What are the Best Tips for Tile Installation?

Amy Hunter

Tile installation can be a simple do-it-yourself project for many homeowners. Tile is reasonably inexpensive, and if you can complete the tile installation yourself, can be a very affordable home remodeling project. People use tile on backsplashes, floors and walls. If you are interested in installing tile yourself, there are several things that you should keep in mind.

Floors need to be level before installing tile.
Floors need to be level before installing tile.

Tile installation works best if the surface that you are placing the tile on is sturdy and level. For example, if you are installing a tile floor, and the floor is not sturdy, any movement in the floor can cause the tile to crack after it is installed. If the area where you plan to install the tile is uneven, you may want to spend some time pulling up the under layers and replacing them as well. Taking time to do this before you lay the tile will save you a great deal of time and money later.

Thicker layers of mortar may need to be placed in spots where the wall or floor surface is lower than surrounding surfaces.
Thicker layers of mortar may need to be placed in spots where the wall or floor surface is lower than surrounding surfaces.

Many older homes may be perfectly sturdy, but uneven. If there is a slight uphill or downhill slant to your floor, you can probably correct that when you lay the tile. You will do this by applying a thicker layer of mortar during the tile installation process. If the difference is more than one-quarter of an inch (0.6 centimeters), you will need to even the floor before laying the tile.

The first step in laying tile is applying an underlayment. Some people lay tile directly on plywood, but you will get better results using cement board. This strong board provides a rigid support system for the tile, preventing them from bending and cracking. Each manufacturer has recommendations for installing the cement board. Typically you will use thin-set mortar and screws to affix the cement board to the subfloor.

Once the cement board is in place, you are ready to begin tiling. Before you mix up your mortar, do a dry fit. To do a dry fit, lay the tiles out across the floor. You do this to make sure that your tiles are centered. Start in the middle of the room and work your way toward the wall.

Laying the tiles out this way allows you to have an even perimeter of tiles around the edges. Once you have the tiles laid out to your satisfaction, make a mark on the cement board where you will start laying the tiles. Apply thin-set mortar mix to the cement board, roughing up the texture with a notched trowel. Now you are ready to lay the tile. Press down firmly, making sure that you don’t shift the tile once you put it in place.

Work on small sections of the floor at a time. The thin-set mortar becomes difficult to work with the longer that it is in the bucket, so don’t mix up any more than you can use in 15 or 20 minutes. If it starts to get to thick and difficult to work with, throw that batch out and mix up some fresh mortar.  

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