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Ceramic tile entryway.

It's the Grand Central Station of your home. It's trampled over by family members, visitors and pets every time they come and go. It's the place where sand and mud are deposited, where hard-heeled shoes make their mark and where dripping umbrellas come to roost.

Wouldn't it make sense to have sturdy, durable flooring in this bustling entryway? And since it gets so much use and abuse, shouldn't it be easy to clean? And since first impressions mean a lot, wouldn't it be nice if it were attractive? You know, something like ceramic tile?

We're going to show you how to install a basic tile entryway. Even if your home doesn't have a self-contained entryway like we show, you can define your own entry space by tiling a small area by the door. Here's how.



Install a ceramic tile entryway is a great DIY project. It's small scale and involves a certain joyful repetition. Mistakes are easy to correct (if you catch them in time).

We spent a three-day weekend tiling our 70-sq.-ft. entryway - a day rounding up materials and preparing the floor, a half day laying the tile and the good part of a morning grouting.

Our tile cost $4 per square foot. The cement backer board cost around $1 per square foot, and adhesive and grout together cost around 75 [cents] per square foot. Together, the materials for our entry cost $450. A pro would charge about $500 for labor to install the cement backer board and tile.

You'll need a tile cutter and nipper; both can be rented for under $10 a day. A notched trowel ($10) for spreading the adhesive and a grout float ($8) will also be needed.


Your tile floor will only be as solid as the surface beneath it. Most professional tile layers prefer to work on a handpacked and leveled mortar bed. It's solid, long-lasting and stands up to moisture. It can also be used to even up sagging or out-of-level floors. But installing a mortar bed requires tools and techniques we won't cover here.

The DIYer's choice is a double-layer subfloor and underlayment. that totals 1-1/8 in. thick or more. Your goal is to provide a floor sturdy and thick enough to support your tile, yet thin enough so it doesn't stand taller than the adjacent floor coverings. Tile experts recommend using cement backer board rather than plywood for the underlayment. Plywood can expand and contract with the seasons and delaminate when wet. Cement board costs twice as much as plywood but is stable and provides a superior bonding surface. It's widely available in easy-to-manage 4 x 4-ft. or 3 x 5-ft. sheets in 5/16-, 7/16- and 1/2-in. thicknesses.

Depending on the age of your house, the floor could be built a number of ways. Here are the likely possibilities: * Two layers of plywood, particle-board, planks or combinations thereof. If you have a two-layer floor, remove the uppermost layer (Photo 1) and replace it with cement backer board. The old underlayment was most likely secured in place after the interior walls were built, so pulling it up rarely involves major demolition. * A single layer of boards or tongue-and-groove plywood usually 3/4 in. thick). In such cases fasten the cement board directly to the floor, or use the method shown in Fig. A if the floor is badly warped. Use 7/16-in. backer board if height permits; otherwise 5/16-in. backer board over a sound 3/4-in. floor is usually adequate.

Cut and place the cement backer board, making sure the seams don't line up with those of the subfloor below. When all are cut and placed, lift each sheet, piece by piece, spread thin-set adhesive (Photo 4), set it back in place and secure it with galvanized nails or screws. The thin-set will help bond the cement board to the subfloor, but more important, it'll fill and span small dips in the floor. Fill and tape the seams (Photo 5) to bond the cement backer board into one massive piece.

Use a tile as a guide for cutting the bottoms of any door casings and jambs that extend into the tile surface. It's much easier to slip your tile under the casings and jambs than to cut tiles to fit around them.


Roughly lay out loose tiles in both directions (Photo 7) to determine the best placement for your tiles. Space the tiles according to the manufacturer's instructions. Rarely will a room lay out with full, perfect tiles in every direction; you'll need to do some shifting and cutting. A few rules of thumb: * Strive for full, or nearly full, tiles along the most noticeable walls and corners as well as where the tile abuts thresholds, carpeting, wood floors and other floor surfaces. Small pieces look awkward and are more likely to crack. * If you want to include a border, make a sketch of your entry and play around with different designs before shopping for tile. * Realize you can't always get everything perfect. You may wind up with small slivers of tile in places; just try to minimize them.

When you have a suitable layout, snap a pair of chalk lines perpendicular to each other. Use these lines as reference points to mark the rest of the floor into small grids. Lines spaced about 2 ft. apart give you an optimum size grid to work in. For instance, our files were 7-3/4 in. square. We chose a 1/4-in. grout space, for a total of 8 in. We snapped chalk lines at 24 in. to accommodate three tiles and three grout lines.


Mix a small amount of adhesive initially, so you can work slowly without fear of it hardening before use. Place a small blob of adhesive in a grid section. Distribute it evenly with the smooth side of the trowel, then comb it with the notched side held at a 45-degree angle or greater. Be consistent with the angle of your trowel, so the ridges in your adhesive are of uniform height.

