LAYING CERAMIC FLOOR TILES

You can lay ceramic tiles to provide a floor surface which is particularly resistant to wear and tear.

If you follow a few basic rules you shouldn’t find it too difficult a task and you could at the same time turn the floor into a decorative feature.

Ceramic floor tiles provide a floor-covering which is attractive, extremely hard-wearing and easy to maintain and keep clean. The wide variety of tiles available means you should easily find a pattern which suits your colour scheme.

Floor tiles are usually thicker than ceramic wall tiles (they are generally at least 9mm/3/ain thick), very much stronger and have a tough hardwearing surface to withstand knocks as well as wear from the passage of feet.

The backs of the tiles have a brownish appearance caused by the extra firing – done at a higher temperature than for wall tiles, which are often almost white on the back.

Types of tiles

Square tiles are commonest, in sizes from 150 x 150mm (6 x 6in) to 250 x 250mm (10 x 10in). Besides square tiles you can choose oblong ones in several sizes, hexagons or other interlocking shapes. Surfaces are usually glazed but are seldom as shiny as those of wall tiles or scratch marks would inevitably become apparent as grit was trampled in. So most floor tiles are semi-glazed; others have a matt, or unglazed finish.

Patterned ceramic tiles are quite frequently designed in such a way that several tiles can be laid next to one another to complete a larger design. The commonest is built up by laying four identical tiles in a square, each tile being turned at 90° to its neighbours. The full impact will only be achieved if a sufficiently large area of floor is being tiled.

Patterned and plain tiles can also successfully be intermixed to create unusual designs, but it is essential that the tiles are all supplied by the same manufacturer, and ideally come from compatible ranges, to ensure uniformity of thickness and size.

Some manufacturers supply floor tiles designed to co-ordinate with wall tiles, and in addition make matching panels to act as skirtings between wall and floor tiles.

Types of adhesives

There are several types of adhesives for laying floor tiles. Some come ready-mixed, others in powder form to be mixed with water. A number are waterproof and where the floor will be subjected to frequent soakings or heavy condensation you will need to use one which is water-resistant. Usually the adhesive does not become waterproof until it has set completely, which means that you can clean tools with water and do not require a special cleaner.

On a solid floor with underfloor heating you should use an adhesive which is also heat-resistant or the adhesive will fail and the tiles will lift necessitating continual re-fixing.

A cement-based floor tile adhesive is suitable for use on good, level concrete whereas a suspended wooden sub-floor will need an adhesive with some degree of flexibility built in. Combined cement/rubber adhesives are available for this purpose but even these should not be used on suspended wooden floors which are subject to a lot of movement -you will have to add a covering of man-made boards to provide a more stable surface before fixing the tiles.

Manufacturers’ instructions give guidance as to the type of adhesive suited to a particular situation and you should study these carefully before making your choice. You should also follow their recommendations as to the thickness of adhesive bed required; most resin-based ready-mixed adhesives are used as thin beds (3 to 6mm/’/8 to Viin), while cement-based powder adhesives may be laid up to 12mm (V2in) thick. Usually a spreader is supplied with the adhesive to make applying it a straightforward job.

THE RIGHT TILES

Always check that the tiles you buy are suitable for use on floors.

– floor tiles are usually 6mm (V-iin) or more thick and have brown backs

– some are flat-backed, others have projecting studs.

TILE SHAPES

Most floor tiles are square or oblong. Common sizes, and the number of each needed to cover 1 sq metre (11 sq ft), are:.

– 150x 150mm (6 x6in) :.

– 200 x 200mm (8 x 8in) :.

– 250 x 250mm (10 x 10in) :.

– 300 x 200mm (12 x8in) :17 Hexagons usually measure 150mm (6in) between opposite edges. You need 50 per sqm (11 sq ft).

ADHESIVES AND GROUT.

– use a (3mm/1/8in) adhesive for – you’ll need about 3.5kg (8lb) per sq metre (11 sqft)

– use a (6-12mm/1/4-V2in) adhesive for or if the floor is uneven – you’ll need double the above quantities

– allow 1.2kg (21/2lb) of per sq metre (11 sq ft) for joints 6mm (V<iin) wide.

TILING SPACING.

– space tiles that build up to form a larger pattern about 2mm apart. With plain tiles a wider gap looks better. Use a tile on edge as a spacer.

– dry-lay a row of tiles along each wall to see how wide an edge piece you will need at each end of the row.

• avoid having to cut thin edge pieces by laying one whole tile less in each row.

TILE GAUGE TO MAKE

Use a straight 1830mm (6ft) long timber batten and mark its length with tile width and grouting space.

TIP: BUYING TILES

Add on a few extra tiles to allow for breakages during laying and replacements in the future.

