Mosaic tiles are a fantastic way to add character and flair to your bathroom tile design. Mosaics are comprised of smaller tiles arranged in a variety of patterns in 12-inch-by-12-inch sheets. The size of the tiles can vary and a mesh backing holds the entire pattern together.
The unique layout of mosaic tiles produces many grout lines, so grouting is an important step in achieving a clean final look. Fortunately, all you need for a successful grout job is clean water, a clean sponge, a steady hand, and plenty of patience. The following will provide you some steps for making the whole process go as smoothly as possible.
Mix the Grout
Properly mixing the grout is an important step that is often overlooked. There are two types of grout -- sanded and unsanded. Sanded grout is stronger than unsanded and is recommended for tile floors. Unsanded grout is commonly used for tile walls instead, as they handle much less day-to-day stress. However, even if you are using the right type of grout, it's important that your mix is right. Grout that has too much water is difficult to control and work into the lines. Grout with not enough water becomes thick and pasty and dries out quickly, making it difficult to remove in the event that you make a mistake.
Make sure you do not mix all of the grout at once since it will dry out in your bucket. Instead, mix smaller portions based on the size of the area you are working with. Add the grout mix into a bucket and gradually mix in water until it is the consistency of cake batter. You can also either mix the grout by hand or use a special attachment that will fit on most drills.
Lay the Grout
Spreading grout for mosaic tiles requires a little more care and attention than a traditional tile floor. The layout of these tiles means there are numerous lines to fill, so spreading the grout evenly across the entire surface is important.
First, scoop out a portion of the grout using the rubber float. Turn the float on a 45-degree angle and use the edge to spread the grout over the tile. The material can be worked into the
lines using the edge of the float. When you are finished, all that should be left is a thin film of residue. Let the grout sit for about 15 minutes before you begin wiping it down.
Wipe Down the Tile
Wiping down the mosaic tile will require a bucket of clean water, a tile sponge, a squeegee, and some latex gloves. Fill the bucket with clean water and dip the sponge into it, taking care to wring out any excess water; the sponge should be damp, not sopping wet. Carefully wipe down each of the lines, making sure they’re even. Always switch the side of the sponge after the first wipe and rinse the entire sponge after the second wipe. It’s important to remember to constantly clean the sponge and water to achieve the best, cleanest results. After you’ve cleaned the grout lines and removed the excess grout, give the surface a once-over to remove grout film.
Mosaic tile can add dimension and decoration to a variety of spaces in your home, including the kitchen, bathroom, foyer and pool. To keep this beautiful feature in like-new shape, regular cleaning is required. Additionally, being mindful of how you use spaces that have porcelain mosaic tile can keep them looking bright and prevent damage. Whether you’re about to install mosaic tiles or have just finished renovations, take a look at these important methods for maintaining your investment:
Mosaic tile comes in many materials, from glass to natural stone to metal to ceramic. All of these tile options have unique textures and colors, and to keep their features shining bright, you should clean your mosaic tiles properly. Here is how:
The period after you install your mosaic tiles is perhaps the most important time for cleaning. Your space may have excess grout, dust and debris that can scratch or deface your mosaic tiles. Prevent residue from messing up the look of your mosaic tile by cleaning thoroughly after installation. Grout is the most difficult to remove, and you should do so carefully. Avoid acidic cleaners, which can discolour grout. Read the instructions that came with your grout product, as each brand has its own clean-up specifications.
“Avoid acidic cleaners, which can discolor grout.”
Generally, you’ll need a grout stripper, a solution you’ll apply to the surface of your tiles using a sponge. After the stripper sits for a few minutes, use a wet sponge to wipe it away.
When it comes to removing dirt and debris after installation, sweep away the chunks, then use water and a mild detergent to scrub the tiles. You should also clean the tiles once you’ve stripped excess grout.
Whether you are wiping down counters, backsplashes, showers, bath surrounds or floors, use a mild detergent and water. Read the manufacturer directions for your specific mosaic tile product, as they will say how potent the cleaning agent should be. In some cases, diluted solutions are better for the tile.
Use a soft sponge or cloth, and avoid hard-bristled tools, as these can scratch your mosaic tiles. Rinse off the surface of your mosaic tiles and dry them with a cloth.
If you have mosaic tile floors, mopping can help keep them looking beautiful. Sweep the floors first, using a broom with soft bristles. Then, use a pH neutral cleaner (following the same concentration instructions as with wiping) and water to mop the floors. You should let the cleaning agent sit on the floors for about five to 10 minutes before scrubbing with the mop. When you are done, rinse thoroughly and remove excess liquid.
You can vacuum your mosaic tile floors to keep them clean if you prefer that to sweeping.
Cleaning pool mosaics
If you have mosaic tiles in your pool, they will require special cleaning. Calcium build-up can occur on the tiles, so getting rid of those stubborn water lines is necessary to help your tiles shine. Along with a regular maintenance schedule, you will need to do a deeper clean once a year at the beginning or end of the season. Since a dry surface is easier to scrub, drain the water and let the pool dry. You can use a mixture of baking soda and water and scrub the area with a stiff sponge or scrub brush. Rubbing in a circular motion should help remove the marks.
