Porcelain Tile Flooring Installation Tips

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Porcelain Tile: Flooring Installation

Porcelain tile floors are easily one of the best choices for flooring in a wide variety of spaces – both indoors and out. When installed and maintained properly, this beautiful and durable flooring will bring your space long-lasting elegance and style that is considerably unmatched by other flooring choices. 

To ensure that your porcelain tile floors will endure the test of time, we’ve put together a guide to walk you through the processes of purchasing the right tools and materials for the job, how to best prepare different subfloors, step-by-step installation instructions, and tips for how to best care for and maintain your newly laid porcelain tile floors.

Tools & Materials

Before you begin the preparation for your porcelain tile flooring installation, you need to make sure that you have all of the tools and materials required for the project. Here is a list of the tools and materials that you will need as well as some suggested items for your safety and comfort.

Tools:

  • Pencil
  • Chalk line
  • Tape Measure
  • Level
  • Speed Square
  • Notched-edge trowel
  • Rubber grout float
  • Squeegee (*optional)
  • Soft cloth
  • Grout sponge(s)
  • Tile spacers
  • Power drill
  • Mixing paddle
  • 5-gallon bucket(s)
  • Scoring cutter or wet saw
  • Handsaw or jamb saw
  • Rubber mallet
  • Hairspray (*optional)

Materials:

  • Porcelain tiles
  • Polymer-modified thinset mortar
  • Cement backer board (*for wooden subfloors)
  • Cement board screws (*for wooden subfloors)
  • Self-adhesive alkaline-resistant glass fiber tape
  • Self-leveling compound (*for concrete subfloors)
  • Crack-prevention membrane (*for concrete subfloors)
  • Grout

Safety & Comfort:

  • Knee pads
  • Safety glasses
  • Earplugs

Part 1: Preparation

Once you have gathered your tools and materials, you will need to survey the space for any molding, trim, cabinet kickboards, sills, or thresholds that may interfere with your flooring installation – these will need to either be removed or modified – this can be done using a handsaw or a jamb saw – to allow enough clearance for installation.

From there, you’ll need to assess what you have for a subfloor. A solid base is essential for a successful tile flooring installation. In order to ensure that your porcelain tiles will be installed properly and last a long time, you need to make sure that you have prepared a proper subfloor for them to be laid on.

This preparation step depends largely on the construction of the property. If you are laying porcelain tiles in a brand new space, then preparation is fairly straightforward – you should already have a smooth, level subfloor. The only thing that you should need to do in this case is clean the subfloor, taking care to remove all dirt and debris.

If you are remodeling an older property, then you typically have original flooring that must be removed. All existing layers of flooring must be taken up until you’ve reached the structure’s subfloor. Then, you must make sure that the subfloor is smooth; this means removing staples, hammering down nails, and driving down screws that may be sticking up. Finally, clean the subfloor, removing all dirt and debris. 

Now that you have a clean and smooth subfloor, the next step in the preparation process varies depending upon what type of subfloor that you have: wooden or concrete.

Wooden Subfloor

The issue with laying tile on a wooden subfloor is that wood tends to flex and move with changes in temperature and humidity. This can cause your porcelain tiles and/or grout to crack. To help guard against this issue, you’ll need to put down cement backer boards. This will allow you to create a solid base that will prevent any movement- or moisture-related cracking of your tiles or grout.

To start this process, mix your polymer-modified thinset mortar in a 5-gallon bucket using a power drill with a mixing paddle attachment. The mixed mortar is then applied to the wooden subfloor – this type of mortar will provide additional strength to your base and prevent any movement between the subfloor and the cement backer board. Next, you’ll scoop and spread enough mortar to cover an area just slightly larger than your cement backer board onto the subfloor with the smooth back of your trowel. The mortar is then combed with the notched-edge of the trowel at about a 45 degree angle – all lines going in the same direction.

Once the mortar is combed, cement backer board is laid over the polymer-modified thinset mortar. When the backer board is in place, it must be screwed directly into the wooden subfloor using cement board screws about every 8 inches around the perimeter of the board. Be sure to screw all the way down- each screw head must be flush with the backer board panel. This process is repeated, leaving about a ¼” between the boards and the walls to allow the boards to expand and contract, until the entire subfloor is covered.

