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Tile to Hardwood Transition: The Ultimate Flooring Guide

Tile to Hardwood Transition: The Ultimate Flooring Guide
January 17, 2022

In the ideal home, flooring transitions seamlessly from one room to another, with no visible gaps or clashing interruptions between living spaces. However, even a well-planned home may have multiple flooring types on one level, highlighting the importance of a well-made flooring transition. One of the most noticeable types is transitions from tile to hardwood floors, such as that found between a living room and a kitchen. Understand the specifics of both flooring types and the different kinds of transition pieces and learn how to plan and install them in your house.

The Importance of Planning

Sizing and installing floor transitions yourself is a cost-effective way of completing your DIY flooring project. However, it requires careful planning, the right set of transition pieces, and proper accounting for elevation, as different floor coverings result in varying floor heights. Typically, a hardwood floor, whether engineered or solid, is relatively predictable; the subfloor supports an underlayment, such as felt, foam, or sound-dampening rubber on which the hardwood elements are installed. The thickness of these elements is generally the same across the entire room, resulting in an even, uniform height. In contrast, tile floors are not only slightly higher than adjacent hardwood floors, but their height may also vary within the same room. Tile flooring requires multiple substrate layers, which may differ between houses.

Underlayment may be the classic mortar bed, exterior-grade plywood, or cement-based backer board. In houses with a concrete foundation, tile flooring may even be installed directly onto the concrete slab, with no underlayment. Professionally tiled floors use uniformly laid mortar beds and tools such as tile leveling spacers to ensure all tiles are perfectly level and at even height. However, such work can be challenging to do DIY style, often resulting in flooring projects with uneven tiles.

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Types of Transition Pieces

Regardless of the reason behind height differences, you must be aware of the height of your flooring between each room and plan your transition pieces accordingly.

Transition Strips

Transition Strips

A transition strip is a piece of wood or aluminum specifically designed to be installed between floors of different heights. They are reasonably inexpensive, and you can easily cut and size them to match your flooring with an appropriate saw. Installation requires little more than a hammer and nails or a drill and screws.

Wood strips are a better choice if you want them to match your hardwood floors. They are typically unfinished, letting you stain, paint, or varnish them at your convenience.

In contrast, aluminum strips are a little more durable and have a pleasing, uniform look that better suits tile floors. Transition strips are available in all kinds of shapes, each with a specific purpose:

  • T-bar strip: T-bar transition strips are intended for use between floors of approximately equal height. Installing these is simple: Drive a nail or a screw through the strip and into the subfloor, or secure it using construction adhesives.
  • Reducer molding: A reducer molding strip is ideal for joining floors of different heights, creating a smooth and pleasant transition. However, you cannot install this strip type onto a floating floor.
  • End bar: End bar strips are similar in profile to reducer moldings but are better suited for doorways. End bars have a shorter, slimmer profile that provides a smooth transition while allowing doors to clear them without obstruction.
  • 4-in-1 strip: A 4-in-1 transition strip is a modular transition strip with many interchangeable parts, letting you adapt the strip to the flooring materials as needed. Although more expensive, 4-in-1 strips are more adaptable, can function with materials besides wood and tile flooring (e.g., carpet), and reduce the need to buy multiple types of transition strips.

A single transition strip takes 10-30 minutes to install, making it an easy, fast, and inexpensive solution for transitioning between tile and hardwood floors. However, this method comes with inherent disadvantages. The lips of a transition strip may catch objects such as toys, socks, shoes, or other passing surfaces, which may gradually loosen the strip. In the worst-case scenario, the strip may bend or crack, forcing you to replace it entirely.

While this isn’t an expensive fix, it can be a significant inconvenience.

aluminum threshold between ceramic tiles

Floor Saddles

A floor saddle, also known as a floor threshold, provides a bridge between two different floors, covering both of them instead of just one, similar to a T-bar transition strip. Floor saddles are typically available in either wood or natural stone, such as granite or marble. There are two main differences between saddles and T-bars, including the overall dimensions (saddles are much wider) and the lack of a central bar (instead, they lie flat on the subfloor.) This variance makes saddles much more durable and aesthetically pleasing than strips, although they are also more expensive. There are two main types of floor saddles: full-saddles and half-saddles.

  • Full-saddles: A full-saddle piece serves as a bridge between floors of approximately equal height.
  • Half-saddles: A half-saddle piece bridges between floors of unequal height, such as tile and wood. Typically, the tile floor is higher than the wood floor.

Flush Transition Pieces

A flush transition piece, also called a flush-mount strip, is essentially a transition strip designed to fit between two floors instead of being mounted over them. Flush transition pieces intended for installation between floors of different heights possess a rounded edge or a lip-over element with an inner track, acting as a ramp. Like saddles, flush transition pieces are usually made of wood or stone. Regardless of the material employed, flush pieces require flooring on both ends to have parallel, straight edges with no cuts or irregularities.

