Installing Tile Floors

Before You Begin, Know Thy Basics

The fundamentals to building anything are:

  1. Square - the perfection of right angles
  2. Level - always have an even surface
  3. Plumb - straight vertical alignment
  4. Measure - measure twice, cut once

If you’re having trouble remembering, just think of SLPM (Slip M). Since I’ve just coined this phrase, we’ll need to spread the word and let this catch on with the rest of the world.

Step 1: Remove the Baseboard

Removing baseboard without damaging it or the wall behind it requires patience if you’re planning to reuse it. The most important rule for reusing baseboard is labeling the pieces when you take them off. The always handy marker & masking tape combo will help you remember where each piece goes when you replace the baseboard.

Remove the quarter-round first using a thin pry bar. If you don’t have quarter-round to remove, consider this step finished and take a well-deserved break before moving on to removing the trim above the baseboard.

To remove the trim, you’ll be using the same thin pry-bar, wooden shims, and a little bit of tender-loving elbow grease. Gently hammer a wooden shim between the trim and the wall. The shim’s purpose is to serve as protection for the wall when using the pry bar. Simply wedge the thin, flat pry bar in between the shim and the trim and gently pry the trim loose. Don’t forget to label the pieces.

Having removed the quarter-round and the trim, it’s now time to remove the baseboard itself. Once again, use the wood shims and the pry bar to gently loosen the baseboard, and then label it.

Step 2: Determine Tile Layout Pattern

There are many different layout choices. But most layout patterns follow the same basics. So let’s get right into the “Standard Layout”.

First, imagine a room that is empty of all bathtubs, kitchen counters, and other obstacles. If you’re room is already free of obstacles, great! It makes things easier. Next, we will snap perpendicular lines at the midpoints of the walls.

Since all rooms are not perfectly square, we will need to square our marks by adjusting the lines. First, we use a 3-4-5 Triangle. If you have a 3-4-5 Contractor’s Square handy great! If you have a floor laser, even better! If not we’ll do it the long way. Measure and mark 3-feet on one line and 4-feet on the other. If the distance between the marks is:

  1. exactly 5-feet, our lines are square.
  2. more than 5-feet, rotate one of the lines slightly clockwise from the center-point.
  3. less than 5-feet, rotate one of the lines slightly counter-clockwise from the center-point.

After rotating a bit, re-measure and repeat until you get a perfect 3-4-5 triangle.

DIAGONAL OPTION:

Now that we’ve squared up the room we can use these measurements to come up with a “Diagonal Layout”

Now that we’ve established our perpendicular lines, we will measure and mark equal distances all 4 lines coming from the intersection and “connect-the-dots”. Then we will measure and find the midpoints of these new lines and then snap a new diagonal line.

Why not simply mark off the corners of the room and snap our lines from that? Well that answer is simple, 95 times out of 10 we don’t have a square room to work with. And no, my math isn’t off because rooms that are perfectly square don’t exist either!

Step 3: Tile Dry Run

Before you begin, it’s good to know the general rule-of-thumb for how wide your grout lines should be. Although you can choose any grout width you desire, the final outcome might be less than desirable if you don’t plan ahead.

First, take measurements of roughly 5-10 tiles that you’ve already picked out for your tile project. Of those measurements take the maximum measurement minus the minimum to determine your variation. Now take this number and multiply it by 3 to determine the width of your grout line. The reasoning is that this will minimize the imperfections such as tile lippage as well as the slight differences in tile dimension.

Let’s say you do this math and insist on having thinner grout lines than generally suggested. If you insist, you might as well bring some “insurance” with you in the form of an investment into a Tile Leveling System. This will help you minimize tile lippage imperfections and reduce the likelihood of them being detected.

Step 4: Finally Laying Tile!

With a notched tile trowel, spread tile adhesive in a 2-ft. by 2-ft area beginning at the intersection. As you lay the tile, twist them ever so slightly to encourage adhesion with the tile adhesive, and don’t forget to use the tile spacers.

As we move along the room laying tile, ensure the tiles are even by using a large straightedge or contractor’s level. Gently tap areas that are too-high with a rubber mallet. We will only be laying full-sized tiles today. So when the entire room is finished with all the full-size tiles, allow the tiles to set overnight.

Now for the border tiles. We will use a 1/2 inch wide board and rest it up against the wall. Then we’ll take a full-size tile and place it right up against the board and lay it down. The tile should significantly overlapping one of the full-sized tiles that has been left to set overnight. Mark off the each edge of the tile and draw a line. This is where we will be making our cut.

After cutting the tile, we will be laying down the cut-side towards the outside wall. That’s because this is the edge that should be hidden when we place the baseboard back on.

Step 5: Grouting!

Mix the grout according to directions. Using a rubber-float, apply the grout at a 45-degree angle and work the grout into the spaces in-between the tile.

Allow the grout to dry to the point where you are not able to easily make dents in the grout with your fingernail. Once you get to this point, use a large sponge to wipe up the excess grout from the tiles. Grout typically leaves behind a dull haze so you’ll need to repeat this sponging process.  For larger areas, a Wash Bucket System is recommended.

Allow the grout to set overnight and go over the floor again with your sponge yet again to continue removing the residue. You may need to repeat this process every day for the next 3 days to fully remove the haze.

Let the grout cure for 7 days before applying a sealant. If your tiles are non-glazed apply the sealant on the entire face of the tiles as well.