Tiling a Wall: A Step-by-Step Guide


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Preparing the wall, laying out the tiles, applying the adhesive and the tiles, and finally grouting the tiles are the four steps that make up the process of installing wall tile. Other than surface preparation and adhesive selection, which are both affected by the tile’s position, the rest of the process is rather consistent throughout all tile installations. Most contractors can handle installing tile for things like backsplashes, but for more complicated applications like shower walls or steam rooms, it’s essential to hire a tile contractor.

Collaborative Surface Preparation

In dry locations, drywall or plaster can be used as a base for tiling, but damp areas require cement backer board or cementboard. Cementboard does not deteriorate when exposed to moisture like drywall and plaster do. However, it is not waterproof (water and water vapour can pass through it). Create a spotless, level, and dry surface. Before mounting, sand the wall’s surface if it has been painted.

Setting Up a Plan

To begin tiling, locate the wall’s centre, and then use a level to draw two intersecting layout lines, one in each direction. Try laying a full horizontal row and a full vertical column of tiles along the lines to see how they suit the space. If the lines of the layout aren’t quite right, just tweak them. Keep in mind to test the plan with grout joints in place.

Picking an Adhesive and Using It

In dry areas, wall tile can be installed using pre-mixed mastic adhesive. Use a thin-set adhesive made of cement, as it bonds well to cement board and, like cement board, is impervious to water. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions when preparing the adhesive. Use a notched trowel to apply the glue to the wall, tilting the trowel at an angle of roughly 45 degrees to ensure that the adhesive furrows are all the same height. Take care not to cover up the layout lines with glue.

Fixing Tiles on a Wall

Align the initial row and column tiles with the layout lines, pressing forcefully and twisting them slightly to embed them in the adhesive. Take care not to shimmy the tiles into place. Tile spacers can be used to provide uniform grout joints between tiles. Most modern wall tiles feature integrated lugs that secure the grout lines for you. Tile the remaining walls beginning with the first row and column.

It is recommended that when tiling a shower or tub surround, an empty space 1/8 of an inch in width is left between the tile and the tub or shower base. If you are tiling an entire wall, including the floor and countertops, follow the same procedure. Caulk will be used to fill this hole, allowing the floor to flex as needed. If grout is applied here, it is likely to crack.

Modifying Ceramic Tiles

During the course of installing tiles on a wall, you will most likely need to trim some tiles down to size. Manual tile cutters and tile wet saws both work well for making clean, straight cuts in tiles. Curved cuts in tiles require tile nippers. When using nippers, you will end up with jagged edges that can be refined with 80-grit sandpaper. The combination of a drill and a tile-cutting hole saw can also be used to make a neat hole in the centre of a tile.

Assembly of the Ceramic Tiles

When the tile adhesive has completely hardened, you can proceed to the grouting step. Determine if you need sanded or unsanded grout by the width of your grout joints; unsanded grout is best for joints no wider than 1/8 inch, while sanded grout is best for joints wider than 1/8 inch. In order to grout tiles, any spacers need first be removed.

Grout should be mixed according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Use a rubber grout float to apply the grout and then press it firmly into the joints. To get rid of the excess grout, make a second pass across the tiles in a diagonal direction while holding the float at a very sharp angle. Use a grout sponge and clean water to gently scrub the tiles and grout lines. Once the grout has dried, you can remove any residual haze from the tile surfaces by rubbing them with a clean cloth. Finally, use silicone caulk made from 100% silicone to seal any remaining cracks or holes in the shower floor, tub, floor, or countertop.


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