Toilets    Showers

Setting Ceramic Tile Made Easy

Ceramic tiles fixed with cardboard spacers

Black & Decker The Complete Guide to Ceramic Tile:
Includes Stone, Porcelain, Glass Tile & More

Bathroom ceramic tile installation
is something you can do


If you are thinking of remodeling your bathroom then I bet that you are thinking about doing at least part of the work yourself, especially if you have a very small bathroom. Remodeling small bathrooms is often a big job however, almost as big as renovating a large bathroom would be. The majority of the work involved in remodeling a bathroom centres around installing fixtures and plumbing. You don't tend to put that much more into a larger bathroom, you just have more space to put it in which makes things a lot easier.

Unless you are very experienced, confident and have plenty of time then I would not suggest that you undertake your bathroom makeover all by yourself. It's best left to the professionals but if you want to get involved then there are a few jobs that you can allocate to yourself that are not beyond the skill of most budding do-it-yourself enthusiasts.

Laying ceramic tile is an ideal job if you want to get involved in the project. It's also one of the most pleasing and satisfying jobs in the whole bathroom makeover project.

If you decide to do the tiling yourself then make sure that you plan the project around your timescale. Make sure that there is plenty of spare time in case you don't get finished in the time you expect to. Tile setting isn't a difficult job when done correctly but it is time consuming and it does tend to take longer than you think.

ceramic tile shower design pattern
A little research before you start can save you a lot of problems in the long run. Read about tiling in any do-it-yourself tile setting books you can find.

When to do the tiling

You should plan to do your bathroom tiling before the new fixtures are installed and after all the walls have been prepared ready to accept ceramic. Laying tile at this point avoids the necessity to cut tiles to fit around the fixtures.

If you are setting ceramic tile in an existing bathroom and you don't intend to replace fixtures then you can take off the old tiles where they show and replace with new. You can even tile on top of the old tiles providing that they are still firmly fixed to the wall. You should choose a thin tile if you are going to leave the old ceramics in place.

If you remove the old ceramic tiles be sure to protect your fixtures with sheets and towels. One ceramic tile dropped into your bathtub and you might be replacing your fixtures after all.

What you will need

Calculate how many ceramic tiles you need

You need to work out how many tiles you will need to cover the whole wall. First divide the wall area of your bathroom into sections that you can calculate easily. If you have a bathroom with 4 flat rectangular walls then your job is easy, just calculate the area of each wall and add up the total area.

Take each wall section in turn, measure the width and height and multiply the two numbers together. If you measure in inches then a 60 inch by 72 inch wall section will be 60 x 72 = 4320 square inches. If you are using 4 inch square ceramic tiles then the area of one tile is 4 x 4 = 16 square inches. Dividing the wall area by the area of one tile tells you how many tiles you need for this section. 4320 / 16 = 270 tiles.

Calculate the area of all your wall sections and any window insets etc. then add up the total area of your complete bathroom. Divide the total by the area of one tile and you have the minimum number of tiles that you will need. Add 10% to this figure to make sure you have enough to cover any breakages and cutting.

You might decide to save money by not tiling the whole of the area behind your bathtub and any other enclosed wall space. Simply leave out the sections of wall you don't intend to tile.

Ceramic Mosaic Tile

You must now choose the tile design for your bathroom. I find that this is a very difficult task because there is so much to choose from in all price ranges. I find that the simpler design works best for me, they tend to work out cheaper and they can look every bit as good as high priced ceramics.

I chose a simple mosaic-effect tile (a normal tile with square bumps.) for my small bathroom. It looks like ceramic mosaic tile but it's as easy to install as any other flat tile. I used mostly white with a lower area of pastel blue. I think that it works very well. It was only a ceramic cheap tile but it looks great.

Shower tile design

Don't be afraid to do something slightly different with your shower tile design. It can set the shower off against the rest of the room and helps to provide a more interesting experience.
ceramic tile shower corner design pattern
Make yourself a tile gauge

A tile gauge is simply a piece of wood with a straight edge with markings on it to show where the tiles will be positioned. You will use the gauge to show you where to start fixing tiles on the wall.

Lay a row of tiles on a flat surface and position them with spacers separating each tile. Make sure that all the tiles are tight up against the spacers. Lay your wood alongside the tiles and mark the start and ending position of each tile on the wood using a pencil.

Hold your gauge up against the wall with one end aligned with the midpoint of the wall. Check where the last tile will come to at the edge of the wall. You want to try to have about half a tile at the edge to make it easier to cut. If the gap is too small then move your gauge over a little to increase the width of the tile that you will need to cut. Mark the position where your centre tile will start. You should now check the other side of the wall in the same way to ensure that you aren't left with a very thin tile that end either. If you are then move your gauge to try and make both ends the same.

Draw a vertical line where the centre ceramic tile will start

Using a plumb line (a weight on the end of a string) carefully draw a vertical line down the centre of the wall. When you start fixing tiles you should start at this line and work outwards.

Spirit level and board for setting bottom rows of tiles
Fix a batten to the bottom of the wall

Fix a straight wooden batten to the bottom of the wall. This will give you a starting point at the bottom of the wall and will ensure that your tiles start out in straight lines. I've cheated to take this picture because my tiles are set already but I think you get the idea.

Fix the batten temporarily so that the top of it is lower than one tile height from the floor and ensure that it is perfectly horizontal using a spirit level. Use a long spirit level if you have one but a small 10 inch level can give you good results.

Begin to fix tiles from the bottom up

Cover a small area of the wall with adhesive to allow you to fix the first few ceramic tiles. Use a notched spreader to make a pattern of grooves in the adhesive. This helps the adhesive to stick to the tiles properly. Follow any instructions on the adhesive with regard to spreading the adhesive and the type and size of spreader you should use.

Apply the tiles to the adhesive starting at the top of your wooden batten and aligned with your vertical centre line. Use plastic spacers or cardboard to make sure that every tile is spaced equally. Gently twist and tap each tile onto the wall before leaving it in its correct position.

You will need to cut tiles to fit at the edges of the wall.

Remove the wooden batten and fix the bottom row of tiles in the same way as you did the ones above. Mark and cut each tile to fit before putting it in place.

Cutting tiles

You can use a tile-cutting jig to make straight cuts in ceramic. Cutting tile into curves will require a tile saw. The tile should be held upright in a workbench grip while you carefully saw round the shape.

Fill the gaps with grout

When all the tiles are firmly fixed to the wall you can remove the spacers and work grout into the spaces between the tiles. You can do this with a sponge or rubber grouting tool. Push the grout into all the gaps and wipe off the excess grout from the tiles using a damp cloth.

Make sure that you are using a waterproof grout designed for use in bathrooms.

Ceramic tiles sealed with silicone sealer or caulk
Seal around bathtub, washbasin and shower

You must now seal the gaps between tiles and fixtures wherever there is a possibility of water leaking through. Use an appropriate applicator gun to apply a bead of caulk or silicon sealer then run a damp finger along the bead to smooth it off.


Stand back and admire your beautiful bathroom

If you've followed these guidelines and read some tile setting books then you should be very proud of the job you've done. Done properly tiling is a most satisfying and fulfilling job and the results can look tremendous.

In closing I should just say that you will run into problems as you tile your bathroom as we all do from time to time. There are very few problems that cannot be corrected however and if you've watched the video you should be able to avoid most of them.


Black & Decker The Complete Guide to Ceramic Tile:
Includes Stone, Porcelain, Glass Tile & More




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