Horticulture Magazine

How To Lay Decking Tiles On Any Outdoor Surface

interlocking decking tiles in wooden slats

Modern-day decking tiles are simple and easy to install. This is because they have interlocking edges that are snapped together courtesy of pegs or nubs along one edge and corresponding loops along the other edge.

The degree of ease of installation is dependent on the surface on which the tiles are laid. They are very easy to lay on level concrete and not quite as easy to install on uneven dirt – but still easy! The material they are made of include wood, plastic, rubber, and PVC.

Do not confuse decking tiles with pavers, which are made of concrete, brick, or flagstone and do not have similar interlocking edges.

The Difference Between Outdoor Tiles and Pavers

In general, pavers are somewhat bigger than tiles and are also a little thicker. Moreover, they are usually made of stone, concrete, granite, and such, while outdoor tiles are usually made of wood, stone, PVC, rubber and similar materials. Pavers are mostly used for courtyards, walkways, driveways, and other hardscape elements whereas tiles are used for decks and patios.

But the main difference where you, the DIYer, are concerned, is that outdoor tiles are much easier to install than pavers; moreover, the tiling can just as easily be removed or replaced. This is because, unlike pavers, you do not have to lay down a substrate layer to cement the tiles in place. After any necessary prep work you just lay interlocking tiles down and snap them together. Laying down interlocking tiles on a clean surface is a one-man job that will take only a few hours, and it may remind you of LEGO!

How Many Deck Tiles Do I Need?

It depends, of course, on the surface area of your deck and the dimensions of each tile. What you need to do is to multiply the length by the breadth of your deck to arrive at its surface area, and similarly multiply the length by the breadth of each tile. Then divide the first number by the second number to compute the number of tiles you will need. Be sure to use the same unit of length for all calculations; do not fall into the error of using metres (or feet) when you compute the deck’s square area but using centimetres (or inches) for the tiles!

Here’s an example. Say your deck’s dimensions are notated as 5 x 3.5 metres on your property blueprint and your preferred tile measures 12 centimetres each side.  So your deck’s surface area is 500 x 350 centimetres, that is 175,000 square centimetres, and each tile’s square area is 144 square centimetres. Dividing 175,000 by 144 yields 1215.3, which is the number of tiles you will need.

What this number suggests is that you will need to slightly extend or slightly reduce the area of your deck both in length and in breadth, or you will need to cut tiles to fit them along one lengthwise edge and one breadthwise edge. This is because neither 500 nor 350 are divisible by 12 (without leaving a remainder).

One option is that on one of the two sides measuring 350 centimetres you would lay tiles cut to 8 centimetres (i.e. 12 x 8 centimetres), and on one of the two sides measuring 500 centimetres, you would lay tiles cut to only 2 centimetres (i.e. 12 x 2 centimetres). (Thus, a single tile would theoretically give you 6 such fill-in tiles.)

Better yet, you could slightly increase the length of your deck to 504 centimetres and even-more-slightly decrease the width to 348 centimetres as each number is divisible by 12 and, as a result, use only whole tiles throughout, thereby avoiding that untidy appearance of partial tiles along (an) edge(s).

If you are arithmetically-challenged, here’s a handy-dandy online Tile Calculator to your rescue:–

Installing Your Tiles

For the most part, installing decking tiles is a snap  – pun intended. Decking tiles have three or four equally-spaced pegs projecting downward right at the edges of two sides (sharing a corner), and an equal number of similarly-spaced loops that slightly protrude from the other two sides. When you lay a tile, simply place it so that its pegs are atop the loops of a laid-down tile, and force the tile down so that its pegs snap into the loops of the adjoining tile.

As you work, you will also need to lay tiles so that the new tile’s loops need to be locked into by an already-placed tile’s pegs. This too is easy. Simply lift the edge of the already-laid tile by a couple of centimetres and place the new tile such that its loops are directly below the other tile’s pegs. Let it go, and press it down until its pegs click into the loops of the new tile.

Start laying decking tiles from one corner of your deck, and lay the first tile such that the sides with pegs are at the corner and the sides with loops are inward, that is projecting into the deck.

How To Install On Concrete

Installing decking tiles on concrete is very easy. Thoroughly clean the area over which you will be installing the tiles by sweeping away loose dust and debris, and then washing and quickly scrubbing it. This will prep the surface for laying the tiles. Lay the tiles directly on the concrete as per section Installing Your Tiles.

Installing on Gravel, Dirt or Grass

Before installing decking tiles on gravel, dirt, or grass, lay a geotextile fabric mesh on the area to be converted to decking. Laying it will stabilise and hold the gravel or dirt together in place, and reduce displacement, run-off, and erosion, and it will prevent weeds and grasses sprouting up in grassy ground and through your decking tiles.