Planning

As when tiling a wall, it is well worth planning your layout on paper first, particularly if you intend using a complicated design. For rectangular or square tiles make a scale drawing on graph paper; for hexagons or other specially-shaped tiles, draw the shapes to scale on tracing paper, to act as an overlay to a scale floor plan of the room. From your scale drawings you can see if the layout you have in mind is going to work. It will help you set out an attractive design and it will also enable you to work out the number of tiles you will require.

Mark on your plan the position of fixtures such as a WC, wash or sink stand, cupboards or pipes to indicate where cutting will be required where necessary adjust your plan so you will not have to cut pieces which are too narrow for convenient cutting.

Similarly, your layout should be designed so you avoid having to cut narrow pieces of tile to fit around the perimeter of the room. Floor tiles, being so much tougher, are less easy to cut than wall tiles and attempting to obtain narrow strips is likely to cost you several broken tiles. Where you are not using a complicated design you can plan your layout directly on the floor. For this you will need a tiling gauge thick. Alternatively, you can use chipboard of the same thickness.

Before laying tiles over timber floors cover the surface thoroughly with a priming coat -either a special priming agent from the adhesive manufacturer, or else diluted PVA building adhesive.

Finding the starting point

The first whole tile you lay will determine where all the other tiles are laid, so it is important that you get this positioning correct. Choose the corner in which you wish to start tiling and, laying your tile gauge parallel to one of the walls, measure how many whole tiles will fit along that side of the room. There will almost certainly be a gap left over. Measure this gap, and divide the answer by two to find the width of the cut tiles that will fill the gap at each end of the row. (These should be of equal size.)

If these cut tiles turn out to be less than one quarter of a tile-width across (and therefore tricky to cut), reduce of whole tiles in the row by one. The effect of this is to increase the width of each cut tile by half a tile – much easier to cut.

Return to the corner and with your tile gauge parallel to the wall along which you have been measuring, move it so the end of the gauge is the width of one cut tile away from the adjacent wall. Mark this position off on the floor – it indicates where one edge of the first whole tile in that row will fall.

Repeat this same measuring process along the adjacent wall to establish the positioning of the row at right angles to the one you’ve just set out; you will then be able to mark off where the other edge of this same first tile will fall, and so fix its position precisely. Once that is done, every other tile’s position is fixed right across the floor.

You can then place this first tile in position. Mark off and cut the boundary tiles between it and the corner. Remember to allow for the width of the grouting gap when measuring each cut tile.

Each cut tile should be measured indi-vidually because the wall may not be perfectly straight. You may then go ahead with laying whole tiles, starting from your original corner.

Laying tiles

In the corner area spread adhesive evenly on the floor over an area of about 1 sq m (11 sq ft) – it is important to work on only a small area at a time, otherwise the adhesive may have begun to dry out by the time you reach it. With a gentle, twisting motion, place the first tile in the corner, and use light hand pressure to bed it firmly in the adhesive. Place the second tile alongside the first, using the same gentle pressure, and placing spacers of cardboard or hardboard between the tiles if they don’t have spacer lugs. Continue laying tiles, building up a rectangular area, until you have reached the edge of the adhesive bed.

Use a spirit level to check that the tiles are level; if any are too low, lever them off the bed as quickly as possible with a wide-bladed trowel, add adhesive and re-set them, pressing them down gently.

With the first square metre of tiles laid, you can spread another layer of adhesive over a further area, and lay the next area of tiles.

As you lay the tiles, it is worth checking every now and again that adequate contact with the adhesive is being made and that there are no voids beneath the tiles – any gaps or

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Hollows under the tiles will become weak points later on.

You can proceed with the tiling in 1 sq m sections until all the tiles are.in place, then leave them for at least 24 hours. The tiles must not be walked on during this time so that any risk of them being knocked out of place or bedded too deeply is avoided. If you have to walk on the tiles, lay a sheet of plywood or chipboard over them first to spread the load. When 24 hours – or longer; check the manufacturer’s instructions – are up, you can remove the spacers. Check with the adhesive manufacturer’s instructions to see whether you need to allow extra time after this before you begin grouting.

Cutting tiles

You will have to cut each tile individually since you will almost certainly find variations around the room. Place the tile which is going to be cut against the wall and on top of the adjacent whole tile. Mark it off for cutting.

Using a straight edge as a guide, score the tile surface and edges with a scribing tool. You use a hand tile cutter to cut and break the tile along the scoreline; but its probably worthwhile hiring a special floor tile cutter to make the job easier.

To cut a tile to give an L-shape you will need to use tile nips to nibble away at the waste area. You can use a tile file, carborundum stone or coarse glasspaper to smooth off the rough edge. For curved shapes (eg, to fit round a WC pedestal), you will need to make a template and again use tile nips to nibble away at the tile.

Grouting the tiles

Mix the grout according to the manufacturer’s instructions; make up only a small amount at a time and, as with adhesive, work in areas of 1 sq metre (11 sq ft). Apply it with the straight edge of a rubber float, or a sponge or squeegee, making sure the joints are properly filled. Pack the grout firmly into the joints and smooth off using a small rounded stick – don’t try using a finger as the grout is likely to irritate your skin.

