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June 21, 2021
There’s nothing like a gorgeous, cool tile underfoot to inspire serenity and tranquility, or a gorgeous backsplash to elevate a kitchen; the only thing that can make that better is the knowledge that you created that beauty yourself. We’ve walked you through how to install our SPC, how to get that perfect coat of paint, how to stain like a pro, and now it’s time to give you a crash course on installing tile. It can seem daunting, but with guidance, patience and care, you can DIY the space of your dreams! Read on for our list of steps and tips to achieve picture-perfect tiling - without having to hire a professional!
TIDY + PREP
First, you’ll need to clean up. Sweep, get the surface completely free of debris, and then consider your subfloor. Any unevenness, or cracks, any instability? Make sure you correct that now, because flaws here can undermine your entire installation. If you’re installing on plywood or OSB, you’ll need to augment that with a water-resistant backer board to keep your space water-tight. (Installing on concrete? No additional backer board necessary!)
Presuming you’ve already chosen your tile and measured the area, assemble your tools: spacers, tile cutter, rubber mallet, trowel, a level, thin-set mortar, and grout, a grout float and a sponge for later. Mark out your floor, especially the center: do this with two chalk lines intersecting in the center of the floor. It’s also helpful to chalk a tile’s width from the wall to keep the installation straight. Use those lines to execute a dry run, complete with tiles and spacers, to confirm where you should start tiling as well as the grout line dimensions.
GO-TIME: BRING ON THE MORTAR
Mix up your mortar: this cement and sand bonding agent attaches tiles to the backer board or subfloor. Pour the dry mixture into a large bucket and add just enough water to get it wet. Stir, stir and keep stirring. It’ll take you a while, until it’s smooth. (Using a drill with a mixing paddle will be a HUGE help.) Let it stand for about 10 minutes - the chemicals need to activate before you can start laying the tile.
And - go-time! Working in small sections (2’x2’ is ideal), lay the mortar and use your trowel to ensure your layer is even. Press in with the trowel to make sure the mortar adheres well. Place your first tile so that it lines up with your central chalk lines - lay flat, then, applying light pressure, slide it about ¼” back, following the ridges then back into place. (You can actually pull it up to check the mortar consistency; if it’s not evenly covered, your consistency or timing might be off.) Place your spacers along the edge - not in the corner! - and set your second tile, lining up the edges, angling it down, and giving it a twist back and forth to lay it securely. You can re-comb the thin-set between laying tiles, but make sure you stay in one direction - resist the impulse to make swirly patterns, they don’t hold as well. Make sure your sections are even: level your tiles with a 2x4, tapping it gently but firmly with a rubber mallet. Once your tile is laid, let the mortar set for the recommended amount of time, usually 24-48 hours (though most manufacturers recommend closer to the 48-hour mark.
Some tips to keep in mind:
- Keep your batches of mortar small so that it doesn’t harden up and go to waste.
- Clean your mixing paddle RIGHT AWAY for the same reason - wait too long, and the mortar will harden. Bye bye, paddle!
- If you’re installing porcelain tile, you need slightly different mortar, a polymer-modified thin-set.
- Pick your trowel based on your tile - the smaller the tile, the smaller the notch on the trowel.
- If the mortar starts to dry even a little, remove it and add a new layer.
- Give the back of your tiles a wipe as you lay them - debris can prevent efficient adhesion.
- If the mortar ends up on the tile surface, wipe it with a damp sponge immediately.
CUT THOSE ODD TILES
You’ve got a few choices when it comes to cutting odd tiles, dependent on the nature of the tiling job and the type of tile you’re going with. A manual snap cutter is generally used for smaller projects that don’t require much cutting. For a larger job, you’ll want a wet saw (with porcelain, you’ll ALWAYS need a wet saw), and for special cuts like curved edges a tile nipper (and an abrasive stone to smoothe) is your best bet.
But before you make any cuts, make your measurements and check ‘em twice. Cut your tiles and then lie them in place to confirm, and when you’re ready to lay them, follow the same protocol outlined above to avoid wasting mortar. Be sure to leave a small amount of space between the tiles and the wall to allow the floor and grout to expand without cracking.
FINALLY - GROUT!
Grout is the last step to tiling your floor. After the mortar has had 24-48 hours to cure, remove the spacers and protect any wall trims or neighboring floors. Prepare your grout, then spread it on your tile in 4’x4’ sections in sweeping motions with your grout float. Press the grout into the joints, and remove the excess - working the float diagonally on a shallow angle will help you fill the grout lines and avoid dipping into the joints. Wipe the tile with a damp sponge (wringing out and re-dampening frequently) to remove any remaining grout - it’ll be almost impossible to remove once it’s dry!
You should also consider sealing your grout to keep those grout lines looking like new. We all know how dingy and faded they can get, but grout sealer offers invisible protection from stains as well as mildew and mold. Be careful when applying not to get any sealer on the tile, and wipe away any excess sealer after ten minutes. You can apply sealer 2-3 days after you’ve grouted your tile.
There you have it - tiling made simple! It’s a process that requires a lot of attention, but for those types who thrive on deliberateness and enjoy detailed projects, it’ll be an absolute breeze. Have you been dreaming about installing tile? We worked through a floor process here, but it’s applicable to walls and other surfaces too. A tiled headboard, a table, a mirror - all of these steps can be repurposed for different functions.If you’re installing tile that’s mounted on mesh, such as most of our tile products, it makes the process even easier. There’s absolutely nothing holding you back from introducing some tiled accents into your space and basking in that glamor and satisfaction. What kind of tile do you dream of? Bathroom sanctuary, kitchen backsplash or accent element? Let us know what your tile aspirations look like!
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