How to Prep and Tile the Floor
How to prepare your floor before installing tile, the right way, and how to install floor tile. Everything you need to know!
Okay, so unfortunately, you can’t just slap some pretty tile down over linoleum or sheet vinyl and call it day. It just won’t work. Or if it does work, it’ll probably only last or look good for a little while- not forever. So let me show you how I did it… Hopefully, it’ll last forever. Or at least until I’m dead-then I won’t have to worry about fixing it.
The first thing I did was research how to prepare my floor to tile. I’m not a contractor, a carpenter or tiler, so I needed a little direction. I found some in this really awesome site called TheFloorElf.com.
Here’s the thing. He’s funny. Therefore, I listen.
The first step to making your floor awesome is removing the un-awesome floor. In my case, the ugly, puke colored linoleum. Yes, it’s not a typo- it’s puke colored. I’m a nurse remember? And anyone who has had a few too many pink lemonade vodkas on the 4th of July know the color of my linoleum. You know who you are..
Regardless of what color your linoleum is, it’s gotta go if you want some awesome sauce tile.
Rip it off. Mine came off really easy because of this… An example of what you do not want to find when you remove linoleum.
Yup…That appears to be a water damaged underlayment. I’m going to take you on a little trip through my feelings of the next half hour or so..
Oh crap. That’s water.
Oh crap. That’s water. Now what?
I better call Dad.
But before I called Dad, I decided that I better just take the underlayment off and see what the heck was going on underneath it. Then Dad and I could determine if a new subfloor was necessary. Yuck. Not what I wanted to figure out when all my pretty tile was queued up outside my bathroom. Plus, I’ve got a Cheap-o Budget to stick to!
This is how you take off underlayment easily and efficiently.
- Circular Saw
- Ear Protection
- Crow Bar
Your going to set your circular saw to the thickness of your underlayment- mine is 1/4″, so that is what I set my blade height at.
Cut a checker board grid into your underlayment. There is a ton of saw dust- I also made my smoke detectors go off a couple times from using the saw indoors. If you don’t want sawdust EVERYWHERE you have 3 options:
- Close the door and drape everything in plastic.
- Try to He-Man that junk off of your subfloor. Good Luck.
- Don’t tile the floor.
Once your checker board is cut, use your crow bar and pry the squares up. Super easy then and they come up clean.
So I had the underlayment up, let’s see what’s underneath…
Okay, so it’s obviously not the prettiest thing you’ve ever seen, but here is the awesome thing- it’s not wet to touch. All of the wood is nice and solid and there is no rot or mold. Phew. “But why is there water?” You ask… Well, I figured that out as well- the water stains all come directly from around the hole of the toilet- not only that, but the wax seal was basically non-existent. Apparently, those should be changed sometimes. Who knew?
Just to be safe, I put a fan in my tiny bathroom and let it dry/air out over night, just in case there was any moisture at all. I’m confident, it’s fine.
Now comes the worst job ever. Remove all the staples that were holding the underlayment down.
In retrospect, I wish that I would have tried to bargain with the Hubs, “You take out the 300 staples in the subfloor and I’ll change the next 30 poopy diapers.” I guess the good news is that I get to split the next 30 diapers instead of do all of them, but the bad news is I have to do it with about 5 blisters on my right hand.
Laying the Cement Backer Board.
- Cement Backer Board: Hardibacker, Durock, Wonderboard…. Your choice
- Universal Thinset- I used the same stuff that I used for my tile.
- Cement backer board screws- these are important! Don’t use any other kind of screws. Just ask the Floor Elf.
- Alkali Resistant mesh tape.
Now, you need to lay the cement backer board to give your tile a nice solid substrate to sit on. I installed it exactly the way The Floor Elf told me to. Remember, he made me laugh, so I listened.
Cut your backer board however you need it to fit into your room. I used a jig saw because I didn’t have any blades to score it and it worked great, but I did have to trash that blade after the job was done. Wear a mask, that dust is nasty and prolonged exposure can do some really bad stuff to you. Just read the label, it will give you nightmares and make you think that every cough is your last for the next few days.
Make sure to leave a 1/16″-1/8″ gap around your room and in between the pieces of backer board. This will allow for the movement of your home. The backer board won’t necessarily move, but anything wood in your house will- the joists, subfloor, etc. Give it some room to stretch.
Once you have it all cut in perfect puzzle piece fashion, leave it. Lift up one piece at a time and trowel some thinset to the subfloor, then replace the 1 piece. If you take them all off and try to do it at once- what happens when you get to the end and it doesn’t fit because you shifted 1/4″ to the left? That would be a downer. A real cry-it-out moment.
Your not done my friend. You need to screw that baby down. Not with just any screws, but specific cement backer board screws. You can buy them over by the backer board- don’t skip this, they are only like $6, just do it. Follow the instructions for your particular backer board for how far you should space them out- or if your like me, I just did it about ever 6 inches until you could barely see the board. Overbuild it and they will come.
