How To: The Ultimate Guide to Tiling on Floorboards

From bathrooms and kitchens to bedrooms, hallways and living rooms, tiles offer a strong, durable and practical option for covering floors throughout your home. 

But, if you’re facing the prospect of tiling onto floorboards in your home, you may be wondering if this is even a possibility. The answer: yes!

While tiles and floorboards might not be the best of pals, with a little DIY know-how, they can get along harmoniously – just like you can tile over tiles and similar. 

Today, we’re here to show you how. 

From pre-tiling considerations to tiling tools and installation, this guide to tiling on top of floorboards will bust the myth that tiles and floorboards don’t mix. Giving you all the essential know-how needed for laying tiles on floorboards, getting a smooth, durable and crack-free finish is easy with this guide.

Tilling over floorboards: what’s the problem?

Whether you live in a period home with original wooden floorboards or a new build with chipboard under the carpets, if you’re keen to make the switch to tiles, wooden flooring can cause a few initial issues.

So, before we get into the nitty-gritty of tiling on wooden floors, it’s important to understand why these two flooring options don’t always see eye to eye and why tiling over floorboards can be something of a challenge.

Wooden flooring is often found in bathrooms and kitchens – areas of the home which are better suited to durable and waterproof tiled surfaces. However, laying tiles on floorboards (rather than ripping them up and replacing them with concrete) is possible. The key is in the installation. 

Wood’s flexible and uneven nature makes it more susceptible to movement underfoot. In contrast, tiles are incredibly hard and unyielding in their composition.

This contradiction of properties can cause tiles and grout to crack or lift over time. But with some simple DIY prep, you can create a smooth and rigid surface that’s perfect for floor tiling.

DIY guide: tiling on floorboards

DIY tiling tools on floorboards

Image by cetteup on Unsplash

Equipment & tools checklist

  • Floor tiles
  • Flexible tile backer boards or 12mm plywood
  • Caulking gun and quick grip adhesive
  • Flexible tile adhesive and grout
  • Notched tiling trowel
  • Rubber grout float
  • Manual or electric tile cutter 
  • Diamond drill discs and blade with electric grinder
  • Electric drill and mixing nozzle 
  • Mixing buckets 
  • Sponges
  • Tile spacers 
  • Short, countersunk screws
  • Electric cordless screwdriver
  • Spirit level
  • Measuring tape
  • Pencil 

Floor preparation 101

The key to successfully laying tiles on wooden floors is in the preparation work. Follow these simple steps for preparing your floors for tiles and you should be left with a stunning and professional finish: 

1) Measure up 

Before you begin tiling over your floorboards, measure the floor and calculate how many square metres of tiles you’ll need – multiply the length of the area by the width. 

When choosing your tiles, make sure you’re buying floor tiles that are designed to be incredibly strong and durable to withstand heavy footfall and impacts. 

2) Get creaks under control

Next, you need to fix any creaks and loose floorboards. Clear the furniture from the room and have a good stamp around on the floor, marking any floorboards which are flexing or creaking under weight with a pencil. 

Once you’ve identified the troublemakers, you’ll need to solidify the surface and reduce movement. 

To further secure floorboards, screw into the floor joists that run perpendicular to the floorboards – these can be identified by existing nails fixing the floorboards in place. Use short, countersunk screws to avoid hitting any pipes or wires under the floor and leaving bumps on the upper surface.

3) Choose your tiling board

You’ll need to cover your floorboards with a rigid and smooth surface to prepare it for tiling. Traditionally, 12mm thick plywood was the way to go, but this can raise the floor height of the room by around 1.5cm once tiled.

Alternatively, you can opt for thinner, specialist tile backer boards that offer excellent rigidity and a consistent floor height, as well as built-in flexibility. 

4) Lay your tiling boards

Before you lay your boards, give the floor a good clean.

Measure plywood or backer boards and cut them to size to ensure the entire area to be tiled is covered. Start in an open corner and work your way across the room, cutting the more awkward pieces to fit the opposite wall as you go. 

To lay your first board, use a caulking gun with quick grip adhesive to apply a line around the back of the board’s edge, working your way into the centre to give even adhesive coverage.

Lay the boarding adhesive side down, making sure it’s lined up with the edges of the floor. Use your foot to tap the board down and make sure it’s firmly adhered to the floorboards underneath. 

Immediately after, permanently fix the boarding into place with some short countersunk screws and an electric cordless screwdriver. Insert screws in an even, grid-like pattern across the board, including each corner to prevent the edges from lifting. 

With plywood, you can screw straight through and into the wood, but with tile backer boards, you should make pilot holes beforehand to prevent the material from splitting.

Repeat this process until you’ve covered the whole floor with your tiling board, applying adhesive to the board edges to avoid protruding edges.

5) Prime the surface

The last step before tiling a wooden floor is to apply an even coat of diluted SBR primer and allow it to dry. This will create the perfect grippy surface for your tiling adhesive to stick to.

Floor tile installation

Once your boarding is all in place, you should have a smooth, firm and flat surface for laying your tiles over floorboards. This means you’re ready to start installing your floor tiles:

1) Find the centre

When tiling floors, you should always start in the centre of the room and work your way outwards, ensuring the pattern looks even and you’re not left with small, messy cuts around the sides.

To find your starting point, measure both the length and width of the floor, marking where the two lines cross. This will be your centre point and where you lay your first tile. From here, you will lay a full row out to one edge, then fill in the rows up out to each corner.

2) Plan your design

With your central point marked out, you can then figure out how you want to lay your tiles onto floorboards by pre-planning your tile pattern. 

A dry run design gives you the chance to play around with tile positioning to get the design just how you want it, as well as to get ahead with pre-cutting edge tiles so they can all be laid in one go. 

3) Mix and lay

Prepare your tile adhesive using a mixing bucket, cold water and electric mixing tool to create a smooth paste. 

Working a square metre at a time, apply an even layer of tile adhesive onto your boards and use the notched edge of the trowel to create the grooves. Gently press your tile into the adhesive, making sure it’s straight and level, then lay the next tile using plastic tile spacers between each edge. 

4) Grout and seal

Once your adhesive has set and tiles are firmly in place, you can grout and seal your floor tiles. 

When tiling a wooden floor, always use a flexible tile adhesive and grout to reduce the risk of cracking. 

To apply grout, use a rubber float to push the paste all the way down into the tile joints, then use a slightly damp sponge to gently wipe over the joints for a smooth finish. Before the grout’s completely dry, use a damp sponge to go over the area again to remove excess grout. Then repeat this process a few times once they’re fully dry to get rid of the cloudy residue.

To seal the floor edges, opt for a silicone sealant rather than solid filler. This will allow your tiles to flex as you walk over them, rather than pulling away from the wall or skirting board and cracking.

The key to successfully tiling on floorboards is all about understanding how the two materials interact. By providing the right balance between flexibility and rigidity through thorough preparation and the correct installation, you can tile on top of floorboards like a pro. 

Shop our full range of durable floor tiles online now and find the perfect solution for your next DIY project.

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