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Plan Your Tile Work

We have put together an informational guide and idea page for those planning their shower, bathroom, kitchen, or floor tile installation. This guide was devised to help the novice understand what it takes to do the job right, what questions to ask a prospective contractor, and the important aspects of the tile work that will make the difference in how your tile looks not only today but for years to come. As a tile contractor I have seen it all. We believe we have given you reliable information below on what to look for when planning your tile work. We have also included some pictures of tile work to help you with some ideas for your project (see Photo Gallery). Just select the links on the table of contents below and you will find easy-to-read information on your tile project. We will be adding more information as time goes on, so check back if your project is not yet discussed.

Table of Contents

I. Design and Color Coordinating

II. Bathrooms

A. Remodeling Process

     1. Demolition

     2. Electric and Rough Plumbing

     3. Repair / Replace Drywall

     4. Order Tile

     5. Install Cabinets

     6. Install Tile to Shower, Counter tops, and Back splashes

     7. Install Floor Tile

     8. Install Finish Fixtures

III. Showers

B. Shower pans

 1. Why they are Critical

C. Shower Wall Preparation

D. Wall Tile Installation

     1. Setting Wall Tile

E. Shower Floor Tile

III. Interior Flooring

A. Preparation

B. Floor Tile Lay-Out

C. Setting Floor Tile

IV. Hiring a Contractor

V. Recommended Tile & Grout Care

 

Design and Color Coordinating

When you embark on your new bathroom remodeling project, one of the first things you will consider is your tile design. RAFI Creations offers a wide variety of corner shampoo shelves, shaving shelves, decorative liners, accents, and soap dishes. Your bathroom remodel is important to us as well and we will help in any way we can. Our products come in a wide range of colors and custom orders are always welcomed.

When designing your tile, color matching or color coordinating will make a world of difference. The first thing one notices when they enter a room is color (whether they are aware of it or not). Many of our customers will choose their RAFI shelves and decorative accents first. There are such an abundant variety of tiles to choose from, and as you may have already noticed, a small choice for shower shelves and soap dishes. By choosing your RAFI shelves and accents first, you will have a better chance of your focus points matching your tile perfectly. The best way to create this bathroom would be to do the following:

1. Decide the style or theme you want to create.

2. Choose the accents and focus features (fixtures, shower shelves, soap dishes, bench or just a ladies shaving shelf, decorative liners or boarders, etc.)

3. Choose your tile according to the colors of your accents.

If you think of it, the easiest way to create a really stunning new bathroom is to plan it out. This can be really fun, until you find yourself tiring from the search. Why get frustrated trying to find accents for your chosen tile. It makes sense that with thousands of ceramic and porcelain tiles available, you could find the perfect tile for your chosen accents much easier. When you choose tile, you look for two things, color and texture, that’s all. If you have your focus features in hand when you look for your tile, you will find a color match that sings.

After you have chosen the theme for your bathroom remodel you need to know the order in which your work should proceed.

Bathrooms

1. Demolition

2. Electric and rough plumbing

3. Replace necessary drywall, texture and seal or prime

4. Order tile

5. Install cabinets

6. Install countertops (if using surface other than tile)

7. Install shower tile, tub tile, countertops, and backsplash

8. Install floor tile

9. Install finish plumbing, electrical fixtures, and shower doors

Remodeling Process

Demolition

You may be doing a full remodel or perhaps just a quick overhaul, either way they are the same steps, you will just be doing less of each. Tear out all areas you plan to update. It is usually easier to remove more than you need to, than to try to save as much as possible. For instance if you will be in need of some drywall repair anyway, another 16”x 30” piece of drywall removed won’t make the job tougher. However, if you try to save it and fail, you will have a drywall repair again or live with a rough spot in your new bathroom. Also, the cleaner your bathroom is after demolition (nails pulled from open studs, floor scraped) the easier your work will be and more enjoyable.

Electric and Rough Plumbing

If your plan includes new electrical fixtures in different places, a new tub or valve in your shower or tub, now’s the time. You do not want to change these things after drywall repair. The depth of your shower valve will depend on your tile and where it finishes at drywall areas (this will be important to be correct for the tile phase).

Replace Drywall

Once you have all rough fixtures, wood backing for grab bars etc., or anything else you can think of that will be on the walls or behind the drywall, then you can replace the necessary drywall. Next, I prefer to texture, prime, and paint walls. You will probably have some touch up at the end, but you will get away with less masking off and you can paint behind your cabinet too. At the very least you should prime the walls because drywall mud and texture will easily wash away with a wet sponge unless it is sealed.

Order Tile

If you get your tile too early and have a problem or need more you could have some problems finding the correct tone and size batch. Ask your ceramic tile dealer on the lead time to receive your tile. They can also check stock of their distributors if you ask. It is best to have your tile arrive a week prior to beginning your tile installation.

