How to Install Ceramic Tile Flooring in 9 Steps

Materials Needed for Laying Tile

Installing tile flooring uses a lot of tools. Specialty tools you may never use on another project, but they’re absolutely a necessity and it is not recommended you try without them. These can all be purchased, and some rented, from your local home improvement or tile stores.

So, here’s a general list of necessary materials. You should look to tailor materials to your specific job on an as-needed basis.

  • Safety & Comfort
  • Goggles or Safety Glasses

  • Knee Pads

  • Cutting/Laying Tile
    • Tile (enough to cover the full square footage of room plus 10% for waste; 15% for patterns)

    • Thin-Set Mortar

    • Thin-Set or Grout Mixing Drill, OR a 1/2” Heavy Duty Drill and Mixing Paddle

    • Level or 6’ Straight Edge

    • Notched Trowel*

    • 1/8”-3/16” Spacers, or Leveling Spacers

    • Tile Cutter or Tile Saw

    • Diamond Hole Saw (optional)

    • Rubber Mallet (optional)

    • Contour Gauge (optional)

    • Tile Nippers (optional)

  • Grouting & Finish Up
    • Grout** (sanded or unsanded as needed)

    • Grout Float

    • Grout Sponge(s)

    • Buckets

    • Caulk (sanded, unsanded, acrylic, or silicone, as the job requires)

    • Grout sealer (optional)

    Yup. That’s a lot of tools. Many of these are tools you will use on other jobs, but some of these are dedicated tile tools. Bear this in mind when planning your project.  Some of these tools are specific to one phase of the project, whereas others – like safety glasses – are a good tool for the entire job. While you can get by with a tile cutter for ceramic tile or some softer natural stone, a wet saw or tile saw makes the job much easier for more dense materials such as porcelain tile.

    *The size of your notched trowel will vary based on the size of the tile to be installed. For tile that is 13×13” or under, a 3/8” square notch works. Large-format tiles require a deeper layer of thin-set, using a larger 1/2” square notch trowel. Mosaic tiles would use a smaller trowel, such as 1/4” square notch.**Generally speaking, you will want to use sanded grout for flooring applications and grout joints larger than 1/8”. However, if you’re installing a stone product that would scratch from the sand, you can look at an epoxy-based unsanded grout for the larger floor joints. Epoxy grouts can be less pliable and more difficult to work with (as well as more expensive) than sanded grout, so be forewarned.

    4. Laid the Tile Out Wrong

    Installing tile floor in a diagonal pattern requires special planning. If your tile is square you can measure 45-degree angles.How you lay tiles changes when they are diamond and not square. Start by centering the tiles. Line up the corners with a single layout line.

    Build the design out around this first measurement. Check your lines with a straightedge as you work.

    Video

    Tools Materials

    • Straight edge - 10 foot

      Straight edge – 10 foot

    • Rubber grout float

      Rubber grout float

    • Notched trowel

      Notched trowel

    • Rubbing brick

      Rubbing brick

    • Drill/driver

      Drill/driver

    • Pointing trowel

      Pointing trowel

    • Margin trowel

      Margin trowel

    • Flush cut saw

      Flush cut saw

    • Tape measure

      Tape measure

    • Tile cutter

      Tile cutter

    • Nippers

      Nippers

    • Carbide-tipped scorer

      Carbide-tipped scorer

    • Folding layout A-square

      Folding layout A-square

    • Wet saw with diamond blade

      Wet saw with diamond blade

    How to prepare the floor

    Preparation is key when it comes to installing tile. Most importantly, the floor needs to be clean, level and strong enough to support tile, grout and all of your furniture when finished.

    In many cases, proper preparation means installing a cement backer board on top of your subfloor or over your existing tiles to provide a sturdy and flat surface to lay your tiles. But it’s unnecessary if you already have concrete floors, to which you can attach the tiles directly (just make sure they’re clean and level).

