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Step By Step Instructions For Tile Installation

Aug 4, 2008
For the DYI, here are a few steps for proper tile installation. Installing ceramic tile is not hard by any means, just follow these step and have some patience and everything will fall into place.

1. Surface Preparation
Ceramic tile may be installed over most structurally-sound substrates. Make sure all surfaces to be tiled are clean, smooth, dry and free of wax, soap scum and grease. Any damaged, loose or uneven areas must be repaired, patched, and leveled. Remove all moldings, trims, appliances, etc. which may interfere with the installation. Door jambs may be undercut for tiles to slip under.

2. Layout
When tiling walls, tubs, or shower areas, begin by finding the center point of the wall. Use a level to draw a plumb line in the center of the wall. Align a row of loose tiles across the bottom of the wall from the center line, leaving uniform joints between tiles. If your tiles have integral spacer lugs, the tiles can be abutted to automatically leave consistent 1/16" joints. If this layout leaves small cuts (less than 1/2 tile) at walls then adjust plumb center line a half tile closer to the side wall.

Now determine the lowest point of the floor (or tub) by horizontally using a level. Stack two tiles here, and at the top draw a horizontal line on the wall. With a level, continue the line around all side walls to be tiles. This line is a guideline for the first row of tiles to be set above. Begin installing tiles to the center of the wall above the horizontal guideline. Install one half of the back wall at a time. Set the lower two rows last. Cut and fit bottom tiles against the floor (or tub) if not level. Leave a 1/8" gap above the tub for caulking to seal around tub.

Repeat the above process for side walls. Mark outside tile lines on walls that will not be completely tiled in order to spread adhesive. Leave out tiles where you plan to install ceramic accessories (soap dish, towel bar, etc.) Use bullnose trim pieces to finish edges on walls where necessary.

Floor Layout:
When tiling floors, begin by marking the center points of all four walls. Snap chalk lines between the center points of opposite walls. The lines will intersect in the center of the room. Make sure that the lines make perfect squares and adjust if necessary.
Lay out a row of loose tiles along the center lines in both directions, leaving spaces for uniform joints between the tiles (use tile spacers). If this layout leaves small cuts (less than 1/2 tile) at walls, then adjust the center line by snapping a new chalk line a half tile closer to the wall.

Repeat this process along the other center line, adjusting as necessary. Now divide the room into smaller grids by snapping additional chalk lines parallel to the center lines. To fit the exact dimensions of these grids, lay out an area of tile approximately 2' x 3' starting in the center of the room along the center lines. Use tile spacers or leave equal joints between the tiles. Measure this grid and use the dimensions for each
smaller grid throughout the room.

Begin installing tiles in the center of the room. Install one quarter of the room, one quarter at a time. Finish each grid before moving on to the next one. Cut and fit the perimeter tiles in each grid last. Leave a 1/4" gap between the tile and walls. Do not walk on fresh tiles for about 24 hours until they set.

Countertop Layout:
When tiling counters, lay out tiles from front to back. Begin with counter trim then set full tiles on the first row working backward, so all cuts are made on the back row against the wall. Special trim pieces are available for use around recessed sinks, appliances, etc. if necessary. Snap parallel chalk lines on the substrate as needed to keep rows straight.
For backsplashes, match up joints with the countertop tile.

Begin with full tiles at the counter, working up so that all cuts are made on the top row under cabinets. Use bullnose trim pieces on flat walls or sides. Tile countertops should have a tile backsplash at least four inches high for protection.

3. Setting Tile:
Variation of shade and texture is an inherent characteristic of ceramic tiles. For a blended effect, mix tiles from several cartons as you set.
Tile ceilings before walls, Tile walls before floors.
Tile countertops before backsplashes. Once you have chosen the proper adhesive or mortar, read all instructions and precautions on the package before using. Mix thinset or mortar according to the directions on the package. Mix only enough to be used within 30 minutes.

