Floor tiling is a skill that, once mastered, can add a touch of elegance and durability to any home. This comprehensive guide aims to provide you with the knowledge and techniques you need to successfully tile a floor. With a bit of patience and the right approach, you can transform any room into a stunning space that’s not only beautiful but also easy to maintain.
The Art of Floor Tiling:
For over three decades, Joe Ferrante, a seasoned tiler, has been perfecting the art of floor tiling. His love for tiles stems from their beauty and low maintenance requirements. However, he acknowledges that tiling a floor requires special care and preparation. Tiles, especially thin, delicate ceramic ones, need to be handled with care to withstand the constant foot traffic and occasional spills that are common in areas such as entryways, bathrooms, and kitchens.
Ferrante emphasizes the importance of ensuring that the area to be tiled is rigid enough to avoid flexing when walked on and can withstand the wet-dry cycles typical in kitchens and bathrooms. When installed correctly, a tile floor can last indefinitely, regardless of the conditions it’s exposed to.
Step-by-Step Guide to Laying Tiles:
1. Planning Your Tile Layout:
- Aim for a layout that maximizes the use of whole tiles and minimizes the size of any tiles that need to be cut.
- If you can’t avoid using awkwardly sized tiles, place them in areas that will be covered by furniture or out of the main sightlines from the entrance.
- Avoid stepping on any tiles until the adhesive has cured for at least 24 hours.
- Leave all the cuts that require a wet saw until the end. You can then rent the wet saw for a single day.
2. Dry Layout:
- Identify the midpoint of each wall and mark it on the floor. The intersection of these marks will be the starting point for your tiles.
- Lay a row of tiles along a straight edge, extending more than halfway across the room. Use tile spacers to ensure consistent joints. This row will determine the size of the cut tiles along the walls.
- At the room’s center, place a tile where the marks intersect, with its edges touching the lines. Measure from one wall (let’s call it Wall A) to the nearest tile edge. Then, measure along the tile row from a joint and mark the distance you just measured. This mark shows the width of the tile at the wall. If that measurement is less than 2 inches, adjust the center tile away from Wall A to create a wider cut tile.
3. Dry Layout, Part II:
- From the center tile, measure to the opposite wall (let’s call it Wall B) and mark this distance along the tile row. Adjust the center tile along the A-to-B line until the measurements at Walls A and B are the same.
- After adjusting the A-to-B line, mark the center tile where it touches the line between the other two walls (let’s call them Walls C and D). Align these marks with the C-to-D line. Repeat the measuring and adjusting process for Walls C and D.Lay a straightedge parallel to the C-to-D line and against one side of the center tile. Mark the straightedge where it meets a corner of the tile. This mark is your starting point for laying tile.
- Trim door casings with a flush-cut saw so the tile can fit underneath. Cut with the saw held flat against a tile on top of a piece of cardboard (to represent the thickness of the adhesive).
4. Applying the Adhesive:
- Mix the powdered adhesive with a latex additive until it reaches a consistency similar to mayonnaise. Allow it to rest for about 10 minutes. Only mix as much adhesive as you can use in 2 hours.
- Using the flat edge of a trowel, spread a thin layer of adhesive over a 2-by-3-foot area next to the straightedge.
- Before the initial layer of adhesive dries, apply more adhesive using the notched edge of the trowel. Hold the trowel at a 45-degree angle to the floor and spread the adhesive evenly in broad curved strokes, then finish with a straight pass. This ensures the best adhesion. Combing the adhesive into furrows allows air to escape as the tile is set.
Tip: When spreading adhesive, press down hard so that the trowel makes a scraping sound; the trowel’s notch size should equal the tile thickness.
5. Laying the Tiles:
- Gently place a tile on the adhesive next to the straightedge. With your fingertips spread wide, push down with a slight twist of the wrist.
- Use this same technique to set each tile, making one row along the straightedge. Using tile spacers ensures even joints.
- Move the straightedge out of the way and lay the next row alongside the first, using the edge of the tile as your guide. Continue spreading adhesive and setting tiles in 2-by-3-foot sections, working from the center of the room out toward the walls. Every few rows, hold a framing square or A-square alongside the edge of the tiles to check that they are square to each other.
Tip: Consistent finger pressure (and constant practice) helps avoid lippage—where a tile’s edge is higher or lower than its neighbors.
6. Making the Final Cuts:
- Make straight cuts as needed with a snap cutter. When waste is more than an inch wide, score tile with one firm stroke, then break by pushing down handle. Smooth cut edge with a rubbing stone.
- For straight cuts with waste less than an inch wide, score tile on snap cutter, then snap pieces off with nibblers or use a wet saw.
- To fit a tile around an outside corner, hold one edge against the wall and mark the tile where it touches the corner. Pencil a line all the way across the tile. Then, without turning the tile, move it to the other side of the corner and again mark where tile and corner meet. Mark an X on the part to be cut away.
7. Notching the Tiles:
- On a wet saw, cut the tile from the mark to the line, taking care not to go beyond the line. Then turn the tile and cut along the line nextto the X, up to but not beyond the first cut. At the end of the cut, lift up the edge farthest from you to help free the waste.
- For curved or scribed cuts, make parallel slices with the wet saw into the waste section, up to but not past the line marking the cut. Then break away the remaining “fingers” with nibblers.
8. Grouting the Tile Joints:
- After the tile sets overnight, use a margin trowel to scrape off any adhesive from the tile surface or in the joints.
- Mix up a batch of grout to a looser-than-mayonnaise consistency. Add water a little at a time by squeezing it from a sponge.
- Scoop a trowelful of grout onto the floor and spread it with a rubber float held at a 45-degree angle to the floor. Push grout into the joints by first moving the float in line with the joints, then diagonal to them. Start from the edges of the room and work towards the center.
9. Cleaning Up the Grout:
- Allow the grout to set up for 20 or 30 minutes. It should be firm to the touch before you begin washing the tile’s surface. Wipe away grout haze with a damp, well-squeezed sponge rinsed often in a bucket of clean water.
- Wait for the grout to haze over again, then wipe with a clean sponge. Repeat this process until the tile is clean.
Tip: Don’t be too aggressive when wiping up grout haze, or you could pull grout out of the joints.
Tools You’ll Need:
The right tools can make the process of tiling a floor much easier. Here’s a list of the tools you’ll need:
- Margin trowel
- Chalk line
- Tile spacers
- Flush-cut saw
- Mixer for adhesive
- Framing square or A-square
- Snap cutter
- Rubbing stone
- Wet saw
- Rubber float
Tiling a floor may seem like a daunting task, but with the right preparation and tools, it’s a project that can be tackled by anyone willing to put in the effort. Not only will you save money by doing it yourself, but you’ll also have the satisfaction of knowing you’ve created a beautiful and durable floor that will last for years to come. Happy tiling!