Once your pool is free of stains, clean as you would other mosaic tile, with a mild detergent and water.
Treating your mosaic tiles kindly will reduce the cleaning work you have to do (and prevent damage). Fortunately, maintenance is easy if you just follow these tips:
Clean spills immediately
Depending on the mosaic tile’s material, spills can be a nuisance. Glass tiles can resist moisture, but stone is a little more susceptible. Either way, prevent stains by cleaning spills (both food and liquid) immediately after they occur.
Don’t drag furniture
Lift furniture when moving it on your mosaic tile floor. That way, the pieces will not scratch or mark your tiles. The same goes for moving items on mosaic tile counters.
Making your mosaic tiles last a long time is easy when you care for them correctly. No matter what type of mosaic tiles you have, clean them regularly and they will shine for years to come.
We will show you the best techniques for measuring, laying tile, cutting mosaic tiles, using special tools and more.
Not long ago setting mosaic tile meant embedding each small piece in a mortar bed. Later, sheets of mosaic held together by paper facing helped reduce installation time. These early face-mounted sheets, however, were difficult to line up.
Modern mosaics are bonded to a sheet with plastic dots or on a plastic mesh, paper, or threaded backing.
You'll find mosaics in many colors and in squares, rectangles, random designs, and all forms of geometric figures. Most mosaic tiles are glass or high-fired porcelain, so they're impervious to moisture. Porcelains come with glazed surfaces for walls and nonslip surfaces for floors.
If the style you've chosen is available only in dot-mounted sheets, make sure the dots are free of any residual manufacturing oil. This oil interferes with adhesive bonding. Check two or three sheets in each carton, wiping them with a paper towel.
If replacing a carton is not an alternative, either change your design or wash the back of each sheet with a mild detergent.
Arranging Random Patterns
A mosaic pattern that features randomly placed colored tiles is more difficult to set than one that has regular geometric patterns — you have to balance color throughout.
Lay the sheets on the surface in a dry run, changing their positions until you get the arrangement right. Then take up the sheets and number them so you can mortar them in the same order.
Keep Colors Consistent
It's impossible to set mosaics without some of the mortar creeping up into the grout joints. To keep your work from looking blotchy when you apply the grout, use the same product for both the mortar bed and the grout —100 percent solid epoxy of the same color. Alternatively, you might be able to color the mortar to match the grout, but such attempts often result in noticeably different shades.
Embedding the mosaic sheets into the mortar will inevitably force some mortar onto the surface of the tiles. Before you set the next section, use a synthetic scrubbing pad to clean the tile, then wipe it with a dampened sponge. Don't use too much water — it will wash out the epoxy from the joint and weaken it.
One advantage of mosaics is that the small individual tiles can often fit around obstacles without being cut. Use a utility knife to cut the backing in the contour of the obstacle and strip away the tiles.
If you need to cut an individual tile, remove it from the backing and cut it with a snap cutter. Back butter the cut piece and set it into the mortar.
What You Need
- Power drill
- Mixing paddle
- Notched trowel
- Beater block
- Rubber mallet
- 4-foot metal straightedge
- Epoxy mortar
- Mosaic sheets
Step 1: Make Lines and Apply Adhesive
Lay out perpendicular lines in the center of the room and snap grid lines at intervals of the same dimensions as the mosaic sheet. Mix the epoxy adhesive and, using a 1/4-inch notched trowel, spread and comb the adhesive on a small area, just inside the layout lines.
Step 2: Lay Sheet
Set the corner of the first sheet just inside the corner of the layout lines. Square the sheet to the lines and embed the tiles firmly into the mortar with a beater block and rubber mallet. Make sure the entire surface of the sheet is level in the mortar — mosaics show depressions dramatically.
Step 3: Check for Bare Spots
Pull the sheet up and check it for full coverage. If some of the tiles show bare spots, apply more mortar. Lay the sheet face down on a clean surface and skim more mortar on the back. Recombine the mortar bed with a larger notched trowel and reset the sheet with the beater block.
Step 4: Continue Setting Tiles
Set the next sheet using the same technique. After four or five sheets, you should have a feel for the proper amount of mortar. As you embed the tiles with the beater block, make sure the edges of each sheet are level with its neighbors, then line up all the joints.
Step 5: Finish and Clean Tiles
Continue setting the tiles using a metal straightedge to keep the joints straight. Wipe excess mortar from the surface of the tile with a damp (not wet) sponge. Make sure you remove all of the excess — dried mortar is very difficult to remove. Let the mortar set, then grout and clean the tiles.
Mosaic tiles are frequently mounted on a mesh backer. This backer helps make installation easier; instead of mounting the tiles one-by-one, they can be installed in sheets roughly 12 inches in size. These mesh-backed tiles are perfect for backsplash installations because the mesh can be easily trimmed to help fit the sheets into small spaces, such as the area beneath cabinets.