Wedge Thresholds

A wedge threshold fulfills the same essential purpose as a transition strip or a floor half-saddle, creating a transition between flooring of different heights but with a different overall shape. A wedge threshold has an angular shape instead of a dome or a T-shaped bar. Wedge thresholds may be made of wood, rubber, or metal. Their simple shape forms a natural ramp, making it ideal for wheelchair access. Aside from the shape, the primary difference between wedges and other height change transition pieces is the installation method; the wide end of the wedge features a track, allowing for fixation from the side instead of the bottom.

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Considerations When Placing Transition Pieces

You often find transitions between floors under cased openings and in doorways. Cased openings offer the most flexibility, as there is no right or wrong way to install your piece. Use the transition piece that best matches either one of your floors. For doorway transitions, you have two factors to keep in mind: the amount of clearance between the bottom of the door and the top of the floor and the orientation of the transition piece.

When Placing Transition Pieces

Make sure not to select a transition piece that is too tall; otherwise, you create an obstruction that prevents the door from closing all the way. If it occurs, you may need to shave the top of the piece to make more clearance or replace it with a shorter model. If you’re concerned about aesthetics and giving your floor a seamless appearance, orientation becomes an essential factor when installing a transition piece in a doorway. The trick to a seamless look is to install a piece that matches the direction of the doorway. For example, if you are transitioning from a hardwood living room floor to a kitchen tile floor, open the door separating both rooms and observe the door’s direction.

If the door opens toward the kitchen, your transition piece should match your living room’s hardwood. If it opens toward the living room, it should match the kitchen tiling instead. That way, when the door is closed, you only see hardwood in the living room and only tiling in the kitchen.

How to Install or Replace a Transition Strip

If you’re looking to install new transition strips or replace your existing ones with newer models, follow these instructions.

Tools and Equipment You’ll Need

To install a transition strip in a doorway or a cased opening, you will need the following gear:

  • Measuring tape
  • Rubber flooring mallet
  • Construction adhesive
  • Handsaw
  • Screwdriver
  • Crowbar or equivalent pry bar
  • 1” screws
  • 2” finish nails
  • Nail punch
  • Wood filler
  • 60-grit sandpaper (optional)

Equipment You’ll Need

When working on flooring for extended periods, you’ll likely have to take a knee and remain in that position for hours on end. Although not strictly recommended, if you find it painful or uncomfortable to hold this posture, consider using a pair of knee pads for extra cushioning.

Installation Process

First, measure the distance between the door jambs for each doorway or opening using your tape. It’s likely the transition pieces you can buy on the market do not precisely match the measured dimensions; this is why you should buy a slightly longer model and cut it to size with your handsaw. If you’re installing a strip in a doorway, double-check that the height of your strips is sufficiently low to avoid obstructing the door. If you wish, you can use 60-grit sandpaper on the edges of your transition piece to make it smoother and easier to install.

Check the height of your flooring in both rooms. If they’re about even, you may use a T-bar strip, a full-saddle floor threshold, or an equivalent transition piece for same-height floors. If they’re uneven, use a reducer, end bar, half-saddle, or a suitable strip for flooring of varying heights. Place your threshold in the doorway or opening, ensuring it is oriented in the correct direction if your floorings are uneven. Test the door before permanently installing your strip; there should be no obstructions or difficulties opening and closing the door. If the strip is a little too high and is grazing the bottom of the door, you may need to file down the top side. If it fully obstructs the door, you’ll need a different strip with a shorter height.

Once you’ve confirmed your piece is of the correct type and size, you may install it permanently. There are two methods: drilling and nailing or using construction adhesive. If your subfloor is concrete, use the latter.

  • Drilling and nailing method: Begin with drilling between two and four pilot holes in your threshold. The pilot holes should have a smaller diameter than your mounting screws. Replace your threshold into the doorway, and drive your finishing nails through your pilot holes and into the subfloor. You may then fill the pilot holes with wood filler to cover them and enhance your transition strip’s seamless looks.
  • Adhesive method: Apply construction adhesive to the edge of your hardwood flooring, and then insert your threshold over the gap between your two floors, pushing down until the piece falls in place. The piece must remain in place for 2-4 hours, during which the adhesive will dry and stick. Avoid accidentally dislodging it by ensuring the piece is correctly inserted, and place heavy objects onto your threshold until the adhesive has dried completely.

Replacing Old and Damaged Thresholds

Use a crowbar, pry bar, or flat-head screwdriver to loosen and pull out the old or damaged piece. If it was screwed into the subfloor, you might need to use a screwdriver to remove the fasteners before prying it out. Be careful not to scratch or damage your flooring during this process. Once you have removed the old threshold, vacuum any dirt, dust, and other debris from the opening, creating a clean and obstruction-free working surface. From that point, follow the steps in the installation process as you would when installing new thresholds.

installation threshold

Visit Contractors Direct for the Best Home Improvement Tools

Creating a seamless transition between flooring types provides a professional finishing touch to your home’s interior and eliminates the safety risk of uneven floors. Installing a sleek transition piece is easier than you think with the right tools for the job. We offer the best tile, stone, concrete, masonry, and flooring tools at Contractors Direct, with premium-grade service and the best prices in the country. Browse our entire collection online, or call our experienced customer service staff for more flooring advice. 


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