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Lay a Ceramic Tile Floor

Learn how to lay a ceramic tile floor yourself.

Preparation and cleaning

Lay a Ceramic Tile Floor

When it comes to flooring, tile is about as ancient—and attractive—as it gets. Nothing beats tile for a smooth, tough, carefree floor in a kitchen or bathroom, especially with such a wide array of ceramic and stone tiles on the market.

Ceramic, marble, and granite all make great floors. Although they are similar to work with, ultra-hard granite is the toughest to shape, and soft ceramic is the easiest. However, a rented tile saw, or wet saw, will cut any of these materials, so difficulty in cutting should not be a deciding factor in material selection. Price, however, may be; ceramic is at the bottom of the price heap, granite is at the top, and marble is midway in between.

Step 1: Preparing to Tile

Tiling, like its big brother, masonry, requires a unique frame of mind. It's a permanent material, and that means you must be wise in your choice of color, material, surface, and design. You have to work carefully and get it right the first time, because repairs are difficult if not impossible. Most importantly, you must let the mortar and grout set the pace. When they are hurrying to set, you have to hurry as well. When they are sluggish, you've gotta hit the brakes.

The choice of tile and grout is largely a matter of taste. Larger tiles are faster to lay and grout, but they may make a small room feel cramped. Tile size also affects joint width. Wide joints (say 14") make sense with big tiles. Narrow joints can magnify tiny discrepancies in tile size or placement.

Building Smarts

Tiling is hard on the knees. I highly recommend using kneepads to protect this useful anatomical joint. And use rubber gloves to protect your hands—mortar and grout will dry them out pronto!

Tile needs a firm base, the stronger the better. Ideally, your existing floor is 1 14"-thick plywood or oriented strand board, supported by joists placed on 16" centers—16" from center to center. To be on the safe side, I start by rescrewing the plywood to the joists with 2" construction screws, placed every 12" or so.

Cleaning Out the Old

Preparation starts by removing appliances, furniture, and molding. Strip up any previous flooring that comes up relatively easily. If you can't strip securely glued flooring, lay the cement board onto lines of construction glue. The lines should be 8" apart, on top of each joist, and centered between the joists.

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