Tile Install DIY Wisdom and How to Avoid Most Common Tile Mistakes

Having control over the aesthetics of your own home is a great, personal joy. Tiling your own home is a part of that. Tile installation can in fact be a very enjoyable process (almost like meditation) especially given the fact that doing it yourself might save you some $$$. So, if you are eager to spend hours on your hands and knees, planning your future picture-perfect floor tile, then this article is for you. We'll guide you through the main steps and try to teach you how to avoid the most common mistakes.

Know Your Tools

Before going out and buying tools, take a step back and think about what tools you really need. Without some proper research, you might end up buying the wrong variant of tools for your task. Good news is most of the tools are not very expensive and can be found at your local Home Depot or Lowe’s. Most certainly you will need the following: a few trowels, mixing buckets, tile leveling system, cleaning sponge, tile spacers, rubber mullet, and tile nippers or the right tile cutters for your material.

💡Pro Tip: You don’t need to invest in an expensive wet saw to cut your tiles – better to rent it from your local hardware store.

Think like a Designer - Act Like a Visionary

When it comes to design, it's always a good idea to have a rough draft before working on the project. A visual representation of the final pattern of your tiling will make the tiling process much easier.

You can always picture the pattern in your head but having a drawing of the design is much more helpful. You can also use some free cool apps like Tile Calculator that can help to visualize the tile layout and calculate the exact amount of tile you need for the project.

Without a final design, there is great room for error. For starters, one tile type may not match or fit with a contrasting tile type. Most tile designs usually follow their individual repetitive pattern. If you end up picking the wrong combo just because you liked the way those looked separately, you may end up being disappointed when you see the end result. So, with a design in hand, you will always get the result you envisioned.

Calculating Your Tile Needs

Calculating how much tile you need to tile your kitchen backsplash might seem too confusing for some of us, but it’s not as hard as it seems. All it takes is just some proper measurements and simple math. You can always refer to variety of free cool apps or websites like Tile Calculator or HomeAdvisor.com that can help to calculate the exact amount of tile you need for the project. (Or TileClub.com 😉)

Don't forget to add a 10% waste factor when estimating the number of tiles required. Simply multiply the area of the room by 1.1 and then round upward.

For oddly shaped rooms (like round or triangular rooms), expect some amount of waste as you'll need to cut the tiles to fit the shapes.

💡Pro Tip: Think about the future: install tile under cabinets, appliances, and furniture in case you decide to replace or move them around later.

Why Are Mockup Layouts So Important?

In an ideal world, a tile contractor should always get an approval of the tile layout from the owner, designer, or general contractor before installing it. This simple process can save you lots of time, money, and nerve cells.

Your expectations for the final look of your bathroom floor may be drastically different from the reality of the installation. That is why it is always a great idea to lay out your tile before installing them. This way you can see if there is any shade variation present in the tile. Shade variation is very common for natural stone tiles, but even porcelain or glass tile can have some variation, too. Besides color variation check-up, the mockup layout can also help to determine overall design direction. You can play with the patterns and shapes of your tile before deciding on final layout.

How to Prep for Tile Install?

To prepare the surface that needs to be tiled, clean it, and even it out. Use a vacuum cleaner to remove all dust, and then clean the surface with water to remove any particles.

Ensure that the surface has no jagged or uneven spots to avoid common home hazards. Make sure to clean the back of the tile to help proper bonding between the adhesive and the surface itself.

Smoothen out any previous coating that the surface has. It must be as plain as possible. If the floor comes with carpeting, then remove the trims.

Check out our blog on "How to Protect and Maintain Tile Floors"

Don’t be Greedy on Thin-set

There are different tile adhesives for different types of tiles, but the two most common types are organic mastic or mortar and thin-set adhesive. Thin-set adhesives are powdered and need to be mixed with liquid before application. On the other hand, organic mastics are made of latex or petroleum and are ready-to-use. Even though organic mastics are usually pretty easy to use, the thin-set adhesives actually have a higher bond and weight bearing strength. The consequences of spot-applying the adhesive to the corners of the tile can end up with your tiles getting lifted with minimal force, or even coming off slowly over time. For instance, large format tiles (according to the TCNA the tiles that are larger than 15 inches on any side are considered large-format) and natural stone tiles often require back-buttering. Fancy term, right? Back-buttering means applying a thin layer of thin-set adhesive to back of the tile surface using the flat side of the trowel.

