Tag Archive | tile

Installing Ceramic Kitchen Tile

Hello, readers,

Today, I’m going to share the process of redoing our kitchen floor. We did this project almost exactly one year ago, a few months into home-ownership when we still lived primarily in our rental house. This is going to be a very large post, because I’m included all the prep work we did, too.

Our kitchen in general needed a lot of work, so here are some before pictures to give you an idea of what we originally had.

There were two different styles of green peel-and-stick vinyl tiles making some sort of pattern, but the vinyl tiles didn’t extend all the way to the edges of the room (and the pattern wasn’t centered!). Underneath the vinyl tiles were more green tiles made of a very strange material. I guess that they were clay of some sort? I know that they weren’t ceramic, and they were pretty brittle when we started pulling them up.

We were lucky that the peel-and-stick wasn’t attached directly to our subfloor because that would have been so much harder to remove. We were able to wedge a crowbar between the solid tile and the subfloor, which also removed the peel-and-stick with it. When we were trying to remove the peel-and-stick from the other tile, we had some moderate success using a heat gun, but it was still not easy.

Post-Demo Prep Work

By American standards, we have an absolutely tiny kitchen. It’s almost exactly 8 feet by 8 feet. I know that everything we need will fit inside, but the room somehow felt smaller without all the cabinets in it. Still, I was very grateful that it was so small during many of the labor-intensive portions of this remodel.

After some weeks away from this project (We were still living primarily at our rental and didn’t need a functioning kitchen yet here.), we returned to the floor. We vacuumed everything with the brush attachment to our shop-vac twice and started setting our cement backer-board down to test for the fit.


The cleaner spot on the subfloor is from where our pipes started leaking…

This is what it looked like when everything was dry fit into place.

We cut the cement backer board using a somewhat fiddly process. First, we would lay down the piece that needed to be cut in its place, directly onto the subfloor, using spacers to keep it separated from the wall. Then we lay the piece that was not going to be cut in its place, overlapping the first piece. We used twice the normal number of spacers between this second piece and the wall, to ensure that there would be an appropriately sized gap between the two pieces when they were both laying flat. We then took our carbide tipped scoring knife and scored the first, to-be-cut board repeatedly along the edge of the second piece. Once it was scored enough, we picked everything off the floor and snapped the scored piece along the line.

Once “cut,” we put the boards back in place with their spacers in the correct gaps. Every single piece we cut this way broke cleanly and lined up perfectly on the floor.

It was a little bit of a process, but I highly recommend cutting the backer board like this, with the pieces lying in place. There was a pipe that we had to measure around, and the hole ended up much too big. We even measured it twice, but you can see in the picture below that it just did not work. We were able to slide the backer board over the pipe, but the hole in the backer board was too large to cover up the hole in the subfloor.


This was super frustrating.

Also, just do your best to make everything square. Despite being perfectly flush along our starting wall, the room itself is not square, which resulted in some gaps that the backer board did not cover along the walls.

Eventually, these gaps will be covered by baseboards.

Now that everything was set in place, my boyfriend and I mixed up a full bag of thin-set mortar and applied it underneath the backer board. I’ve seen lots of comments in forums from professional tile installers saying that they just screw the backer board directly to the subfloor, but the backer board manufacturer’s instructions say that you must put mortar underneath.


We had relatively big pieces to work with, so we just pulled up one board at a time and applied thin-sit mortar in the gap it left.

Now we split up our labor. My boyfriend went around attaching the backer board screws at every marking indicated on the cement board, while I taped all the seams with alkali-resist mesh tape. We bought self-adhesive tape, so that made things easier. We had just enough thin-set mortar left to fill in the tape joints, so we did that now.


From my research around the internet, a lot of professionals leave the taping-and-filling of the joints until they are actively tiling to avoid creating little “speed bumps.” The bags of mortar we got said they would cover 55-65 square feet (we have slightly over 67 square feet), so we took the fact that we had extra thin-set in our bucket as a gift and used it right away. What we didn’t want to happen is to run out of thin-set with just two tiles to go because we used too much of the tiles’ batch on the tape joints. However, we did have a mild speed-bump problem. I guess you need to pick your poison.

We put up a piece of vinyl lattice against the door overnight to stop our cat from stepping in wet mortar.


This is what not having finished rooms in a house looks like.

If you’re doing this project yourself and do not fill the tape joins as a separate step, you can start laying down your tile right away. If you fill in the taped lines like we did, then you should wait 24 hours for it to set.


After some more (endless) cleanup, we measured and marked the center of the room using some chalk line. (We made this ourselves by dunking some twine into a $1.38 bottle of blue marking chalk rather than paying $13 for a fancy surveyor’s pre-chalked line.) We set the tile along one line and saw that our line was no good.

We decided to go with black and white tile laid out in a chessboard pattern because I’ve wanted that tile floor since I was a very little girl. We were going to have an intersection in the exact center of the room so that neither black nor white would be the predominant tile color for the floor.

