Five tips for first-time tilers
When I took on my first big tiling project—the floor, shower and wainscoting of my renovated bathroom—I didn’t have any experience tiling. What I did have was years of experience watching home renovation shows on television, and my own preconceived notions. Despite all those hours of TV, I was surprised several times throughout my project, in both good and bad ways. Here are my top five surprises.
Preparation is key
Tiling a large area can seem like a monstrous job, but it’s the preparation work that actually takes the longest. Once you’re fully prepared, the actual work of tiling is quite simple. First, you must decide where you want to tile and choose a tile. Measure the area and calculate the tile quantity you need to purchase, along with the tools, thinset and buckets you’ll need.
Most importantly, do a ‘dry run’ with your tile to ensure the best possible outcome. For example, if you start tiling your floor from the back wall of the room, in 12” x 12” tile, you may find that you have slivers of 2” near the door, which doesn’t look right. In that case you may choose to trim the tile at the back to 8” x 12” so your front wall tiles have a width of 6”. You can do the layout as many times as you want with dry tile, until you are happy with the placement of the tiles at both ends of the room.
Tile cutters aren’t scary
I had a notion before starting the project that I’d do all the actual tiling but that my husband would make all the cuts. Tools can seem scary to first-timers. Luckily, my husband knew that tile cutters are not difficult to use. He showed me how they worked and I did most of the tile cutting for my project.
I grew to love the manual tile cutter, which scores a straight line across a tile and then applies pressure to break the tile along the scored line. It does a great job on straight cuts won’t remove small slivers of tile.
I also used a wet saw, which is a power tool with a diamond-edged blade that grinds away the tile, creating your cut. The saw uses water to keep from overheating. My mid-range tile saw sprays water off the blade while it’s cutting, so I wore a rain coat along with my ear protection and safety glasses to keep safe and dry.
When you’re learning to use your to your tools, you will inevitably make mistakes and waste a few tiles with bad cuts. Simply make sure you purchase extra tile at the beginning to offset the mistakes.
YouTube is your friend
I’d seen so many TV shows, I thought I’d learned everything I could from ‘watching’ others tile. Wrong again. I failed to consider that television is edited to make for fast-paced, interesting viewing. Entire bathroom renovations take 30 minutes in TV land, which should have been an indicator that some parts were skipped over. When I went looking on YouTube, I found dozens of videos of step-by-step tiling, done by professional contractors. I watched several that were specific to subway tile, and they served as reinforcement that the actual tiling process is manageable for first-timers like me. I couldn’t wait to get started!
I always assumed that I’d start from the floor when tiling a wall. Surprise! That’s not the best way when floors are almost never perfectly level and walls are never perfectly square. You want a level line of tile across the wall, so start from that line.
I’d seen wainscoting tiled from the top down on television, and I always thought that seemed crazy and risky. What if the tiles fell off the wall? It turns out that the products that hold tiles to the wall or floor are incredibly effective and ‘falling tile’ wasn’t an issue. However, they can slip due to gravity, so it’s important to regularly check that your rows of wall tiles remain level as you work down and across the wall.
Grout is hard
Similar to the ‘don’t assume’ surprise about tiling from the top down, I assumed that grouting would be a snap compared to actual tiling. Simply smear the grout in between all the tiles and then wipe it off. You don’t have to be particularly exact with grout, so it sounds easy. I learned the hard way that grouting can be much more difficult than tiling.
Two things made it more difficult for me: it’s much more physical, and it’s incredibly time sensitive.
To grout you need a ‘float’ that pushes grout between the tiles without scratching them, as well as sponges and water to wipe off the excess grout after it sets for about ten minutes. It’s key to physically push the grout in, as you want a solid layer to stabilize your tile. Once you mix up the grout, you only have a certain amount of time before it starts to dry and becomes difficult to work with.
The packaging of the grout explains how to mix it and apply it. Don’t make the mistake I made and buy quick-dry grout! I started grouting my bathroom floor and within ten minutes the grout was so stiff and dry that I had trouble using it. My husband took over and got the room one-third finished before the grout was completely dried up. We were forced to purchase a different type of grout and just hope that the color matched (which it did).