Do not use the wrong type of fabric like drainfield fabric or outdoor mesh; the former is laid on septic drainfields and the latter is used as a sun screen and insect protectant in hot climates. Suregreen Geotextile Stabilisation Fabric, Pro-Tec Extra Heavy-Duty Gold-Line, and Pro-Tec Heavy-Duty Weed Control Membrane are three examples of the right type of mesh. The first one is ideally suited to gravel and dirt and the third one is ideally suited to grass while the second one is a good choice for all three.


We would not recommend laying decking tiles on grass because that would defeat the purpose of having grass in your backyard and will destroy the grass as well! However, if you do wish to lay decking tiles over grass, first give it a mow at the closest possible setting.

Remove all weeds and pour some non-toxic natural weed-killer wherever you removed weeds from.

For optimal results, spread a very thin layer, say half to one centimetre, of fine gravel over the area you want to tile up. Bear in mind that doing so will totally ruin your grass so take this step only if your deck will be more or less permanent. Then lay the geotextile fabric mesh as outlined above. Then again spread a very thin layer of fine gravel (with the same caveat as spelt out earlier). Now lay the decking tiles as outlined in section Installing Your Tiles except that you will have to press down more firmly than you would on concrete, and the process will be a little more fiddly.


First use a regulation 18-inch sweeping brush to level the gravel and also tamp it down as much possible. Sprinkle or spray small amounts of water to pack the gravel. After a couple of hours when the gravel is semi-dry, lay the geotextile fabric mesh as outlined above and follow the instructions in section Installing Your Tiles.


If your dirt may contain toxic substances you should consider a preliminary step. Remove a layer of dirt, if only 2 centimetres. Then replace it with an equal amount and equally-deep layer of fine gravel or mixed clean-fill.

With a regulation 18-inch sweeping brush, sweep the dirt to make it as level as possible. Sprinkle some water with a watering can on the dirt as you tamp it down. After a few hours when the dirt is semi-dry, lay the decking tiles as outlined in section Installing Your Tiles.

Again, you will have to press down more firmly than you would on concrete, and the process will be rather more fiddly. The tile on whose loops the new tile’s pegs are being pushed will tend to sink in dirt so you may need to support it. If your fingers are strong enough, more power to you; otherwise slide a spatula under the tile.

Tips For Laying On Uneven Ground

First, although it’s possible to lay certain types of decking tiles on fairly undulating ground, unless you actually prefer undulating ground, even out the ground as much as possible. The reasons are that the tiles will be easier to lay, they will be less prone to detachment, warpage, and tearing/breakage due to stresses, and the surface will be more enjoyable to walk over or play on.

The first thing you need to do is to buy flexible types of tiles. These are typically made of vinyl, PVC, or foam.

You can also get wooden tiles that are ‘kinda-sorta’ flexible. These high-end, special-design tiles are ingeniously made: smaller pieces of wood that comprise each tile are connected with swivelling joints which makes the tiles quasi-flexible.

When laying such tiles, press and pat down each tile as if ‘smoothing it down’ so that its curvature conforms to the ground beneath it.

Options for Laying on Hard and Flat Surfaces

If you intend to lay tiles on a hard, flat surface, though you can certainly choose a flexible tile, such as one of those listed above, you can also choose to use rigid synthetic, wooden, or stone tiles. (Indeed, when laying on such surfaces, your options are unlimited; you can even lay pavers.)

Keep in mind that top quality wooden tiles too are made with the same interlocking peg-and-loop feature alluded to earlier; thus, they are as easy to lay as synthetic-material tiles. Some manufacturers’ tiles have different ’T’-shaped or wedge-shaped connectors; however, these too are interlocking connections that make the tiles simple to lay.

Wooden tiles are usually made of acacia, cedar, and fir, and even premium (and ultra-expensive) woods such as teak from Indonesia and ipé from Brazil.

Less common speciality interlocking stone tiles are also made by a few manufacturers.

Some Closing Thoughts

So which kinds of tiles should you choose? Obviously, your budget will have a say as to the cost per tile. But apart from that, ask yourself who will be using the tiled deck, and how. If your tiled deck will be used as a playing area for children, you should not get stone tiles and should avoid wooden tiles. For such purposes, brightly-coloured flexible tiles would be your best bet. On the other hand, if the tiled deck will often be used as a setting for small parties and dinners al fresco, you would certainly not choose brightly-coloured or synthetic tiles; wooden decking tiles would add a desirable classy touch.

You ought not to buy the exact number of tiles that will be needed for your deck – buy about 5 to 10 percent more. With reference to our example in section How Many Deck Tiles Do I Need?, instead of buying exactly 1215 tiles, get 1300. This is because sooner or later some tiles will become worn or damaged to the extent that they will need to be replaced and, keeping in mind minor shade and tint differences that can creep in between different batches of tiles, it will be very handy to have exactly the same tiles on hand. And even more so if the manufacturer has discontinued the product!

If you intend to lay synthetic-material tiles that are available in a range of colours, here’s an idea: when you are deciding which colour to choose, consider buying tiles in three or four colours. Then, you can lay tiles so that your deck has a border and/or some central monogram or design. Tiles in different colours can also be used so as to create an attractive pattern.

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