Cheap, durable vinyl composition tile, or VCT, is a common flooring choice for hospitals, schools, department stores and other high-traffic commercial locations. VCT is not common in homes, but it isn't unheard of. If you have VCT flooring in your home or business and want to lay new tile, the type of tile you select determines whether you need to remove the old VCT before getting started on your new flooring project.
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Types of Tile
While you can lay ceramic or stone tile over existing VCT flooring, doing so is not a good idea. The vinyl in VCT floors is flexible. This helps the floor withstand heavy traffic without damage. Ceramic and stone tile, however, are not flexible. If you install your new tile directly over an existing VCT floor, the movement of the VCT will eventually leave cracks in the tile and its grout. Because of the flexibility of the VCT flooring, it is unwise to install nonflexible tiles without removing the VCT. However, you can install vinyl tile over your existing VCT floor. Like VCT, vinyl tiles are flexible and will move with the flooring beneath without cracking.
When removing VCT, you must scrape the flooring away from the subfloor with a rigid floor scraper. Wedge a crow bar under stubborn sections of flooring to make scraping easier. Scraping up VCT floors by hand is a long and arduous process. Mechanical floor scrapers are just as effective as manual scrapers, and using one will allow you to remove the VCT flooring much more quickly. If you don't have time to remove your VCT flooring by hand or you simply want to avoid the intense labor that the job requires, use a mechanical floor scraper to do most of the work for you.
You must take potential asbestos exposure into consideration when determining whether to remove your VCT floor. Asbestos is a natural mineral that works well as an insulator, but it is toxic and contributes to cancer and other illnesses. Any VCT flooring installed prior to 1981 may contain asbestos. According to Princeton University, asbestos is harmless as long as it is sealed within the floor. If it's possible that your VCT floor contains asbestos and you still want to remove it, reduce your exposure by hiring a professional who has experience dealing with materials containing asbestos. Do not attempt to remove a VCT floor that may contain asbestos on your own.
If removing your VCT floor is not an option due to the risk of asbestos exposure, encapsulating the floor with concrete will seal the asbestos and the VCT floor. Because concrete is nonflexible, you can lay ceramic or stone tiles over the new concrete floor once it has set. Concrete encapsulation is an option even if your VCT floor does not contain asbestos. In some cases, concrete encapsulation is quicker and cheaper than removing the existing VCT flooring.