    You can find sheets of backer board at your local hardware or tile store and cut them to fit your room. Then, using a notched trowel, apply an even layer of thin-set mortar to your subfloor, lay down the backer board and secure it with cement board screws around the edges of the board. Finally, apply fiberglass tape where the edges meet and cover the tape with another layer of mortar.

    2. Cracking the Tile

    When cutting tile, take some precautions to make sure you do not break them. Too many broken tiles will become wasteful and expensive.

    Using a diamond wet saw is the best method for cutting tile. A diamond saw blade is abrasive and not toothed.Before cutting, mark the tile with a pencil. You can use a regular lead or grease pencil for this.

    Place the tile against the fence and line up the line with the blade. You will need to wait for the water to flow after turning the saw on.

    Use a slow even pressure while making your cut. As you get to the end of your cut push the two halves together. Holding the tiles stops them from breaking.

    If you hear the blade slow down as your cutting then you are pushing too fast. The harder the material you’re cutting is, the slower you need to go.

    Step-by-step Guide on Tile Installation

    Step #1: Preparation 0f Concrete Sub-Floor

    Laying the tiles on the concrete floor requires little technical skills but knowing the right steps to do the task. Before everything, you should ensure that your sub-floor is suitable to go. In this initial step, all you have to do is clean the concrete surface off dust and debris using either a shop vacuum or a broom. After that, follow with a robust detergent solution (TSP) to ensure that the floor is clean to standards.

    Step #2: Leveling the Sub-Floor

    Using a level, you should determine whether the floor is on a level or not. If not, you should purchase a self-leveling underlay to guarantee an even surface. If there are pockmarks and cracks, you can use some leveling compound or filler.

    Using a roller or a paintbrush, roll or brush latex premier on the concrete sub-floor and wait for it to dry according to the manufacture’s instructions. Mix the self-leveling underlay in a bucket and pour it at the lowest area of the concrete, and it will level out. Alternatively, you can purchase a pre-mixed self-leveling compound and use it in the same manner.

    Check on the level, smoothen the compound against the adjoining concrete with a trowel and give it a break to dry.

    Step #3: Placing the Anti-Fracture Underlay Membrane

    The anti-cracking membrane will solve the problem of cracking when the concrete is dry. The underlay is available in two forms: sheets or liquid. 

    When you opt for cut sheets, you should apply thin-set mortar to the concrete, then smoothening the membrane sheets using a trowel. Alternatively, you can also paint a viscous coat of the anti-fracture underlay on the concrete floor using a paintbrush.

    The unit-fracture underlay provides a cushion to the tiles and a layer of adjustment during seasons without cracking the tiles.

    Step #4: Establishing the Layout of Your Tile Floor

    1. First, establish the center line and snap a dot by using the length and width of the room.
    2. Using a carpenter’s square or a triangle ruler, ensure that the lines are perpendicular.
    3. Unpack your floor tiles to confirm the damages and possible color mismatch.
    4. Cover the entire floor surface of the floor with the tiles in a dry run using your chosen layout.
    5. Check the edge of the tile and adjust your center line if the tiles on either side fall below half the total number.
    6. Cut tiles near the edge. You can as well use tile nippers if you have to make small intricate cuts.
    7. Use a wet saw to cut the tiles to fit snugly in narrow spaces. Troubleshoot to ensure your cut tiles are a perfect fit before laying your tiles.
    8. Ensure a space of ¼ Inch exists all around the edges to allow room for expansion.

    All the above procedures are necessary during ceramic tile floor installation over concrete. Any mistake made in following the procedure might translate to a severe mess. When through with the methods, it is now time for laying your anticipated tile flooring in the already pre-determined layout.