Steps To follow to Backsplash with Mosaic Tiles on mesh backer ;-
Measure the backsplash area where the tiles will be installed. Mark off an area of the same size and shape on the floor nearby. Lay out the mesh sheets of tiles in this area to help determine fit and pattern.
Practice setting the sheets next to one another with even spacing to help keep the grout joints between the sheets even with the joints within each sheet. Cut the mesh with scissors to trim the sheets to size and remove tiles for the areas where outlets are installed. Cut any individual tiles to fit the edges of the installation with tile nippers.
Spread thinset mortar onto the backsplash wall with a trowel. Smooth out the grooves in the mortar with the smooth edge of the trowel. This will help prevent excess mortar from coming up between the tiles during installation.
Press the sheets of mosaic into the mortar in the same pattern you determined on the floor. Use the flat of your hand to smooth each sheet into the mortar on the wall, moving from bottom to top on the sheet. Take care not to press to hard. This could cause excess mortar to come up between the tiles.
Let the thinset dry for 24 hours, then grout the sheets. Spread grout over the entire installation with a grout float held at a 45-degree angle. Spread the grout from multiple directions over the tiles to help pack it into the many grout joints.
Let the grout dry for 10 minutes, then clean off the surface of the tiles with a grout sponge. Lightly dampen the sponge and wipe the tiles in a circular motion. Rinse the sponge frequently to help clean the tiles. Let the grout dry for 24 hours.
- Measuring tape
- Tile nippers
- Thinset mortar
- Grout float
- Grout sponge
All porcelain paving slab tiles can have variations in size and colour between batches, we advise purchasing all your tiles at the same time to avoid mixing and shade variation. • Installing your porcelain products is equally important as choosing which product you want. We provide general information on laying/fixing which should be used in conjunction with competent porcelain installers and recommended products. • We recommend installing your porcelain paving on a wet mortar bed of “6:1” grit sand to Portland cement or a concrete bed. Adhesive is strongly advised to form a bond bridge between the wet bed and the paving. If an adhesive is not used the porcelain will not stick to the base and become loose. • Follow all guidelines regarding cutting to help minimize cracking and chipping • Do not “butt joint” your porcelain paving. We recommend using a 4mm minimum gap to avoid chipping edges and the use of “tile spacers” to create uniform spacing. • Use a weather repellent grout as it is generally non-permeable and unlikely to discolour or suffer algae/weed growth. A permeable or porous grout is not suitable for use with porcelain. • You do not need to seal your porcelain, due to its extremely low porosity • No special cleaners are required, a mild detergent should be sufficient for this very hard wearing paving.
SETTING-OUT Porcelain paving tile should be laid at a level that is at least 150mm below the damp proof course (DPC) of any adjacent building except where level access is required at a doorway (eg: for disabled access). If working against a building, it may be possible to use the horizontal brickwork jointing as a guide to level. Alternatively, a taut string line or a temporary chalk line can be used as a guide.
FALLS All porcelain paving tiles must be drained. This is usually achieved by sloping the porcelain paving tiles in one direction or another to direct the surface water towards a suitable disposal point, which might be a gully, a linear drain, or the edge of the garden. Whenever possible, surface water is directed away from any buildings. When determining levels away from a building, a taut string line set between driven ranging stakes is a good guide to both level and alignment. The simplest way to create an accurate perpendicular (90° or right angle) line from a building is to use a 3-4-5 triangle.
BASE All porcelain paved tiled areas, whether they be used as driveways, paths or terraces, require a stable base. The depth/strength requirement of this base varies according to the planned use of the paved surface. For example, a private driveway will require a base layer of concrete at least 100mm thick, and this may need to be spread over a strengthening layer of compacted stone or hardcore. However, a mortar bed approximately 50mm thick, laid directly onto firm ground could be sufficient for a lightly trafficked walkway. Every project site is different and a judgement will have to be made at the start of the project as to the long term stability of the existing ground. Please bear in mind that it is always best to err on the side of caution and lay a stronger base at the outset, than have to lift and reinstate a sunken area in the future.
TYPES OF PORCELAIN INSTALLATION Due to its nature Global Stone supplies porcelain paving tiles in a calibrated thickness of 18mm and 20mm, which means it is suitable to be laid on several bed types;
INSTALLATION ON A WET BED The most common technique known as ‘screeding’ is generally used to prepare the bed for porcelain paving tiles. Use a shovel to spread the freshly-mixed bedding material (a mortar bed of 6:1 or stronger mix of grit sand with ordinary cement is recommended) over the base, large enough for several porcelain paving tiles in a layer that is roughly 40-60mm thick, and pat it with the back of the shovel to lightly compact it. It is important to not use ‘too much’ of the bedding, because it has to be scraped off, using a long, straight board to remove the excess bedding material, leave a smooth and level surface onto which the paving can be placed. To achieve the correct level for the screeded bed, a reference level is required. This might be an existing edge (or kerb or edge course) or it can be a ‘rail’ set at the level of the underside of the paving.
