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Laying Ceramic or Porcelain Tile

Laying Ceramic or Porcelain Tile

Ceramic tile is the most durable flooring you can install. It's low-maintenance and stands up well to water. Porcelain tiles are ceramic tiles that are extremely dense and waterproof with a glossy surface. Installation for both types of tile is labor-intensive. Even if you don't have to install backerboard (not necessary on a slab floor or patio), you must mix mortar, set tile, apply grout, and seal the tile.

Project Details

Skill Level: Intermediate

Time: 5 hours

14 Steps

   1. Check the Condition of the Subfloor
   2. Mix the Mortar Adhesive
   3. Snap a Grid of Chalk Lines
   4. Place and Drive In Backerboard
   5. Fill and Cover Backerboard Joints
   6. Establish a Layout Line and Check for Squareness
   7. Prepare Tile Layout
   8. Prepare to Set the Tiles
   9. Check The Spread
   10. Lay and Level Tiles
   11. Mark and Cut Tiles
   12. Apply the Grout on Tiles and Remove Excess
   13. Wipe and Buff Tiles
   14. Cure and Seal

Before You Start, Read This

Step 1: Check the Condition of the Subfloor

Check the Condition of the Subfloor

The quality of your finished ceramic tile project depends on the quality of the surface beneath it. Before starting, Remove Ceramic Tiles (if present) and ensure your floor is flat and strong enough to meet industry standards (two layers of plywood totaling 1 ¼" thickness). Smooth out hollows and valleys with self-leveling underlayment and/or reduce the height your installation by using plywood alternatives (Ex. ¼" WonderBoard or 5mm EasyMat). Consider applying a waterproofing and anti-fracture membrane where needed for moisture protection or to prevent tile or stone from cracking.

Step 2: Mix the Mortar Adhesive

Mix the Mortar Adhesive

Use the latex-modified thinset mortar specified for your tile. If you're installing porcelain tile, buy mortar made specifically for porcelain since it is designed to stick to porcelain's nonporous surface. Mix the mortar according to the directions on the bag. Wear safety glasses, a dust mask, and rubber gloves to protect your skin from the mortar, which is caustic. Don't mix too big a batch since the adhesive has a limited working life. If it starts to harden, you have to discard it. A second batch will be created in Step 6.

Step 3: Snap a Grid of Chalk Lines

Snap a Grid of Chalk Lines

Snap a grid of chalk lines on the floor to mark the dimensions of the sheets. Plan so that joints in the backerboard, a thin layer of concrete with fiberglass mesh on both sides, won't line up with seams in the subfloor and four corners will never meet. With the smooth side of a ¼" notched trowel, spread enough adhesive for one sheet. Ridge the adhesive with the notched side of the trowel.

Step 4: Place and Drive in Backerboard

Place and Drive In Backerboard

Score the backerboard on both sides and place a sheet on the wet adhesive. Leave a ¼" gap between the backerboard and the wall and a 1/8" gap between the backerboard sheets. Drive backerboard screws into the sheet every 8". Position the screws at least ½" around the perimeter but no more than 2" from the edge.

Step 5: Fill and Cover Backerboard Joints

Fill and Cover Backerboard Joints
Fill and Cover Backerboard Joints

Once all sheets are in place, fill the spaces between the boards using adhesive with a margin trowel or the flat side of a notched trowel.
Smooth the adhesive so it extends about 1 ½" on each side of the joint then cover the joints with 2" vinyl-coated fiberglass tape, pushing firmly into the adhesive. Once embedded, scrape off any excess adhesive from both sides of the tape. Cover the tape with a second layer of adhesive then feather the edges with the smooth edge of the trowel.

Step 6: Establish a Layout Line and Check for Squareness

Establish a Layout Line and Check for Squareness

Along the perimeter of the room, mark the centre on opposite sides. Snap a chalk line linking one mark to the other. Measure and mark the centre of the line. Use a framing square to establish a second line perpendicular to the first and snap a second line across the room.
Check for squareness by marking 3' vertical and 4' horizontal from the intersecting point. Measure the diagonal between the two points. A 5' measurement ensures the lines are square.

