How to Lay Ceramic Tiles

Tiles provide a tough and durable finish to floors and walls, and can make a tired kitchen or bathroom look much better. Laying ceramic tiles is one of those DIY jobs which is fairly easy for anyone to do, but more difficult to do well. Preparation, as with most DIY jobs, is the key here. If you don’t have a solid and flat base for the tiles to adhere to, getting a good finish is going to be a lot more difficult. You also need to plan properly, working out where you will start tiling and how many tiles you will need to complete the area.

This guide looks at the steps needed to lay ceramic wall tiles, as well as how to grout properly.

 

Making a Tiling Gauge

One of the single most useful tools you can have when tiling is a home-made tiling gauge. To make a tiling gauge, get a straight 2 metre length of 50mm x 12mm soft wood and lay a row of your tiles along one edge of it. Make sure you use tile spacers as you would normally so that the tiles are spaced correctly. Mark the position of each tile on the tiling gauge so that you have a row of evenly spaced marks along one side of the wood. If the last mark is not at the end of the tiling gauge, trim off the excess so that it is.

Planning and Marking for Tiling

If the wall is plain and without obstructions, setting out the tiles will be a lot easier. You aim, using the tiling gauge, is to leave an equal margin at the edges of the wall which you can fill with cut tiles. Unless you are incredibly lucky, you will always have at least one row of cut tiles, and it is better to have two equal margins, rather than a full tile row one side and a half tile row at the other.

tiling a wall - battensMeasure the height of the wall, between the top of the skirting and the ceiling (or bottom of the coving) and mark the centre point. Hold the tiling gauge vertically against the wall so that the centre mark is lined up with one of the marks on the gauge. The gap between the bottom of the tiling gauge and the top of the skirting board should be between one-third and two-thirds the width of a tile. If the gap is smaller than this, move the tiling gauge up half a tile.

Mark where the bottom of the tiling gauge is and then nail a timber batten (also called a furring strip) directly below the mark. This will act as a guide and also as a support for your lowest row of full tiles. Repeat the process horizontally across the wall, using the tiling gauge to work out where the last row of full tiles will be, measuring from a central line. Mark the wall at that point and nail second batten vertically on to the wall. This batten framework gives you a guide and helps to keep the field tiles straight and even. Once all of the field tiles are fixed, the battens can be removed and the margins filled with cut tiles.

Tiling the Wall

Now that you have your batten guides in place, you can start to fix your tiles to the wall. Lay down dust sheets along the bottom of the wall and get all of your tools and materials ready. You will need:

  • Tiles
  • Tile Adhesive
  • Tile Spacers
  • Notched Spreader
  • Stripping Knife
  • Damp Cloth (for wiping away adhesive)

Load some adhesive onto the notched spreader and spread it onto the wall, starting at the right angle where your two battens meet and covering an area slightly larger than a single row of tiles. The adhesive should be spread in such a way that it has clear grooves. When a tile is pressed against the adhesive, the raised ridges will compress to an even thickness behind the tile.

how to tile a wall - spacersPlace your first tile into the right angle of the battens, with the bottom edge resting on the horizontal batten and the vertical edge against the vertical batten. Press the tile firmly and evenly into the adhesive. Continue to lay tiles along the bottom row, placing spacers between each tile. Tile spacers should be placed in the vertical joint between each tile, and also pushed into the adhesive at the top corner of each tile.

As you work along the row, use a straight edge held across the face of the tiles to check that they are all flush with each other. Any tiles which are not flush can be carefully pressed into the adhesive more.

Apply a second strip of adhesive above the first row of tiles and start to lay the second row. Line up the first tile of the second row against the vertical batten to the side and with the tile below. You can use the embedded spacers to line it up as well. Continue along the second row, adding spacers as before. When you have fixed the topmost row of tiles in place, scrape any excess adhesive off the wall using the stripping knife and wipe with the damp cloth.

Allow the tile adhesive to set for at least 24 hours before carefully removing the horizontal and vertical battens. You can now start to measure, cut and fix the tiles around the edge. It is unlikely that your walls are perfectly straight, so measure each tile individually rather than measuring one and using that as a size guide for the rest.

To measure a tile ready to be cut, place a whole tile on top of the last full tile in a row and slide it up against the end wall (or the mark where the tiles end if not tiling edge to edge). Allow a gap for the grout and mark where you need to cut, using a pencil, on the face of the tile. Buy, borrow or hire a Platform Tile Cutter (such as the Draper Manual Tile Cutter) to cut your tiles. A platform tile cutter will give you a consistent and neat cut every time if used correctly.

When tiling narrow borders or margins around the main field of tiles, it is easier to apply the tile adhesive to the back of each tile than it is to try to spread the adhesive onto a narrow strip of bare wall.

Fitting Accessory Tiles

For the first time tiler, drilling into tiles may seem a bit daunting and after all of the planning and preparing, what you don’t want is a cracked tile caused by a drifting drill bit. However before you start, try looking for some alternatives. You may be able to find the same size and colour tile that already has bathroom fittings in place i.e soap dishes, toilet-roll holders, towel rings etc.

Fixing an accessory tile

Decide where you would like the accessory tile to go so you can leave a space. Once all the tiles have been fixed, clean the remaining adhesive from the area you would like the accessory tile to go and leave for 24 hours. When ready apply fresh adhesive to the accessory tile press into place then use masking tape to hold until the adhesive is dry.