With the cement backer boards in place, you’ll then need to use a self-adhesive alkaline-resistant glass fiber tape – made specifically for cement backer board – to tape over all of the joints. Once the tape is down, cover the tape with a layer of mortar. Be sure to check that all boards are level as you go. If needed, lightly tap the backer boards with your rubber mallet until the boards are level.

Now that your subfloor is laid, allow the mortar about 24 hours to dry before proceeding to Part 2: Installation.

Concrete Subfloor

Concrete subfloors present the same issues with movement and humidity as wooden subfloors, but the remedy is drastically different. What you’ll want to achieve in preparing a concrete subfloor is a base that is clean, dry, and level with a coarse finish to allow for a proper bond with the mortar.

To begin, concrete subfloors must be cured for at least 4 months before the start of preparation. Once cured, the concrete must be tested to be sure that it can accept moisture without leaking; this can be done by simply testing multiple areas with a hose. If the water is absorbed, leaving a wet spot behind, then you know that your concrete subfloor will be able to achieve a proper bond. If the water beads or pools, then there are contaminants present on the surface of the concrete that must be removed before installation can occur.

Next, you’ll need to check your concrete subfloor for dips and grooves – these must be filled in with a self-leveling compound to get your concrete subfloor level. Once the self-leveling compound is dry – this can sometimes take a few days – you then must apply a crack-prevention membrane – this will protect your concrete subfloor as well as your porcelain tiles and grout from cracking over time. 

Once your crack-prevention membrane is set and dry, you’re ready to proceed to Part 2: Installation.

Part 2: Installation

With a clean, solid, level subfloor you are ready for installation. This part of the process is all about keeping your porcelain tile design and install as uniform as possible.

Layout

At this step in the process, you’ll want to already have a basic layout in mind for your porcelain tiles. To create your layout, use your tape measure to find the center point of each of your walls. Use your chalk line between the center points of the opposite walls to mark and pinpoint the center of the room. Each intersection of chalked lines should create a perfect square.

Helpful Tip: To keep your chalk lines from smudging, spray them with hairspray.

Once the center of the room is established, you’ll start laying a row of loose porcelain tiles along the center lines in both directions – using your tile spacers between each tile. This step is important for two reasons:

  1. It allows you to get an idea of what the flooring pattern will look like once it’s set, so that you can make changes before fully committing.
  2. You can make sure that you have purchased enough tiles to complete the project.

Keep in mind that tiles will most likely need to be cut down in areas – like along the walls and corners – for a proper fit.

Now that you’ve created your basic layout with your porcelain tiles, you are satisfied with the design, and know that you have enough tiles, you are ready to begin laying your porcelain tiles.

Laying Porcelain Tiles

You’ll start at your center point and spread polymer-modified thinset mortar using the flat side of your trowel, leaving about ¼” of mortar on the surface of the one grid area of the subfloor (try not to cover the chalk lines). Then, using your notched-edge trowel, comb mortar over the tile at about a 45-degree angle – all lines going in the same direction. 

Set the next tile beside the existing tile using tile spacers to separate the tiles and to keep the spacing uniform. Be sure to use the same amount of mortar for each tile to help keep them even, using your level as you work. If any tiles need to be leveled, tap the tile gently, but firmly with a rubber mallet until level. 

Wipe any excess mortar from joints using a damp sponge – you need to make sure that there is enough space between the tiles for grout.

Continue in this vein, laying out all of your tiles until you reach an area where the tiles must be cut for a proper fit.

Cutting Porcelain Tiles

To cut your tile, you’ll need to use either a scoring cutter or a wet saw. In either case, measure (twice!) where the cut should be and mark with a pencil

  • If you’re using a score cutter, then score along the cut line with your scoring cutter and break the tile by bending it very carefully. 
  • If you are using a wet saw, make sure that the water is turned on and firmly place one hand on each side of the tile as you move the tile through the saw; this will help ensure a smooth, uniform cut.

Grout Porcelain Tiles

Once all of your tiles are set, you’ll need to wait about 24 hours for the mortar to completely dry. After the mortar has fully dried, it’s time to apply grout.

