How To Install Ceramic Floor Tiles
Installing ceramic floor tiles can really change the look of a room , but you need to take your time so as to install them nice and flat and true to each other or it can really look poor. Using the proper thin set mortar is very important as well other wise you may not get a perfect bond of the tiles to your sub flooring and they will come loose or crack over time.
Generally speaking there are two types of thinset mortar, one is modified and it usually would be used to lay tiles overtop of another cement based subfloor like a concrete slab or cement backer board. The other type is non-modified and it usually would be used to lay tiles overtop of product like plywood or Ditra. There is a lot of different ideas out there about which type of thinset to use for which applications so what I would say is to ask your sales person where you are buying your products for what they would recommend in your situation. For my article I will be explaining how to install 12″x12″ ceramic floor tiles in a 10′x10′ room on a concrete floor, so I will be using a modified thinset product. I would expect that a first time installer would need about 6-8 hrs. to lay the tiles in that size of area.
Difficulty Level: 7/12
- notched trowel (notch size depends on tiles)
- snap cutter (this can only be used for straight cuts along a whole edge of a tile)
- wet saw
- tile nibbler
- rubber mallet
- clean 5 gallon pail
- mixing paddle with drill
- small container for water
- felt marker
- straight edge
- chalk line
- safety glasses
- hearing protection
- 24″ carpenters level
- thinset mortar (modified or non-modified depending on application)
How to install ceramic floor tiles
To start out I would take a few measurements of my room and decide how I want to lay out the tiles, you generally want to balance the edges out so that the tiles are the same width at the sides of your room and the tiles at the ends of your room are the same. Also make sure the floor is clean, free of dust and no bumps or lumps.
TIP: Measure the tiles you will be using to get the actual size, just because they are call 12″x12″ does not mean that is what they will measure.
Snap a couple of chalk lines onto the floor as guide lines to help keep you straight and square and to use as references.
Next I like to pre cut some tiles for my first area before I get started mixing any thin set. Straight cuts along a whole length of a tile are easy and fast using a snap cutter. Simply place a pencil mark on the tile where you want it cut, slide the tile onto the snap cutters cutting bed, line up the scoring wheel to the pencil mark and score the length of the tile 2-3 times, then use the attached snapping arm behind the scoring wheel to press down on the tile and snap it. If you get a bit of a jagged break use the tile nibblers to break off any small edges
If you need to cut an area out of a tile like around a corner or something, then you will need to use the wet saw to actually make a series of cuts to remove only the area you needed taken out. So now you have a few tiles cut and ready to go so lets mix the thinset!
Your thinset will come with mixing instructions on the side of the bag. It will tell you how much water to add to mix the whole bag of thinset at once. You as a person who has not laid tiles before or even if you have done it a couple of times will not likely be able to spread that much thinset and the lay the tile before it is setting up, so only mix what you think you can apply and tile in 10-20 minutes time. Add the amount of powder you want to use into the clean 5 gallon pail, then add water a little at a time and mix until it is a little wetter then peanut butter. Let the mixture sit for about 10 min. then re-mix for a few seconds and it is ready to use.
TIP: When you use the notched side of your trowel to spread the thinset the ridges from the notch should stay standing, if they sag down much or flatten out the mix is too wet. If the thinset wants to peel up behind your trowel as you spread it, it is too dry. Thinset applied too dry will not bond well to your tiles or subfloor and the tiles may come loose over time with foot traffic.
Dump out or scoop some thinset onto the floor area you are starting in and spread about a 1/2″ layer with the smooth side of the trowel the flip the trowel and apply the notches. Apply tiles as you go by setting them into the thin set very close to where you need it and press down and gently slip it into position. I would not necessarily worry about making them level but you need to make them all even or true to each other. You can use you straight edge or level to check for trueness as you go and make fine adjustments to the tiles with your hand or rubber mallet. Pull up a tile every once and a while after you just laid it to check that you are getting good coverage of thinset when you place them. There should be a good coverage of thinset consistently across the bottom of the tile. If you are having trouble with your coverage or a very un even floor you may want to “back butter” the tiles as you place them. This is just applying a layer of thinset to the back of the tiles as well as the floor. Don’t forget to use your notched trowel on the back as well as the floor.
In this next photo, I am installing a heating element under the tile on this job, that is what the green stuff is.
For the grout line space between the tiles you could eye ball it but they do make different sized plastic spacers that you slip in-between the tiles as you go and pull out the next day.
Keep working your way across the room until complete and remember to try and clean up any thinset from the finished face of the tiles as you move along. Also try not to have thinset squeezing up between the tiles to much as this will make more work for you to remove it be for you grout. Your freshly tiled floor should not have any foot traffic for at least 12 hrs and only light foot traffic for 48-60 hrs after that. I generally would not apply grout for at least 24 hrs if you can wait 48 hours that would be more than long enough. Also make sure to clean tools that are used with the thinset before it dries on hard and will not come off.
Check the article called Grouting Tiles on this home improvements web site for the procedures and tips of completing your project.