As with many things, including ceramic tiling, the final end result of a particular job or project will only ever be as good as the preparation that went before it.
In terms of preparation we are not just talking about cleaning surfaces down or removing dust and debris, but also taking the time to practice and prepare yourself for the job. With the right tools and knowledge you can carry out a tiling job you’ll be proud of!
Preparing Your Walls for Tiling
Remove any and all wallpaper and loose paint that may currently be covering the wall. The adhesion to the wall is only good if the tiles are actually fixed to the wall itself. 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 all walls down with sugar soap to remove any grease or grime that may be present. New plaster should be allowed to dry completely and then it should be sealed with a mist coat of emulsion before you begin any tiling. See our project on decorating new plaster for more information on this.
Absorbent surfaces can also be sealed with PVA building adhesive diluted as follows:
- 1 part adhesive
- 4 parts water
If you go down the PVA route and before you begin, you must make sure that any sealer ise completely dry before tiling is started.
If you already have tiles on the walls these old tiles do not necessarily have to be removed, see our project on tiling over tiles to find out how to do this.
If you have been involved in any major restoration works, you may have had electrical wiring moved around or pipe work run into chases in your walls, you will need to fill any and all chases made for fitting any type of concealed shower or any electrical wiring.
With the emergence of different methods and materials for covering a bathrooom, shower room, wet room etc…. you may have waterproof shower panels present. For help and information on tiling over shower panels, see our project here.
Again, make sure you have cleaned any and all walls of loose paint or other materials and that all walls have been sealed if necessary. Further information on using PVA as a sealer can be found on our YouTube channel.
For all the tiling products you will need to complete your project, click through to our tool store in the tools section at the base of this project page.
Choosing Size of Tiles for Walls and Floors
Porcelain and 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.
The first and possibly the most important thing to do is to put your spirit level on the wall in a few places to see how flat the wall is. If the wall is undulating (very wavy) you will need to reduce the size of the tiles to follow the curves on the wall.
It is essential that at the very minimum 85% of the back of your tile touches (and is fixed to) the wall or floor surface so if you put a big tile on a very wavy wall, it will only touch in a few places.
This means there will be a lot of air gaps behind the tiles. When the bathroom heats up, so do the walls. The air in the gaps behind the tiles then expands in this heat. The expansion loosens the adhesion on the tiles to wall and they become loose.
Also, with many gaps behind the tiles, drilling into them to fix items such as towel rails, toilet rill holders, bathroom cabinets etc becomes very difficult indeed as the vibration caused by the drill can easily crack the tile if it is not on a solid surface.
Choosing your tile design
The tile design and colour 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.
It is also worth considering 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 look very exiting. Look out also for tiles which are a colour match for modern bathroom suites.
When it comes to wall tiles sizes they are in most cases:
- 150 x 150mm (6 x 6 inches)
- 200 x 200mm (8 x 8 inches)
- 200 x 250mm (8 x 10 inches)
- 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 !
Do not be afraid to work out a different design for your tiles. They do not always have to be laid in boring rows and columns, get creative! Laying tiles on the diagonal or half-bond like brickwork can add a great deal of depth to a room
Working out Wall and Floor Tile Quantities
The easiest method of working out how many tiles you need is to use a wall and floor tile calculator. 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 this same process, you can 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 so do not deduct the entire area of the window.
As a rule of thumb, the head of a window and both reveals amount to about one-third of the window area so when measuring for tiles, work out the window area but only deduct two-thirds of this area from your tile quantities. A good tile calculator will do this calculation for you.
When you have a total for the whole room, add 10% to this figure, 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. During the tiling process, 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.
When you are measuring your room always measure the width and height in more than one place. The chances are that the walls are not completely upright and the floor and ceiling are slightly out of level. By measuring twice you can be sure you will order enough tiles for the area.
Adhesives and Grout to use With Ceramic Tiling
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, non slip 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 if not Using a Tile Calculator
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.
In this instance, the number of 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.
Tools, Adhesive and Grout
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 of these Irwin tile drill bits if you don’t already have a set.
How to Fix Ceramic Tiles to Your Wall
Firstly make a measuring gauge out of a piece of timber 18mm x 44mm about 1.8 or 2.4m long, marked out in exact tile widths including the spaces in between (around 2mm).
