Home Improvement Expert Danny Lipford

How to Lay a Tile Floor

By:

Tile Floor.

Laying a tile floor is not as hard as you might think and can save the expense of having it professionally installed. To get started you’ll need:

Tools:

    Box of tile

  • Pencil
  • Tape measure
  • Level
  • Speed square
  • Notched trowel
  • Rubber float
  • Grout sponge
  • Tile spacers
  • Power drill
  • Mixing paddle
  • 5-gallon buckets
  • Kneepads
  • Safety glasses and earplugs
  • Scoring cutter or wet saw
  • Handsaw or jamb saw

Materials:

  • Tile
  • Thin-set mortar
  • Cement backer board
  • Cement board screws
  • Grout
  • Sealer

Measuring Floor

Measure your floor carefully and calculate the number of square feet needed.

  • For square or rectangular rooms, multiply the length of the room by the width, rounding all measurements up to the nearest foot.
  • Divide odd shaped rooms into square or rectangular sections. Calculate the square footage for each section and add them together.

Purchasing Tile

A wide variety of mosaic ceramic tile patterns are available.

Tile comes in a wide variety of sizes, styles, and colors. Keep these points in mind when deciding on your tile:

  • If this is your first tile project, keep the layout and pattern simple.
  • Large tiles work well in a big area but can dominate smaller rooms.
  • Consider tiles with a rough or textured finish, since glossy surfaces can be slippery when wet.
  • Buy 10% – 15% more tile than needed to account for breakage, mistakes, and future replacement.
Scraping old adhesive off floor

Scraping old adhesive off floor

Surface Preparation

Start by removing the existing flooring. Scrape off any residual adhesives or mortar, and clean the floor thoroughly.

Check to see that the subfloor is flat and level. Fill any low spots and cracks in a concrete subfloor with concrete patching compound.

For wood framing, make sure the subfloor is dry, rigid, and securely attached to the joists.

Never apply tile directly to plywood or a wood subfloor. Instead, cover the subfloor with cement backer board, using corrosion resistant screws that are countersunk flush with the surface of the backer board.

Screwing down cement backer board to a plywood subfloor

Screwing down cement backer board to a plywood subfloor

Trim the bottom of the door jambs so the tile will fit under them using either a handsaw or jamb saw (available to rent at tool rental centers).

Using a jamb saw to trim the bottom of door casings so tile can fit under it

Using a jamb saw to trim the bottom of door casings so tile can fit under it

Layout

Consider how the tile can best be laid out to maximize aesthetic appeal and minimize cutting. The tile can either be centered on the floor, or full tiles can be used along the most visible walls. When laying out the floor:

Mixing up thin-set adhesive

Mixing up thin-set adhesive

  • Check square: Measure the length of each wall, and the diagonals from corner to corner. The room is square if opposite walls are the same length and the diagonals match.
  • Establish Guidelines: Pop chalk lines on the floor parallel to the walls to act as guides for laying the tile.

Laying Tile

Mix up thin-set mortar in a 5-gallon bucket using a mixing paddle chucked into a low speed drill. Follow the instructions, being sure to use the correct ratio of water to mortar mix.

Make up only as much mortar mix as can be worked in 15-20 minutes. Keep a bucket of clean water and a sponge handy to wipe off any excess before it sets and to clean tools.

Use a notched trowel to spread the mortar evenly on a small area where you will start laying the tile. Position the tile in the mortar along the guidelines and press into place.

Spread thin-set adhesive. Set tile in adhesive.

Spread thin-set adhesive, then set tile in adhesive.

Following the guidelines, position the next tile, using plastic spacers to keep the joints uniform.

Use plastic spacers to align the joints in tile.

Use plastic spacers to align the joints in tile.

Check the alignment of the tiles as you go along to be sure they are both level and straight.

Level tile. Align edges of tile.

Level tile, then align edges of tile.

When laying tile, work from the subfloor to avoid putting weight on the new tile, and allow it to set for 24 hours before walking on it. Work backward toward a doorway to keep from working yourself into a corner.

Measuring for border tile

Measuring for border tile

Cutting Tile

Once the full tiles are laid and safe to walk on, the next step is to cut and fit the partial border tile along the walls.

To do this, measure the distance to the wall, minus the width of the grout line, and mark each tile.

A scoring cutter can be used to make straight cuts that extend all the way across a tile.

Another option for cutting tile is a wet saw equipped with a diamond tipped blade, which can make both through and partial straight cuts.

Both types of tile cutting tools can be rented at tool rental outlets. Be sure to wear eye and ear protection when working with power tools.

Scoring cutter                                               Wet saw

Scoring cutter | Wet saw

Tile nippers can be used to make curved cuts by breaking small amounts off at a time. You can also make several parallel cuts with a wet saw, then break off the excess and fine-tune the cut with nippers.

Tile nippers are used to break off small amounts of tile.

Tile nippers are used to break off small amounts of tile.

