Installing Ceramic Tile
Whether you are replacing an old tile floor or installing a new one this step-by-step guide will walk you through the installation process. The following instructions are straightforward and they are designed for most common installations. If in doubt about your ability to complete this project, please consult with a professional tile installation contractor.
What Tools are Required
The above is a short list of most of the items required. A tile cutter can be rented at most rental yards and some tile stores. If you have a lot of cuts to make I would suggest renting a wet saw.
Calculating How Much Tile You Will Need
To calculate how much floor tile you will need, measure the length and width of the floor. If you have odd shapes or the room is not square or rectangular, divided the room into smaller sections. For example, If you have a room that is 12 feet X 12 feet you would calculate 12 X 12 = 144 square feet. Next you need to calculate how many square feet a box of tile will cover. Simply divide the total square feet by the total square feet in a box and you will have the number of boxes you will need for the job. Depending on the size of the room and the pattern you wish to use you will need an additional box of tile or more for waste.
Many tile stores will estimate how much tile you will need. Bring them a layout of the room with exact measurements. There are also several Internet sites that have tile layout programs.
Preparing the Surface
The floor to receive tile should be sound with very little flex. If you jump up and down on the floor and it moves, you will need to stabilize the subfloor. This is accomplished by screwing or nailing the subfloor to the joists.
Check to make sure the floor is flat. If not it may be necessary to install a plywood or masonite underlayment. On concrete floors, make sure all paint, grease , etc is removed. It may be necessary to lightly sand the floor to remove any excess paint. High spots can be removed with a hammer and chisel.
Remove all baseboards and/or trim. Number the baseboards so that it is easy to locate and reinstall them. I also like to place the number of the baseboard on the wall where I removed it. This way there is no mistaking where it goes.
You will also need to check any doors in the room for clearance. If you are installing a thick tile, the doors may need to be trimmed. The best way to check for clearance is to stack two title on top of one another and attempt to slide it under the door. If the door swings freely over the stacked tiles, there will be no need to trim the doors. If not trimming will be necessary.
The last step in preparation is to make sure you have a clean, dust free floor. Clean the floor thoroughly making sure to remove all loose debris and dirt.
Remember, preparation is the key to a long lasting installation.
Laying out the Tile Pattern
There are many ways and methods of laying out the floor tile. Most of the problems associated with layout are due to the room being out of square. The following method is a simple , easy to use and does not require a square room.
The first thing you will need to do is to snap two chalk lines. Take the chalk line a snap a line down the center of the room. Snap another chalk line down the center but perpendicular to the first line. In other words you will have one line down the center width of the room and one down the center length.
Next place a row of tiles down along side both lines, Make sure to leave room for spacing of the grout. It is a good idea to use grout spacers here.
Once you have laid out the tile, check to make sure that the spacing is ok. You may need to move the tiles some so that you end up with as many full tiles as possible. This will avoid lots of cutting. If the room is small you may want to cut tile to fit both sides of the room, giving an equal appearance. Let your eye be the judge.
Setting the Floor Tile
To set most ceramic tile you will need to purchase thin set. Thin set is available by the bag and looks similar to cement. Make sure to buy enough for the entire installation. Most stores will take back un opened bags, so do not be afraid to over buy.
Mix the thin set a five gallon bucket by adding water and stirring to a thick pasty consistency. If you wish to use an power mixer, make sure it is slow speed. Do not use a drill. Mixers can be rented at most rental supply yards. Believe me its worth the extra few dollars.
Once the thin set is mixed, trowel it over the area where the tile will be set. Trowel only enough for an area that you can safely reach on your knees. Use a notched trowel and run the trowel so that the rows left in the thin set are in a straight line. DO NOT use a circular pattern.
Place the tile into the thin set with a slight downward pressure. Take a rubber mallet and lightly tap the tile to assure good coverage. Work in small sections and take your time. Keep on eye on the thin set, if it gets too dry, it may be necessary to add more water and remix. If the thin set comes up between the grout joints, remove it before it dries. Lay all the full tile first and leave the cut tiles to last.
Allow the floor to sit overnight before grouting.
You have several choices in grout for tile. See our report on grout types for more info. Generally, sanded grout should be used in grout joints 1/8 inch or larger and unsanded grout should be used in joints less than 1/8inch.
When purchasing grout make sure to buy enough to cover the entire project. It is a good idea to buy extra for repairs later. See diagram # for estimating how much grout to purchase.
Mix the grout in a small bucket. Add the powder first and then add water to the bucket and stir with a wooded stick. Do not use a paint mixer attached to a drill to stir. This is too fast and will create air bubbles in the grout. If your using a latex or acrylic additive, please read the directions on the bottle carefully. Some of these admixtures are used with no water.
Mix the grout into a thick yogurt like consistency. Allow this mixture to sit for ten minutes and recheck to make sure it is still soupy. If not add more water or additive.
To grout the tile, you will need a grout float. Take a glob of grout and spread it over the grout lines. Push the grout into the open lines working it in thoroughly. Remove any excess by holding the grout float at an 45 degree angle and running the float across the tile. Work in small sections at a time. Remove excess grout with a clean, damp sponge, making sure not to use too much water. Excess water will wash the grout out of the joints. Wait about 10 minutes for the grout to set up and then re-wash with a clean sponge. Once the grouting job is complete, re-wash again.
Tip: Removing excess grout can be a problem The trick to removal is too frequently rinse your sponge, making sure to use plenty of clean water. To avoid numerous trips to the sink, have several buckets of clean water ready to go.
For epoxy grout installation see our report on "The Proper Installation of Epoxy Grout".
The grout should be sealed but it is best to wait at least 10 days before applying a sealer.
There are several tools available for cutting tile. Most of these can be rented for a very reasonable price at most home centers and rental yards.
A ceramic tile cutter is very similar to a glass cutter. It has a small tungsten wheel which scores a line along the tile. After the line is scores it is snapped clean. Most tile cutters have a guide which make straight cuts easy.
To use a tile cutter mark the tile with a pencil. Place the tile in the cutter making sure to line it up even with the cutting wheel. Lightly run the wheel across the mark to make sure the wheel stays on the line throughout the entire cut. When you are sure it is lined-up. Place firm pressure on the handle and move the wheel across the mark. Be sure the wheel has scored the tile. Once scored take the tile and place it on the edge of a flat even surface with the cut line hanging over the edge of the surface. Place one hand on the surface of the tile to hold it in place. With the other hand, snap the tile by placing firm pressure on the hanging end of the tile. The tile should snap clean.
If you have a lot of cutting to perform it is advisable that you rent a wet saw. A wet saw is easy to use but, I would ask for directions from the rental yard. The extra expense for a wet saw rental is worth every penny.
Tile nippers are used to cut small curves and unusual shapes to fit tile into tight areas. Nippers work by biting off small bits of tile at a time.
To use a tile nipper, make the area on the tile you wish to remove. Next take the tile nippers and remove small bits from the tile until you reach the line and have completely removed the area.
A coping saw is a fine wire time saw that can be used for cutting very delicate cuts. For example if you need to make a ninety degree angle on a tile near a corner, a coping saw would be the tool of choice.
The use of a coping saw is very similar to using any other hand held saw. Make sure you hold the saw steady and do not force the blade on to the tile. Let the blade do the cutting.
Fred Hueston of The National Training Center for Stone and Masonry Trades.