Remodeling Tips and Reviews

Installation of Floor Tile Tips

Installing your own tile can be a rewarding project for any homeowner. It not only beautifies the floor if done properly, but it can change the whole personality of a room. But if it is done wrong then you may be very disappointed with the results and have a much larger expense of hiring a pro to rip it out and replace it.

Tip: Black and Decker has a great book on floor tiling that I highly recommend to learn the ends and outs of tiling your own floor.

The first step to installing tile is removing the old flooring. If you have linoleum you will have to scrape it up and remove the glue to get the floor level enough to work with. If this is on concrete you may need to rent or purchase a tile remover that makes the job easier. It is a heavy spatula on a long handle that allows you to bust up the old tile. In extreme cases the old tile is on a bed of mortar and sitting on top of a pier and beam foundation and you will have to use a sledge hammer to remove the entire bed as well. A grinder with a diamond wheel will allow you to remove remnants of cement and humps in the concrete. Once the old floor is up then the preparation for the sub-floor can begin.
The sub-floor really is the most important aspect of any floor. If it is not sound and sturdy you will have continuous problems with the final installation. The floor needs to be very strong and have very little give in it to withstand shifting and flexing that occurs on any floor. If you are installing on a pier and beam house this must be paid extra attention to. Your floor joist must be very sturdy and in good repair if they are old. Otherwise we recommend sistering in new joist to the old ones. A solid ¾ plywood floor should be installed over the joist and screwed into to stabilize the floor. Some natural stone recommend a 1″ or more sub-floor to sit on. Once the sub-floor is down a good cement backer board such as hardiboard or durock may need to be installed to give the tile adequate adhesion. There are some new products out there such as schluter ditra which is a rubber membrane that installs easily and allows for some movement of the sub-floor without the tile cracking. This is an ideal product for houses with movement in the foundation. Once the sub-floor is completely prepared and clean, it is ready for the tile.

Installing tile is all about planning it out. You want the installation to go smoothly and for this to happen you need to plan where to start the tile and where it is going to stop. If there is a large visible wall or a tub in the bathroom I like to align my tile on one side with that long line. Of course if the wall is not straight or does not run parallel to the other walls then you will need to adjust. One simple way to determine if a room is square is to measure diagonally from opposite corners. If the numbers are close then you are okay. If there is an inch or two you will need to make adjustments. If nothing in the room is square then you may want to move the tile off the wall roughly half a tile to deemphasize the problem areas. Once you have decided on a layout you should lay down several tiles to make sure the layout works. I always try to have a solid row at the entry of a room because it just looks better. Finally you will want to measure and mark in detail where the tiles are going to be and snap a caulk line using permanent chalk. Another consideration is whether or not you are going to remove the floor trim if it is already down. For am more finished look I highly recommend this. It creates a little more work to reinstall and caulk it but the results are far superior. Now you are ready to lay the tile.

When it comes to laying tile I recommend a good tile saw to make sure your cuts are straight. You can purchase one or these can be rented for around $50 a day. I also recommend spending the extra $8 a bag for modified mortar since it creates a much stronger bond. Make sure you are using a trowel that is sized for your tile. If you use a large notched trowel on small tiles you will make a mess and if you use a small trowel on large tiles you will not get good adhesion. Mix the mortar in a 5 gallon bucket and make sure it is of a pudding consistency. My rule of thumb is I want it to stick upside down as a lump on my finger. Too dry and you can’t work with it, too wet and your tile wants to move around. Make sure and use spacers unless you are experienced. I recommend 1/8″ to a 1/4″ or less. Grout is a difficult product to keep clean and the less of it the better, unless you opt for the much more expensive epoxy grouts which dry rock hard and are impervious to stain or cracking. Make sure you lay the tile out in consecutive rows and avoid going off in 2 separate directions, you may have issues aligning the tile when you come back together. Don’t work more than a 3×4 area at a time to make sure you have plenty of time to adjust and set the tiles properly. After you have laid them you need to tap each tile down with either a mallet or your fist to ensure good adhesion. Make sure you have a bucket of water near by with a large sponge to clean up any mortar on the tile before it sets up. Otherwise you will have to scrape and scrub it off later. If your tile is unsealed or flat you should pre seal it with some good tile sealant to prevent mortar and grout from adhering to the tile.

Once the tile is down it is time to clean it up and look for mistakes. Sometimes a tile moves or is not sitting level. These will need to be pulled up with a chisel and re-laid. You make have to take up 2 or so to get out the bad tile. Once they have been re-set it is time for the grout. With grout you will want to use sanded grout for around ¼” grout lines. For around 1/8″ grout lines you will need to switch to non-sanded grout. Make sure you have a bucket of clean water and a sponge ready for clean up. The grout should be mixed in a very clean bucket to a thin pudding consistency. Allow it to set up for 10 minutes and it will harden a little. Then use a good float to work it into all the grout lines. Once you have done a good size area of 50 sf. or so you will probably want to go back and wipe down the grout, being careful not to take too much out of the joints. You will need to change out your bucket of water frequently (do not pour grout or mortar down your sinks or drains). Once your grout is installed and you have cleaned it and the haze off you will need to seal the grout with some good grout sealer. Then it is time to enjoy your newly installed floor.

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