It’s best to remove excess grout (and adhesive) as soon as possible. If it sets it will be difficult to remove.

Filling cracks and hollows

If you have a concrete floor which is flat, dry and level you can go ahead and lay tiles without further preparation. Often, however, the floor is not level or there are cracks and small hollows on the surface. Indentations should be filled with mortar (a 3:1 sand:cement mix is suitable) mixed to a creamy but not too runny consistency. For mortar with a good bond add some PVA bonding solution to the mix. Cut back the holes to a clean shape and brush out any loose material so it doesn’t mix in with the mortar making it difficult to get a smooth surface. You can also coat the holes with a PVA bonding solution to help the mortar adhere.

Levelling a concrete floor

A concrete floor which is out of true can be levelled using a self-levelling flooring compound so it is suitable for tiling. For the compound to form a smooth, even surface it should only be applied to a floor which is clean and free from dust, oil, grit or grease so you should first sweep the floor and then scrub it thoroughly (1). You may find you have to use a proprietary cleaner to remove stubborn greasy patches. The compound comes in powder form and you will have to mix it up according to the manufacturer’s instructions so it forms a runny paste (2).

If you try covering the entire floor in one operation, it’s likely the compound will set into large pools which are difficult to join up. It’s better to work in small areas; you can delineate your working area by forming a bay using timber battens. Pour the compound onto the floor (3) and then spread it out as evenly as possible using a steel float (4), any marks from the float will disappear quickly. The compound will set within a couple of hours. If you want extra thickness you can apply a second coat once the first is hard.

Laying plywood over a timber floor

A floor which is subject to movement will disrupt tiles laid over it so if you intend tiling over a suspended wooden floor you will first have to make the surface as firm as possible by covering it with a layer of man-made boards. Water-resistant resin-bonded plywood is a suitable material as it will resist penetration by the damp adhesive you will be spreading over it and you will avoid the problem of rotting boards. The boards should be at least 12mm (1/2in) thick. To prepare the floor to take the plywood you should punch any protruding nails below the surface (5) at the same time checking that the floorboards are firmly secured. You can then go ahead and fix the sheets of plywood to the floor (6) using nails spaced at 225mm (9in) intervals across the middle of the sheets and at 150mm (6in) intervals round their perimeter. You will have to cut the boards to shape round any recess or alcove(7), and where there is a pipe run, fix narrow strips of plywood over the pipes to make access to them easier. Make sure you stagger the joints; this will prevent any floor movement causing the tiles to break up in a run across the floor.

Ceramic tiles can be an important feature in the decorative scheme of a -room. According to the design you choose, a tile floor can brighten up a dark room, make a plain room seem elegant or a formal one informal.

One big factor which can make all the difference is the arrangement in which the tiles are laid. The simplest method is to lay them in matching rows, but there are other laying patterns, which, while they take more time to plan, can make the floor a much more attractive feature.

For example, you can lay tiles to form a herringbone pattern, or with staggered joints to form a stretcher bond layout like that used in brickwork. You can also create panels in tiles of a different colour from those making up the greater part of the tiled area to add variety and visual interest.

Remember that besides rectangular or square tiles there are other shapes which can help you to create even more adventurous patterns for decorative effect.

Don’t restrict yourself to plain tiles either, however attractive the colours; consider using patterned tiles with floral, striped or other motifs. Building an overall design in patterned tiles requires careful planning for a successful result, but it’s well worth the extra effort.

Kitchen and bathroom floors and walls are probably the places you have in mind when you start to think about tiles, but they can be used in other areas as well – for example, in living rooms and hallways. Because they are resistant to heat you can tile round a fireplace. You can use slip-resistant tiles on stairs and steps, and you can tile to provide easy-to-clean work surfaces and table-tops. Or you might decide to use tiles purely as a decorative feature, for example, to frame a door or window surround.

TIP: CUTTING FLOOR TILES

Because of the high-baked clay back, floor tiles can be hard to snap by hand. Save time and breakages by buying a tile cutter with angled jaws, or hire a special floor tile cutter from a tool hire shop.

TIP: ALLOW 48 HOURS SETTING.

– don’t walk on the floor for at least 48 hours after tiling

– where access is essential, lay plywood or chipboard sheets over the tiles to spread the load

– avoid washing the floor until the grout and adhesive have set completely (1 to 2 weeks).

DON’T FORGET DOORS

Tiling will raise the floor level. Remove inward-opening doors from their hinges before starting tiling or they will not open when tiling reaches the doorway.

– measure the depth of tile plus adhesive laid

– plane the door bottom down by this amount

– fit a sloping hardwood strip across the door threshold TIP: TILES FOR WET AREAS

Unglazed tiles are less slippery than glazed but ones with a textured surface reduce the chance of accidents in bath and shower rooms.

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