Is Tiling your home a DIY project? Or should you call in a Pro?

If you're trying to bang out something like this ... call a pro, lol. Otherwise, keep reading.
If you're trying to bang out something like this ... call a pro, lol. Otherwise, keep reading.

"I am thinking of laying some tile myself, to save on cost. Should I call a pro?"

At one point or another, you or your spouse are going to want tile in your home, in some capacity. So, the question is: Do you call a Pro? or do you try to tackle it yourself?

The answer is not simple, but I'll share my opinion, and story with you.

  • Difficulty Level: Hard - Professional
  • Experience Required: Some Handyman, Contractor Experience, or general physical work savvy.
  • Time Required: A lot (depending on the job, of course)

The real question is: Do you have what it takes? And the short of the answer is, if you're reading this article, probably not ... I hate to sound harsh, but it is not a quick little job. It is highly technical, with LOTS of tricks of the trade that need to be known in order to do the job on a level that is acceptable. But, my friends and I re-did the tile in my house, and it came out great and looks amazing; so I can be done, however, there is more to the story!

Your friends better be willing to sweat, bleed, and give up a few weekends of their life for you, or you're screwed.

Here is a serious tip that I HIGHLY recommend you follow: At least one of your friends who will be assisting should have done this before, preferably on a professional level (in some capacity). Otherwise you're going to need to read A LOT of articles and videos to get all the little ins and outs of this job figured out.

But, for the tenacious, I'll recap what is involved in the project below.

Well it can't be that hard. What's involved?

I was stunned to find out everything that is involved. Much of it is not hard, but it does require demonstration to fully appreciate and learn. Two of my buddies who helped have done tile professionally, and I learned an immense amount from them. I would not have been able to do it on the level it was done without their help. Period.

  • Purchasing and gathering your supplies
    You need to accurately measure the square footage of the area you wish to tile. Then add 15% to that number for waste and good measure. You'll also need to calculate how much thin-set mortar you need, and how much grout to buy. If you figure you need 15 bags of thin-set, buy 20. Seriously. Return what you don't use.

    1. You'll need several trade specific tools: hand trowel, grout float, notched trowel, cement mixer (for the thin-set mortar and grout), grouting sponge, scoring tile cutter, wet-saw (power tool), jamb-saw, speed square, framing square, knee pads [!] MUST HAVE, razor blade scraper
    2. Along with many general tools: Power Drill, Three to Five 5-gallon buckets, crowbar, hammer, chalk-line, tape-measures, level, utility knife, work pencil, clear spray paint, area fan, stereo (for entertainment)
    3. Some things that are very useful that not everybody may have or think they need: a backyard & a hose to mix the thin-set mortar, grout, and set up the wet-saw, a truck with a nice sized trailer
    4. In this phase, while you're purchasing your supplies and planning, you have to make some decisions: Will you be removing the baseboards? or will you tile up to the baseboards? My recommendation - remove the baseboards. It is a much easier and looks way better. The con, you have to buy and install new baseboards now when the tile project is done. Are you going to pay for delivery to have the tiles deliver to your house? Are you going to pay a hauler to remove all of the waste?
  • You must have your logistics in place
    In this step you will plan out how everything is going to get where it needs to be, when it needs to be there. Sounds simple, but it must be planned or you will encounter bad delays.

    1. Buying 1,000 square feet of tile, with all the thin-set mortar and grout cement you need for the job is a BIG JOB. The payload is going to weight close to 3,000 lbs, maybe more. You're going to need a large truck with a good-sized trailer, otherwise you're going to add hundreds to your cost by paying for delivery.
    2. If you're also doing the demolition work (which you probably are) you are going to have more garbage than you can possibly imagine, and the only place for it is the dump. Find out when the junkyards are open AND what they will take. My advice, find a privately own junkyard and dump it there. They usually don't have restrictions on how your materials are bundled together (like in a giant heaping pile on a trailer).

      You're most likely tearing up carpet, linoleum, laminate, hardwood, and maybe even old tile in order to prepare the surface for your new tile. A house full, or even a room full of this stuff is WAY more than you're thinking. My project was about 1k square feet. We removed carpet, carpet padding, tack strips, linoleum, and baseboards. My trailer weighed about 1,950 lbs (!) and it was ALL TRASH. Plan this out. Where is the junkyard? who's going with you? when are they open? what are their rates? do they only take cash?
    3. Have a food runner. You don't want your workers having to stop to go get breakfast, lunch, dinner, or beverages. You will burn through an AMAZING amount of liquids during this process. Have a non-working food-runner - trust me.
    4. After the tiling job you're going to have an inordinately large amount of waste that you've never needed to get rid of before. Like a 200 lbs garbage can full of broken tile pieces, cardboard boxes galore, and all sorts of crazy crap. Be prepared to dump more stuff AFTER the tile project to. So, you'll most likely visit the dump before and after the tile project.
  • You're almost ready to start working!
    But, if you're like me, and most people, your house is full, to the brim with furniture, trinkets, nick-nacks, and a whole mess of other crap that we cannot even beging to list or imagine here. Well ... you're replacing your floor. The thing that all of those things are somehow connected to. So be prepared to move everything in your home several times, to accommodate for the construction process. This process sucks unbelievably bad.

