Help us not f*&k up out Bathroom!
May 3, 2011 5:07 PM   Subscribe

We are putting tile in our bathroom! what do we need to know? or what do YOU wish YOU had known before your bathroom tile project?

We are doing porcelain tile in an upstairs bathroom. We have already emptied the room of the toilet and cabinetry, and cut out the hardie backer boards. Apparently they must be set in mortar onto the plywood floor? (This surprised me, as I had seen someone once just screw them down) Also, we want to cut little pieces to use as "baseboards." Is there anything you can think of to share?
Thanks in advance!!
posted by hollyanderbody to Home & Garden (18 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: jeez. I meant OUR bathroom.
posted by hollyanderbody at 5:07 PM on May 3, 2011

Lay out your tile. Measure your tile. Lay it out again. Number the backs of the tile. This will save massive pain.
posted by teleri025 at 5:14 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Go here: Tile Your World

I used that site extensively in our complete bathroom tear-out and it's a wealth of knowledge.

Re: your specific hardi-backer question -- yes, the hardi board needs to be screwed into the plywood through a thinset mortar bed, so that all the voids and gaps are filled. You also want to be sure that your plywood and floor joist structure meets the deflection criteria for ceramic tile, or the installation may fail down the road.

Check out that site -- a ton of info. I'm happy to share what I learned if you have more specific questions, but my biggest recommendation would be to do your homework ahead of time and make sure you take the time to do it right.
posted by Pantengliopoli at 5:15 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

We just put porcelain tile in our bathroom. We didn't use the backer boards, just another layer of 5/8" plywood on top of the 3/4" subfloor (screwed down) and then tile on top of that. We have wood baseboards, so I can't offer anything there.

If you haven't already - go rent or buy a tile saw. You will not be able to do the work with nippers or anything but a wet saw. Just invest in the $100 one at Home Depot, comes with a blade that will last you the project.

Make sure to tile under the vanity or at least a couple inches under it (and then level the rest of the area with plywood.

For the love of god please back butter your tiles. Don't do what the previous owners of my house did: (yes, thats a layer of laminate under there and *no* mortar on the tile).
posted by ish__ at 5:15 PM on May 3, 2011

Make sure you have the right sort of grout! My friend had trouble with some of her grout shrinking (and then water leaking) because she had the wrong kind for part of the tile work she was doing.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 5:15 PM on May 3, 2011

Tile is something that looks easy but is actually hard to do well. So, expect it will be harder than it seems. Also, don't take advice necessarily from your neighbor who installed their own tile unless it's been in for ten years without cracks.
posted by bluedaisy at 5:22 PM on May 3, 2011

Re: Blue Jello's grout comments -- make sure that nothing you use is "pre-mixed thinset". It's just mastic glue with sand mixed into it. It may work in some applications but is not a good choice for a bathroom or any other wet environment, as the water will dissolve the glue over time. Buy a powder that you have to mix in a bucket for both the thinset and the grout.

This is my (stupid long) thread on that website I mentioned -- a lot of details in there:
posted by Pantengliopoli at 5:28 PM on May 3, 2011

Regarding grout: "antique white" is not actually white at all. It's closer to a brown or a gray.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 5:55 PM on May 3, 2011

Make sure you have the right sort of grout! My friend had trouble with some of her grout shrinking

Blue Jello Elf's friend probably used unsanded grout to fill largish grout lines. Unsanded grout is for grout lines 1/8" or less. Sanded grout is for anything wider than 1/8".

Also worth noting: joints at plane changes get caulked, not grouted. The joint between baseboard and floor gets caulked. The vertical joint in the baseboard at each corner of the room gets caulked. You should buy sanded latex caulk that's color-matched to the grout you choose. It looks just like the grout, but it won't crack in the corners whereas grout would.

Do spend some time perusing the John Bridge forums. There's more to proper tile work than you're likely to expect.
posted by jon1270 at 6:19 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Go over the floor make sure the subfloor, the particle board that will be under your tiling job, is screwed into the joists every six inches at most. If the floor flexes or buckles that will ruin your tiling work in short order.
posted by mhoye at 6:40 PM on May 3, 2011

Put in heating under the tile. It's not that expensive, and it's fabulous, but this is your only chance to do it (without ripping the floor back out).
posted by sharding at 7:02 PM on May 3, 2011 [5 favorites]

Be extra conscious of cleanliness! I'm referring to keeping your hands, tools, surfaces and tiles as clean, dry and free from contaminants as you possibly can. Because bathrooms are damp, and in many cases don't have the best ventilation, they tend to breed funky molds and fungi. Being conscious of this during installation may save you the trouble of weird yucky things growing in/under/between your tiles and hard to reach corners down the line.
posted by EvilPRGuy at 7:21 PM on May 3, 2011

Apparently there is a special grout, a caulk-like product, to be used where the tile meets the -- for some reason I cannot right now think of the name of the bit of wood that is between the bathroom tile floor here and the carpet in the hall. But, yes, there's a special grout for where the grout is attached to non-tile stuff. The otherwise lovely carpenter who put my tile in (at lovely low rates) did not know this, and there are some small cracks, two years after installation.

