Q&A / 

Ceramic Floor Tile Installation Tips and Secrets

Ceramic Floor Tile Install TIPS

DEAR TIM: My husband and I are deep into installing new flooring in our home. Flood damage ruined the carpet.

We decided to install a combination of laminate flooring and ceramic tile. The tile work is much harder than I thought.

We're installing the large tile directly on top of the concrete slab. I'm using plastic spacers to keep the grout lines straight, but I'm having great difficulty.

I've never grouted before and am worried about messing that up. Help! I don't want to ruin this project. Marilyn H. New Bern, NC

DEAR MARILYN: I'm sorry about your recent disaster, but I'm happy that you've bounced back with a great DIY attitude.

Try DIY - Builds Confidence & Character

In my opinion, self-sufficiency and do-it-yourself is part of what built our great nation. You're going to be very proud of your work once it's complete. I also want to add that it's beneficial to push against your comfort-zone envelope and be slightly uncomfortable. That's how you improve your skills.

Free & Fast BIDS If ....

CLICK HERE to get FREE & FAST BIDS from local floor tile contractors if you decide not to do DIY.

Just A Primer - Could Write A Book

The first thing I want to mention is it's impossible to come close to communicating all you need to know about this ceramic tile job. Many a book and thick instruction manual has been written about the art of installing ceramic floor tile.

Key Points & Tips

I'm going to try to cover the most important points and share a few secrets I've discovered in the forty years I've installed tile of all types. Realize that you could ask ten tile pros a question and you very likely could get six or seven answers - all of which may produce excellent final results.

There's usually several right ways to achieve professional results.

Tile Strong When Squeezed - Weak When Bent

Ceramic tile is a very rigid product that has a high compressive strength. This means you can squeeze it and it won't crush. However, ceramic tile, concrete, and natural stone have low tensile strength. This means if you try to bend a piece of tile, it doesn't take much effort to crack or snap it.

Preventing Tile Cracks

To prevent cracked floor tile, you need to make sure there are no void spaces between the tile and the floor surface it rests on. A void space under a tile will cause the tile to bend as you apply pressure to the top of the tile.

The larger the tile you're installing, the more difficult this task becomes as it's very hard to get a floor surface in the same plane. You can use fantastic pourable self-leveling floor compounds to get a perfectly flat floor surface if you plan ahead.

This is a powder you mix with water. You then pour it and it levels itself. It's magic. CLICK THE IMAGE NOW TO ORDER IT.

Fix Cracks With Epoxy

Cracks in a concrete slab can, and often do, telegraph through the floor tile. If your slab has cracks, consider using special injectable concrete epoxies to repair the cracks so the concrete doesn't move.

Here's one great concrete epoxy you can squirt down into wider cracks. CLICK THE IMAGE NOW TO HAVE THIS DELIVERED TO YOUR HOME ASAP.


CLICK HERE to get FREE & FAST BIDS from local floor tile contractors if you decide not to do DIY.

Crack Isolation Membranes

Professionals often install crack-isolation membranes between the tile and concrete slabs. These help keep ceramic tile crack-free for the life of the floor.

These membranes are mission critical and do whatever is necessary to make sure you install one.

There are several great crack isolation membranes you can use. CLICK THE IMAGE TO SEE ALL OF THEM. READ THE REVIEWS. THEY CAN BE DELIVERED TO YOUR HOME ASAP.


This patterned ceramic tile floor is well on it's way to completion. The plastic spacers could cause problems Photo Credit: Marilyn H., New Bern, NC

This patterned ceramic tile floor is well on it's way to completion. The plastic spacers could cause problems. Copyright 2017 Tim Carter

Plastic Spacers Are A Waste

I discovered long ago the plastic spacers used to keep grout lines straight don't always work as intended. It's not because the spacers are defective.

Realize the spacers are probably manufactured with very tight tolerances, but the ceramic tile may be off slightly.

If you have a variance of just 1/32 inch between tiles, that can create a 1/16-inch difference if two of those tiles are installed side-by-side. Pretty soon the grout lines will look more like a sinuous stream channel if you use the plastic spacers.

Create a Crossword Puzzle Grid - It's Easy & Fun

My preferred method of installing floor tile is to create a grid on the floor using a chalkline. I calculate the exact distance, based on the width of the tile and the grout line spacing I want for either a 3 x 3 tile grid or possibly a 4 x 4 tile grid. I snap the lines making sure they're accurate and lay the tile to the edges of the grid lines. The center tile are just installed by sight making sure the grout lines are consistent and straight.

Grout Fixes Minor Tile Offsets

Realize that prior to the grout being installed the lines between the tiles may appear slightly less than perfect. Grout has a magical quality to mask these very slight imperfections. Twisted or crooked tiles will still look twisted and crooked with grout.

Grouting Videos - MUST WATCH

Watch these four videos that show you step-by-step how to grout floor tile. Don't skip one thing I say in the videos!

Test Grouting Skills

When you get ready to grout, you can spoil all your hard work up to this point. Rookie tile setters often make any number of mistakes when mixing, applying or finishing the grout. I recommend that you purchase some very inexpensive floor tiles and install them on a 3 x 5 piece of cement backer board that just is laying in your garage. Practice grouting on this test area until you perfect your skills.

Not Too Much Water

Mix the grout so it's the consistency of bricklayer's mortar. If it flows from a bucket like pancake batter, it's too wet. Too much water when mixing or finishing the grout joints weakens the grout. This will cause it to crack or crumble in the months ahead.

Rubber Float Is A Must

Apply the grout with a hard-rubber float at a 30 or 45-degree angle to the grout lines. This diagonal stroke will ensure the grout is flush with the top of the tile. Do not rub the grout with the sponge until it firms up enough so you don't remove grout from the joints.

This is just like the rubber grout float I've used for decades. Care for it and it will treat you well. CLICK THE IMAGE NOW TO ORDER ONE.

Watch Air Humidity

Low humidity and hot temperatures will cause floor grout to set up rapidly making it very hard to finish. You need to discover on your own how much grout you can install and finish at one time.

Mix Small Amounts

Only mix enough grout in a bucket that you can install and finish in one hour. You can always mix more. Don't add water to stiff grout in the bucket. Re-tempering the grout with water will weaken it.

CLICK HERE to get FREE & FAST BIDS from local floor tile contractors if you decide not to do DIY.

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One Response to Ceramic Floor Tile Installation Tips and Secrets

  1. Tim,

    Great videos on grouting tile. What's your thought of using "banish" or similar product to get the haze off the tile several days after it dries?

    Wow, you've had quite a bit of snow in NH this year. Bless you, but I couldn't live with that much snow. That's why I'm staying south of the Mason Dixon line.

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