Tile planning for kitchens and bathroom
Planning on paper
The best possible way to start planning for a large expanse of tiling is not on the wall, but on paper. Graph paper is ideal, particularly if you intend including a mix of plain and patterned tiles, or a large motif that needs building up. Of course, advance planning is also essential if you’re tiling round major features like windows, doors, mirrors, shower cubicles and so on. You need separate pieces of graph paper for each wall you intend tiling. Allow the large (1 cm) squares on the paper to represent your tiles — one for a square tile of any size, two for a rectangular tile; this will give you a scale to work to.
Now mark up sheets of greaseproof paper with your actual wall sizes using the scale dictated by the tile size on the graph paper. Measure and outline on the seethrough paper the exact position and in-scale dimensions of all fixtures and fittings . At this stage, the objective is to decide how to achieve the best symmetrical layout for your tiles — the ‘ideal’ is to have either whole or equal-size cut tiles on each side of a fixture. First you have to mark in the central guide lines. For instance, on walls with a window draw a line from the sill centre to the floor, and from the centre of the top of the window to the ceiling. If there are two windows also draw in the central line from floor to ceiling between them.
Mark the centre point above a door to the ceiling and also indicate the horizontal line at the top of the door. In the same way draw in a central line from the top of a basin or vanity unit to the ceiling. For all these lines use a coloured pen for you have to be aware of them when deciding where whole tiles should be positioned. But they’re only the starting point — other potential problems have to be looked at too. Place the see-through paper over the tile sizes on the graph paper so you can see how the tiles will fall in relation to the guide lines. Now take into account the following important points:
• The first row above the lowest level — either the floor, the skirting board or a wallto- wall fitting — should be whole tiles. If necessary, change this to prevent a thin strip being cut at the ceiling.
• Check where tiles come in relation to fittings. If very thin strips (less than 38mm/ 11/2in) or narrow ‘L’ shapes would need to be cut, move the top sheet slightly up, down, left or right till the tiles are of a cuttable size — areas to watch are around windows, doors and where one wall meets another.
When you are satisfied that you have a symmetrical and workable arrangement you can tape the top sheet in the right position on the graph paper, then start to plan where you’re going to position your patterned tiles. Use pencil this time in case you change your mind and want to make adjustments. These are the points to watch:
• Don’t place single motif patterns at internal corners where they would have to be cut — you won’t find it easy to match up the remaining piece on the adjacent wall.
• If the pattern builds up vertically and horizontally over four or more tiles, ‘centre’ the pattern on the wall so that cuts are equal at both ends. If pattern loss can’t be avoided with designs of this type at least it can be kept to internal corners. • Whole tiles should be used on both faces of external corners. Now butt each of the wall plans up to the other to make sure that the patterns relate both vertically and horizontally.
Planning on the wall
When there are no complicated tiling patterns involved and walls are free of interruptions such as windows, it’s often easier to do the planning directly on the wall itself. Here, the simple objective is to place the tiles symmetrically between the corners. And to do this, all you need is a tiling gauge which you can make. A tiling gauge is like a long ruler, except that it’s marked off in tile widths. Use a long, straight piece of timber ideally about 25mm square (1 in square) and remember to include the grouting gap between tiles as you rule off the gauge. If you’re using rectangular tiles, mark the widths on one side, the lengths on the other. Holding the gauge against the walls first vertically, then horizontally — tells you instantly where the whole tiles will fit in and where cut tiles will be needed. But first you must find the centre of each wall.
Measure the width — doing this at three places will also tell you if the corners are vertical (hang a plumb line or use a spirit level to make absolutely sure) — and halve it to find the centre point. Use the tiling gauge to mark this vertical centre line with a pencil, then hold the gauge against it. Move it up or down until you have at least a whole tile’s width above the floor or skirting board — this can be adjusted slightly if it avoids a thin piece of tile at ceiling height — then mark off the tile widths on the vertical line itself.
Now hold the tiling gauge horizontally, and move it to left or right of the vertical line if thin pieces of tile would have to be cut near windows or fittings, or to make cut tiles at both ends of the wall equal. Following this adjustment, mark the wall and draw in a new vertical line if necessary.The wall can now be marked horizontally with tile widths. Keeping to the same horizontal, mark up adjacent walls in the same way. At corners, whether internal or external, don’t assume they’re either square, vertical or even. An internal corner is the worst place to start your tiling for this very reason, but it doesn’t matter if you position cut tiles there. On external corners use the tiling gauge to work inwards in whole tile widths. You can also use the tiling gauge to check that your graph plan is accurate, and make any necessary adjustments.