Here’s something else that is kinda important- Start screwing down in the middle! Just like when you put the sticky, clear cover on your iPad, you need to start in the middle to press the air bubbles out right? This is the same principal here. Your pushing the bubbles out so your tile doesn’t pay the price later.
Now, you can take a break, get a cocktail or whatever, but at this point, I was tired of looking at this floor. Let’s put the rest off until tomorrow!
Yay! It’s tomorrow!! Isn’t it nice when everything is all wrapped up in 30 minutes and everyone is happy like on an episode of Friends? This is just like that!
Okay, so if you haven’t tiled before, I encourage you to take a look at my Tips for Beginners post. It will give you a little insight on the stuff your going to need for the job. Although, for this tile, I didn’t need to use my tile-saw, just the cutter and nippers.
Before thinking about getting messy, you need to dry fit your tile in your space- just like you did the backer board. It will save you headaches later. Promise.
Since you have the backer board down and screwed in so nicely, you need to cover the gaps just like you would dry wall. The Floor Elf told me to get “Alkali Resistant” mesh tape so that the thinset doesn’t break it down over time. So I did. To use it…
Adding Alkali Resistant Mesh Tape.
You can apply the mesh tape while you are tiling, just cut a piece off the same size as your seam and stick it on there. Then use the flat end of your trowel to mud it and close the seam. Easy Peasy. At the same time, I just made sure all of my screws were nice and flush- It was like 10pm when I was installing the backer board and I was tired. A few were a bit high, but screwed right down without a problem.
Laying the Tile.
Using your V-notch, spread the thin-set on the backer board and get to work laying your tile. Since mine came in the 12″ x 12″ sheets, it was so easy. I didn’t use any spacers because I was cool with just eyeballing it. The tile was super forgiving and easy to work with, I just used my tile cutter and nippers to cut to size around the edges and the toilet hole. Here’s mine sans grout-
Pretty, but about to get a whole lot prettier. After the 24 hours of waiting that is.
Grouting is simple, I used Mapei Sanded Warm Gray to match the kitchen grout. Love that color. Sanded because the grout lines are larger than 1/8″. I also grabbed a bottle of Grout Boost because I didn’t want to have to seal it later. The grout boost allows you to mix it with the grout in place of water and it does the sealing job for you. Freaking awesome. But later, I can always make the kids seal it with the little bottle and wheel if they need a consequence… Child labor rocks.
Mix up your grout to peanut butter consistency– I use a cheap-o wooden spoon and a bucket. I’ve read that you shouldn’t necessarily use a mixer if you don’t need to because it puts more air into the mix making your grout weaker in the long run. I mix a small amount at a time and find this method fine. Don’t forget to let it slake (go get another cocktail and don’t touch it) for about 5 minutes, then mix it again for a couple more minutes. Plop some on the floor, use your rubber grout float and go to town smooshing it into all the little nooks and crannies. Use that float to get off as much from the tile as you can so that wiping it off is easier later. Scrape in a diagonal fashion so that you do not scrape the grout out of the cracks. I proceeded in such a way where I started right in front of the door, moved to the back left side, then the right, sort of hopping around my room so when I was done grouting I could just start back at the beginning-sponging right away.
My Method for Sponging.
It’s always nice to have a buddy for this. If you don’t, it’s okay, but it’s going to be super awesome if you have two buckets, one of them being a five-gallon.
Bucket #1: Get sponge wet and wring out completely so that there is no excess water.
- Wipe tile in this fashion– 1 swipe with each end of rectangular sponge on first side, then each end on second side, giving you 4 swipes before you need to clean it.
- Rinse in Bucket #1.
- Continue this way 1-2 more times, then use The 5 gallon bucket, but only fill about 1/4 of the way.
- When 5 gallon is dirty, dump Bucket #1 into it and fill Bucket #1 with clean water.
- Continue dumping the dirty water from Bucket #1 into the 5 gallon until your finished. This will make it so much easier since you can’t dump the dirty grout water down the drain. This allows you to deal with the dirty grout water after you’ve finished your floor and had a couple celebratory cocktails.
Here is the really hard part- Don’t mess with your floor for a day or so and don’t even think about getting it wet for at least 3 days! And that is only if you choose to use the Grout Boost- if you don’t use it, then don’t get it wet for at least 10 days!
So there ya have it. Tiling the floor really isn’t that difficult. Yes, it can be intimidating, but don’t let that tile boss you around- or better yet, don’t let that ugly linoleum laugh at you because you got bullied by the tile and it made you cry.
Remember the 3 T’s of bully defense… Talk. Tell. Tackle.
Now it’s time to tackle the crap out of that tile and own it.
Complete List for this project:
- Tile tools- See Tips for beginners for tiling tools.
- Circular Saw, Crow-bar, and pliers (for staples) to remove underlayment.
- Universal Floor/Tile Thin set.
- Cement Backer Board
- Cement Backer Board Screws
- Alkali Resistant mesh tape.
- Sanded grout if grout lines are larger than 1/8″
- Grout Boost- recommended.
- Face Mask- not like a “Scream” mask, one that will actually keep your lungs clean.