18 Feb

Ceramic Tile Flooring

Install Ceramic Tile

I realize it could appear that I’m dragging this series on updating my master bathroom out unnecessarily. However, rest assured that I am getting these posts published more quickly than the work detailed within them was completed.

If you don’t believe me, just ask Dave. He’ll testify that he left on holiday mid-January with promises that he’d only have to traipse across the living room and back to the kid’s bathroom for “a couple of days”. Let the record show that poor man has logged an additional 2,682 steps in the name of ‘progress’.

BUT I didn’t want to rush the job and screw it up. Plus, I didn’t anticipate the sink and toilet mishaps. And I had to be absolutely certain one person really could do the job since that’s the way I planned to pitch the project.

Besides, I’m just helping him kick-start swimsuit season.

So, now that the baseboard trim and door casings are all removed and the cement backer board is sandwiched between two layers of thinset we can lay the first tile! Finally. Mix up your mortar, let it sit for 10 minutes, whipping it one last time for good measure.

Test the first tile

Leave a 1/4″ gap from any outside walls, spread some mortar onto the floor then holding the trowel at a 45 degree angle (think of opening a hinged box halfway) pull it towards you, teeth down, to create straight lines in the mortar.

Scrape any extra mortar back in to your bucket. Press the tile down into the mud and slightly twist your wrist to set. The back is designed for suction; the twist locks it in place. Then wedge your trowel under a corner of the tile and pry it right back up.

Check grout

Now, I swear I’m not being sadistic when I insist you do this. Really, I’ve got your floor’s long-term health in mind. Look at my test tile – do you think there’s enough mud to hold that sucker down for 15 years? Me neither.

Use enough grout on tile

I troweled on a bit more mortar, bit it and checked again. You want about 75% (or more) of the tile covered. I followed the line I drew out from the wall  and laid more full-sized tiles. It’s best to work in small sections. Since my arms are short I was only able to lay 3 rows at a time.

I used 1/8″ spacers – 2 on every side of the tile – but you can go larger or smaller depending on your design. (Make sure you don’t have so much mortar oozing between the tiles that your spacers get stuck. If necessary, scrape out extra mud before inserting spacers. And keep a wet rag handy.)

Lay tile in small sections

After finishing a few rows, I grabbed a 1×3, laid it flat and tapped with the rubber mallet to level out the tiles across the row. Then I flipped it and repeated the process up and down each row. It takes a bit to find your groove at first but once you do this moves fairly quickly.

Level ceramic tiles

I found that I hated the feeling of the mortar (wet, sticky and sandy) so I had to constantly stop to wash my hands and rinse out my rag. And I got that crap everywhere. If you’re messy like me, don’t worry it’ll wipe off easily with a little water and elbow grease. It’s a little harder to get out of your hair, but doable.

Lay full tiles first

When you come up against obstacles like the toilet flange and water supply line, you’ll need to cut the tile to fit. The easiest way to do this is to take (3) full-sized tiles. Lay the first on the backer board or use the last tile you set down. Set the second tile directly on top of the first. Now, take the third tile and place it as close to the obstacle as possible. Trace the end of Tile 3 onto Tile 2. This is the line you’ll follow when you cut.

Quick trick for measuring tiles

If you’re working with a simple score and snap tool you’ll be able to cut the majority of your tiles (including those around the perimeter and up against the tub) using this trace method. To notch a small square out to fit snugly around the water line you would score the tile with a utility knife and use a pair of nippers to remove the rest.

But if you are fortunate enough to have a friend whose husband has a portable wet saw (thanks Ric!) you can get fancy flipping the tile around to make a ton of vertical cuts into the tile.

4" portable wet saw

Who needs a mood ring when your ass announces your disposition? It’s fair warning to anyone who walks into the room while I’m working.

Cut tile around flange

Tile cutting kicks up a lot of dust and debris. The water gets muddy quickly and dirty water is hard to work with. You’re going to want to regularly change out the reserve basin. Allow me to save you numerous trips back and forth to the tub and recommend having a shopvac on hand. I wish I would have thought of this on Day 1 of cutting.

Shop vac wet saw

Now you know why I was grumpy.

lay ceramic tile

When you’ve finally laid the last tile, spend the money you saved doing it yourself on beer. Or wine. Or chocolate. Whatever, just treat yourself and get a good night’s sleep. The next day (the tile needs 24 hours to set up) mix up a batch or five of grout. (Sanded grout for ceramic, unsanded grout for glass. Sanded will scratch glass or porcelain tiles.)

Mix grout in bucket

While the grout sets up, remove all of your spacers. Then, vacuum and damp mop the floor. I swiped a hot rag over the tiles a few hundred times to make sure all of the mortar had been removed and any debris was gone.

