HomeownerEducational: N-Z

Tile Installation

Selecting Tile

There is a wide variety of tile available at an equally wide range of prices. While variance in price may sometimes reflect a functional characteristic, such as a tile’s superior durability, price is more often tied to aesthetic elements and the extra labor they might entail during installation. Keep in mind that cheaper tile is typically just as resistant to water as expensive tile. In other words, more expensive tile is not necessarily a better choice.

Many tile contractors bid their jobs with a tile allowance, so you do not necessarily need to select your tile before installation begins. Rather, the tile can be chosen later, and the price of the job can be adjusted accordingly. However, many homeowners have an aesthetic preference or budgetary concerns and will want to know more about the different types of tile available. Pick some samples with your contractor, whose experience and knowledge should be helpful as you make your decision.

Common Tile Applications

Tile is commonly installed in bathrooms and kitchens because it wears well and is easy to maintain. In moisture-prone and high-traffic areas, tile is the natural choice for its water resistance and durability. Different areas of the home may require slightly different tiling processes. The Tile Council of North America publishes The TCNA Handbook for Ceramic, Glass, and Stone Tile Installation, which outlines specifications that all installers should follow.

On walls that will normally be dry, tile is simply attached to the drywall with special adhesives. For bathroom walls that will typically stay dry, the tile is attached to a mildew-resistant drywall called greenboard. A similar material, blueboard, shares greenboard’s composition but is not water resistant, so it is better suited to the kitchen or other dry areas. Cement board, while heavier than greenboard or blueboard, is very water resistant and provides a smooth, solid surface to which tile can be affixed easily.

Installation Issues

Cracks. When tiling floors, cracking is the most common problem. Tile is strong but somewhat brittle, and it can fracture when subjected to load. Thus, tile should only be attached to a solid sub-floor. Since a standard, wooden sub-floor flexes slightly when walked on, it may need reinforcing before tile is installed over it.

Water damage. In a tiled space that will be frequently subjected to running water, it’s normal for some water to permeate the grout. Correctly installing a waterproof backer board and vapor barrier before the tiles are attached is key to preventing wall damage in a shower or tub.

Loose tiles. Movement in the substrate, such as shrinkage in a cement slab or warping in a wooden sub-floor, can also cause tile to come loose over time. Be sure that the tile is installed with adequate adhesive and that there are enough control joints present in the grout for the tile to move without loosening.