Laying ceramic floor tiles

Traditionally ceramic tiles have been used to cover areas around basins, baths and sinks, where splashing is likely to occur. But they are also very practical for covering floors. Now that central heating has taken the chill from ceramic floor tiles, people are beginning to appreciate their hard-wearing qualities and easy maintenance. Provided it is correctly laid on a properly prepared sub-floor, ceramic flooring has good resistance to impact and general wear and high resistance to crazing. It only needs to be swept regularly and washed from time to time with water and detergent. Stubborn stains can be removed from this type of tile with a household abrasive or paint brush cleaner.

ceramic bathroom floor tiles

Types of tiles
It is essential to use only flooring grade tiles – wall tiles are much thinner and would break under pressure. Flooring tiles are available glazed or unglazed. Glazed tiles come in a wide range of colours and patterns and some have a roughened glaze to make them slip-resistant. Unglazed tiles are produced only in plain or mottled colours; but they are the most durable form of tile and are available in a range of anti-slip surfaces and also coving tiles to provide a clean curve from floor to wall. They are more difficult to cut than glazed tiles, but you can hire or buy a special tool for cutting them. Tiles are made in a variety of shapes, square ones being the easiest to lay. Always buy six or so extra ones for cutting in or in case of breakages. Mosaic tiles are small squares of glazed or unglazed ceramic covered with peel-off sheets 305mm square which you remove alter laying.

Preparing the surface
It is essential to lay ceramic tiles on a clean, dry, level surface; any distortions may cause the tiles to move and crack under pressure. They can be laid on a solid floor of concrete or existing hard flooring such as terrazzo or quarry tiles or on a suspended timber floor. But in each case the floor needs some preparation before the tiles are laid.

The concrete must be dry, clean and flat. Tiling will not cure damp, so if the concrete is letting moisture through, 1ay a damp proof membrane and screed. Fill any small depressions in the concrete with sand and cement, using a mixture of three parts washed sharp sand and one part cement and make sure you level off after filling. If there is a slight fall-away in the surface in any direction, correct it with a concrete levelling compound. A badly depressed surface should be levelled with a waterproof screed. Chip away any small nibs of concrete and sweep the surface thoroughly.

Hard flooring
Tiled or terrazzo floors should be flat and firmly fixed. Remove any traces of grease or polish and make sure it is dry before you start tiling. Any loose sections, such as a loose quarry tile, should be securely glued back in place.

Timber floor
Make sure there is adequate ventilation below the floorboards to prevent rot forming alter tiling. Don’t lay tiles directly onto a suspended timber floor made of tongued and grooved boards since the movement of the floor would cause the tiles to shift and crack. Make the floor more stable by covering it with sheets of plywood at least l2mm thick, fixed at 300mm intervals with countersunk screws. If the floor is likely to be splashed with water, such as in a shower area, use exterior grade plywood. When all existing floorboards have to be removed, due to rot for example, you can screw flooring grade chipboard directly to the joists and lay tiles on this. Use screws for fixing sheet flooring since nails cannot be relied on to hold the material securely in place once the tiles have been bonded to them. Make sure the panels butt closely together; if any small gaps do appear, pack them tightly with a filler or the floor tiles may crack along the joint lines due to movement on the sub-floor. Before laying tiles over plywood or chipboard, always brush the surface with a priming coat; most manufacturers recommend a water-based polymer for this purpose. The primer must be properly dry before you begin tiling, so leave it overnight.

bathroom floor tiles

Working with adhesive
Manufacturers recommend a cement-based powder adhesive which can be used as a thin or thick-bed adhesive. Use a thin bed of about 3mm for flat-backed tiles; if the tiles have studs on the back or there is a slight unevenness in the floor (test with a straight-edge), use a thick bed of about 6mm. For thin-bed fixing, you will need about 3.5kg of adhesive per square metre.

