Ceramic Tile

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How do I install tile?

This is a question that is both easy to answer and difficult. We encourage do-it-yourselfers to install ceramic tile. It is not too strenuous, unless it is a big job or is under awkward conditions. Nevertheless, there are complexities and subtleties associated with installing tile. We recommend starting by reading a good book on the subject. You may want to purchase the TCNA Handbook for Ceramic, Glass, and Stone Tile Installation (see this web site for ordering information). This Handbook contains details for industry accepted practices as well as many items of interest. It is not an installation-training manual; however. If you should decide to hire a professional to install your tile, this Handbook is a very useful tool to assure that the installer is using proper methods.

Make sure that you know your D-I-Y limitations, and do not take on a job that is too complex. Steam rooms, pools, spas, outside decks, and showers are areas among others that require proper installation or a failure can occur. You will be surprised to find detailed instructions on many products such as dryset mortar bags, backerboards, and grouts. Please read the instructions carefully, and follow them as closely as possible. Tiling a dry area is the easiest; and if the substrate is smooth and sturdy enough, it can be simple. You might start out by trying to tile such a location. Select the correct tile for the use and, of course, one you like. Layout the floor carefully to avoid small cuts along walls or other transitions. Placing the tiles on the floor before applying the adhesive (so-called dry layout) will help. You can adjust the centerlines and the grout width to avoid small cuts. These are hard to make and do not look good.

Select the correct adhesive for the tile. Don’t try to save money on installation products. Use the ones recommended for the tile, type of substrate, and location. If you are using several boxes of tile, make sure they are of the same caliber (size tolerance) and shade. Usually the boxes will be marked with a code to tell you this. But it is wise to open all the boxes if there are more than one, and randomly stack the tile before installing. This is called shuffling the tiles. The space between the tiles can be close for precision tiles such as grout-edge or rectified porcelain tiles than for irregular or rustic type of tiles. Grout is joint filler. It is not designed to hold the tile in place. Watch to make sure that the tiles are level as you go. Beginners can fail to check for flatness and the job won’t look good.

Some points to watch out for:

  • Use the correct notch-size trowel (indicated on the adhesive bag or container).
  • Spread enough mortar or mastic to properly bed the tile for flatness. Big tiles require more adhesive than little ones.
  • Always use control joints at intersecting planes and where the tile meets another materials, such as wood.
  • Make sure that you get all the air out from under the tiles. This is especially tricky with 10X10 inch and larger tiles. These need to be slid or rotated to get the trowel ridges flattened. If you don’t do this, you will have voids under the tile and it can come loose or break.
  • Wait the proper amount of time before grouting (or walking on the tiles). This time is indicated on the adhesive container also.
  • When you grout, keep the grout on the dry side, and pack it well into the joints before striking them.
  • Do not use too much water to clean the grout haze off and do not clean it too soon or you can pull the grout out of the joints.
  • Remember that grout joints are not waterproof. If you are doing a wet-area (such as a shower), rely on the method and substrate to protect adjoining areas from water.

These are just a few hints and are not to be considered as complete instructions by any means. Happy Tiling everyone!

What about tiling over control joints?

The TCNA Handbook for Ceramic, Glass, and Stone Tile Installation recommends that control joints in concrete carry through the tile. Clearly, this is an industry-approved, nearly foolproof, and very safe way of making sure that movement in the control joints does not cause a reflective crack.

Due to a lack of consensus in the industry regarding competing anti-fracture products and the standards of performance for such, TCNA does not, at present, recommend a method for tiling over control joints with an anti-fracture membrane. This is not to say this process will not work – it can if the right products and methods are used and the slab does not continue to curl.

If the slab does curl at the control joint (which is not uncommon), any curling that occurs after tiling may damage the tile.

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