How to Get a Tile Floor Installed

Inventive options and durability make tile a good choice for floors. Here’s what to expect

When it comes to deciding on tile for flooring, the choices can be overwhelming. And figuring out how to get it installed is just as important as picking a type. The good news is that tile is durable and versatile, and there are plenty of experts out there to lend a helping hand.

6 Questions to Ask Before You Install Tile Flooring

Heliotrope Architects, original photo on Houzz

Project: Working with a tile specialist to get a tile floor installed.

Why: Using tile for flooring instead of carpet or hardwood allows for inventive design options, thanks to the variety of tile choices on the market. And more than ever, tile is being used for floors in rooms besides bathrooms and kitchens, where it’s a popular choice because of its durability and moisture repellency.

Polished porcelain or natural stone tile can add elegance to a living room. Hexagonal mosaic tile is a bathroom floor classic. And of-the-moment faux wood porcelain tile is showing up in living rooms, bedrooms and kitchens. The living room above features a Pennsylvania bluestone in a flagstone pattern.

Traditions in Tile, original photo on Houzz

Whom to hire: Tile installation is a specialized skill, so make sure the installer is qualified. This isn’t a job for the handyman. Bart Bettiga, executive director of the National Tile Contractors Association, says, “It’s a good idea to make sure the contractor uses certified installers, is a member of the NTCA or at a minimum can demonstrate through referrals that they have a proven track record of success.”

If you’re not already working with a contractor or design-build specialist on a home renovation or new construction, you can visit a tile showroom on your own to get acquainted with the multitude of tile available for flooring. Many showrooms have designers and installers or can recommend someone.

Once you’ve chosen a tile specialist, Bettiga recommends asking for a detailed scope of the work to be performed and how long it will take. The Ceramic Tile Education Foundation has details on how important it is to hire a certified tile installer. 

Mathew Weiner, of Westside Tile and Stone in Los Angeles, says his company will take homeowners through the pros and cons of the tile options and how they differ by look, maintenance and price. They’ll talk about the use and amount of traffic of the room to be tiled, and the reality of natural stone tile, such as marble, which he calls “a living, breathing element” that needs to be sealed yearly and cared for with non-acidic, neutral cleaners.

Cost: The average price range for quality ceramic tile is $1 to $5 per square foot, Bettiga says. Lauren King, of Normandy Remodeling in Hinsdale, Illinois, says the size and shape of the tile, as well as the material, influence the cost. For a 12-by-12-inch tile, she says, porcelain costs about $5 to $12, natural stone $8 to $15 and ceramic $2 to $7.

Tile installation is generally priced per square foot. For example, the cost of installing tile in a 100-square-foot kitchen with no subfloor prep work is about $3,200, says Rafael Anaya, a tile contractor who often works with designer building Lab in the San Francisco Bay Area. For a labor-intensive job using intricate mosaics, some installers will charge by the hour. Making sure that a floor is level is important and can take extra time, meaning higher cost. Sometimes prepping the floor to get a job ready for installation will take almost as long as the tile installation itself, Weiner says.

How long will the job take? Bettiga says a typical kitchen takes a two-person crew three to four days to complete. The work includes preparing the substrate (the floor’s base layer), setting the tile and grouting the tile (filling the joints or gaps between tiles with grout).

Hire a Qualified Installer Near You

First steps: When working with any professional, it’s important to go over everything that will be done during the course of the job before the work actually begins. “It is an excellent idea to ask the tile contractor for detailed scope of work to be performed and reasonable timelines to get this done,” Bettiga says. “This includes any demolition, preparation of the floor substrate and actual installation. The tile contractor should be asked to provide details related to products being used, such as membranes, movement joints, type of grout, etc.”

In some cases, the subfloor is inadequate for holding tile and must be repaired or replaced before work begins. A smooth, unbuckled surface is necessary for the tile to sit flat. “Subfloors should be examined in the bid process and discussed with the builder-remodeler or homeowner,” Bettiga says. “The homeowner should make sure the proposed subfloor meets tile industry standards included in the TCNA handbook for ceramic tile installation.” The handbook can be ordered through NTCA.

