept thinking, "How can I get out of this, and who can I take with me as a witness?"

When I arrived at the house, the husband immediately showed me where he had read that he could install tile over a vinyl floor. I looked at the article and reassured him that it was correct. He was happy to hear this, calmed down, and the scowl on his face was replaced with a smile.

However, when I walked into the kitchen, I noticed that his tile floor was cracked and grout was missing in the joints. I removed the air duct in the floor and stuck my knife between the vinyl and the sub-floor. The whole floor had been laid on top of sheet vinyl with perimeter flex, which means it is glued only around the edges.

Although the husband had done a good job on the installation, he did not know which vinyl you can install over. Gritting my teeth, I recommended to the husband that he replace the entire floor.

How can homeowners determine what they can install tile over? I recommend that all loose, weakened, rotted, or any other unsuitable material be removed. Also, perimeter glue and any cushioned vinyl that allows for movement should be removed.

How do you determine this? Take a utility knife and cut a section of the floor in an inconspicuous area. If it comes up easily and has no cushion or paper product, it's suitable for installation. Prior to installation, the flooring should be sound, clean, and dry. Also, you'll need to roughen glossy, painted, or loose surfaces by sanding or scarifying.

It might be a good idea to install cement backer-board in areas with minor movement. Of course, every case is different, and you may want to consult a tile company that specializes in renovation. Finally, make sure you check the manufacturer's recommendation for installing over any surface.

In the end, calling in an expert earlier would have saved the husband considerable time and energy, not to mention some embarrassment. Needless to say, the husband was not smiling when I left, and I was happy to get out of there alive!

Bradley Burditt