Here’s How To Lay Tile Flooring

Tile flooring is a durable, waterproof floor covering that’s equally at home in the kitchen, bathroom or in hallways or general living areas. With countless designs and colors available, tile lets you exercise your full creative potential.

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Laying tile flooring can be an easy do-it-yourself project, as long as you have the right tile-setting tools and materials. Similarly, preparing the underlying surface is critical to a flawless tile flooring installation that lasts for years.

NOTE: The beginning half of 2021 has seen an unprecedented labor shortage as a side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. In conjunction with this, demand for materials and construction jobs has skyrocketed. As a result, material prices may be higher than those reported in this article, and lead times may be longer than usual for both labor and materials.

When to Lay Tile Flooring

If you’re laying tile flooring as part of a larger room remodeling project, (like bathroom or kitchen flooring) the tile comes after the cabinets have been installed. In bathrooms, tile should be laid before the toilet is installed.

Safety Considerations

Tile flooring installation is generally a safe project, though be careful about removing existing flooring. Some types of older flooring or adhesives may contain asbestos. Either leave these materials undisturbed and lay the tile over them or hire a qualified asbestos removal company to remove the asbestos.




1. Measure and Plan Layout

Use the tape measure to measure the length and width of the room. Multiply length times width to arrive at the total area to be tiled. Add another 10 to 15% to account for imperfect or broken tiles, as well as for cut tiles along the edges.

Early in the planning stages, decide on the tile pattern: grid, herringbone, staggered, pinwheel, diagonal or other. The tile pattern will affect the number of tiles to order.

Here’s How To Lay Tile Flooring

2. Assess Subfloor

The subfloor must be level and solid so that the tile and grout do not crack. If you jump lightly on the floor and feel a bounce, the floor is too flexible for tile and must be strengthened.

Half-inch or 3/4-inch exterior grade plywood is an ideal tiling surface. Existing vinyl tile, sheet vinyl, linoleum, concrete and even ceramic tile are suitable tiling surfaces and can remain in place, though with some alterations.

3. Repair Joists

If the flooring joists are too flexible for tile, access the floor from below and strengthen the joists by sistering them with an additional two-by-six or two-by-eight nailed alongside the joist.

If the subfloor appears to be flexing atop the joist and the joist is solid, drive plastic shims between the joist and the subfloor to prevent the subfloor from moving.

4. Remove Baseboards and Molding

With the pry bar, gently pry off baseboards and shoe moldings. Remove all other obstructions such as heating vents and floor transitions.

In bathrooms, remove the toilets. While it is not necessary to tile under the sink cabinet, it can be helpful later on if you decide to change the layout of the bathroom.

5. Scuff Glossy Floor Coverings

With any glossy floor covering such as ceramic tile or vinyl flooring, lightly scuff the surface with 60 grit sandpaper for better stickability.

6. Add Isolation Membrane

When tiling directly on a concrete floor, add a crack isolation membrane. This product unlocks the tile from the concrete so that cracks and movements in the concrete are not transferred to the tile.

7. Undercut Door Casings

Lay a spare tile upside down, next to the door casing. Rest the jam saw on top of the tile and cut the casing horizontally. The tile plus the thickness of the saw represents the total thickness of the eventual installation.

8. Repair Subfloor

If the subfloor has small dips, pour a self-leveling compound in the spot and let it cure. Self-leveling compound will fix dips and low spots as deep as 1-1/2 inches.

Run a straight board across the subfloor to identify bulges. Sand down any bulges with 60 grit sandpaper on a belt sander.

9. Snap Chalk Line

With the tape measure, find and mark the center point of the room’s length and width. Snap the chalk line down both of these center lines.

10. Dry-fit Tiles

Lay some tiles in the room prior to using thinset to get a sense of the layout. Start at the center line and work outwards, being sure to add tile spacers between the tiles. Do this in both directions, both length and width. Avoid having tiles that are half-size or less. If so, push the tile off-center until this is corrected.

11. Spread Thinset

After adding the premixed thinset to the mixing tub, trowel some of the thinset onto the tiling surface. Work in areas about 2 feet by 2 feet to avoid having the thinset dry before you can tile it. Spread out the thinset with the notched side of the trowel. The notches will regulate the correct amount of thinset on the floor.

12. Lay Tiles

Press the tiles into the thinset. Push down firmly and wiggle back and forth to fully set the tile. If you can easily pull up the tile by prying with your fingers, the tile needs more thinset. If this is the case, move up from a 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch trowel. Deeply grooved tile backs or bumpy subfloors often require more thinset.

13. Cut Tiles to Size

As you work, cut tiles with the wet tile saw or with the rail tile cutter. Cut tiles as they are needed instead of cutting them all ahead of time. Hide cut edges along walls where they will later be covered by baseboards and shoe moldings.

14. Cut Tiles Around Obstructions

To work around pipes, toilet flanges and other irregular obstructions, gradually nip away the tile with the tile nipper or cut with the spiral saw.

15. Remove Tile Spacers

Let the thinset dry for 48 hours, then pry out the tile spacers. Do this by hand if possible. If you need to use a tool, use a soft tool such as a plastic putty knife to avoid scratching the tile.

16. Grout Tile

With the grout float, scoop up a small amount of grout. Hold the grout float nearly flat against the tile and parallel to the joints. Pull the float toward you to embed the grout in the joints.

Scrape off excess grout by holding the grout float nearly upright and moving it diagonally across the tile. Do this only once or twice. Repeatedly scraping will pull the grout out of the joints.

17. Clean Grout Haze

Let the grout dry for 24 to 72 hours. Mix up grout haze remover in a clean bucket with water. With the sponge, clean the milky-white haze off the surface of the tiles.

18. Seal Tile Grout

Seal the tile with tile grout sealer. Grout sealer penetrates the porous grout and prevents water from migrating below the tile. Most grout sealers have a foam brush or roller that you can use to run along the length of the grout.

19. Install Baseboards and Moldings

Install the previous baseboards and moldings or install new materials.

When to Call a Pro

Large tile installations or complex tile patterns often turn out best when done by professional tile-setters. If the tile job needs to be finished quickly, general contractors can usually get it done while maintaining quality.

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