    Keep in mind. If you're a weekend warrior, and you're expecting all of your friends/help to show up and put in as much work as you every weekend, it is still going to take two weekends, maybe three, or four, or five, or SIX! So, your house is going to be largely unlivable until you're done. Your home will be a construction site, literally. So this is also important to keep in mind. 


What is actually involved with laying the tile in your home?

Well, I'm not going to describe exactly how to do it. That is not the scope of this article. This article is designed to give you a fairly comprehensive view of everything that is involved so you can accurately gauge whether or not the do it yourself tiling project in your home is something you want to do, can do, or if it is even feasible.

From this point forward I'm going to assume you've purchased and gathered the necessary supplies, planned your logistics, have friends helping (don't go solo, trust me), and are ready to begin work.

  • Move all of your worldly possessions
    You're about to rip up the old floor and build a new one, so EVERYTHING that is touching the floor or could impede work (fragile wall décor, chandeliers, etc ...) must go. To where? A room that is not being tiled, the garage, a POD, storage, yard (I DO NOT recommend that[!]), anywhere but on the floor where you're working. You'd be surprised how much shit you can fit into one room (a lot).
  • Demolition Work
    The old floor must go. And if you decided to replace the baseboards, they need to go now too. Each floor type requires a different type of demolition, and greatly benefits from the use of certain tools and tricks of the trade.
  • Prepare the bare surface, to accept the tile
    Your bare slab is going to need to be prepped a little before it is ready to accept the tile. Depending on what you tore up, this process can be rather laborious. Tearing up carpet leaves a lot of sweeping, but that's about it. Tearing up old tile or linoleum is a whole different story. You're going to need to do some serious scraping to get that slab smooth, and flat. There is also a chance your slab or surface is not level. You can buy leveling solution, and crack filling solution, but just remember: you're about to cover the ground in cement and tile, so cracks and minor grade inconsistencies will not pose a huge problem.
  • Plan out your runs
    What the hell is a run?! Before you lay a single tile you need to know exactly where every tile is going to lay on your floor, how many cuts to anticipate, and where you're going to start. You're going to need to determine your grout-joint size in this step. A run is a term used to describe a block of tile that can easily measured and laid out across the floor using chalk-lines. For my job, we considered four tiles, each with their grout joints, as one "run". We picked a starting point and chalked out the entire house. As we were going along we periodically checked the runs for "square" using the time-tested pythagorean theorem (A sq + B sq = C sq). Once all the chalk was snapped down, we used clear spray paint so it would stay.
  • Time to mix the mud
    You have to mix the thin-set mortar, known in the industry as mud. You'll probably use five-gallon buckets, a half-inch drill, and a large mixing bit. You have to mix the thin-set to be the right consistency or your job will be extremely difficult. Think peanut butter. Thick enough to stick to the trowel, but thin enough to spread, and the trowel divots should stand, not sink.
  • Spread the mud, and lay those damn tiles!
    Get on your knees, have a bucket of water, a big tiling sponge, a bucket of mud, a big trowel, a bunch of stacks of tile, get on your starting point (ours was the longest aesthetically appealing wall - NOT the center of the room), and start spreading the mud. Spread enough mud for one run at a time, and try not to cover your guidelines (the chalk you better have snapped down). Lay the tile. It will need slight adjustments. Use quick tapping motions with your palm to slowly adjust the tile until it is in position. The

    1. It is worth noting here - spreading mud is NOT EASY. Neither is laying the tile. A pro, or experienced handyman will make this look incredibly easy, but it really isn't. Holding the trowel at the proper angle, making sure your mud is the right thickness, making sure all your tiles are sitting square and all the corners are level ... it is trickey, and there are so many subtle tricks-of the trade that are required to do this part correctly, and efficiently.
  • It is inevitable that you will need to cut tile.
    You're probably thinking "Dear god ... I do not like the sound of cutting tile," and if that is what you're thinking, then you just might make it through this. Cutting tile SUCKS - at first. But then it becomes fun, and challenging. Cutting the tile is actually the easy part. Measuring the tile to be cut properly can be the tough part.

