Ask the builder BY TIM CARTER

Installing ceramic tile? Save time, money and a lot of stress.

This snap-together ceramic tile can save you money in hidden ways.
This snap-together ceramic tile can save you money in hidden ways. (Tim Carter)
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By Tim Carter
Saturday, January 29, 2011

DEAR TIM: I don't know about you, but money is really tight in this economy. I want to install a new kitchen floor, but ceramic tile costs seem to be through the roof. I'm looking for discount ceramic tile and would like a tile that I can install myself. Can you share some ceramic tile flooring installation tips?

- Amy B., Baltimore

DEAR AMY: Discounted ceramic tile can be found in many places, but you need to look way beyond the price of the tile to see what your floor will end up costing you in the long run. Some tile stores and home centers operate like grocery stores.

A savvy ceramic tile store owner might get you in the door with an attractive price on the tile, possibly selling it at cost but then soak you for all the other supplies you'll need to install the floor. The grout, adhesive, underlayment board and other materials might be way overpriced.

Not all ceramic tiles are made the same - not by a long shot - and some discount tile are inferior. The clay and the glaze as well as the firing process could be substandard, and you might end up with a tile that cracks easily or doesn't wear well.

Porcelain ceramic tiles are currently the rage. They are durable, and modern printing technology and equipment allows patterns to be imprinted on them that mimic the look of natural stone. The downside to porcelain tile is that you need a diamond wet or dry saw to make cuts. Dry saws create lots of dust, so make your cuts outdoors, and wear a mask to keep from inhaling any silica dust.

A new ceramic floor tile that requires no adhesive, often no underlayment and absolutely no grout can be found online. It will save you money on all three of those components before you even lay your first tile.

These new snap-together tiles work like old-fashioned interlocking acoustic ceiling tiles. They are precision made and come with recessed edges that, once the tiles are connected, create a natural-looking grout line. I estimate that a person could install an entire 10-by-12-foot kitchen floor in several hours. The best part is that you can walk on the floor immediately and move in furniture the moment the last tile is snapped into place. There's no wait period for adhesive or grout to dry and cure.

This durable floor tile comes in attractive designs and finishes. You won't be able to cut snap-together tile with a traditional tile cutter that snaps tile along a scored line. That means you'll have to rent a wet saw, but the trick to minimizing your rental time on the saw is to install all the uncut tile first, leaving the cut tile for last.

Another trick to lowering your saw rental costs is to have at least two helpers: one helper marks the tile to be cut and the second helper operates the saw. Just as the saw operator finishes cutting a tile, the marker is there to hand him the next one.

When installing snap-together tile, make sure your floor is solid and in the same plane. The same plane does not necessarily mean level. It means that there are no humps or low spots in the floor. An uneven subfloor will make it hard for the tiles to fit together and could make them more susceptible to cracks.

You can eliminate humps and dips by using pourable, self-leveling compounds. This will add an additional step to your project, but if you want professional results, the smoother and flatter the subfloor, the better your new tile will look once it's installed.

Tim Carter is a columnist for Tribune Media Services. He can be contacted through his Web site, www.askthebuilder.com.


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