Installing Peel and Stick Vinyl Tile (for Realists)

That’s right, I’m still milking our kitchen makeover for every last blog post I can squeeze out of it! Today I’m ruminating on vinyl tile installation, and its pros and cons. To get up to speed on what we’ve done since we moved in, check out this post. Here’s a quick and dirty comparison of the old and the new floors:

floors before and after

Installing peel and stick tile sounds really easy to do, and looks really easy on home reno shows. I mean, it only has two steps: 1) Rip up old floors and 2) stick on tiles! Well friends, I’m here to burst your bubble and will not sugar coat this for you.

We went with peel and stick tile because we thought that it would be a quicker and cheaper option than ceramic tiles. One of our future plans is to do a complete kitchen reno, and we didn’t want to spend a lot of time and money on ceramic tile only to rip it up once we change the layout of the kitchen. I naively thought that using vinyl tile meant this could be done in a day, or a weekend tops; this turned out to be a huge underestimation. Between all of the steps involved (yes, I was lying when I said this only had two steps), we spent a week on this. We weren’t super efficient about it, but still, it took a lot more time than I was expecting. As my husband put it, using peel and stick makes the easiest part of installing tiles- the placement of the tiles- even easier; you still have to do almost the same amount of prep work before you can apply the tile. But getting to a level, smooth, clean surface takes a lot of time. So buckle up and let me take you through what this project actually involves!

Step 1A): Remove Old Flooring

If the original floors had come up easily then this would have taken a lot less time and I would be less bitter about it, but the linoleum was an absolute nightmare to remove. At first we could only get it off in 1 inch or so chunks that chipped off when we tried to peel it, leaving a paper and adhesive layer behind. I had a friend helping me with this step (Thanks MT!!) and after about an hour of making almost no progress, she suggested we look online for help. We found a few YouTube videos that recommended using a heat source to soften the glue first, which ended up being a lifesaver. We found the best method was using a heat gun to first soften the glue and a flat edge trowel to lift up the flooring- this left the least amount of paper/adhesive behind. Other variations we tried were an iron and a metal cake lifter, and a hair dryer and a putty knife. During this step, we wore half face masks with P100 cartridges for vapours and particulates- we had no idea what was under the floors and heating the linoleum gave off a pretty nasty plastic smell. We also kept all the windows open for ventilation, so this is not a Canadian winter friendly project.

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Using a heat gun and putty knife to lift the old linoleum

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I gave this step got a major thumbs down

Step 1B): Patch Uneven Areas & Repair Damaged Subfloor

Once the old flooring was up and the remaining adhesive and paper had been scraped off, we patched the surface with a product that Home Depot recommended, SimplePrep Pre-Mixed Floor Patch. My husband did this step and he didn’t like this product at all. Next time (haha, next time) we would use the stuff you mix yourself, because he found the consistency too thick. The product says it takes 4 hours to dry which was not the case for us; we found it took at least a day and some areas needed more than one coat. But we did have some pretty substantial areas to patch. Once the patch dried, we went over the floors with a scraper to even out any remaining bits of adhesive or raised edges from the patch and made sure to clean it really well. Some of the areas were still raised after this step so we drilled floor screws in to try and flatten these spots.

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Close-up of our super damaged subfloor before scraping off excess adhesive and paper

IMG_4720Subfloor after scraping off adhesive and applying patch compound

Step 1C): Prime Surface

When the surface was as smooth as we could get it, we cleaned it really well and then primed the subfloor with special vinyl tile primer. They didn’t sell this at Home Depot and we were actually advised by someone there to just use paint primer (like what you would use for walls) on the floor to prime it before laying the tile. This didn’t sound right to my husband because the paint primer wouldn’t have had good adhesion to the patched spots, which is similar surface to cement; so we kept looking online until we found a multipurpose surface primer by TEC, which Lowe’s sold. Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered if the patched spots were minimal, but we had large sections that were patched.

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Action shot of my husband painting on primer

Step 2A): Apply Tiles

After the primer dried we were finally ready for the easy part- sticking on the tiles. This was pretty straightforward and there are lots of resources online to help with this. Basically you measure the room to find the midway point in either direction, then snap two chalk lines at these points that intersect at the centre of the floor. You put down the first tile at the centre point (without removing the backing) and do a dry run first so you can move the center tile towards either wall if necessary- like if it will make the last tile on either side of the room an awkward length. We ended up snapping an additional chalk line 12 inches off the centre line so that we could line up the offset tile for the next row as well (our tiles were 24×12 inches). Most people recommend laying the tile in sections, not in rows- this helps to keep everything lined up and squared nicely. Since the tiles were vinyl, we were able to use a heat gun and a utility knife to cut them when required. We pretty much worked outward from the centre in sections in a sort of stepwise fashion, and periodically ran over the surface with a floor roller to make sure they were really stuck on.

