How To Install Tile

This article is meant to provide a very broad overview of how to install tile and help you understand the materials, tools, and methods used to complete the job. It is not a definitive guide since different installations will require more specific instructions.

Install Tile to Upgrade Your Place

Tile evokes a feeling of permanence and luster. Increasingly, it is considered an upgrade to other materials. Best of all, it is easy to care for. Whether you are tiling a wall, a shower or a floor, the process demands your attention in four areas: planning, surface preparation, installation, and finishing touches.

Planning for an Excellent Job

In the planning stage, you measure the space, select the tile, and calculate the quantities of materials. When you install tile you need some kind of glue, mastic, or mortar to hold them to the surface. You use a notched trowel to apply them, and you have to get the proper notch for the tile, and for the adhesive, you are using. Other things you will need include spacers for ceramic or porcelain tiles so you can maintain the same space between tiles. Also for ceramic or porcelain, you’ll need a couple types of cutters. You can buy these or rent them just depending on how many tiles you are using. One cutter cuts whole tiles into smaller pieces.

The other cutter, called a nibbler, is used to nip pieces so they fit around things better. The cutters that cut whole tiles can be electric like a wet saw with a diamond wheel that runs in water. Or, they can be manual with a wheel that scores the tile at the location you want to cut it. You will also select a grout for these types of tile and along with that, you should get a grout sponge for applying the grout between the tiles. If you are installing asphalt or vinyl tile you can use a razor knife to score them. Then you snap them along the line to separate the two pieces.

If you will be tiling a floor you might also want to get a pair of knee pads.

Surface Prep is Key

There is no substitute for thorough preparation of the surface that will be receiving the tile. It has to be level to within a sixteenth of an inch over the dimension of the tile you are installing. So if you are installing a 12inch tile, the substrate can’t vary more than a 1/16th inch over 12 inches. The surface also has to be firm, strong enough to support the tile, clean, and of a non-porous material. If you are putting tile on a wooden surface you should cover that surface with a layer of cement board and follow the manufacturer’s instruction for fastening it down.

Install Tile Overview

Now you are ready to begin the installation. Entire books have been written on this aspect but here are the basics. You ‘layout’ the job so the tiles that have to be cut, will end up in places they are least noticeable. For example, along a rear wall where furniture will be placed, or under the overhang of a vanity. A typical way to begin is to use a chalk line, or a four-foot level and a pencil, to mark a center line to begin from.

Then you apply the mastic or glue, work it level with one side of your notched trowel and then use the other side of the trowel to create the bed for the tile. You set the tile in place and press down. Then you move on to the next and so on, making sure that you keep the tops of the tiles level with each other and following your lines so the “field” of tiles stays straight. For porcelain and ceramic tiles, you use the spacers as you move along to keep the tiles evenly spaced. Asphalt and vinyl tiles fit together tightly. For both types of tile, you cut them to fit around objects like wall outlets and cabinets, etc. If you are tiling a bathroom floor you remove the toilet first so the tiles will fit underneath it.

Vinyl and Asphalt Aspects

For asphalt and vinyl tiles, once the field is down you need to roll them with a tile roller. Again you can rent these. Then you seal them with the proper number of coats of sealer that is recommended by the manufacturer. Finally, since these are mostly used on floors you will install a baseboard, or a piece of one-quarter round molding all around the perimeter to finish the job.

Porcelain and Ceramic Aspects

For porcelain and ceramic, you’ve got a ways to go yet. Once the mastic is cured, usually a day, the next step for these installations is to grout the spaces between the tiles. Use your grout sponge and work the grout into the slots being sure to get things even. This is a messy job and you’ll want to clean the tile surfaces as you go so cleanup isn’t too overwhelming. Let the grout dry and then seal the grout lines with a sealer. Here too, if this is an installation on a floor then you’ll need to reinstall the baseboard you previously removed, or use one-quarter round molding along the edges.

Now, if instead of feeling overwhelmed by what you’ve read so far you are more interested and convinced you should give this a try, then you should get some more in-depth instructions for the kind of tile you are planning to install. And above all, remember, there is no substitute for thorough planning when it comes to installing tile.

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