Putting up battens
Once you have determined that your plan is correct, fix a length of perfectly straight 50mm x 25mm (2in x 1 in) battening across the full width of the wall — use a spirit level to ensure that the batten is horizontal. Use masonry nails to fix it in place but do not drive them fully home as they will have to be removed later. If using screws the wall should be plugged. The batten provides the base for your tiling and it’s important that its position is correct. If more than one wall is being tiled, continue to fix battens around the room at the same height, using the spirit level to check the horizontal. The last one you fix should tie up perfectly with the first. If there are gaps, at the door for example, check that the level either side is the same, by using a straightedge and spirit level to bridge the gap. Once the horizontal battens are fixed, fix a vertical batten to give yourself the starting point for the first tile. Use a spirit level or plumb line to make sure it’s positioned accurately.
Begin tiling from the horizontal base upwards, checking as you work that the tiles are going up accurately both vertically and horizontally. Work on an area of approximately 1 sq metre (1 sq yd) at a time, spreading the adhesive and fixing all the whole tiles using card or matchsticks as spacers as necessary. Make sure no excess adhesive is left on the surface of the tiles. Next, deal with any tiles that need to be cut. You may find the gap into which they fit is too narrow to operate the adhesive spreader properly. In this case spread the adhesive onto the back of the tiles. When all the tiling above the base batten has been completed wait for 8-12 hours, before removing the battens, and completing the tiling. Take care when removing the base batten that the tiles above are not disturbed — the adhesive is unlikely to be fully set.
Dealing with corners
Your original planning should have indicated how many border or mitred tiles you will need for tiling external corners or for the top line of tiles on a half-tiled wall. You will find external corners, those which project into the room, in virtually all tiling situations — around boxed-in pipework , or around a window or door reveal, or in an L-shaped room. Where you are using universal tiles at an external corner, start at the corner with a whole tile — it should project by the depth of the mitre so that the mitre on the other face neatly butts up against it with a fine space for grouting in between.
With window reveals the correct method is to tile up the wall to sill level, cutting tiles if necessary. Fit whole tiles either side of the reveal, then again cut tiles to fill the space between those whole ones and the window frame. Attach whole border or mitred tiles to the sill so they butt up against the wall tiles. If using square-edged tiles the ones on the si should cover the edges of those on the wall so the grouting line is not on the sill surface. If the sill is narrower than a whole tile, cut the excess from the back — not the front. If the sill is deeper than a whole tile, put cut tiles near the window with the cut edge against the frame.
Continually check the accurate lining up of tiles with a spirit level. Some vertical external corners are not as precisely straight and vertical as they should be and this can lead to problems of tile alignment. The use of a thick-bed adhesive will help to straighten out some irregularities where a corner goes inwards (a thin-bed helps where the wall leans outwards). Buying a ‘flexible’ adhesive will give you both qualities.
As a general rule it is better to concentrate on lining up your border or mitred tiles perfectly vertically with only minute ‘steps’ between tiles, then bedding spacer or ordinary tiles behind to correspond with the line. Don’t forget that if you do have to create a very slight stepped effect, you can reduce the uneven effect between the corner tiles and others by pressing in extra grouting later.
Internal corners seldom cause serious problems as cut tiles can be shaped to suit fluctuations from the truly vertical. Don’t assume when cutting tiles for a corner that all will be the same size — the chances are that they will vary considerably and should be measured and cut individually.
Another point: don’t butt tiles up against each other so they touch — leave space for the grouting which will give the necessary flexibility should there be any wall movement.
Tiling around electrical fittings
When tiling around electrical fittings it is better to disconnect the electricity and remove the wall plate completely so that you can tile right up to the edge of the wall box. This is much neater and easier than trying to cut tiles to fit around the perimeter of the plate. Cut tiles and fit them in the normal way with the plate being replaced on top, completely covering the cut edges of the tiles.
This same principle applies to anything easily removable. The fewer objects you have to tile around the better, so before starting any tiling get to work with a screwdriver. You have the greatest control over the end result if at the planning stage you work out where you want to place fittings such as towel rails and soap dishes, shelves and the like.
Tiling non-rigid surfaces
On surfaces which are not totally rigid or which are subject to movement, vibration or the odd shock, tiles should not be attached using adhesive which dries hard as most standard and waterproof types do. Instead use adhesives which retain some flexibility. These may be cement-based types with a latex rubber content, or acrylic adhesives. You may have to surround a non-rigid surface with wooden lipping to protect the tiles.
Bathroom Fitters, Kitchen Installers