The Right Tile
Credit: Opensource

DIY Tile Floor

Tile is a natural choice if you are looking for a floor or wall covering that is beautiful, durable and affordable. It comes is a varieties of materials including ceramic, glass, travertine or porcelain just to name a few.[1]

Besides its durability and ease of installation, one of the other benefits of tile is that it allows for a lot of versatility and creativity. The tile design can make rooms seem larger or more intimate if that is the goal. If you want to brighten a room or make it seem more formal, there are options for that as well. The combinations are endless but it important to select the right option for each area of your home.

Selecting the Right Floor Tile

The most important consideration for a floor covering is durability. You can have the most How to Lay a Tile FloorCredit: Opensourcebeautiful tile design on yours floors, but if it is not durable enough to hold up to foot traffic, then you will be replacing it within a few years at considerable expense, time and effort. Products specifically designated for use on floors are engineered to tolerate these additional stresses so it is important to look for brands with a rating by the American National Standards Institute or the Porcelain Enamel Institute if possible. If not, check with your local flooring store to verify that the type you are thinking of buying is appropriate for your particular project.

Before you buy anything, sit down and think about what you will be using it for and where it will be located. Will it be in an area of significant moisture such as a bathroom? Floor tiles usually have a moisture rating assigned to them.  These ratings dictate where it can be used due to its resistance to mildew and mold and whether or not it should be sealed.[1]

Grade 1 – Standard grade

Grade 2 – Indicates minor glaze and size flaws

Grade 3 – Indicates major flaws, recommended only for decoration purposes.

Tile Lingo

Backboard- the material used for the wall behind the tile which can be cement, fiber cement, plywood, gypsum or even plastic

Mortar – a combination of sand and cement that dries hard and holds the backerboard in place

Thinset – the mortar that bonds the tile to the backerboard usually mixed with a latex admix to make it easier to work with

Grout – similar to thinset and mixed with a latex admix to make it water resistant; used to fill in the gaps in between tiles

Note: Although the various types of mortar and grout are basically made from the same thing, their proportions are different so you cannot substitute grout for thinset mortar or thinset for mortar.

Tiling for Contractors
Amazon Price: $29.99 $19.30 Buy Now
(price as of Jan 21, 2015)

Before You Begin

Before you begin working on your floor, you will need the following supplies and tools.

  • Ceramic floor tile, Thinset mortar, Latex admin
  • Self-leveling mortar
  • Fiberglass tape
  • Framing square and chalk line
  • Wood and plastic tile spacers  and plastic spacer removers
  • Grout, grout sealant and Silicone caulk
  • Combination square, tape measure and 4’ level and clamps
  • Tile cutter and rod saw
  • Notched trowel and rubber grout float
  • Power drill with mixing attachment and tile cutting bit
  • Grout sponge and foam brush

Before you go to buy the tile, use a tile calculator online to estimate the number of boxes you will need based on the dimensions of the floor or rooms you will be tiling.

Preparing the Floor Base for Tile

Most professionals advise that you start a floor with a solid base such as cement or fiber cement board such as durock, although there is a mastic option for installing it directly on ¾ “ plywood. However, most installers do not recommend this.

Others prefer a product called Ditra, particularly in moisture prone areas like bathrooms. A solid base will support the tile and prevent cracking in the future. Once you decide on a type of tile, follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for a base keeping in mind that mortar on certain types of backboards creates a much better bond.

  1. Using graph paper, draw the room including all of the walls, doors and anything sticking out like cabinets. Be sure to note the scale of the drawing.
  2. Next, check to see if the floor is level with no low spots. You can do this a couple of ways. Place a 4’ level on the floor in various areas and see if it rocks. Or, gently roll a ball in the middle of the floor and see if it migrates to one spot and stops. That would typically indicate a low spot in the flooring. If you are tiling where a refrigerator once sit, typically there is a low spot there because of the weight of the appliance over the years.
  3. Clean the area and prime it with a latex primer, then pour self-leveling wet mortar over the area and feather it out with a straightedge like a spare 2x4. Repeat this process for all areas determined to have low spots.

Prepare the Mortar

Read the manufacturer’s instructions on the side of the mortar and make sure there aren’t any special requirements. Be sure to follow the mixing directions. If the mortar doesn’t already contain latex, mix it in with the mixing tool and your power drill. The latex additive serves two purposes: it gives the mortar strength and it slows down the drying tile allowing you more time to work.

How to Lay Backer Board

Laying Backboard

For this discussion, we are using cement fiber backboard, sometimes referred to as Durock, for a tile base over the plywood subfloor.How to Lay a Tile Floor

  1. Snap a chalk line on the floor to indicate where the sheets of backboard will rest arranging each so that the ends are staggered to give the floor more strength.
  2. To cut pieces of backerboard to size, score it with a carbide cutting tool using a straightedge like a framing square to guide you. For some types of board, you will need to score both sides before you snap it.
  3. Apply a layer of mortar to small areas of the subfloor using the recommended notched trowel at a 45 degree angle, then place the panels over the mortar. The mortar will help keep the board from flexing.
  4. Screw the backboard in place with the appropriate type of screws every 5 inches. Avoid How to Lay a Tile FloorCredit: Opensourcescrewing into the floor joists.  Keep all screws at least 2 inches from each edge to keep from breaking the board.
  5. Repeat this process, sometimes piecing in sheets cut to size until the entire floor is covered.
  6. Fill the gaps between the backboard with thinset mortar and a margin trowel. Reinforce each gap with fiberglass tape which should be embedded into the wet thinset. Then cover the tape with another layer of thinset and feather the edges with a trowel to create a perfecting flat surface.