    1. Measuring your cuts
      There are so many tricks to measuring non 45 degree angles, and other weird cuts it is crazy. Measuring your cut, while on the surface might sound easy enough, is actually kinda tricky. Be logical, and patient, and mark your cuts on the tiles surface with a contractor's pencil.
    2. Making the cuts
      You'll have two types of cuts: straight cuts, and complex cuts. For the former you'll use a Tile Cutter. It is a device that scores the tile, and then cracks it along the scored edge. For the latter you'll need a wet-saw.

      You are going to F*@# this up a couple times. For sure. So don't get discouraged. That's why you bought 15% more tile than you measured for.
    3. Knowing your edges
      A full piece of tile has what the tradesmen refer to as "factory edges" or "good edges". They are slightly beveled, smooth, and will not slice you open. Once you've cut the tile with either the tile cutter or the wet-saw, you have now created "rough edges". Each edge that was produced by a cut is going to be very slightly jagged, and will not be smooth, aesthetic, of safe. They can cut you, bad. Never use rough edges for an exposed or trafficked area of your floor. The rough edges should always go underneath the baseboards (base moulding) if your replacing that, or but up against the wall. Don't overlook this point.
  • Don't walk on the damn tile while it is drying.
    It needs a full 24 hours to set before you can walk normally on it.
  • Door-jams, threshold, transitions, toilets, ovens, dishwashers, refrigerators, ovens ....
    All of these things pose unique and interesting challenges for you. The door jambs and thresholds make for some tough cuts. Ever removed and replaced a Toilet? Ever disconnected a dishwasher and moved it out of your kitchen, to then put it back? All of these everyday items will make your life hell for a brief period. Tricks of the trade help greatly with these challenges, as well as some patience, focus, and skill.
  • Time to grout in that tile and those baseboards
    You will now mix up some grout. It is essentially the same thing as the thin-set mortar, but has no adhesive, and is dyed to look pretty. Mixing this stuff is different though. You want this to be thinner than the mud.

    Like spreading mud, operating that grout float is truly an art. Also, operating that grouting sponge to get those grout joints looking beautiful, is a fine and graceful dance of tedium.

    You'll need lots of buckets of water, and lots of patience. You'll grout in every grout joint, and every baseboard joint. This is done AFTER the tile has been laid, and is set.
  • Clean the tile
    Spreading the grout over the tile covers them in a thin film of concrete. You'll want to clean the surface of the tile with a grout sponge, and clean water as you go. Do not grout the whole floor and then clean the tile. Also, change your water bucket very frequently. Otherwise it basically becomes liquid concrete that you're cleaning the tile with. After you've cleaned the tile you'll still notice a slight "haze" to the tile. This is normal. After you're done, buff the haze out with a dry towel.
  • You're done. Sorta ....
    Let the grout dry, overnight. Then clean that floor with a mop! Then you get to choose whether or not you're going to seal the grout joints. You know how you seal wood to protect it? Or concrete pavers? Well ... You should really seal the grout joints to assist in the maintenance of your new floor. It's a pain in the A@# but it will help in preventing stains and making the clean-up of those inevitable spills easier.

Now for the fun part of the do it yourself (DIY) tiling project in your home

And that part is LIVING!

Once you get your home back in order, dispose of all the trash, you can enjoy the benefits of a new tile floor. Plus, you'll have weeded out a couple of friends in the process. Because after a few weekends of knee-cracking hard-labor, you'll probably never see them again!

I'm very VERY glad we did the tile in my home, and I could definitely do it on my own now, but the lesson I learned was: I would have royal F*ed this job up. The fact that I had some buddies who really knew their stuff was invaluable, and I would not have been able to produce the product we did without them.

Hopefully this article helps you.

Thanks, and be peaceful on your way,

Time_Spiraling

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Comments 3 comments

rebekahELLE profile image

rebekahELLE 6 years ago from Tampa Bay

great article, David! and having seen the before, during and after, I know how hard you all worked. It looks amazing and I love how you told the story here. :)


Toolsonline profile image

Toolsonline 4 years ago from Up to my Neck in it!

The one tool that I could never do without when laying tiles is a good professional quality tile cutter.. I have just tiled about 140 square meters and now I need a massage!


David 4 years ago

While tiling is long and annoying its not as difficult as you make it sound. I did several tile jobs in the past (mostly bathrooms) and I am about to tile the first floor of my new house and it is definitely something that a DIYer can do if they are willing to spend the time to do it right. Great article overall though.

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