Ceramic Wall & Floor Tiling - How to Prepare Surfaces, Choose and Fix Tiles

Summary: Laying ceramic wall and floor tiles. Advice on preparing, choosing and fixing tiles. We also cover which tools you should use and how to use them to get a great finish with them.

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Everything about ceramic wall tiling and ceramic floor tiling is hugely popular on Diydoctor. Follow all the instructions below for the definative guide on ceramic wall and floor tiling.

Firstly fill all chases made for fitting any type of concealed shower. and check out instructions for tiling over waterproof shower panels

Choosing Tiles for Walls and Floors

Ceramic wall and floor tiles are made in a huge variety of colours, sizes and designs. Different styles and designs can be seen in all DIY Sheds and specialist tile shops.

Colour and design of tiles is a matter of personal taste so you will need to spend some time looking at different ranges to find the tiles that suit your eye. Look out for combination tiles. These are basically tiles with the same background colour with the majority used being plain but with decorated tiles in singles or sets of two or three. These tiles are used to form pictures or patterns on the wall and can be a much cheaper option than buying different types of tile to create the same effect. Some of these tiles are hand painted, then glazed and can make a tiled wall exiting. Look out also for tiles which are a colour match for modern bathroom suites. Wall tiles sizes are usually 150 x 150mm (6 x 6 inches) 200 x 200mm (8 x 8 inches) 200 x 250mm (8 x 10 inches) and 200 x 300mm (8 x 12 inches). As a general rule aim for large tiles in a large room and small tiles in a small room. This is partly for aesthetic reasons and partly for practical reasons. The larger the tile, the quicker it is to finish !

Working out Wall and Floor Tile Quantities

The easiest method of working out how many tiles you need is to measure the height of the wall or floor space and calculate how many of your chosen tile size will be needed to fit from floor to ceiling or over the floor space. Count any halves, or "bits" of a tile, as a whole one. Do the same for the wall width or floor width. Multiply the number required for the height by the number for the width and this will give you the total number of tiles needed for your wall or floor. Repeat the process for the other walls and using the same process to deduct for doors and windows where you will not be tiling but do not forget the "reveals" or window returns and any cills you intend to tile. When you have a total for the whole room, add 10% , that is add a further 10 tiles for every 100 that your calculations say you need. This is to allow for mistakes, breakages and to make sure you have some tiles of the same colour should any get broken later on. You should buy all of your tiles in one go, from the same place. Colour variations do occur with different batches and sometimes this is not noticeable until the tiles are on the wall. When you get your tiles home, open all the boxes and shuffle them around. This distributes any colour variations and makes them unnoticeable over the wall. Use plastic spacers when fitting the tiles to keep a uniform gap that is wide enough (usually 2mm) to allow you to force grout in.

Adhesives and Grout

The long term success of your tiling depends to a large extent on the adhesives you use to bond the tiles to the wall and you should always select the correct adhesive for any particular situation. For wall tiling work in bathrooms you need a water resistant tile adhesive. Water resistant adhesive is slightly more expensive than standard adhesive but do not be tempted to cut corners. All ceramic tile adhesives have full instructions printed on the containers and these should be followed to the letter. The spaces between the tiles are filled with a grouting compound and again, in a bathroom, this must be a water resistant grout. The grout can be purchased already mixed or in powder form to mix by hand. It is very easy to mix.

Ceramic Tiling Shopping List

Example: A wall 2.7m long x 2.2m high is to be tiled using 150 x 150mm tiles. Divide the wall height by the tile height. 2200 divided by 150 = 14.67 (15 tiles) Then divide wall length by tile width. 2700 divided by 150 = 18. Tiles required is 15 x 18 = 270. Add 10% (27) means you need to buy 297 tiles. Check the boxes for the number of tiles in each and get enough to match the number you need. Adhesive and grout containers state the coverage on the containers so check this out also before buying. A spirit level or plumb bob is required and a good quality tile cutter, either hand operated or electrical. Get the best you can afford as it makes the job so much easier and more pleasurable when you are not struggling with inferior equipment. Once you have completed your tiling it may then be necessary to fix items to the walls such as towel rails, toilet roll holders etc.... so you will also need a decent set of drill bits. Masonry drill bits will do the job but you are better off getting a set of ceramic tile drill bits - check out our review if you don't already have a set.

