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Can you really tile by yourself?

Tips and tricks for installing floor tile at home

Posted: April 28, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: April 28, 2012 2:00 a.m.

The tile section at Lowe’s in Saugus shows the wide variety of patterns of tile available for do-it-yourselfers.

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So, you think it’s about time you took out your green shag carpet and put in some elegant and contemporary-looking floor tile. You know all the advantages tile offers — cool in summer, ultra-durable and super-easy to clean — but your budget is fairly small.

On the other hand, your confidence is fairly large, so you are thinking you might install the tile yourself.

Is that really doable?

Well, according to the “How to install floor tile” do-it-yourself guide at Lowes.com, and according to Juan Parvool, flooring department manager at our Saugus Lowe’s, installing tile is for-sure doable. “You definitely can do it yourself, with a few simple tools,” Parvool said.

In fact, the guide describes installing tile as a “beginner” skill level project. So, here are some of those tips from the guide and some added insights from Parvool. (In addition to further details, the online guide also lists the materials and tools you will need.)

Choosing tile        

When you choose your tile, the possibilities are nearly limitless as to size and color, thickness and texture, as well as the addition of decorative tiles into the pattern. But Parvool noted that many people come into Lowes asking for non-slippery tile — which he said really doesn’t exist. “Some are more abrasive than others,” he said, but any tile will become slippery when it is wet.

“Most tiles can be used in the kitchen or bathroom,” Parvool added, “but some tiles are intended for walls only.”

Parvool said porcelain tile is usually more durable than ceramic tile, and more consistent through and through. But it usually costs a bit more. He said you can usually tell by eye which type you are looking at when you look at a broken edge. “The ceramic will appear more ‘clayish’ he said.

“One thing to consider when you choose your tile is the PEI rating (from the Porcelain Enamel Institute),” Parvool said. This rates the abrasion resistance of the surface of the tile, and a chart at Lowe’s explains:

A PEI of 1 is for wall use only. PEI 2 is for areas with light foot traffic. PEI 3 works for all residential applications and PEI 4 is for moderate to heavy foot traffic and medium commercial use.

Larger tiles will usually cost more than smaller tiles per square foot, Parvool said, and he explained that prices for tile at Lowe’s run from about 68 cents per square foot, to about $2.79 per square foot for 18” x 18” porcelain.

Parvool pointed out one of the latest innovations in floor tile: wood-look tile, which appears very much like wood flooring ($2.68/sq. ft. porcelain). “It’s a really big hit with us for the last four to five months,” he said. “We’re selling a lot of it.”

Choosing grout

“There is no right or wrong when it comes to choosing grout,” Parvool said. At your preference, you can choose a grout color that will stand out or blend in with the tile. You can also choose the width of your grout lines, such as 1/8, 1/4 or 3/16 inch (3/16 is “average”). However, the width of your grout lines might push you toward “sanded” or “un-sanded” grout, as Parvool said sanded grout gives a better bond for grout lines wider than one-eighth inch.

Floor preparation

The original flooring material should be removed before you install your new tile. The new tile installation is only as good as the underlying floor. “Make sure the floor is clean when you tear out the existing level,” Parvool added.

 The subfloor must be sound enough to support tile. Tile can be heavy and must be installed on a flat, rigid surface. Subfloors under tile should be no less than one inch thick. A flexing floor will cause cracks to show up in the grout later and may cause tiles to break.

 If your floor bounces when you walk over it, try adding rigidity by re-nailing the subfloor to the floor joists. Add bridging between the joists, or shim the subfloor with wooden shims driven between the top edge of the joists and the bottom face of the subfloor.

 Uneven or damaged floors are best covered first with an underlayment as the tile base. Tile manufacturers often recommend cement-fiber board for use on floors in a moist environment.

 If the floor is concrete, repair any holes or cracks. You can sometimes lower high spots using a coarse-grit abrasive on a belt or disc sander. Any minor bumps can be removed with a cold chisel driven by a baby sledgehammer. (Be sure to wear safety glasses.)

Tile patterns

The pattern options available when laying tile are virtually endless, but here are two common 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 pattern is fairly easy to set, although the running bond pattern is the more difficult of the two.

Mapping the floor

Floor tiles should be centered in the room for the best visual appearance. Keep this in mind when you lay out the floor tile.

 Measure and find the center of two opposite walls. Use these points to snap a chalk line across the length of the room in the center of the floor, dividing the room in half. Then snap another chalk line perpendicular to the first so the two lines cross in the center of the room. Check where the lines cross with a carpenter’s square to make absolutely sure the center point is square.

 “Dry-lay your tiles first to check out the fit and plan your cuts,” Parvool said. (Dry-laying, or dry-fitting means you put the tiles in place without any adhesive or grout.) First, dry-fit a row of tiles down both your lines to the width and length of the room, leaving equal spacing for the grout joints. Most floor tiles don’t come with spacers like wall tiles do, so you might need to approximate the appropriate spacing.

 By laying out the tiles in this way, you can get an idea of any adjustments that need to be made to your original reference lines. The goal is to work with as many full tiles as possible.  “Finish with the cut pieces near the walls,” Parvool said.

Also, you should end up with at least half-a-tile width in the areas where the tiles meet the walls. A slight adjustment at the center point may save you lots of time and money. Adjust the reference lines as necessary to achieve a layout you are satisfied with.

Installing tiles

 Begin laying the tile from the center of the floor where your two final reference lines cross. Start by laying a tile at the intersection of the lines, and then use the lines as a guide as you work your way outward toward the walls in each quadrant.

 Spread the adhesive with the trowel’s notched edge, combing it out in beaded ridges. Spaces between ridges of adhesive should be almost bare.

 If you wish, you may insert plastic spacers between the tiles to help maintain straight grout lines if the tiles don’t have spacer lugs. Remove these after placing the tile but before they become firmly set in the adhesive.

 If adhesive oozes up between the tiles, clean out the excess before it dries. Immediately wipe any adhesive from the face of the tiles with a solvent-soaked sponge or rag.

 After you have installed several rows of tile, set them into the adhesive with the tile leveler and a mallet.

 After laying all the whole tiles that will fit, begin cutting and adhering the tiles to fill around the perimeter of the room.

Cutting and fitting

Nearly every tiling job requires trimming tiles to fit around borders or obstructions such as window frames, electrical fixtures, 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.

Grouting the joints

 Mix grout to the consistency of a thick paste, and apply it by forcing the grout between tiles with a rubber float held at a 45-degree angle.

 Hold the float almost perpendicular to the floor. Wipe away excess grout from the surface of the tiles. Take care to pack all joints. Use a toothbrush to shape the grout.

 After 20 minutes, wipe away all excess grout with a damp sponge. Keep your sponge clean by rinsing it often. Follow the grout manufacturer’s instructions for curing and cleaning the grout.

 After the grout has cured for a week, apply silicone grout sealer with a small paintbrush to help prevent grout discoloration.

Choosing tile for your home
It’s really up to you but consider:
   Size of tile
   Color and texture of tile surface
   PEI (hardness) rating
   Tile pattern and “artistic” additions
   Width of grout lines
   Type and color of grout (sanded, un-sanded, color to stand out or blend in)

“If you need any advice choosing or installing your tile, we can help,” Parvool said, “and we have everything you need.”

The Saugus Lowe’s is located at 26415 Bouquet Canyon Road, Saugus, CA 91350. Call (661) 297-1400. Visit www.lowes.com for more information.

jwalker@the-signal.com  /  661-287-5524  

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