Install Cabinets

This one speaks for itself, put your cabinet where it goes, keep it as level as possible and screw it to the wall (you must screw into wood for a sturdy cabinet).

 

Install Tile to shower, shower / tub, countertops, and backsplashes

This is our expertise, Tile and Stone, so we have expanded on these areas in the following pages. We have provided details on the theory behind tile in a shower, how to avoid mildew issues with ceramic tile installation, and what’s important to know if you plan to hire a Tile Contractor (asking the right questions). Other than that this is the time to start your tile work.

Install Floor Tile

Be sure you are using a slip floor to install your tile on (see installation pages below). If you have a wood sub-floor you will want to install a backer board and you will want to put an Alkaline Resistant mesh tape to cover the seams in the backer board. If the mesh tape is not approved for this use, it will disappear in about two years and there is a good chance you will get cracks in your tile.

Install Finish Fixtures

Your new bathroom remodel is almost complete. You have a beautiful new shower, hopefully with a few RAFI Creations shower shelves, soap dishes, along with a matching RAFI decorative liner. A new counter and top, and maybe even a hand-crafted corner shelf there for perfume or a razor. Your walls are newly painted. Now, you are ready for the finishing touches. Install new light fixtures, shower valve finish covers, faucets, towel bars, and toilet. You’ve done it! You can enjoy the feeling of royalty as you bask in your new amenities. We all know after a successful bathroom remodel you have earned it.

Showers

Showers are your most expensive tile investment and are the most important project to not cut corners on. If you are looking to tile a Tub/Shower combination your expense will drop quite a bit, but the installation is again very important. Your shower is subject to repeated use and if it’s not done correctly, you could find it looking shabby within a few years. To insure that does not happen I will explain the cause and effect of your different options. First to consider is the waterproofing technique.

Shower Pans

Every shower that is not a tub needs what is called a shower pan. This is the most important item to consider. If it leaks, the shower tile must be removed to repair it correctly. There are three ways to accomplish this.

1. Hot mop: Just like a flat roof on a building, a hot tar is applied. The hot mopper will fold tar paper to fit your shower floor and about 10” up the shower walls. He or she will then apply hot tar to the sheets and continue again and again making a multiple tar paper and hot tar layers on your shower floor.

2. Fiberglass pan: A plumber will install a fiberglass pan and drain. With this pan your shower will have to coincide with the size of fiberglass pans available or you could have a custom size made that will surely put a restraint in your budget.

3. P.V.C Membrane: This is much like a pool liner, but about five times as thick. Usually a tile contractor will do this. The important part of this process is that the membrane is folded into the corners and it is not cut or punctured. The only place it should be cut is where the fold meets the dam. Here you will glue the pre-made corners with the appropriate glue. Also, no nails, staples, or screws can puncture the membrane below the level of the dam (code in California is no puncture below 3” above dam). You can check with your local city or county building department for your specific building codes.

Theory of the shower pan and why it’s critical

You need to have what is called a tiled in two- part drain (see diagram below). This is a drain that connects to the drain pipe at the floor. The shower pan material will be sandwiched in between the two parts of the drain (with a fiberglass pan this drain is not used). Where these two parts meet are weep holes. These holes allow water that gets under the tile to continue to escape. Your main drain for the shower is approximately 2” higher than the floor weep holes. Within that two inch area is where dry pack cement is applied, which is also what the tile will be installed to. Now that we have explained the components I will explain how it works.

The most crucial component of a shower pan is the actual surface below the shower pan material. This surface is known as a sub-pitch and must have a flow to the weep holes, otherwise the water that gets through to the pan will sit there and produce an environment for mold and mildew.

 
 
 
 

A shower pan works like this: Water from your shower hits your walls and gravity takes it to the floor. The vast portion of the water finds the main drain but some soaks into the grout and eventually to the shower pan. Once there, it will slowly drain towards the weep holes and exit through the drain. The next person’s shower does the same, and with a slope on your shower pan this new water will follow the previous water. If you have no pitch towards the drain, puddling will occur. The correct pitch will keep any water that reaches the shower pan fresh and will keep your shower free from molds and mildews as much as possible.

Shower Wall Preparation

Your shower walls must be water-proofed. First, you need to have water-proofing construction paper attached to your studs. This is a two-sided paper with a tar type barrier in between. It provides protection by preventing excess moisture to escape into the wall cavity. Moisture inside a wall does not have any ventilation and therefore will not dry, leaving opportunity for mold and termites. When you install your vapor barrier paper, start at the bottom covering the shower pan materials. Proceed up the wall over-lapping the piece below until you reach the top of your wall. After applying water-proofing paper, you have several choices for a substrate.