A handheld grinder with a diamond blade can also make curved cuts. Using a dry grinder on tile produces a lot of dust, so work outside or in a well ventilated area and wear a mask or respirator. A small, handheld wet saw also works well and doesn’t generate dust.

Shaping curves with a grinder           Portable wet saw makes curved cuts

Shaping curves with a grinder | Portable wet saw makes curved cuts

Once the border tiles have been cut to size, apply thin-set to the subfloor. A small, notched margin trowel comes in handy when working in tight places.

Finishing Wall Edges

When fitting border tile next to a wall, leave a small gap that is covered with baseboard or quarter round molding. Another option is to install tile 4” up the wall using thin-set or construction adhesive. Be sure to line up the joints in the baseboard tile with the floor for a continuous look.

Applying tile to a wall to serve as a baseboard

Applying tile to a wall to serve as a baseboard

Applying Grout

After the tiles are laid and the mortar has set, the joints are filled with grout. Unsanded grout may be used on joints less than 1/8” while larger joints require sanded grout. Clean the joints to remove any dust and debris before filling.

Mix the grout with the recommended amount of water in a 5-gallon bucket using a mixing paddle and power drill. Allow it to sit for 5-10 minutes then stir again. Apply the grout with a rubber float, dragging it across joints at a 45 angle.

Applying grout to joints in tile

Applying grout to joints in tile

Allow the grout to set up for a few minutes, then wipe off any excess using a sponge and bucket of clean water, working at an angle to the tiles. Wring the sponge out frequently and keep the water clean.

Using a damp sponge to remove excess grout from tile

Using a damp sponge to remove excess grout from tile

Sealing Grout

Once the grout has hardened for the recommended time, apply sealer to the joints using an applicator bottle or foam brush.

Appling sealer to grout lines in tile

Appling sealer to grout lines in tile

Further Information



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28 Comments on “How to Lay a Tile Floor”

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  1. anton mason Says:
    January 10th, 2009 at 11:06 am

    I need to know how to install 12 x 12 ceramic tile on a 4′ x 2’5 shower ceilling, do I have to put a prop to hold them in place

  2. christine Says:
    January 11th, 2009 at 3:21 pm

    help! the tile floor that i am currently installing is misaligned-how did that happen with exact measurements and how do i fix it?

  3. William Abell, Jr. Says:
    February 2nd, 2009 at 4:32 pm

    I am laying a tile floor in the kitchen. How do I allow for the possibility that the dishwasher might someday have to be removed from under the counter? It is already raised to maximum height under the counter.

  4. James Says:
    February 3rd, 2009 at 1:03 pm

    Question? Most of the interior flooring of our house is (12×12) tile – it is about 10 years old – and now we are getting hollow sound when you tap the tile and cracking noise when you walk on certain areas of the tile – do you have an easy solution to repair some of the areas or is this a mistake when the tile was layed? We live in Florida six months out of the year. Thank you for your advise.

  5. Ken from Michigan Says:
    February 4th, 2009 at 7:00 am

    I am a rrofessional installer for Sears and Mr. Abell’s comments are very important. Clearance issues are the biggest problem I run into and create the most added expense to the customer. Rule of thumb is to allow yourself a MINIMUM of 34 inches clearance between the NEW floor surface and the bottom of the countertop. The ideal clearance is 34 3/8″ all the way to the back of the dishwasher opening. That way all Kenmore, Whirpool, and Kitchenaid disthwashers can be rolled in, the front levelers adjusted and you are plumb and square. A Bosch will not even fit into anything less than 34″ so don’t even consider buying. A Maytag will fit into 33 1/2 but will have issues with the lower kick panel and are extremly difficult to hook up utilities.

  6. Cher Says:
    April 22nd, 2009 at 12:41 pm

    WE are laying tile on a sub floor that is on top on concrete. So we have slab, then plywood, then cement backer board,then thinset and tile. Should there be a vapor barrier on top of the slab before the wood in layed down?
    We are doing this in new construction to bring up the level of the floor to match the hardwoods. The same question would be over a slab floor what is the correct way to lay hardwood over slab?
    thanks,Cher

  7. Lawrence Says:
    October 12th, 2009 at 11:43 am

    We are a tiling contractor here in Dubai, I would just like to ask what are the Bathroom floor tiles slope requirements going to the floor drain?

  8. Dave May Says:
    December 21st, 2009 at 3:10 pm

    When the “tile pros” did the bathroom they tried to cut the tile around the door jamb. It looks awful. The tile is no longer made. Is there a way I can use molding to hide the botched cuts?

  9. Ken Says:
    March 9th, 2010 at 6:12 pm

    Don’t forget vertical height in the kitchen. Put in a new ceramic floor and you will probably never be able to get your dishwasher out. Rule of thumb- minimum of 34 inches from finished floor to bottom of countertop. If less than that get ready to get out your checkbook if you need a new dishwasher.

