How to Install Tile Flooring – Forbes Advisor


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  • Work time: 6 to 8 hours
  • Total time: 3 to 5 days
  • Competence level: Intermediate
  • Project cost: $200 to $500 for 100 square feet

Tile is a durable and waterproof floor covering that is equally suitable for kitchens, bathrooms, hallways or living rooms. With countless designs and colors available, tiles allow you to exercise your full creative potential.

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Tiling can be an easy DIY project, as long as you have the right tiling tools and materials. Likewise, preparing the underlying surface is essential for a flawless tile installation that lasts for years.

REMARK: The start of 2021 was marked by an unprecedented labor shortage, a side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. Along with this, the demand for construction materials and jobs has skyrocketed. As a result, prices for materials may be higher than shown in this article and delivery times may be longer than usual for labor and materials.

When to lay tiles

If you are tiling as part of a larger room remodeling project (like the bathroom or kitchen floor), the tiling comes after the cabinetry installation. In the bathrooms, the tiling must be laid before the installation of the toilets.

Security Considerations

Installing tile flooring is generally a safe project, but be careful when removing existing flooring. Some types of older flooring or adhesives may contain asbestos. Leave these materials intact and lay the tiles over them or hire a qualified asbestos removal company to remove the asbestos.


  • Wet tile saw
  • Manual tile cutter on rail
  • Manual tile nipper or electric spiral saw
  • Sander
  • lever bar
  • 1/4 inch notched tile trowel
  • margin trowel
  • Tile spacers
  • tile float
  • rubber mallet
  • chalk rope
  • Tape measure
  • Level
  • mortar mixing tank
  • clean bucket
  • New sponges
  • rubber gloves
  • Scrap two by four
  • Protective glasses
  • Ear protection
  • Respiratory protection (such as a face mask)


  • ceramic tile
  • Thinset
  • Jointing
  • Grout Haze Remover
  • Grout sealer
  • Sandpaper, grit 60
  • Insulation membrane (optional)


1. Measure and plan the layout

Use the tape measure to measure the length and width of the room. Multiply the length by the width to get the total area to be tiled. Add another 10-15% to account for imperfect or broken tiles, as well as cut tiles along the edges.

Early in the planning stages, decide on the tile pattern: grid, herringbone, staggered, pinwheel, diagonal or other. The tile pattern will affect the number of tiles to order.

2. Assess the subfloor

The subfloor must be level and solid so that the tiles and grout do not crack. If you jump lightly on the floor and feel a bounce, the floor is too soft for tiling and needs to be reinforced.

Half-inch or 3/4-inch exterior-grade plywood is an ideal tiling surface. Existing vinyl tile, sheet vinyl, linoleum, concrete, and even ceramic tile are suitable tiling surfaces and can remain in place, but with some modification.

3. Repair joists

If the floor joists are too flexible for the tiles, access the floor from below and reinforce the joists by pairing them with an additional two-by-six or two-by-eight nail nailed along the joist.

If the subfloor seems to sag on the joist and the joist is solid, place plastic shims between the joist and the subfloor to prevent the subfloor from moving.

4. Remove baseboards and moldings

With the lever, gently lift the baseboards and shoe moldings. Remove all other obstructions such as heating vents and floor transitions.

In bathrooms, remove the toilet. Although it is not necessary to tile under the vanity unit, it can be useful later if you decide to change the layout of the bathroom.

5. Scuff shiny flooring

With any glossy flooring such as ceramic tile or vinyl flooring, lightly sand the surface with 60-grit sandpaper for better adhesion.

6. Add an insulation membrane

If tiling directly over a concrete floor, add a crack isolation membrane. This product unlocks the tile from the concrete so that cracks and movement of the concrete are not transferred to the tile.

7. Undercut Door Frames

Lay a spare tile upside down next to the door frame. Lay the jam saw on top of the tile and cut the casing horizontally. The tile plus the thickness of the saw represents the total thickness of the eventual installation.

8. Repair the subfloor

If the subfloor has small depressions, pour a self-leveling compound over the spot and let it cure. Self-leveling compound will fix dips and low spots as deep as 1-1/2 inches.

Run a straight board over the subfloor to identify the bulges. Sand the bulges with 60 grit sandpaper on a belt sander.

9. Instant chalk line

With the tape measure, find and mark the center point of the length and width of the room. Snap the chalk line to these two center lines.

10. Dry tiles

Lay a few tiles around the room before using the Thinset to get a feel for the layout. Start at the center line and work outward, making sure to add tile spacers between the tiles. Do it both ways, both lengthwise and widthwise. Avoid having tiles that are half size or less. If so, push the tile out of the center until this is corrected.

11. Layer Thinset

After adding the premixed thin coat to the mixing tank, spread some of the thin coat over the tile surface. Work in areas approximately 2 feet by 2 feet to prevent the thin layer from drying out before you can tile it. Spread the thin layer with the notched side of the trowel. The notches will regulate the correct amount of Thinset on the floor.

12. Lay the tiles

Press the tiles into the thinset. Press firmly and wiggle back and forth to firmly set the tile. If you can easily pry the tile off with your fingers, the tile needs more thinness. If so, switch from a 1/4 inch trowel to a 1/2 inch. Deeply grooved tile backs or bumpy subfloors often require more of a thin coat.

13. Cut tiles to size

As you work, cut the tiles with the wet tile saw or with the rail tile cutter. Cut the tiles as you need them instead of cutting them all in advance. Hide the cut edges along the walls where they will later be covered with baseboards and shoe moldings.

14. Cut Tiles Around Obstacles

To work around pipes, toilet flanges and other irregular obstructions, gradually pinch the tile with the tile nipper or cut with the spiral saw.

15. Remove tile spacers

Allow the thinset to dry for 48 hours, then remove the tile spacers. Do it by hand if possible. If you must use a tool, use a soft tool such as a plastic putty knife to avoid scratching the tile.

16. Grout Tile

With the grout float, pick up a small amount of grout. Hold the grout float almost flat against the tile and parallel to the joints. Pull the float toward you to embed the grout into the joints.

Scrape off excess grout by holding the grout float almost straight and moving it diagonally across the tile. Only do it once or twice. Repeated scraping will remove the grout from the joints.

17. Clean up grout mist

Let the grout dry for 24 to 72 hours. Mix grout mist remover in a clean bucket with water. With the sponge, clean the milky white haze from the surface of the tiles.

18. Seal the tile grout

Seal the tile with a tile grout sealer. Grout sealer penetrates porous grout and prevents water from migrating under the tile. Most grout sealers have a brush or foam roller that you can use to run the length of the grout.

19. Install baseboards and moldings

Install old baseboards and moldings or install new materials.

When to call a pro

Large tile installations or intricate tile patterns often turn out best when done by professional tilers. If the tiling job needs to be finished quickly, general contractors can usually do it while maintaining quality.

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