Installing Ceramic Tile 101

Lead Image
  • 4-24 hours
  • Intermediate
  • $100-160
What You'll Need
Ceramic tiles
Backing or foundation
Adhesive or thinset
Rubber mallet or hammer and block of wood
Long piece of wood

Installing ceramic tile greatly transforms a room. If you plan on doing a home installation yourself, there are numerous installation guides available to help with your project. This article lays out the basics, but installing ceramic tile may involve extra steps depending on the kind of tile, size, and foundation underneath your installation area.

Before You Install

Installing ceramic tile differs depending on whether you plan to install it directly onto a wood surface, over vinyl or linoleum floor covering, or directly to a concrete slab. Tile experts discourage installing ceramic tile directly to a wood surface. You’ll need to install a sub-floor first. The same sub-floor is required for ceramic tile over vinyl or linoleum floor coverings. If installing ceramic tile directly to concrete, make sure you thoroughly clean surfaces before installation begins. Fill in any dips, cracks, waves, or bumps in the concrete.

Step 1 - Lay Out Room

Lay out the tile pattern on the floor before applying adhesive. Use a chalk line to snap a line perpendicular to the room’s length. Do larger tiles first, and then border tiles. Place tile spacers between the tiles. Next, place a long 1-inch thick piece of wood perpendicular to the tiles, securing it with a screw gun. Lay tiles going across the room next to the board in both directions. Be sure to use spacers between the tiles. Once you’ve laid out the tiles, check spacing and shift tiles to achieve balance in the room. The line where tiles intersect the wood board is the point where you’ll snap a second chalk line. This is your starting point for installing the tiles.

Step 2 - Lay Tiles

With a notched trowel, apply a 2 inch square of tile adhesive in your starting corner, using spacers between tiles and a level to ensure they’re flush. Use a rubber mallet (or hammer and block of wood) to nudge tiles down that are too high. Work across and down the entire room. Allow adhesive to set overnight.

Step 3 - Apply Grout

Make cuts and work on installing ceramic tile borders. Cut border tiles with a glasscutter or tile cutter. For more complex cuts, use a tile ripper or tile saw. Mix grout per manufacturer’s instructions and apply at a 45-degree angle. Wipe off excess grout with a sponge. Once your grout sets up, go back over to clean off any remaining grout. Allow grout to cure for a full week before applying clear sealer.

Step 4 - Replace Molds

The final step is to replace base moldings and furniture. Installing ceramic tiles is just that easy.