In this section we will discuss Do It Yourself maintenance.

I am a professional handyman with a full time business that I keep small (2 employees). In these articles I will show you how to do most repairs in as simple a way as I can.

There are areas where you can do many things cheaply without losing integrity or quality in the work you're doing. Cutting corners without cutting quality.

In the first article, DIY laying ceramic tile, I will show you how to professionally lay ceramic tile so that it's done right and permanently.

           Tool Hand Luke

Laying Ceramic Tile

The first thing you need to do is determine what type of floor you have.

That means DEMO time!! This can be the funnest part. (It's even funner if you have a teenager to clean up after you and boss around.)

Depending on where you live, you may have a cement floor or you may have plywood subfloors. When take up the carpet or old tile you'll find this out easily. Getting old vinyl floor up can be a real problem and a lot of work. Many people use a hot hair dryer or the equivalent professional tool to soften up the vinyl as they pull it up. Either way, you need to remove all of it. If you cannot get all of it up and have dimples or low spots after all the top plastic layer is up, then you will have to "Float" the low areas with Thinset or something simular. They have products at Lowe's or Home Depot for this purpose. You must have a smooth, flat substrate to work with.

There are places where the floor is naturally sloped in one area or other like bathrooms or laundry rooms. In these areas its much easier to use smaller size tiles to keep them from breaking after being layed from the weight of walking on them if you don't get enough thinSet mix underneath.

Once you have determined the type of sub-floor you have, you will know if you need to lay down concrete board or not. If you have USB or plywood sub-floors, you will need to do this. You can use sheetrock screws or nails either one, however screws hold better in plywood than the old way of using nails.
After you lay the concrete board, you will have to float the seams, using the products above. You can find the actual recommended products at your local hardware store.

You don't have to do anything special for concrete floors except make sure it's smooth, flat and level.

Next your going to have to lay some snap lines on the floor that will help you make sure your tile will be straight with your walls and centered on all sides. You don't want to start against one wall. For one thing, your walls might not all be perfectly square. I have found very few that actually are.

You'll need a chalk line tool. It's shaped like a flat pear and has string inside with colored chalk and a reel mechanism to retract the string after a line is done.

You will need to find the very center of the room. Start by measuring the end of the room first, against the far wall. Find the center of the wall and mark it with a pencil. Next go to the other end of the room and do the same. Now snap a chalk line from these two middle pencil lines.

Now do the opposite sides. Once you have snapped these lines they will both cross exactly in the center of the room. If you are planning to diagonal your tile, you will need to snap your lines from the corners of the room instead. Where they cross is your middle point and your lines will be set up diagonally and ready to go.

You are going to be laying your tile one quarter of the room at a time. At this point your room is divided into 4 sections. Remember to start laying tile so that you end up at the entryway to the room. Otherwise you will have painted yourself into a corner since you cannot walk on freshly laid tile.

You will work from the center of the room and do 1 row at a time from your chalk line outward when it's time to start laying tile.

It's best to have a helper when laying tile. You'll see why shortly.

Now we're going to dry fit (no glue or thin-set) all the full tiles in that quarter section. Get out your spacers. There are a number of different sizes you can get. Ask your hardware store to recommend the proper size for the tile you chose.

Lay out your tiles putting spacers flat down in the corners of your tile. Each next tile will butt up against the spacers and they will self-position themselves. Make sure your tiles are staying with the chalk lines. it's important to dry fit if you are going to make your partial tile cuts ahead of actually cementing the tiles and it's helpful if you have patterns of different colored tiles/sizes to do.

Mark all your tiles, 1,2,3 etc. as you pull them back up. Stack them in numerical order in rows beside your work area where you can get to them as easily as possible. Now as you start laying the tile down, you can go in the same exact order that you had them placed before.


In a CLEAN five gallon bucket, put about a half inch of water. This will keep the bottom of the bucket from having dry cement stuck to the sides and bottom even after you have mixed the thinset well.

You can use the recommended amounts if dry mix and water and then adjust the mix slightly if needed. It's best to buy a mixing bit for your drill to mix thinset. A cheap, low powered drill may burn out before you finish your tile. Best to have a good quality drill.

Start mixing your thinset. High speed mixing will produce a better, more consistent mix. When you are confident that it is fully mixed, pull up the mixing bit above the mix and see if it drips. If it does, it is too thin. On the first try it's better to start with a mix that is a little too thin and get it just so it doesn't drip any longer. Then you'll know from now on how the mix "feels". and can do it easily.

You won't have too much time with your thinset before it's starts getting thicker and finally, unusable. So make sure you have all your tools and tile ready before hand.

