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Laying Ceramic-Tile Floor

by: Creative Homeowner "Walls, Floors & Ceilings"

Laying ceramic tile on a floor requires preparation and precision. For starters, the floor must be smooth and clean as well as sound, strong, and rigid enough to accept ceramic tile. If laying the tile in a bathroom or other area that is likely to be wet, you'll need a water-resistant underlayment such as 5/8-inch exterior-grade plywood. You'll also want to preplan the layout of the tile to determine how many tiles you'll need and to help you visualize the overall pattern that the tiles might form.Prior to actually laying the tiles, remove the shoe molding of the baseboard trim as well as any door that will pass over the newly tiled floor. Because the new floor will be slightly higher than the old, the bottoms of these doors may need to be undercut to allow their unimpeded passage over the tiled floor. To protect against dust intrusion, seal all electrical outlets, air ducts, and open doorways.

Project: Moderately difficult
Estimated Project Time: 2 days or more, allowing for curing time
Estimated Project Cost: A 12' x 14' area using 6" x 6" standard grade 4 tile, may cost between $500.00 - $1500.00 depending on the cost of each square foot of tile.
Start Tips: Remember to allow for grout spaces between each tile.
Safety Tips: If adhesive is organic, volatile, or toxic, provide plenty of ventilation and wear a NIOSH-approved respirator as well as safety gloves.
Recommendation: Do-It-Yourself

Tools and Materials:

  • Framing square
  • 1x2 or 1x3 wooden battens
  • Hammer and nails, or screwdriver and screws
  • Ceramic tile, grout, and adhesive
  • Molded plastic spacers (nubs), or cord or wood strips to act as spacers
  • NIOSH-approved respirator and safety gloves, as needed
  • Notched trowel
  • Straightedge
  • Sheet of plywood
  • 2-foot length of 2x4 lumber and scraps of carpet for making bedding block
  • Rubber mallet
  • Pencil
  • Glass or tile cutter
  • Tile nippers
  • 80-grit sandpaper
  • Rubber float or squeegee
  • Tile sealer and grout sealer, as needed
  • Flexible silicone caulk
  • Sponge
  • Jointing tool or old toothbrush
  • Clean cloth

Mark Guidelines
Draw intersecting guidelines that form exact 90-degree angles to each other, using a framing square. These intersecting lines are usually established at the center of the room, but if the room has an irregular shape, various entrances, or walls that are curved, you may want to choose another reference, perhaps an important line of sight, for establishing these guidelines. Use chalk and a straightedge to draw these lines all the way to the walls.


Dry-lay the Tiles Across the Room
Lay out a row of tiles extending to the wall along each guideline. Remember to allow for grout spaces between each tile. (Some tiles have built-in spacers, called nubs; you can also place molded plastic spacers or similar items, like cord or wood strips, between tiles and remove them before grouting.) Dry-lay tiles to double-check the accuracy of the guidelines. This will ensure that the tiles will be positioned properly. When properly laid out, all the cut tiles at walls will be a half-tile or wider. Adjust the placement of starting guidelines as necessary. Nail or screw 1x2 or 1x3 wooden battens along the starting lines, as guides to help you lay the tiles perfectly straight along your work lines. Use a framing square to make sure the battens form true 90-degree angles.

Spread the Adhesive
If adhesive is organic, volatile, or toxic, provide plenty of ventilation and wear a NIOSH-approved respirator as well as safety gloves. Refer to the instructions that accompany the tile and the adhesive for specific information on applying the adhesive. Then, working within one quadrant at a time from the guidelines out to the walls, use a notched trowel to spread the adhesive on about 1-square-yard of floor at a time, progressing to larger areas as you gain more experience. Be careful not to cover any of the guidelines or touch the wood battens with adhesive or to disturb the battens (Fig. 1). (Remove the wooden battens when no longer needed for positioning tiles.)

Set the Full Tiles
Leaving space between the tiles for the grout, press each tile into position, twisting it slightly to bed it firmly. Do not allow the tiles to slide against each other; this will cause excess adhesive to accumulate in the grout joints. Check tile alignment frequently, using a straightedge or framing square (Fig. 2). If it is necessary to kneel or walk on tiles already positioned, lay a sheet of plywood over them to distribute the load evenly.
Embed the Full Tiles
Place a bedding block (a 24-inch length of 2x4 lumber, wrapped with scrap carpeting) over a section of floor tile. Using a rubber mallet, pound it uniformly across the surface to firmly embed the tiles (Fig. 3). Check your tiling frequently, using a straightedge, to verify that they are level. If the surface of one tile should settle below the surface of its adjoining tiles, then remove it, add more adhesive, and reset it.
Cut and Embed the Partial Tiles
If a partial tile will abut a wall, take two loose tiles, designated A (you will install part of this tile) and B, and place tile A directly on top of the last full tile preceding the space to be filled. Place tile B on top of tile A, and then slide tile B up to the wall. Using the edge of tile B as a guide, scribe a pencil line on the surface of tile A and then draw another line, placing it the width of two grout joints away. Using a glass or tile cutter, cut on this second line and then install the exposed portion of tile A (not the portion that was beneath tile B). (Fig. 4)
If the tile will be at a corner, set one tile atop another (B over A) at one side of the corner (Fig. 5), and mark that dimension.
Shift these two tiles into position on the other side of the corner, and mark the other line (Fig. 6). Remember to allow for the width of the grout joints as above.

For irregular cuts needed to fit a tile around an obstruction or unique configuration on the floor, first transfer to the face of the tile an outline of the piece needed. Then, using tile nippers, cut tiny pieces, 1/8-inch or smaller at a time, until the tile is the shape you need. Use 80-grit sandpaper to smooth and dull the nipped edges.
Set and embed the partial tiles as instructed in Steps 3 and 4.

Grout the Tiles
Allow at least 24 to 48 hours for the adhesive to cure (read literature for specifics), and then clean all tile joints, removing all spacers, if any. If the tile manufacturer recommends that the tiles be sealed, seal them now. Let the seal cure as instructed before doing any grouting. Mix grout according to the manufacturer's recommendations. Using a rubber float or a squeegee, spread the grout diagonally across the joints, packing them firmly (Fig. 7). Do not grout the joint between the last row of floor tiles and the wall; fill this with flexible silicone caulking instead. As your grout work begins to set, use a wet sponge to wipe any excess from the face of the tiles.
Next, use a jointing tool or the end of an old toothbrush to shape the grout (Fig. 8). Clean the tiles one more time, and then smooth the joints using a damp sponge. After a dull, dry haze has developed over the surface of the tiles, polish them with a clean, damp cloth. If the grout needs sealing, then apply a sealer, following the grout manufacturer's instructions.

Copyright © 2000 Creative Homeowner

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