LAYING FLOOR TILES

Summary: An easy to follow guide on how to lay floor tiles that you can use to lay any type of floor tile.

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This project includes the following topics:

Please note, the fixing of any permanent, or semi permanent floor covering will affect access to pipes and cables running under the floor. Please check that access to these cables etc is not required under building regulations and if it is make alternative arrangements for access.

The principle of laying floor tiles is the same whether they are quarry tiles or vinyl. Set out the room, apply the adhesive and lay the tiles, cutting around anything that stands in the way!

Our project can be used for all floor tiles, but the preparation for differing floor surfaces will need attention.

Tiling Over Existing Floor Coverings

We get many questions asking if is acceptable to tile over existing lino/vinyl tiles/quarry tiles. Good building practice comes up with the answer, NO!

You are relying totally on the perfect adhesion of the covering below and while your new floor make be stuck good and fast, if the one below is not 100% then you may have problems.

If you insist on doing it, then make sure that the original surface is absolutely stuck down, with no loose or floppy edges and no cracked tile. Prepare the surface well by scrubbing any grease or dirt, remove any loose or flaking material and hoover any dust. Scratch vinyl surfaces with a wire brush (an attachment on a drill is ideal). If you are applying vinyl to vinyl, use the adhesive straight onto the original surface.

If you are applying quarries to vinyl, then coat the vinyl with an undiluted coat of pva adhesive first. If you are laying vinyl on quarries you will need to smooth the floor with a self leveling floor compound (see below). If you are laying quarries on quarries, then a coat of undiluted pva adhesive is a good idea as well, and make sure the joints of the new tiles are staggered with the joints of the old. Please note we do not advocate any of the above applications and prefer to see a job started on "solid ground".

Removing Existing Tiles

To remove existing quarry tiles there is little option but to get stuck in with a hammer and bolster chisel. Wear good gloves and goggles, as splintered quarry tiles can be very sharp indeed. For the lazier amongst you (like us!) an electric chisel can be hired from tool hire centres...Please do not expect to have a perfectly flat floor when you have finished with one of these!!

To remove old vinyl tiles you need the patience of a saint and Herculean strength. It is, we believe, the worst job on the planet! A good floor scraper is a must, but even these do take a lot of muscle. Some tiles will "chip" up if you hit them close to the edge with a hammer and bolster. A hot air gun, applied gently to the adhesive, will loosen it and allow it to be scraped up as well.

With all floor tiling, it is a much better job if you can remove the skirting boards, lay the floor and then reinstate the boards. For one, the skirting will then hide any "not so perfect" cuts you have made, and secondly, the difference in height of your new floor, especially with quarry tiles, or vinyl bedded onto new plywood, will not hide any of the skirting board.

Timber Floors

Timber floors move a lot. Movement in the timber will cause tiles to crack at worst, and at best the grout will never stay in. Plywood should be laid over all timber floors before tiling, especially in bathrooms. The ply (Minimum 18mm thick) should be laid in large sheets, with long joints running at 90 degrees to the long joints of your existing boards or sheets, carefully marking out for obstructions and cutting around them. (See our scribing timber project). It should then be fixed to the existing boards, or better, through the existing boards into the joists at no less than 400mm centres in both directions. Use40mm number 8 screw, making sure each screw head is countersunk to finish flush with the surface of the ply. Proprietary, flexible tile adhesive should be used

For good adhesion, with all kinds of tile adhesive, it is then advisable to paint the ply with two coats of PVA adhesive, diluted with water at a 2 pva-1water ratio. Allow to dry completely when PVA has soaked well into timber.

Concrete or Screeded Floors

Concrete and screeded floors should be entirely free from dust and any flaking, or loose material. If the surface is not absolutely flat, with bumps and depressions, and you are laying vinyl, or other soft tiles, you will need to apply a self-leveling floor screed. This is bought in bags from builders merchants and some of the larger diy stores. It comes with a drum of latex liquid with which the powder is mixed to an easy flowing creamy consistency, in a bucket. The liquid is then poured onto the floor and pushed around with a plasterers trowel until it self levels, filling small depressions and leaving a perfectly flat, smooth surface.

It is not necessary to seal this surface and it gives excellent adhesion to all flooring adhesives. If quarry tiles are being laid onto concrete or screed, the adhesive will take up the depressions etc. Its is a really good idea to wash over the dry concrete and screed with a solution of 2 pva to 1 water and lay the tiles while the floor is still slightly damp. This will stop the moisture being sucked from the floor too quickly, which will stop the natural drying/adhesion. If a concrete or screeded floor is absolutely flat, vinyl can be laid directly onto it after two coats of the same pva solution.

