DIY Guide. How to properly prepare your floor for tile installation

There is nothing more satisfying than doing a good job. Stand there, put your arms on your sides like a superhero, nod your head and pat your back. You will definitely do this while standing on your new tiled floor. However, while tiling your own floor is a beautiful and satisfying project, it is also an area full of potential DIY errors

In this two-part series, we will guide you through the main steps, including the key tools and traps that need to be paid attention to during the tile installation work when preparing, laying tiles and grouting.

Part 1 will introduce the most important and most overlooked step: preparation. Like many DIY/home improvement projects, laying ceramic tiles relies heavily on proper surface and substrate preparation. It is an understatement to say that it is vital, which is why it has its own special part in this series. In the second part, we will introduce how to actually lay the floor tiles and grouting.

So let’s take a deeper look at the conditions needed to start preparing the floor to install the tiles, including the tools and some things to be aware of when trying this main phase of the project.

If any of these seem to exceed your possibilities, please leave us a message and we will be happy to help you. Our team of professional installers and account managers have many years of personal experience, making your tile installation project a breeze!

Tools needed for floor tile preparation
The following is a brief overview of the tools needed to prepare the floor and space for tile installation:

Safety and comfort

Goggles or safety glasses
Knee pads

Used to prepare plywood subfloor

1/4″ cement board
Backplane screws
Anti-crack film

Square room

tape measure
Chalk line
Carpenters square

Step 1: Prepare the subfloor
If there is one step that is the most important, it is this one. This step is critical. First, what exactly is subflooring? It’s a catch-all term that refers to the flooring underneath your finished floor. There are two main types of subflooring: wood and concrete. Both types of flooring have the same problem: movement. Wood moves and bends with humidity and temperature; concrete moves with humidity, moisture, soil movement and temperature.

Piers and beam houses. Wood subfloor
Remove any staples and drive down any screws or nails that are sticking out. Install a cement backerboard to provide a good foundation for your tiles and prevent any movement-related cracking of the tiles or grout.

Screw the backerboard to the wood subfloor with specific backerboard screws and then compact the plywood subfloor with tile adhesive mortar. Remember to tape and mortar the gaps between the backer boards. The crack prevention membrane is masticated on both sides of the surface. This membrane is also a waterproofing membrane and is a useful addition in wet areas, second floor or plywood subfloor applications. The mortar is spread onto the plywood subfloor at a 45 degree angle using a notched trowel.

Concrete Subflooring
For concrete subfloors, be sure to remove any old adhesive and repair/fill any cracks with the appropriate product (check your local home improvement store or contact your trusted friend, The Good Guys, for tile and installation products. Recommended repair products vary depending on the size of the cracks to be filled). Use a floor scraper to remove any loose debris. For old adhesives or plasters, this may require some elbow grease and possibly a grinder to remove from the subfloor so that the new plaster can bond. Floor tiles can be installed directly over a concrete subfloor.

Whether wood or concrete, make sure your subfloor is clean and free of debris.

Step 2: Determine the starting point and practice laying the pattern
Laying your tile pattern ahead of time and planning out fixtures, cabinets, etc. is essential to reduce waste (less cutting!) and making the job run as smoothly as possible.

There are many patterns to choose from, although some work better with specific tile shapes and sizes. Herringbone, brickwork and basket weave/parquetry have been very popular in recent years. You should be sure of this before choosing a tile, but if you are using traditional square tiles, linear or grid patterns are timeless and easy to install. This is the pattern you envisioned in your mind when you read this as the tiles were laid next to each other. Yes, that’s the one.

Determine your starting point in the room. Typically, you’ll want to lay tiles in the most obvious places or focal points in the room, and cut tiles against cabinets or less obvious walls in the room. Measure your room to determine the center, and mark chalk lines on the floor to guide your installation. Make sure to leave equal space on both sides so you don’t have a full tile on one side and a partial tile or cut tile on the other. Every space is different, so take your time and plan accordingly. The goal is to lay as many full tiles as possible on the floor and leave custom cutouts around obstructions, under appliances and against outside walls.

How to square up a room for a simple tile installation
For most simple applications, floor tiles can be laid in a grid pattern starting from the center of the floor so that the cutouts at the edges of the floor line up with the opposite wall. One way to do this is to divide the floor into four quadrants that intersect in the middle of the room. These quadrants should be square to each other, however, this can be a problem in older homes because the room itself is unlikely to be truly square. Instead of relying on the position of the walls to set your grid, set the grid yourself in the center.

Measure one side of the floor, find the middle, and mark it with a pencil. Do the same thing along the other side of the floor.
Draw a chalk line across the floor, from one mark to the other. Spray with hairspray to prevent the chalk line from getting smudged.
Measure and mark the middle of the remaining two sides of the floor. Lay the chalk line from one mark to the other so that it intersects the first line in the center of the room. Do not snap the line.
Lay a carpenter’s square on one of the four corners of the intersection created by the chalk line and string you laid first. If the chalk line and the string are truly perpendicular, then each line will follow one edge of the carpenter’s square.
If necessary, adjust the string so that it is perfectly aligned with the chalk line. Once the string is aligned with the chalk line, snap the string. Spray with hairspray to prevent the chalk line from getting smudged.
Begin laying your floor tiles, using the middle + as your starting point. If you’re laying tile, you don’t have to leave any cushion space around the edges because tile doesn’t expand or contract like other flooring materials.

When not to start in the middle of the room?
Sometimes, centering the room is not always the best layout for laying floor tile. If the space is a simple rectangle or square like the one pictured above, and it is the only room where floor tiles will be laid, you can start in the middle of the room. For example, a wide square or rectangular room. This could be a dining room or an open bedroom.

In a kitchen, you wouldn’t just put the room in the middle. You would lay a full tile in the transition from the adjacent large room (usually the living room). The cut tiles would then be applied to the walls and cabinets.

In a hall bathroom or laundry room, in most cases, you would lay full tile starting with the door and the longest straight wall. This is the wall where the door swings inward. This will put your cutout against your cabinets, behind your toilet and against the tub/shower; or if in the laundry room, under your appliances. In these areas, the entrance and main wall are the focal points.

In a master bathroom, you will usually start the entire tile in the entryway. Unlike a standard hall bathroom, many times the focal point of the master bathroom is the room’s tub and shower, so put your full tile in the tub and/or shower and let the cutouts fall over the cabinets. It really depends on the layout of the room.

Whether you decide to start with a center or a focal point, a chalk guide is still a good first step because it ensures that your final layout is straight and parallel. Practicing with a dry tile layout can help you determine what is the main focal point of the room and the best place to start.