How to Install Tile Flooring

How to Install Tile FlooringInstalling tile flooring is a home improvement task many people are interested in trying. It requires forethought and preparation to avoid costly mistakes, but knowing how to install tile flooring properly helps guarantee lasting, quality results.


You must have a good foundation before you install tile floor components; the weight of ceramic tile requires a solid, flat surface that doesn't bow or bounce. Opinions vary on whether removing existing flooring is necessary; however, if there is visible damage, or if you have any doubts about the stability of the subfloor, remove the existing material if you can. A word of caution with older homes: Do not tear up the current floor if you suspect there may be asbestos present. If you're unsure, it's worth contacting a professional to perform an assessment.

If you remove the existing flooring, check the subfloor for looseness, uneven patches or areas that give. Repair methods will vary depending on the condition, but they may include nailing down boards, placing shims, sanding rises or filling dips. If you have a concrete subfloor, repair any visible damage and sand uneven spots.

An underlayment over the subfloor also creates a stable base. In moist areas, such as kitchens and baths, water-resistant cement board works well. In some cases, you can install the underlayment over the existing floor.

If you choose to install new tile directly over existing flooring, make sure the surface is smooth and even, and remove any wax or grease that will prevent adhesives from sticking. The base foundation alone should be no less than 1 1/8 inches thick, so check the height of thresholds and cabinets before you begin.

Planning the Layout

Experiment with your tile layout to discover a pattern that suits you. First, mark the center of the room by snapping perpendicular chalk lines measured from opposite walls. Once you have a cross point, use a carpenter's square to verify that it forms a 90-degree angle. Begin placing your tiles from the center, setting them along the chalk lines and leaving grout space.

When you reach the walls, it's ideal to have a width equal to at least half a tile for the last placement. If necessary, you can adjust the center starting point and snap new chalk lines to achieve this layout. Continue placing tiles, and also test arrangements around cabinets and fixtures to determine the proper fit and minimize the amount of tile cutting. The old adage "measure twice, cut once" is invaluable when installing tile flooring. Creating additional chalk lines in a grid fashion can be helpful as well.

Cutting Tile

Several types of tools are available for cutting tile. Whichever method you use, always wear safety glasses.

A glass or tile cutter scores tiles without cutting through. If the tool does not also snap tiles after scoring, place the tile on a raised, flat surface with the scored line beyond the edge. Hold the tile securely and apply firm pressure to the free portion.

Tile nippers cut out small bites of tile to achieve a desired shape. They're useful when creating a curved edge to fit around a fixture. Mark the desired form with a drawing compass, and then use nippers to gradually shape the cut.

Renting a wet saw is useful for bigger jobs. Mark your tile, and align the mark with the cutting guide on the saw. Slowly push the tile toward the saw blade, letting it do most of the work. Forcing or rushing may cause the tile to break.

If you have jagged or rough edges after cutting tile, use nippers, a round file or a rubbing stone to smooth them.

Laying the Tile

Prepare your thin-set mortar or adhesive according to directions. You may want to wear rubber gloves. Start in the middle where your chalk lines intersect, and use a notched trowel to apply the mortar or adhesive to a small area you can easily reach. Use straight lines, and make sure all of the substance contains trowel ridges.

Carefully place the center tile, pressing down slightly. Place additional tiles in the same manner. You may want to use plastic spacers to maintain consistent gaps for grout. Clear any substance that oozes up between tiles, and also clean the tile surfaces. Use a rubber mallet to lightly tap tiles into position, employing a carpenter's level to ensure even placement. Continue working in small sections, setting whole tiles before working with cut tiles.

Once every piece is placed, follow the manufacturer's instructions regarding drying time. It may take 24 to 48 hours.

Applying Grout

Mix the grout according to directions, using small batches and working in small sections. You may want to wear rubber gloves. Remove any tile spacers, and then use a rubber grout float to spread the material, forcing it down into the tile joints. Hold the float at a 45-degree angle to scrape excess grout from the tile surfaces. You can use a toothbrush to help shape grout in the joints.

After 15 to 20 minutes, carefully wipe all grout from the tile surfaces with a wet sponge, but avoid washing away the grout in the joints. Rinse your sponge often and replace dirty water.

After the grout has cured for the manufacturer's specified time, which may take a week to 10 days, apply a sealer to help protect and maintain the grout.

Knowing how to install tile flooring properly requires patience and care, but achieving beautiful, lasting results is well worth the time.

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