How To Install Tile Flooring

Tips

  • If you have a wood subfloor that is not in good condition, nail down some plywood to prepare the floor for the tile.

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Safety Considerations

Tile flooring installation is generally a safe project, though be careful about removing existing flooring. Some types of older flooring or adhesives may contain asbestos. Either leave these materials undisturbed and lay the tile over them or hire a qualified asbestos removal company to remove the asbestos.

Tools

  • Wet tile saw
  • Manual rail tile cutter
  • Manual tile nipper or electric spiral saw
  • Sander
  • Pry bar
  • Notched 1/4-inch tile trowel
  • Margin trowel
  • Tile spacers
  • Tile float
  • Rubber mallet
  • Chalk snap line
  • Tape measure
  • Level
  • Mortar mixing tub
  • Clean bucket
  • New sponges
  • Rubber gloves
  • Scrap two-by-four
  • Safety glasses
  • Hearing protection
  • Breathing protection (like a face mask)

Materials

  • Ceramic tile
  • Thinset
  • Grout
  • Grout haze remover
  • Grout sealer
  • Sandpaper, 60 grit
  • Isolation membrane (optional)

4. Laid the Tile Out Wrong

Installing tile floor in a diagonal pattern requires special planning. If your tile is square you can measure 45-degree angles.How you lay tiles changes when they are diamond and not square. Start by centering the tiles. Line up the corners with a single layout line.

Build the design out around this first measurement. Check your lines with a straightedge as you work.

Tools Required

  • 4-in. diamond blade
  • Angle grinder
  • Bucket
  • Caulk gun
  • Chalk line
  • Cordless drill
  • Drill mixer
  • Drywall saw
  • Dust mask
  • Grout float
  • Knee pads
  • Margin trowel
  • Nippers
  • Notched trowel
  • Offset saw
  • Putty knife
  • Safety glasses
  • Scoring knife
  • T-square
  • Tape measure
  • Tile cutter
  • Utility knife
  • Wet saw

6. You Didnt Prepare

You need to clean and prep your surface before you tile. Remove any grease, dirt, or fingerprints.

If you don’t do this step, the adhesive won’t stick to the wall. This is an issue most common when tiling bathroom or kitchen walls.

Use a water and mild dish soap mixture to clean the walls. If you have a lot of stains or buildup use a paint deglosser or abrasive pad.

How to prepare the floor

Preparation is key when it comes to installing tile. Most importantly, the floor needs to be clean, level and strong enough to support tile, grout and all of your furniture when finished.

In many cases, proper preparation means installing a cement backer board on top of your subfloor or over your existing tiles to provide a sturdy and flat surface to lay your tiles. But it’s unnecessary if you already have concrete floors, to which you can attach the tiles directly (just make sure they’re clean and level).

You can find sheets of backer board at your local hardware or tile store and cut them to fit your room. Then, using a notched trowel, apply an even layer of thin-set mortar to your subfloor, lay down the backer board and secure it with cement board screws around the edges of the board. Finally, apply fiberglass tape where the edges meet and cover the tape with another layer of mortar.

Steps on How to Lay Tile

1. Tiling a Floor Overview

Illustration by Gregory Nemec
  • Strive for a layout that maximizes the number of whole tiles and the size of any cut tiles.
  • When awkwardly sized tiles can’t be avoided, place them where vanities will cover them later or out of the main sight lines from the doorway.
  • You shouldn’t step on any tiles until the thinset has cured for at least 24 hours.
  • Save all of the cuts requiring a wetsaw for last. Then rent the wetsaw for one day.

2. Dry layout

Photo by David Carmack
  • Find the midpoint of each wall and snap chalk lines on the floor. The line crossing at the room’s center are the starting point of the tile.
  • Lay a row of tiles along a straightedge more than halfway across the room. For consistent joints, use tile spacers. This row determines the size of cut tiles along the walls.
  • At the room’s center, place a tile where the chalk lines cross with its edges touching the lines. Measure from one wall (call it A) to the nearest tile edge. Now, go to the tile row and, starting at a joint, measure along the row and mark the distance you just measured. The mark shows the width of the tile at the wall. If that measurement is less than 2 inches, go back to the center tile and move it away from wall A to create a wider cut tile.