Step 7: Prepare Tile Layout

Prepare Tile Layout

Lay tiles and spacers along one line from the centre to the wall. If the space between the last full tile and the wall is narrower than half a tile, move the line parallel to that wall back by half a tile. You'll end up with wider cuts at both walls. In order to divide the floor into manageable boxes, roughly 2x3" square, layout your tiles in a box formation at the gridline intersection and measure the length. Add the width of one spacer to each measurement. Remove the tiles and lay out a chalk-line grid, using your sample box measurements for each square on the grid. Mix another batch of thinset mortar adhesive (See Step 1).

Step 8: Prepare to Set the Tiles

Prepare to Set the Tiles

Starting at the intersection box on the grid, put a little adhesive on the flat side of a square-notched trowel. Apply the adhesive by pressing it into the face of the backerboard drag it across with the trowel. Apply more to make a layer of adhesive roughly ½" thick. Then, hold the trowel at a 45⁰ angle to the floor pushing the teeth of the tool to the floor while dragging the trowel and making ridges of uniform height in one direction in the adhesive. Trowel notches should be the same size as the thickness of the tiles being set.

Step 9: Check the Spread

Check The Spread

Double-check the consistency of the adhesive by placing two tiles next to each other in the adhesive with a spacer in between. Press both firmly into the adhesive. Pull a tile up and look at its bottom. The back of the tile should be covered with adhesive. If you see only parallel mortar lines, the adhesive is too dry. If the mortar squeezes up between the tiles, the bed is too thin 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.

Step 10: Lay and Level Tiles

Lay and Level Tiles

Lay the first tile into the adhesive and firmly press. Remove excess adhesive from the tile with a damp sponge or cloth. Place the second tile alongside the first, spacing it with spacers. Continue laying tiles until the gridline box is filled. Lay spacers flat in the corners where tiles meet. Lay a short length 2x4 or beater block on top of the tiles and tap lightly with a rubber mallet to level the tiles. Repeat with every gridline box until the floor is covered. If a full tile cannot be set, follow Step 10.

Step 11: Mark and Cut Tiles

Mark and Cut Tiles
Mark and Cut Tiles

Perform this step after all full tiles have been set. Place the tile to be cut directly over the last set tile. Set another tile, the "marker tile," on top of it, butting it against a tile set on the edge at the wall. Trace along the marker tile to mark the cutting line on the tile below.

Place the marked tile on the cutter and align the cutting line with a scoring tool. Pull or push the cutter along the top of the tile with a single, firm stroke. Wearing safety goggles, press down on the handle of the cutter to snap the tile. Prepare to set, lay and level the cut tile(s).

Step 12: Apply the Grout on Tiles and Remove Excess

Apply the Grout on Tiles and Remove Excess

Apply one to three and a half litres of grout on the tiles. Holding a hard-edged rubber grout float at a 30⁰ angle, spread the material in sweeping arcs, pressing it into the joints to fill them completely. Remove excess grout by holding the grout float at a 90⁰ angle and sweeping it diagonally across the tiles. Work diagonally across the joints to avoid dipping into the joints.

Step 13: Wipe and Buff Tiles

Wipe and Buff Tiles

Wait a few minutes for the grout to start hardening. Wipe the tiles in a circular motion with a barely damp sponge to remove grout residue. Once the grout has hardened, the tiles will be left with a slight haze on them. Clean it up by going over the area lightly with a damp cloth, then buff immediately with a dry cloth. Let the grout dry for the length of time recommended by the manufacturer before applying the sealer.

Step 14: Cure and Seal

Cure and Seal

Damp cure the grout by misting it twice a day for three days. After letting the grout cure for 48-72 hours, spread the sealer along the grout lines with a small paintbrush or a sealer applicator. Clean off any smears within the first five minutes or so. Then let the grout dry for at least 24 hours. Fill expansion gaps with caulk. Caulk will flex if the floor expands or contracts as the weather changes. In wet areas, in front of a bathtub or shower, or wherever the expansion gap will not be covered with shoe moulding, fill the gap with caulk and smooth it with a wet finger.