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Install Wall Tile

Install Wall Tile

Ceramic is an exceptionally durable material, and if you need an attractive alternative to refinish your walls, consider installing this type of wall tile. It works in any room where you need an easily maintained surface. With the proper preparation, installing tile isn't too difficult.


Preparing the Walls for Tile

Bathroom Sink Tile Backsplash

Tile adhesive sticks to a wide variety of surfaces. The installation surface must be clean, dry and structurally sound. As with most projects, special consideration must be made for wet locations. In a shower or other high-moisture location, use cement-fiber board as the tile substrate.

When preparing new drywall, you don't need to tape the joints. Seal the walls first with a thin coat of adhesive.

When preparing existing walls to receive tile:

  • Strip off flexible coverings, such as wallpaper, and scrape away loose paint.
  • Knock the sheen off glossy finishes with a light sanding.
  • Patch any holes or wide cracks in drywall with spackling compound. Sand smooth when the patch dries.
  • Cement-fiber boards, often referred to as cement board, are the recommended underlayment for bathroom walls. The product is composed of cement and fiber for strength and moisture resistance. It's available in ¼-inch and ½-inch thicknesses depending on the application.

When installing wall tile in a bathroom, leave a 1/8-inch space along the area where the wall meets the top of a tub or shower base. This area will be caulked later with silicon caulk. Caulk is flexible enough to allow movement — settling, expansion and contraction — without cracking.

 



Choosing a Pattern for Your Tile

Jack-on-Jack and Running Bond Tile Patterns

The pattern options available when laying tile are virtually endless. However, there are two basic patterns:

  • A jack-on-jack pattern is the most common. The pattern consists of tile laid like squares on a checkerboard.
  • A running bond pattern has offset grout lines for each row.

Either is fairly easy to set, although the running bond pattern is the more difficult of the two.



Laying Out the Area for Your Tile

Laying Out the Area for Your Tile

Walls in most houses aren't square. The instructions below establish guidelines for an installation that starts in the center of a wall and proceeds toward the edges. This method gives you equally sized cut tiles at each corner.


Step 1

Make a layout tool. Lay out a row of tiles on the floor. (Consider both the width of the tile and the grout lines. If you plan to use tile spacers when doing the job, include them as well.) Align a straight stick (1 by 2) with an edge against or on top of the row of tiles. Mark the tile and grout spacing on the stick. This tool will be used in combination with a level to accurately lay out the tile spacing on the walls.


Step 2

Mark the planned location of any cabinets or accessories that you plan to hang on the wall.


Step 3

If you're tiling a bathroom, measure up one-tile width plus 1/8 of an inch from the lowest spot where the top of the tub or shower base meets the wall and make a mark. If you're tiling a room with no tub or other obstruction, make a mark one-tile width from the floor's lowest point. With this mark as a beginning reference, use the layout tool to get an estimate of how the tiles will lay in a vertical line. If necessary, adjust the reference mark and try again. If you discover that your layout will leave an unacceptably narrow band of tile along the ceiling, shift the reference mark down about half a tile.


Step 4

Use a level to extend your final reference mark into a horizontal line. This line will be where you begin laying the tile.


Step 5

Place another reference mark on the horizontal line near the center of the room. Now use your guide to see what will happen at the corners of the room. Shift the reference mark to the side to get the tiles in the corners to line up as you wish. When you've established the desired final placement of this reference mark, use your level to draw a plumb vertical line.


Step 6

Begin laying the tile where the two reference lines meet. They should cross at perfect 90-degree angles. The first tile row must be as close to centered as possible. The appearance of the whole wall will depend upon it. Any error you make here will compound itself as the tiles are laid. Use the level and layout tool to mark a grid on the wall to help with the placement of tiles.

 



Installing the Tile


Step 1

Attach a support strip to the bottom of your base horizontal reference line. This board will serve as a guide and support for the tiles until the adhesive has a chance to set.


Step 2

Spread the adhesive with the trowel's notched edge, combing it out in beaded ridges. Spaces between ridges of adhesive should be almost bare. Apply in 2- to 3-square-feet sections. Increase the coverage after you get a feel for setting the tiles. Spread adhesive up to, but not covering, any reference lines or marks on the wall used for positioning tiles.


Step 3

Press the first few full tiles in place above the support strip with a slight twisting motion. Don't slide them.


Step 4

Insert plastic spacers between the tiles if they don't have spacer lugs. This helps maintain straight grout lines. Remove spacers prior to grouting.

 

Some ceramic tiles have spacers built into the tile itself.

Step 5

Continue aligning and adhering tiles. Work in a pyramid shape from your crossed reference lines outward and upward.


Step 6

If adhesive oozes up between the tiles, clean out the excess before it dries. Immediately wipe off any adhesive on the face of the tiles with a solvent-soaked sponge or rag. (Consult the manufacturer's instructions to determine the appropriate solvent). Adhesives begin to firmly set in 20 to 30 minutes.