Laying the tiles out according to our chalk lines would have resulted in this.


You can just barely see our chalk guides in this picture.

The first tile just barely hung over the edge of the backer board and would have needed to be cut. This was unacceptable. Also, the two doors in our kitchen are not centered along the same axis. It’s not too noticeable if you’re just standing in the room (and not noticeable at all in the picture above), but it would have been horribly obvious once we put down a grid.

Since one of the two doors in our kitchen were doomed to be off-center, we chose to make that the outside door. We proceeded next to ignore our chalk lines and center the tile in the interior doorway.


Laying out the center axes.

We then based all the other tile placement according to this first tile. It was a very fussy process to lay everything out based on a movable tile. I would highly suggest resnapping your chalk lines if you need to adjust your layout. At least that way you would have a line of reference to make sure everything was lining up correctly.


Our lovely kitty decided that she would try out her camouflage skills on the new floor. Very sneaky.


All laid out!

Our strangely centered-but-not-really layout resulted in many uneven cuts. You can see in the picture above that the tiles along the left wall will be much smaller than the just-barely-not-a-full-tile sized ones along the right wall. Technically, we should have reoriented everything again to make sure that there were no tiles that needed to be cut to less than a half-tile width. I believe that rule is about aesthetics and tile-cutting stability. We decided to ignore that rule of tiling since our left wall will be completely covered by cabinets and a fridge anyway.

We neither bought nor rented a wet saw or a tile cutter because my local Lowes offers to cut tile in the store. Since this floor is inspired by chess, we labeled each location according to chessboard naming conventions. This made sure that the tiles wouldn’t be confused and not fit properly because of uneven walls. After a trip to the hardware store and back, this is what our dry-fit tiles looked like.


Please ignore the lack of spacers along the perimeter tiles. I was lazy.

The pipe in the corner continued to be a big pain. Originally, we bought a hole-saw drill bit made to drill holes in ceramic tile. The problem we ran into here was that it was only useful in the center portions of the tile. We needed the hole for the pipe to be close to the edge, and the drill bit’s suction-cup apparatus would not work. We had to use a carbide rod saw and drill bit set that we bought as a backup. My boyfriend drilled through the tile (I couldn’t put enough force behind the drill to make it work.) at the four corners while I poured a steady stream of water onto the tile to keep anything from overheating. He used the rod-saw portion of the set for one edge of our hole before just going back to drill all around the perimeter. It sounds absurd, but it took a really long time to be able to drill through this tile.

If you’ll notice below, the hole we oh-so-carefully measured again ended up sitting differently over the pipe than the underlying backer board. Also, it ended up being right up against the pipe and we should have made the hole larger. We were too tired of the whole process, though, and called it good enough.

Note: The piece we had to drill through was a corner tile with two edge cuts. I didn’t know if we were going to break the tile while trying to drill the hole, so we had the Lowes tile cutter people cut three identical white tiles for this corner so we would have spares.

Actually laying the tile down in mortar was done much in the same way as laying the backer board down. I picked up two – four tiles at a time and set them aside, filled the gaps they left with mortar, and put them back. The checkerboard pattern made it very easy to tell which tile went where. Once I wiggled them into place, I put the little spacers back.  Once I needed to start working quickly, I found that these plain spacers were more frustrating to use than strictly necessary, but the quick/easy spacers were more expensive.

I thoroughly sprayed the backer board with water before putting down any mortar to help keep the mortar from being sucked dry too quickly.

In this 2×2 square, I laid down a generous amount of mortar and then made sure it was evenly distributed.

It was important that I be able to set the tiles on the mortar, wiggle them down into place, clean up any mortar that squeezed up between the edges, and then leave the tiles alone. I charted a tiling path that made sure that I would not step on any of the mortared tiles as I made my way around the kitchen. This ended up being four steps.

The purple lines are the doorways. I followed the paths in numerical order.

After my first pass doing 2×2 areas, I scaled back and just did one row/column of tiles at a time, generally building from the walls. If I had longer arms, I might have continued with 2×2 squares, but it was just too cumbersome for me to reach over the fresh mortar to lay down the far tiles into place.

Unfortunately, since I sometimes laid the tiles from the outside of the room to the inside, a lot of the unevenness in the spacing between the tiles that developed as I worked ended up in the middle of the room where they aren’t covered up. Whoops. Next time I tile a room, I’ll make sure to tile from the center of the room outwards as much as I can.

Once I was done laying down the tiles, we put up the vinyl “door” to keep our kitty cat out of the room again.

Grout and Caulk

Technically, you need to wait between 24 and 48 hours before grouting, but I’m pretty sure we ignored the floor for half a week after we set the tiles in place.

I selected a medium grey for our grout color for two reasons: firstly, to coordinate with both the dark and light tiles, and secondly, to hopefully hide any staining or discoloration.