Marking a Floor Plan

Most tiles are square, or at least, are rectangles with corners at 90 degrees! Most rooms however are far from square. Most have slight bows in the walls, some have pronounced bows. Internal corners are very rarely 90 degrees etc etc. This does not mean your house has been built badly, its all pretty normal!

To lay the tiles properly. it is necessary to mark out the room so that the tiles, at least, are laid square to each other. They are therefore laid completely independently of any walls in the room. The dotted lines in the diagram below represent the probable shape of the room. The easiest way to mark a line the full length of the room is with a chalk line; above left.

Floor Tile Laying Plan

Firstly, lay one row of tiles across the room. NO ADHESIVE YET.. Make sure the gap at each side is roughly equal. Using the diagram below, we would dry-lay tiles 1,7,8 etc and space the row out so that tiles 12 and 39 were roughly the same size. Then, dry-lay tiles 2 to 45, making sure that gaps 11 and 51 were even. Now mark, with a pencil or felt tip, the corner of tile 1, where it meets tiles 11, 12 and 13 onto the floor . This is the starting point of your square.

Floor plan with tiles marked out

Floor plan with tiles marked out

Now mark the line A----A down the room. This is best achieved with a chalk line which can be bought at most diy stores for a couple of pounds. It is a normal string line, contained in a plastic or metal cover, which also contains a coloured (usually red) chalk. The line is extended, held between two points tightly, lifted, then dropped onto the floor (like releasing a bow string). This will "ping" a straight line onto the surface.  Before "pinging" the line, make sure that the gap nearest the wall does not exceed a full tile and does not go under about 2 inches. If it does, move your position to accommodate a fairly even cut all the way down...This part of the job is a bit of a balancing act because you want the tiles to appear straight as you walk into the room, but (unless your room is shaped like a parallelogram) you want it to appear fairly even at the edge...One way to experiment with this, that is a little clearer immediately, is to find a long piece of timber and lay it down line A----A. This will give you a much better visual idea of how things will look.

When you have marked line A---A, dry lay tiles 1 to 6 again. Then using the diagram below, mark the cuts you will need for tiles 12 to 22. We always like to produce and lay the cut tiles as we go. Some people like to finish the main area of the floor, allow to dry etc, then come back and do the cuts...Cutting tiles of any kind is a tedious job and we prefer to finish a floor in one go.

Cutting in edging tiles up to skirting

Cutting in edging tiles up to skirting

The diagram above shows tile A dry laid, with tile B placed on top of it against the skirting board (or wall if the boards have been removed). A line is then drawn on tile A against the edge of tile B. This is the cut line. When cut, tile B replaces tile A and the cut from tile A will drop neatly into the gap. The same is repeated all the way down the wall..

Scribing the bow in a wall on to a tile

Scribing the bow in a wall on to a tile

If the walls have a pronounced bow as shown in the above diagram then a "scribing" method can be used to mark the tile. A batten is cut (say 1½ inch by 1 inch) and a measurement which is exactly the same as the width of a tile is taken from the end of the batten, to a hole which is drilled to accommodate a tight fit for a pencil or felt tip. The tiles are dry laid as shown, the end of the batten is held tightly against the skirting board or wall and, keeping the batten at 90° to the wall, it is pulled back along the tiles and wall. This will transfer the shape of the wall, to the tiles. When the marked tiles are cut, they lay against the wall and a full tile will fit into the space previously occupied by the marked tile.

Awkward cuts, around doorframes or architraves can be accomplished by cutting out a cardboard template first and transferring the shape to a tile. You can also but what is called a profile gauge. This is a bar, housing hundreds of plastic or metal needles. As the needles are pushed against the profile, they move back, leaving the shape of the profile which can then be transferred to the tile.

Forge Steel Profile Gauge

Forge Steel Profile Gauge

Follow the numbering on the diagram to lay your tiles, keep an eye on every joint making sure it lays square against the tile next to it. One the tiles get out of square, they are very difficult to get back. Use tile spacers if you are not sure that you can lay the tiles evenly.

When laying quarry tiles, do not be afraid to leave a good joint in between the tiles. Although you will use more grout, it is easier to apply and you will at least have a little room to manoeuvre when trying to keep the tiles square. Particular attention is paid to the tiles along line A. This is your setting out point and the effectiveness and quality of the whole floor depends on keeping to this line. Some tilers apply this line in the centre of the floor and lay tiles from that point. We find this irritating.