Allow double this quantity for a thick bed. There is also a bitumen-based adhesive which can be used for thin-bed fixing. Cement-based adhesive can be used on concrete or timber floors, but it is not suitable on concrete which has not fully dried out or on ground floors which are affected by damp. In these cases, and for areas subjected to prolonged soaking with water (such as shower floors) use a waterproof adhesive. Always mix the adhesive according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Setting out the tiles
The best way to set out tiles is from the centre of the room so you have an even border all round the edge. To find the centre, mark the halfway point on the two pairs of opposite walls and stretch a piece of string (preferably chalked) between each set of marks. Ensure the strings cross at right-angles and secure the ends with nails or pins. If the strings are chalked, pluck them to leave marks on the floor. Before fixing down any tiles, try out the layout with dry tiles. Lay one row of tiles in each direction from the point where the strings cross. If the space remaining at the end of a row is less than half a tile, adjust the string lines half a tile off centre to give a bigger space for the perimeter tiles. This will give a balanced border and avoids having to cut narrow pieces of tile. Check the door will open over the laid tiles; if not, remove the door and trim the bottom edge with a block plane.

Fixing the tiles
Tile one quarter of the room at a time, starting with the section furthest from the door and finishing at the door. Starting from the centre, spread the adhesive evenly over the floor with a notched spreader, which is often supplied with the adhesive. Don’t cover more than 1sq at a time. Place the tiles in position, starting in the angle of the chalked lines. Don’t slide them into place or adhesive will build up against the front edge of the tile. When laying studded tiles on thick-bed adhesive, spread a thin layer of adhesive on the back of the tile to ensure a solid bed when it comes into contact with the adhesive on the floor. Most tiles have spacer lugs to ensure the distance between each one is correct; if yours do not have these, place pieces of card or matchsticks between the tiles to give a space of 3mm. Remove any adhesive that oozes up between the joints (to leave space for grouting) and clean off any adhesive on the tiles before it sets. Tile each section of the room in turn, leaving the border until last. If you need to kneel on the tiled area while working, place a board across it to avoid damaging or disturbing the tiles.

Cutting border tiles
To cut a tile for the border, lay it face down on top of the last whole tile and slide it forward so the front edge butts against the wall. Mark the back of the tile at each side where the edge of the last tile finishes. Place it on a firm, flat surface and join up the two marks, using a straightedge as a guide. Score and cut the tile along this line with a tile cutter. The front section of the cut tile will fit neatly in the gap.

Cutting corner tiles
Place a new tile face down over the last whole one near the corner. Place a second tile on it, slide it flush to the wall and mark its edge on the tile below. Then move the marked tile to the last whole tile round the corner without turning it. Place the second tile over it, butt it against the wall and mark as before. Score and cut along these lines and nibble the corner away with pincers or tile nippers to give an L-shaped tile which will fit round the corner. Take away only very sma1l pieces at a time; if you try to cut too much at once, you may break the tile. When you have cut the shape you want, smooth the rough edge with a carborundum stone.

Cutting shapes
To cut curved shapes, use a contour tracer or make a template and scribe the outline onto the tile. Then nibble away the tile with pincers or tile nippers as before. To fit a tile round a pipe, cut the tile in two where the pipe falls, cut out a semi-circle from each piece and fit them round the pipe. When tiling round a WC or wash-basin pedestal, lay full tiles as far as possible round the pedestal. To avoid having to cut very narrow sections you may have to adjust the layout when setting out the loose tiles. Cut a template for each tile, using a contour tracer to mark the curve and with this cut the tile; lay it in place before making a template for the adjacent tile. When all the tiles are cut and smoothed, fix them in position. Remember to leave enough space between tiles and pedestal for grouting.

Mirror tiles

The simplest method of providing a large mirrored area is to fix mirror tiles. These are made in two thicknesses 3mm and 4mm and are available in a wide range of sizes. The quality is superior in the thicker 4mm tile and it might prove a false economy to buy the thinner version, since the surface of the glass is more inclined to flake. Each tile has self-adhesive tabs stuck to the back; once the protective paper is removed from the tabs, fixing is simple and instant. Before you start fixing, you must prepare the surface onto which the tiles are to be stuck. Any surface which is not perfectly flat will cause the tiles to lie in an uneven plane, which will result in a distorted reflection. Plaster surfaces are particularly bad since they are seldom perfectly flat. Although the tabs will stick effectively to painted or untreated plaster unless the paint is badly flaking – it is advisable not to try it if a perfect surface is required.

Fixing to board
Mirror tiles are best stuck down to a suitable board such as plywood or chipboard. The thicker the board the better, since there is more chance of achieving the perfect flatness you require. For a really uneven wall surface use an 18mm thick board; don’t use board less than l2mm thick, even on a wall which looks true. Screw the board in place using the appropriate wall plugs and countersink the heads of the screws slightly below the surface of the board. The screws should be about 450mm apart around the edge and across the surface of the board. Don’t drive the screws in tight, but stop just as the screw begins to bite into the board; an over-tightened screw in a depressed part of the wall will cause the board to follow the depression and lose its flatness. This is more likely to occur with thinner board.

