How to Install a New Tile Floor

A fresh, new floor is one of the most popular ways to update a bathroom. In fact, floors are among the top three features to upgrade during a master bathroom remodel, with about 91 percent of renovating homeowners making an improvement to this area, according to Houzz research. But what’s involved? And can you do it yourself?

 

Tile Floor 1: Alexandra Crafton, original photo on Houzz

 

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For some homeowners, laying tile that you’ll walk on for years to come can elicit a great sense of pride. Others may find the process a bit overwhelming. Read on to determine whether you’d like to tackle this yourself or hire a pro.

Project basics: Installing tile involves stripping the floor down to the substrate, installing a backer board or underlayment, adhering the tile to the floor and grouting it. Depending on the material, sometimes a sealer is needed to protect the material from stains or damage.

It’s a good project for you if: You have the ability to lift 50 pounds, can work on your knees without trouble and don’t have back issues, says Chris Harper, general contractor and partner at Harper Construction in Charleston, South Carolina. You also need to be able to follow directions and have a decent amount of patience. “It’s simple,” Harper says. “But simple does not equal easy.”

Things to consider: Before you decide whether to DIY or hire a contractor, think about the pattern you want to install. Is it basic and fairly straight? Then you might be just fine trying your hand at a little tile-laying. Going for something more complex, with angles or curves involved? You might want to leave the headache to a professional. The idea here is to match your skill level, DIY confidence and tolerance for imperfections to the task. Some creative people find no tile challenge is too great. Others who are certain they’ll be annoyed by off-kilter or irregular grout lines may want to enlist the help of a pro.

 

Tile Floor 2: Howells Architecture + Design LLC, original photo on Houzz

 

Another thing to consider is the condition of your subfloor. Chris Chumbley, vice president of USI Design & Remodeling in Southlake, Texas, says that on the concrete slabs common in his area, you must be sure the floor is properly prepped and cleaned and any spiderweb cracks addressed before tiles go down. Also, “you want to make sure your floors are laid level,” Chumbley adds. If assessing these conditions is beyond your DIY depth, even after reading up on the process or watching a host of YouTube videos, you may want to call a professional.

“The bigger the tile, the more challenging,” says Joe Smith, general contractor at Owings Brothers Contracting in Eldersburg, Maryland. A larger tile is more likely to show imperfections since a 2-foot tile may bow over an unlevel subfloor, while a 1-inch tile would climb right over the floor’s curves.

“Natural tiles cost more to install because you have to clean and seal them before you set them,” Smith says. “Glass and marble cost more because you have to prep [them] correctly.”

As you consider various tile options, also think about how well the type of material wears and how hard your family is going to be on it. Porcelain tiles wear “like steel,” Chumbley says, but limestone is more delicate.

Who to hire: A reputable tile setter or a general contractor who will oversee a tile specialist.

Basic steps: Decide what type of tile you want to install. You can get ideas in tile showrooms, magazines and photos and tile product shots on Houzz.

Next, consider the steps that will be involved, from demolition of the existing floors to any work that may need to be done to prep them for new tile installation. Leveling the floors and assessing any substrate issues is likely to be the most technical part of this project. Harper recommends consulting a general contractor who will “look at the structure of the subfloor and at all the angles to make sure what’s getting done is appropriate and will last for a long time.”

 

Tile Floor 3: Jay-Quin Contracting Inc., original photo on Houzz

 

How: It’s critical that you don’t install tile on old layers of linoleum, Harper says. Remove any old flooring and get down to the substrate. Needed repairs or leveling of the bare substrate come next.

Once the subfloor is ready, the next basic step is installing cement backer board or an uncoupling membrane. Both materials serve as the underlayer to the tile floor and help prevent cracks.

 

Tile Floor 4: Blank Page Design Build, original photo on Houzz

 

Joints should be staggered, not all lined up in a row, to make the floor more stable. “Once it’s all down, it’s a smart thing to go back and check everything and make sure all of those boards are secure by walking across and checking and making sure you have screwed things to the floor appropriately,” Harper says.

Next, mark out the tile layout. “Don’t start with the tile against one wall and go across the room,” Chumbley says. It’s better to start from the center of the room and work your way out. The layout of the tile is typically marked in chalk. The width and color of the grout are part of the aesthetics. The tile layer can use spacers to keep the tiles evenly apart as the pattern progresses.

 

Tile Floor 5: R.M. Buck Builders, original photo on Houzz

 

Finally, the tile may be set with mortar. Different types of tiles need different types of mortars or adhesives, so DIYers will need to research this and not grab the first can of mortar on the hardware store shelf. Typically, you need to let the mortared tile set for a day before grouting it. But there are some fast-dry adhesives that, if appropriate for the type of tile you are using, can speed up the process.

Once the tile is set, it’s time to apply the grout. You should take care to choose a grout that works with your particular material. “Glass can get scratched with grout,” Smith says. “There’s different grout for floors and shower walls.”

 

Tile Floor 6: JAUREGUI Architecture Interiors Construction, original photo on Houzz

 

Cost range: Labor, which varies greatly by region, may be charged by the square foot ($3.50 to $9) or the job ($300 to $600 per day for tile layers). The tile itself can cost $4 to $125 per square foot, and you also will need backer board or membrane, mortar and grout.

Typical project length:Three days, especially if demolition is involved. Cement board and mortar usually need a day each to set.

Permit: Often not required, but check with your local building department.

Best time to do this project: Since it’s indoors, any time of year is fine.

How to get started: Assess what your room needs and whether you will DIY. If not, find a good tile person. 

 

By Erin Carlyle, Houzz

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