Laid tiles have to be stepped over to lay other tiles, and all of the tiles have to be stepped on to make the cuts. Once a floor is started, its good to get it finished and our method allows you to make the cuts as you go, work towards the door where you can escape without treading on newly laid tiles, and last, but by no means least, stack tiles in plenty of space, near to where you want them, without them getting in your way.

Cutting Tiles

(Also see our cutting tiles project for tools and advice)

To cut vinyl tiles you will sometimes see a tiler using a small blowlamp to warm the tile up first. This makes the tile easier to cut and stops the knife skidding across the surface. The same effect can be achieved with a hot air gun and you are much less likely to set fire to the tile!  A sharp utility knife is essential, with lots of spare blades. Make straight cuts against a metal ruler, and curved cuts in a series of short lines. Always cut away from your body.

Quarry tiles are cut using a proprietary tile cutter. Either hand-held or mechanical. Most quarry tiles these days are quite thin and a normal ceramic tile cutter, will do the job. For thicker tiles a quarry tile cutter can be hired from tool hire stores. It is the same as a mechanical ceramic tile cutter, but far more robust.

Floor Tiling Tools

Essential Tools for Tiling a Floor

Essential Tools for Tiling a Floor

Grouting Float 220mm x 100mm

Grouting Float 220mm x 100mm

Contractors Tile Cutter

Contractors Tile Cutter

The essential tiling tools detailed in the top image above are as follows:

  • A: Quarry tile cutter with sprung platform. The handle and blade are pushed along the tile, then the handle is pushed down. The tile breaks along the centre bar while the platform either side of the bar gives way.
  • B: Grout float which is used like a plasterers trowel, pushing grout into the gaps between quarry and ceramic tiles.
  • C: Carborundum stone, a compound of carbon and silicone, used abrasively for removing little burrs etc from the edge of cut tiles.
  • D: Tiling nips, sharp bladed pincers used for "nipping" shapes from quarry of ceramic tiles.
  • E: Tile saw, for cutting thin quarries and ceramics into shapes.
  • F: Heat gun, used to warm vinyl tiles and their adhesives.
  • G: Ceramic tile cuter, used for cutting thin quarry tiles and ceramic tiles.

The grouting floats in the image above are Notched trowels for spreading adhesives – (Adhesive combs)

Notched trowels are used to spread both quarry tile and vinyl tile adhesives for two reasons. With the end of the notches touching the existing wall or floor, moving the trowel around guarantees a uniform depth of adhesive. The void left by the notches, gives the adhesive room to move when pressing down on a tile to get it bedded well.

Adhesives and Grout

Most vinyl floor tile manufacturers will recommend a certain floor laying adhesive and its always best to use this wherever possible. Should any fault develop with the adhesion of the tiles and you have used an alternative adhesive, you may not have any comeback on the manufacturers. However, all proprietary vinyl floor laying adhesives have common properties with high adhesive qualities and are now available in solvent free form. Only spread the amount of adhesive for the tiles which you will easily lay in 10 minutes. When you have cuts to do, do not spread the adhesive in these areas, marking and cutting is much easier on "dry" floors.

Grout, for quarry tiles, comes in ready-mixed and powder form. We prefer to use the powder and it is easily mixed, in a bucket, in quantities that you can easily work with. Apply a liberal amount of grout to the tiles, then spread about, pushing into the gaps in a regimental way. Make sure each tile gap is filled as it will sink late if not. A grout trowel (above) can be used for this and in tight corners we prefer to use a sponge. When an area has been covered of approximately 3m x 3m, wipe off the excess grout with the sponge. Rinse out the sponge well in a separate bucket full of water (do not be tempted to use the sink, this will clog up in no time). Wring out to damp, and wipe over again...You will need to do this several times to remove all the excess grout from the surface of the tiles. Using newspaper can also achieve the same result, but you will use quite a lot of it!!

The grout will dry quite quickly, and you will (probably) find a very thin dust residue on the surface of your tiles. This can be polished off easily with a dry cloth.

Steps Between Floor Areas

Having raised the floor level in one room, it is obvious that there will be a step between that room and the room it abuts. This step will be the thickness of the ply sub-floor plus the tiles you have used. Proprietary hardwood moldings can be bought at diy stores to make this step into a gentle "ramp" making a nice tidy finish to your work.

