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Tile Installation Overview

There is something very rewarding about a renovation that goes beyond the emotion one experiences when acquiring a new piece of furniture or art for the home. A successful remodelling project can transform your lifestyle and revitalize your perspective. Canadians love to renovate; every year, over thirty percent of homeowners engage in a project. Virtually every complete interior home renovation involves the use of tile. Whether it is new construction or a renovation project with tiles, doing it properly is paramount to us. Although Tilemaster does not offer a professional installation service, we care about your projects and can assist you to make them a success.

A Brief History of Tile Setting

The earliest known tiles were set in mixtures of mud and clay. During the next few thousand years many different ingredients were used to make what is called "mortar". Sand, lime, gypsum, bitumen, plant resins, volcanic ash and even sticky rice were some of the components that made mortars. The Romans famously developed superior lime-based mortars and concrete using volcanic ash as a key ingredient. In the early 1800s, Portland cement was introduced and it soon revolutionized the construction industry. Tile setting methods, however, didn't really change much until the 20th century. Tiles were set into thick mortar beds on both floors and walls, and it required substantial skill and patience. Since the introduction and wide acceptance of "thin-set" tile mortar, plywood subfloor and drywall panels in the 1960s, tile setting has become much easier. As well, many new ideas and solutions have led to the introduction of great products such as anti-fracture and waterproof membranes that make tile installations technically better. Historically, tile setting was considered an important and esteemed craft. If you've ever visited or seen pictures of the Duomo di Siena cathedral in Florence and its magnificent marble floors, or the mosaic tiles at the Wat Xieng Thong temple in Luang Prabang Laos, or the St. Petersburg Mosque and the Hermitage Museum in Russia, you'll marvel at the outstanding workmanship and wonder how they were able to do it so well. Even some of Canada's mid-century bathrooms, sometimes decorated in pink and black 4-1/4" tiles and mosaic floor tiles, are great examples of excellent tile work. We hope that, today, resourceful do-it-yourselfers and professional tradespeople will undertake tile installation with the same diligence.

What Makes A Proper Tile Installation

Begin with a design plan - the visual details

There are many styles of laying patterns with one format; when using two or more formats, the possibilities multiply considerably. A "Versailles" modular pattern using four sizes of tile is an example. Stacked rectangular tiles in a horizontal orientation on the wall, not in a brick pattern, give a modern and serene impression. There are also many linear arrangements for floor tiles of two sizes, for instance. Adding a border of complementary mosaics or a feature wall completely tiled with glass mosaics are popular considerations that enhance the room.

Besides the choice of tile and the pattern, another important detail to determine is the arrangement of the tiles, also called the layout. This part of the job is usually decided at the time of installation. There should be a certain reason and orderliness behind the tiles' placement, instead of just starting against a wall with a full tile. Try to center the layout on the big wall in a tub surround or, for a floor, center it with something in the room such as French doors. Avoid layouts that result in small pieces at junctions and transitions, especially if the tile is very big such as a 24"x24" tile. Additionally, try to plan the layout so that you don't end up with impossible cuts at door jambs, heat registers, plumbing fixture openings, etc. Spending time on this task in the beginning will save time later and produce a better tile job.

Another consideration in the design process is the inclusion of trim and other elements that become part of the tile finish. Where the tile ends, there could be a finished length of trim such as an anodized aluminum Schluter tile profile moulding or, in the case of the top of a tile wainscot, a solid marble moulding. If there are outside corners on a wall or window openings and niches, many types of Schluter trims are suitable to finish it. Where a tile floor transitions to another covering you can use various types of Schluter trim, a marble threshold or a custom wood sill to match hardwood floors and provide a smooth passage. For walk-in showers, many people like to use stone or engineered marble jambs and sills to trim the door opening and cap a half wall and curb. We offer two types of polished marble jambs and thresholds and also six colours of polished engineered marble jambs in 76" lengths. Waterproof wall niches are a popular design feature in bathrooms today. We have in inventory several sizes of ready-for-tile niches that are already waterproofed as well as stainless steel niches that are sleek and modern and easy to install. These compartments become part of the installation and convey a smart look. A shower seat is yet another luxury item that can easily be incorporated into the bathroom tile design.

