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Tile Installer


Significant Points

  • Around two-fifths of all carpet, floor, and tile installers and finishers are self-employed.
  • Most workers learn on the job.
  • Tile installers and setters will see the fastest growth; carpet installers will have the most job openings.
  • Employment of carpet, floor, and tile installers and finishers is less sensitive to fluctuations in construction activity than that of other construction trades workers.

Nature of the Work

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 may be 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 hand tools 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 and floor layers lay floor coverings such as laminate, linoleum, vinyl, cork, and rubber for decorative purposes, or to deaden sounds, absorb shocks, or create air-tight environments. Although they also may install carpet, wood or tile, that is not their main job. 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 according to plans or 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 floor covering to form a tight fit.

After a carpenter installs a new hardwood floor or when a customer wants to refinish an old wood floor, floor sanders and finishers are called in to smooth any imperfections in the wood and apply finish coats of varnish or polyurethane. To remove imperfections and smooth the surface, they will scrape and sand wooden floors using floor-sanding machines. They then inspect the floor and remove excess glue from joints using a knife or wood chisel and may further sand the 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, countertops, and roof decks. Tile and marble are durable, impervious to water, and easy to clean, making them 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. Tile varies in color, shape, and size, ranging in size from 1 inch to 24 or more inches on a side, so tilesetters sometimes prearrange tiles on a dry floor according to the intended design. This allows them to examine the pattern, check that they have enough of each type of tile, and determine where they will have to cut tiles to fit the design in the available space. 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. To set tile on a flat, solid surface such as drywall, concrete, plaster, or wood, tilesetters first use a tooth-edged trowel to spread a “thin set,” or thin layer, of cement adhesive or “mastic,” a very sticky paste. They then properly position the tile and gently tap the surface with their trowel handle, rubber mallet, and/or a small block of wood to seat the tile evenly and firmly.

To apply tile to an area that lacks a solid surface, tilesetters nail a support of metal mesh or tile backer board 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 a brown coat of mortar to level the surface, and then apply mortar to the brown coat and place tile it onto the surface.

When the cement or mastic has set, tilesetters fill the joints with “grout,” which is very fine cement and includes sand for joints 1/8th of an inch and larger. They then apply the grout to 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.


Working Conditions

Carpet, floor, and tile installers and finishers generally work indoors and have regular daytime hours. However, when floor covering installers need to work in occupied stores or offices, they may work evenings and weekends to avoid disturbing customers or employees. Installers and finishers usually work under better conditions than do most other construction workers. By the time workers install carpets, flooring, or tile in a new structure, most construction has been completed and the work area is relatively clean and uncluttered. Installing these materials is labor intensive; workers spend much of their time bending, kneeling, and reaching—activities that require endurance. Carpet installers frequently lift heavy rolls of carpet and may move heavy furniture. Safety regulations may require that they wear kneepads or safety goggles when using certain tools. Carpet and floor layers may be exposed to fumes from various kinds of glue and to fibers of certain types of carpet.

Although workers are subject to cuts from tools or materials, falls from ladders, and strained muscles, the occupation is not as hazardous as some other construction occupations.


Employment

Carpet, floor, and tile installers and finishers held about 184,000 jobs in 2004. About 42 percent of all carpet, floor, and tile installers and finishers were self-employed, compared with 19 percent of all construction trades workers. The following tabulation shows 2004 wage and salary employment by specialty:





7,000
Tile and marble setters44,000
Carpet installers41,000
Floor layers, except carpet, wood, and hard tiles16,000
Floor sanders and finishers


Many carpet installers work for flooring contractors or floor covering retailers. Most salaried tilesetters are employed by tilesetting contractors who work mainly on nonresidential construction projects, such as schools, hospitals, and office buildings. Most self-employed tilesetters work on residential projects.

Although carpet, floor, and tile installers and finishers are employed throughout the Nation, they tend to be concentrated in populated areas where there are high levels of construction activity.


Training

The vast majority of carpet, floor, and tile installers and finishers learn their trade informally on the job. A few, mostly tile setters, learn through formal apprenticeship programs taking nearly 3 years to complete, which include on-the-job training as well as related classroom instruction.

Informal training for carpet installers often is sponsored by individual contractors. Workers start as helpers, and begin with simple assignments, such as installing stripping and padding, or helping to stretch newly installed carpet. With experience, helpers take on more difficult assignments, such as measuring, cutting, and fitting.

Tile and marble setters also learn their craft mostly through on-the-job training. They start by helping carry materials and learning about the tools of the trade. They then learn to prepare the subsurface for tile or marble. As they progress they learn to cut the tile and marble to fit the job. They will also learn to apply grout and sealants used in finishing the materials to give it its final appearance. Apprenticeship programs and some contractor-sponsored programs provide comprehensive training in all phases of the tilesetting and floor layer trades.

Floor layers, except carpet, wood, and hard tile, learn on the job and begin by learning how to use the tools of the trade. They next learn to prepare surfaces to receive flooring. As they progress, they learn to cut and install the various floor coverings.

Some skills needed to become carpet, floor, and tile installers and finishers include manual dexterity, eye-hand coordination, physical fitness, and a good sense of balance and color. The ability to solve arithmetic problems quickly and accurately also is required. In addition, reliability and a good work history is viewed favorably by contractors.

Carpet, floor, and tile installers and finishers may advance to positions as supervisors or become salespersons or estimators. In these positions, they should be able to identify and estimate the quantity of materials needed to complete a job, and accurately estimate how long a job will take to complete and at what cost.