And you may want some little decorative whatnot for where various pipes enter the floor, little circles to put down around the end of the pipe on the floor so it's not just an ugly hole in the tile/grout with a pipe sticking out.

I recently got a wonderful steam cleaner and lo! The grout is white again! But that is the only thing I am aware of that results in effortlessly white grout.
posted by kmennie at 8:29 PM on May 3, 2011

When you're wiping the tile clean just after grouting, do a long wipe at a 45 degree angle to the edge of the tiles with a clean sponge, flip the sponge and do another stroke, and then rinse the sponge before repeating. Don't be tempted to do a swirling motion or get two wipes from a single side of the sponge. This is a tip from a friend who tiles for a living.

The pros have a special rectangular bucket with a submerged washboard for this purpose. Never let a dirty sponge touch the tile.
posted by PSB at 9:29 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yes, the John Bridge forums are invaluable. I also have leaned heavily on Setting Tile, although John Bridge has a book out also, and Taunton has a newer tile book out. Setting Tile does differ occasionally from the advice you'll find on the forums, but I still found it useful.

> You will not be able to do the work with nippers or anything but a wet saw.

Not actually true, it depends on your tile and your patience. I used one of those diamond roller lever-type cutters (and a nipper for smaller curves) for the first bathroom, done with 12.12" porcelain tiles. It worked OK, and was inexpensive. The second bathroom I'm doing in slate, which pretty much needs a saw. I used the $60 on sale model from Harbor Freight, which works fine. You could get an even pricier sliding table saw as well; I've often found that it's worth it to buy better tools. In this case, you could buy it used and resell it when done, effectively renting it long-term for cheap.

Yes, you need to set the backerboard in thinset. You also need to tape and mortar the edges, having left a small gap between them. There are other caveats; you probably should have read about it before ripping stuff out. But I may not be a good spokesman for preparation: my slate bathroom tiling has been underway since before I had kids; my oldest is currently almost 9 years old.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 6:27 AM on May 4, 2011

I recently tiled a bathroom.

Tips I got from the contractor who did some other work on my house that were worth their weight in gold:

1. Do not buy "quickset" mortar. Professionals like quickset because they're old hands at it and it dries quicker, but you have lots of time to let your tiles set and the old school, non quickset mortar will give you more time to nudge your tiles in the right place before they are set.

2. Rent a wet saw. Some types of glass tile cannot be cut with snap-cutter anyway, and circular cuts require one. It's easier just to use the wet saw for all the cuts, as the guide on the saw helps make sure you're cutting precisely.

Cost out your tile options before you buy. I suffered a bit of sticker shock when I realized how much the glass tile I loved so much costed to cover the space I needed (I balanced it out by getting something very inexpensive on the floor). Also, seconding what teleri025 said about dry-fitting the tile. (Though this is a PITA on vertical surfaces.) Finally, I discovered that it's not as hard as it appears. I have a tiled bathtub now.
posted by Kurichina at 9:28 AM on May 4, 2011

One thing I haven't seen mentioned is cleaning out your groutlines. After you've laid the tile and got it spaced right (I love spacers, some folks hate em...), use another spacer or toothpicks to clean the extra thinset from in between the tiles. Not deep, but deep enough that you can get a good amount of grout in there. Thinset is really hard to clean out when it is dry.

Lots of buckets. Always have one with clean water handy. I like to have two with just water for cleaning the tiles after grouting. A little cleaning while things are wet can save a LOT of time later.

Also don't grout the whole thing and then start cleaning - I think the rule of thumb is 15 minutes or so between grouting and cleaning.
posted by Big_B at 10:59 AM on May 4, 2011

I cannot favourite this comment hard enough. We redid our bathroom floor in October with new slate and underfloor heating. We installed a nice digital switch / thermostat with a timer and now we never have to worry about stepping on cold floors ever again in the middle of the night. I don't think the extra cost of heater mats and accessories exceeded $200, even tho we went with the fanciest multi-zone "smart" thermostat we could find.

Last but not least:



Grout! (and if your tile is porus, like our slate floor was, then seal your tile as well)

not kidding. Yes it's an extra step and a pain in the ass, but a friend I helped to install a black-and-white 1" mosaic tile bathroom floor 3 years ago still has BRIGHT! WHITE! grout (and tiles) to this day, and he is a twentysomething party bachelor who tends to mop on a semiannual basis. I am told that sealed grout will remain clean for many years if one is diligent about immediately cleaning, then immediately sealing, all the tile and grout.
posted by lonefrontranger at 1:00 PM on May 4, 2011

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