Choose a starting point, then remove the tile spacers from the tiles that you are currently grouting. Using a rubber grout float, apply and spread grout over your tile surface, then use a clean grout float or squeegee to press the grout down into the joints. Make sure that you remove any excess grout from the tile’s surface immediately with a damp sponge. Repeat this process, removing your tile spacers as you go.

After about 15 to 20 minutes, use a damp grout sponge to wipe away any grout residue from the surface of the tiles and smooth the grout in the joints. It’s easier to use a 5-gallon bucket of water to make this part of the process a little faster and easier. Be sure to rinse your grout sponge often and change your water frequently; otherwise, this process can go from messy to muddy – fast.

Repeat this process until the entire porcelain tile flooring has been grouted. Then, go over the tiles again, this time polishing with a soft cloth and wiping away any dry residue leftover from the grout.

The grout must cure for about 72 hours before your newly tiled floor can handle heavy foot traffic, and about 3 weeks before you can apply a sealant or clean your porcelain tile floors.

Part 3: Completion

Now that your tile has cured and at least 3 weeks have passed, you may want to apply a sealant to your porcelain tiles – this step is a critical requirement for unglazed porcelain tiles. If your porcelain tiles are glazed, then a sealant is not required since the glaze will act as a sealant.

A sealant offers a coat of protection to help prevent stains or scratches from damaging your newly laid porcelain tiles.

There are a variety of porcelain tile sealants on the market, and the best choice depends on the type of finish that you are looking for: glossy, satin, matte, or slip resistant.

In any case, be sure to use a porcelain-specific sealant to ensure a proper bond to your tiles.  

Required Tools & Materials

  • Good, quality rollers
  • Roller tray
  • Small, angled paint brush (for sealing around corners and edges)
  • Porcelain tile sealant

Sealing Porcelain Tile Floors

Before you begin sealing your porcelain tiles, be sure to tape off any trim, molding, sills, thresholds, or cabinet kickboards that may accidentally come in contact with your roller or brush. 

Next, make sure that your tiles are clean and dry – completely clear of dust, dirt, and debris. You don’t want any impurities getting locked into your sealed floors.

Once your floor is prepped, fully mix your porcelain tile sealant product and pour it into your roller tray. Then, use your roller and start slowly and methodically rolling the sealant onto the porcelain tiles – just as you would with paint. Make sure that you are getting the corners and edges as you go with a small paint brush to avoid having to walk over the wet sealant – you don’t want your footprints permanently imprinted on your floors.

After your porcelain tiles have been completely coated in sealant, allow the sealant to fully cure. It is imperative to follow the directions specified for the sealant that you are using, as drying times may vary. Typically, sealant is dry to the touch in about 4 hours, but fully cured in about 24 hours.

Maintenance Tips

Porcelain tile flooring is fairly low-maintenance, and with normal care and upkeep you can ensure a long and enduring lifespan for your porcelain tile floors.

Cleaning Porcelain Tiles

To keep the surface of your porcelain tiles clean, make a regular routine of sweeping to collect everyday dirt and debris. On occasion or as needed, you can use a regular mop and a mixture of either water and mild soap or a pH-neutral cleaning solution to wash away any surface stains or grime.

Polishing your porcelain tiles is unnecessary beyond hand-buffing with either a dry, soft cloth or porcelain tile polishing pads. No polishing or buffing solution is needed. Polish or buff your tiles with the dry cloth or pad in a circular motion until they shine. 

Protecting Porcelain Tiles

As an extra protection against scratching in high-traffic areas, it is advisable to use non-slip door mats, runners, and area rugs. Additionally, felt-tip furniture protectors are highly recommended to ensure that heavy furniture does not damage your porcelain tile floors. 

Porcelain tile flooring is a sure way to add long-lasting elegance and style to any space that will easily outperform and outlast many other flooring options. With proper preparation and installation along with minimal maintenance, you can keep your porcelain tile floors looking as beautiful as the day they were put in. 

Ready to get started? Contact us directly to discuss your options with one of our porcelain tile experts and be sure you have everything you need to get your project done the right way.

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