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How to Lay Out a Ceramic Tile Floor

How to Install a Ceramic Tile Floor

Installing a ceramic tile floor may appear to be beyond the abilities of some homeowners, but most DIYers can handle it. Just don’t rush it — have a little patience! The materials are relatively easy to work with, and you can rent the tools, even the big ones.

Install ceramic tile over a subfloor that’s no less than 1 1/8 inches thick. A thinner subfloor will cause the floor to flex due to the weight of the tile. A flexing subfloor results in cracked tiles and grout — and a lot of headaches. Most tile manufacturers recommend installing a cement backer board instead of any other type of underlayment, such as plywood. The boards come in 3-x-5-foot sheets and are available where tile and grout are sold.

After you establish your guidelines or layout lines, it’s time to install the tile:

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  1. Before you think about setting the tile in place with mortar, make sure that the layout is even from side to side in both directions. To do so, dry-fit the tiles along the layout lines in both directions and make sure that the finished layout looks good to you.

    One important measurement to note is the width of the tiles that meet the wall. Make sure you never have less than half of a tile’s width at the wall. If you do, adjust the layout until you get an adequate end tile size. After you establish this, snap a new layout line to follow.

  2. Pick up the loose tiles and set them aside.

  3. Use a notched trowel to spread thin-set mortar over a 3 x 3-foot section at the intersection of the layout lines.

    Trowels come with different-sized notches, so check the tile manufacturer’s recommendation for the correct size.

    Working in small, square sections — say 3 feet x 3 feet — is important. Ifyou work with a larger section, the mortar may harden (known as setting up) before you put the tiles in place. Be careful not to cover the layout lines.

  4. Begin laying tiles at the center point of the two layout lines, setting each tile into the mortar by tapping it gently with a rubber mallet.

    Use plastic spacers at each tile corner to maintain even grout lines between the tiles. Spacers are available where tile is sold.

  5. Continue laying tiles until you’ve covered the mortared area.

  6. Continue the process by applying mortar to another section and then laying tiles.

  7. Fit the last tile in the row at the wall.

    This step usually requires that you measure and cut the tile. First, set a scrap tile against the wall — it allows space for grout. Next, place a loose tile directly over the last full tile you laid (this is the tile you’ll cut to size). Then place another tile on the loose one and up against the tile on the wall. Mark the loose tile and cut it to fit along the edge.

  8. After all the tiles are set in the mortar, mix the grout according to the manufacturer’s instructions and install it by using a rubber grout float.

    Use a sweeping motion, pressing the grout into the gaps.

  9. Wipe away the excess grout with a grout sponge. Let the grout dry slightly and then wipe off the haze that appears.

For most installations, you need a tile cutter, which you can rent. To make a straight cut with a tile cutter, simply place the tile face up in the cutter, adjust the cutter to the proper width, and score the tile by pulling the cutting wheel across the tile’s face. Then snap the tile along the scored line.

If you need to make a cutout, say to go around a corner, mark the area you plan to cut out. Secure the tile in a vise or clamps — just be sure to cushion the vise jaws to protect the tile from scratches. Cut along the marks with a tile saw, which is a hand saw that’s similar to a coping saw, except that it has a carbide saw blade designed for cutting ceramic tile.

If you need to make a round or circular cut, mark the area and then use a tile nipper to nip out small pieces of tile until you reach the line. A tile nipper is similar to a pair of pliers, but it has hardened cutting edges for cutting through ceramic tile.

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