Your Expert Guide to Installing Tile from Start to Finish

Ensure your next tile project goes off without a hitch with these tips on cutting backerboard, installing tiles, finishing the job with grout, and more.

Not too long ago, setting tile was beyond the skills and abilities of most homeowners. Ceramic tiles were soaked in water overnight and set in thick mortar, making it a tricky and time-consuming process. But with the introduction of thinset adhesives and backerboard, the installation of ceramic tile has moved well within the reach of most do-it-yourselfers. The same holds true for other kinds of tile. Techniques for setting parquet, resilient tile, carpet, cork, and laminates are also simple and easy to learn.

The information below will walk you through a number of tile installation projects, such as installing backerboard, cutting tile, and marking layout lines. Heed our expert advice to help ensure your next tiling project is a success.

blue tiled kitchen
Edmund Barr

Tile Project Planning Tips

If you are starting a ceramic project for the first time, practice each step before applying it to your floor, wall, or countertop. Create a practice station with a couple of pieces of backerboard. Mix and spread a small amount of mortar, set the tile, cut a few tiles for the edges in your mock-up, then grout and clean it. If the results don't satisfy you, pull up the installation or try again with a new one.

If you're tiling a floor, you'll discover that it's easier to lay the field tiles and come back the next day to lay the cut tiles on the edges. That way, you won't have to walk on freshly laid tile and risk dislodging it, and you can measure the edges precisely and cut tiles to fit. You will also save money on rental tools by limiting all the cutting to one day.

If your toolbox does not include tile installation tools, purchase the best you can afford. Most tools have many applications, and you'll use them for years to come. Gather all tools and materials ahead of time, think through the installation steps before you start, and take your time.

bathroom view decorative tile
Stephan Julliard

How to Install New Backerboard

For long-lasting tile applications, backerboard is key. The thin material is made from concrete and fiberglass mesh, and it creates a durable surface on which to lay tile. Since backerboard must be installed with its edges centered on joists and studs, you'll need to cut it to get the perfect fit. After cutting the backerboard to size, attach to the studs using backerboard screws. Before tiling, ensure the wall surface is smooth and caulk the gap at the bottom.

How to Mark Layout Lines

To lay square, evenly spaced tiles, you'll need to mark accurate layout lines. With the help of a chalk line, you can measure and snap both vertical and horizontal lines. Then, when you go to place the tiles, you'll have a clear guide to follow. To establish reference lines for your tile layout, run a chalk line from the center of one wall to the center of the opposing wall. Pull the line taut, then lift and let it snap down onto the floor, creating a crisp, straight line. Repeat these steps for the other two walls to create lines that intersect at the exact center of the room. Work outward from this center point as you begin laying tile.

How to Cut and Install Ceramic Tile

Cutting and installing ceramic tile requires skill and patience, but it's still within the realm of most homeowners. The key is to practice. Make a few cuts with extra tiles to get a feel for the saw, and check that the surface is properly prepped before laying out tile. We'll explain these steps (and more) in our guide to cutting ceramic tile.

bathroom tile and toilet paper holder
Jason Donnelly

How to Install Mosaic Tile

Mosaic tile used to take forever to install as each tiny piece had to be individually applied. But with the introduction of mosaic tile sheets, the process has sped up considerably. This tutorial walks you through the process of installing tile sheets, including how to apply adhesive, set the tiles, and finish them with grout.

How to Install Stone Tile

Stone tile is one of the most difficult to install. Its brittle surface makes it subject to fractures, and its natural quality means each tile is slightly different. Nevertheless, stone tile is a beautiful addition to any floor or wet room. We offer tips for installation in our guide to stone flooring.

How to Grout, Caulk, and Seal Tile

Once you've set tile, it's time to move on to grouting, caulking, and sealing. These important tasks will help protect the tile from water damage while prolonging the life of your project. When grouting, caulking, and sealing tile, it's important not to rush the job. You need to allow adequate time to get both the look you desire and for the products to properly do their job. After removing the spacers, scrape out any remaining mortar from the joints. Mix the grout according to the manufacturer's instructions, then work into the joints using a grout float held at a 30- to 45-degree angle. Scrape off excess from the tile surface and let set. Clean with a damp sponge, rinsing and wringing out the sponge often. Let the surface dry for at least 15 minutes, then use a clean, dry rag to remove the grout haze.

Sealing the grout offers the best protection from stains. On glazed and other impervious tiles, apply the sealer only to the joint using an applicator designed for this purpose. To protect saltillo and other soft-bodied tiles, seal the entire surface with a mop or applicator as recommended by the manufacturer.

To caulk joints, use a caulking gun with the nozzle cut to the width of the joint and at a 45-degree angle. Starting in one corner, squeeze the handle of the caulk gun gently and apply the caulk to the joint. Keep the caulk gun moving as you squeeze so the caulk won't overrun the joint. Finish the surface of the caulk with a wet finger or sponge.

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