Q&A / 

How To Install Ceramic Tile

DEAR TIM: I have decided to install new ceramic tile in my bathroom. I will be doing the floors and the walls. Should I do the floors first and then the walls? What tools do I need? How do you start a wall tile job? Do you have any nifty design suggestions? Jaclyn E., Sherman Oaks, CA

DEAR JACLYN: You have selected one of my favorite jobs - ceramic tile. I find it to be fun and challenging. It requires preplanning, patience, and plenty of time. The layout, cutting, and fitting of tiles will make or break the appearance of your tile installation. If you assemble the necessary and affordable tools, you can complete this job to your satisfaction and the amazement of your friends and neighbors.

Some of the tools that are used for a ceramic tile installation you may already own. These common tools are used for regular household and carpentry tasks. You will heed an accurate two foot and a four foot level, a framing square, a hacksaw with special carbide blades, a tile cutter, a nippers, a notched trowel or two, grout sponges, and a hard rubber grout float. Two or three used five gallon buckets will also come in handy.

Your tile installation is going to look superb if the carpenters who framed the walls and floors installed them plumb and level. High quality ceramic tile is often manufactured to extremely tight tolerances. Each piece of wall tile is basically an exact copy of the one before. If a wall or corner is out of plumb then each row of tile will get smaller or larger than the one below. If you have the ability to correct framing defects, do so.


Is a tile job in a shower in your immediate future? If so, check out my Shower Pan Liner EBook. You need a liner under the tile to stop all leaks.


I like to install most of my wall tile first. Installing floor tile early in the job makes it susceptible to scratches, chips or other damage as you work on the wall tile above. You begin the wall tile installation by selecting your base tile. Many wall tiles come with an accessory piece called sanitary base. The bottom of this tile resembles - to a degree - wood toe strip that you might see on wood baseboards. This extra relief built into the tile provides a great finishing touch. The height of this base tile, the thickness of the floor tile, and your first row of wall "adjustment" tile need to be calculated before you begin to install your first piece of tile.

Most floors are not level. Ceramic wall tile must be installed perfectly level. The sanitary base tile will eventually rest on top of the floor tile producing a professional look. If the floor is out of level then wall tile stacked directly on top of the base tile will be out of level. You correct this problem by installing the second row of wall tile above the base tile as your first full sized row. The row of tile between the base tile and the second row is your "adjustment" row. This row is generally only two thirds the height of a standard tile. This usually gives you plenty of room to adjust as the floor rises and falls.

When you start to do a wall always start at the middle and work both ways. I like to nail a one quarter inch thick piece of lattice mold at my horizontal starting line. This simple support strip prevents the first row of tile from succumbing to the forces of gravity while the adhesive dries. After several hours you can remove this piece of wood.

If your tile has tiny little lugs or spacing bumps on each edge of the tile be sure you push the tiles firmly against one another. Only spread as much adhesive as you can cover with tile in 15 minutes. Don't worry if the horizontal and vertical cracks between the tile seem a little off. When the tile is grouted these imperfections disappear. Once you have installed all of the wall tile above the wood strip on all walls you can then install the floor tile. Once this tile is completed and grouted you then come back and install the sanitary base tile and finally the "adjustment" row of tile.


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You can purchase accent tiles that are very attractive. These tiles come in different sizes or sometimes match exactly the size of the tile you are working with. Consider using marble corner shelves in your shower for shampoo and other items. These same shelves work great near a toilet for plants or other decorative items. Use a white colored inexpensive marble that goes with just about any tile color. The marble company will cut these shelves for you with a special diamond wet saw.

Now, thanks to new materials and techniques, it's easier for anyone to get professional-looking results every time. Master tilesetter Michael Byrne's fully updated book explains everything anyone needs to know about tiling in an easy-to-read format.  Setting Tile delivers all the basics tilesetters rely on - plus all the fresh ideas and innovative methods they need to do the job right. This book demonstrates floor, wall, countertop and bathroom tile installation techniques. It covers the many types of tile--including natural stone, explains tools, setting materials, preparation and layout. The traditional mortar-bed method is still covered, but easy-to-use backerboard and waterproofing membranes now get special attention. Michael did a great job in this book.

Related Articles:   Ceramic Wall Tile TipsCutting Ceramic Tile

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