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How to Install a Tile Floor

May 7, 2017

 

 

 

 

Tile flooring may be intimidating to the beginner or DIY weekend warrior, but once you understand a couple basic concepts, any beginner should be able to tackle a tile project with success.

 

The first important step when laying a tile floor is to make sure the floor is flat.  If the floor is not flat before you start laying tile, you could end up with uneven or cracked tiles.  

 

Depending on what comprises your current floor, there are a few different ways of ensuring your floor substrate is flat.  

 

Hardwood/Plywood floor substrates: If the floor you are tiling is made of either of these two materials, you will want to install cement board overtop of the floor and fasten the sheets down with galvanized screws.  Cement board helps even out any uneven spots you may have in your wood floor.

 

*Important:  If you are installing tile in a kitchen or bathroom, be sure to lay cement board down prior to your tile installation.  Cement board helps ensure that water does not penetrate the floor and rot out any plywood, or hardwood flooring underneath.

 

Cement floor substrates:  If you are tiling over a cement floor, you will want to make sure that the floor is both level, as well as dry. 

 

First, make sure the floor is level by laying a 6 ft level down onto the floor.  The level will indicate whether there is any dips in the concrete floor.  Be sure to perform this test all throughout the area you are set to tile.  If the level indicates that the cement substrate is not perfectly flat, you will need to level the floor using a self leveling cement.  This may sound tricky, but it’s actually quite fun.

 

Cement leveler is sold in the tile section of most home improvement stores.  Mix the cement leveler according to the package instructions, but make sure the cement mixture is of a low viscosity.  Pour the material onto the floor wherever you think there is the largest depression, or dip in the floor.  Quickly spread the material over the entire floor using a squeegee and then let is settle.  Using gravity, the self leveling cement will form a perfectly level floor for you to lay your tile over.

 

When working with a cement floor you will also need to know if the floor is dry.  To do this, place a piece of clear plastic over 2’x2’ section of the floor.  Apply duct tape to the outside of the plastic and let it sit of 24 hours.  If water forms on the underside of the plastic you know you have moisture in the floor, and it’s probably not a good idea to tile it.  Moisture will degrade and crack tile overtime, leaving you with an ugly crumbling floor.

 

Once you have prepped your floor, you are ready to tile.  

 

No matter what type of tile you are installing, whether it is small 1” netted tile or large 14X14” tile, I strongly recommend laying the tile out over the length and width of the floor, and establishing a dry layout. 

 

It is important to lay the tile out so that you can center the tile in the room.  In other words, the tile width that meets the wall on one side of your room, should be the same width on the other side of the room.  Aesthetically it will look out of place to have a full tile started at one side of the room, and a small sliver of a tile at the other side of the room.

 

Once you have your dry layout you can start setting the tile.  

 

Apply thin-set to the floor using a thin-set trowel.  What type of trowel you use depends on the type of tile that you are laying.  If you are laying small netted tile, use a small “V” shaped trowel.  If you are installing larger square, or plank tile, use a rectangular shaped trowel.  

 

Scrape the Thin-set across the floor so that rows of thin-set form in the area that you are laying tile.  I like to lay the thin-set perpendicular to the direction of foot traffic.

 

Once the mastic is down, put the tile in place and push down to ensure it is set.  If at this time there is any wobbling in the tile, you will need to “back butter” the tile.

 

“Back-Buttering” is a technique that helps ensure the tile is properly supported and does not crack once the thin-set is dry.  You may need to do this in areas that the floor is still not perfectly level.  

 

To do this, lift up the tile and apply thin-set to the bottom of the tile in the area that wasn’t completely touching the floor.  Lay the tile back down and make sure the thin-set is now supporting the tile. 

 

If you are using large tiles, you may need to implore the use of 1/4” plastic spacers in between the tiles to make sure you have proper spacing for your grout lines.

 

Sooner or later you will need to cut tiles to fit your area.  

 

I use two different types of tile cutters.  For straight cuts I suggest using a simple tile cutter seen here:

 

 

This tool is very easy to use and creates a nice clean cut line.  All you have to do is score the tile with it’s small circular blade, then snap the tile in half using the pressure pad and cutting handle.

 

For cuts around doors, toilets, support pillars, etc, you will need a wet tile saw pictured here:

 

 

The wet tile saw uses a larger diamond blade and works much the same as a wood table saw.

 

*Be sure to use eye and ear protection when operating both of these tile saws.

 

Once you have laid all of your tile and given the thin-set 24hrs to dry, you are ready to grout.

 

There are a couple different kinds of grout available depending on your application.  

 

The most important thing to understand when picking out grout is the width of your grout lines.  

 

Example: You do not want to use a heavy sanded grout on small 1/8” grout lines.  Transversally, you do not want to use a poly-blend grout on large 1/4” grout lines.  The bag or container of grout will delineate what measurement of grout line the product is engineered for.

 

Sanded grout:  Used for larger grout lines in residential kitchens, bathrooms, and showers.

 

Poly-blend Grout:  Used for smaller netted tile in residential kitchens, bathrooms, and showers.

 

Epoxy Grout:  Used in commercial kitchens, bathrooms, and work areas.

 

Once you’ve determined what grout is right for you, pour a small amount onto the tile.  Using a grout float, press the grout into the grout lines by dragging the grout across the floor at a 45 degree angle to the tile.  

 

When the grout line is completely filled, remove as much grout from the floor as you can using the grout float.  The more grout you remove during application, the easier it will be to clean the floor in the next step.

 

After applying the grout, wait 15 to 30 minutes for it to set.  With a large sponge and a bucket of warm water, remove the residual grout that is laying on top of the tile.  Be sure not to press to hard when running the sponge over the grout lines, you don’t want to pull the grout out of where it is intended to be.  

 

With that, you should have a brand new tiled floor that will last decades!  Tiling a floor is a bit more work then linoleum or carpet, but it lasts virtually forever and as long as the color is in fashion, always looks brand new.

 

I hope this post helps you with your project. 

 

If you have any questions, please feel free to email me!  

 

I hope this article helps you with your project.

 

For help with your project, please feel free to call or email me from the contact page.

 

K&A Handyman Services

(412)532-8403

 

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