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Carpet, Floor and Tile Installation Careers, Jobs and Training Information

Career and Job Highlights

Over 40% of carpet, floor, and tile installers and finishers are self-employed, which is almost double the average number of self-employed people for all construction workers. Most individuals in this industry do not have formal training, but gain practical experience on the job. Of these areas, carpet installation is the biggest, and so will offer the best opportunities. Most areas of construction are very sensitive to economic conditions, but carpet, floor, and tile installers and finishers are less susceptible to those.

Career Overview

Floor coverings like carpet and tile are integral both to the practical aspects and esthetic appeal of buildings. Installers and finishers put floor, wall, and ceiling coverings in both residential and commercial structures like hospitals, schools, hotels, airports, etc.

Carpet installation is the largest area within this industry. Their job is to lay carpet. First they make sure the area to be carpeted is smooth, clean, and will allow for uniform wear of the carpet. They then assess the space and calculate the amount of carpet needed. Next, installers plan how they will lay carpet, taking into account areas of maximum traffic and positioning seams to make the carpet look its best and be durable.

Most carpet installation involves wall-to-wall carpet and most customers don’t want tacks. The procedure is as follows: Firstly, carpet installers attach a tackless strip on the floor along the wall and put in padding. Then they measure, outline, and cut the carpet to the size of the room, plus a few inches for the finishing. For large rooms, installers have to specially cut and connect rolls of carpet, since most carpets come in rolls that are twelve feet wide. They fasten the seams by using a special heat-activated adhesive. A special tool called a “knee kicker” allows installers to arrange the carpet flush against the walls, removing the excess. Next they use a power stretcher to attach the carpet to the tackless strip around the edges of the room. Finally, they trim the edges around the wall.

Sometimes installers use staples instead of tackless strips on upholstery jobs, like stairs or small areas. They might also just glue the carpet or padding directly to the floor for industrial jobs.

There are many special tools that carpet installers use. A few have already been mentioned, like power stretchers, wall trimmers, and knee kickers. A few more are loop pile cutters, heat irons for seams, and carpet shears and knives. They also use more common tools like drills, staple guns, and rubber mallets.

There are a few different types of installers and finishers.

  • Floor installers/floor layers: They install strips, slabs, and sheets, of coverings to floors and cabinets. Some coverings are for aesthetic purposes only, while others have practical purposes like muffling noise, making an area airtight, or absorbing shock. They use a number of tools including sanders, knives, shears, trowels, and rollers. The first step of installing any kind of floor covering is to make sure that the surface is ready to receive the covering; and smoothing, cleaning, or repairing where it isn’t. Next they examine blueprints and measure and prepare the right amount of the covering, whether linoleum, cork, or vinyl, and any underlying material like felt. The next step is to staple, glue, or nail any foundation material like a wooden platform or padding. This underlying material can serve multiple functions. It might muffle sound or prevent uneven wear to the surface. Lastly, they install the final covering, cutting and connecting pieces to make it fit snugly.
  • Floor sanders/finishers: They smooth and sand hardwood floor coverings. First they examine the floor for any imperfections like roughness or leftover glue. They use power and hand sanders. Lastly, they spread multiple coats of hard finish over the surface.
  • Tile Installers/tilesetters/marble setters: They install tile and marble into decks, ceilings, walls, and floors. Tile is a very common material because it is long-lasting, waterproof, and low-maintenance. It’s used in many commercial buildings like offices, public buildings like hospitals, and residences, like in bathrooms or kitchens.

Firstly, tile installers inspect the space to make sure it’s level, measure, and plan how to apply the tile uniformly. Tile comes in all different sizes, from less than an inch to over a foot, and often has to be cut to fit. Tile installers either use a tacky substance called “mastic” or cement to attach the tile to the surface. Using cement first requires that a mesh support is attached to the surface to be covered. The cement is then applied to the support using a trowel. This first layer is called a “scratch coat.” Installers then score the surface using a tool that resembles a miniature rake and apply a second layer of mortar. Another layer of mortar is smoothed onto the backs of the tiles, which are then pressed into place.

When working on smooth, hard surfaces like drywall, wood, or plaster, tile installers often lay tile in “thin set”, a shallow layer of a cement adhesive or mastic. To do this, they use a trowel serrated with a serrated edge. They then install the tile in the mastic or adhesive.

Designers like to arrange different colors, sizes, and types of tile into geometric patterns or designs. When this is the case, many tilesetters will lay out the pattern on a surface before applying adhesive to make sure the pattern is right. This also gives the tilesetter the opportunity to see what tiles need to be cut or shaped to fit around fixtures, walls, doors, etc. Tilesetters can then make sure that everything is evenly positioned and then set the tile.