Also, remember that different surfaces may require different types of adhesive. For instance, to tile a swimming pool, you will need to use a waterproof adhesive. A backsplash behind the stove or fireplace will require you to use heat resistant adhesives. For instance, fireplaces will need a thin-set that can handle at least 400° F.You should always consider the proximity of the heat source to the tile installation before choosing the appropriate grout, adhesive, or tile sealer. Setting materials that contain calcium aluminate cement are the best-suited for tile installations near a heat source.

💡Pro Tip: Do not use organic mortars in high-moisture areas like bathrooms because it tends to harbor mold. Use thin set mortar instead.

Tile Science: Expansion and Contraction

Substances increase in size (AKA expand) when they get warmer and decrease (contract) when they get cooler. Physics, duh! Tile is very sensitive to movement. There are so many things that can affect your tile installation: moisture, freezing, structural movements, direct sunlight, and so on. As the tiles press up against each other, they have nowhere to go but up. This is why expansion or movement joints are so important during the installation process. 

A movement joint is a space that should be left open or should have a flexible material in between the tiles to relieve the stress from movement. This way, the two surfaces won’t be fighting against each other when expansion or shifting occurs.

Image from https://www.schluter.com/

If expansion joints are not part of the installation process, there is a 99% chance of project failure. Make sure to leave at least ½ inch in between the last line of tiles and the next surface or material, either on the floor or wall, to allow some space for expansion. Also, if you don’t want to worry about the expansion too much, then use smaller-sized tiles. With small tiles, smaller movements take place.

U.S. industry standards say that all tile installations must have movement joints. Why? Because they prevent tiles or grout from cracking. Properly placed movement joints help the tile to move and avoid damages. Quite often the movement joints can serve as moisture-resistors in wet areas because they provide another layer of protection.

In smaller rooms you can simply create a gap at the perimeter of the room (no less than 1/4 inch) that can serve as a movement or expansion joint. For larger areas, the movement joints will be visible.

💡Pro Tip: Use silicone caulk instead of grout to fill the joints. Caulk is flexible and can help absorb movement.

Keep Calm and Grout

You probably think that the biggest decision in designing your bathroom is choosing the tiles, but in fact choosing the right grout is just as important. Besides serving as a bonding material, grout can play a key aesthetic role.

The most common types of grout are sanded and unsanded grout. Sanded grout is very durable and less prone to shrinkage. Also, remember that sanded grout can damage the surface of delicate tile that requires some gentle care. We recommend avoiding sanded grout with metal and Mother of Pearl tiles, for example.

Unsanded grout is commonly used on the vertical surfaces like shower walls, for example. Unsanded grout is very sticky and provides a better hold for tiles installed on the walls.

Cementitious grouts are porous and therefore can easily absorb the stains. If you wish to keep your grout joints stain-free, then you should use epoxy grout instead. Make sure to mix your grout properly: using too much water may result in uneven color of your grout. If you want to ensure the grout color consistency on the whole surface, use epoxy grout – it won’t darken or change color over time.

Also, it is good to know that epoxy grout can stain porous tile surfaces such as travertine. This type of tile should be sealed prior to grouting.

Choosing the right grout color for your tile is a big deal, and we will devote another article to this matter. Stay tuned!

💡Pro Tip: Never use sanded grout on the joints that are smaller than 1/8 of an inch because it may cause pinholing and cracking.

Do I Need to Use a Tile Sealer?

Sealing is usually the last but not the least step in many installation projects. Sealing your floors, backsplash, or grout can ensure that they will look good and stay protected for a long time. Sealed tile and grout are much easier to keep clean from spills and dirt. It is highly recommended to seal natural stone tile made of travertine, marble, slate, or granite. Natural stone is a porous material that can quickly absorb spills, bacteria, food particles, and dirt. Keep in mind that the surfaces of most ceramic or porcelain tiles don’t need to be sealed because of its nonporous nature. You still may want to seal your grout lines between nonporous tiles, however. Sealing grout can reduce the amount of moisture, bacteria, and mildew that can form on grout, causing unsightly discoloration or stains - basically, sealing your grout can cut down on the amount of time you spend scrubbing! 

Half-hearted planning is the root of all failure. We hope you find our tips useful for your next tile project. Together We Tile™!

⚠️ Disclaimer: This is a general guideline only. Please consult a tile installer if you have any questions or have never installed tile before.


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