Drilling into tiles

If drilling is your only option, first try tapping the point of a masonry bit to break the glaze on the tile, you can also buy a tile bit that should cut through the glaze. Another way to make drilling easier is to place masking tape on the area that you want to drill, you can also buy a fitting that will make drilling more accurate. The dust from the tile may discolour the adjacent grouting so keep a cloth or hoover handy. Be careful not to put the screws in to tight as you may end up cracking the accessory tile.

 

Grouting Ceramic Tiles

The gaps between tiles are traditionally filled with grout, a cement based paste available in a range of colours. The task of grouting is the easiest part of laying tiles, however, bad application can affect the finish of a tiled wall dramatically.

Grouting should be left until the tile adhesive has completely set (about 24 hours normally). Use the supplied applicator or a fine textured sponge to fill the joints between the tiles. If you are tiling anywhere near a water-source or areas that will get damp, make sure you use an epoxy-based waterproof grout. This makes cleaning much easier as well as stopping water seeping through to get behind the tiles. There is also specialist grout available for food preparation areas, although this is not really needed in your home.

Wipe off any excess with a damp sponge and use a small stick with a rounded end to “point” the grouting. You can buy special tools for this, but an old lolly stick will do just as well. Leave the grout to dry for the recommended amount of time and then go back and use a slightly damp, soft cloth to polish any remaining grout from the face of the tiles.

Grout whiteners

If you find the grouting becomes discoloured there are whitening products available. Make sure you clean the area well and leave to dry, remember to read the instructions as some products are not suitable for waterproof grout.

 

Tiling Guides – Further Reading

Tiling is a skill that any keen diy-er should have, but it certainly takes a bit of practice to become proficient. Here are 9 more guides which cover many aspects of tiles and tiling, and which will teach you the skills you need to make any tiling project perfect.

Preparing Walls and Floors for Tiles

Learn how to prepare walls and floors for tiles. Tiling can be daunting to the novice DIY-er. It can seem like a far more complex task than hanging wallpaper, for instance. With tiling, as with most DIY tasks, good preparation is the key to success. Having a stable surface to work with, ensuring that you know how to plan and mark a field of wall tiles, and understanding how to cut and shape tiles correctly will all help to make your tiling project run smoothly. Before tackling any tiling, be sure to follow these simple rules.

Cutting and Shaping Tiles

There are several ways to cut tiles correctly, depending on what type of cut you are trying to achieve. Straight cuts are best done with a tile cutting jig. This is a purpose made device which makes it easy to hold and score a line in a tile. Once the glazed surface has been scored, the tile should snap along the line easily by applying pressure on both sides. You can, of course, cut tiles in the same way without a tile jig. Simply score the tiles with a handheld scoring tool and place the tile on a piece of flex stretched out on a bit of wood (with the score line running along the flex). Pressure on either side will snap the tile cleanly in two.

How to Lay Mosaic Tiles

Mosaic tiles can create a great finish in both kitchens and bathrooms. Mosaic tiles come in large sheets on a mesh backing to hold them all together. This makes it much easier and quicker to lay the tiles and allows you to buy ready-made patterns. Mosaic tiles are also much easier to fit around obstacles such as sockets and switches.

Tiling a Concrete Floor

Although a well laid concrete floor provides a stable and solid surface, it isn’t the nicest thing to look at or walk on. Even when used outside, it is often covered by decking, gravel or slabs. In rooms such as kitchens and bathrooms, a smooth concrete floor provides just about the best possible surface to tile over. Tiles are hard-wearing and easy to keep clean. They prevent spills from soaking through to the sub floor and, if laid correctly, will not harbour germs and stains (nor the smells they can produce.)

Replacing Cracked or Broken Tiles

Although tiles provide a generally hard-wearing finish, a hard knock (when moving furniture for example) can crack or chip them. Replacing a single or even multiple tiles is a fairly simple task. Hopefully, when you laid the tiles, you kept a few spares for just his sort of situation. If you didn’t lay the tiles, or don’t have a spare, you will need to try to buy a matching replacement. Once you have removed the broken tile, take a piece to your local tile specialist so you can accurately match the colour and finish.

How to Remove Tiles

If you are planning on redecorating a kitchen or bathroom, it is likely that you will need to remove some (or all) of the tiles. It is perfectly possible to paint over tiles or even fix new tiles on top of old, but if you want to paint or wallpaper your room, knowing the best way to remove tiles without damaging the wall too much is useful.

Tiling Awkward Areas

With all the correct tools, and a little bit of patience, tiling flat walls is a fairly simple job. Tiling around corners, pipes and other awkward areas can however be tricky if not tackled correctly. The most important thing to take into consideration when tiling these awkward areas is cutting the tiles. Make sure you have a good quality Tile Cutter and Tile Saw before you start. It is also worth buying a tile Template Former or Profile Gauge.

Common Tile and Grout Problems

Tiles are generally very hard-wearing, but as they are often used in damp and dirty areas, there are certain problems which might occasionally occur. Treating these problems quickly and correctly can stop more damage being done.

Tiling a Splashback

A tiled splashback usually consists of one or two rows of tiles on the wall directly behind the sink or wash basin and is designed to stop splashed water soaking the plaster and ruining the wall. The easiest way to create a splashback is to use only full tiles, extending them slightly past the edge of the fixture. This way, no cutting is needed and the job can be completed quickly and without fuss.