Install Your Own Reliable Ceramic Tiles and Save Money

Reader Contribution by Staff
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Ceramic tiles make a terrific floor – durable, easy to keep clean, attractive and authentic. But none of these things matter if the grout starts to come loose and tiles start cracking. If this kind of trouble appears, you’re simply out of luck. There’s really no way to eliminate the problems permanently on a troublesome tile installation, and that’s why it’s so important to complete ceramic tiling jobs right the first time.

There are four basic steps to getting your one and only shot at ceramic tiling correct:

1. Proper substrate preparation.
This means an adequately stiff subfloor and, ideally, the use of an uncoupling membrane. If you’re installing tile over a wooden subfloor, you’ll also need to slake the thirst of the wood with just the right amount of water, too.

2. Choose and mix the correct thinset tiling mortar.
Generally speaking, there’s modified thinset mortar and unmodified thinset mortar, and the two are for completely different situations.

3. Trowel thinset mortar accurately.
Notched trowels are the tools used for this job, and the size of the trowel determines the amount of thinset mortar delivered to the surface.

4. Cut and install tile on the floor.
Tiles can be cut with a snap cutter or with a saw that spins a stationary diamond blade running in water. The snap cutter is quieter, since it’s a hand tool that scores the tile, then applies pressure along the score line to break.

I installed my first ceramic tile floors 20 years ago, using the best traditional mortar bed techniques available at that time. The results have held up very well, but I’d probably do things differently today. Those first tiling jobs were labor intensive to complete. A couple of modern developments make ceramic tile installation easier, faster and more likely to succeed.

To learn more detailed tricks for installing ceramic tile that’ll endure for a long, long time, check out my technical guide at It’s written for a contractor audience, but everything applies to DIY installations. The guide also includes a video link that shows all the details behind the best ceramic tiling jobs. Be sure to click on the link since it shows all the key operations you need to follow.

Contributing Editor Steve Maxwell has been helping people renovate, build and maintain their homes for more than two decades. “Canada’s Handiest Man” is an award-winning home improvement authority and woodworking expert. Contact him by visiting his website and the blog, Maxwell’s House. You also can follow him on Twitter, like him on Facebook and find him on . 

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