Tile It Up

By Sharon Naylor

May 1, 2009 5 min read


Projects provide value, but be careful while installing

Sharon Naylor

Creators News Service

It may look easy on those home improvement shows, but installing tile in a bathroom or kitchen is a complicated project that -- done well -- adds to the value of your home. But there's no need to be afraid if you're following these simple guidelines:

* Know where to work. Most homeowners look at a bathroom and think, "I can do this," in an effort to save money. But according to Michael Schweit, co-author of "Tiling Complete" ($22, Taunton), "No homeowner should attempt to install tile in wet areas, such as a bathtub or shower stall. The risk of leaks that could turn into greater, more expensive problems in the future is too high."

* Have the right tools. As any seasoned DIY or professional tile expert can tell you, it makes all the difference. This is no time for a plastic spatula from a home improvement store or spreading caulk with your fingers. Talk to project experts at your favorite hardware store to help fill your shopping cart with the best products.

* Assess your surface. Your walls and floor must be as level and secure as possible for quality tile installation. "On your walls, use a straight-edge to make sure your wall is level," said Schweit. "If walls have bumpy patches, apply a coat of patching compound or drywall compound -- depending on the material your wall is made from -- to make the surface completely flat so that tiles don't crack when affixed."

If your floor surface is wood, check to make sure it's structurally sound, not squishy from any leaks or water damage. "If you smell mildew, you will likely need a professional to replace some flooring first. If your floor is concrete slab, you'll need to clean it and make there are no cracks that would then crack the tile," he added.

* Choose the right tiles. Schweit said that matte and textured styles are your best bets, since they provide better traction. The shinier it is, the more slippery it will be when wet.

* Determine your needs. According to Lee Wallender, who writes the guide to home renovations for about.com, "Measure the room's length by its width, and then add 15 percent to account for tile wastage." Regarding sizes, Wallender said that 4-by-4 inch and 12-by-12 inch are the "workhorses" of tiling, but small terrazzo tiles adhered to mats available in 12-by-12 inch sizes are nearly as easy to install.

* Determine your tile style. Use online design tools such as designersketchbook.com to try out different colors, borders and grout hues, as well as different layout patterns such as checkerboard. Visit a supplier to discover materials that fit your budget. You'll learn about imported and domestic ceramics, tumbled marble, natural stone, granite and other materials. Never pick a tile online without feeling it: An in-person assessment of your materials is always wisest.

* Add finishing touches. For most projects, applying grouting between the tiles provides the perfect finishing touch. While some designers currently tout a "no grout" finish, experts consider that trend to be a bad idea. Without grouting, dirt and bacteria collects between tiles, creating an unwelcome result.

* Consider a pro. "Keep in mind that tiling a bathroom or kitchen can be a lot more complicated than you might imagine," said Jennifer Hillegass, president and owner of Handyman Matters in Denville, N.J. "Bathrooms, for instance, might be smaller, and great care must be taken to ensure a design that looks good. This results in a lot of tile-cutting," a process that requires special wet-saws and intricate work.

And if you find a leak by the toilet, an expert needs to repair that. "Hiring a professional handyman service can save the homeowner a great deal in wasted time and money, especially in the form of wasted materials," she said.

How much time will your tile project take? Assuming your surfaces are level, you have no leaks, and you have purchased enough tile and the right equipment, Wallender said that a 100 square-foot room should take no longer than a weekend.

If your project is smaller, such as simply changing the color of a border around a bathroom wall, you'll merely need to clean the tile line in question, sand them to create a rougher surface than the previously shiny, smooth one, and paint on specialty enamel found at your local hardware store. This project could take a day or two.

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