EcoCraft Homes, original photo on Houzz

A level floor is especially important for large-format tile, such as that shown above in a house in Pittsburgh, where 12-by-24-inch tiles with a one-third offset were used “to give the home a modern feel,” says Elliot Fabri Jr., of EcoCraft Homes in Bridgeville, Pennsylvania.

During the project: Before tiling begins, door entries are covered with plastic to keep dust out of the rest of the house. The existing flooring is then removed and the subfloor is assessed to determine whether it’s suitable to receive tile. Sometimes tile is laid atop existing tile if height isn’t an issue, Bettiga says. If the subfloor needs to be removed, that’s usually done by a tile contractor or, during a remodel, the remodeling contractor. In some cases, such as bathrooms, a waterproof membrane is laid atop the subfloor before tiling. Next, adhesive mortar is troweled over the floor, and the tile is placed into the fresh mortar. Grout is mixed and applied into the tile joints (spaces between tiles). A sealant is sometimes applied to the grout to prevent staining. 

Dichotomy Interiors, original photo on Houzz

What to know about choosing tile: In general, porcelain tile is denser and more impervious to moisture than ceramic tile, so it’s more suitable for floors. The Porcelain Enamel Institute rates tile on a scale of 1 to 5 to indicate how it will stand up to foot traffic — from Class 1 tile, which should be used only on walls and not anywhere there’s foot traffic, to Class 5 tiles, which are suitable for heavy-traffic areas. 

Many tiles are glazed, or coated with a liquid glass that’s baked onto the surface of the clay. The National Kitchen & Bath Association says glazed porcelain tiles are much harder and more resistant to wear and damage than ceramic tiles. Glazed tiles are also more stain-resistant, and they allow for a variety of colors and designs. Some porcelain tiles are also full-body, which means the color runs through the tile, rather than simply baked onto the surface. 

Normandy Remodeling’s King says full-body porcelain is the best type of tile for flooring and outperforms natural stone. “It can be as expensive or more expensive than natural stone, but improved technology has helped porcelain resemble the real deal so closely. The result: There is less reason to use real stone, which requires a bit of care and maintenance,” King says.

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A popular tile today is full-body porcelain tile that looks like wood. Weiner says many of Westside’s customers are opting for faux-wood porcelain tile, which he says is an easy-to-maintain product that, unlike wood, never needs refinishing. “Porcelain wood-looking tile will never stain, scratch, change color, and is impervious to water.” Keep in mind that wood-like tile looks best installed in long pieces, King says, adding that the floor must be perfectly level, so the tile can be properly laid to avoid breakage during and after installation.

building Lab, inc., original photo on Houzz

Tile size is also something to think about. Bigger is often better, King says, because there are fewer grout lines. Bettiga points out that larger tile and fewer grout joints generally make an area appear larger. A floor with 12-by-24-inch tile is shown above.

Using floor tile in patterns also makes for an interesting design element. “If the tile is the only decorative element in a room, mosaic tile can be a beautiful option,” King says, but because it’s made with natural stone, avoid using it in a high-traffic area. Make sure the tile is “dry laid out,” so you can see the look and feel of the pattern before it’s installed, Bettiga says.

H O M E + atelier Michael Ranson, original photo on Houzz

Though it can give a room a rich feel, there are considerations when using natural stone tiles for flooring. Stones like travertine, limestone, slate, granite, quartz, onyx and marble all perform differently when exposed to moisture. They often need protective sealers, which wear off over time and need to be reapplied, Bettiga says.

Marble requires yearly maintenance since it’s prone to staining and etching if not treated or taken care of, Weiner says. If you like the look of marble but not the high maintenance, there are many porcelain tiles that mimic its look while being maintenance-friendly, he says. How is the look of marble attained in a porcelain tile? “Ink-jet technology developed out of Italy scans real natural stone and digitally prints it on top of porcelain,” Weiner says.

Categories: Architecture and Interiors, Bathroom Designs, Bathroom Remodeling Tips, Kitchen Designs, Kitchen Remodeling Tips, Renovation, Renovation & Restoration