Lay the first tile at the corner where two chalk lines intersect. Continue placing the others, keeping the proper spacing between tiles. Use a small spacer, like the one shown in Photo 10, for consistency. Set each tile down with a slight twisting motion; a tap with a rubber mallet will assure full contact with the adhesive. Work one grid at a time and make minor adjustments as you go. Remove adhesive that oozes up in the space between tiles.

Use a long, straight board to check if your rows are running straight. Cut and install partial tiles as you go.

X-shaped plastic spacers are available for maintaining the proper distance between tiles, but if your tiles are slightly irregular (as most are today), spacers will form rows that weave out of line.


Straight cuts are most easily made with a tile cutter. Mark the tile with a pencil, position it in the cutter, then lift and pull the handle of the cutting arm toward you. Apply just enough pressure to lightly score the tile. Take it easy - you're not trying to cut through the tile, just make a nice even line. Then snap the tile as shown.

Irregular cuts can be made with a nipper (Photo 13). If you have lots of irregular cuts, rent an electric diamond-blade wet saw ($40/day), or mark the tiles and bring them to a tile shop that offers an on-site tile-cutting service.


The package for your adhesive should provide information as to when you can begin grouting-usually 24 to 48 hours after the tile has been laid.

A latex additive, used in place of some or all of the water, will help accentuate the grout's color, make it more water resistant and allow for movement.

The biggest error people make when grouting is mixing it to the wrong consistency. Too soupy and the grout can shrink as the water evaporates. Too thick and it's difficult to work into the cracks. Mix it about the consistency of toothpaste. Start with a small batch until you get a feel for it.

Place a small blob in one corner. Spread it with your rubber float held at a fairly low angle. Pack it firmly into the joints. When the grout begins to firm up (5 to 10 minutes), run your float diagonally across the tile at a steep angle to remove the excess grout. Complete all of these steps in a 5 x 5-ft. area before moving on.

Final cleaning of the tiles must be done while the grout is soft enough to be washed from the tiles, yet firm enough so it's not pulled out of the joints. This could be anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour, depending on temperature, humidity and additives in the grout. Use cool, clear water and a sponge. Rinse and wring out the sponge frequently. If the grout has hardened on the face of the tiles, use a scouring pad to loosen the grout. You'll need to wash the tiles at least twice.

Finally, buff with a dry cloth to remove any haze. If you waited too long, use one of the grout haze removers" that are available.


Protect grout lines and unglazed tile from dirt and stains by sealing them with one of the sealants on the market. Water-based sealers can be applied 24 hours after grouting; silicone-based sealers can't be applied until the grout has fully cured - usually two to three weeks.

Reinstall your baseboard, then add a piece of shoe molding or quarter round to cover any gaps where the baseboard and tile meet.

Run a bead of caulk in the space between tiles and threshold; grout applied here would crack. Clean up edges where tile meets other floorings as shown in Figs. D, E and F.


Your new tile floor must remain close in height to adjacent floors; if you add too much height, the places where tile and other floor coverings meet will be a hazard. Also watch out for: * Maintaining height consistency where stairways adjoin the entryway floor. Any great increase in floor height can make that first step up too short, or first step down too tall. * Entry doors. If the threshold of the exterior door needs to be raised to accommodate the tile, the door must be shortened or raised. Wood doors can be cut with a circular saw. * Out-of-level or bouncy floors. Slanting floors can be leveled by a pro using a mortar bed as shown in Fig. C. Bouncy floors can be beefed up by nailing additional joists alongside the existing ones, provided you have access to the joists from below.


Many tiles made for bathroom walls and floors won't stand up to the abuse and shoe traffic that entryway tile is subjected to. Tiles often have a wear rating listed either on the back side or in the manufacturer's specification sheet; a tile rated "3" or greater is acceptable for entry floors.

Glazed tiles can be used for entryway floors, but avoid glossy ones; they're slippery and show every little scratch or ding. It's better to select a matte or textured tile. A porcelain tile, like we selected, is colored all the way through, has a slight texture and is durable - making it ideal for an entry tile.

We used 8 x 8-in. tiles for our relatively large entryway; a smaller space might look better finished in 6-in. square tile. There are few hard and fast design rules when it comes to tile. Here are a few hints: * Dark-colored grout with light tiles or vice versa) tends to emphasize the geometry of the tile. * Dark colors make a room look smaller, while light colors tend to open up a space and make it feel larger. * The tile selected can make the entry feel formal or casual; it can set the tone for the entire house. * Laying tile in a simple pattern like we did adds pizzazz, with little extra work or expense.
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Title Annotation:installing a practical and durable floor cover for hallways or areas leading to the outdoors
Author:Carlsen, Spike
Publication:The Family Handyman
Date:Mar 1, 1993
Previous Article:How to install a GFCI.
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