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Lining up the first tiles with the chalk lines

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Making sure the tiles are good and stuck with a floor roller

Step 2B): Grout Tiles (Optional)

Although you can place the tiles right next to each other without grout, we decided to use the grout because I thought that the slightly beveled edge would collect dirt if we didn’t, and also I wanted this to look as much like ceramic tile as possible. The grout was applied differently to grout you would use for ceramic tile; we used a piping bag and a grout float to get it in the cracks and wiped the excess off the tile immediately with a wet sponge so it didn’t dry.

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In Conclusion…

The end result does look pretty fabulous, but honestly it was so much more work than I had planned on, I am feeling a bit jaded about it. I should have been more realistic about how long it would take to get the old floors up and the surface prepared. This will vary from floor to floor, and it’s the kind of thing you can’t know until you start. Also, the kitchen is kind of an important room. Not having a kitchen for a few days is really inconvenient, especially if your kitchen is in the middle of the house and prevents you from going in the basement. We ended up eating a lot of take out and microwave meals while this was in progress, so if you don’t love Beefaroni like my husband does, you may want to reconsider the impact that not having an oven or stove will have on your diet.

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On the whole I would say in the future, flooring is something I would consider hiring out, and I’m not buying the perception that vinyl tile is so much easier to install than ceramic (coming from someone who has never installed ceramic…). This was also our very first flooring project, so on the flip side, maybe it was a good way to learn? It was definitely cheaper to go with vinyl tile over ceramic; we spent about $400 on the tile and the rest of the supplies, including renting a floor roller.

Do you have any stories to share of projects that seem so easy and then snowball into a horrible nightmare that won’t end? Can you assure me that the floors look awesome and this was totally worth doing? I’d love to answer any questions you have about this project!

-C

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Comments

  1. says

    Couldn’t time this any better. I just bought some of these tiles for our kitchen remodel. I feel more than confident to get this task done this weekend after reading this post. Much appreciate guys!

  2. Donna says

    I just started this same project in a bathroom (before trying the kitchen & dining room). I LOVE the tile you have (& I think it looks amazing). What is the name & maker of that time? I want to go check it out. Thanks!!!

    • Cathy says

      Hey Donna, thanks so much for your comment. We love the tiles too and they have held up pretty well. They are TrafficMaster Ceramica vinyl tile and the colour is Coastal Grey- they were only available through special order in Canada. Good luck with your project!

      • Daneil says

        Excellent Post Cathy!

        Do you recall what brand and color grout was used? Light Grey perhaps? Thanks for posting this. It’s time to redo my flooring and I was checking into various brands of vinyl tile.

        P.S. You floor looks awesome!

        • Cathy says

          Thanks! It was the grout that Home Depot sold for vinyl tile. I’m sorry I don’t remember the brand or colour but my store had very few options for vinyl tile grout, so it was the only grey they had! I’m not sure it’s still available as it was discontinued in the middle of our project and we needed to buy more, so we had to try a few stores until we found it. Hope you find what you are looking for!

  3. Lauren says

    Hi Cathy,

    Just wondering if you would be able to use the adhesive directly over the linoleum? Any additional info regarding this step would be appreciated! I’m starting this project in my kitchen that has partially old linoleum and part raw plywood. Thanks!

    • Cathy says

      Sorry for the late reply. It very much depends on how flat the surface is. Ours was cracked and peeling in places so we had to go down to the subfloor. I don’t think applying vinyl tiles over different surfaces (plywood, Lino) would work well since the tiles need a level surface for the adhesive to stick. Good luck!

    • Cathy says

      Yup I have heard that too, but our floor was not level and was peeling in places so we had to rip it up. Thanks for your comments!

      • JS says

        You can apply the floor leveler directly over the cracked vinyl to provide a smooth surface without removing the vinyl. Also, before removing vinyl floors, readers should be aware that older floors can contain asbestos, another reason not to disturb them. This was the situation I had in a home built in 1908, so we leveled and laid tile directly over the linoleum. It worked, the tile stayed stuck for over 15 years.

        • Cathy says

          That’s good to know! Something else we considered was the other rooms our kitchen abutted- the floor wouldn’t have been level at the transition if we had gone over the old flooring. Though it sure would have been less work!

  4. Ashley says

    Your floors look beautiful!! I wanted to tell Lauren that you can put it right over your old linoleum floor.. but like Cathy says it has to be level and cleaned good.. also u can fill the imperfections in on the old linoleum if u have too!! I’m sure cathys way is the better way but I have never had a problem with the way I did it ever! My mom and I did her old house and her new house this way and we did my bathroom this way… going on 5 years and it’s still perfect! But thanks for sharing Cathy, once again it is gorgeous!

  5. Trish Morrisett says

    Easiest way is to not tear up the old linoleum. Use luon over the old flooring and that will level up and prepare for the peel and stick to be applied. My kitchen was done 9 years ago and is still as nice as day 1.

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