Pre-mixed wall tile adhesives can be applied directly from the can without mixing. Determine the appropriate type of trowel (V or square-notch) and the right size (depth of notches) for the type of tile you are setting. Refer to the setting material package for recommendations.

Applying Adhesives:
Spread a 1/4" thick coat of adhesive onto the surface of one grid area using the flat side of the trowel. Do not cover the guidelines. When completed, immediately use the notch side of the trowel to comb adhesive into standing ridges by holding the trowel at a 45 degree angle. Remove any excess adhesive, leaving the setting bed uniform and ridged. Spread no more area than can be set in 15 minutes.

Setting Tile:
After determining the appropriate adhesive and mortar, begin setting the tile. Start with the first tile in the corner of the grid and work outward. Set tiles one at a time using a slight twisting motion. Do not slide tiles into place. Insert tile spacers as each tile is set, or leave equal joints between tiles. Continue until all tiles within the grid are set. When grid is completely installed, tap the tiles in with a rubber mallet or hammer and wood block to ensure a good bond and a level plane. Remove any excess adhesive from joints with a putty knife and from the face of tiles with a damp sponge before moving on to the next grid.
Each grid must be installed correctly and completely within the layout grid lines for a successful overall installation.

Cutting Tile:
Measure tiles to be cut carefully and mark with a pencil or felt-tip pen. Edges that are too sharp may be smoothed with a carborundum stone. Make straight or diagonal cuts using a tile cutter. Make small curved cuts with nippers. Chip away small pieces for best results. Make full length curved cuts with a rod saw.
Soap dishes, towel bars, paper holders, etc. should be set in the spaces left out for them.

Apply a room temperature, silicone sealant to the back of each accessory. Position over hole and press firmly. Wipe off any excess silicone that may have leaked out from the sides. Use masking tap to hold in place and prevent slippage during cure time. After 24 hours, remove tape and grout perimeter edges.

4. Grouting Joints:
Before grouting joints, the tile should be well-set to prevent breaking the bond. Refer to the adhesive package for specific time. Generally, you should wait about 24 hours before grouting. Remove all the spacers used for setting. For the correct type of grout for your tile installations, refer to the following chart:
Wall/Counter Tile:
Joint Width Grout Type
Less than 1/8"
More than 1/8" Non-sanded
Fine-grain sanded

Floor Tile:
Joint Width Grout Type
Less than 1/8"
1/8" to 3/16"
More than 1/8" Non-sanded
Fine-grain sanded
Coarse-grain sanded

Determine the grout color of your choice. For best results, choose on the color-coordinates with the tile.
Carefully read all instructions and precautions on the package. Mix grout according to instructions. Make only enough to use within about 30 minutes. Wear protective gloves to protect your skin. Spread the mixed grout on the tiled surface, forcing grout down into joints with a rubber grout float or squeegee. Tilt the float at a 45 degree angle to aid the compacting action. Remove excess grout from the surface immediately with edge of float. Tilt float at a 90 degree angle and scrape it diagonally across the tiles. Continue the process of compacting, then scraping off excess, until you have grouted for approximately 30 minutes or when the mixture begins to stiffen. Discard stiffened grout mixture and begin cleanup procedure.

Cleanup:
Wait 15 to 20 minutes for grout to set slightly, the use a damp sponge to clean grout residue from the surface and smooth the grout joints. Rinse sponge frequently and change water as needed. Let the area dry until grout becomes hard and a haze forms on the tile surface, then polish with a soft cloth. If haze is stubborn, you may want to rinse again with a sponge and clean water. Wait 72 hours before heavy use. Do not apply sealers or polishes for three weeks until fully-cured, and only in accordance with manufacturer's recommendations.
About the Author
Bruce Mendes has been in the retail trade business for 15 years specializing in flooring and cabinetry. He has a high end showroom in Central Ohio and a web presence at . If you have any questions or comments you can email him at
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