Do It Yourself: How To Install Ceramic Tile

How to prepare for a ceramic tile project including the steps of the tiling process.

Ceramic tile installation is a home improvement project that most homeowners find fairly simple. The process is easy to understand, but the project is very involved and time consuming.

Begin by preparing the surface to be tiled. Ceramic tile needs to be installed on a hard, flat, level surface. If you are tiling countertops, it is fine to tile right over the existing Formica, but you will need to lightly sand the surface of the counters for better adhesion of the tiles. Floors and walls should be lined with cement backerboard in preparation for tile. Walls need ½ inch backerboard and floors need ¼ inch backerboard. Backerboard can be cut with a utility knife or a circular saw with a carbide blade. To cut with a utility knife, simply score both sides of the board, place the scored line on the edge of a table, and break. It is important to score the lines deep enough to cut through the mesh that holds the board together; you can tell if you have cut deep enough by looking at the edge of the board.

Once you have cut the backerboard to fit your surface, install it with backerboard screws. These screws are made especially for ceramic tile installations so they will not corrode or rust with the moisture that is usually found in tiled areas. If you are installing the backerboard directly to wall studs, you will need 1-¼ inch screws; if you are installing over drywall, use 1-½ inch screws. Screws should be placed about six inches apart, and they should be screwed in level with the board. Do not try to countersink the screws because that might crack the backerboard and you will have to replace it. Leave an 1/8th inch gap between each piece of backerboard and stagger the boards so that no four corners meet together.



After you have installed the backerboard, fill in the gaps with thin-set mortar and fiberglass tape. This will create a solid surface on which to lay the tile. Mix the mortar with a latex additive (this is especially important in high moisture areas like bathrooms) and use a putty knife to apply it to the gaps in the boards. Place a piece of 2-inch fiberglass tape over the gap and allow it to set for about fifteen minutes. Once the first layer has set, apply another coat of mortar over the tape and smooth. Allow this to set completely before laying the tile. If you are tiling a floor or countertop that is not in a high moisture area, premixed mortar will work fine.

The next step is to do a dry layout of the tiles and draw a grid on the surface. This will allow you to establish level lines so that your tiles line up accurately. Measure from wall to wall and mark the midpoint of the surface. Do the same with opposite walls if you are tiling a floor, or with floor to ceiling if you are tiling a wall. Once you have established the midpoint, draw a line from wall to wall and floor to ceiling, dividing the surface into four quadrants. Use dry tile to determine the starting point. Start by placing tiles at the midpoint and outward along the quadrant lines. If you are tiling a wall, use duct tape to hold the tiles on the wall during this step. Also, remember to put spacers between the tiles in order to ensure an accurate layout. The tiles on each edge of the wall or floor should be of equal size and no smaller than half a tile. You may need to make adjustments in the starting point to get this uniformity.

Once you have formed your layout and drawn guidelines, you can begin tiling the surface. Again use thin-set mortar mixed with latex additive if you are tiling a high moisture area; premixed mortar is fine if you are tiling where there is very little moisture. The very bottom row of tiles should be the final row you lay, so use a scrap piece of wood screwed into the wall to support the tiles above this row. Tile one section at a time starting in the center of the surface and working outward and upward. You may either spread the mortar on the surface or butter the backs of the tiles, whichever you prefer. If you spread mortar on the wall, only spread what you can tile in about fifteen minutes. Use a ¼ inch notched trowel to spread and comb out the mortar on the wall or on the back of the tile. Build each area in a pyramid fashion instead of laying whole rows at a time; this will make it easier to keep the tiles level and in line with each other. Remember to use the spacers between the tiles to keep the grooves uniform. Tile in all of the whole tiles; only the edges of the walls, floor, and ceiling should be without tile. You will have to cut these edge tiles to fit. Use and tile cutter or a wet saw to cut the tiles. Tile cutters are effective and relatively inexpensive. Wet saws require less work, but they can be very expensive. If you are cutting tiles to fit round areas, you will need a pair of tile nippers; these actually nip off small pieces until the tile is the desired shape and size. Cut all of your edge tiles at one time, and then apply them to the surface. Allow the mortar to set for about 24 hours before grouting.

Grout can be bought dry and mixed with water or premixed; mixing your own is a good idea for high moisture areas. Remove all of the spacers then use a rubber float to apply the grout and force it into the grooves. When the grout starts to dry into a film on the tile surface, use a clean wet sponge to wipe the tiles and further shape the grout into the grooves. Do not allow the grout to dry completely before wiping because the film is very hard to remove once it has dried. Allow the grout to cure for 24 to 48 hours before sealing.

Sealing the grout is very simple and it will make cleaning and maintaining the tile easier in the long run because it helps prevent stains. Before sealing, make sure you have removed the grout film. Use a sponge brush to apply sealer to the grout lines. Allow it to sit in the lines for about five minutes, and then wipe off the excess. If you are sealing tile in a bathroom or around a kitchen sink, apply two coats of sealer, waiting thirty minutes between coats. Allow the sealer to dry 24 hours before soaking.

Once the sealer has dried, clean your new tile and enjoy.

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