Helpful Tiling Hints

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Tiling tips from the experts in South West Sydney, the Southern Highlands and Tablelands

Before you start

Before starting, check the measurements of the wall or floor for overall “squareness”; this probably applies more to older houses. The easiest and often most accurate way of doing this is by using the 3-4-5 method, allowing you to mark out a triangle to test the squareness of corners or grids.

( http://www.wikihow.com has an easy explanation of this concept.) 

For the DIY enthusiast – some tiling hints

To get the most professional finish possible, measure the room in both length and width so as to find a centre point in the middle of the room. Ideally, you want to have either full tiles finish up to all walls, or if the tile size doesn’t allow all full tiles to be laid, you want at least the same size border tile around all edges butting up near the skirting boards. You want to start in the centre of the room/area and work your way outward towards the adjoining walls. It is better to have neat and equal cuts all the way around the outer edge than running down just one wall.

Decide which pattern you want to use to lay the tiles, with the 4 common methods being stackbond, herringbone, brickbond or diamond. Keep in mind at the start that, depending on whether you use a rolled/pillow edge or a rectified edge tile, the grout joints can be anywhere from 3 – 5mm wide down to only 1 – 2mm respectively. This should be considered when working out your grid lines. 

Decide on your centre line (grout line) and what visual effect you want to achieve. Try to have your grout lines run from wall to wall of the area to be tiled, even if there is a drain hole through the line. 

Based on the tile size and your chosen grout width, mark out grid lines on the floor with a chalk string line or a light thin permanent marker from the centre working out. Double check all lines are square to the adjoining walls. The tiles can be “shuffled” around once laid down in wet adhesive, however it’s always best to have as square as possible to start with. 

Use the same principles for tiling a wall area regarding grid lines - being square and using a weighted string line will give you a good vertical line on the walls. “Dry laying” tiles is always a good way to visualise the end result before committing them to glue!


It is preferable to start tiling from the centre out towards the walls and then cut the tiles near the walls, as this allows you to square up anything that may not be 100%. Typically, floor tiles will run in under a skirting, vanities, toilet, or wall tiles, allowing a little more latitude with cutting and can hide cuts.
When tiling a wall, it is visually preferable if the tiles that need to be cut should be those closest to the floor or up above eye height so as to not be as noticeable. To achieve this, measure from the intended top of tiles and mark where the last full tile ends at the bottom. At this point, nail a straight edge along the bottom and start tiling from that point up. At the end of the job, cut the bottom tiles in.

Be aware of sizing and colour! For example, if a tile is quoted as 100 x 100mm, check to see if that is inclusive of the grout strip - if it is, the physical size of the tile will be 97 x 97mm. From experience, there can also be variations in batches of tiles in both colour and size. Where possible, try to order the full job lot before you start to ensure a better chance of both colour and size.

Often a tile will have a very discreet arrow or directional mark on the underside, so when laying try to keep this mark going in the same direction as some tiles can be out of square. It your tile is 305x295, for instance, keeping all the directional markers running the same way means that your grout lines will at least all be the same - nice and neat.

Before starting to tile, ensure the area is clean and free from any contaminant that may inhibit the adhesive from bonding the tile to wall or floor.

Even though it’s hidden to an extent, a good quality tile adhesive primer is recommended on every job as it ensures better bonding of the adhesive to the substrate. One of the major failures of tiling is poor surface preparation.

We often see it where tiles have an abundance of tile glue bonded to the tile yet the tile has come away from the substrate. 9 times out of 10 this is due to a layer of dust or contaminants between the tile adhesive and the substrate. Ensure backs of tiles are clean and dry.


Ensure there is good contact between tile and glue across the total area of the tile and wherever possible really avoid the “dot method” of fixing tiles. This is where large dollops of glue are placed only on the 4 corners of the tile as it leaves a hollow void behind the tile and often the moisture of the glue will suck through to the face of the tile leaving 4 large dark spots in the corners. 
Ensure the adhesive doesn’t squeeze up between the tiles and if it does, rake it out before setting otherwise grouting will be difficult. If tiling over different periods of time, ensure excess adhesives outside the last tile is cleaned away. Remember that 5 minutes of clean up today saves an hour of hassle tomorrow.

You may find using a piece of 2, 3 or 5mm string, depending on grout width, can be used across the top of each row of wall tiles instead of using spacers. Small specific plastic spacers can make a home DIY job a bit easier however you still have to be mindful that once 2 or 3 tiles start to run out of square, tile spacers won’t help to correct it. In fact, sometimes it can make the problem worse so always work to string grid lines.
Ensure tile edges are not lipped to each other, especially if laying rectified or straight edge tiles as these are often laid with minimal 1 or 2 mm grout joints. Being laid so close together with a rectified edge will only exaggerate the problem if the tiles are not all level with each other. Rolled or pillow edge tiles usually are laid with a 3 to sometimes 5mm grout joint, and due to their rolled edge, the flatness of the job is not as noticeable.

Expansion joints, failure to use the correct expansion joints and tiling over construction joints will make your tiles too rigid, and they will crack during movement or expansion and contraction of the building. This particularly applies to external decks and verandas.

Check the current Australian Standards for expansion joints regarding tiling as they do change from time to time. As a rough guide though, an expansion joint should be laid every three metres and/or where there is a change of direction. The expansion joints should run all the way to the substrate and ideally be vertically in line with the expansion joints in the concrete slab.

Use a notched trowel of suitable depth; usually 5mm square notched for larger tiles, 3mm V notched for mosaic.

Don’t allow the adhesive to skin before fixing tile.

Use a level or straight edge to ensure the edges of tiles line up.

When doing any DIY project, always READ the manufacturer’s instructions, guidelines and usage details and use all equipment in accordance with operating instructions.

PLEASE NOTE:
These hints are for general interest and should not be construed as technical instructions. If in doubt seek professional advice. 

Suggested tools that may be required:

  • Spirit level
  • Straight edge
  • Tape measure
  • Pencil/marker pen
  • Tile cutter (either hire or buy)
  • Angle grinder with diamond cutting blade 
  • Adhesive mixer and drill
  • Tile nippers/pincers
  • Knee pads
  • Tile spacers
  • Drill bits
  • Paint brush
  • Small trowel/gauging trowel
  • Grout float
  • Battery powered or electric drill
  • 5-10mm notched trowel for wall tiles (depending on tile size)
  • 10mm notched trowel for floor tiles (depending on tile size)
  • Bucket, and plenty of clean water!
  • Clean sponges (for cleaning grout off) 
  • Clean old rags (for cleaning up excess adhesive)
  • Diamond block or carborundum block for smoothing down cut edges
  • Plenty of string for grid lines
  • A chalk string line for marking grid lines on slab
  • A plumb bob for wall tiling (even homemade with a piece of string with a heavy washer on the bottom will do)
  • Some pieces of straight timber to provide a base for wall tiling, and to use as a measuring rod

Contact Hayters today

For more tiling tips, give our friendly team a call on 02 4629 6000 today.
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