How To Lay Tile for Beginners

Written by Milan Jara

Lay Tile

Tile is a durable, good-looking flooring choice. It allows homeowners to be as creative as they like and is endlessly customizable because tile comes in a rainbow of colors, a wide selection of patterns, and many different sizes. Although laying tile looks challenging, it's a home improvement project that almost anyone can complete successfully!

Determine Square Footage to Estimate the Amount of Tile Needed

The first step of the project is buying the tile, and before that can happen the floor must be accurately measured. A rectangular room is pretty easy! Measure one long wall, and one short wall. Multiply the numbers together.

So, for example, if the long wall was 20 feet and the short wall was 15 feet, multiply 20x15. A room with these measurements would need 300 square feet of tile. Rooms with alcoves or L--shaped extensions should be measured as a series of rectangles. So if the main room is 20x15 and the L-extensions are 15x10, multiply each separately and then add them together. In this case, add 300 square feet (the square footage for the main part of the room) to 150 (the square footage of the extension).

Plan Tile Layout

After prepping the floor it's time to decide how to layout the tile. There are two reasons for doing this. One reason is to identify any issues with how the layout looks before setting the tile in mortar. The second reason is to make sure there's enough tile to complete the job. Now, lay a row of tiles moving out horizontally from the center tile, and then do the same moving vertically. Insert spacers as the tile is placed. Continue working row by row until the entire floor is laid out.

Stay Safe

Safety is paramount when doing any home improvement project. Wear gloves and a mask while mixing mortar and laying tile. Protective goggles are a great idea when cutting tile. Read the warnings on the mortar and grout and follow the instructions regarding storage and ventilation.

Mix Thinset Mortar and Apply to Floor

Thinset mortar is the adhesive that will hold the tile in place. Mix the mortar in a large bucket with the amount of water suggested by the manufacturer. Once mixed, let it sit for at least five minutes. It's important to know what sort of material the tile chosen is made of because different materials require the thin-set to be prepared in different ways.

For example, porcelain requires a thinset modified with an additive to bond with the floor correctly. The type of subfloor also matters. Wooden subfloor much is lightly damned before the thinset is applied.

Lay the Tile

The tile should be twisted gently as it is laid in the thinset. Pick it up to make sure the back is thoroughly coated in thinset, and then set it down once again. Take a damp sponge and wipe up any thinset that gets on the face of the tile. If a tile doesn't look right, pick it up and reset it. Put spacers around all sides of the tile. Continue laying tile, but always leave an escape route. Tile should not be walked on until the thinset has completely dried.

Level the Tiles

After placing four tiles, put a thin piece of wood across the top of the tiles. Lightly tap a rubber mallet against the wood. This levels and firmly set the tile into the thinset mortar. Continue working in groups of four tiles. Move away from the tiles from time to time to get another visual to double-check they are level. Some tiles will need to be cut to fit properly. Once all tile has been laid, the thinset needs to cure for about one day. Remove all the spacers after a day.

Scoring and Cutting Tile

Some tools are needed to properly cut tile. With small projects or mostly square or rectangular rooms, a manual snap cutter will suffice. A larger project or a room that requires many cuts will need an electric wet saw. Tile nippers are used for tiles that need to fit around a curve. Use an erasable marker to draw the needed cut into the tile. Score the tile by moving the cutter along the line. Then hold the tile in two hands and firmly snap it into pieces.

Grouting the Floor

Grout fills in the areas between the tiles created by the spacers. It completes the look. Grout comes in many different finishes, colors, and types. The type of grout needed depends on the material the tile is made of, while the color is up to the homeowner to decide! Start by using painter's tape to protect the bottom edges of the baseboards. Mix the grout in a large bucket following the directions on the back of the package. Mix grout in small batches to prevent it from drying out. A rubber grout float is used to apply the grout. Work in sweeping arcs and at an angle to one small square of tile at a time. Grout should be applied diagonally across the tile. Remove excess grout by using a damp sponge before moving on to the next section of tile. Mist water over the grout for three days after it's applied. The tile should also not be walked on for at least twelve hours. Sealing the grout will protect it from mold or mildew.

Additional Resources

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