Installing Hardwood Against Tile Or Stone Floors
Frequently installers are asked to install wood floors against tile or stone flooring without transition pieces. How is this done and what could be the consequences in regards to any expansion and contraction? After all, the common belief or concern that all wood floors needing expansion space is almost paramount to any successful installation.
Only Fastened Hardwood Floors
For all intent and purposes this procedure only applies to floors that are fastened to the sub floor. This includes products that are nailed into wood sub floors or ones that are glued direct with adhesives. Floating floors cannot work as they perform without any mechanical fastening to sub floors. Essentially they can shift with the right amount of foot traffic.
What’s The Procedure? Best Methods?
Installers have varying methods but the general application needs several prerequisites to be done properly both aesthetically and functionally. Having a straight surface to work against will provide the cleanest appearance. In other words, the tile or stone flooring should be cut or installed straight.
Considering solid hardwood flooring does expand and contract during seasonal changes or fluctuations in relative humidity, many installers will provide a gap between the stone or tile that matches the grout joint spacing. Let’s use the example of 3/8 inch which is a common grout joint spacing for ceramic tile.
Upon fitting boards to that 3/8 inch spacing a sealer agent could be applied that will protect the edges from collecting dirt or moisture from foot traffic and maintenance. Once cured, the application of a silicone caulk matching the grout color is applied. The final outcome produces a gap that almost looks like part of the floor, while also providing some flexibility when your solid wood flooring wants to expand and contract.
Why Not Just Butt The Hardwood To The Tile?
When taking into account how hardwoods expand and contract, specifically solid flooring, it’s not uncommon to see many floors butted where the flooring runs perpendicular to the butted area. This could include front door thresholds, built in cabinetry, or other fixed and stationary elements. For any successful application, keeping an eye on what the interior relative humidity is likely to average should be considered.
As an example let’s say the site is located very close to water such as a lake or beach house. Often no central air conditioning is used and the dwelling is open to higher humidity for most of the time it is used. Butting or installing tight to such could create problems in the form of buckled floors.¹
Net fitting or installing tight with engineered products will provide higher success rates due to the construction of the material. Take a look at many hardwoods installed in commercial settings. One in particular would be shopping malls. Nearly all are engineered or constructed in cross ply fashion, almost eliminating any expansion and contraction. Yes, there may be some, but the amount is negligible.
Height Differences Of Tile And Wood Floor - Concrete
If you’re faced with a difference in vertical height or thickness of both materials, any attempt at performing this method will fail unless either the tile or hardwood is shimmed so they finish off with a smooth transition. Methods to correct can include gradual ramping of the lower side before the floor is installed. Considering most ceramic tile and it’s adhesive base measures about 3/8 of an inch vertically (concrete slab) on completion, many are limited to using 3/8” or 1/2" engineered hardwoods.
Height Differences Of Tile And Wood Floor - Wood Sub Floors
Those with basement or crawlspace type home construction, ceramic tile or stone today is installed over cement backer board. Gone are the days of using wire mesh and a mud bed that was designed to prevent premature cracking.
You could still use a solid hardwood but many are turning to engineered hardwoods; eliminating the expansion and contraction concerns. Unfortunately nearly all engineered hardwoods are too thin to meet vertically flush. Sadly the only solutions become using an ugly transition molding or adding an additional layer of plywood throughout the layout to offset the difference.
More on Same Vertical Height Differences
Mentioned previously, butting is commonplace in high end homes, even with the flooring running parallel to tiled or stone areas. Another element many face, particularly with remodels is matching hardwood when a ceramic tile backer board has or is being used. Check our video on matching hardwood with tile height that deals with adding another thin underlayment. Costs can be substantial.
Plan ahead to recognize and assess the transition if a thicker product or vice versa can best solve the chances of going without ugly wood transitions that many are turned off by.
Some Fabulous Job Examples - Curved
Following are some examples that we would like to share and give full credit to the craftsman behind the work. The source behind the work is gnearchitecture.com. We are assuming the procedure here involved installing the ceramic tile first, then a metal insert (or Schluter strip) was added to separate both tile and wood. Finally the hardwood was installed by scribing each individual board against the tile.
The next example involved a prefinished hand scraped floor glued down on concrete. Of particular interest is the feature board that was used to separate the tile and the hardwood floor. A template was made and five pieces of flooring were scribed to match the radius of the separation. This also involved installing the tile first. The tile radius was cut out with a jig.
Source of this work: HardwoodFloorandMore.com located in Shell Lake, Wisconsin
¹ Naturally, no one single job will be the same. Butting solid hardwood, specifically in the perpendicular direction has been a common application for decades with many professional installers, particularly with high end homes.