Job Descriptions, Definitions Roles, Responsibility: Carpet, Floor, and Tile Installers and Finishers

Carpet, tile, and other types of floor coverings not only serve an important basic function in buildings, but their decorative qualities also contribute to the appeal of the buildings. Carpet, floor, and tile installers and finishers lay these floor coverings in homes, offices, hospitals, stores, restaurants, and many other types of buildings. Tile also is installed on walls and ceilings.

Before installing carpet, carpet installers first inspect the surface to be covered to determine its condition and, if necessary, correct any imperfections that could show through the carpet or cause the carpet to wear unevenly. They must measure the area to be carpeted and plan the layout, keeping in mind expected traffic patterns and placement of seams for best appearance and maximum wear.

When installing wall-to-wall carpet without tacks, installers first fasten a tackless strip to the floor, next to the wall. They then install the padded cushion or underlay. Next, they roll out, measure, mark, and cut the carpet, allowing for 2 to 3 inches of extra carpet for the final fitting. Using a device called a “knee kicker,” they position the carpet, stretching it to fit evenly on the floor and snugly against each wall and door threshold. They then cut off the excess carpet. Finally, using a power stretcher, they stretch the carpet, hooking it to the tackless strip to hold it in place. The installers then finish the edges using a wall trimmer.

Because most carpet comes in 12-foot widths, wall-to-wall installations require installers to join carpet sections together for large rooms. The installers join the sections using heat-taped seams—seams held together by a special plastic tape that is activated by heat.

On special upholstery work, such as stairs, carpet may be held in place with staples. Also, in commercial installations, carpet often is glued directly to the floor or to padding that has been glued to the floor.

Carpet installers use handtools such as hammers, drills, staple guns, carpet knives, and rubber mallets. They also may use carpetlaying tools, such as carpet shears, knee kickers, wall trimmers, loop pile cutters, heat irons, and power stretchers.

Floor installers, or floor layers, apply blocks, strips, or sheets of shock-absorbing, sound-deadening, or decorative coverings to floors and cabinets using rollers, knives, trowels, sanding machines, and other tools. Some floor covering materials are designed to be purely decorative. Others have more specialized purposes, such as to deaden sound, to absorb shocks, or to create air-tight environments. Before installing the floor, floor layers inspect the surface to be covered and, if necessary, correct any imperfections in order to start with a smooth, clean foundation. They measure and cut floor covering materials, such as rubber, vinyl, linoleum, or cork, and any foundation material, such as felt, according to designated blueprints. Next, they may nail or staple a wood underlayment to the surface or may use an adhesive to cement the foundation material to the floor; the foundation helps to deaden sound and prevents the top floor covering from wearing at board joints. Finally, floor layers install the top covering. They join sections of sheet covering by overlapping adjoining edges and cutting through both layers with a knife to form a tight joint.

Floor sanders and finishers scrape and sand wooden floors to smooth surfaces using floor-sanding machines. They then inspect the floor for smoothness and remove excess glue from joints using a knife or wood chisel and may sand wood surfaces by hand, using sandpaper. Finally, they apply coats of finish.

Tile installers, tilesetters, and marble setters apply hard tile and marble to floors, walls, ceilings, and roof decks. Tile is durable, impervious to water, and easy to clean, making it a popular building material in hospitals, tunnels, lobbies of buildings, bathrooms, and kitchens.

Prior to installation, tilesetters use measuring devices and levels to ensure that the tile is placed in a consistent manner. To set tile, which generally ranges in size from 1 inch to 12 or more inches square, tilesetters use cement or “mastic,” a very sticky paste. When using cement, tilesetters nail a support of metal mesh to the wall or ceiling to be tiled. They use a trowel to apply a cement mortar—called a “scratch coat”—onto the metal screen, and scratch the surface of the soft mortar with a small tool similar to a rake. After the scratch coat has dried, tilesetters apply another coat of mortar to level the surface, and then apply mortar to the back of the tile and place it onto the surface.

To set tile in mastic or a cement adhesive, called “thin set,” tilesetters need a flat, solid surface such as drywall, concrete, plaster, or wood. They use a tooth-edged trowel to spread mastic on the surface or apply cement adhesive, and then properly position the tile.

Because tile varies in color, shape, and size, workers sometimes prearrange tiles on a dry floor according to a specified design. This allows workers to examine the pattern and make changes. In order to cover all exposed areas, including corners and around pipes, tubs, and wash basins, tilesetters cut tiles to fit with a machine saw or a special cutting tool. Once the tile is placed, they gently tap the surface with their trowel handle or a small block of wood to seat the tile evenly.

When the cement or mastic has set, tilesetters fill the joints with “grout,” which is very fine cement. They then scrape the surface with a rubber-edged device called a grout float or a grouting trowel to dress the joints and remove excess grout. Before the grout sets, they finish the joints with a damp sponge for a uniform appearance. Marble setters cut and set marble slabs in floors and walls of buildings. They trim and cut marble to specified size using a power wet saw, other cutting equipment, or handtools. After setting the marble in place, they polish the marble to high luster using power tools or by hand.