Soft vinyl floor tiles are really versatile and make an excellent hard-wearing floor in any room. Some types stick to the floor with tile adhesive, while others come with a self-adhesive backing (so all you do is peel off the paper that covers them). Tiles that are pre-coated with adhesive are generally quicker to lay and don't create a mess either. They're light to work with and if you make a mistake, you only ruin one tile rather than a whole (expensive) sheet of vinyl.
What to buy
When you're working out the area of your room, remember to measure any alcove or bay separately and add it to the total. Please bear in mind that that the size and number of tiles can vary in each pack.
We'd also recommend that you buy all your tiles at the same time. It's a wise move to check the batch and item numbers are the same on each pack, as there may be slight colour differences between batches. Then, when you get home, stack the tiles in the room where you'll be laying them for 24 hours - so they become acclimatised.
Preparing the existing floor
Your existing floor must be sound, dry and level. If you want to lay new tiles over old ones, these must be firmly stuck down - otherwise, remove them. If you have a timber floor, screw down any loose boards and then lay hardboard or plywood over it.
But try not to lay tiles directly on floorboards, as the boards might start to show through and cause premature wear. If you're laying hardboard, do the smooth-side up, and fix it with 25mm ring-shanked nails.
It's worth noting that if your timber has been treated with wood preservative it won't be suitable to use as a sub-floor, even if it's overlaid - so you'll need to replace it.
Other things to remember are to make sure no nail heads are sticking out, and to seal porous surfaces like cement, plywood, hardboard or chipboard with a suitable primer.
How to set out vinyl tiles
Don't be tempted to start laying tiles along one wall and then work your way round the room - the wall might not be straight and the room probably won't be square. It's better if you find the centre point of the room and work from there towards the wall in each direction. You'll then have a symmetrical design, with no unsightly narrow gaps at the skirting.
Top tip - Tiling awkwardly-shaped rooms
If the dimensions of your room aren't regular, you'll need to snap your chalk lines from a different place. Centre the first line on a strong focal point such as a fireplace or patio doors. The room will still be divided into sections, but these will be different from each another.
First, measure one wall, work out the mid-point and mark this on the floor. Then do the same with the opposite wall. Ask someone to help you stretch a chalk line between the two marks and snap a line across the floor. Work out and mark the mid-point of this line. Next, tie about 1m of string to a pencil, and ask your helper to hold the end of the string firmly on the mid-point of the line, pull it tight and draw an arc on the line either side.
Now get your helper to hold the end of the string on the point where one arc meets the line. With the string pulled tight, draw arcs at an angle of roughly 45 degrees either side of the centre line. When you do this from the other side, the arcs should overlap.
Stretch a chalk line between these overlapping arcs and snap a line across the floor. You now have two lines intersecting at a perfect right-angle in the centre of the room.
How to lay self-adhesive vinyl tiles
When you've marked the overlapping lines, you'll need to decide the position of your first (or 'key') tile. This will help you work out where the other tiles will go. To do this, dry-lay some of the tiles from the centre line to check how they fit at the skirting.
Start at the centre line and dry-lay a row of tiles from the line to one of the walls.
When you reach the wall, check to see if you're left with a narrow gap. Try to avoid this, as a thin strip of tile at the skirting won't look great - and may not stick too well, either.
To avoid such a narrow gap, move the starting line back the width of half a tile. Next, repeat the dry-laying from the start line in the opposite direction and then towards the other two walls. Adjust the start line as needed until there's a reasonable gap of about half a tile all-round the room.
Peel the backing paper off the first tile and press its edge against the start line. Lower the rest of the tile onto the floor and press it down.
Lay the next tile on the other side of the chalk line and fit it against the first tile. Make a square with two more tiles, and then lay tiles around the square to form a pyramid shape. Continue positioning the tiles until you've covered half the room (except for the gaps at the skirting) then tile the other half. Position all the whole tiles before filling in the gaps at the edges and tackling the areas that have fittings.