INSTALLATION GUIDELIN E S - PORCEL AIN INST ALLATIO N GUIDELINES PORCELAIN Installation should be made using a floor covering adhesive to secure the porcelain paving tile to the sub-floor/cement screed such as flexible tile adhesive, Mapei Keraflex Maxi. The adhesive should be spread evenly over the underside of the porcelain-paving tile to create a Bond Bridge and the tile is then pressed using the twist and slide motion the down onto adhesive and settled.
INSTALLATION ON CONCRETE BED In this method the porcelain slabs tiles are laid in the same manner as for laying floor tiles inside the house. The porcelain is laid on a pre-installed base, created in the same way as the wet base above, but which has been dried out for 3-4 weeks. We recommend that installation should be made using a floor covering adhesive to secure the porcelain paving tile to the sub-floor/cement screed such as flexible tile adhesive Mapei Keraflex Maxi. The adhesive should be spread evenly over the whole of the rigid base using a notched spreader and the underside of the porcelain slabs tile to create a Bond Bridge and the tile is then pressed down using the twist and slide motion onto the adhesive and settled.
INSTALLING PORCELAIN WALLING/CLADDING Porcelain tiles can be fixed to most walls, however all surfaces must be completely secure without any obvious curvatures and capable of carrying the additional load. The maximum fixing height for the various substrates listed below is 3.6m using a suitable wall tile adhesive. Above 3.6m mechanical fixings will be required and you should consult a specialist for the correct methods and load bearings. As part of the process it is important that all substrate preparation products, mortar and grouts are compatible and we therefore recommend using a single source for all installation materials. You should also check your substrates suitability for tiling before selecting your adhesive. Grout joints are to personal taste and will vary depending on the product used however, we recommend between 2-3mm for our Porcelain Walling/Cladding range. Global Stone recommend the use of Mapei Products as featured on page 42. Sand and Cement render is a good vertical base for fixing most porcelain tiles with a thickness up to 15mm with a load bearing of up to approximately 38kg/m2. New renders will require a minimum of two weeks to dry out. We recommend the following products: Please visit www.globalstonepaving.co.uk/For more information on other substrates including; • Plasterboard without plaster skim coat • Backerboard/Tile backerboards • Gypsum Plaster Skim • Problematic Substrates (such as some Plaster Skim and painted walls) • Movement Joints in Walls.
HANDLING THE PORCELAIN:
Porcelain can be heavy and cumbersome, particularly with the larger pieces, so take care when handling. As a rough guide any paving stone 600mm x 600mm or above is best handled by 2 people, stood on the edge and carefully lowered into position. It is important to note that a porcelain paving has a face and base, meaning there is a right way up.
Porcelain paving tiles are best cut using a power saw fitted with a good quality diamond blade which is water fed and specifically made for cutting porcelain. These can be hired locally and the hire depot will provide you with full instructions on how to use them safely. Cutting of porcelain generates a lot of potentially harmful dust so ensure you wear a suitable dust mask and safety eyewear at all times. Cut from the top surface. Have the line of cut clearly marked, and the blade rotating at around half-revs before bringing it into contact with the tile. As the blade bites into the tile, increase
the engine revs if necessary, but ensure the saw remains evenly-balanced and progresses along the line of cut at a regular pace. Please note that it cannot be cut successfully using traditional hand tools (hammers and chisels) and abrasive cutting discs, even if marked as being suitable for stone, as it will more than likely result in chipping and fragmenting of the incredibly hard surface.
Global Stone porcelain paving tiles are normally laid in one of two arrangements; stack bond (like a chess board) or coursed (where the paving is laid in lines of courses of the same width. Stack bond needs paving tiles of a matching size, while coursed layouts rely on the porcelain sharing a common width while the lengths vary. JOINTING The 4-8mm joints between the paving can be filled with two key types of material mortar or tile grout.
this traditional method uses a strong mortar (four parts sand to one part cement) to fill the joint. The mortar should be mixed in small quantities, say one 25kg bag of sand at a time, because pointing is a slow process and the mortar has a short working life (20-60 minutes depending on time of year). The same coarse sand used for the bedding, though the softer ‘building sand’ gives a smoother, more adhesive mortar and is generally considered to be easier to work. The mortar should have a workable but flowing consistency, something akin to the mix for a rich fruitcake, and able to stand in ‘peaks’ without slumping too much. Adding a plasticiser to the mix water makes the mortar far more workable. It is worth noting that some bags of cement contain a built-in plasticiser, so there is no need to add one to the mix water – check the packaging of your cement.
FLEXIBLE TILE GROUT JOINTING MATERIALS:
These cement based products are mixed with water to provide an easy working grout which is applied using a rubber back trowel, simply wiping off any excess off the surface of the porcelain paving tile, and after just 90 minutes, the material will have hardened to form a perfect joint. We recommend Mapei Ultracolor Plus, which is a rapid setting cement based grouting compound which is water repellent, unaffected by weather and which enables foot traffic after just 90 minutes.