Planning the Floor Pattern

Now that your backerboard is in place and dried, you can layout your design using a chalk lineHow to Lay a Tile Floor Part II and a dry run of your pattern on the floor.

Measure the distance from both ends of the longest wall enough to cover 2 tiles rows allowing for a ¼ inch gap at the base of the wall. Mark this location with a pencil on the backboard.

Now snap a chalk line between the two points you just marked out from both sides of the wall in the previous step.

Repeat step 1 for the next longest adjacent wall to form a perpendicular intersection representing the center of a 4 tiles joined.

Using the formula for the Pythagorean theorem to make sure the angle is 90 degrees by marking points 3 feet and 4 feet from the intersection, then measuring diagonally between the two points. If the measurement is not 5 feet exactly, you are not square. In that case, you need to repeat the first 3 steps until you get it right because this is important to having your tiling lines straight.

Schluter Ditra 1/8" Underlayment 323sqft
Amazon Price: $395.00 Buy Now
(price as of Jan 21, 2015)

How to Lay Floor Tile

How to Lay a Tile Floor Part IIMake a dry run using the layout lines you drew on the backboard. You want to try to design your floor to make the most use out of whole tiles which eliminates waste and reduces the number of tile cuts you have to make.

Mix enough mortar to fill about half of a 5 gallon bucket using a drill attachment paddle.

Spread the mortar at an angle with a notched trowel into the backboard, then comb the adhesive out in straight lines at a 45 degree angle. This will create rows in the mortar that will allow each piece to grip and form a better seal once you press it into place.

Place the first one in your design along the chalk line and press firmly wiggly it slightly to get it into place.

Set the remaining tiles using the same process and butting them in place against the previous tile. Use plastic spacers in between each to get a uniform grout gap throughout the project. When using spaces, place them on their ends because they will be easier to remove later.

Amazon Price: $113.12 Buy Now
(price as of Jan 21, 2015)

Dealing with Obstacles

At some point you will have to make special cuts in the tile to get around something or you will reach the end of a row and there is not enough distance to the wall for a full size tile.

  • To close the gap between a wall, place a new tile on the last one set in thinset.  Place a marker tile on top against a spacer tile at the wall then trace the edge of the marker onto the new one to be cut.
  • To work around pipes, mark the width of the notch on the edge of the tile with the tile to be notched lined up with the one underneath it and butted against the pipe. Now measure the depth of the notch allowing for a ¼ gap against the wall. Now you have depth and width, enough to cut out the notch in the new tile.
  • For other types of obstacles that require a curved notch, use a tool called a nipper which breaks off small pieces of the edge of a tile until you form the curved notch you need.
Custom Building Products VersaBond Flex Fortified Thin-Set Mortar #MTWS50WHT
Amazon Price: $24.99 $13.38 Buy Now
(price as of Jan 21, 2015)

Grouting Ceramic Tile

Lay Tile on Floor
Credit: English: Cpl. Paul D. Zellner II via Wikimedia Commons

How to Lay Ceramic Tile Floor

Once the tile has been laid out on the floor, remove the plastic spacers and allow it to dry overnight. After the floor is dry, mix enough grout and latex admix to fill all of the joints and gaps in the tile.

How to Grout a Tile Floor

  1. Work in sections no bigger than 3 square feet at a time.
  2. Apply grout with a grout float using sweeping motions with the float held at a 45 degree angle to make sure you push the grout within the gaps.
  3. Remove the excess grout by sweeping the float across the tile diagonally to avoid dipping into the joints and pulling out the grout.
  4. Wipe the tiles with a damp sponge to remove grout residue
  5. Remove the haze on the tiles immediately by wiping with a damp cloth, then buff it out with a clean dry cloth. If you wait to do this part, it will be harder to remove the haze from the tile.

How to Lay a Tile Floor Part IIOver the next 3 days, cure the grout by misting it twice a day. However, if you used tinted grout, skip the curing because it will discolor.[1]

  1. Now apply tile and grout cleaner with a sponge, then scrub the surface with a stiff brush to remove any dried residue from the surface.
  2. Rinse with a damp sponge and dry with a clean cloth.
  3. Apply a sealer to penetrate the tile and grout.

Closing Thoughts

It is important to choose the right tile for the right project. Whether you choose natural stone, porcelain, ceramic or glass, tile is a versatile and durable option for your home that allows maximum creativity and elegance.

Be sure to choose the right option for the kitchen or bathroom, and pay attention to manufacture’s ratings and recommendations during installation. Some products have very specific instructions set forth by a particular manufacture and you must follow them if you want your work to adhere properly.

Light / Ivory 12X12 Tumbled Travertine Tile
Amazon Price: $16.99 $5.99 Buy Now
(price as of Jan 21, 2015)