5 Tile Tips from an Amature Installer

Installing tile for the first time? Then we have a few tips you need to read!

So far I’ve owned two homes in my life and my husband and I installed tile in both houses. The first time we installed tile we had more than enough help and we were able to put the tiles down in a matter of days. The second time around, we learned some hard truths about installing tile that was both frustrating and time-consuming. If you’re planning on installing your own tile at home, please read this first!

1. Find Your Floor Center!

Finding the center of a room is really all about how the tiles look when you enter the room. I like a vertical look so that your gaze follows the tile through the room. It creates a bigger space and is great for small rooms. There’s a little bit of math involved so I suggest doing a quick YouTube search on the topic. Don’t worry about mathematically laying out all your tiles on a piece of paper. There’s no need for it because of two simple reasons:

  1. Your walls aren’t 100% straight and even (newsflash!)
  2. Your foundation isn’t 100% straight and even (shocker!)

Once you find the center of your room, lay out some tile just to get a basic idea of how it is going to look before you spread mortar. This will help you visualize the final product and keep you from making costly mistakes.

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2. Buy the Best

This doesn’t mean you have to buy “top-of-the-line” products but rather, buy the best you can afford. Remember, you’re cutting out the “middle-man” and instead of paying someone to get down and dirty on your floors, you’re doing it yourself! So don’t skimp on your supplies because you need them more than you know.

  1. Get the highest quality knee-pads. Why? because you’re going to spend a lot of time hovering over your floors so you might as well do it as comfortably as possible.
  2. Invest in the right tools. If you’re removing carpet, vinyl, or laminate then you can probably get away with a basic putty knife and floor scraper to remove glues, peel or pop the pieces out of place. Carpet is the easiest to remove but it can get pretty heavy to carry out. If you’re removing old tile flooring then you may need to visit your local hardware store and rent heavier equipment. Removing tile floors can be backbreaking work. Here’s some nice advise from our friends at Home Depot (I spend a lot of time here…so much I should get paid to be there!) Don’t forget to set up a bulky item pick up with your trash collector or city. Usually this service is free through the city in Southern California and may be free where you live too!
  3. Buy a good quality tile saw. Don’t be cheap here either, get the best you can afford and an extra blade. If you don’t use the extra blade, you can always return it later. We have the Ridgid 7 in tile saw with the stand. It may not be the highest quality but it got the job done in 2 houses!
  4. The most important thing is the tile! I recommend getting what you really want. Shop around, take pictures, buy samples, do what you need to do to pick what you truly want because it’s an investment that will last for years and years. Don’t skimp, buy quality that you can afford.

3. The Mop is Your Best Friend

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Keeping things clean is going to be priority #1 because the cleaner you work, the easier you work. Buy a mop for this project only! You’ll need it in addition to clean buckets to hold clean water and dirty water. You’ll also need some sponges. I recommend getting the ones that have a scrubbing side in case you miss some grout spots later. Don’t worry about keep these items in good condition because they’re throw-away items that you wont be able to use on anything else later. Your cleaning schedule will look like this:

  1. Lay mortar (should be creamy like cake batter), set tile in place, let stand for several hours, clean with a damp sponge.
  2. After all tiles are set, remove spacers, clean tiles again and prep for grout.
  3. Apply grout, clean. Let set, clean. Then clean again and again and again and maybe again again. If you’re using dark grout then it is especially important that the grout is cleaned that same day or you risk staining your tiles. Clean, clean clean!

4. This is not a One-Man-Job

If you are going to put tile in by yourself, please don’t. You really need at least 2 people for this job. One person lays down the mortar while the next person follows behind laying down the tile, measuring, and setting the tiles in place. If you have a 3rd person then they can come through approx 30 min to 1 hour after the first tile is put down and start a gentle cleaning. There are far too many steps that need to be done for one person to do alone and it will take FOREVER if you’re a one-man-show!

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In addition to all of this is the fact that the mortar needs to be the right consistency. It needs to be smooth like butter and be easy to spread around. You want a consistency between cake batter and brownie batter. If it’s too runny then it can cause your tiles to be uneven and may not even secure correctly to the floor. It it’s too thick, it will be harder to spread, develop rocks, and will make some tile sit higher than others.

When it comes down to finally adding the grout (after you cleaned the floors over and over again), come through with a putty knife and scrape up any extra bits of  mortar you may have missed in between the edges of tile so that the area can be better filled with grout. One trick I learned was to put painter’s tape around the edges to minimize clean-up. When the grout dried, I pulled up the tape and swept up the dried grout. This method allows for minimum clean up time.

   

5. The Horrors of an Uneven Floor

If you previous had carpet flooring and you are going to replace it with tile, you have two options here. The first option is to use a floor grinder and make sure the concrete slab (your foundation) is level. The sad reality about this is that when builders build homes and the original owner opts for carpet flooring, the builder doesn’t bother to level the foundation. Yes the slab looks even and there may not be any cracks but that doesn’t mean that it’s good enough for tile. If you’re not sure about the state your foundation is in, you can either level it as much as you can or you can opt to space your tiles further away. If you don’t, you run the risk of uneven tiles that don’t look pretty because one will sit higher than the other. Space tiles more than 1/8 inch and opt for tiles with rounded edges.

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

Hopefully I didn’t scare you too much that you’ve now decided to hire someone instead. There’s nothing like coming the and end of a project, especially one as big as a flooring project. There’s a certain level of appreciation and sense of accomplishment that you can do something that may seem impossible and make it possible. If you hit a snag in the project or get frustrated one day and hopeless the next, just keep in mind that no tile job is completely perfect. Even experts make mistakes and have to compensate for imperfections. In the end, the project is yours so why not own it?