CLEANING AND MAINTENANCE
Thanks to its great hardness and weather-resistance, porcelain-paving tiles can be cleaned with almost any detergent. However, we recommend simply using a mild detergent and a water jet. For greater convenience and to avoid potential lime scale deposits forming, we recommend facilitating drainage with a rubber brush.
Just when you think large-format, porcelain tile could not get any bigger, porcelain slabs appear. Introducing GGCL Big Optimus slabs Surfaces- huge porcelain tile that can go nearly anywhere.
Think of everything you know about porcelain floor tiles. Now imagine having all those benefits on the countertop, the wall, or fireplace with very few joints and lots less grout. That is Panoramic.
We all know what a great performer porcelain is; just translate all those capabilities to a slab and you’ll understand the value of these large porcelain surfaces.”
India GGCL has been designing with these extra-large format surfaces for a few years. Now they have hit the American market and are making a huge impact. Large format porcelain slabs increase the scale and style of porcelain tile on par with natural stone slab. This is opening up a completely new world.
-Two giant sizes: 63 x 126 inches, 64 x 127 inches
-6 mm and 12 mm thicknesses
-Can be cut to customize
WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE
-Marble-looks in matte and polished finishes
-Monochromatic colors in hot urban neutrals
-Metallic sheen with the essence of concrete
-Easily cleaned with multi-purpose cleaners
-Fewer grout joints to keep clean
-Low porosity of porcelain makes it stain resistant
-Panoramic in Statuario on the walls and vanity
-Scratch and chip resistant
-Can be installed over existing solid surfaces (with the right preparation)
All of the relevant porcelain products used in the building should be called out and specified, whether for interior or exterior applications. Each porcelain product should be identified by type in the specifications and shown on a schedule as appropriate in either the drawings or specifications. The details of the specified products can include:
- Specific color and texture or pattern. Manufacturer’s literature should be consulted for this as with any finish product.
- Recommended level (i.e., light duty, heavy duty, commercial duty, etc.).
- Dynamic coefficient of friction (DCOF) for floor or stair materials.
- Glaze hardness measured in standard units.
- Shade variation tolerance on color.
- Breaking strength as measured using standard tests.
In addition, the particular finishing details of the product should be specified for each type of porcelain product used. Hence, if back mesh (BM) fiberglass reinforcing is needed, it should be specified. Similarly, if rectified edges are desired, that should also be specified for the particular product.
In general, most porcelain ceramic tile does not require sealing so sealants do not need to be included or called for unless there are conditions or situations where the manufacturer recommends it or requires it.
WHERE YOU CAN USE IT
-Large feature walls
If you're asking how do I select the appropriate motar for installing porcelain slab tile, realize that you are asking a fundamentally critical question.
You see, when thin set mortar is incorrectly applied, the installation will many times fail. More likely than not, the tile will break - as you see in the image below.
Not a good situation for the customer and a terrible one for everyone involved in installing tile correctly.
Let's focus then on how to properly apply the mortar.
What function do thin set and large and heavy tile mortars serve?
Thin set and the new large and heavy tile (LHT) mortars serve several functions within a tile assembly:
- They bond to the substrate
- They support the tile
- They bond to the back of the tile.
When these three key elements are in place, the tile installation will provide many trouble-free years.
The way you trowel mortar for setting tile makes a big difference. Porcelain slab tiles, in particular, can withstand extra heavy service conditions by taking a lot of impact or point load (think of high heel shoes, pianos, refrigerators or pallet jacks) when installed correctly over a sound substrate. When the mortar is not properly trowelled, it creates unsupported space under the tiles, which become weak spots that can be easily damaged by the same impact or heavy loads.
Here is how to avoid these issues and create a strong tile assembly.
1. Select the right trowel type and notch size!
Make sure you select the appropriate trowel type and notch size.
- When a “v” notched trowel is used, the narrow point of the mortar does not provide the coverage necessary to properly support the tile.
- Using a notch which is too small will not allow enough mortar to be applied and likewise will not adequately support the tile.
2. Spread the mortar completely to the layout line!
Make sure to spread the mortar completely up to the layout line.
Installers who stay away from the chalk line to eliminate having mortar squeeze up in the grout joints leave dangerous voids which can result in catastrophic failure, especially in areas subject to high heels, point loads such as pallet jacks, pianos or a refrigerator.
Follow established methods and best practices for installing ceramic tile to avoid long-term issues.
3. Trowel the mortar correctly by playing it straight!
Troweling mortar in one direction in a left to right direction yields the best mortar coverage on the back of the tile. Place the tile into the mortar moving it in a back and forth motion perpendicular to the trowel ridges. This movement collapses the trowel ridges into the valleys leaving very few if any voids in the mortar, which supports the entire back of the tile.