Preparation for Ceramic Tiling

Remove any and all wallpaper. The adhesion to the wall is only good if the tiles are actually fixed to the wall. Fixing to paper means that if the paper is not fixed well, or the tile adhesive dissolves the wall paper paste, the whole lot could be on the floor by the time you go to bed. Clean walls down with sugar soap to remove any grease. New plaster should be allowed to dry completely and then sealed with a mist coat of emulsion. See our project on decorating new plaster for more on this. Absorbent surfaces can also be sealed with PVA building adhesive diluted 1 part adhesive to 5 parts water. See our tool section below for PVA. Sealer must be completely dry before tiling is started. Old tiling does not necessarily have to be removed, see our project on tiling over tiles to find out how to do this.

For all the tiling products you will need to complete your project click through to our tool store through the tools section below.

Starting Your Ceramic Tiling

Firstly make a measuring gauge out of a piece of timber 18mm x 44mm about 1.8 or 2.4mm long marked out in exact tile widths including the spaces in between. You will be able to use this gauge to determine where lines of tiles start and finish and you will be able to avoid difficult cutting.

Diagram 1

Measuring a Gauge

Measuring a Gauge

starting batten

starting batten

To determine a starting point for tiling fix a perfectly straight length of timber to the wall horizontally with the top edge just over one tile height above the highest floor or skirting board level. Use a spirit level to check that the batten is truly horizontal. This batten, going the full width of the wall, will provide the level at which tiling commences, and will ensure that tiling lines are straight even though the floor may be uneven. Don't drive the nails fully home, they have to be removed later.

Diagram 2

mark the mid point

mark the mid point

Use your measuring gauge vertically from the fixed batten to check that at the top of the wall you are not left with a narrow strip to be tiled. Narrow tile strips are difficult to cut. If this situation arises then drop the horizontal fixed batten to leave roughly equal spacing at the top and bottom of the wall for cut tiles. By measurement find the centre point of the fixed batten (the centre point along the width of the wall). Mark this point on the batten. Use your measuring gauge horizontally along the batten to determine where the last whole tile will be fixed close to the end of the wall. Mark this point on the fixed batten.

Diagram 3

square battens

mark the mid point

plumb line

plumb line

Drop a plumb line down the wall so the string touches the last mark on the horizontal batten. Diagram 4 Make several pencil marks on the wall, directly behind the string line, then fix another batten vertically to the wall, along those marks. Diagram 5 Check that the batten is truly vertical with a spirit level. Loose lay a few tiles into the corner formed by the battens to check that they sit squarely.

Tiling commences in the corner. Follow the instructions supplied with the adhesive, spreading an area of about one square meter at a time, then comb it out. Diagram 6 Place the tiles firmly onto the ribbed adhesive with spacers set in between. Working sideways and upwards, complete the fixing of all whole tiles, then leave for about twenty four hours to dry. Remove the battens carefully, then cut tiles to fit around the perimeter. Where space is limited the adhesive can be applied to the back of the cut tiles instead of onto the wall.

combing adhesive

combing adhesive

The simplest method of cutting the wall tiles is to mark the glazed tile surface where it is to be cut then, with the help of a straight edge, score the surface with the tile cutter to break the glaze. Place the scored tile over a couple of match sticks or spacers, then press down either side to snap the tile. Pincers, pliers or a tile saw can be used to cut corners or curves out of tiles, to fit around projections. Again the surface should be scored, before the waste area is nibbled away. When tiling is complete and has dried for twenty four hours, all tile spacers should be removed, and all joints filled well with grout.

cutting tile

cutting tile

breaking tile

breaking tile

Joints between tiles and horizontal surfaces such as baths basins sinks and work tops, should now be sealed with silicone sealant to prevent moisture penetrating behind tiles. See our project on sealants, mastic and decorating caulke.

Take a look in our video section under tiling and watch a film on "bathroom tiles" to learn how to tile a bathroom wall and how to prepare for tiling.

For part two of this video click here

The third and final part of this informative video is here

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