It is often going to be fairly time consuming and costly to install new hardwood flooring, but tile can be just as tough. So, you might be wondering how to connect these two different materials properly. Fortunately, there’s a way to work around uneven hardwood and tile floors. We have carefully researched how to make the tile flush with neighboring hardwood.
In order to make your tile flooring level with your hardwood floor, there are several steps you can take to even them out both vertically and horizontally:
- Use a different tile material
- Remove existing flooring
- Replace the tile’s backer board
- Reduce a plywood underlay or subfloor
- Install a transition piece
It’s important to put in the time, effort, and money to even out floors that you’ll have to live with every single day. So, keep reading to learn how to adjust the height of a tile floor, how to install a transition strip, and how to style your floors so that the end result looks gorgeous too.
How to match tile height to hardwood
Most of the time, you’ll find that it’s much easier to adjust the height of your tile flooring instead of the height of a hardwood floor. That’s because there aren’t many layers to a hardwood floor, and the thickness of the wood tends to be uniform, no matter what species you’re working with.
In other words, it’s best to install the hardwood floor first and then match the tile height to that measurement. Just bear in mind that it is usually easier to raise a tile floor than to lower it.
What to do if the tile is higher than hardwood?
There are many different layers when you install a new tile floor, and most of the time, you can adjust them between standardized sizes. Basically, you should consider the surface layer first and then work your way down. This is because each subsequent layer will become increasingly difficult to replace or work with.
Use a different tile material
It may be difficult to put function before style, but choosing a different material for your tile floor can make a significant difference. To begin with, many tiles made of natural stone can have strange levels of thickness. Because natural stone isn’t manufactured to size like vinyl tiles, it can often result in an awkward height for your floor.
However, it’s very important to remember that different types of tile will require a certain amount of thin-set mortar. Thin-set is essentially just a cement-based glue for your tiles, and there are often two layers of this for natural tiles.
But the necessary amount of thin-set can change between different kinds of tile. You can always try to select a tile material that won’t demand as much thin-set, which will result in a shorter floor.
Also, you can find peel and stick vinyl tiles that are self-adhesive. These actually require you to remove any existing adhesive, so you won’t have the thickness of any thin-set in your way. That may also reduce the height of your tiles just enough.
You can watch this video on YouTube to see how peel and stick tiles work:
Remove existing flooring
Sometimes, it can be easy to install tile flooring on top of an existing floor. This is often done when you’re working on top of laminate floors or other floating floor types.
Fortunately, floating floors are not secured directly to the subfloor. They are simply held together by a tongue and groove system, so removing the planks is easy. If your floor seems too high, someone before you might have added tiles on top of a floor you just don’t need.
Replace the tile’s backer board
The backer board is also known as a cement board and is usually further equipped to resist moisture for areas like the bathroom or kitchen. This makes backer boards an ideal buffer on top of subfloors that are only made of wood.
While it’s important to use a backer board that is at least a quarter of an inch thick, you can freely use higher measurements than that. This makes it a great way to raise the floor. But if you want to reduce the height, you may want to double-check that your existing backer board is a minimum thickness.
Reduce a plywood underlay or subfloor
Now you’ve reached the last resort because subfloors will require you to dig beneath every floor layer. However, it may be absolutely necessary in some cases. Most of the time, the subfloor is what will really dictate the height of your surface layer.
If you have a plywood subfloor, the standard thickness is typically half an inch or a quarter of an inch. You can raise or lower the entire floor by using the larger or smaller thickness.
Similarly, you can use a different size for your underlay. But if your subfloor is cement, you can potentially remove the plywood underlay altogether if you replace it with the appropriate layers.
How do you fill gaps between wood floors and tiles?
Aside from height, there are ways to make your tile flush with a hardwood floor. Wood floors require an expansion gap, which allows them the breathing room to expand when humidity levels change.
But you can comfortably fill a large gap between wood floors and tiles without sacrificing that necessary space. The best way to do that is to install a transition strip, which is a long strip of wood that bridges two floors.
Are transition strips necessary?
Transition strips aren’t always necessary because there are a couple of alternatives. However, they tend to be the most effective.
This is especially true when you have a hardwood floor that is taller than its neighbor. That’s because there are actually sloped transition strips that create a long, smooth ramp descending from the hardwood. These are usually referred to as reducer moldings.
Even Home Depot suggests some transition strips to bridge a tiled floor to wood. You can watch this short YouTube video to quickly get an idea of how transition strips look and function:
How much gap do you need for a transition strip?
The bare minimum for an expansion gap is a quarter-inch, but most people give their wood at least half an inch to expand. So, the ideal gap for your transition strip should measure around a quarter of an inch on either side of the center.
However, a conventional transition strip for level ground has a different base, requiring at least one inch. Also, there are multiple kinds of reducer moldings, and each may require a different gap size. This can sometimes measure as high as two and three-quarter inches. You can read the post How Much Space To Leave For A Transition Strip for more details.
What glue do you use for transition strips?
Most of the time, you’ll be able to screw in a metal track that will allow your transition strip to snap right into place. However, you may need to use a tough construction adhesive for reducer moldings. While Liquid Nails is popular, it can sometimes be a little too runny and not cure quite right. So, you can also use thicker brands such as Loctite PL adhesive.
Can you grout between hardwood and tile?
It usually isn’t the best idea to use grout between hardwood and tile. Floor grout is usually sanded, which can damage the wood. And the height between the wood and the tile needs to be perfectly even, or the sealer will look pretty strange. Most importantly, the hardwood still needs the elbow room of that expansion gap.
However, it’s possible to use some grout between the wood and tile and then apply silicone caulk that’s painted to look like the grout. That way, the wood can still expand when it needs to. You can read the post Can You Tile Without Grout? [And Here's How] if you want to learn how to avoid grout altogether.
Should tile run in the same direction as a wood floor?
The direction of your wooden floors is determined by the floor joists because your floorboards need the maximum amount of stability. However, tile doesn’t require any kind of direction. If you want to highlight the pattern of the tiles, you can run them perpendicular to the wood. But if you prefer a consistent look over a modular one, you should run your tile in the same direction.
Do wood and tile look good together?
Different wood species are naturally darker or lighter, but they can even have undertones. As such, you can even coordinate the tile so that it blends in with the temperature of the wood or its various undertones.
There are so many different kinds of tile flooring; it is easy to find a style that will pair nicely with a wooden neighbor. Tile can also help balance out the wood floor as you transition to the bathroom or kitchen. Otherwise, the amount of neutral brown can begin to feel overwhelming. Then again, you can still use a new wood stain to help create a smoother bridge between the wood floor and the tile.
What kind of tile looks good with wood floors?
For an easy match, you can actually find tiles that have a wood look. These tiles have a surface that intentionally resembles wood. But if you don’t want to lean into nature so much, you can use neutrals to safely separate the flooring.
After all, brown is nearly neutral. You can use bold, pure neutrals like white or black to create contrast without losing a sense of balance. Neutrals have no true color and will work with just about anything, especially each other.
Installing a new floor can be a very frustrating process, especially if your fresh tiles aren’t quite lining up with the hardwood. But now, you have the means to adjust the tile height and close the gap between them. So, once you’ve identified which method is best for your floors, you won’t have to worry about tripping on that higher level, and the floor plan will smoothly connect.