After the cement adhesive or mastic has been dried, tile installers fill in the gaps between tiles with a very smooth cement called grout. After it’s applied tilesetters remove the excess with a rubber grout float or a grout towel, and then use a slightly wet sponge to make the seams even and net.

Marble cutters don’t actually lay the marble; they simply prepare it and finish it. First, they cut and shape marble to fit the area to be covered. This requires skillful use of hand tools like chisels, and power tools like wet saws and other marble-cutting tools. Once the marble is installed, they use hand and power tools to scour and polish the surface until it shines.

Most carpet, floor, and tile installers and finishers work solely on interiors and so don’t have the physical rigors of working outside that many construction jobs have. They usually work a regular forty-hour workweek with typical daytime hours. However they might have to work irregular hours, for instance if they are installing carpet at a retail store and need to work when the store is closed. Most installers and finishers work only at the end of a construction project when everything else is almost finished, which makes for a better working environment than many other workers in the construction industry. Working as a carpet, floor, or tile installer or finisher is physically demanding, however. It requires long hours of working bent over or kneeling. Workers may also have to perform some heavy lifting of carpet rolls, equipment, or furniture. They might also use hazardous tools that require using safety equipment like glasses or gloves. Floor covering installers may have to deal with fumes from substances like adhesives and kinds of carpet. And while this area is not as dangerous as other areas of construction, workers still risk cuts from equipment, falls from heights, and muscle injuries.

Career Training and Job Qualifications

While some workers gain their skills from formal programs like apprenticeships, most learn on the job.

Oftentimes contractors sponsor training for carpet installers. New trainees begin as assistants and perform simple tasks like putting in padding or stretching the carpet. As they learn they will be given more responsibilities like cutting, shaping, and measuring.

In order to become a trainee an individual must be eighteen or older and be good working with their hands. In addition, some applications may involve a background check and call for a driver’s license. A high school education isn’t necessary but it is encouraged, especially if it included classes in math or shop. Also, like most jobs, being a carpet installers involves interacting with clients and so good communication skills and good manners are important.
Like carpet installers, most tilesetters and floor layers learn on the job. The first part of their training is to become familiar with the tools that they will use. They are then taught the various procedures of the trade, beginning with how to get a surface ready to be covered, then how to cut the tile or marble, how to install it, and how to finish it.

While most learn on the job, some tilesetters complete apprenticeships or courses. Most apprenticeships are sponsored by unions and so hopefuls should research their local union. They usually involve both classroom and practical instruction and last from three to four years. Also, some contractors provide training programs.

When evaluating prospective tilesetters or floor layers, most hirers choose those with high school diplomas who have taken classes in math, mechanical drawing, or have had some experience like shop class. Tilesetters or floor layers also need an eye for matching colors, be manually adroit, and be physically fit.

With experience and skill, all kinds of carpet, floor, and tile installers and finishers can be promoted to positions of greater responsibility. They might become supervisors, work in sales, or specialize in giving estimates. Large firms might have high managerial positions. Many workers who start out by working for a contractor ultimately become self-employed.

Job and Employment Opportunities

The rate of employment growth for this industry is projected to be the same as the projected rate for all industries in coming years. Most of this growth is a result of an increasing number of existing buildings that need to be renovated rather than the building of new structures. The only occupation within the industry that will grow more slowly is that of floor sanders and finishers. This is because prefinished hardwood and other prepared materials are becoming cheaper and more popular. Carpet installation, also the largest area within the industry, offers the best opportunities.

The need for carpet installers will come as a result of the increasing popularity of carpet as a floor covering. It is inexpensive and practical, and used by most residential and commercial buildings, including schools, factories, homes, clinics, and many others. Also, many houses are built with plywood floors which require wall-to-wall carpeting. And many commercial structures are built with concrete floors which similarly require carpeting. Aside from installing carpet in newly-built buildings, installers also replace carpet, which wears with time and use.

The growth projected for marble and tilesetters will be a result of the increasing population and economic growth. Both of these lead to an higher number of businesses, offices, schools, shopping malls, medical facilities, restaurants, hotels, and other buildings that use a lot of tile. As tile is being used in more construction and is becoming trendy in homes, job growth for tilesetters and marble installers will be particularly high.

Job growth for layers, sanders, and finishers of floor coverings will result from the increased amount of construction in all areas. Hardwood floors are gaining increasing popularity and many homeowners are choosing to replace their plywood floors with hardwood. However, the areas of tilesetters, marble setters, and floor layers are relatively small areas, and will not have as many employment prospects as carpet installers.

Historical Earnings Information

Carpet installers are paid hourly. The majority of workers made between roughly $11.40/h and $21.00/h in 2002, with a median of $15.70/h. The highest tenth on the pay scale earned over $27.00/h and the lowest tenth earned under $8.90/h.