1. Cement Float: This is best application available. With a cement float you will, after attaching the paper, attach metal lathe to the studs. Then a preliminary coat of cement is applied, called a scratch coat. Next, the final coat of cement is applied. This coat is put in flat, plumb, and square and becomes the final float. When dry, this will be your substrate for tile. With a cement float substrate, your shower walls will last and look good as long as your shower pan lasts, which is approximately 30-50 years.

2. Backer Board: After attaching paper, you will need to cut backer board and screw it to the studs. Then to all joints apply an alkaline resistant mesh tape. If you don’t do this or use the wrong type of tape you will get cracks in your tile within 1-5 years. This is the substrate for your tile. If I were ever to use backer board for a shower I would at this point paint a water-proofing membrane on backer board itself (this step is not typically done by a tile contractor, so you will have to request it and will cost you about $200.00 more). I am convinced this will give a backer board shower an additional 10 years of looking good. There are a number of products available on the market. The one I am most familiar with is called Hydro Guard by Mer-crete. A backer board shower will last and look good for about 20-30 years. Problems with the installation of backer board show up at the bottom 12” of your shower walls, which is where you have your shower pan material that you need to cover up for proper waterproofing. This creates a wall that is not flat at the bottom. I would suggest that you attach ¼” redwood furring strips (found in the garden department of most hardware stores) to the studs above the pan material. This should give you a more even substrate.

3. Green Board: First off, I would not advise anyone to use green board in a shower. In my experience as a tile contractor, a green board shower will last 7-15 years and you will know a couple years in advance when it will need replacing by the excess mildew and increased difficulty of keeping it clean. In addition, the damage to the wood in the walls can be extreme. Backer board is just as easy to install and much more durable.

Wall Tile Installation

Lay-out: Wall tile is the most difficult of tile installations. After your substrate is ready for tile you will want to plan how your tile is going to fit on your wall (this is called the lay-out). For instance, if you are tiling to the ceiling, you want to be sure when you get there you don’t have a ½” cut to finish with, it will look much nicer if your last cut is 2”or more. To accomplish this you must first decide on the components that will be used (decorative stripes, etc.). If your tile is all 6”x6” and you are setting them on the wall in a square pattern, you will need to lay a row of your tile with the size spacers that will be use in between each tile on a large flat surface. You will then measure from the bottom of the first tile to the bottom of the last tile. Meaning, if you are measuring 6 tiles you are also including in that measurement 6 grout joints. With this measurement you will measure and mark your substrate and get a rough measurement to see what size the tile that meets the ceiling is to be. If the cut is too small, you will want to cut your first tile at the bottom, this will bring the placement of the top row down and make it larger. You will then want to use this measurement again left to right to decide the cuts in your corners. Follow this same step on your return walls as well. It is best if your walls can start with full tiles at your finish edge as long as your corner cuts won’t suffer, although this is not always possible. If you have a decorative stripe or band you will need to consider this in your vertical lay-out, and don’t forget to add a grout joint. Also important in your lay-out is to consider your starting point. If you are starting on top of a tub you should first check how level the tub is set. Wall tile must be set level and plumb, if your tub has not been set level I would suggest the first row of tile be cut to give the appearance that it is. The top of your first row must be level and for the best look and easiest maintenance. Where the tile meets the tub should be 1/8” or less.

Setting Wall Tile

First, mark on the wall the approximate placement of any deco, shelves, and soap dishes. This is so you don’t pass these areas up while installing your wall tile and then have to remove tile to get back on track. Now that you know where you will start and your plan is set, you will mix your thin set and begin. Again, the most important thing when setting wall tile is that your tile is level and plumb. I would suggest that you set about three rows at a time. First, set three rows on the back wall then three rows on both of your return walls. Then, check to make sure your rows are level. This should help to keep you out of trouble. You should have on hand not only the size spacers you want, but also some plastic wedges to help make up for differences in tile. Be sure to keep the rows level!! When you press your tile to the wall with thin set in between be sure to apply pressure and twist the tile before you move on to your next tile, this will help the bond a great deal. If the substrate at the corners is not plumb you must still keep your tile level. You will find the cuts at your corners will grow or shrink, this is inevitable. At this point the only thing you can do is cut each tile to fit (the larger your tile is in these corners the less likely the different sizes will be noticeable).

Shower Floor Tile

The shower floor should be set last. If you set it first and then set your wall tile on top of your floor you will have a crack in your grout where the two meet and caulking will need constant maintenance.

Interior Flooring

Interior floor tile is the easiest to install, although there are important steps to take to insure a beautiful, long lasting surface.

