Summary: Learn how to lay ceramic floor tiles, prepare the surface, dry lay tiles and lay the tiles.
The method for laying hard tiles like ceramic, slate, terracotta and quarry is the same. Quarry and terracotta tiles are often laid diagonally across the room and how to successfully complete this project is explained in Laying terracotta or quarry tiles in a diagonal pattern.
Preparing the surface
Ceramic tiles can be laid on concrete and timber flooring. Concrete floors must be level and clean. If the concrete is uneven a self-levelling compound will have to be applied (see Applying a self-levelling compound to a concrete floor). A timber floor needs to be covered with 9mm (3/8 in) exterior grade plywood, fixing the sheets to the floor with screws 300mm (12in) apart (see Laying a plywood subfloor).
Dry laying tiles
- From the midpoint of adjacent walls run a string across the floor. Using a pencil or chalk mark the intersecting guidelines on the floor and remove the strings.
- From the where the guidelines form a right angle in the centre of the room dry lay a single row of tiles – with tile spacers between – towards one wall.
- From the centre of the room dry lay a second row of tiles at right angles to the first. Once again place tile spacers between the tiles so the gap between the tiles is uniform.
- Where there is a gap between the tiles and the wall, draw a line to mark the border edge. If you are left with a narrow gap (less than half a tile width) or the gap is only a little smaller than a whole tile that requires only a narrow strip of tile to be cut away, you will need to move the guidelines by half a tile’s width and reposition the first tile to achieve a wider gap around the perimeter of the room. This is important because it is difficult to cut narrow strips from ceramic tiles.
- When you are satisfied with the gap around the room’s perimeter, nail a temporary batten around the floor marking out the area where whole tiles can be laid.
- In one corner of the battened area dry-lay a square of nine tiles. If the tile edges don’t meet flush against the batten on both sides, then the battens are not square and will need to be repositioned.
Laying the tiles
- With the battens square, starting from one of the corners use a trowel with a serrated edged or a notched spreader to apply enough tile adhesive over the floor to lay a square of tiles (3 x 3 or 4 x 4).
- Push the first tile tightly into the right angle where the two battens come together. Press the tile into the adhesive.
- Lay the rest of the nine or sixteen tiles on the tile adhesive using tile spaces to keep the joints uniform. Make sure there is a tile spacer at each corner of the tiled area.
- With a spirit level check that the tiles are level by placing it across each row and then diagonally across the tiles. If a tile is sitting proud tamp it down by placing an offcut of timber on the tile and hitting it with a rubber mallet. Never hit the tile as it could break. If a tile is sitting too low, it needs to be lifted and have some adhesive applied to its back before being repositioned.
- Continue to lay tiles in this fashion – in square blocks – until the area marked out by the temporary batten has been completely covered. As you are progressing use a straight edge to check that the edges of the tile are perfectly in line.
- Run the blade of a stripping knife between the tiles and battens to prevent the two surfaces from sticking.
- Wait at least 24 hours before walking on the tiles to ensure the tile adhesive has set.
- Use a claw hammer to remove the battens.
- Measure the gap between the tiles and walls around the perimeter to calculate the size of border tiles you need. Remember a small gap must be maintained on either side of the border tiles; that is between the edges of the border tiles and the whole tiles and where it comes up to the skirting board. As the room is unlikely to be perfectly square it is best to measure each individual tile before cutting it.
- Cut the tiles to the required width using a tile cutter. If you do not have an electric tile cutter, you can make straight cuts in tiles with a score-and-snap cutter. Place the tile against the cutter’s guidelines and push the cutting wheel away from you to score a line along the tile. Then push the handle down to snap the tile along the scored line.
- Apply tile adhesive to the back of the cut border tiles – not to the floor – and stick them in position.
- As you progress around the room, place tile spacers between the whole tiles and border tiles and between each of the border tiles to maintain an even gap.
- Check the border tiles are level by placing a spirit level across their surface. Also check the border tiles are level with the whole tiles.
- On reaching the corners you will find that the space to be filled is smaller than the size of the cut border tiles. Measure the corner area and cut a tile to the required size. Apply adhesive to the back of the corner tile and fix it in place.
- When all the tiles have been laid allow 24 hours for the adhesive to set before applying the grouting to the joints.
- Fill the gaps between tiles with waterproof grouting. A grout spreader with a rubber blade is the best tool to use because it will not scratch the tiles.
- Work on the joints of a small area – a square of tiles (3 x 3 or 4 x 4) is ideal -removing any excess grout from the surface of the tiles and rubbing away smears with a cloth as you go.
- Alternatively you can use flexible silicone mastic to seal the joint between the tiles and the skirting board.
- Claw hammer
- Serrated-edged trowel
- Spirit level
- Tamping block
- Rubber mallet
- Tile cutter OR score-and-snap cutter
- Rubber-edged squeegee
- Timber batten
- Ceramic floor tiles
- Tile adhesive
- Tile spacers
- Average carpet installation cost
- Average floor tiling costs
- Average hardwood floor cost
- Average laminate floor cost
- How to lay laminate flooring
- Laying a concrete floor
- Laying a plywood subfloor
- Laying ceramic floor tiles
- Laying floorboards onto joists
- Laying terracotta or quarry tiles in a diagonal pattern
- Laying vinyl floor tiles
- Laying wood flooring
- Measurements and advice when laying floors
- Planning the arrangement of floor tiles
- Pros and cons of the three types of wood flooring
- Sanding floors
- Using a drum sander