One design element that can dramatically affect how the tiles look is the selection of grout colour. For instance, using a white or very light grey grout with a 3"x6" white "subway" tile creates a subtle appearance whereas the use of a slightly darker grey grout will impart a more defined style. Both options can be attractive; it is important to select the grout carefully. Furthermore, the size of the grout joint is also an aesthetic component that deserves some thought. Rectified tiles, tiles that have had its edges cut precisely at the factory after they are fired, usually look great with a 2 to 3 millimeter joint, as do many wall tiles. Natural edge floor tiles can be set with a 4 to 5 millimeter space between them. Traditional handmade products, such as Mexican Saltillo clay tiles, must have bigger joints.

Substrate preparation - under the tile

Unlike 100 years ago, when there were really only one or two universally approved techniques, today there are numerous ways to set tiles. The end result may appear similar regardless of what is underneath the tiles but the methods and materials employed are of utmost importance for a proper tile installation. The substrate is the underlying structural layer and can pertain to both walls and floors. There are countless types of underlayment and setting materials on the market today, all of them intended for the goal of obtaining a stable and long-lasting tiled surface. If the subfloor is a flat concrete slab then it may be ready for tile. Similarly, if the job is a kitchen backsplash and the substrate is clean, flat drywall. For all other cases, some preparation work is in order. Concrete slabs as in a basement, for example, are often not flat. Sometimes it is decided by the homeowner to just conform to the undulations in the slab with the tiles. To some degree, this may be acceptable. Ideally, the surface to be tiled is prepared to be 100% flat and level. For most people it has to appear that it is. There can certainly be a happy medium in between.

To correct a slab that is deemed to be unacceptable and not ready for tile, a few approaches can work. The high spots can be ground down, high-performance patching and self-levelling mortars can be applied or a traditional mortar bed can be installed. Very large tiles can often be set with medium bed tile mortar over a slightly wavy slab, taking care of the levelling in one step while setting each tile. To achieve flatness on wood-framed subfloors, most of the same procedures apply. Walls should ideally be flat too, and plumb. Out-of-plumb and uneven frame-construction walls can be corrected by shimming the existing studs or by affixing new framing members to the old ones prior to installing the wallboard or by floating them out with mortar.

Single layer plywood and oriented-strand-board (OSB) subfloors always require the use of an underlayment before tiles are set. These subfloors can be optimized as a substrate by installing an anti-fracture membrane such as Schluter Ditra. Concrete slabs can also benefit from the use of Ditra; with this membrane on concrete or on a wood subfloor, stress on the tile finish is minimized and the chance of moisture migration and efflorescence (sometimes attributed to concrete slabs) affecting the tiles is eliminated. Many types of underlayment for wood subfloors are available such as cement board, plywood, self-levelling mortar and traditional mortar beds. Wood plank subfloors from the old days require a strong layer of plywood before other preparatory work begins. In renovations, sometimes it is possible to install tiles over existing tiles with the use of an adhesion promoting primer that is especially made for the tile industry.

In preparing showers that are to be tiled, special considerations are necessary. Moisture management is the goal to ensure an easy-to-maintain shower that lasts. Just like floor underlayment types, there are so many waterproofing and shower systems on the market today that it can be quite confusing. The best tiled showers use an impervious membrane on top of the substrate directly under the tile. These can be in the form of a sheet membrane, trowel-applied cement-based and roller-applied liquid membranes as well as polystyrene-core panels. Square drains and linear channel drains in many finishes are available at Tilemaster. These stainless steel drains include a bonding flange that connects to the waterproof membrane to create a system that keeps moisture out of the substrate. Linear drains are a great solution when a barrier-free shower is desired or when the design plan demands that large format tiles continue from the bathroom floor into the shower.

One item that is becoming increasingly affordable and is installed during the preparation work is luxurious in-floor heating. NuHeat is available in the form of electric mats and as a cable system in a wide variety of sizes and in two voltages. The NuHeat mat is set into thin-set tile mortar to adhere it to the floor. It has a thickness of only 1/8" and is also available in made-to-order custom cut form. The cables are about 3/16" thick and are versatile in that they can be configured to fit around a room's obstacles. Fastening them mechanically to the floor and covering the cables with mortar is one method. Another option for heated flooring is the new DITRA-HEAT from Schluter which combines the benefits of uncoupling technology with a floor warming cable system.