To cut the tiles for the gaps at the skirting, place the tile to be cut exactly on top of the last full tile. Put another tile on top, with its edge touching the wall. Then use a chinagraph pencil to mark along the edge of the top tile on the face of the tile below.
Put the marked tile on an old piece of board. Place a straightedge along the marked line and cut part-way through the tile with a craft knife.
Break the tile by bending it at the cut line until it snaps.
With the backing paper still on, check that the cut tile will fit into the gap without being forced. Then remove the backing paper and stick it in place. Repeat the marking and cutting process all the way around the edge of the floor.
How to tile around basins and toilets
To cut a tile to fit around a large, awkward shape like a basin pedestal, you'll need to make a template out of very thin card or paper to use as a cutting guide. Depending on your tiles, the object you need to tile around and the layout of the room, you might need templates for more than one tile.
To make your template, cut a piece of thin card or paper the size of one of the tiles. Then cut slits on the side where the pedestal will fit. Next, position the template against the pedestal with the flaps fringing it. Press the flaps against the pedestal with a blunt knife. Tape the paper to the floor, and draw a pencil line where the pedestal and the floor meet.
Remove the template and cut away the flaps, leaving the pencil guideline.
Place the template on a tile. If the tiles have a directional pattern, make sure the tile you're going to cut is the right way round. Draw the guideline on the tile and then cut it with a craft knife. Finally, peel off the backing paper and fit your tile.
How to cut around pipes when laying vinyl tiles
The best way to cut a hole in a soft tile for a radiator pipe is to make a home-made punch from an off-cut of copper pipe the same size as your central heating pipe. You'll need a piece about 150mm long, and you should sharpen the inside of one end with a round metalworking file.
Start by holding the tile against the pipe, and draw a line on each side of the tile to mark its width.
Move the tile so the marked edge touches the wall. Mark on the tile the distance to the front of the pipe.
Rest the tile on a block of wood. Then position the sharpened off-cut of copper pipe where the lines meet. Hit the other end of the pipe with a hammer to punch a neat hole through the tile.
Cut a straight slit between the hole and the edge of the tile. Dry-lay to check the fit, then stick the tile firmly in place.
How to lay non-adhesive vinyl tiles
If you've decided to use non-adhesive tiles, use the glue recommended by the manufacturer and apply it according to the instructions. Check that your floor is level and free from any sign of damp. Work out the start line in the same way as for self-adhesive tiles.
Take care when using adhesives for these tiles - the solvent- and spirit-based versions are highly flammable. As their fumes soak into clothing, keep away from any fire and hang your clothes outdoors when you've finished. If there's a pilot light in the room, turn it off while you lay the floor. Open all the windows, too. Some manufacturers also recommend wearing gloves when applying floor-tile adhesive, so make sure you check the guidelines on the tin.
Top tip - Create your own floor pattern
Try combining different coloured tiles. You could choose any kind of pattern, from a simple chessboard of dark and light to more dramatic combinations of two or more colours. But whatever you decide on, make sure you draw a scale plan of the design before starting to lay your patterned tile floor.
If you're laying the tiles on a porous surface like concrete you'll need to use a primer with a paintbrush, which will seal it.
Working from the centre line; spread the tile adhesive evenly over the floor with a notched spreader. Check with the manufacturer's instructions, but for most adhesives you should cover an area big enough for about 15 minutes' work.
Carefully lay the tiles over the adhesive while it's still wet. Press the tiles into the adhesive, making sure that every part of each tile is in contact with the sub-floor. Check the tiles are level and fit them tightly up against each other.
Roll a small roller over the tiles. Try to focus on the edges and corners to make sure they're well stuck down.
If any adhesive comes through the joins, wipe it from the surface of the tiles straight away with a damp cloth or sponge. You can remove any adhesive that's started to set with white spirit. Measure up the edging tiles, cut them to size and stick them in place.