3. Dry layout, Part II

Photo by David Carmack
  • From the center tile, measure to the opposite wall (call it B; mark this distance along the tile row. Adjust the center tile along the A-to-B line until measurements at walls A and B are the same.
  • After adjusting the A-to-B line, mark the center tile where it touches the chalk line between the other walls (call them C and D). Align these marks with the C-to-D chalk line. Repeat the measuring and adjusting process for walls C and D.
  • Lay a straightedge parallel to the C-to-D line and against one side of the center tile. Mark the straightedge where it meets a corner of the tile. This mark is your starting point for laying tile.
  • Trim door casings with a flush-cut saw so tile can slip underneath. Cut with saw held flat against a tile on top of a piece of cardboard (to represent the thickness of the thinset).

4. Spread thinset mortar

Photo by David Carmack
  • Chuck a mixer into a drill and blend the powdered thinset with latex additive—not water—until it’s the consistency of mayonnaise. Let it slake (rest) for about 10 minutes. Mix only as much thinset as you can use in 2 hours.
  • With the flat edge of a trowel, spread a thin layer of thinset (scratch coat) over a 2-by-3-foot area next to the straightedge.
  • Before the scratch coat dries, apply more thinset using the notched edge of the trowel. Hold the trowel at a 45-degree angle to the floor and spread the thinset evenly in broad curved strokes, then finish with a straight pass, which ensures the best adhesion. Combing the thinset into furrows allows air to escape as the tile is set.

Tip: When spreading thinset, press down hard so that the trowel makes a scraping sound; the trowel’s notch size should equal the tile thickness.

5. Set the tile

Photo by David Carmack
  • Gently lay a tile on thinset next to the straightedge. With fingertips widespread, push down with a slight twist of the wrist.
  • Use this same technique to set each tile, making one row along the straightedge. Using tile spacers ensures even joints.
  • Move the straightedge out of the way and lay the next row alongside the first, using the edge of the tile as your guide. Continue spreading thinset and setting tiles in 2-by-3-foot sections, working from the center of the room out toward the walls. Every few rows, hold a framing square or A-square alongside the edge of the tiles to check that they are square to each other.

Tip: Consistent finger pressure (and constant practice) helps avoid lippage—where a tile’s edge is higher or lower than its neighbors.

6. Final cuts

Photo by David Carmack
  • Make straight cuts as needed with a snap cutter. When waste is more than an inch wide, score tile with one firm stroke, then break by pushing down handle. Smooth cut edge with rubbing stone.
  • For straight cuts with waste less than an inch wide, score tile on snap cutter, then snap pieces off with nibblers or use a wet saw.
  • To fit a tile around an outside corner, hold one edge against the wall and mark the tile where it touches the corner. Pencil a line all the way across the tile. Then, without turning the tile, move it to the other side of the corner and again mark where tile and corner meet. Mark an X on the part to be cut away.

7. Notch the tile

Photo by David Carmack
  • On a wet saw, cut the tile from the mark to the line, taking care not to go beyond the line. Then turn the tile and cut along the line next to the X, up to but not beyond the first cut. At end of cut, lift up the edge farthest from you to help free the waste.
  • For curved or scribed cuts, make parallel slices with the wet saw into the waste section, up to but not past the line marking the cut. Then break away the remaining “fingers” with nibblers.

8. Fill the tile joints with grout

  • After tile sets overnight, use a margin trowel to scrape off any thinset from the tile surface or in the joints.
  • Mix up a batch of grout to a looser-than-mayonnaise consistency. Add water a little at a time by squeezing it from a sponge.
  • Scoop a trowelful of grout onto the floor and spread it with a rubber float held at a 45-degree angle to the floor. Push grout into the joints by first moving the float in line with the joints, then diagonal to them. Work from the edges of the room toward the center.