Exterior decks, walkways and balconies, as well as swimming pools, hot tubs and fountains are all structures that demand special attention and proven methods and materials. Kiesel's DMS-1K is a trowel-applied cement/latex-based waterproof membrane that is excellent for exterior tile work. Unicom Starker offers a variety of modern tile with anti-slip grit fused onto the surface which is perfect for exterior traffic areas.

Tools and setting materials - the right stuff

We, at Tilemaster, promote the use of quality tools and materials for both the professional and the do-it-yourself type of customer. We want your project to be a success. That is why we have built our own unique collection of some of the finest products in the tile industry. Special items like the "Euro-sponge", a superior square edge grout sponge, Kiesel Servolight, a German lightweight non-sag thin-set tile mortar and Montolit's diamond hand pad, a tool that will effectively produce a finished edge on a cut tile, are beneficial to help turn out exceptional work. Every tile job is specific; choosing the right notch trowel and mortar to set 5/8"x5/8" glass mosaics, for instance, is as essential as using the right techniques. Our knowledgeable salespeople can assist in this department too.

Setting the tiles - let's set things straight

Once the surfaces are prepared, the tiles are at hand, the cutting and mixing tools are set up and the layout lines are on the floor or wall, it's time to begin the placement of the tiles. Safety is a main concern on any jobsite. Use kneepads when working on floors and safety glasses and hearing protection for cutting the tiles. In the interest of working neatly, keep a pail of water with a margin trowel and sponge in it nearby, to clean tiles, joints, tools and yourself. Preparing a few cut tiles is a good idea; usually there are cut tiles at the starting point. After initially mixing the mortar, let it slake for five minutes or so in order for the components and the water to amalgamate properly, and stir the mortar again. Using the appropriate notch trowel, key in the mortar in an area big enough for a few tiles with the flat side and then trowel out a neat bed of mortar with the notched side of the trowel. Back-buttering is important on large tiles; key in some mortar onto the back of the tile with the flat side of the trowel. A couple of things to focus on are: mortar coverage and avoiding "lippage". Always aim to achieve 100% coverage of tile mortar between underlayment and tile. "Lippage" is an exclusive industry term that refers to an unacceptable measure of height difference from one tile to the next. Tiles should be set so that the planarity from tile to tile is consistent. When placing the tile into the mortar it must be pressed and wiggled in firmly to obtain good coverage. A sharp eye and touch will spot lippage. If mortar squeezes out of a joint, carefully rake it out with a knife and clean the joint with the sponge. Do not let excess tile mortar harden in the joints and attempt to scratch them out the next day; this may cause damage to the tile. Occasionally checking the work with a level is a good practice to ensure flatness and precision. When setting tiles on a wall, tile shims or spacers are recommended in order to prevent sagging and to keep joints spaced properly; unless they are small tiles or mosaics. For visible cuts, ones that are not covered by baseboard, for instance, measure and cut carefully and sand the cut edge to eliminate chips and to soften the edge. Exercise patience, work neatly and stand back and inspect the work periodically.

Grouting - closing the gaps

Grout is not just a joint filler. In a tile installation, it becomes part of the finish. Grout has to be compacted into the joints and tooled carefully so that the joints are full and consistent. Timing and careful cleaning techniques play a big part in the success of a nice grout job. Each tile type and jobsite varies and may require a certain approach that suits the conditions. It takes some effort and experience but attaining full joints has many advantages; it looks great, makes maintenance easier and reinforces the edge of the tile.

Finish - "There is no substitute for hard work" - Thomas Edison

After the tile work is complete, there are usually some finishing touches left to consummate the project. Tasks such as applying silicone sealant to the junction between backsplash tile and stone countertop, fitting shower doors and trim, installing baseboard, refitting the toilet, placing appliances etc. can begin when the grout is dry. Take care to protect the surfaces. Avoid spills since the grout is not at its optimal strength until weeks later. Sealing grout and stone tiles with an impregnator can usually begin after a minimum of three days. Remember, it is always a good idea to store away a few spare tiles and a partial bag of grout just in case repair work is necessary in the event your tile project is subjected to damage in the future.

Following some of these basic steps will help ensure a proper installation that will endure many decades of use and be easy to maintain.

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Email: aurora@tilemastercanada.com
Phone: 905-841-2333
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125 Mary Street
Aurora, ON L4G 1G3