Tile adhesive sticks to a wide variety of surfaces. The installation surface must be clean, dry and structurally sound. As with most projects, special consideration must be made for wet locations. In a shower or other high-moisture location, use cement-fiber board as the tile substrate.
When preparing new drywall, you don’t need to tape the joints. Seal the walls first with a thin coat of adhesive.
When preparing existing walls to receive tile:
Strip off flexible coverings, such as wallpaper, and scrape away loose paint.
Knock the sheen off glossy finishes with a light sanding.
Patch any holes or wide cracks in drywall with spackling compound. Sand smooth when the patch dries.
Cement-fiber boards, often referred to as cement board, are the recommended underlayment for bathroom walls. The product is composed of cement and fiber for strength and moisture resistance. It’s available in 1⁄4-inch and 1⁄2-inch thicknesses depending on the application.
When installing wall tile in a bathroom, leave a 1⁄8-inch space along the area where the wall meets the top of a tub or shower base. This area will be caulked later with silicon caulk. Caulk is flexible enough to allow movement – settling, expansion and contraction – without cracking.
The pattern options available when laying tile are virtually endless. However, there are two basic patterns:
A jack-on-jack pattern is the most common. The pattern consists of tile laid like squares on a checkerboard.
A running bond pattern has offset grout lines for each row.
Either is fairly easy to set, although the running bond pattern is the more difficult of the two.
Walls in most houses aren’t square. The instructions below establish guidelines for an installation that starts in the center of a wall and proceeds toward the edges. This method gives you equally sized cut tiles at each corner.
Before laying the tiles, you have to put tiles in the water half an hour. Make a layout tool. Lay out a row of tiles on the floor. (Consider both the width of the tile and the grout lines. If you plan to use tile spacers when doing the job, include them as well.) Align a straight stick (1 by 2) with an edge against or on top of the row of tiles. Mark the tile and grout spacing on the stick. This tool will be used in combination with a level to accurately lay out the tile spacing on the walls.
Mark the planned location of any cabinets or accessories that you plan to hang on the wall.
If you’re tiling a bathroom, measure up one-tile width plus 1⁄8 of an inch from the lowest spot where the top of the tub or shower base meets the wall and make a mark. If you’re tiling a room with no tub or other obstruction, make a mark one-tile width from the floor’s lowest point. With this mark as a beginning reference, use the layout tool to get an estimate of how the tiles will lay in a vertical line. If necessary, adjust the reference mark and try again. If you discover that your layout will leave an unacceptably narrow band of tile along the ceiling, shift the reference mark down about half a tile.
Use a level to extend your final reference mark into a horizontal line. This line will be where you begin laying the tile.
Place another reference mark on the horizontal line near the center of the room. Now use your guide to see what will happen at the corners of the room. Shift the reference mark to the side to get the tiles in the corners to line up as you wish. When you’ve established the desired final placement of this reference mark, use your level to draw a plumb vertical line.
Begin laying the tile where the two reference lines meet. They should cross at perfect 90-degree angles. The first tile row must be as close to centered as possible. The appearance of the whole wall will depend upon it. Any error you make here will compound itself as the tiles are laid. Use the level and layout tool to mark a grid on the wall to help with the placement of tiles.
Attach a support strip to the bottom of your base horizontal reference line. This board will serve as a guide and support for the tiles until the adhesive has a chance to set.
Spread the adhesive with the trowel’s notched edge, combing it out in beaded ridges. Spaces between ridges of adhesive should be almost bare. Apply in 2- to 3-square-feet sections. Increase the coverage after you get a feel for setting the tiles. Spread adhesive up to, but not covering, any reference lines or marks on the wall used for positioning tiles.
Press the first few full tiles in place above the support strip with a slight twisting motion. Don’t slide them.
Insert plastic spacers between the tiles if they don’t have spacer lugs. This helps maintain straight grout lines. Remove spacers prior to grouting.
Some ceramic tiles have spacers built into the tile itself.
Continue aligning and adhering tiles. Work in a pyramid shape from your crossed reference lines outward and upward.
If adhesive oozes up between the tiles, clean out the excess before it dries. Immediately wipe off any adhesive on the face of the tiles with a solvent-soaked sponge or rag. (Consult the manufacturer’s instructions to determine the appropriate solvent). Adhesives begin to firmly set in 20 to 30 minutes.
Some adhesives emit toxic and flammable fumes. Provide good ventilation, especially in confined locations such as shower stalls. Always refer to the product label for safety precautions.
After you’ve installed several rows of tile, set them into the adhesive with the tile leveler and a mallet.
Tile the wall up and across to the edges where trimming will be required, then remove the support strip and install the tiles that go beneath it.
Repeat Step 8 on the rest of the walls.
Measure the area along the edges and carefully cut tiles to fit. Install the edges and trim.
When the job is complete, seal the joints between the tub and tile with silicone caulk.
Nearly every tiling job requires trimming tiles to fit around borders or obstructions, such as window frames, electrical fixtures, pipes, basins, toilets or countertops. Straight cuts are relatively simple. Shaping tiles to fit curves is more difficult and requires practice and patience.
For small jobs, use a glass cutter or a simple tile cutter. Larger projects may warrant using a wet saw. Do-it-yourself wet saw models are relatively inexpensive (in relation to renting). They make clean cuts with little waste.
Apply even pressure when using tools designed to score, cut and drill tiles. Pressing too hard can cause tiles to crack and break. Drilling tile requires a special bit.
To make cuts at a true right angle, use a combination square as your straightedge when scoring with a glass cutter.
When using a glass cutter or tile cutter, score the tile in one stroke to achieve smooth and even breaks. Repeated scoring will cause the tile to chip or crack.
Always wear safety glasses when working with tiles.
1. With the scored line facing up, position the tile over a nail or a stiff piece of wire.
2. Lay your fingers flat on either side of the tile and apply firm, even pressure until the tile snaps.