Some adhesives emit toxic and flammable fumes. Provide good ventilation, especially in confined locations such as shower stalls. Always refer to the product label for safety precautions.

Step 7

After you've installed several rows of tile, set them into the adhesive with the tile leveler and a mallet.


Step 8

Tile the wall up and across to the edges where trimming will be required, then remove the support strip and install the tiles that go beneath it.


Step 9

Repeat Step 8 on the rest of the walls.

 


Step 10

Measure the area along the edges and carefully cut tiles to fit. Install the edges and trim.


Step 11

When the job is complete, seal the joints between the tub and tile with silicone caulk.



Cutting and Fitting the Tile

Nearly every tiling job requires trimming tiles to fit around borders or obstructions, such as window frames, electrical fixtures, pipes, basins, toilets or countertops. Straight cuts are relatively simple. Shaping tiles to fit curves is more difficult and requires practice and patience.

For small jobs, use a glass cutter or a simple tile cutter. Larger projects may warrant using a wet saw. Do-it-yourself wet saw models are relatively inexpensive (in relation to renting). They make clean cuts with little waste.

Apply even pressure when using tools designed to score, cut and drill tiles. Pressing too hard can cause tiles to crack and break. Drilling tile requires a special bit.

To make cuts at a true right angle, use a combination square as your straightedge when scoring with a glass cutter.

When using a glass cutter or tile cutter, score the tile in one stroke to achieve smooth and even breaks. Repeated scoring will cause the tile to chip or crack.

Always wear safety glasses when working with tiles.


Snapping Tile by Hand
  1. With the scored line facing up, position the tile over a nail or a stiff piece of wire.
  2. Lay your fingers flat on either side of the tile and apply firm, even pressure until the tile snaps.

Using Tile Nippers
  1. Center the cutting blade on the scored line and exert pressure by squeezing the handles together.
  2. Use your free hand to hold the side of the tile you'll be using.

Using a Tile Cutter
  1. Measure and mark the cutting line on the tile.
  2. Align this mark with the cutting guide on the tile cutter.
  3. Supporting the tile to keep it level, lower the cutting wheel onto the edge of the tile. Push it away from you with firm pressure.
  4. When you've rolled the cutting wheel to the far end, push down on the handle to split the tile.

Using a Wet Saw
  1. Measure and mark the cutting line on the tile.
  2. Align this mark with the cutting guide on the tile cutter.
  3. Supporting the tile to keep it level, move it towards the blade. Move the tile slowly to avoid overheating and cracking. Let the saw do the work.

Cutting Holes in Tiles
  1. Use a pencil to mark the shape to be cut.
  2. Drill a hole inside the shape with light pressure, using a ½-inch carbide masonry drill bit.
  3. Insert a tungsten carbide rod blade through the hole and attach the ends of the rod to a hacksaw frame.
  4. Saw along the pencil line with even pressure. Let the saw do the work. Forcing the cut too rapidly can break the tile.

Fitting Around Obstructions
  1. Using a pencil, draw the shape that needs to be removed on the tile. A compass may help you draw neater curves.
  2. Score the outline of the shape you drew with the glass cutter. Then score several crisscross lines within the outlined area.
  3. Using tile nippers (or pliers), begin taking tiny bites from the area to be removed. The idea is to nibble off chips, not chunks.
  4. An alternate method is to make several parallel cuts with a wet saw. The adjacent cuts will create several small strips of waste tile. Snap these off with tile nippers and smooth the surface.

Smoothing Breaks

Jagged Edges: Use tile nippers or pliers to nibble off the uneven edge of a broken tile.

Rough Edges: Use a round file to smooth rough edges of areas that have been nibbled away.

Cut Edges: If a straight-cut edge shows, rub it against a sheet of 80-grit aluminum oxide sandpaper to round and smooth the edge.



Grouting the Joints


Step 1

Mix the grout to the consistency of a thick paste (like peanut butter), and apply it by forcing the grout between tiles with a rubber float held at a 45-degree angle.

 


Step 2

Hold the float almost perpendicular to the floor. Wipe away excess grout from the surface of the tiles. Take care to pack all joints. Use a toothbrush to shape the grout.


Step 3

After 20 minutes, wipe away all excess grout with a damp sponge. Keep your sponge clean by rinsing it often. Follow the grout manufacturer's instructions for curing and cleaning the grout.


Step 4

Fill seams with a bead of flexible water-soluble silicone caulking where tiles meet the counter. Smooth with a sponge or your finger. (Wear a thin latex glove if you're using your finger.)


Step 5

After the grout has cured for a week, apply silicone grout sealer with a small paintbrush to help prevent grout discoloration.


Project Information

  • Skill Level: Intermediate
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*Time and Cost are estimated.