Get your grooved trowel and start placing one row of thinset down. Remember to keep your trowel at a about a 45 degree angle from the floor. To much of an angle will make shallow grooves and not hold your tiles down properly. It can also put part of your tile on the floor while some sticks up too much or even put bubbles under your tile which can break them when you put weight on them, especially if the floor isn't quite level in the area you are working.

Now, with a spacer set in the center of your chalk line crossing, start laying down your tile. Lay them about an inch or two away from your line and with pressure, slid the tile into position. Remember not to put the tile right up against the chalk line. Leave half the width of your spacer between your tile and the chalk line or you'll be sorry when you go to start laying your next quarter section of room.

After each tile, lay a spacer in the corner and add your next tile. The spacers do exactly what they suggest. They leave space for your grout. If you don't have enough space for grouting, the grout won't hold. The spacers keep all your tiles aligned properly too and no matter how good at straight lines you may think you are, it will prove not good enough when you're done and you will be severely disappointed in the results and look of the room.

Don't walk on or put weight on freshly laid tile. They can slip and it not be noticed. Don't worry about the cuts along the edges of the room until it's time to grout or at least until you have let the full tiles set up for at least 24 hours.

After your room is all tiled with the full pieces, you will need to let the thin-set cure for a period of 10 to 24 hours, depending on the type of thin-set you used. (There is a 6 hour cure thin-set you can buy, but I suggest you use the regular unless you are really fast, or a professional.)

Once cured, you can start dry fitting the cut pieces. A wet saw is the best way to go. It's safer and benefits by trapping 95% of the dust from cutting. There is always a bit of chipping of the edge of cuts and those chips can fly in any direction. Ceramic tile shards are the same as glass shards and are just as sharp. Always wear safety goggles when cutting tile!!! I've cit my hand wide open from a tile that slipped in my hands. Wear gloves when possible with cut tile.

Go slow when you cut. Go slower when you reach the last inch of the cut, as it tends to break at the ends of a cut and won't break straight in line with the cut. When measuring for you cut, remember to get within an eighth of an inch to the wall. You will want your cut line to be covered with either some border tiles or baseboard as cut edges are never perfect like factory edges and will look unprofessional unless you are doing a mosaic area.

Before you start laying your cut edges you will need to get a scraper and go along all the edges of tile you already laid and get any excess thin-set off the floor and edges of the tiles. After, sweep areas well!

Mix yourself more thin-set and start laying your tiles!

You can wait until these are cured if you are concerned about them sliding when you are grouting. They may, So if you don't wait to cure, keep watch that they stay against the spacers, which you will pry out after all the tiles are set and cured.


Before attempting this, you have some clean up to do. Get your scraper out and make sure all thin-set between tiles is dug out. It doesn't have to be perfect, but you want as much space for your grout as possible and if there is even a thin line of thin-set by the top side of your tile, it will show through after you grout and look terrible. Sweep out all the thin-set and get ready to grout!

Get your grout trowel now and using a figure eight pattern, start from the wall edge and work the grout into them. Do a row at a time, working the grout down into the cracks using a figure eight pattern. Keep as much grout off the top of the tile as you can, but don't worry, it will sponge off.

Work quickly as you can, because as soon as you get the whole room done, likely you will be able to start the cleaning off process. It's best to wait for at least two hours before you start sponging.

The thing to remember here is to rinse and rinse and rinse the floor. It can't be clean enough. With your sponge, start wiping off the tile and down the cracks. Careful not to go too deep. You just want a slight curvature between the tiles. Plus, the grout will shrink just a bit, especially if you're using grout with polymers in it. Grout with polymer is the best in my opinion because it add some flexibility to your grout to withstand shifting and movement. It lasts longer too.

Another point to remember when you're sponging is to keep your water very clean. The cleaner the water, the less you will have to sponge. After you have done all the sponging you think is needed, let it dry and see if there is any streaks or film on the tile. If there is, don't wait...start sponging again. Otherwise you will have a serious amount of work to do to rid the tile of that film.

It's also a good idea to use a grout that already has a sealer in it. Or you can use liquid sealer in your grout mix. It does need to be sealed though. You can also use a liquid sealer after grouting. Use the manufacture's suggestions.

Now you're ready to put on your borders. Either with shoe-molding, border tile or baseboard.


Using the same instructions through most of the article you can make a beautiful area of mosaic using the extra tile you have left over from your cuts.

Take the waste tile and lay it down on a piece of cardboard and start striking them with a hammer! It's de-stressing and fun. Just lay them one at a time, using pieces that kind of fit together, leaving about a quarter to a half inch between them. Fit them together kind of like a jigsaw puzzle and watch the magic happen as you go!
It's easy and fun.

You can get a grid book of tile style patterns at your local tile store that will give you good ideas on using different colors and sizes in your rooms.