6 Most Common Mistakes of Tiling and How to Avoid Them

A diy-er measuring tile with a ruler and pencil.

A new set of tiles can transform the interior of your house, giving it a sophisticated new look. But there are several common snags that you should be wary of before diving headfirst into your tiling project. The process of laying tiles is a meticulous, labor-intensive task that should be approached with caution, technique, and foresight. One small installation misstep can be detrimental to the overall success of the project. The following six-step guide will help you navigate your way around the potential pitfalls of tiling.

1. Not Planning Ahead

When it comes to tiling, the popular Nike slogan ‘Just Do It’ definitely does not apply. Every tiling project has its own unique challenges to take into consideration. Before you get started, spend time researching materials and mapping out a plan that will suit your circumstances. This checklist will help you plan ahead:

Determine whether tile or stone is suitable for your application.

Check if the stone needs pre-sealing on the back before laying.

Ensure that the stone isn’t moisture-sensitive, as it may curl after laying.

Confirm accessories, grout, trims, and fittings. Then confirm it a second time.

2. Failing to Keep Things Watertight

A close-up of water droplets on a tile floor.

One of the biggest concerns when tiling is waterproofing. If you get this part wrong, you’ll be paving your way towards expensive repairs and possibly irreversible structural damage down the track. The first thing you should check for is ponding. If water settles and collects on your raw floor surface, you’ll encounter drainage issues once the tiles are laid.

Once you’re confident that your floor is level, spend time investigating which glues are compatible with your chosen tiles and stick strictly to the specified curing times. If you use dark or bitumen-based products, assess the risk of staining or bleeding. Before tiling, ensure that shower tap bodies and bath spouts are sealed. You might be in a rush to get things done, but don’t start tiling until the waterproofing is complete and dry.

3. Not Ensuring Structural Integrity

Efflorescence is a crystalline deposit that sometimes appears on the surface of masonry, stucco, or concrete. As water evaporates from porous tiles, salts migrate to the surface and form a whitish coating. Builders have struggled with this problem for years. On porous construction materials, efflorescence may simply present a cosmetic problem, but sometimes it indicates internal structural weakness. To avoid efflorescence in external tiling, use a membrane over the tiler’s screed. Before laying the tiles, ensure that subterranean water is able to drain. When tiling external stairs, install water stop angles nosing back from the top of the stairs. Also, make sure that all tiles and joints are sealed to limit rainwater entry.

4. Not Sharing a Design Vision

A DIYer laying tile on top of adhesive.

Tiling is almost never a cut-and-dried case of fitting a neat number of tiles into a perfectly square space. Even when you follow the simplest pattern, you must find solutions for edges, corners, and trim. If you’re working with a builder, make sure you thoroughly discuss the tile layout before the project begins. Never assume that the builder’s vision matches yours. Communicate to ensure that you are both on the same page. If you’re laying the tiles yourself, consider the following basic rules:

Use full, uncut tiles at entry areas where possible.

Avoid small tile cuts wherever possible.

Check that the falls on your floors will be adequate.

Before applying adhesive, lay out some dry tiles to preview the finished floor.

Use all tiles from the same batch for each separate area.

5. Starting with a Dirty Slate

Before any tiles come into contact with your raw surfaces, ensure that everything is clean, dry, and not contaminated by curing compounds or release agents. The best way to test your surfaces is to sprinkle water on the concrete—if it doesn’t soak in and leave a mark, the surface needs further cleaning or scabbling. You don’t get a second chance to prepare your surfaces, so make sure you get it right the first time. Prime your wallboards according to the manufacturer’s instructions and check your substrates for soundness, trueness, and deflection.

6. Failing to Follow Adhesive Rules

Don’t be slap happy with adhesives when you are tiling. Different tile types have different adhesive requirements. If you want your tiles to stay put, stick to the relevant rules. Adhering large tiles directly to fiber cement sheets or particleboard is problematic, as tiles sometimes crack over joints. Also, avoid tiling over existing tiles unless surface preparation and adhesive are approved, and the old tiles are sound.