When it comes to do-it-yourself flooring installation, the difficulty of the project depends on what flooring material you choose. Installing a laminate or floating floor system is probably the easiest. Adhesive-back vinyl tiling is also easy. Laying pre-finished tongue-in-groove hardwood is a little more challenging, since you have to account for compression and expansion due to humidity. Perhaps the most challenging installation, however, is laying ceramic or stone tiles using thin-set mortar. There are some pretty simple things you can do to make this installation go much more smoothly, however.
1. After you mix the thin-set, wait
Thin-set, or grout, comes as a powder you need to dissolve in water. No matter how much you mix, you are bound to get lumps in the mixture. Do the mixing and wait ten minutes. This is called ‘slaking’ and will allow time for the lumps to dissolve in the water. Once you’ve waited, mix again, adding water if you have to.
2. Make sure the floor is even
Before you start, use a straight edge at least a metre long and see if there are ‘waves’ in the floor deeper than a couple of millimetres. If there are, tiling is going to be difficult. You’ll have to get some self-levelling compound. This is a powder you mix with water and pour over the floor, filling in depressions. It sets in 30 minutes, so it’s best to have one person mixing and the other pouring.
3. Take the baseboard off
Yes, it’s a pain, but that baseboard will cover up uneven edges on the tile.
4. Use straight boards not lines
Anchor your tiles by using straight boards (rather than a chalk line) to guide you. Take perfectly straight boards and screw them to the floor; start tiling from there. A board can also act as a ledge when tiling walls. Use duct tape on the edges to keep the thin-set from sticking to the board.
5. Remove excess thin-set right away
Don’t wait till the job is done! Put your tools in a bucket of water to keep grout from drying on them, then use a utility knife, tile space, or even a pencil to gouge the thin-set out. If there’s grout on the tile surface, use a soft scouring pad, like one you would use when doing dishes, to remove it.
6. You need time
Professionals like to use quick setting grout. Don’t go there. Check the package and find one with a long drying time. It will make your life easier.
7. Set all the tools out before you start
Getting the job done before the thin-set dries can be a big challenge, so don’t waste time looking for tools. Gather essentials: cordless drill, bucket, pliers, a rag to wipe your hands, a level framing square, knee pads, measuring tape, utility knife, rubber gloves, goggles, sponge, a tile saw, and an assortment of trowels.