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Installing a Tile Floor

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It is almost impossible to find a home without a tile floor in at least one room or another. The tiles that make up these floors can come in all kinds of materials, shapes, sizes, textures, and colors. If you are looking to install a tile floor, or replace an existing tile floor, you'll have an unlimited number of possibilities to choose from. While this guide can't help you pick the tiles, it will show you how to install some of the most common types of tiles onto your floor.

The instructions below provide just basic overviews of installing tile. The actual process can vary based on the specific type and brand of tiles you may have. If the manufacturer's instructions differ from those presented here, use those instructions as a guide. And, if installing a tile floor is outside your area of expertise, you may want to hire professionals to do the job for you.

Getting Started

The first step in installing vinyl floor tiles is to prepare the wooden subfloor. Start by removing the existing floor covering, and, using an appropriate chemical cleaner, clean up whatever adhesive was used for this previous flooring. If any of these floor boards are loose, they should be nailed down. And, if the wood is in particularly bad condition, you may need to install new plywood before putting the tiles down.

The layout of the tiles is very important. If not done correctly, the entire floor won't look right. The way to get it right the first time is to start laying them out in the middle. Use a chalk line to figure out the exact center of the room. Once you have marked off the center, you can do a test run with the tiles to make sure they will line up correctly. Starting at the center point, lay out some tiles in a row until you get to the wall. If you have a thin gap between the last tile and the wall, you might want to move your center point over a few inches. Otherwise, you'll have to cut the tiles for that last row very thin, which might not be too aesthetically pleasing.

TIP: At this point, you can figure out how you want to arrange the tiles. If using different colored tiles or those with designs or grain, play around until you find a configuration you like.

Vinyl Tiles

The procedure for putting the tiles down will vary depending on the type you use. If using vinyl tiles, the first thing to do is to apply the tile cement, which should be prepared according to the manufacturer's instructions. Using a trowel, spread the cement out in an even coat over just one quarter of the floor. Once spread out, you'll probably have to let the cement air out for about 15 minutes (check the manufacturer's instructions to be sure) before putting the tiles down.

When the cement is ready, you can start laying down the tiles. Put the first one down in the center, making sure it goes in nice and straight. You can then continue putting the tiles down, keeping in mind your pre-arranged pattern. As you go about laying the tiles down, remember to lay them firmly against the neighboring tiles, leaving no gaps. When you get to the walls, measure the distance of the gap between the last row and the wall. Using scissors, you can then cut the last row of tiles so they fit appropriately, and put them down. Repeat this method for the remaining quarters of the floor.

TIP: If you have to put tiles around pipes, or other permanent fixtures, you'll have to cut the tiles accordingly. An easy way to do this is to make a template out of paper, and cutting the tiles to match.

Ceramic Tiles

Unlike vinyl tiles, your ceramic tiles will need to be spaced apart when they are applied. Thus, when laying the tiles down for a test run, remember to put in rubber or plastic spacers, so you can get the layout just right. Also, for ceramic tiles, you'll want to measure and cut the pieces to your wall-adjacent row before you actually start putting the tiles in. This is because the tiles will have to be cut with a saw, rather than just using scissors.

Once all the tiles are laid out, you'll want to prepare the mortar that will hold the tiles in place. After mixing the mortar, remove a few tiles and spread the mortar out on the subfloor. Then, press the tiles into place, putting the spacers back between the tiles again as well. After a few rounds, you should get into a steady rhythm. Should any excess mortar end up on top of the tiles, just wipe it off with a damp sponge. Once you have finished, wait a couple days for everything to dry before taking the next step.

That next step is to apply the grout. First, mix the grout according to the manufacturer's instructions. Then, place a heap of grout directly on the floor. Using a grout float, begin pushing the grout into the cracks between the tiles.

Once all the cracks are filled with grout, you'll need to clear away the grout on top of the tiles. This should be done by wiping a grout sponge over the tiles and rinsing the sponge in a bucket of water. It will probably take three rounds of scrubbing before the tiles are completely clear of excess grout.

All that's left to do is run some caulk along the perimeter, and you'll finally be done. Though installing a tile floor may be a lot of hard work, the end result will more than make up for the time spent putting it in.

Adam Mandelbaum  Posted by Adam Mandelbaum on January 7, 2013

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