Laying tile can easily be done by a homeowner, if that homeowner is prepared to be careful and meticulous. Tile cannot be rushed and must be planned out well in advance, as even slight flaws may interfere with the entire project. the site must be graded very careful, as an uneven base can cause the tiles to crack and break later.
The area that is to be covered in tiles should be measured so that the number of tiles needed can be calculated. Make sure to plan for 0.5 inch (1.3 cm) mortar joints unless the tiles will be installed in a sand bed. It is a good idea to order at least 10 percent more tiles than are needed to allow for mistakes. For tiles which are to be cut, you can either mark the cutting lines and take them to a masonry yard to be cut or rent a saw to do the job yourself.
If you are planning on laying tile in sand, make sure that the tiles are at least 0.75 inches (1.9 cm) thick. The soil must be leveled and permanent edgings built to keep the tiles in place. The height of the edging should meet the top of the 0.5 inch (1.3 cm) sand bed. The sand should be damp, and leveled with a bladed screed which can be drawn along the sand bed. To make the sand base firmer, tamp it, add more, and repeat the screeding process.
The tiles can be laid on the sand with open joints — a regular space in between each tile — or closed joints — with the sides of each tile against the other tiles. Start in one corner and tap each tile with a rubber mallet as you go, in order to firmly set them in the sand. When finished, spread sand over the surface, and sweep it into all of the joints. Wet the whole area with water, and add more sand if needed.
Laying tile in wet mortar, over a concrete slab, is a more stable method of laying tile. A new concrete slab can be poured, or an existing concrete lab treated with a muriatic acid solution and then coated with a cement and water paste. Tile can also be laid in wet mortar over a wooden deck or porch, if the wooden base is strong enough to hold the tiles and mortar.
Permanent or temporary edgings must be installed, with their height rising above the tiles that are to be laid. Next, lay a cement-sand mortar bed — one part cement to four parts sand — on top of the base, and level it with a bladed screed. Lay the tiles on the mortar, leaving 0.5 inch (1.3 cm) open joints in between each tile. Plywood can be used as spacers and a mason's line for exact alignment. As you are laying tile, tap the center of each tile with a rubber mallet and check the surface frequently with a level.
Another cement-sand mixture — one part cement to three parts sand — should be used as grout for the joints. Mix it with water until it is barely thin enough to pour. Pour the grout into the joints, making sure you wipe off any spills immediately. When the grout begins to harden, scrape the surface of the joints to make them smooth. Keep the mortar damp for at least one day.
Written by Bronwyn Harris