Tile Installation Basics


Denise Troiano

 July 2, 2018. 5:32 PM

You research Pinterest and Houzz looking for the renovation project of your dreams. You plan to do the work yourself; there are enough how-to videos out there, why not? You purchase tile, setting materials, and grout and get to work!  Many installers don’t realize the potential problems and pitfalls that can occur if not informed on proper product selection and usage. Below are some tips to ensure a successful tile installation:

Surface Preparation: Assess your substrate. Is it concrete or plywood? If it is concrete it must be flat, clean and free of all debris, oils, sealers, and curing compounds. If it is a wood-frame construction, then it must meet TCNA guidelines for deflection, and the substrate must be suitable for tile. See TCNA for industry requirements for the proper installation of tile.

Choose your tile: Where will the tile be installed; is it a shower, entryway, or outside patio?  Where it will be installed is a determining factor for your tile selection.

Choose the proper setting material: What you are installing, where you are installing, and what you are installing over, determines the setting material. There are polymer-modified thinset mortars, large-format mortars, mastics, and epoxy adhesives. Call our Product Support line at (800) 992-6273 to get a product recommendation.

* Choose the correct trowel for your job Minimum mortar coverage is crucial.  The industry requires 80% coverage in dry areas and 95% in wet areas. Natural stone requires 95% coverage in any application. Translucent or semi-translucent glass tile? You had better aim for 100% coverage! Choosing the correct trowel size matters to ensure the proper coverage recommended.  Back-buttering the tile with the flat side of the trowel is another great way to improve coverage.

* Prepare your substrate  Out of level- choose one of MAPEI’s self-leveling  or patching products. Wall not flat - choose Planitop 330 Fast.  Dirty- Choose one of MAPEI’s UltraCare line of cleaning products.

Start mixing Using a low-speed mixer (typically 300 RPM), add measured water into a 5-gallon bucket. Slowly add the thinset mortar and mix for the designated time recommended by the manufacturer. Once mixed, let it slake (or sit) in the bucket undisturbed for the allotted time and then re-mix without adding any water.  To minimize dust, pour from a low height and consider using a dust collection attachment on the bucket.

* Set your tile Once you have re-mixed your mortar, spread a thin layer of mortar with the flat side of the trowel; this is called 'keying in' the mortar. After keying in the mortar, apply more mortar and spread with the notched side of the trowel leaving even ridges. While mortar is still fresh set the tile and press down to collapse the ridges and ensure good coverage. For more information on coverage, the tile industry has put out an informative video called Trowel and Error.

Grout For most installations, you can grout 24 hours after installing tile. The exception is if mastic is selected as the tile setting material - see below for a chart on waiting times when grouting over mastic. Choose the appropriate grout for your installation. Mix according to manufacturer’s recommendation. If a pre-mixed grout is chosen, then open and start grouting! Always follow manufacturer’s recommended installation and clean up guidelines. It is always best to download the technical data sheet from the manufacturer’s website for detailed instructions. 

*Seal While sealing grout is not an industry requirement, for some grouts it is highly recommended. Portland cement-based grouts, in particular, are very porous and will be prone to water absorption and staining. Choose a good penetrating sealer to help maintain your installation. 

Doing your homework upfront will prevent problems during the installation.

How long to wait before grouting over mastic


Denise Troiano

Denise Troiano

Denise Troiano brings 24 years of experience in the tile, stone and installation products industry to MAPEI. Working with manufacturers, retailers, designers and installers during this span allows her to answer a wide range of questions from homeowners and industry professionals.


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