Setting out tiles
This is an important stage and should be done with care. Individual tiles are seldom cut with perfect accuracy and can vary slightly. Over a large area this variation can be cumulative and result in a poor finish. Wherever possible set out the tiles loosely on the fixing board before it is screwed to the wall; you will finally fix them into place starting at the bottom and working upwards. When the tiles are set out squarely to your liking, number each tile, using a small piece of adhesive tape on the face of each, and write these numbers in the same order on the board. Fix the tiles in place so the numbers correspond. Fix them into place in the same order and you will be sure of a perfect run of joints.

Fixing tiles
When fixing take care to note the exact position of each tab on the back of the tile. Remove the protective paper and place the tile in position on the board, applying light pressure to each tab in turn. Avoid applying pressure to the tile between the tab positions especially when using thinner tiles – since this might break them. If you make a mistake and have to remove a tile, use a thin broad bladed knife and try to slide it beneath each pad in turn. Don’t try to lever the tile away or you will break it. New adhesive tabs can be stuck into place on the back of a mirror tile if the original one has to be removed. These tabs have strong adhesive and work effectively the first time on most surfaces. As a safeguard on porous boards, brush away any dust and apply a thin coat of impact adhesive to correspond with the tab positions. Allow this to dry thoroughly before bringing tabs into contact.

Care must be taken in areas where there is excessive moisture; bathrooms are particularly prone to heavy condensation. Never use a porous type chipboard as a backing for mirrors or mirror tiles in these conditions, since rot will set into the chipboard, causing mould and damaging the silvering of the mirror. Use a resin-bonded plywood and check edges are thoroughly sealed with primer.

An air space of at least 3mm ({in) should be left between the flxing surface and the back of the mirror; with tiles the tabs determine the space.

Cutting tiles

The most common tile cutter looks like a pencil and has a tungsten carbide tip to score the tile. To snap cleanly, place a matchstick under the scored line and press down evenly on both sides of the tile. A neat break should result.

tiler cutting tiles

The tile cutter scores with a cutting wheel. Place the tile in the jaws of the tool and gently squeeze the handles, pincer-fashion, to make a clean break. To mark an end tile for cutting to size, place it in position (front surface against wall) making sure one edge of the tile butts into the wall. Measure the distance from the end of the wall to the preceding tile in the row. Mark the width required in pencil, first on the reverse, continuing round the edges to the front face when you have turned the tile round. To join up these lines correctly place the tile face up on a firm, flat surface and using a metal straightedge (your try square is ideal) align the two pencil marks and score through the glaze with your cutter. Use one of the two cutting methods described. If really thin sections, less than 10mm thick, have to be cut, score deeply along the marked line and with pincers nibble away gradually at the waste portion. Never be tempted to take off a huge chunk in this way as the tile will break. Use this method, too, when cutting out L-shaped or curved sections. Make a card template (pattern) of the shape required and transfer it onto the tile. Projecting pipes are tricky to tile around so use a template again. The safest way to tackle the job is to cut the tile in two, removing from each portion an arc to suit the shape of the pipe. When the two portions are positioned together round the pipe, the joint will not be obvious.

Grouting between the tiles

Carefully mix your chosen grouting powder with water to a creamy consistency and rub well into the joints with a dampened sponge. Remove any surplus with a dampened cloth before the grouting is dry. Any remaining traces can be polished off later with a soft dry cloth. For extra colour you can add a dye solution to a ready-mix grout, or dye powder to a dry grout. Colours available include red, yellow, blue, green, brown and black.

kitchen tiles grouting

Tiling with adhesive

The placing of the first few tiles is critical; if they are out of true the entire job will be affected. So temporarily position a few tiles, starting against your vertical line and batten, and check for a perfect right-angle. Only when you are satisfied all is correct should you begin. Starting from this right angle spread the tile adhesive with a broad knife or small round-edged trowel over about one square metre (or sq yd) of wall area.

