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
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
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 andfloor 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
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.
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.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
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
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
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.
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:
Tile and marble setters
Floor layers, except carpet, wood, and hard
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.
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.
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.
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
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,
For information concerning training of carpet, floor, and tile
installers and finishers, contact: