Tile is a lovely, long-lasting flooring choice—given that it is installed properly. If the process is not executed correctly, there are increased risks for cracking, mildew, and other complications. It is important to be aware of the installation process to ensure it is done right the first time. The process may differ depending on the type and size of tile being installed, but there are some important steps taken in most tile flooring projects.


Clearing the room. Move any furniture or appliances out of the installation area. The installer might also have to trim door casings or remove baseboards or molding to ready the area.

Subfloor and substrate. The existing subfloor should be inspected for levelness or cracks. Once the subflooring is suitable, it’s time to put in the substrate, which is the base placed under the tile. The type of substrate depends on the type and size of the tile. For example, the substrate for stone tile is often different than that of ceramic tile, and large-format tiles over 12 inches might need self-leveling underlayment. Whether or not the tile is placed in water-prone areas like bathrooms and kitchens could also affect substrate materials. It’s wise to research what materials, such as cement backer board or uncoupling membranes, should be used. A professional tile installer will be able to guide you through your options and choose the best material for your tile.


Tools. Measuring tools—straightedge, carpenter’s square, tile spacers, and chalk lines—will be used for determining the proper layout for the tile. Cutting tools like a snap cutter, wet saw, and tile nippers will also be necessary, and a notched trowel and rubber float will be used for the mortar and grout.

Measuring. Measuring for the layout of the tiles is a critical step in ending up with a symmetrical, aesthetically pleasing arrangement. The floor won’t look balanced with whole pieces at one wall and cut pieces at the other, so tiling typically begins from the measured center of the room and is laid in rows outward to the walls. The goal is to eliminate tiny pieces on the edges. A dry run of placing the tiles can avoid headaches during the actual installation.


Installers often work in easy-to-manage sections, repeating the process of applying mortar and laying tiles until the room is complete. It’s common to start from the center of the room and work outward. Make sure to avoid stepping on the tiles until the mortar has set.

Adhesive. Thinset mortar—the adhesive between the tile and the substrate—is suitable for most tile installations. It is applied using a trowel with notches the size of a tile’s thickness. Combing the mortar with these notches creates grooves in the mortar to improve adhesion.

Laying tile. Once the mortar is down, it’s time to lay the tile. The tile should be set down according to the measured plan, using a straightedge as a guide. The installer should gently set each tile down on the mortar and then, with fingers outstretched, slightly twist the tile as it is placed.

Cutting tile. Once all the whole pieces of tile are installed, the edge pieces will need to be cut and placed. A wet saw produces the cleanest cuts, so it is best for edges visible to the eye or for thicker tile. A snap cutter may be sufficient for cuts hidden under molding, and tile nippers are useful for corners or rounded cuts.

Drying time. The drying time for the mortar depends on the type used. For installations with thinset mortar, 24 hours will suffice, but for others, longer may be necessary.

Grout. A professional tile installer will help you determine the correct color and type of grout to use, like sanded or unsanded, and the proper process for your type of tile. For a stone installation, the stones should be sealed prior to grouting, but with ceramic tile, grouting can begin after the excess thinset is scraped off. After preparing the tile surface, a rubber float is used to spread the grout and push it into the joints. After the grout dries slightly, the tiles can be wiped down with a damp sponge and the process repeated until no more residue remains.


Sealing. Sealant can make grout more resistant to staining and water damage. Sealing is a relatively simple process, so a professional tile installer may leave the sealant with you so that you can seal the grout after the floor has cured for several days. Dab the sealer onto the grout with a small brush or similar tool, and follow the product’s instructions regarding additional coats and drying time.

Reassembling the room. All the molding and baseboards can now be replaced. It may be necessary to cut door bottoms if the floor level has been raised. You may also consider installing transition strips between different types of flooring.

As you can see, there are many details to consider when installing tile; a professional tile installer knowledgeable in proper techniques can ensure that your floor turns out both durable and beautiful.

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Sources: EBSCOhost: Laying the Groundwork; HGTV; This Old House.

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