Don’t use your notched spreader to lift the adhesive from the can as it will come through the notches onto your hands. Comb this area horizontally to leave a series of ridges. Cover with tiles, pressing them into place with a twisting movement – never slide them across the adhesive as it will squeeze up between the tiles – completing each horizontal row before starting the one above. Make sure each tile is butted squarely against its neighbours with spacer lugs touching. With RE and REX tiles, neither of which has spacer lugs, use matchsticks or pieces of cardboard to ensure equal spacing and remove after 24 hours.

bathroom tiling

As you complete each square metre of tiling be sure to check the tiles are correctly positioned vertically and horizontally by using your spirit level. Complete as many whole tiles as possible before tackling any cutting. When the area above the horizontal batten is complete, allow at least 12 hours’ drying time before removing the batten and tiling the bottom course (row). Allow another 24 hours before starting to grout. There are special water-resistant adhesives for tiled areas likely to be subjected to excessive splashing or heat, such as shower cubicles. You will need a trowel to spread this type in a thin layer and should allow at least 14 days before grouting or allowing the tiles to come into contact with water. There is a ‘fix and grout’ product that enables you to stick down your tiles and then grout them in a matter of hours.

Tiling round fitments
Treat the top edges of sinks, baths and cupboard units as the floor level and nail or screw a horizontal batten above them. This will support the tiles above it while the rest of the wall is being completed. After the adhesive has set, remove the batten and apply the bottom course of tiles, trimming where necessary.

Tiling round windows
The window is very often the focal point of any room so it is important to try to arrange the tiles to achieve a good visual balance, with equal size tiles on either side of the window. On horizontal sill surfaces fix whole tiles at the front, with any cut ones at the back nearest the window where they are not so obvious.

Planning the tiling

Very few houses have true vertical and horizontal corners in the bathrooms or kitchens, so you must never begin tiling in a corner or at floor level. As you reach the end of each row cut to shape the tiles for these areas. The first step then is to decide the best starting point by making a measuring staff from a long batten (if your room has several alcoves, you will need a shorter one as well) marked with tile widths. This will enable you to see how many whole tiles can be accommodated over a particular area.
bathroom tiling tiler
Ideally you should aim for equal size cut tiles at both ends of each wall as this will give the job a balanced look. Having established the starting point, temporarily fix a horizontal batten to the wall with its top edge one tile width above the floor or skirting board. If the floor line slopes then lower the batten slightly to make the cutting easier later on. It is far easier to trim whole tiles to flt a space than to cut thin pieces to fil1 tiny gaps. Double-check the batten for correct horizontal before screwing it securely to the wall. You will now have to establish a vertical line at the starting point near the corner of the wall. To determine this, use a batten and spirit level (or plumb bob and line) and mark the vertical line in pencil on the wall. Follow this horizontal and vertical procedure for every wall.

Preparing the surface for tiling

tiling bathroom walls

Preparing the surface
As with nearly all decorative covering jobs it is the preparation that makes or breaks the finish. And this applies particularly with ceramic tiles as, like wallpaper or paint, they have to be fixed to a really smooth, flat surface, which must also be dry and firm. A good way of finding out just how smooth your walls are is by using a timber straight-edge, about 1m long. Place this at different points across the surface, checking vertically, horizontally and diagonally. If you are getting a noticeable seesaw action a certain amount of levelling will be necessary.

Where only minor areas are affected, use a proprietary plaster filler. Follow the manufacturer’s mixing instructions and then apply with a filling knife to the low areas of the surface. Two or three applications may be necessary to build up to the correct level. As you become more expert this will not be necessary since you will be able to level shallow depressions accurately when applying the wet mix, using a straight-edge or filling knife. Bad irregularities over large areas must be completely replastered, a job best left to the professional plasterer. New plaster must be allowed to dry out for at least a month before tiling and, as the surface is porous, sealed with a coat of plaster primer. This sealing is also necessary where a plaster filler has been used.

This must be completely stripped first and the plaster underneath raked out where loose and levelled as above.

Glasspaper down to remove any flaking areas and provide a key for the tile adhesive. Where the paint is direct onto plaster, uneven patches must be levelled as above.

Plane level and give the bare wood a coat of wood primer before tiling.

Ceramic tiles
Existing tiles are probably the best, thin ceramics being specifically designed to suit tile-on-tile fixing. But as with all other surfaces the base must be sound. So make sure the existing tiles are clean, flat and firmly fixed. Remove any loose ones and refix with tile adhesive so they are level with adjacent tiles.

