Tips for Tiling Floors

About the Project

Tile floors may not be the most popular choice of flooring in the main part of the house, but it’s still quite popular in bathrooms, mudrooms, and even kitchens; although the latter is has lost some of its market space to wood flooring. Whatever the application there are plenty of choices to express yourself, from arabesque and cement to ceramic faux wood planks.

Common Questions When Tiling a Floor

1.                   What kind of tile should I get?

The first common mistake when choosing tile is to pick something that is too trendy. Trends can last for many years but they could also last for just a year or two. Following a trend can result in your house looking outdated in just a few years and you may be looking to remodel again. Knowing color and décor preference may change over time I would always recommend something that’s more neutral in bigger spaces (living room, dining room, kitchen, etc.). Depending how bold the color or pattern it may also make your space feel more chaotic or overwhelming. For smaller rooms, however, I like to be a little more expressive; like hexagon tile in the mudroom or a porcelain flower mosaic in a small bathroom.

2.                   Do I need to match floor style to house style?

Another mistake is to make a selection that doesn’t match the style of your house. I’m not an interior designer so I won’t delve deep into this but choosing an Arabesque tile pattern in a Victorian style home would likely seem out of place. Do your research and look at tons of photos to determine what you like.

3.                   What type of cement do I need to install tile?

What many people may not realize is that there are different types of cement specifically formulated to form a strong bond with certain types of tile and substrates. Selecting the wrong kind could lead to flooring losing its bond and beginning to pop-up.  This can be a very disheartening feeling when you notice the first one pop. Like most projects, the prep work is the most important part of the project. If the cement is wrong or if the cement boards have not been cemented down and adequately nailed or screwed to the subfloor, it won’t matter how straight your lines are and how pretty the tile is…it will fail.

Tips When Tiling a Floor

There are so many things to think about when planning your tile floor installation.

1.                   What if I’m tiling a floor that isn’t level?

While flooring can be laid on a non-level surface you may want to address the issues before you start. We worked in a room that had a severe slope of about two inches over a 20’ span that noticeably felt like you’re walk downhill. Fix problems like so that a year from now you don’t say “Man, I wish I would’ve fixed this before”. Trying to raise the floor after the fact will major failure.

2.                   What thickness cement board should I use?

When I was younger I thought the thicker boards were to provide more strength to the floor (if it needed it), while the thinner boards were just to provide a substrate.  I was wrong. They are both just to provide a substrate for the tile. The only reason you’d get thicker boards is to raise the flooring to a similar level as the adjacent floor (carpet, wood, etc.).

3.                   How do you secure the cement boards?

There are tutorials for this process so I won’t go into it but just makes sure you are using the appropriate cement and nails. To fasten it you’ll want to use galvanized ribbed shank roofing nails or galvanized screws. That way it doesn’t rust off and doesn’t back out.

4.                   Where do I start a tile floor?

This is the hard part is the planning process, in my opinion. What are the options when starting a floor?

                      First, where are your eyes natural drawn when entering the room?

                      Second, can you start with a full tile in the main doorway and work toward another door?

                     Third, if no viable option exists you may have to just find the center of the room and work from there.

Whichever option you choose, run a quick dry set and lay out tiles in a row & columns without cement to see where the cuts will be.

5.                   What if there is no wall to find a square angle?

Let me start by saying, a chalk line is your friend! No matter how good your eye is, being off the tiniest fraction of an inch adds up over a good length.  For example, having one side of a grout joint 1/32” crooked over a series of 32 tiles means your line will be 1” out of square. The ripple effect on the remainder of the floor can be disastrous…believe me.

Start by striking your first line that is running parallel to the wall. Once you know where the starting point is, place a mark on that line.  Then you’re going to use the Pythagorean theorem to find a right angle.  The measurements for this are 3’x4’x5’ or 6’x8’x12’, etc. Measure 4’ down that line and mark it VERY exact. Then use 2 tape measures and put the end on each mark while adjusting both tapes until the 3’ mark overlaps the 5’. Mark that spot VERY exact. Strike a line from the original dots to this new dot and it will be a perfect square angle…assuming you did it right.

Two tips, 1) it’s easiest to do this with 3 people but 2 or even 1 will work depending how creative you are at keeping the tape still, and 2) use the same side of the tape for your start and end point measuring (meaning don’t use the top edge on the starting mark and then overlap the other tape on bottom edge). Alternatively, you can buy a laser level like the one below (and linked here) to do the work for you.

If you are tiling a very large area I would recommend striking another parallel line to ensure you are still running straight when you get into an open area.

6.                   Can I use two walls to make a square angle?

I NEVER use two walls to find a square angle. Nothing against builders/framers but their specialty isn’t typically getting walls to be exactly perpendicular but rather within a margin of error. For that reason, I always use the method above to find my square.

7.                   How do I exit if I start tiling in a doorway?

Hopefully you have another doorway to work out of, but if not, you can start in the center of the door and work your way around the room in a sort of clock-like motion where you are starting in the front left part of the room, then tile the back left and then the back right and then the front right. This can be challenging and would not recommend it unless you strike multiple lines and ensure you are running VERY straight. Other wise you may have pinched or very wide grout joint on the last quarter of the room. At this point it’s too late to move the other parts of the floor.

Another option is to mark the tile furthest away from your dry set and use that as your starting point.

8.                   How do I tile around an island and line up the grout joints?

Without striking extra chalk lines to ensure you line up accurate you will NOT be able to do this.  It is critical that you measure and get lines on the ground to ensure all of tiles and running straight.  You can do this by figuring out where the first full tile will be on the other side of the island and striking a line from one end to the other.  For example, if the first full tile will start 48” away (which is easy to figure out by measuring the tile you just installed) then measure 48” off the last full tile on both ends of the island and then strike a line.

Lastly, every ½-1 hr take a step back and get a bigger look at your lines, grout joints, etc. to see how things look. When you’re 2 feet away from your work it’s hard to see the issues. Get up and take a look at the work, stretch your knees and keep going.


Identify Tools Needed to Tile a Floor

So, what tools are needed to tile a floor? I’ve tiled a floor with only 1 cutter before (manual rail cutter). It’s not ideal and I wouldn’t recommend it, but I’ve had lots of experience.


Below are tools that are either critical to the job or that I would highly recommend to make your life easier. There’s nothing more frustrating than spending an extra 2 hours of time with inadequate tools just to save $40 by not buying what you need.

I am not the seller of these products, however, I have used these or similar tools in my projects.

Critical Tools

Recommended Tools

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