    Warnings

    • Sealing grout makes it water resistant, not waterproof. Sealing grout will aid in the cleaning process, as the sealer will protect grout from water and unwanted oils. Though this provides necessary protection, this does not make the substance waterproof.[11]

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    Materials Required

    • #12×2″ stainless steel screws
    • 1/4-in. tile backer board
    • 1×4 guide boards
    • 2-1/2- galvanized screws
    • Acrylic additive
    • Alkali-resistant mesh tape
    • Backer board screws
    • Backer rod
    • Construction adhesive
    • Duct tape
    • Sanded caulk
    • Sanded grout
    • Silicone caulk
    • Thin-set mortar
    • Toilet extension ring
    • Transition threshold
    • Wax ring

    Estimating the Cost of a Tile Project

    The tile itself will be your biggest cost, so start by measuring the square footage of the floor. Then add 10 percent for cutting waste. If you choose a more complex layout than the simple grid pattern we used, your waste will be greater.

    Most tile sells for $5 to $15 per square foot, but you can spend as little as $3 or more than $50. If you have to install a backer board, add $2 per square foot to the cost of the tile. Other materials will cost about $90, regardless of bathroom size. The tile tools you’ll need (including a tile cutter) will total $60 to $80.

    Assess Your Floor

    The success of any tile job depends on a solid base — a floor that flexes very little as you walk across it. If you have a concrete subfloor, this isn’t an issue. You can lay tile directly over the existing vinyl as long as it’s well adhered.

    If possible, avoid tearing out vinyl flooring. Leaving it in place saves time, of course, but it also reduces asbestos hazard concerns. Asbestos was used in sheet vinyl and vinyl tile until the mid-1980s. By leaving the vinyl undisturbed, you won’t risk sending asbestos fibers into the air.

    If you have a wood subfloor, there’s a good chance you’ll have to install a backer board over your vinyl to make the floor thicker and stiff enough for tile. The easiest way to see flooring thickness is to pull off a floor register. Otherwise, look for plumbing passageways through the floor. As a last resort, drill through the floor with a one-inch or larger spade bit (your new floor will cover the hole later).

    To prevent asbestos dust from becoming airborne, mist the bit with a spray bottle as you drill. In addition to floor thickness, you’ll need to determine joist spacing. If there’s an unfinished basement or crawlspace below the floor, simply measure the spacing. If there’s a ceiling, probe for joists with a drill bit.

    If the joists are spaced 16 inches apart, the layers of structural flooring beneath the vinyl should add up to at least 1-1/8-in. With joists every 24 inches, you need 1-1/2-in. If your floor is too thin for tile, add a thicker layer of tile backer board. Our floor required 1/4-in.-thick backer. Yours might need 1/2-in. backer to reach the minimum thickness.

    If your floor is already thick enough, you can simply prep the vinyl floor (Photos 1 – 4) and skip the backer installation (Photos 5 – 8). Then tile directly over the vinyl, following the same steps we used over the backer board.

    Regardless of the type of subfloor, there are two situations where you can’t leave vinyl in place.

    First, if large areas of the vinyl are loose, don’t set tile or backer over it. Small loose spots are acceptable and easy to deal with (Photo 4).

    Second, “cushioned” sheet vinyl must be removed before you can set tile. Cushioned vinyl has a foam backing that makes it noticeably thicker and softer than standard vinyl flooring. It’s too spongy to support tile or backer board. Before removing it, call your local health department for instructions on how to check for asbestos and proper procedures if asbestos is present.

    Gather Advice While You Shop

    Home centers carry everything you need for this project, but begin shopping at a tile store, where you’re more likely to get expert advice on how to lay tile.

    Make a quick sketch of your floor plan and jot down all the dimensions. Also, take a photo of the floor at the doorway. This will help the tile store staff recommend a “transition” to neatly join the tile to the hallway flooring. Transitions come in different styles to suit any situation.

    When you choose the tile itself, ask if it requires any special installation steps. Some tile should be coated with grout release before grouting. Also, ask about cutting techniques for the tile. You’ll use sanded grout for the floor. Ask if sanded caulk is available in a color that matches your grout for the floor/tub and floor/wall tile joints.

      • Pro tip: When learning how to install tile, understand that cement products like thin-set and grout draw moisture from the skin and can even cause burns that require medical attention. While most pros work bare-handed, wear gloves if you have any special sensitivity. Also, wear eye protection while mixing thin-set and grout.

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