Half-tiled wall
If you intend retiling here and taking the new tiles to ceiling height, you will need to build out the untiled part of the wall level with the existing area to avoid being left with a recess. This levelling up of the wall section can be done with plaster, plasterboard or other suitable building board.

Lining the wall
Where the surface of your wall is so uneven that refilling is impossible and replastering would be too costly, you can create a ‘new’ wall by lining with plywood, chipboard or plasterboard. First construct a timber framework on the wall from horizontal and vertical 50 x 25mm battens. Drill countersunk holes in the battens at about 400mm spacing. Drill corresponding holes in the wall to take masonry plugs and screw the battens loosely to these using 50mm long No 8 countersunk screws. Start with the top and bottom horizontal battens. Follow these by the vertical battens spaced at 400mm intervals, working from left to right. Finally fill in with short horizontal battens spaced at 610mm intervals. Using a straight-edge horizontally, vertically and diagonally, level up the battens using pieces of scrap hardboard, laminate etc. as packing between the battens and ‘low’ areas of wall before tightening up the screws. Take care with this stage of the job as the final accuracy of the lining could otherwise be affected. Apply a coat of primer or sealer to all board surfaces and edges, then screw to the battens with 32mm long No 8 countersunk screws through countersunk holes drilled in the boards.

Ceramic tiles

tiler tiling bathroom

Ceramic tiles provide not only a practical those problem areas in the bathroom or kitchen and ruin the ordinary wall decorations. Consider first what sort or combination of tiles – plain, patterned or textured. or a mixture of the two will best suit your colour scheme.

Plain tiles
Produced to match the standard colours of bathroom and kitchen ware, this type is the cheapest and plain colours allow greater flexibility when changing other patterns in your rooms.

Patterned tiles
Usually based on standard plain tile colours, these feature either a complete pattern or are used in groups of four to form a single motif. They are seen to their best advantage when used as a contrast to plain tiles and can also look attractive when concentrated on small areas.

Textured tiles
In similar colours to plain, these are most striking when highlighting one particular area or covering an end wall between two plain walls. There is a limited range of ‘feature’ tiles with either a special motif or a rural scene. And you can even make up a mural to be hung on the wall like a picture or set into a plain-tiled area.

Heat-resistant tiles
For fireplace surrounds and other areas likely to be subjected to extreme heat.

Renovating tiles

One of the quickest ways to give a face lift to sound old tiling is to replace the grout filling material round each tile. Rake out the old grout. Take care not to scratch surface of tiles while raking out. Remove broken tiles and old adhesive with small sharp cold chisel and club hammer.

Work from centre outwards and take care as You get near surrounding tiles; protect any fittings from being scratched by broken pieces of tile. Always wear Protective spectacles or goggles.

Spread new grout over tiles with dampened sponge. Remove any surplus material as you work, leaving just enough to fill gaps between tiles. When grout is almost dry, clean tiles with dampened sponge. Finish off with clean, dry soft cloth.

Blinds for kitchens and bathrooms

In the kitchen

Blinds come into their own in the kitchen, because they are much more practical to use at windows than curtains. Laminated blinds are excellent, because they are so easy to keep clean. Venetian blinds are good for stuffy kitchens or those where you want to obscure the view, but they are more of a chore to keep clean than plain roller blinds. Use blinds to pull down in front of a row of shelves, or to hide wall cupboards above a working surface. This is a particularly handy disguise in an open house or a combined kitchen/dining room.

If the blinds are made to pull down just to the level of the flat surface, they will hide any unsightly mess left there from other parts of the room. You could also use a long floor-to-ceiling blind to screen off a laundry area in the same way as for the washing arrangements to a bedsitter described above. You can keep washday gear on fitted shelves above the washing machine. If the back door is glazed, use a blind. A light roller blind can be attached to the top of the door itself, so it won’t get in the way if the door is opened when the blind is pulled down.

In the bathroom

Again, a blind is often the best answer for a window covering in a bathroom, particularly if you choose a laminated fabric, because it won’t go limp in the steamy atmosphere. If you want to divide up the room, try a tall narrow Venetian blind to make a screen between the bath and lavatory. You could even use pvc roller blinds instead of shower curtains beside the bath. When the shower is in use, the blind is pulled down inside the bath to keep the splashes in.