Float grout on tile

Use a rubber float to slop the grout onto the tile. Push and pull across the tiles diagonally to fill the joints with grout. Every. Single. Joint. I got through this part by thinking of all the cute tank tops I’m going to rock this summer.

Approximately two four beers later, you’ll be ready to wipe down the tiles.

Wet sponge over tile

This part will undoubtedly feel like it’s taking the longest amount of time yet. It is. Keep going. After the residual grout and haze is removed, it needs 12-hours to cure enough before resetting the toilet.

My arms required twice that amount of time to return to full use.


This post is part of a series. Read the other parts:

How to Install Tile   Operation Countertop   operation demolition

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17 Feb

Prep for Tile Flooring

Prep floor for tile

Once upon a time there was an ugly linoleum floor.

Long, long ago in a bathroom far away…

Hickory dickory door,
I hate my linoleum floor.
Backer board down,
Trowel around,
Crap vinyl I’ll see no more.

I might have sniffed a bit too much pipe dope working on the leaky sink. Or maybe I’ve spent too much time confined to this 10′ x 10′ space. I’m starting to lose my mind. Good thing my sense of humor is in tact.

Continuing my pursuit of a ‘Property Virgin Approved’ master bathroom, I got to work prepping the existing sheet vinyl with cement board. I searched around the web to see what the pros said about installation. Some said you could just screw it down. Others insisted you must trowel on the mortar before securing with special cement coated screws.

Measure and cut cement board

Not a single one suggested cutting the 5′ long sheets in half. I suppose they didn’t expect it to be a 5’1″ chick lugging the pieces across the room.

I bet the folks over at Pampered Chef don’t expect their whisks to be used to mix up mud either.

Hand mix mortar

But I find it works smashingly for the task.

Screw backer board down

I installed 1/4″ green board over mortar with screws set every 6″ (roughly). I started off cutting the sheets with a drywall saw but quickly traded that out for a utility knife. It was much easier to score and snap the backer board. The saw kicked up way too much dust and was difficult to use.

Cover seams with mesh tape and mortar

Also up for internet debate was the use of mesh tape over the seams. Homes settle and since ours is < 10 years old, it’s safe to assume it’s still getting situated. The back wall (where the toilet sits) is an exterior wall and I know the builders didn’t over-insulate so, I went ahead and forked over the extra cash for piece of mind.

Before installing the backer board in the second half of the bathroom, I had to finish some residual demolition. Since I left the door jambs in place at the entrance and linen closet doors I had to use my new toy.

When Sonne was here last summer she cleaned up the trim in my office. Turns out an oscillating tool is perfect for carving out just enough wood to slip a ceramic tile in place. This trick saved me the hassle of removing/reinstalling the door jamb and stop.

How to Cut Door Frames without Removal

Cut around doors

1. Set the backer board and tile against the door jamb and trace the top of the tile.

Saw cut door jamb

2. Cut the wood along the line with the oscillating tool. (Make sure you’re wearing eye protection and don’t cut too deep that you’re compromising the wall studs.)

Install tile under door jamb

3. Double check that the tile fits snugly. Recut as necessary.

I skim-coated the entire floor to level and cover all of the exposed screw heads.

Skim coat floor

Note: Don’t skimp and use regular screws to secure your underlayment. They will rust and compromise the overall substructure of your tile installation.

I let the floor dry completely before moving on to the next step.

Ceramic Yoga: Finding Center

Measure room to find center

I spent quite a while trying to figure out where to start the tile. When you’re working in a large, square room it’s simple. You’d measure east to west and then north to south marking the intersection point. That would ensure most of the visual surface area was covered with full-sized tiles.

But what do you do when your room is cut in half by a wall and pocket door?

assess the situation

I chucked the professional advice and decided to wing it.

Dry fit tiles first

Since I was working with smaller tiles I went ahead and laid them out to get a feel for the finished space. I was able to manipulate the design pattern (grab tiles from different boxes to mix up the color/grain) and see just how much cutting I was going to need to do.

Make changes to tile pattern

All the measuring and calculations in the world won’t provide the same result as a dry run.

Check tile position often

As I worked my way from the water closet to the vanity area I noticed the tiles starting to ‘tip’. Sure enough, there was a 1/4″ discrepancy between the walls. Since I wasn’t interested in reframing and hanging drywall, I opted to tweak a row of tiles to compensate.

It’s a creative fix that you’d only notice if you were on your hands and knees on the floor. Even then you’d need tools to know for sure.

…and a solid excuse for being in that position to begin with.


This post is part of a series. Read the other parts here:

Install Ceramic Tile   Operation Countertop   operation demolition