How to Tile Everything
Use the right substrate and mortar for a long-lasting tile installation.
Synopsis: Tiling looks simple, so many people decide to do it themselves. Unfortunately, there’s more to a good tile job than meets the eye. Editor Justin Fink identifies five fundamentals for every tiling job, then provides an overview of some common tiling projects (kitchen backsplash, outdoor spaces, tub/shower surround, shower floor) and of two specialty tiles: glass tile and large-format tile.
To me, tile work is a lot like painting, or hanging and taping drywall. It’s a task that looks simple and has a low barrier to entry in terms of tools and materials. It’s the part of a remodel job where people often try to save a bit of money by doing it themselves. And although it’s true that tile can be the center of attention in a kitchen, bath, or foyer because it introduces color, creates the illusion of an expanded space, or counterbalances the other parts of the room by providing a change in texture, it’s just as likely to be the center of attention because of a poor installation.
It may look like straightforward work, but there’s a lot that goes into a good tile installation, and shortcuts or shoddy materials will come back to bite you later. If you plan to do the work yourself, it helps to know some basic rules of thumb for common tile jobs, especially when it comes to prep work and proper material selection. Get these parts of the job right, and the only thing you’ll need to worry about in 10 or 15 years is how you ever thought the trendy tiled tub surround or kitchen floor you chose was a good idea.
FUNDAMENTALS TO KNOW FOR EVERY JOB:
Straight talk on substrates
Tile is often installed over plywood subfloor sheathing, concrete slabs, tile backerboard, or drywall. But it’s possible to install tile over other materials, too—including old tile, vinyl flooring, laminate counters, and more—as long as the full substrate is sound (as opposed to just the layer you’re bonding to) and the right thinset is used. Some substrates should be avoided at all costs, including painted floors (even overspray from walls or trim), moisture-damaged or delaminating surfaces, and anything with an oily or waxy finish. Also, the most recent ANSI standards for tile installation specifically exclude bonding tile directly to OSB.
Know when to switch to caulk
Anytime you transition from one tiled plane to another—floor to wall, for example—caulk should be substituted for grout to allow for flexibility as the different surfaces shift. Color-matched caulks with or without sand can be used to blend the caulk joint to the chosen grout type and color, or a high-quality color-matching sealant can be used.
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