Some carpet installers may become managers for large installation firms. Many carpet, floor, and tile installers and finishers who begin working for someone else eventually go into business for themselves as independent subcontractors. Around two-fifths of all carpet, floor, and tile installers and finishers are self-employed.

For those who would like to advance, it is increasingly important to be able to communicate in both English and Spanish in order to relay instructions and safety precautions to workers with limited understanding of English; Spanish-speaking workers make up a large part of the construction workforce in many areas. Workers who want to advance supervisor jobs or become contractors need good English skills to deal with clients and subcontractors.


Other Qualifications

Advancement

Job Outlook

Employment of carpet, floor, and tile installers and finishers is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through the year 2014, reflecting the continued need to renovate and refurbish existing structures. Job growth and opportunities, however, will differ among the individual occupations. Tile and marble setters will have faster than average job growth and excellent job opportunities as demand for these workers outstrips the supply; however, because it is a small occupation, job openings will be limited. Carpet installers, the largest specialty, should have the most job openings due to high turnover in this occupation. Employment of floor sanders and finishers—a small specialty—is projected to grow more slowly than average due to the increasing use of prefinished hardwood and laminate flooring.

Carpet is expected to increasingly be used as a floor covering in nonresidential structures such as schools, offices, and hospitals. Residential homes will also continue to use carpet in many areas of the house, although other flooring types are currently more popular. Carpet is also required or highly recommended in many multifamily structures as it provides sound dampening.

Demand for tile and marble setters will stem from population and business growth, which will result in more construction of shopping malls, hospitals, schools, restaurants, and other structures in which tile is used extensively. Tile is also becoming more popular as a building material in residential structures, particularly in the growing number of more expensive homes.

Demand for floor sanders and finishers will be primarily based on growth in the residential construction and remodeling market, as homeowners increasingly choose hardwood as their flooring of choice. The need to periodically refinish older wood floors will also continue to generate demand, but growth will be slowed by the use of more prefinished hardwood and more durable finishes and laminate products that look like wood. Slow employment growth, together with the small size of this occupation, will result in relatively few job openings for these workers.

Employment of carpet, floor, and tile installers and finishers is less sensitive to changes in construction activity than most other construction occupations because much of the work involves replacing worn carpet and other flooring in existing buildings. As a result, these workers tend to be less affected by slowdowns in new construction activity.


Earnings

In May 2004, the median hourly earnings of carpet installers were $16.39. The middle 50 percent earned between $11.94 and $22.20. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $9.16, and the top 10 percent earned more than $29.27. In May 2004, median hourly earnings of carpet installers were $16.55 working for building finishing contractors, and $15.43 for home furnishings stores.

Carpet installers are paid either on an hourly basis, or by the number of yards of carpet installed. The rates vary widely depending on the geographic location and whether the installer is affiliated with a union.

Median hourly earnings of floor layers except carpet, wood, and hard tiles were $15.68 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $11.80 and $20.93. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $8.98, and the top 10 percent earned more than $28.09.

Median hourly earnings of floor sanders and finishers were $12.88 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $10.30 and $16.47. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $8.91, and the top 10 percent earned more than $21.03.

Median hourly earnings of tile and marble setters were $17.02 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $12.69 and $22.59. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $9.85, and the top 10 percent earned more than $29.35. Earnings of tile and marble setters also vary greatly by geographic location and by union membership status.

Apprentices and other trainees usually start out earning about half of what an experienced worker earns, although their wage rate increases as they advance through the training program.

Some carpet, floor, and tile installers and finishers belong to the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America. Some tilesetters belong to the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftsmen, while some carpet installers belong to the International Brotherhood of Painters and Allied Trades.


Related Occupations

Carpet, floor, and tile installers and finishers measure, cut, and fit materials to cover a space. Workers in other occupations involving similar skills, but using different materials, include brickmasons, blockmasons, and stonemasons; carpenters; cement masons, concrete finishers, segmental pavers, and terrazzo workers; drywall installers, ceiling tile installers, and tapers; painters and paperhangers; roofers; and sheet metal workers.


Sources of Additional Information

For details about apprenticeships or work opportunities, contact local flooring or tilesetting contractors or retailers, locals of the unions previously mentioned, or the nearest office of the State apprenticeship agency or employment service.


For general information about the work of carpet installers and floor layers, contact:

* Floor Covering Installation Contractors Association, 7439 Milwood Dr., West Bloomfield, MI 48322.


Additional information on training for carpet installers and floor layers is available from:

* Joint Apprenticeship and Training Fund, International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, 1750 New York Ave. NW., Washington, DC 20006. Internet: http://www.jatf.org


For general information about the work of tile installers and finishers, contact:

* International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers, International Masonry Institute, The James Brice House, 42 East St., Annapolis, MD 21401. Internet: http://www.imiweb.org

* National Association of Home Builders, Home Builders Institute, 1201 15th St. NW., Washington, DC 20005. Internet: http://www.hbi.org


For more information about tile setting and tile training, contact:

* National Tile Contractors Association, P.O. Box 13629, Jackson, MS 39236.


For information concerning training of carpet, floor, and tile installers and finishers, contact:

* United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, 50 F St. NW., Washington, DC 20001. Internet: http://www.carpenters.org


Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition, Carpet, Floor, and Tile Installers and Finishers, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos203.htm (visited July 27, 2006)



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