Preparation

There are two applications for floors:

1. On cement floors you will want to apply what is called a slip floor. This is accomplished by using a flexible membrane glued to the cement or also available is a paint-on rubber type of membrane. This will give you the best protection from cracks in your cement transferring through to your new tile. Before you start you must insure your cement is clean. First scrape any debris stuck to cement, next using a bucket and large sponge (changing water frequently) wipe off dirt and dust in small areas rinsing the sponge often. Let the cement dry before applying either type of membrane.

2. On wood sub-floors you will use a backer board attached to the floor with mastic and screws. Too many screws are better than not enough. When this process is insufficiently done, you end up with grout crumbling and constant maintenance until it is repaired. You should clean the floor before you install the backer board just as you would on a cement floor with water and a sponge. At the joints where backer board comes together you will need to apply an alkaline resistant mesh tape, without the approved mesh tape you will get cracks in your tile or grout.

Floor Tile Lay-Out

Using a tight grout joint will create a more difficult job. If you use a 3/16” joint you will have a much easier time. Reason being that with the tight joint your tile must be totally flat to each other. I would not suggest this method for a novice. Now you will want to plan how your tile will fit in your room or multiple rooms. For instance, if you are tiling one room, you want to be sure when you get to your edges you don’t have a 1” cut to finish with. It will look much nicer if your edge cut is half a tile or more. If you are tiling multiple rooms you will want to figure where your tile will fit there too (if it is all connecting). To accomplish this you must first decide on the components that will be used (decorative stripes, dots, border, etc.). If your tile is all 18”x18” and you are setting them on the floor in a square pattern, you will need to lay a row of your tile with the size of grout joint you will be using in between each tile on a large flat surface. You will then measure from the left edge of the first tile to the left edge of the last tile. If you are measuring four tiles you are also including in that measurement four grout joints. With this measurement you can figure how your tile will fit. If you are going into multiple rooms you will need to snap a few chalk lines that are square to each other and square to your longest wall to have a reference point in all rooms.

Places of concern in your lay-out are your cuts against the wall and cuts in doorways. When you need to go around a wall or doorway, it is best that a grout line hits within that doorway. This prevents more complex cutting in (cutting around a doorway can require a U-cut). A professional will grid the floor with chalk lines and knows where every tile will fit before starting to set tile. It is common for homeowners to use spacers and on smaller projects this can work out just fine. The problem occurs when tile is not perfectly square on a larger room. Your tile and grout joints can wander depending on how square the tile is. With that said it is up to you to decide if you want to take on the project, and if so what method you are comfortable with. Floors are the easiest of all tile setting applications.

Setting Floor Tile

Now that you know where you will start and your plan is set, you will mix your thin set and begin. Apply thin set to an area on the floor using a notched trowel, lay your tile on top of the thin set, and apply some pressure using a downward twist to set in place (this helps the tile to bond to the thin set). You can figure cuts after you set your full pieces if you like, just be careful if you have any of those U-cuts around doorways as those will need to go in first. If you are planning to put baseboard in following tile installation, you can save some time on your edge cuts and there will not be a grout joint at your edge. Be aware that if your tile is set at different levels you will have differing gaps under the baseboard. These gaps can be caulked, but an even gap still looks better. If you cut up to the existing baseboard I think it looks best if you have the same size gap between the tile and baseboard, about 1/8” looks great.

Questions for a Potential Contractor

Verify the contractor has a contractor specialty license for tile or one for general construction for your state. Obtain the license number to verify their status. Usually I would recommend a specialty contractor for tile work, someone who installs tile daily instead of four times a year. Although I have known some general contractors who are knowledgeable enough to do the job correctly.

Inquire about work experience such as how many years he or she has been in business or what their specialty is.

Ask if he or she has performed similar types of installations to yours in terms of detail and / or materials used.

Ask the contractor to explain what materials they will use as well as explain how it works in theory. If they know how it works there’s a much better chance they will do the work correctly. See above for theory explanations.

Also, if you are saving $1,000.00 from one contractor to the next there is probably a reason for that. Remember a shower installed correctly can last 50 years and look good for its lifetime, where as one that is done incorrectly can look shabby in just a few years. It does take time to make proper cuts and miters, those details do make a difference in the overall appearance of the project.

Recommended Tile & Grout Care

  If the sealing of grout (and tile if it is a natural stone) was not completed by your contractor, we highly recommend sealing immediately to prevent any staining.

  Do not use cleaners containing acid or bleach, wax cleaners, oil-based detergents, ammonia, vinegar, or cleaning agents that contain color for routine maintenance.

  Types of cleaners that are recommended are neutral or pH balanced. Most cleaners available in supermarkets are not neutral.

  Acidic cleaners will eventually erode the grout which will make it more difficult to maintain in the future.

  If you properly clean and maintain your new tile and grout, the result will be lasting beauty for years to come.