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Do it yourself ceramic tile installation; the first things to consider

Updated on July 2, 2009

Before You Begin

There are a few considerations that are easily forgotten by the over-eager DIY tiler. Many problems caused at the start will not have noticeable effects for some time, so it’s best to plan properly at the outset. Here are some things to keep in mind. You'll also need to ensure you have the right tools so please check out my hub on this topic.

Why tile?

Tiling is typically more expensive and time-consuming than using wallpaper or paint. Indeed, the traditional high cost of tiles are one of the reasons they remain desirable as a symbol of wealth and status. Modern manufacturing costs have brought the costs down enormously, but the symbolic value remains. However, there are also many practical advantages. Tiles are easy to clean and therefore hygienic and convenient - especially for bathrooms, where moisture can be a problem. They can also withstand the use of some chemical cleaning products that one wouldn’t dream of using on a painted surface. They also maintain their fresh appearance log after paint has started fading, and withstand day-to-day wear.

Taking Care

Health and safety has unfortunately – and somewhat bizarrely – become embroiled in the row over political correctness. Any sensible DIYer realises that safety should be the number one priority at all times; ignoring health and safety advice is liable to leave you badly injured or even permanently disabled – and thus ironically dependent on the “politically correct” policies (that ensure you can get into shops and onto trains) that the reactionaries mock. Ranting aside, here are some crucial things to keep in mind:

Firstly, when it comes to the “glaze” on tiles the clue is in the name. It is essentially a thin layer of glass which can either slice your skin like a knife or splinter off. Always use gloves for handling them and make sure to dispose properly of any waste. Gloves are in any case essentially due to the chemical adhesives and other products used for tiling. Why wait to find out if you have an allergic reaction

Secondly, when handling electrical equipment, use circuit breakers and be especially careful about water if you are working in the bathroom, for instance.

Thirdly, read all instructions before you begin anything resembling a tiling project. Ensure that you have the right equipment and that you are not, for example, standing tiptoe on a footstall to tile your ceiling.

Fourthly, remember that you are a human being with limitations common to your species. This means you need to take regular breaks, concentrate on only one thing at once, and also try vary what you are doing to avoid boredom, burnout and of course repetitive strain injury. Do not do too much in one day.

Tile Considerations

If you're unsure whether to opt for porcelain or ceramic tiles or even natural stone, then these links will take you to my hubs on these subjects.

In terms of style, the trends that arise most rapidly also seem to disappear the quickest so be careful about design fads that could leave your surface looking quickly out of date. If this happens, remember that you’ll probably have to wait about another 20 years before you can claim that it’s ‘retro.’ One of the most desirable qualities of tiles are their permanence. This is explained both by the qualities of the material but also their expensive; most people simply cannot afford to tear them down and start again every other year. In other words, consider the trade-off between longevity and current fashion. Also remember the color rule that applies to all interior design: light colors make rooms look bigger; vice-versa for darker shades.

Shaped tiles can look great but take time, skill and effort to cut. Smaller shaped tiles are extremely tricky so avoid any impulse buys.

Firstly, you need to choose an appropriate color. White usually looks best on walls and has never gone out fashion. For floor tiles, whether you choose white or gray, the latter will be the color you end up with. You can simply choose whether you want the gray to arise from the grout’s color, or from the dust that will inevitably build up between your tiles. This is, of course, unless you want to best part of your days on all fours scrubbing for the rest of your –or your tiles’ – life.

Grout Choices

If you are using colored grout, it’s best to avoid mixing your own as it’s incredibly difficult to get the tone right and doing so repeatedly is close to impossible. Colored grout may also stain your tiles so check with the supplier AND do a test first to make sure it will be OK. Avoid a high contrast between the grout color and the tiles (e.g. black grout and white tiles) as deviations in joint width and symmetry become many times more obvious. For more on grout check out my dedicated hub on the topic.

This is not, of course, a comprehensive list of things to remember but if you are not sure about any of these issues yet, then it is certainly not time to proceed with your project.


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    • scaffolding tower profile image

      scaffolding tower 7 years ago from United Kingdom

      Tiles have their own 'character,' that's why many still prefer them to the usual wallpaper config at home. Thanks for sharing these.