Trowel ridges running in straight lines are much easier to collapse. Furthermore, they assist with air removal to maximize mortar coverage and ensure a strong bond to the tile and substrate.
- The first step is to “key in” a coat of mortar into the substrate for a good mechanical bond with the flat side of the trowel.
- Then, add more mortar to the substrate combing the mortar in straight lines, all going in one direction. Combing the trowel ridges in straight lines provides better distribution of the mortar.
- When installing rectangular (plank) tiles, the trowel ridges should go in the same direction as the short side of the tile. This allows better air release from under the tile since the air travels a much shorter distance when you bed the tile.
- Be careful not to leave any voids along chalk lines or between tiles.
- Use a trowel that will help you achieve a continuous minimum 3/32” coverage. Larger tiles most often require deeper trowels.
In the photo below, you can see that two adjacent tiles are broken with those pieces being much lower than the unbroken tile around them. The cause of the failure was multi-faceted. The installer did not spread the mortar with a recommended trowel, there was no mortar at the edge of the tile, and the installer was not qualified. The installer in this case had been placing tile for a grand total of three weeks.
We’ll walk you through the main steps, including key tools and pitfalls to look out for in your tile install job, as you take a run at prepping, tiling and grouting.
Part one will cover the most important and often the most overlooked step: preparation. Tiling relies heavily on proper surface and substrate preparation. To say that it is crucial would be an understatement and that’s why it gets its own special part of this series. Part two we will go through the meat of how to actually tile and grout a floor.
So let us jump in and look at what you will need to start preparing your floor for tile installation, including the tools and some things to look out for when attempting this primary stage of the project.
TOOLS NEEDED FOR FLOOR TILE PREPARATION
Here is a quick rundown of tools you will need to prep your floor and space for tile installation:
- Safety & Comfort
- Goggles or Safety Glasses
- Knee Pads
- For Prepping a Plywood Subfloor
- 1/4” Cement Board
- Backer board Screws
- Crack-Prevention Membrane
- Squaring Room
- Tape Measure
- Chalk Line
- Carpenter’s Square
- Hairspray (optional)
STEPS TO SUCCESSFUL FLOOR PREP FOR TILE
No systematic instructional is 100 percent exhaustive. Every project is different, and in your own home, you will inevitably encounter something not covered by this or any tile tutorial. However, if you follow these steps, generally, you’ll find success in your project.
Step 1: Prep the Subfloor
If there’s one step that’s the most important, it’s this one. This one is key. First things first, what exactly is a subfloor? It’s a catch-all term for the floor underneath your finished floor. Two primary types of subfloor: wood and concrete. Both suffer from the same tile-killing issue: movement. Wood moves and flexes with humidity and changes in temperature; concrete can move depending on humidity, moisture, soil movement, and temperature.
For concrete subfloors, make sure you remove any old adhesive, and patch/fill any cracks with the appropriate product (check your local home improvement store installation products. The recommended patch item varies based on the size of the crack to be filled). Use a floor scraper to remove any loose debris. For old adhesives or mortar, this may require some elbow grease and possibly a grinder to remove from the subfloor and allow the new mortar to bond. Floor tiles can be installed directly onto a concrete subfloor.
Make sure your subfloor is clean and free of debris.
Step 2: Determine Starting Point and Practice Lay Pattern
Laying out your tile pattern, planning for fixtures, cabinets, etc., in advance is critical to minimizing waste (less cuts!) and making the job go as smoothly as possible.
There are many patterns to choose from, though some work better with specific tile shapes and sizes. Herringbone, brick bond, and basket-weave/parquet are very popular in recent years. You should determine this prior to selecting your tile, but if you’re using traditional square tiles, a linear or grid pattern is timeless and easy to install. This is tile laid next to each other, in the pattern you are envisioning in your mind as you read this. Yes, that one.
Determine your starting point in the room. Typically, you will want full tiles in the most visible or focal points in the room, and cut tiles against cabinets or less visible walls in the room. Measure your room to determine the center, and snap chalk lines on the floor to guide your installation. Make sure to leave equal space at either side so you do not tile up to one side with a full tile and have a partial or cut tile on the other. Every space is different, so take your time and plan accordingly. The goal is to get as many full field tiles down on the floor and leave the custom cuts for around obstacles, under appliances, and against the outside wall areas.
How to Square a Room for Simple Tile Installation
For most simple applications, floor tiles can be laid out in a grid pattern that starts at the center of the floor, so that cuts at the edges of the floor will be consistent at opposite walls. To achieve this, one method is to divide the floor into four quadrants that intersect in the middle of the room. These quadrants should be square to each other; however, this may be an issue in older homes where the room itself is unlikely to be truly square. Do not rely on the wall positions to set up your grid, but rather square it yourself at the center.
- Measure one side of the floor, find the middle and mark it with a pencil. Do the same along the opposite side of the floor.
- Snap a chalk line across the floor, from one mark to the other. Spray with hairspray to keep the line from smudging.
