Ceramic Tile & Natural Stone Flooring Installation Guide

installationOf all the different types of home flooring, cermic tile and natural stone flooring are the most common types that are left to the home flooring professionals. Installation of tile and stone flooring is labor-intensive, especially ceramic tile. It also takes an experienced hand to lay tile straight. When a mosaic or complex design is planned, choosing pro installation is essential.

Hiring a professional flooring contractor is the best way to ensure that the job is done correctly, and if it’s not, that you’ve got recourse to get it fixed. If you choose to do the work yourself, you should consider watching an in-depth tutorial that shows precise, step by step detail.

This guide about tile and stone flooring, provides an overview of the installation process, for those of you who have good DIY skills, the right tools, and of course, experience. Even if you don’t do the work yourself, knowing what is involved will help you discuss the job with contractors as well as oversee the work to make sure it’s being done correctly. To learn more, you should also read our guides about tile floor prices, care and maintenance, as well as the complete tile and stone floor buying guide.

Tools and Supplies

The basics for ceramic tile or natural stone flooring installation include a tape measure, T-square, chalk line, pencil or marker, tile or stone saw and a mortar trowel. If the substrate requires sanding, you’ll need an orbital sander for that purpose. Imperfections in concrete should be removed with a chisel and hammer, and you should wear protective glasses during the process.

Be sure you have mortar and grout suitable for the material you are installing. You may also want solvent to remove mortar that sets on the top surface of the material.

Preparing the Floor

The first step in preparation is to remove any existing flooring, the shoe molding and toe kicks.

For both ceramic tile flooring and natural stone flooring, the surface beneath the material, called the substrate or subfloor, is very important. Concrete and plywood are the most common surface on which stone and tile are installed. For stone and tile installation any subfloor that could shrink, expand or move in anyway requires a cement backer unit, or CBU, to provide stability and act as a moisture barrier. Given that most subfloors can shift overtime, using CBU has been a very common practice over the years. However there is a new(ish) product that is rapidly gaining and surpassing CBU in popularity and that is DITRA, manufactured by Schluter, read our indepth guide if you are considering installing tile or stone using DITRA to discover what it is and how it compares to CBU.

Returning now to traditional installation, the substrate must be very level and free of debris. If it is uneven, it may lead to the cracking of the tile or natural stone flooring. If the installers take pains with the substrata, their hard work will pay off by making the stone or tile installation easier.

Installation Techniques

Most installers will snap chalk lines onto the floor to produce a pattern for the natural stone flooring slabs or ceramic tiles. For example, if the slabs are 15” square, the squares may be 15 1/8” to 15 1/2″ square. The slabs or tiles will be installed in the very center of each square and the remaining 1/8” will be filled with grout. Grout lines are much wider for tile than for stone flooring.

For tile, installers will often lay a single line of tile without mortar to get an idea of how the tile will fit the room. Then, a second row will be laid in the opposite direction to form a “T” shape. Once done, the form becomes the guideline for installation of the tiles onto the substrata.

Mortar should be applied directly to the substrate using a notched mortar trowel. If you do the installation, ask the dealer about the right type of mortar (often called thinset) for tile or stone and what trowel should be used. Follow instructions on the adhesive closely for best results. Many experienced installers will also apply a small amount of mortar to the back of each tile or stone.

For cutting the material, a 10” diamond blade is used. This is the tool of choice for some tile installers too, though tile is much softer and small pieces can be trimmed to fit with tile snips.

Once the natural stone flooring or ceramic tile is in place, adding the grout is the next step. It is essential that you have the right type of grout. For natural stone, pigment is often added to blend with the stone or, less often, form an accent border. With stone, generally the less noticeable the grout is the better. With tile flooring, the grout is an essential part of the visual appeal.

Once your natural stone or ceramic tile flooring installation is complete, the floor contractor, you or a trim carpenter can put the molding and toe kicks back on. Generally, you should wait 1-2 days before there is any heavy traffic on the floor. Ask your tile dealer or installer for specifics.

Ceramic Tile and Stone Flooring Installation FAQs

Q: What are the main reasons for choosing professional installation for ceramic tile and stone flooring?
A: Preparing the substrate for installation is vitally important. It takes knowledge and experience. Secondly, running tiles in straight rows takes an experienced hand. When the rows are off, it will be instantly noticeable and the fix is an expensive and time-consuming one. Finally, cutting the natural stone flooring or tile requires tools that most don’t have, and it can be dangerous as well.

Q: How can you save money on ceramic tile installation?
A: There are a couple of ways. First, remove the old flooring yourself. If it is carpeting, remove the tack strip and all staples. If it is concrete, get quality crack filler and fill the cracks, then sand them smooth. Remove all baseboard trim too. Finally, the larger the tile that you choose, the less it should cost per square foot since there isn’t as much labor in installing 1 16” square tile as there is in the installation of 4 tiles each 4” square.

Q: Should natural stone flooring be sealed?
A: It depends on the product. Most stone benefits from being sealed. Check with the manufacturer or the dealer.

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