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Tiling DIY Tips

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Tiling DIY Tips

by Pietro Scalise

Throughout the ages man has endeavoured to create living spaces that are both durable and beautiful. Ceramic tiles have been used to this end for the past 4000 years and although once only reserved for palaces of kings and places of worship, tiles are now available to all allowing functional and attractive finishes to complement any décor. The following is a guide packed with tips and tricks that will ensure your next tiling project will be as successful as the tiling of the ancient Romans in their villas.

Shopping for tiles is the biggest challenge for any DIY enthusiast interested in a tiling project and, if colours and shapes weren’t enough of a quandary, there are very important selection criteria one needs to observe.

Types of tiles at a glance

Pressed tiles are by far the most common and can be of the mono-cottura type, where the tile is fired at higher temperatures and hence the body of the tile is more impact resistant, or the bi-cottura variety for finer or more decorative glazes on the surface of the tile. The vitrified or porcelain tile has the colour right through the body of the tile and is almost non-porous.

Extruded tiles are often referred to as quarry tiles. The wet clay is extruded into shape then fired to produce tiles that are less dimensionally consistent than pressed tiles and ideally used for rustic effect or for exterior settings. Cotto or terracotta tiles are also extruded and can be very porous so regular maintenance is essential.

Stones available as tiles can be marble, granite, limestone, travertine, quartz-based and slate.

Wall Tiling Tips

Full tiles are placed at higher elevation since they’re more pleasing to the eye therefore cut tiles are kept at the bottom of a wall. To this end, use a spirit level to find the lowest point of the floor on all walls the place a tile at this point and mark the wall against it and around the walls using a spirit level. Nail a horizontal batten on this line.

Find the centre of the wall’s width and mark a vertical line using a plumb bob. As a trial, place a row of tiles on the horizontal batten and adjust them so that equal cuts of the tiles are made at both sides. The vertical plumb line will have to be re-marked on the wall following any adjustments. Always begin tiling from this centre line making sure the initial tiles are fixed correctly.

Most tiles at floor level will have to be cut. As soon as the floor tiles have been laid and wall tiles have set, the horizontal batten can be removed and this last row of wall tiles fixed in place.

A few hours spent thinking and experimenting by placing “dry” tiles against a wall before spreading any adhesive will greatly determine the ideal finished look.

Always start tiling at the bottom keeping in line with the vertical plum mark on the wall. Use a notched-trowel adhesive spreader designed for ceramic tiles spreading in horizontal strokes about one square metre of adhesive at a time pressing each tile firmly into the ribs of the adhesive. It is a good idea to check the levels every few rows of tiles with a spirit level; to wipe away any adhesive that has come in contact with the face of the tile with a damp cloth and to pull away a tile every so often to make sure you have 80% or better coverage of adhesive.

Grouting can commence after the tile adhesive has been allowed to dry for 24 to 36 hours. Dampen the grout joints with a sponge; mix the grout into a thick consistency and apply with a rubber grouter in a diagonal motion. Remove the excess grout from the tiles and allow it to become slightly powdery then polish the surface with a damp sponge and finish off with a dry cloth.

Floor Tiling Tips

The easiest method of setting out a floor to be tiled is to first assume that the floor is out of square. This will force you to make your set-out a lot more accurate. Find the centre of two opposing walls and snap a chalked string line between these marking a line across the floor. Lay “dry” tiles on the floor at right angles to this centre line right up to one of the wall. If the end tile abutting the wall is less than half a tile width then move the centre line sideways to allow an end tile that is at least half its original size.

Now draw a line at right angles to this centre line. There are a number of ways to do this and one is to select two points (a and b) along the centre line and using string and a pencil as a compass, from each of the two points draw an arc that is slightly more than half the distance between a and b. You will have two new points where the arcs cross on either side of the centre line. Draw a line between these two points. At right angles to this new line lay “dry” tiles. Make sure you’ll end up with tiles that are more than half their width at either end but keep in mind that full tiles are ideal at entrances to a room. Adjust this second centre line as necessary and mark on the floor.

Mark the line of whole tiles adjacent to the walls then nail two straight battens to the floor against the two walls at 90 degrees to each other. You will start laying tiles from the farthest point in the room towards a door. Check the angle that these battens make to one another; it needs to be 90 degrees precisely. A trick is to measure three units (feet or metres) from the corner along one batten and four units along the other. Measure the diagonal between these two and it must be exactly five units else there is an error and your tiling work will not work. Dry-lay a square of tiles as a final check.

Work from the farthest point in the room towards the door! As with wall tiles, the norm is to apply adhesive to the floor when fixing whole tiles and to butter the back of cut tiles before fixing them in place. Work from a corner and along both battens first then fill in working in squares. Adhesive on surface of tiles must be wiped off promptly with a damp sponge and check alignment frequently with a spirit level. Work in squares towards a door fixing all the whole tiles first. Leave the adhesive to dry for 24 hours or as per manufacturer’s directions then remove the perimeter guide battens and tile the cut margin tiles. Remember that the bottom row of wall tiles have to be affixed over the perimeter floor tiles.

Easy! Just remember not to carry out any tiling work when the air temperature cannot be maintained above 5 degrees C during installation and to check the substrate temperature and tiling materials including tiles before tiling – if these are above 40 degrees Celsius then leave the tiling for another day.

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