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How to tile a floor

Date posted: 7 March 2015

Hard tiling is not only an attractive flooring choice for many high-traffic rooms in the house, such as kitchens, conservatories, and bathrooms, but also functional as they are easy to clean and hard-wearing. Although many people think that tiling a floor is a bit intimidating for an amateur DIY-er, in, fact, it’s not that much of a big deal if know the procedure step by step. So, here is a guide with the basics you need to know to tile a floor.

Step 1: Safety Measures Before you Begin

First and foremost comes safety. For that reason, make sure you wear heavy-duty gloves to have your hands protected because removing old tiling, especially old shards, can hide hazards. For that same reason, it is advised you also wear protective goggles so your eyes are always protected against flying tile shards. Finally, a dust mask is another must-have. 

Step 2: Preparing and Purchasing

Now that you have taken safety precautions, it’s time to measure the area. Include any bizarre, alcoves and jutting areas- just round up to the nearest whole number. Find out how much surface area a pack of tile covers, and make the purchase. 

If your floor is not concrete, dry, and level (that’s when hard tiling can be laid), you will have to even it out by laying tiles over existing quarry or vinyl tiles. However, you do need to ensure they are properly and firmly laid. Just a quick note here; if you are laying over vinyl, you will need to use a primer (e.g. an adhesive) to coat the surface first, especially if you are laying tiles on concrete or wood. In case you want to tile a wood floor, strengthen it first, before you do anything else. This can be done by using 13mm thick exterior grade plywood, and then fix in place with a ring-shanked nails (30cm intervals).

Step 3: Deciding on the Layout

The first tile you will lay is your key-tile and will determine the entire layout of the tiling process.  For obvious reasons, it should be positioned right. It is best if you start centrally in your room and then work your way in each direction, given that not all rooms are perfect squares and if you started laying tiles at an edge, you might get yourself into a real jumble.  

So, from the centre of your key tile, lay a row of DRY tiles to the wall. If you end up with a tiny slither of tile, then you will have to reassess. Consider moving the entire line the width of one tile away from the wall. It will look much better ending up with, for example, 1/3 tiles at the skirting boards, than a slither of tile at each end.

Once this line is right, do the same (dry-lay) for the opposite direction of the previous one, and then at right angles to it. Eventually, you will end up with a cross shape of dry-laid tiles. Then, move your central tile around a bit, so you have a gap of about half a tile around the room’s edges and mark the position of your key-tile with any visible marking (e.g. chalk) and ensure all edge-tiles are cut to shape. Mark them up and cut them down, and you are ready for the next step.

Step 4: Start Laying Tiles 

Tip: Tile spacers will help your work and make the end product look like done by a pro. 

That said; begin with the key tile and work out from that point towards any one of the walls in the room. 

Note: All newly laid tiles should not be walked on for 24 hours. 

With that note in mind, choose your direction and make sure you have an escape row! You might want to tile half the room in one day and then come back for the rest the other day.

Spread out adhesive in the centre of the room and with a notched trowel or a spreader, spread it evenly all across the surface’s square metre. At his point, make sure you see the marking you had made so you know where each tile goes and spread the right amount of adhesive so the tiles stick. As you lay your first tile, twist it slightly as you lower it to get rid of any trapped air bubbles as you lay the tile into position. That way, the tile will bed into the adhesive nicely, without causing any future issues whatsoever. 

Work out from the key tile in one direction towards a wall with the use of plastic spacers and check that the floor is level, every couple of metres, using a spirit measure. Once you are done with this row, follow the same procedure at right angles. In the end, you will have a cross pattern from the key tile. 

Pick a corner of the room and lay tiles in rows there, until you complete a row. Continue laying tiles until the floor is covered and the only thing left will be to cut the tiles needed for the edges of the room. Carefully wipe down all tiles to remove any adhesive leftovers that could ruin your beautiful work. Also, ensure you have also scraped up any adhesive where you will place your edge tiles since you want a flat surface to lay tiles, as already mentioned. 

Note: Wait 24 hours before you proceed to the next steps. 

Step 5: Fill the Edging

Cut your tiles with a heavy-duty tile cutter or a lever-action flatbed cutter and fill the edging. Put a layer of adhesive on the back of each tile and then press it in the desired position. 
Leave for 24 hours.

Step 6: Grouting

Once the adhesive is firmly set, make up your grout. Pay attention to this step as you don’t want any lumps because you will end up with a totally unprofessional and unequal surface.  So, make the grout well (you may have to mix it with water) and let it sit for a couple of minutes (unless otherwise recommended). This phase will help release bubbles and break down nasty lumps. 

For glazed tiles, all you need to do is just pour the grout over and squeeze it into place using a rubber-edged grout spreader. Now, for non-glazed tiles, you need to be extra cautious and mix grout (a very dry one) and put it into each track gently. Try not to have any grout on the surface of the tile, else you might have to deal with stubborn stains.  

Then, fill any air pockets and gaps by pressing the grout firmly with a striking tool or a wooden dowel, and wipe up any mess with a damp sponge. What you should pay attention to at this stage is that there should be no gaps in the grout; otherwise, you won’t ensure resistance to water.

In about an hour or so, the grout will be hard. With a damp cloth, wipe each tile one-by-one, to remove any remaining grouting stains. 

If it is possible, it is best you don’t use the floor for about 48 hours. In any other case, just be gentle during these 48 hours.

Use a flexible sealant to seal around the room’s corners (make sure it is the same colour as the grout), and…

Enjoy your new floor!

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