Tips for Installing A Tile Floor

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Installing a tile floor is one of the more difficult home remodeling projects. But with care, it’s within reach of anyone.

Start off on the right foot by acquiring one of the many home design software packages. Most will have a section on laying tile. It can’t prepare a floor or apply glue, but they’re terrific at helping you visualize the result and avoid mistakes. They provide design alternatives, measurement help and tips on dealing with glue, cutting tile and so forth.

Choose your tile according to taste, but keep in mind some differences in the options. Stone or slate tiles are beautiful, but generally higher priced than ceramic. They also require sealing after the job is done, in order to prevent staining and make for easy cleaning.

Be sure to select floor tiles, not wall tiles. The latter are thinner and won’t stand up to the pressure from walking.

Give some thought to how to prepare the area.

If it’s smooth and not too worn old vinyl or linoleum can be used under the tile. But over time it’s subject to warping. Soft spots under the tile can cause cracking.

If you’re starting with a concrete surface, check to ensure there are no high spots. You can do this in a few different ways. If you have a long level (three foot or more), lay it across the surface and look for light coming through.

Similarly, this can be done with a 2″ x 4″, but getting one straight enough can be challenging. To check, take two boards and lay them against one another. Now turn one around 180 degrees and lay it against the other again. That prevents being fooled by both being curved in the same direction.

If you have high spots, they can be smoothed by a coarse belt or disc sander. Small bumps can be chiseled away, but take care not to make the situation worse.

No surface will be perfectly flat, but anything more than 1/16th of an inch can lead to ‘rocking’ of the tiles. Since they’re glued in place, they don’t actually rotate. But pressure differences across the surface can cause cracks during use.

Floor surfaces need to be strong enough, too, to prevent flexing that would lead to the same ‘rocking’ problem. Uneven floors can be smoothed and strengthened with cement-fiber board or by using a composite spread across the surface with a very flat, wide tool.

Now find the center of your floor by taking two strings and laying them across the diagonals of the room. You can use chalk string to mark the lines on the floor and a Sharpie marker pen to mark the center.

Dry lay a few rows of sample tile, starting from the center, to get a feel for the pattern desired and to experiment with spacing for grout. Try to space tiles so that you have no less than a half-tile width at the walls.

Some tiles have built in spacers making alignment easy. Others can be spaced properly using rubber or plastic spacers. For an even look, it’s important that the width of the grout (the spacing between tiles) does not vary by more than 1/32nd of an inch (0.8mm).

Trowel out adhesive using a notched or saw-toothed trowel. For tight spots, lay the adhesive on the tile instead. In both cases, aim for low, long ridges. Lay the tile down and rotate back and forth slightly to seat.

Once a few rows are laid, and before the adhesive sets hard, take that long, wide, surface checking tool and a rubber mallet to tap tiles into final adjustment for a level floor.

Grout is easier to apply with one of the nozzled tubes. Lay a bead of a few feet long and wipe away any excess with a damp cloth before it sets.

Floors should cure for a few days to a week before use.


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