Installing ceramic tile can be tricky. Successful tiling jobs are a direct result of good planning and a methodical approach. Take the time to do the right amount of prep work before you begin to achieve quality tiling.
STEP 1: Assess
Begin by inspecting the surface upon which you plan to install the tile. The substrate, or what tile is installed on top of, is just as important as the tile itself. A flexing floor or a wall that is uneven can lead to broken tiles and failed grout. Water-resistant backer board should be used under tile that is likely to get wet.
Whether it’s backer board, plywood, or concrete, the substrate needs to be sound, clean, and dimensionally stable. Surfaces need to be level or plumb and true to plane. Wallpaper, loose plaster, flaking paint, peeling tiles or unsecured sheet flooring must be removed from the walls or floors that are to be tiled.
When tiling a wall, you’ll want to establish a top line that is level. Few walls are truly plumb, so use a level to mark the top line. Establish its height so that you won’t have to cut very thin tiles (or cut very thin shards from nearly full tiles) to come flush to the floor. Snap a top line on your walls, and then snap a center line, too. Be sure to lay out all the walls you plan to do before you begin tiling.
To make your finished ceramic tile surface appear symmetrical (even if it isn’t), you need to find the center of the surface first. Then measure in from the sides. Pay special attention to this step if you’re tiling a small area, where wide tiles at one edge and narrow ones at the other will make the whole job look out of balance.
In an older home, you may find the floor isn’t square, which makes the job more complicated. Use the most obvious wall as a baseline, so those entering the room will see tile lines parallel to that wall; your job will look more even.