A tiled wall can be a beautiful and practical addition to any room in the home. Although tiling isn't the easiest of DIY jobs, even a novice can achieve good results through careful preparation. If you're planning to tile your bathroom or other wall, read on for our quick guide on what to consider, how to tile – and how to ensure that all of your hard work pays off.
How to Tile a Wall
Choose Your Tiles
This is the fun bit! Tiles are available in a dizzying array of types, styles, designs and price ranges, so you should be able to find the perfect choices for your taste and for your interior design preferences.
While choosing your tiles, you should also choose the type of tile layout you want. From straightforward grids to complex and intricate patterns, the layout you choose can have a big effect on the overall look of your tiling project. If you have never tiled before, a simple straight lay is often the best option.
How Many Tiles Do You Need?
Measure the wall space you need to cover in square metres. Packs of tiles should say how many square metres each pack will cover, but it's important to add 10% in order to allow for breakages and cuts.
When you buy your tiles, make sure you're buying ones with matching batch numbers, to avoid small variations in colour or design which could spoil your overall look.
Choose Your Adhesive, Sealant and Grout
There are a number of different types of tile adhesive on the market. Which kind you choose will depend upon the type, weight and size of your tiles, so seek advice on this. Avoid rapid setting adhesive if you're a novice, as you may struggle to get the tiles into place quickly enough.
Not all types of tiles need sealant, but you will need to seal natural stone tiles and unglazed ceramic ones.
Grout comes in different colours, which you can choose to either match or contrast with your tiles, as you prefer.
Prepare the Wall
Make sure the wall you are going to be tiling onto is clean, free from wallpaper, nails, dust, dirt and holes. It needs to be even and level too, so you will have to fill in any holes or even re-plaster if necessary. Do this well ahead of the tiling, in order to allow the plaster time to set.
If the wall is painted, be sure to remove any flaking paint before you start tiling – there's no point adhering your tiles to the paint if the paint itself isn't stuck to the wall!
It's not recommended that you tile over existing tiles. The combined weight will most likely cause the adhesive to fail, and even if it doesn't, you will end up with an uneven and overly heavy finish.
It's worth taking time to do a final dust of the wall, and indeed to vacuum the room where you are tiling. Residual dust and particles can interfere with the adhesive, causing your tiling to be insecure.
Plan Your Tiling
The end result of your tiling project will depend on how careful you are with the planning, so it pays to take your time over this part. It helps if you can lay out the tiles on the floor, paying particular attention to the visual impact you want to achieve.
Start by making a tiling gauge stick. On a long stick, place tiles end to end, marking the positions of each one. Next, measure your wall, and use a spirit level to mark a central vertical and horizontal line.
Hold your tiling stick up to the wall and begin to carefully mark where the tiles will go, and where cuts will need to be made. Aim to place cut tiles at the bottom of the wall, and on the extreme left and right, where they will be most hidden.
Finally, it's time to actually get some tiles onto the wall. Start at the bottom (if you need to cut the bottom row of tiles, refer to the cutting section next).
Spread tile adhesive on the wall in small sections at a time, and carefully position the first tile onto the wall. Check that it is level with a spirit level, and then add tile spacers. Position the next tile, check that it's level, and add spacers – repeat until all of the main, whole, "easy" tiles are in place.
In hard to reach areas such as behind a toilet, it's often easier to put the adhesive onto the tile rather than onto the wall.
You will almost certainly need to cut some (perhaps many) tiles. You can use a variety of tools to do this, from a hand-held tile scribe to a mechanical or electrical cutter. The accuracy of the cutting marks you make will determine how neatly the cut tiles fit, so again, take your time and don't be afraid to waste a few tiles in trial and error.
Once your tile is cut, file away any rough edges. Position the cut tile where possible so that the cut edge faces downwards.
Cutting curves or special shapes into tiles is more complex than just cutting them across in a straight line. For very small odd shapes, mark the shape onto the tile with a chinagraph pencil and then use tile nippers to gradually snip the tile away until the correct shaped hole has been achieved. Only snip a tiny bit at a time - you can always snip more, but you can't put back what you've already taken off!
To cut tiles to go around a pipe, mark horizontal and vertical tramlines out from the pipe on the wall, which can be transferred onto the tile in question. Extend those lines to form a square, which is where the pipe will be positioned. You can use an offcut of pipe to draw the actual pipe diameter within that square.
Once you have your circle in place, cut the tile in half across the centre of that circle. You can then use tile nippers or a circular cutter to cut out the semicircle shapes. When you place these two tile halves onto the wall – if you have done the measuring and cutting accurately – you should barely be able to see the join.
Adding Tiling Finishes
Rounded edge tiling strips should be used to finish the tiling in external corners, countertop edges or elsewhere as appropriate. These should be fixed into place once the tiles are on the wall, but before sealing and grouting. A thin line of adhesive is normally enough to fix tile edging securely onto the wall.
If you're not using tiling strips, you could caulk the edge of the tiling, to provide a neat and waterproof finish. This looks much better than just leaving raw tile edges.
Seal the Tiles
If your tiles need to be sealed, this is the time to do it, once all of the tiles are in place. Work quickly to spread sealant across the tiles, a small section at a time, because if you take too long your brush strokes will show in the end result. Sealed tiles should be left for 24 hours before grouting.
Once the tiles have been left for the amount of time specified by the adhesive, you can begin the grouting process.
The easiest way to do this is to use a grouting float to spread grout and to push it into the spaces between the tiles. You'll need to use your fingers too, to ensure an even finish. Work on a few tiles at a time, and work quickly and consistently.
Once you have spread the grout, wipe away the excess immediately.
When the tiles are grouted, leave them for 15 minutes, and then wipe down with a damp sponge. You may need to repeat this process, leaving the tiles again and wiping them down once more another 15 minutes later.
Finally, once everything is tidy and you are happy with the grouting, leave the tiles for another half an hour before polishing them to a shine with a soft cloth.
And that's it – job done! With good care and maintenance, your tiled wall should stay looking beautiful for years. You can always repair or replace individual tiles when necessary (a tip; nail varnish in a matching colour is a great way to patch up scratches and nicks in tiles) but you shouldn't need to do anything too major. Once you've got the tiling bug, you'll be able to take on a more ambitious tile laying project next time!