- Measure and mark the middle for the two remaining sides of the floor. Lay the snap line from one mark to the other so it intersects the first line in the center of the room. Don't snap the line.
- Lay a carpenter's square at one of the four corners of the intersection created by the chalk line that you laid first and the string. If the line and the string are truly perpendicular, then each will run right alongside one edge of the carpenter's square.
- Adjust the string, if necessary, so it is completely square against the chalk line. Once the string is square to the line, snap the string. Spray with hairspray to keep the line from smudging.
- Start laying your floor tile, using the center + as your starting point. If you're laying tile, you don't have to leave any buffer space around the edges, as tile does not expand or contract like other flooring materials would.
When to Not Start in the Middle of the Room
At times, centering a room is not necessarily the best layout for your floor tile application. You would start from the middle of the room if the space is a simple rectangle or square shape similar to the diagram above, and the only room being tiled. Example, a wide-open square or rectangular room. This could be a dining room or an open bedroom.
In a kitchen, you would not just center the room. You would lay your full tiles at the transition to the larger adjacent room, typically the living room. Then the cut tiles would go against the walls and at cabinets.
In a hall bathroom or laundry room, you would start with full tiles at the door .This would put your cuts against your cabinets and behind your commode and against the tub/shower; or under your appliances if in the laundry room. In these areas, the entry and main walls are the focal point.
In a master bath, you would typically start a full tile at the entrance door. Unlike a standard hall bath, many times a master bath’s focal point is the tub and shower side of the room, so put your full tiles against the tub and/or shower and allow the cuts to land at the cabinets. This does depend on the layout of the room.
Whether you decide to begin in the center or at a focal point, chalk guidelines are still a great first step, as they can ensure your final layout is straight and parallel. Practicing with a dry layout of your tile can help you determine what is the main focal point in the room, and the best place to begin.
Large format porcelain tiles have been around for some time but have exploded in popularity over the past few years. Traditionally, tiles came in a relatively standard size such as 8" x 8" floor tile and 4" x 4" wall tile. Today, tiles are available from tiny glass mosaics that are 3/8" x 3/8" to large format porcelain tile slab that can be as large as 5' x 10'. Compared with standard tile installations, Large format porcelain tiles present new challenges for tile installers. When installing porcelain slab tiles, certain procedures and methods must be adhered so that the tile does not crack and leave behind a failed installation. Handling, lippage, subfloor preparation, mortar coverage, and curing / protection all require extra consideration during the installation process of large format tile.
A tile is considered large format when it is 16" x 16" or larger. However, a tile may also be considered large format if at least one edge is greater than 15" such as the popular wood-look porcelain planks. Large format tiles can be made of natural stone, ceramic, or porcelain with even larger and large format tile, requires specific installation methods.
For consumers, Large format porcelain tiles is aesthetically pleasing with in a wide variety of colors and designs available, and as a design element,porcelain slabscan be used to make a smaller room appear bigger. Many people also enjoy the look of thin grout lines commonly used with Large format porcelain tiles. Additionally, because each tile offers more coverage per tile than traditionally sized tile, there are fewer grout lines. With fewer grout lines, maintenance becomes easier because a tile face is typically easier to clean than a grout line, and as many of us know, even sealed or epoxy-based grout can be difficult to keep clean and looking its best.
Porcelain slabs, it is imperative that the subfloor or substrate is properly prepared before laying any tile and the larger the tile size, the more essential this becomes. It must be completely level and flat. Any dips or humps can lead to lippage that large format porcelain tilesinstallations are prone to. Lippage is when one edge of a tile is not level with the adjacent tile's edge. This leads to the finished surface having an uneven appearance, degrades the quality of the installation, and can be a tripping hazard.
Additionally, uneven surfaces will make it difficult to achieve the proper mortar coverage and bond, another important aspect of installing large format tile. For some large format porcelain tiles, only specific substrates are approved by the manufacturer.
Variance in Substrate
With traditional tile that is less than 15" x 15", there can be up to a 1/4" variance in the substrate over a 10' span. For tile with at least one edge greater than 15", a maximum variance of 1/8" over a 10' span and 1/16" over a 24" span. A 6-foot level or 10-foot straight edge can be used to measure variance in the substrate. Any imperfections in the subfloor will be highlighted by large format tiles, so If the subfloor exceeds these specifications, the subfloor must be corrected with a self-levelling underlayment, patch, or grinding it down.
A self-levelling underlayment, such as Laticrete NXT Level and Laticrete NXT Level-Plus, is a cement-based product that can be poured on the subfloor to fix small imperfections in the subfloor and even out the surface. As it cures, the self-levelling underlayment produces a smooth and flat surface ready for tiling. For minor variances, a trowel applied self-leveling patch, such as Laticrete NXT Patch, can be used to bring the substrate to tolerance. Patching compounds can also be used to fix small variances on walls as well. The industry recommends using substrate preparation products and installation products from the same manufacturer to ensure compatibility.