9. Cleaning up the grout

  • Allow the grout to set up for 20 or 30 minutes. It should be firm to the touch before you begin washing the tile’s surface. Wipe away grout haze with a damp, well-squeezed sponge rinsed often in a bucket of clean water.
  • Again, wait for grout to haze over, then wipe with clean sponge. Repeat until the tile is clean.

Tip: Don’t be too aggressive when wiping up grout haze, or you could pull grout out of the joints.

Installing Tile Flooring in Five Steps

Step 1: Mixing Mortar & Laying the Main Floor

Step 1: Mixing Mortar & Laying the Main Floor

Mix your mortar per the manufacturer’s recommendations, doing your best to avoid over mixing and damaging the pigment. Apply a bed of mortar to the floor using your notched trowel at the proper 45-degree angle.  Don’t overdo it with the mortar, seriously. This stuff dries quickly so only spread enough to install one or two tiles to start until you get the hang of doing it. Carefully lay the tile down on to the bed of mortar and work it back and forth to ensure adhesion. Use your level to check each tile and any adjustments can be made with light taps from the rubber mallet. Make sure you level from multiple sides so you don’t have gaps between tiles or one side sitting higher than another. This will be critically important once more tiles are added. Use tile spacers to properly align your tiles and to leave the appropriate space between them. While they can be difficult to work with, they will leave a perfect space every time and allow the proper size grout channel. Be careful not to mortar them into the joints.  For larger format tiles we recommend using leveling spacers. These are special spacers that have either wedges or locking mechanisms to pull adjacent tiles to the same flush finish height eliminating the high lows or at least minimizing it greatly. You can use them on any size tiles, but they are definitely recommended for larger format tiles over 18”x18” in size. Clean up any mortar that squeezes out IMMEDIATELY. It’s super difficult to do once dried. Make sure you get it off the edges of the tile so as not to impact your grout job later. Keeping a water bucket and sponge close by makes this process much easier. Repeat this process, laying mortar, placing tile, level tile, place spacers, until you’ve covered the desired area. Or until you encounter the need for cutting!

Step 2:  Cutting Tile & Laying Edges

Step 2:  Cutting Tile & Laying Edges

Tile is not easy to cut, but it doesn’t have to be as intimidating as it’s often portrayed. Take your time, wear your safety glasses and you will be ok. Promise. First things first: do not lay mortar for a tile that hasn’t been cut yet. Even if you work quickly, chances are that mortar will dry before you’re ready to set the tile. Better to measure out your tile, cut it, dry fit it into the space then mortar it in place. If you have cuts to make, you’ll use the tile cutter or tile saw. Straight cuts are easiest. Measure and mark the tile where you want it cut. Then place it into the tile cutter, score and snap. Be careful handling the cut tile, as it most likely will be sharp. The process is the same with a tile saw (often called a wet saw), just make sure to thoroughly dry the cut tile before installing that piece. Dry fit cut tiles into place to check sizing and mortar down. If your trowel won’t fit in the space for the cut tile, you can apply the mortar to the back of the tile using your trowel. This is often called “back buttering”.  If you use this method, make sure not to dab spots on the back and stick it. You must actually apply it with proper trowel marks for a proper bond. If you just dab spots of mortar onto the back of the tile you will leave hollow points under the tile. Curve cuts require a bit more handling but are generally treated the same way. Once you’ve determined the curve you need on tile by aligning and measuring where it will be installed, or using a tool called a contour gauge, mark the cut line on the tile. Curve cuts are often done with an angle grinder using a diamond blade by pros in the field; a diamond hole saw for smaller holes. Snap tile cutters cannot make curve cuts. You can also make the cut with your wet saw, freehand. Just slowly turn the tile to keep the curve line in the spot on the blade as needed. For rougher, or less-cosmetic curves, you can make a series of cuts perpendicular ending at the curve line and use your tile nippers to nip off the excess. You may need to smooth down the edge once you’re done and be careful of the sharp edge.  Install as you would a straight cut.

