• Tile Installation : Don’t get screwed by just sticking and screwing.

    Posted January 21, 2014 By in Blog With | No Comments

    The days of grabbing a three dollar bag of “thinset” and sticking floor tile right to the plywood are long gone (for professionals, anyway). For proper tile installation you need a proper substrate. One of the most readily available are cement backerboards, including the product wonderboard that we used in this home.  

    When properly installed on your floor it is an ideal tile substrate for a quality and lasting installation. Notice I said typed “properly installed”? Laying them down on the floor and shooting drywall screws through them does not constitute proper installation.

    The joints in backerboards should be staggered, that just means that none of the seams should line up across the room and no four corners should be placed together. By staggering the seams you add strength to the installation simply by not having a significant weak point in the substrate.

    You also want to leave 1/16 to 1/8 inch gap between each sheet – do not butt them together, and around the perimeter. If you butt them together you leave no room for expansion. The backerboards will not expand, but your walls will. If everything is butted tight and your wall expands into the room it will cause your floor to pop loose and possibly ‘tent’ or peak at the seams.

    Beneath the backerboards you NEED thinset. Just about any thinset will work but you need to have it there. Skipping this step virtually eliminates the purpose of preparing your substrate for tile – you may as well go grab that three dollar bag and start setting tile now. You need it – really.

    Installing thinset beneath backerboards

    You need to trowel thinset onto your floor. This step is imperative for a proper tile installation. The thinset is not meant to ‘stick down’, adhere, or otherwise attach your backerboards to your subfloor. It is simply put in place to eliminate voids beneath your backerboards. Once laid into the thinset bed the floor becomes a solid, fully supported substrate for your tile – that’s what you want.

    If you have an air pocket or some certain spot in your floor that is not level or flat with the surrounding area and you simply screw your backerboards onto it this will create a weak spot in your floor. Constantly stepping on that spot will, over time, loosen the screw and your floor will move.

    When your floor moves your grout cracks. When your grout cracks your tile may become loose. When your tile becomes loose your tile may crack.  Put thinset beneath your backerboards.

    Once you have the area fully covered with thinset you can lay your backerboards into the bed of thinset and screw it down. There are screws made specifically for cement backerboards. You should be able to find them at any hardware or big box store. They have grooves on the underside of the head which will dig into the backerboard and create its own ‘hole’ in which to countersink the head as it is screwed in. How cool is that? They are more expensive than drywall screws – just so you know. But you need to use them.

    Each manufacturer has their own specific spacing instructions for screwing down the backerboards – follow them – really. Some say every 12″ and some want every 6 – 8 inches. The board you use will determine the spacing.

    Start your screws in the center of the board and work out. This eliminates undue stresses on the boards. If you screw all the way around the outside and it is not perfectly flat you are going to have to release that pressure somewhere and it won’t happen until you have all that pretty tile on top of it. Working from the center out eliminates that.

    Your floor is probably too thick (should be) for the backer screw to actually penetrate into the floor joist. If not, or just to be safe, do not place screws into the area above the floor joists. The plywood or chipboard which makes up your floor will expand and contract at a different rate and, more than likely, in different directions than your joists. If you screw your backer into the ply and into the joist six inches over it will cause inconsistent movement – no good. Do not screw your backerboard into your joists.

    The last thing you need to do is tape your seams. Get an ‘alkali resistant’ mesh tape – similar to drywall tape – and place it over all your seams in your floor. Then mix up some thinset and trowel it over the tape with the flat side of your trowel. Just like taping and mudding drywall. This will make your floor one large monolithic structure and lock it all together. You want alkali resistant tape so it will not break down due to chemicals present in most thinsets.

    That’s it! Congratulations, you now have a perfect floor for your perfect tile installation. When installing floor tile – or any tile for that matter – the most important aspect of the installation is always the preparation. Everything beneath your tile is important, if any one aspect is done incorrectly it may compromise the integrity of your installation. Take your time and do it correctly, you will be much happier for it.

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