How To Install Ceramic Tile

When considering ceramic tile as a flooring option, tile size, hardness, and texture should be taken into consideration. Tiles with a textured finish are especially useful in bathrooms to avoid slipping on them when wet. Using tiles 12" or larger generally does not look good in a small powder room unless they run into the room from the hallway. Harder tiles may hold up longer than softer ones, but usually cost more and are harder to cut. If tiles are being installed on an uneven floor, like a basement floor or shower base, using mosaics will follow the floor without cracking.

It is also very important to have a solid substrate to apply your tile to. A minimum of 1 1/4" is recommended with the top of the subfloor being a cementitious board. Brands like Wonderboard or Durock come in thicknesses of 1/4", 1/2", and 5/8" which allow you to try to match up finished floor heights to adjoining flooring so that you don't have a significant elevation difference between them.

Step 1

Measure your flooring area for width and length checking to see if you have a room that is out of square. You do not want to end up with small cuts of tile at the edges of the room. If you are using 12" tiles and your room is 11'2" you do not want 11 full tiles and a row of 2" tiles. Instead, use one full tile less, 10 full tiles, which would leave a 7" tile on each edge. Do the same for the length of the room. You only have to cut your tiles so they get within 1/2" of the walls because the base trim and shoe will cover the perimeter. This can help with walls slightly out of square.

Step 2

Next you want to section off the floor into four quadrants by using a chalk line and snapping two lines at right angles to each other. Using the 11'2" wall, at one end measure 5'7" (half the distance) from the wall to the center of the room and make a mark on the floor. Then do the same at the other end of the same wall. Holding the chalk line tautly across the two marks, snap the line so that you have a chalk line parallel to the wall 5'7" away. Let's say the adjoining wall is 13'9", which would give you 13 full tiles and 4 1/2" cuts at both sides. A more professional look would be to use 12 full tiles and have 10 1/2" tiles at the edges. You would then make two marks from that wall 6'10 1/2" away and snap the other line. You now have split the floor up into four sections.

Step 3

Decide what size grout joints you want to have between the tiles. It is a good idea to use plastic spacers that will keep your grout joints consistent. Mix half of a 5 gal. pail with thinset mortar to the consistency of peanut butter. Follow the bag of mortar's instructions for which size notched trowel to use, but for most tiles a 3/8" square notch is good.

Starting at one of the corners in the middle of the room, start spreading the mortar out so that you come right up to the chalk line, but not covering it so that you can see the line to get the edge of the tiles perfectly along it. Spread the mortar so that you can work 2 rows of tiles at a time from the middle of the room down along the line towards the wall, using your spacers as you go. When you get to the wall, start back to the middle with two rows. When you get to a wall and you are nearing a corner, you want to fill up to the corner and work your way backward to the middle so you don't get stuck having to walk on newly set tiles.

Step 4

All four sections are done the same, but you must plan out so that your final section has a doorway so that you have a way out.

A few tips:

  • Renting or buying a wet saw is much easier than using a tile board that scores and snaps the tiles because the saw can make "L" shaped or other irregular shaped cuts that almost always come up.
  • Before you start, take a tile and set it on the floor next to each door casing and jamb and make a pencil mark across the top of the tile onto the wood trim. Using a jamb saw (or other tool like a hand mitre saw) cut away the bottoms of the jambs and casings so that the tiles will slide under and you won't have to cut your tiles to fit around them.
  • Keep a bucket of water and sponge handy to wipe away excess mortar from the tops of the tiles and your hands. You do not want to have to scrape it off later when it's dry. Keep a screwdriver or putty knife handy to scrape out excess mortar that can build up too high in the grout joints when you are mushing the tiles in. This mortar will show through your grout later and is not fun digging out and replacing with grout when dry.
  • Be sure to set each tile firmly, tapping the corners and middle of the tiles with the palm of your hand or a rubber mallet for a good bond.
  • Whenever you have mortar on the floor that has been setting for more than 10 minutes or so, maybe because you have to make another batch, or there are a few inches extra past some of the tiles you have laid, take a putty knife or the flat edge of the trowel and scrape it off the floor and mix it back into the bucket. The mortar will start to dry on the very surface and impede its bonding ability to the tile surface.

Step 5

After letting your tile job set for 24 hours, it is time to grout. Mix your grout in one pail and have another pail of water and sponge at the ready. Starting from one corner of the room, take the wet sponge and wipe down the tiles in an area within your reach. This will make the grout much easier to pull across the tile surface. Take the grout float, plop down a few piles of grout and start pulling the grout across the tile with the grout float at almost a 90 degree angle, scraping it across the tiles surface and pushing it into the grout joints. It is best to pull the grout at angles across the joints.

Once you have done an area that you can easily reach, grab the water bucket and start wiping the excess grout off the surface of the tile, rinsing the sponge often. When you have all the excess grout off the tiles, gently wipe the sponge in the same direction as the joints to smooth them off, taking care not to press down too hard pulling the grout out. Slide your buckets back and move to a new spot working your way across the floor towards a door.

Step 6

Wall tiles are done in much the same manner, but there are several differences.

  • Floor tiles usually have grout joints that are 3/16" or larger and thus need a sanded grout (grout with sand added) to hold it together from cracking. Wall tiles are usually spaced at 1/8" and use a non-sanded grout so as not to scratch their shiny, glazed surface.
  • Wall tiles are usually applied using an adhesive or tile mastic that is premixed.
  • Wall tiles also have various trim pieces that are rounded off, called bullnose tile, to finish them off because they don't have a base trim covering their edges.
  • A finishing touch would be to applya grout sealer to the grout after it has had time to cure to seal it and make it easier to clean after years of use.


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