Using the appropriate thinset/mortar is very important for a successful installation. With traditionally sized tile installations, thinset is used to bond the tile to the substrate. Large format porcelain tiles that often have a 1/4" (6mm) thickness, regular thinset can be problematic. For many large format tile installations, it is often recommended to used a medium-bed mortar to account for irregularities in the tile and substrate.
Using a thick layer of regular thinset instead of a medium-bed mortar can cause lippage or cracks because as the thinset cures, the displacement of water causes the thinset to shrink. As it shrinks and hardens, the thinset pulls on the tile and can result in damaged tiles. On the other hand, using an inadequate amount of mortar can lead to hollow spots. These hollow spots indicate that the tile is not fully supported, and the tile becomes susceptible to cracking at these points.
Medium-bed mortars are formulated to limit the amount of shrinkage during the curing process and are recommended for large format tile installations. Mortars designed for medium-beds will be able to support the tile without the tile slumping into the mortar. These mortars, however, can be difficult to trowel and work with in general. Newer types of high performance medium-bed mortars are formulated to not only be lighter, but are also much easier to trowel. When selecting a mortar, it is always advisable to consult the material manufacturer for mortar recommendations, as not all mortars are suitable for every application.
Full and complete mortar coverage is an essential part large format tile installations. Without the proper coverage, the tile and gout become susceptible to cracking along with a loss of bond to the tiles. To achieve a full coverage, start by using the appropriate trowel and trowelling technique. For many large format tile installations, a larger trowel such as 1/2" x 1/2" square notch or a 3/4" x 3/4" rounded notch will help attain adequate coverage. For larger tiles, a U-notch trowel may be necessary for correct coverage.
With a correct trowel, a proper setting bed will be produced that to aid in eliminating voids and reducing time spent resetting tiles that do not have full coverage. There is no exact standard for trowel size selection, so trowel size may vary for different jobs and substrates. However, the larger the tile size, the larger the trowel that is generally needed. For instance, a 1/2" x 1/2" square or round notch trowel is commonly used for tiles sized from 13" to 20" while a 3/4" x 3/4” round notch trowel is typically used for tiles larger than 20". For thin porcelain tile panels, a specialty euro / zipper trowel is often used to achieve full coverage.
When applying the thinset to the substrate, the thinset should be combed in a linear, uniform direction. With the trowel held at a 45-degree angle, drag the trowel across the thinset in one direction leaving behind straight and full "ribbons" of thinset. Using straight trowel lines will also help prevent voids or air from becoming trapped between the tile and substrate for proper coverage and adhesion
While a medium bed mortar will generally require for proper coverage, back buttering also helps to achieve full coverage. Back buttering is the process of using the flat side of the trowel to apply a thin layer thinset or mortar to the back of the tile before setting it. This helps to fill any voids on the back of the tile. Back buttering is especially important with natural stone products such as travertine, granite, marble, slate, etc. because of the naturally occurring spaces and imperfections on the back of the tile. By filling the spaces in with thinset before setting, weaker areas are strengthened and better coverage is obtained.
For thin porcelain tile panels, a different method is used for back buttering. Instead of using the flat side of the trowel to produce a flat even coat on back of the tile, the notched side of the trowel is used to create the same ribbons of thinset as used on the substrate. These thinset ridges should be in a level line across the back of the panel and will line up parallel with the ridges of thinset on the substrate. By troweling the both the backside the panel the same as the substrate, 100% coverage can be achieved which is essential for the success of thin porcelain panel installations.
porcelain slabs are more susceptible to cracking than smaller sized tiles. Movement along with tiny cracks in the subfloor can transfer to the tile and result in cracks. Traditionally, reinforced mortar beds had been used to allow the substrate and tile covering to move independently of each other and prevent the transfer of cracks from substrate to covering. However, reinforced mortar beds add a significant additional height to the installation and isn't practical by today's standards for new construction and remodels.
Uncoupling membranes are designed to replace the traditional reinforced mortar beds without the addition of significant height. While each manufacturer will have their own design, in general uncoupling membranes are composed of a waffle-like grid structure with an anchoring fleece on one side, are light weight, come in a roll, and are easy to install. Incorporating an uncoupling membrane or other crack isolation underlayment will help to prevent cracks from occurring.
Even with a perfectly flat subfloor, lippage is still another concern for large format tile installations. Lippage occurs when the adjacent edges of two tiles are not even. The bigger the tile, the more problematic lippage can become. Not only does lippage appear more prominent with larger size tiles, it also is presents a greater tripping hazard. Incorrect mortar bed, wrong setting techniques, and warpage can all lead to lippage.
Using an appropriate sized mortar bed, such as a medium-thick mortar bed, with correct setting practices will help to prevent lippage. Another extremely valuable tool available today are tile leveling systems. Both Tuscan Leveling Systems and MLT Leveling Systems are easy-to-use tile leveling systems that will greatly help in creating lippage-free installations. These systems generally consist of a few components including base/bottom plates, caps, straps, and installation gun and can be used for both floor and wall applications.