With all of the current “D.I.Y.” shows on television today, and large home improvement stores advertising that they have everything that you need to do the job yourself, many people are asking themselves “do I really need to pay a professional tile contractor to do my tile project?” “Can I save money and just do it myself?”
Well, the answer is…possibly…it depends.
As an owner of a professional tile installation company that serves the Pittsburgh area, I have nothing against those who wish to attempt their own installation. After all, that’s how we began many years before we started Ray Tile & Bath! If you have the ability and patience, go for it! It can be fun and rewarding. However, there is a lot more to installing tile than may meet the eye. Also, I would always recommend using a professional for wall or shower tile installation.
What Makes or Breaks Your Floor Tile Installation?
First of all, floor tile is only as durable as the structure holding it. Whether it be a concrete slab, wooden sub-floor, sloped mortar base or numerous other backer products. If the material below (the “substrate”) is not structurally sound and true, then the new installation is prone to failure. (This is one reason that we will not tile over top of other tile. We have no way of knowing for sure that the substrate is sound if we can’t examine it.)
Both quality products and the use of proper materials are very important. Preparing your new tile, be it ceramic, porcelain, granite or other natural stone, and then bonding it to a proper substrate takes knowledge and experience, no matter what the guy in the flooring department tells you. Remember, he is not working as a tile installer…you are (if you choose to do on your own).
Then we come to the placement of the tiles themselves. It may appear that each tile in a case is exactly the same shape and size, but they are actually not! It is the tile setter’s job to fool the eye into believing such. There are imperfections in all types of tile. This is part of where the job is more of an art than simply labor.
Also, keep in mind that you are going to have to cut your tiles on at least 2 of the 4 perimeter walls, then around corners and through doorways, etc. For most types of tile, this requires a diamond wet saw (which is expensive, but can be rented). Additionally, mixing mortar and grout is quite labor intensive without a heavy mixing drill and paddle.
Read the Instructions on the Products You Use for the Installation
This may seem obvious, but even if you have done an installation before, don’t assume that all thinsets, tile and grout have the same instructions, because they don’t. Do yourself a favor and read the packaging.
Consider An Uncoupling Membrane
Keep in mind that wood and cement expands and contracts at a different rate than that of ceramic or porcelain tile. The difference between tile and wood is pretty dramatic, which is why tiling directly on plywood is not recommended. But tiling on cement backerboard is not ideal either, as there is still a difference in expansion and contraction rates. What does that mean? That means that at some point either your tile will crack or your grout will crack. To avoid this, install an uncoupling membrane between your floor and your tile.
Start with a Small Tile Installation Project
In short, if you are relatively handy around the house, have the patience and time to learn the steps involved with the tile installation process, and aren’t afraid of a bit of hard work, give it a go! May I suggest that you make your first job a small, simple floor installation in discrete area of your house – perhaps a basement entry way, and avoid a large foyer or kitchen floor for your first attempt! Best of luck, and feel free to contact us for some advice! If you purchase your tile or uncoupling membrane from us, we will be happy to guide your through your project.
Keep in mind that much of our business comes by failed attempts by homeowners or “handymen” who didn’t properly inform themselves.
Keep an eye out for our next article: “Tips on a D.I.Y. Tile Installation.”