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.
Using a gauge rod to set out bathroom tiling
Laying Your First Course Method 1 – TileTracker from Suretile
There are two methods of laying the fist course of tiles in a completely level way. The standard method is by using a timber batten which is lightly fixed to the walls you are tiling. A new method is one introduced by Suretile and is called TileTracker
TileTracker is a simple system of dead straight aluminium bars set on adjustable legs. The bars are free standing, there is no need for nails or screws, the legs are adjusted really easily on free running threads and allow you to get the aluminium straight edges perfectly level all the way round the bathroom, a great solution!
They can be used on top of the bath to ensure a completely level row of tiles over the bath and there are 4 different sizes of bar to make sure you can start tiling anywhere in the bathroom.
Unlike using the batten method below, the walls do not need to be punctured when using TileTracker and this is a huge bonus if, for example, you have splashed out on a tanking system in your shower room. Puncturing this will immediately create a weak point for potential leaking.
Laying Your First Course Method 2 – Using a Batten Fixed to the Wall to get the First Line of Tiles Perfect
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.
How to Find the Mid Point of the Wall you are Tiling
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 any cut tiles. By measuring, 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.
Tiling perfect rows and columns of ceramic tiles
Drop a plumb line down the wall so the string touches the last mark on the horizontal batten. Make several pencil marks on the wall, directly behind the string line and join them together with a spirit level.
Loose-lay a few tiles into the corner formed by the batten and the vertical line to check that they sit squarely. Don’t forget the tile spacers.
Combing out the Tile Adhesive with a Notched Trowel
Tiling commences in the corner and working into the room. Follow the instructions supplied with the adhesive, spreading an area of about one square meter at a time, then comb it out (as seen in image below).
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.
How to Insert Tile Spacers Between Tiles
Tile spacers should always be removed after the wall is tiled. It is vital that the tile joints are absolutely full of grout to ensure the tiled wall is waterproof. If there is a big lump of plastic in the wall, this will not be the case!
Over time the grout will wear due to water constantly flowing over it etc…. Where spacers have been left in the wall, the grout covering them will be much thinner and thus if the grout wears in these areas then the likelihood of water penetrating into the wall is much greater.
Cutting Ceramic and Porcelain Tiles
The image below shows, from right to left, a contractors tile cutter, a hand-held tile cutter, a portable electric tile cutter, a table type tile cutter for cutting large tiles and a water cooled skill saw type tile cutter. These atre the main types of cutter and all are available from our tool store.
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 hand 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.
The other types of tile cutter shown in the image above should all be considered. The more accurate your cutting, the less wastage and the better quality job you will end up with. Even greater accuracy and neatness can be achieved by using the fine tile nips as shown below.
Sealing all Joints After Tiling
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 for more help with this.
The basic process involves inserting a tube of caulk/sealant into a caulking or sealant gun, you then screw on the nozzle supplied with the tube of caulk. With the nozzle screwed on, use a hobby knife to cut the nozzle down about a third of the way down at an angle.
Position the nozzle of the gun into the corner of the line to be sealed and squeeze the trigger until sealent flows. Gently pull the gun along your line, squeezing the trigger to get a nice smooth flow of sealant. Continue along the line until you reach the end.
Once you’re done, you will now need to smooth it out, this can be done one of two ways:
- Using a wetted finger
- Using a sealent smoothing tool
If using a finger, make sure you wet it first. This will prevent the sealant sticking to it and you ultimately dragging it all back out of the joint. Gently push your finger into the joint as you go to make sure that it is completely full.
Using a sealant smoothing tool is slightly easier and less messy. The tool will come with several different shaped sponge blades that can be used to create the asthetic finish to the sealent you desire. In this instance you will need to use the triangular shaped blade in order to push the sealant into the joints.
As with using the finger method, start in the corner and work your way along the line, applying pressure to squeeze the sealant and fill the joint. You will need to stop occationally and clean the excess sealant off the blade, use an old wrag for this.
Which ever method you have chosen, repeat the above until all your joints have been filled.
All project content written and produced by Mike Edwards