I was recently asked if you can install ceramic tile over an old vinyl floor without tearing it up. The short answer is, yes- with the right preparation you can.
The method you use for preparing the floor will be determined by the type of sub-floor you have in your home. You will need to find out if the floor under your vinyl is a concrete floor or a wood floor. Once you know this you will know how to proceed.
Method for installing ceramic tile over vinyl flooring with a concrete sub floor
If you have a concrete sub floor the task should be fairly simple. Carefully clean the grime and old wax off the floor using a strong ammonia based cleaner (I use ammonia 1:1, but be sure to have the windows open and fans running). After the floor has dried, inspect the vinyl to make sure it is firmly attached to the concrete, if not, carefully remove any areas that have curled or bubbled, tapering the edges as you cut out the bad sections so you have a good transition.
Note that flooring installed in or before 1980 may contain asbestos in the vinyl or adhesives, after 1980 it won’t unless the installer used old materials.
Next test for adhesion. Apply a test area of thin set mortar with an acrylic additive and let it dry. If it doesn’t stick well, you may need to rough up the vinyl surface by sanding or use a mastic based adhesive. My favorite is adhesive is Universal multi purpose for wall and floor tile.
It works exceptionally well, although it is a bit more expensive.
Once you are satisfied with the adhesive test you can proceed with installing your new ceramic tile. One other quick note, most newer vinyl floors have a felt backing, this makes a nice crack suppressant on concrete sub floors. Just another reason why you many not want to remove it.
Method for installing ceramic tile over vinyl flooring with a wood sub floor.
Installing ceramic tile on a wood sub floor is a bit more challenging. Ceramic tile needs a firm base to prevent cracking of tile and grout. The first thing you need to do is determine the thickness of your sub floor.
If you have floor registers, you can remove one and check for floor thickness. A second method would be to check where plumbing penetrates the floor.
Next, determine the size and spacing of your floor joists, they are commonly either 16″ or 24″ on center be their depth is determined by their length. You can check the floor joists through an opening that accesses the crawlspace under your house.
Rule of thumb; If your floor joists are 16″ on center you should have at least 1- 1/8 in of sub floor thickness, if they are 24″ on center you will need at least 1- 1/2″ of sub floor thickness. To firm up your sub floor you can glue and screw cement board to the existing floor.
Something else to consider when deciding to install ceramic tile on a wood sub floor; how much will your flooring transition change from room to room by adding to the floor thickness. Let’s look at a worst case scenario, if you have a 3/4″ plywood sub floor, the vinyl was install with out any under layment and your floor joists are 24″ on center. In this case you should add 3/4 of an inch of cement board. Now add to that the thickness of your floor tile and adhesive commonly 1/2 inch for 12 x12 and larger floor tile (a bit less for smaller bathroom floor tile). You could be raising the transition an inch or more and that could become a trip hazard.
The good news is that if your sub flooring is thick enough you can lay the tile directly over the vinyl, just follow the instructions for installing with a concrete sub floor.
I recently installed tile on a bathroom floor that was wood on wood with no vinyl. The sub floor was 3/4″ T&G with a finish floor of 3/4″ T&G. I did add 1/4″ hardi backer because I thought it would make for a better install.
So there is the short and the long of it.
Until next time…
Life is simple…Enjoy the journey!