Before applying the grout down, I sprayed the tiles with water so that they’d be slick and allow the groat float to glide over them. Grouting was really hard for me. It required a lot more upper body strength than I have, so my boyfriend had to take over part way through.

The whole idea is to flop down some grout on the lines and shove it into the gap with the grout float. When going over the gaps, make sure to move the float in a way where it won’t get caught on a raised edge or sink into/nick the grout line. Going diagonally is a good way to achieve this. Make sure you don’t grout the edge between the tiles and the walls. If you do, then you might get popped tiles as the floor tries to compress when the walls move.

The cleaner you can work during this step, the easier cleanup will be. You don’t want globs of grout to dry on the tiles.

We made it about halfway through the room before I became worried that the grout on the surface was getting too dry, so we stopped to clean. This involved getting the grout sponge damp with clean water and dragging it lightly (with a slight scooping motion at the end) across the tiles and rinsing it out constantly.

After cleaning everything off with the grout sponge as well as we could, there was still some haze left on the surface of the tiles.

You can see the haze best on the center black tile.

There’s a product called grout haze remover that you could use, but we didn’t. Honestly, I don’t remember doing anything special to remove the haze except continuing to clean it up with a damp sponge while the grout was wet. We don’t have any sort of haze now on our tiles.

I don’t have any pictures of the process, but the next thing we did with our floor was apply some grout sealer. I applied the grout sealer using a syringe, and I was careful to not get any of the product onto the surface of the tiles. It was pretty simple, but tedious. We have a lot of product left, so we should be able to reapply as needed for several more years. I don’t have any pictures of the process, but it was very simple.

To finish this project, I ran caulk around all the ungrouted edges of the room to make the floor waterproof. I messed up during this stepped and just dived in without any preparation. You can see a little bit in the photo below that I had spill-over caulk getting onto the edges of the tiles since I didn’t bother applying painter’s tape. I don’t really care about how terrible the wall edge of the caulk looks since that will eventually be covered by baseboard, but it was frustrating to mess up the nice edges of my tiles. I halfheartedly tried to clean it by scraping it up with just my nails after it set, but that didn’t work and I’ve mostly ignored it. There’s cabinets and appliances in front of the grand majority of the edges now anyway, and I don’t notice this problem on the remaining exposed edges. Still, keep this nonsense in mind if you have to caulk kitchen or bathroom tiles.

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Final Results and Budget

Honestly, I love the results of all our work. If I look carefully, I can notice the spots where the spaces aren’t entirely even or other minor mistakes, but I think we did a great job overall. I’m very happy with how the floor turned out.

[This would be where I will eventually insert a “grand reveal” photo of the kitchen, but not yet. There are too many other renovation projects happening with the cabinets and everything to take a good photo of the whole room, and a closeup of the floor just looks like all the other pictures. Check back in a while to see an updated picture here.]

In the interest of complete transparency and demystified budgeting, here is a complete financial breakdown for this project. I am not including any general purpose tools (like crowbars, levels, drills, etc.) that happened to be purchased at the time of this project.

Also, we bought a few tubes of white “kitchen and bathroom” caulk to put around the perimeter of the room. I honestly don’t remember how many of these tubes we used, so I can’t calculate them into the budget below. Sorry!

(5) sheets of 3ft x 5ft, 1/4 inch thick cement backer board $54.35
(3) 50lbs. bags of ceramic tile mortar $43.41
(1) 25lbs. bag of grey-colored grout $14.48
(1) 3-pack of grease pencils for marking tiles to be cut $2.48
(1) carbide rod saw $13.98
(1) 1/4 x 3/8 inch trowel $7.49
(1) roll of 2 inch x 50 ft alkali-resist mesh tape $3.58
(1) 8 oz bottle of blue marking chalk $1.38
(1) quart tile and stone grout sealer $8.78
(2) 200 count 1 and 1/4 inch cement backer board screws $16.54
(1) bag of 500 1/4 inch tile spacers $5.98
(1) gum rubber grout float $9.98
(1) carbide-tipped scoring knife $8.98
(33) cuts of ceramic tile at Lowes free*
(3) 15 count boxes of 12 x 12 inch black ceramic tile $44.07
(3) 15 count boxes of 12 x 12 inch white ceramic tile $44.07
Sales tax of ~7% $19.56
Total cost

Our little kitchen is only 67.35 square feet. This project worked out to cost about $4.44 per square foot, even though our tile was priced at $0.99 per square foot. We plan on eventually redoing the bathroom with this same tile, but the bathroom needs a lot of work as well. Since we already bought the tools for the kitchen, the overall cost per square foot in the bathroom might be cheaper when we get to it. Only time will tell.

* The price scheme at my local Lowes was $0.25 per straight cut, with the first five cuts being free. The nice men working the wet saw didn’t charge us anything, but it should have been another $7.00.

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I hope you enjoyed this remodeling post. We still have a long way to go before the kitchen is finished, but I’ll continue to post projects as we get to them.

Stay dreamy,