Step 3: Remove the Spacers

Step 3: Remove the Spacers

Once all the tile is installed and the adhesive mortar has dried for the recommended amount of time, it’s in this step where you remove all the tile spacers. Make sure not to leave any pieces of them behind (they can tear if they get caught on mortar) in the joints and clean up any dried mortar to prepare for grouting.

Step 4: Grout

Step 4: Grout

Ok, if you’ve made it this far, you’re nearly to the end. Grout. This is going to make the tile project look like a finished job. Grout fills in the spaces between tiles (where your spacers were. See? It’s not just a clever name!) and works with the adhesive to hold the tiles in place. Selecting the color of grout is a fun way to add a bit of character to your final flooring. For wood-look or stone-look tile, we recommend that you choose a grout that closely matches the main color of the tile. For solid color tile, choosing a grout that is similar in color to your tile unifies the installation. Using a complementary or even contrasting color of grout adds a modern and geometric flair to your floor tile. A low contrast grout subtly emphasizes tile shapes without looking harsh. With a colorful tile, contrasting with white grout lines is a classic and clean approach. Mix your grout according to the manufacturer’s recommendation. Apply the grout using a grout float, pressing it into the seams between tiles. Make sure to thoroughly fill all the spaces, then come back across them at a diagonal angle to remove as much excess grout as possible with the float. This is important. Remove as much as you can with the float, without removing it from the seams or you will have to re-grout those spots. Once you’ve grouted an area, use a grout sponge and a bucket of water to remove grout from the tile face and smooth the seams. Run your sponge at an angle across the grout joints as well to avoid removing too much grout from the joints. Do not apply too much pressure but allow the sponge to do the work. You don’t want any grout left on the tiles or it will be visible and leave what is called “grout haze”. Keep dunking and wringing your sponge (you want a damp, not dripping sponge; excess water is not your friend), wiping the tile and repeating until all the excess is removed and the potential for haze is gone. Clean the sponge and water bucket frequently. Clean water is the key to a clean floor. Trick of the Trade: You can go ahead and grout the edges of your tile flooring near the wall, then apply caulk afterward. Caulk shrinks as it dries so if you have a deep space to fill here, it will require multiple applications of caulk to get it to look good. If you force the grout into this gap and wash it off flush and allow it to dry then you can come back and it is much easier to apply the caulk over the grout. Just do not overfill the joint; you want to leave some room to apply the caulk. Repeat this as necessary until all areas are grouted, sponged wet and clean. Allow grout to dry.

Step 5: Clean-up and Seal

Step 5: Clean-up and Seal

Ok, clean-up. Clean up your tools, wash the grout off your float, etc. Make sure it’s all put away properly. Good job! Seriously though, you probably need to keep traffic off the grouted tile per the grout manufacturer’s recommendation. Typically, about 24-72 hours. Once this time has passed, you can enter the project area and caulk the outside edges of the tile. Many grout manufacturers offer a caulk to match grout colors in both sanded and unsanded options, for use in these areas. Color match silicone caulk is also great for wet areas like bathrooms. Now, let the grout “cure”, which is to say, dry fully and set up completely. Once the manufacturer’s recommended curing time has finished (on average a few weeks to 30 days), you can seal the grout using the recommended grout sealer. Some are even offered in a sponge roller bottle you can run through the grout lines. Go with their choice or ask your friends at The Good Guys for assistance. Once you’ve sealed the grout, you are officially DONE! Congratulations! Now, if any of this makes you uncomfortable or scared, it’s highly recommended to turn this job over to a professional. Your flooring and remodeling pros at The Good Guys are always here and happy to help!

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