How to Lay Ceramic Tile

Sara Miller
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Have you recently purchased ceramic tile, and your goal is to install it yourself? If so, you're in the right place. This article will detail steps on how to hay ceramic tile without the help of a professional.

What You'll Need:

  • Pencil
  • Measuring tape
  • Hardyboard
  • Handheld saw
  • Tiles
  • Spacers
  • Wet Saw
  • Mortar
  • Grout
  • Grout float
  • Trowel
  • Tile spacers
  • Bucket with water
  • Sponge

1) Examining the Layout of the Room: Plan your layout before you start your ceramic installation. Never ballpark anything: It could be a costly mistake. During your layout and planning stages you can afford to make mistakes and still have plenty of time for fixing them and ensuring your new floor is as beautiful as you imagined. Take measurements: Length, width, surface area, etc. 

2) Install Hardyboard: Once you have taken measurements and understand the space you're working in, you'll need to install a layer of material to affix the ceramic tiles to. We recommend using Hardyboard, which comes in sheets. Not many spaces are a perfect square, so you'll need to cut the Hardyboard using a handheld saw. 

3) Find a Focal Point: Establish which walls is the more visible in the room.  Emphasize this area by laying tiles square to this section of the wall. 

4) Make a Reference Line: Find the center of the most visible wall and make a line at a 90 degree angle (perpendicular) to the opposite wall. Then you'll want create another line perpendicular to your first (which will appear parallel to the most visible wall). If you have equally visible walls, just find their midpoints and draw lines from them towards the opposite walls. The result should be two perpendicular lines crossing in the room's center point.

5) Keep it Even: Ensure that the lines are perfectly square with the use of a level or T-square. These lines will be your main reference, and your starting points, in laying your ceramic tile. Feel free to mark the 

6) Test the Layout: Place your tiles along the reference lines and be sure to allow space (1/4 inch) between them for grout lines. Use your tile spacers to ensure the spacing is 100% accurate. (This will give you an idea of how the tiles will look on the floor once installed.) After placing the tiles along the lines, check the tiles at each wall. If you've left space for a cut tile check to see if they are less than half the size of the original tiles. If so, we advise that you adjust the placement to allow for an entire 1/2 tile (or larger) at each wall. If one row is visible, start your full tiles there. If both ends of the row are visible, the end tiles should be cut the same size. Behind doors and under cabinets, or anywhere out of the main view of a room, are the best places for your cut tiles. The idea is to place full square tiles in places that are more visible and hide half-sized and smaller cut tiles in places where there is less visibility.

If you have adjusted the placement of the tiles, make a new reference lines based on this adjustment. Now, we can begin your grid.

7) Create a Grid Pattern: Create a grid-like pattern (or sections) for your layout. It is much easier to install tile in sections, rather than all at once. This will also ensure the tiles are square. To make grid patterns, layout a small portion (2" or 3" square) of the room, leaving enough space for grout lines. Measure this small portion and use this measurement to make grid lines all across the floor. Some sections against the walls will not be full size: You'll need to cut them. Mistakes can be avoided if you use the grid & section layout system to guide you in your tile installation.

These grid lines are your final reference for laying ceramic tile. Now you can confidently began your ceramic tile installation, working on one section at a time until you have installed your beautiful, completely tiled floor.

8) Cut the Tiles: Cut the marked tiles with a wet saw. Set your wet saw up outside or in a garage: Things can get messy. Cut every marked tile along the marked line and work your way from the outside in. Wear gloves and eye protection.

9) Mortar the Underlayment: Add water to the mortar until you get thick, pastey consistency. Attach a paint-mixing bit to an electric drill to mix the mortar to an even consistency. Use a trowel to spread the mortar evenly across the floor using the flat side. Then, flip the trowel and use the grooved side to spread it at a 45-degree angle. Within five minutes of applying the mortar, place the ceramic tile on top of the mortar. Work in sections, and once a section is complete add the tile spacers to hold the tiles in place.

10) Add the Grout: After you have mortared and secured your tiles, wait 12 hours for the substances to harden. Then, mix the grout to a frozen-yogurt-type consistency. Remove the tile spacers, then using a float, spread the grout into the tile's cracks, making sure there are no gaps or bubbles. Then, take a few passes with a wet sponge to remove the leftover grout residue from the tile surfaces

11) Wait: Wait 24 hours to walk on the floor, then enjoy your finest DIY project yet!

More Resources:

DIY Network, "Ceramic Tile Flooring"

The Family Handyman, "Install a Ceramic Tile Floor in the Bathroom"


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