Tips for a First Time DIY Tiling Project

Over a year and a half ago we redid our kitchen. By “redid” I mean we took it down to this:

Yes, that is my kitchen

We happily made decisions on new cabinets, agreed with perfect marital bliss upon a countertop (no, really!) and picked out tile for our floor with a minimum of fuss. When it came time to pick out the tile for the backsplash we hit a brick wall. Maybe we had just made too many decisions and maybe we were just tired of tile (tiling is a bit like giving birth—you have to forget the pain before you want to tackle it again).
Finally, a year and a half later, we made a decision on the tile. I’m sure you would expect that after over a year of mulling over the options, we finally chose a one of a kind imported from some tile-ish country masterpiece, right?

After a year and a half we decided on…..wait for it….

Beige travertine. To go with our beige walls, our beige counter, and our beige tile floor.
What we lacked in daring color we made up for in our pattern. Though it is easy to find basic tiling directions (try here ) , I thought I would share some more detailed tips that a first time tiler might find useful. I know I would have.

Planning ahead…

Tip 1. Plan ahead. We cut a template the exact height and length of our backsplash and precut the tiles to the right size and laid them out on our template. We did not plan ahead for our outlets and this would have been handy. I would imagine most places offering suggestions for beginning tile projects would say go simple. I say go as complicated and intricate as you want—but cut your tiles ahead of time and don’t forget to plan space for grout lines.

Tip 2. Be detailed but don’t be neurotic. Clean up any mastic (the sticky stuff that hold the tiles to the wall) that oozes up to the top of the tiles as you go and check and recheck that your future grout lines are straight and if you have someone to watch your back and make sure you’re putting the tiles the right direction you’ll be one step ahead of me (I had a whole vertical section complete before my hubby noticed I’d left out the border). That said, tile is actually more forgiving than you’d think and all those imperfections you notice will probably disappear after grouting as long as you’ve been fairly careful.

See that nice mid line? Pay attention to it!

Tip 3. Work outwards. When tiling our floor we ended up with a section of tiles working towards each other and when we got to the point for them to meet up, well, they didn’t. The last tile didn’t fit. And it was right in the middle of our dining room. IF that happens refer back to Tip 2—we shaved off the edge of the tile and slapped it in and I dare anyone to point out which tile is 2 cm shorter than the others now. Needless to say, lesson learned, and we worked out from the middle on our design above the stove.

What have we done????

Tip 4. There are two panic times and they both involve grouting. Grouting is stressful in the way I imagine brain surgery is stressful (I haven’t actually performed brain surgery for an adequate comparison however.) At the point of grouting you’ve spent considerable time getting your tiles just right and they are firmly glued to a surface so you have a lot invested in the outcome. Then you throw muddy sandy crap all over the tiles and it quickly starts to dry and you will probably spend several minutes thinking you’ve ruined the whole thing. Take a deep breath, refer to Tip 2 and get a sponge and follow the directions for sponging off the grout. Disaster averted as the sandy mess actually comes off quite nicely and leaves behind nice clean grout lines.

See? All pretty again! That is not my furry arm btw. I am the photographer here, not the hand model.

And just as your heart rate is returning to normal you realize that there is still a haze of grout covering the tiles. On our first tiling experience we continued sponging and sponging thinking we just needed to get that last bit of grout wiped up and the haze would disappear but every time we’d stop and let it dry for a few seconds the haze would return. Finally we realized we were just reapplying a tiny amount of grout every time we went over it with the sponge. Stop. Wait 30 minutes and then rip up a t-shirt and start carefully buffing each tile being careful to avoid your grout lines. The haze will buff off—as long as you don’t forget this step and wait until the next day. By then you may be in trouble.

Can you tell which tiles I’ve already buffed with my handy ripped up t-shirt?

Tiling the backsplash was much less grueling work than tiling the floor—much more of an extended craft project than manual labor—but it was still a multiple day project by the time we stopped and waited for everything to dry. Tiling is one of the do-it-yourself projects that can save you the most money though. Before attempting the floor and backsplash ourselves we got a quote from a local tile company . We ended up saving around $5,000.00. Well, if you don’t count the fact that we suddenly decided we could afford a new stove and refrigerator with our “savings.”

The five minutes between being done and having a messy kitchen

Once you get through the stress and hard work of tiling, it is actually one of the more rewarding diy projects.  It packs a lot of wow and it saves a lot of money.

Still life with tile

Great tips! Lars is the detail oriented one in this relationship and, as you wisely pointed out, tiling involves attention to details. If he ever refuses to do a tiling project (or I decide to use leftover tile on a coffee table), I will be using these tips!

Again, I am seriously impressed with you guys and your tiling skills! And I’m surprised that you tackled it after the torture of the floor project. Surely enough time hadn’t gone by for you to forget all of the pain? I still cringe at the thought of it! I love the way it turned out. And that you can do these projects together with your marriage remaining intact? Kudos to you!

One thought on “Tips for a First Time DIY Tiling Project

  1. LOVE this article! :D Hubby and I have done a bit of tiling – and yes, equating it with childbirth is fair. Love the pattern you’ve done, it looks amazing. And that that’s not your hairy arm. I wouldn’t have judged either way, but what a hilarious caption :D

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