How to Install Ceramic Tile

How to Install Ceramic Tile

Enhance the appeal and add value to your home by laying ceramic tile. It's low-maintenance, stands up well to water, Installation, however, is labour-intensive. Even if you don't have to install backer board (not necessary on a slab floor or patio), there's mixing mortar, setting tile, applying grout, and sealing the tile. Read all directions carefully, then read all the directions that come with grouts and mortars. Mix them carefully and follow your layout lines precisely.

Skill Level: Beginner
  1. Step 1 Mix the Mortar

    Mix the Mortar

    Use the latex-modified thinset mortar specified for your tile. If you're installing porcelain tile, buy mortar made specifically for porcelain. It mixes and goes on like other mortar but sticks better to porcelain's nonporous surface. Pour about three-quarters of the recommended amount of water into a plastic mixing bucket, and have a helper slowly add the mortar. While the helper is pouring, mix with a mortar paddle (a paint paddle will break) driven by a 1/2-inch drill. Add water as you mix until the mortar has a smooth, pastelike consistency. Wear safety glasses, a dust mask, and rubber gloves to protect your skin from the mortar, which is caustic. Test the mortar. Put some mortar on a scrap piece of plywood or on the floor, and use your trowel to form a peak. If the peak holds its shape, the mortar contains the right amount of water. If the peak slumps, add mortar to the mix; if it crumbles, add water. Continue adding, mixing, and testing until you achieve the right consistency.

  2. Step 2 Spread the Mortar

    Spread the Mortar

    Start in the center of the room and spread mortar right up to the edge of one of your layout lines. Apply the mortar first with the straight edge of the trowel, then comb it with the notched edge. Use a trowel with the notch shape and size recommended by the manufacturer-the notches control the amount of mortar on the floor. Comb the mortar into straight lines.

  3. Step 3 Lay Tile and Check the Spread

    Lay Tile and Check the Spread

    Put two tiles next to each other in the mortar, with a spacer in between. Press both firmly into the mortar. Double-check the consistency of the mortar by pulling a tile up and looking at the bottom. The back of the tile should be covered with mortar. If you see only parallel mortar lines, the adhesive is too dry. If mortar squeezes up between the tiles, the bed is too thick and you need to drop the angle of the trowel as you comb. If the ridges in the adhesive have left more or less solid lines on the tile, the bed is too thin and you need to raise the angle of your trowel. If the mortar on the floor fails to stay in ridges, it is too wet.

  4. Step 4 Set the First Tile

    Set the First Tile

    Comb out the area of mortar that you tested, adding more mortar if necessary. Lay the first tile at the intersection of the guidelines. Twist the tile back and forth slightly to make sure it is embedded in the adhesive. If the tiles are 12x12 inches or greater, comb the mortar into straight lines with the trowel. Then put the tile in place and move it back and forth between 1/8 and 1/4 inch, perpendicular to the direction in which you combed. This helps fill any voids created by an uneven back.

  5. Step 5 Set the Second Tile

    Set the Second Tile

    Set spacers next to the first tile and place the second tile alongside the first, twisting it slightly. Continue laying tiles until you have filled the layout section. Twist each tile as you set it.

  6. Step 6 Clean the Tiles

    Clean the Tiles

    Dried mortar on top of the tiles will be difficult to remove. Wipe off the face of the tiles with a damp sponge as you go. Use a sponge that's just wet enough to wipe up stray mortar but not so wet that it leaves the rest of the mortar runny.

  7. Step 7 Bed the Tiles

    Bed the Tiles

    As soon as you've installed three or four tiles, lay a short length of 2x4 or a beater block on top of the tile. Tap lightly with a rubber mallet to level the tiles and embed them firmly in the mortar.

  8. Step 8 Lay the Next Section

    Lay the Next Section

    After you finish the first layout section, move on to a neighbouring section in the same quadrant. Spread mortar in the grid and lay the tiles. When each section is finished, move to the next. Keep laying tiles until you reach a point where the space between the tiles and walls is less than a full tile width, but don't tile yourself into a corner. If you run into pipes, corners, or other obstructions.

  9. Step 9 Mark the Edge Tiles for Cuts

    Mark the Edge Tiles for Cuts

    To mark a cut quickly and without measuring, put the tile you're going to cut on top of the last full tile near the wall. Put a spacer tile against the wall and lay another full tile on top of the one to be cut. Slide that tile, the scribing tile, up to the spacer tile. Mark along the edge of the scribing tile on the tile to be cut, and cut the tile. To avoid confusion, lay out, cut, and install one tile at time.

  10. Step 10 Set Up the Snap Cutter

    Set Up the Snap Cutter

    Cutting tile on a snap cutter is a two-step process. You score it, then you snap it. To score the tile, put it in the cutter and align the cutting wheel with the layout line. Lift the handle to bring the scoring wheel down onto the line. Push or pull the cutting wheel along the top of the tile with a single firm stroke.

  11. Step 11 Snap-cut the Tile

    Snap-cut the Tile

    Put on a pair of safety glasses. Press down on the handle to move the cutting wheel out of the way. Press down farther to snap the tile.

  12. Step 12 Set the Edge Tiles

    Set the Edge Tiles

    If you haven't already, spread mortar between the last full tile and the wall. Put the tile in place and set it just as you set the others. Work your way along the wall, one tile at a time.


What You Need for This Project

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