Vinyl tile expansion gap — do you need one?

Last Updated on March 13, 2021 by Dave Farquhar

When you install laminate and other types of snap-together floating floors, you need to leave an expansion gap between the floor and the wall. Most people know this. So it stands to reason that you need a vinyl tile expansion gap too. But do you?

It depends on the type of vinyl floor.

Peel and stick vinyl and expansion gaps

vinyl tile expansion gap
This is what happens when you leave an expansion gap in peel and stick vinyl tile. It shifts.

With peel and stick vinyl tile and planks, you absolutely, positively do not want an expansion gap. Otherwise the tiles separate and you end up with a floor that looks like the one on the right. Vinyl peel and stick tile does not expand and contract independently of the subfloor you stick it to.

Lay the peel and stick tiles tight up against the wall. You don’t have to cut the tiles to match the wall with laser precision, but if you leave a quarter-inch gap between an edge tile and the wall like you would with a floating floor, that tile is going to creep over to the wall, and you’ll end up with a gap in your floor.

I have a trick for dealing with gaps, but you’ll be happier with your floor if you minimize those gaps from the start.

So, to recap. Do you need a vinyl tile expansion gap here? Not with peel and stick.

Floating vinyl and expansion gaps

Tongue and groove vinyl–the kind that snaps together like laminate–is a different story. With these, you need that expansion gap, just like you do on other types of floating floors. Leave a gap of about ¼ inch between the floor and the wall on all sides. Here are some tips for leaving an expansion gap easily. This helps keep the floor from buckling and working itself apart as it expands and contracts with temperature changes.

There’s another type of vinyl you see sometimes that’s flatter, like sheet vinyl, but has a sticky side that you attach to the adjacent tile. The pieces peel and stick to each other, instead of the floor. The whole floor floats over the subfloor, just like tongue and groove vinyl. This type also needs an expansion gap.

To avoid unsightly gaps between your floor and your wall, take your baseboards off before you put the floor down, then replace the baseboards to cover the gap. If your baseboards aren’t thick enough, put some quarter-round along the edges to thicken them up.

Some people say you don’t need a gap with this type of floor, but vinyl does expand and contract. Someone who painted their vinyl siding the wrong time of year can attest.

So, let’s recap. With a floating vinyl floor, you do need a vinyl tile expansion gap.

Further reading

As a landlord, I’ve used a lot of vinyl floors. Here are my tips for getting vinyl to stick and cleaning up the glue that inevitably comes up between tiles. If it helps to make your cut lines on the front instead of the back of your tile to get the size right, here’s how.

And from a very important safety perspective, here’s how to determine if your old floor has asbestos.

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2 thoughts on “Vinyl tile expansion gap — do you need one?

  • June 13, 2018 at 10:26 am

    I am laying vinyl floating flooring in my small sailing yacht. The space is less than 4′ by 3′. I am thinking it won’t expand much since at the widest part I will still have only 6 of the 6″ wide planks. Less gap would be better for me in the yacht since I want as moisture-tight a space as possible (I chose vinyl flooring for its waterproof properties) and don’t want water getting to the underlayer.

    Am I correct in thinking I can get away with a smaller gap, perhaps 1/16″-3/16″ and filling it with a bead of silicone to allow for expansion while retaining water resistance around the edges?

    • June 16, 2018 at 2:33 pm

      If you fill the gap with silicone, you’ll cut into how much the floor can expand. I’ve only put floating floors in houses so I have no experience with it on boats. But if it were me, I’d put sheet vinyl down so I didn’t have to think about expansion and contraction.

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