How to Install Wall Tiles?

The next installment in our series about DIY tile installations focuses on making the perfectly tiled wall. We will show you how to approach the process if you have no previous experience and want to have a general idea about the steps and specific requirements of the installation. Usually ceramic tiles are used for the purpose, but you can apply the same steps to most porcelain tiles too. We will cover most of the things you need to know to perform a high quality installation that won’t look DIY at the end. Some of the next articles will go into more details about the process and the mistakes you should be careful not to make. 

Picking Out the Right Tiles

The first step is usually visualizing what kind of tile size and material you want to invest in. Get a good idea about the quality and properties of the tiles you are buying, including thickness and resistance to water in case you are tiling a wet room. Ceramic tiles are a classic choice for the walls of kitchens, bathrooms and other premises. Placing tiles on a vertical surface could be more tricky than floor tiling, because of the weight of the material and hard-to-reach spots. The walls are usually a place for more decorative types of tiles, including mosaics, feature wall panels and any other accent that uses trims or different style tiles. You can also get more options of thin and thick wall tiles, or even use multipurpose floor tiles for a unified look. 

Placing the Cement Board

Cement boards are the go-to underlayment for sturdy walls that can last a lifetime. With time they have replaced plywood and drywall backer materials in popularity. The practicality of cement boards is especially suitable for wet rooms with showers and bathtubs, because it doesn’t contain any organic materials that are prone to molding and shrinkage. You can install the cement board directly over the wall studs or even implement an additional moisture membrane underneath. But never start installation of cement board directly onto drywall or green board because of their compromising and unstable structure. 

Preparing the Adhesive

Ceramic tiles require a good quality adhesive, especially decorative and lighter weight tiles. Using thinset mortar is the most widespread and durable material for the purpose.It is universally applied in wet and dry areas of the home with equal success and long-lasting resistance. Mix it in a large bucket with the prescribed amount of water until you get a smooth consistency. Try to add the thinset powder to the water and leave it to activate from the moisture for about 5 minutes. That way you will achieve the right thickness without getting dust in the air and will easily mix the compounds. You should mix slowly to avoid getting air bubbles in the mortar and prevent undissolved material.

Getting the walls ready

To get professional results with less effort, you need to prepare a clean, smooth and flat wall surface. It would be even better to consider sanding the wall in case there is any residue materials or paint from previous renovations. If you are also going to install floor tiles later,  make sure to leave a gap between the floor bed and the first row of wall tiles. Make sure that the last row closest to the ground is made with full tiles and not cut ones. That will assure a beautiful corner connection in that more visible area of the wall. 

Spreading the Adhesive

 To avoid your adhesive drying out before you get to apply all the tiles, spread it in small areas one at a time. Cleaning the adhesive is easy to do when it is still wet on the surface but becomes a problem once it dries out. Place a little adhesive on the ridged trowel and start spreading it in an upward motion, starting from the corner of the wall. You can first use the straight edge of the trowel to just spread the adhesive onto a small area and after you should use the ridged part to spread it around evenly and ensure a thick base. Make sure to hold the tool at about 45 degrees against the wall surface. 

Getting the Tiles On the Wall

Push each tile firmly with a little twist in the arm to lock the material in and adjust wherever is needed. The first tile should always be perfectly symmetrical to ensure that every next one will be installed properly. Use spacers to create the same space for grouting in between the tiles. Wherever there are power outlets and switches you will need to cut out the tile straight or make a hole in it. Mark the tiles with a pencil and make sure to cut on the back side of the tile so you don’t damage the front surface. 

Accentuating with Trim Tiles

If you want a special accent to the wall you should consider placing a row of trimmed tiles. You can experiment and plan out your layout according to your taste and add trimmed tiles with a different colour or pattern. This type of design is especially popular in kitchen installation for the splashback area. Usually with trim tiles you don’t need to use the same spacers in between as with the ordinary tiles. The idea is that a pattern trim tile row will stand out with its continuity and seamlessness. You should still use a trim between that row and the other tile rows.

Cleaning Up

Once you finish installing all the tiles it’s time to clean up the space from all the excess material and dirt. Do this as fast as possible after finishing to prevent the adhesive from drying out too much. This is an essential step in order to continue with grouting. If you don’t remove the unnecessary dry adhesive around the edges and in the space between the tiles, you won’t be able to grout effectively. Use a clean sponge and a bucket of water. Lightly moisten the sponge without pouring excess water onto the freshly installed tiled wall. Be careful because the tiles are still not fixed firmly to the surface and you can potentially damage them. You should also use a palette knife to get inside the gaps between the tiles and scrape everything out to prepare for grouting. 

Grouting

To effectively grout the tiles you need to do it at the right time before the mortar dries out. If you wait for too long the grout will not stick to the dry mortar and it will be applied superficially. You can choose from unsanded or sanded grout depending on how big the grout joints are. Smaller grout joints are better filled with unsanded grout, while for the larger ones you should use sanded grout. The grout can be spread most efficiently with a rubber float by pressing firmly into the joints and lastly going over with a moist sponge before it dries out completely. 

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