  10. shawn Says:
    June 1st, 2010 at 5:19 pm

    I am buying a house soon that is being built and the tile looks to be very misaligned, if the tile is 1/2″ in some places down to 1/8″ in other places and they left this hack job and just grouted it as is how horrible is that going to look once it is actually grouted and sealed?

    ……….also is sealing the grout standard practice?

  11. Official Comment:

    Ben Erickson Says:
    June 2nd, 2010 at 8:43 am

    Hi Shawn,
    The misalignment in your floor probably won’t look any better once the grout has been applied. Sealing grout is not usually standard practice for the installer, since you need to wait until the grout has fully cured before doing it.

  12. Anita Says:
    June 21st, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    Tile installed in the foyer between two stairs. How do we handle the edge of the tile on the step going down?

  13. Emad Says:
    August 22nd, 2010 at 5:02 pm

    Help!
    We have 20 years old tiles laid on concrete (ground floor) and now we have what looks like a bumpy area and when we walk on them there’s this hollow sound with a ‘sand griding’ like sound. When we walk on it, it goes down and then back up again. What could this be? and how to fix it?

  14. Ron Says:
    October 9th, 2010 at 9:52 am

    We are preparing to install 7/16″ stone tiles over 1/4″ backboard which has been cut into the 3/4″ oak flooring which leaves us 1/16″ short (beore thinset) of keeping the stone flush with the remaing hardwood floor. Can this difference be made up with the thinset or should we consider another underlayment?
    Thanks, Ron

  15. Paul Sander Says:
    October 13th, 2010 at 1:08 pm

    I have a home that is heated by circulating water under a slab. What kind of tile and glue should I use for existing floor heat?

  16. Chuck Lezotte Says:
    December 30th, 2010 at 5:54 pm

    Hi,

    Any suggestions on appling baseboard tile (13 1/2″) that is not the same size as the floor tile (17″). Any professional tips? Thank you

    Re: “Finishing wall edges” as shown in this article.

  17. Nick Says:
    April 21st, 2011 at 6:12 pm

    I’m replacing laminate tile with ceramic tile in the kitchen. When I pulled up the old tile, there’s a layer of black “something” over the concrete. It isn’t smooth and lifts in some spots. Should I try to get it up? What might it be?

  18. Darlene Barnes Says:
    June 16th, 2011 at 9:51 am

    I will be installing a tile floor in my kitchen. I have put down the cement board over a wood sub floor. Two of the sides will be open one to the living room and the other to the dining room (no walls). The tile floor will be higher than the wood floor in the other two rooms. How would be the best way to make the transitition to the lower wood floor?

    Thanks so much for your time.
    Darlene

    By the way I love your show and your wed site.

  19. Official Comment:

    Ben Erickson Says:
    June 30th, 2011 at 9:32 am

    Hi Darlene,
    To make the transition from a higher tile floor to a lower wood one, buy or make a wood threshold with a rabbet cut in the bottom of the tile side of the threshold the depth of the difference in the two floors, or add a strip of wood to the bottom of the threshold on the wood floor side, to bridge the difference. Good luck with your project!

  20. Fred justison Says:
    January 14th, 2012 at 8:10 pm

    After I take up the old tile can’t I just screw down a sheet of luan and lay tile on top of that.

  21. Dee Dee Says:
    February 5th, 2012 at 2:17 am

    IF THE FLOOR IS CONCRETE, DO I STILL HAVE TO USE THE CEMENT BACKER BOARD FIRST,BEFORE PUTTING THE TILES?

  22. deb Says:
    October 31st, 2012 at 7:53 pm

    Question:
    When putting in 12 X 12 ceramic tiles, is it best to put them 1/8 inch apart or 1/4?

  23. James Says:
    November 5th, 2012 at 3:14 pm

    Our 12×12 tile floor is making a crackling noise when you walk on it – the thin set must be coming lose. Our Florida home is 12 yrs old and when it was 4 yrs old this started happening. Do you have a solution to the problem?

  24. Ernesto Says:
    March 26th, 2013 at 12:06 pm

    What is the easiest way to measure tiles for a curved wall?

  25. RA Lavoie Says:
    July 14th, 2013 at 2:11 pm

    I wish to remove old ceramic tiles in kitchen and place a radiant floor, then top with new travertine tiles. Do I need to remove cupboards and do travertine over all the floor or is it okay to do only the open spaces in the kitchen. I will only lay radiant heat wire on travelled area of course.

  26. James Says:
    July 15th, 2013 at 10:33 am

    my husband and I enjoy reading your emails…they are so helpful in planning and designing future improvements.

  27. Official Comment:

    Ben Erickson Says:
    July 22nd, 2013 at 2:14 pm

    Hi RA,
    Your question was answered in the second hour of our July 20th Today’s Homeowner radio show. You can listen to the show on our website at http://www.todayshomeowner.com/radio/2013/07/20/todays-homeowner-radio-show-for-july-20-2013/
    Thank you for your interest!

  28. shalle gaye samuels Says:
    March 27th, 2014 at 7:04 pm

    my question is why do you grout the tile

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