Natural Stone Floor Tiles

Stone Flooring and Wall Tiles

There is no real substitute for natural stone. Stone floors are practical and easy to maintain. They will continue to look good and even improve with age. We can supply most types of natural tiles for floors and walls. Fixing natural stone is quite different to fixing ceramic tiles and is quite a specialised job, which should be carried out correctly by a qualified fitter to insure maximum effectiveness from your chosen stone.

“Did you know that a stone floor is proven to be healthier than carpets, eliminates the dust mites and adds value to your home?”

Marble

Marble is available in a selection of finishes offering a highly durable and attractive flooring surface for almost any application. Polished marble is very well suited for a formal setting such as an entrance hall, dining room or reception. A white marble such as Bianca Carrara will go very well in a bathroom. If a softer less formal look is required honed marble can be very effective.

Polished

As the name indicates the marble is given a highly polished surface. This, in the correct situation is fabulous but remember that it can show minute scratches over time

Honed

This is the stage prior to a polished surface and has a matt appearance. Often used for flooring as it is often considered easier to maintain.

Popular marbles

Shaw Stone for Nero Marquina marble

Nero Marquina

Shaw Stone for Crema Marfil marble

Crema Marfil

Shaw Stone for Rossa Alicante marble

Rossa Alicante

Shaw Stone for Carrara C marble

Carrara C

Shaw Stone for Crema Marfil Rosso Alicanti marble

Crema Marfil Rosso Alicanti

Granite

Granite is extremely hard wearing and can be used externally as well as internally. Polished granite looks fantastic and can be treated with a non-slip substance to prevent slipping when wet. The surface can also be honed or flamed to give it texture

The most popular size of granite for domestic applications is 30.5 x 30.5 x 1cm. These tiles are available in a wide selection of colours. Prices depend on the type of Granite, certain types are difficult to extract thus the price is higher than the more common types.

The use of Granite is almost limitless from a kitchen worktop to floors and walls offering an elegant and practical solution to many design issues.

Popular granites

Shaw Stone for Jasberg Granite granite

Jasberg

Shaw Stone for Supreme Black Granite

Supreme Black

Shaw Stone for Galaxy Grey granite

Galaxy Grey

Shaw Stone for Sunrise Granite

Sunrise

Limestone

Limestone tiles are a truly natural flooring option, it is a very popular material often used in kitchens,bathrooms, dinning rooms or even living rooms. Although the majority of limestones are beige in colour there are other colours available. For a more rustic look they can be antiqued.

Popular Limestones

Shaw Stone for Mirabelle Limestone

Mirabelle Limestone

Shaw Stone for Jura Beige Limestone

Jura Beige Limestone

Shaw Stone for Boisvillon Lime Stone

Boisvillon Limestone

Shaw Stone for Belgium Blue limestone

Belgium Blue Limestone

Travertine

Travertine marble tiles are a very dense form of Calcium Carbonate and although a Limestone, Travertine is more usually considered as a Marble. By its very nature Travertine has many voids in the surfaces that can be pre-filled using a coloured or clear resin or filled when laying using grout.

Filled or Unfilled?

We are regularly asked what does this mean. As we explained earlier one of the characteristics of this material is the voids on the surface. These can vary from literally pinholes to quite large irregular holes. Many prefer these voids to be filled during installation when the tiles are grouted however some tiles are available filled at the factory with Resin. These voids are the characteristic feature of this material and add character and variety to the tiles

Popular Travertines

Shaw Stone for Travertino Romano Classico

Travertino Romano Classico

Sandstone

Sandstone has a coarser texture than Limestone and is therefore well suited for non-slip areas such as around swimming pool or as path. It can be used internally if a more rustic look is required. Sandstone is often known as 'Yorkstone'.

Popular sandstones

Shaw Stone Pistachio Sandstone

Pistachio Sandstone

Shaw Stone for Morisca Sandstone

Morisca Sandstone

Slate

Slate is ideal for the kitchen. It two main finishes are Riven (simply split along the parallel cleavage) or honed (polished flat, smooth and matt). Available in many vibrant colours and not just the grey often associated with slate.

Popular slate

Shaw Stone for Black Slate

Black Slate

Shaw Stone for Montauk slate

Montauk

Shaw Stone for Oyster Slate

Oyster

Have a look at our video sections on how to tile bathroom walls and floors, how to tile a floor and general tips and hints on how to tile.

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