A laminate floor is a floating floor, which means it doesn't get nailed or glued to the subfloor. That makes it possible to install laminate over hardwood, linoleum and vinyl, and yes... you can install laminate over tile. This is great news for anyone who doesn't want to spend days chipping away at an old tile floor to remove it, which is pretty much everyone.
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This isn't to say you can install laminate over every tile floor. Some conditions apply, but most are easily addressed. One situation, however, does require more work and may call for removal of the tile: when some of the tiles are loose, chipped or broken.
If the tiles are in good condition, laying a laminate or another type of floating wood floor over tile isn't much different from laying it on a bare subfloor. However, you'll want to keep track of how much height the new flooring adds. That could create problems in doorways and at transitions to other floors.
When Laying Laminate Over Tile, the Tile Must Be Flat
You can often lay a laminate over tile without any extra effort if the tile a smooth, level, and there isn't much depth in the grout lines. You've got problems, however, if the tiles are uneven and have raised edges, or if the grout lines are wide and deep. One of the most troublesome click-lock flooring problems happens when a hump in the subfloor occurs just under a joint in the flooring, and the planks separate when you step on the joint.
Hills and valleys can be felt anywhere they present under laminate flooring. The remedy is to level the floor with leveling compound, just as you would level any subfloor. Mix the compound into flowable consistency, pour it on the tiles, and let it seek its own level, giving it a little help with a screed and a concrete float. Once the compound sets, you're good to go.
Do You Need an Underlayment?
You usually need a moisture barrier whenever you install wood flooring to prevent moisture from seeping through the subfloor and warping the flooring. In most cases, you can assume that if there isn't already a moisture barrier under the tile, the tiles themselves will provide moisture protection.
It's also a good idea to lay an underlayment under laminate flooring in order to provide insulation and cushioning. Most laminate underlayment materials provide both benefits, as well as moisture protection, and they are inexpensive. Lay the underlayment according to the product instructions after the leveling compound is dry.
What to Do If the Floor Is Too High
The combination of underlayment and flooring could raise the floor level by 1/2 inch or more, and that becomes noticeable in doorways and at transitions to other types of flooring. You may have to trim some material from the bottoms of the doors and undercut the door casing to get the flooring to fit. But what to do at the transitions?
In most cases, you address the height difference using transition strips, which are lengths of molding milled with uneven rabbets to compensate for the change in height. You can mill these yourself, using a table saw. You can also stain and finish them yourself. Another option is to have them custom made by a flooring dealer or woodworker.
Typically, you nail the transition strips to the subfloor, so you need a gap of about an inch between the two flooring materials. If you keep this in mind when you're laying the laminate floor, installing the transition strips is easy. If you forget to leave a gap, you may be able to find transition strips that you can glue to the flooring.