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Subject:  Tiling lessons learned Date:  3/21/2004  8:06 PM
Author:  SuaSponteMark Number:  48120 of 138101


Just spent the last 3+ days retiling the kitchen. Few things I learned here for the crowd. I'll try to order them sequentially.

I do still have grout and sealant to go but that shouldn't be too hard.

1. Draft a good plan beforehand determining how many tiles you'll need, how much backing board you'll need (also known as cement board), and if needed how much subflooring you'll need. I drew a sketch up in Power Point, overhead view, to do a "virtual lay" of backing board to best fit these and minimize small pieces. Got a lay of the land of the tiles as well to get an idea of how many I would need, though you will need to dry fit them (more later on that). I used 11 3/4" tiles and 1/4" spacers so the square footage was fairly easy. About a 144 sf kitchen and I bought eight 20 count boxes, and had eight left over at the end.

2. I bought an $80 tile saw that worked ok for a one-room job like this. If you were doing a lot of irregular cuts or a bigger job I would suggest going with one of the $200 jobbies or renting one. I didn't want to have to rush to get done and get it back and plan on helping my folks do some tiling in the future so I went ahead and bought a saw.

3. Helps a lot to have an assistant as I snapped quite a few chalk lines, etc. Dad came down and helped. Had some good ideas on where to start the tiles, where to center, etc, to minimize odd cuts and end up with symmetrical ends.

4. I took one of the "how to" classes at Lowe's and read a book on tiling before I did this and they helped extensively. Would much recommend the class at a minimum if it's your first time as it was mine.

5. This stuff is heavy - between 160 ceramic tiles, 12 sheets of backer board, and four 50 lb bags of mastic it was probably 500 lbs of stuff. Unless you love slinging fragile stuff in and out of your car you might want to get a delivery. Wouldn't fit in my little truck so Lowe's sent it to my house on a pallet.

6. I had two layers of 3/4" boards at an angle to one another on 2x10" joists with a 16" span max so I had a pretty solid base. Some might need additional plywood for backing before cement board. I didn't use any additional plywood.

7. If you have doors that enter into the area where you're tiling, take them off the hinges before starting. Tiling will build up your floor about 3/4" and your door may no longer fit. I cut off the bottom of the pantry door entering into the kitchen accordingly, after I got done tiling.

8. This is slow and careful work. The maxim "measure twice, cut once" definitely applies. Cutting with an electric tile saw takes a little longer than a wood saw and it's messy, thus you don't want to cut a lot of excess tiles.

9. There is a new kind of backer board with a 1" grid pressed into it that makes measuring and lining up tiles easier. Would go with this if it's your first go-round. Think it's called Hardee Backer or Hardy Backer.

10. I screwed in the backer board. You can nail it too. I had an 18v cordless drill and this worked pretty well. It takes a LOT of screws (or nails). 60 or so per sheet of backer board. Only a crazy person would do this by hand. Even with the cordless drill I got a blister after 600 or so screws. Changed the battery about 4 times. If you nail I think you would have to have a nail gun; backer board doesn't survive abuse very well and hammer blows would pulverize it.

11. You need mastic under the backer board, according to the class. Some don't use it but the guy that taught the class, who laid tile for over a decade before working at Lowe's, recommended you use mastic as the instructions indicated. I mixed it a little thinner than the instructions indicated which made it easier to apply; it did not adhere to the floor (or the backer board when I put the tide down) very well at the standard water:mastic ratio.

12. Guy said the mastic would cover about 80 sf per 50 lb bag. I got about 70 out of it, so don't underestimate here. Even with a good, square room with level floors like the one I did, you need to not skimp on this so you get a good base and adhesion. I also numbered all my backer board pieces and put north seeking arrows on them because I'm an anal engineer and wanted to make sure I put them back in the same order I had fit them.

13. Once I had the backer board in I let it dry a day and then gridded the floor for the tiles. I chalked lines at two foot intervals (two tiles) across the long dimension of the room and then one across the short dimension. You may want to do 2 tile x 2 tile blocks until you get the hang of putting in the tiles.

14. Take a lot of time to get the first four tiles set. If they're off by 1/16" you're off by 1/8" on the second one, etc, and then by the time you get to the wall you're stuck like Chuck. Dry fit the tiles to ensure everything is as square as you can get it in the room - do this hand in hand with the chalking (or markering of lines - did this some too).

15. I used 1/4" spacers with the 11 3/4" tiles - had a pretty good "visual" effect with the larger tiles and a space that large; you could go bigger or smaller but this is what the guy suggested. I would go with the new spacers that have a plus on one side and a straight line on the other - use the plus for a 4 way tile intersection and the straight line for between two tiles meeting edge to edge. These are also much easier to remove than the old style spacers and make for fitting tiles to be easier. Again, the guy in the class was right on.

16. Keep a wet rag nearby to wipe off mastic splatters and such. Keep an old towel near the tile saw so you can wipe off the tiles after you cut them - they'll be covered with dirty water from the saw and little tile chips. Sweep or vacuum your floor very thoroughly before putting down the mastic for the backer board or for the tile so it adheres well. This is dirty, gritty work, and when you're laying the tile, you will walk on the cement board and cause it to come a little undone, so the sweeping is a continuous process. Keep the tile saw reservoir full of water so it can stay cool. Mastic gives you about 30-40 minutes of "play time" before it starts to set and gets unworkable so don't mix too much at once; I mixed about 25 lbs (half a bag) in a 5 gallon bucket at a time. Mix it with a big "paint eggbeater" (in the paint section) on a drill - it's like having a bucket of thick peanut butter and you don't want to do this by hand.


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