Here is another stab at a DIY project that being able to actually do it yourself will save a good chunk of change. Please do remember that tile work is even messier than wood working and is a little more permanent. With that being said, please continue to read on for more of this adventure.
The upside to taking on any higher risk projects is that once you complete it, all the daunting tasks will be much more familiar to you and should make it easier for that next time. There’s also the sense of accomplishment too when things don’t fall apart afterwards.
This project took me approximately 1 week as I couldn’t find any cement boards at my local home depot after tearing up my old floor (contractors buy these in bulk so check the store beforehand to see if they have it inventory as the website doesn’t update quickly).
Please read through the entire project and all comments before starting this project; plan ahead. Making preparations for safe and efficient work will prevent a lot of headache. Find a clean level surface, free of imperfections or debris and purchase/use tiles that do not have any cracks in them (otherwise it will break in the long run or completely fall apart during cuts). If you buy in bulk, expect broken or cracked ones. Return these later if your store allows it. Check for square and level after each step. Always follow the instructions written on the thin set, tile and grout packaging. Try to plan ahead for alternate routes through project areas so they have the appropriate time for curing. If possible, level the floor with additional wood, self leveling cement or thin set + cement boards. Although there are different opinions to correct cement board installations by “professionals”, I prefer to follow manufacturing recommendations that allow for installers to get the warranty.
As it will mention later, my install uses thin set under the 1/4″ cement board secured down by 1-1/4″ screws made for contact with thin set. Wipe or scrape away any excess cement as you go to avoid needing to scrape away at it later. Wear masks and nitrile gloves when available during cement/thin set work. Please wear the appropriate PPE for cutting tiles. These tips should help you keep safe and having fun doing your own projects~
Durock NexGen 1/4″ x 3′ x 5′ Cement board (link)
Custom Buildings Versabond Gray 50 lbs (link) – for the cement board
Custom Buildings Versabond LFT (large format tile) White 50 lbs (link) – for the tiles
Backer-On #10 x 1-1/4 in. Zinc-Plated Steel Flat-Head Square Cement Board Screws (link)
MARAZZI Montagna Dapple Gray 6 in. x 24 in (link)
Custom Building Products Polyblend #165 Delorean Gray 25 lb. Sanded Grout (link)
18 Gauge 2″ Brad nails
There are many ways that this can be approached (tile over existing tile, tile over plywood, tile over hardwood, etc), but we had a sticky type laminate that went over plywood sub floors. This meant that we needed to tear up, using a crowbar and some oomph, the wood, remove all nails/staples, and clean the surface. Once this is done, we made sure all trim pieces had enough space for the new floor to install into. Our floor height was going to be approximately 1/8″ higher than previous install so we used our ultra saw by dremel to make this cut.
Wear gloves if you have them… I know it’s a duh thing but I got lots of small splinters from handling the plywood that I ripped up not wearing one. I also got small cuts from hitting my hand on the floor while pulling out stupid trim nails and carpet staples.
Cement board laying:
Once you have your subfloor ready and as flat as it could be, make your cuts to the cement board using a razor blade or scoring tool. I highly recommend laying the boards in place and fitting them together before getting the thin set ready. Follow manufacturer’s recommendations on edge gaps for the boards and trowel sizes for the cement. Recommendation for ours was the 1/4″ x 1/4″ trowel. If your floors are uneven and you do not have self leveling cement, a thicker amount of thin set can be used to even things out.
As you work from outer edge in, level and secure the floors using the cement board screws. Do this before filling and taping the gaps between boards (I messed this part up because I tried to add additional screws to better secure the edge of cements boards after taping).
You can be on top of the cement board as you work on this part. Just don’t have heavy foot traffic on it for 24 hours afterwards for proper curing (hence the recommendation up top for alternate routes around your property).
Wear long sleeves when doing stuff with cement boards as the edges are sharp and dirty. Hard lessons…
Now comes the almost fun part.
In order to have a good balance and focal point to the floor, you must first find your center. Fortunately, you don’t need too much meditation for this (my attempt at a joke so please forgive me). For wood looking tile that has a short and a long edge, you want to find the center for where your short edge will meet. For our landing area, this meant finding the center of the width. Once I found the center, I used a straight edge (you can use a chalk line) to draw a line. From here, it was a matter of laying the tile in a design that looked the nicest. My wife gave me direction on this to where I ended up using the Japanese design way of everything in odd numbers (3 rows before repeating the pattern and offsetting the tile by 1/3 for the next rows). Please note that some tiles have specification on minimum offset. I did not know about this before hand but most are apparently 1/3 of the length or so.
Once I got the general layout approved, I pieced together the other tiles using the 1/8″ spacers and dry cut the tiles using the Dremel ultra saw. Dry cutting doesn’t provide the nicest edges but when you can strategically place those edges on the outside, it can be hidden later. Make your special cuts and you are ready to proceed to the difficult part.
Recommendation: cut tiles outside where the dust can escape with hearing and eye protection. Masks are also good.
Follow the package instructions to mix your mortar. This is very important because you want a specific consistency of the product for proper troweling, setting and curing. Once you mix the powder with water, you will need to wait approximately 10 minutes for it to set/slake. Use this time to move the tile you had prepared off to the side.
Have a bucket with water and sponge ready for cleanup as well. Once slaking is done, remix the thin set and you are ready to start tiling.
Because my taped cement board joints were slightly raised, I wanted to be sure I had enough thin set to level the tile. This is where having the larger 1/2″ trowel comes in. Youtube the proper spreading techniques and start laying your tiles from the edge. If you are using wood looking tiles or anything that is relatively long, you will notice that the tiles are not completely flat. This is ok as the grouting can compensate for a decent amount of unevenness. Get the tiles as level as possible with the surrounding ones as you work your way outwards. You can use a rubber mallet, wood with metal hammer or just your weight to smush the tiles into place.
For this instance, I only needed +85% thin set coverage on the tile for proper installation so that is what I checked for from time to time.
Clean the surfaces when you can so that the thin set does not dry on top of your flooring. Extra cement that gets squeezed out from between the tile too should be cleaned up. Cured thin set is very difficult to remove afterwards so be warned.
Wait the recommended cure time and limit the amount of traffic in the area if you have animals that need passage (we have cats that needed access to the down stairs for their bathroom. The dogs were kept out via the use of a gate).
You are so close! Clean the grout line using the special tool or with a file and razor like me. Sweep and vacuum the area and you are ready to grout.
Again, follow the instructions precisely to mix the grout powder with water. Let the grout slake and remix before rubber floating it. Make sure that you prepare enough water to clean your sponge frequently. It is important that you really fill in the grout lines using your float and use a DAMP (no water dripping) sponge at 45 degrees to clean the surface. Once you use a section of the sponge to clean, do not use it again until it has been washed off. If you think a portion got messed up, use the float again with additional grout and clean off with the sponge once more.
As long as the grout lines do not get WET, you will have a nice finish.
Do not grout the outside edge of the tile where it will meet the wall or trim. As the floor can move, it will be much better to fill that in with a more flexible material like caulk. Otherwise I believe you can expect to crack.
Allow the grout to also cure for 24 hours or manufacturer recommended time before stepping on it. I placed some wood on it for our cats.
Now we wait for 3 days before sealing the grout and we’re done! Now for the trim..
I just added the quarter rounds and caulked some of the areas. As soon as this dries completely, we will paint~
Please let us know what you think and ask us if there are any questions!
I think the colors of the tile and grout really match and we are happy how it turned out~
We will post more pictures after figuring out what to do with the carpet and tile floor to stairs transition.
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