Ceramic Flooring - What to Know Before You Buy
Ceramic Tile Flooring Installation Guide

Ceramic Tile Flooring Installation

Go Pro

Installing ceramic tile floors is hard work, labor intensive and extremely exacting. Most would say, in fact, that it’s an art form. Ceramic tile installers are craftsman with age-old skills. Expertise has been handed down from one generation to the next over dozens of centuries.

As such, we strongly recommend you call upon a reliable, seasoned, dedicated professional to install your ceramic tile floor. That way you can be assured of a beautiful and correct installation that won’t leave you with imperfections that you’ll be glaring at for years to come. 

While installing ceramic tile flooring is a skill developed over years of experience, your understanding of installation basic will increase your knowledge of the process and enhance your confidence in the pros working in your home.


Over time, newer and better methods and materials have been introduced, but tile setting remains the same labor-intensive process that it’s been since the days of Ancient Egypt. The process always begins with the preparation of the tile foundation, better known as the substrate.

Materials typically used as tile substrates in home installations include concrete, plywood and drywall. Your installers will prepare your substrate by various methods, depending on the substrate material and where the installation is targeted.

Each substrate has its own unique set of issues and is prepared according to industry and manufacturer guidelines.

The first step is the cleaning of the substrate. Dirt, moisture and oil can interfere with the adhesion of tile, so care is taken to remove all foreign debris.

Next, installers will level the surface of the substrate to provide a strong support base for the tile and to ensure that individual tiles will look flat when installed.

If a substrate is not level, the result could be incorrectly set tiles that can cause chipping or cracking when weight is applied.

Once a substrate has been leveled, a waterproofing layer may be applied. It’s important to do this for installations where the tile will be frequently exposed to moisture, including kitchens, bathrooms and exteriors.


In the past, ceramic tile was installed using what was called the thickset or mud set method, where a thick layer of mortar was applied to a waterproofed and steel reinforced substrate. This technique provided a strong, flat base onto which tile could be installed. While these methods were effective, they involved a labor-intensive process. And so, an alternative method was sought after – and discovered.

Today, most tile installers choose the industry accepted and more efficient 


method, where tile is directly adhered onto a backer board that is then nailed to a plywood or concrete substrate using a much thinner layer of mortar.

The backer board is called a CBU, or cement backer unit. It’s purpose is to provide a supportive and water resistant layer between the porous substrate and the mortar and tile applied on top of it.

Layout Plan

Once the substrate has been prepped, the next step is to create your layout plan.

This plan shows the dimensions of each room and helps to determine the amount of ceramic tile and other materials needed for the installation.

Your installer will use this plan to estimate the amount of product needed and to anticipate any installation issues that could result from architectural features, such as stairs, transitions and built-in cabinets. Your installer will also use the layout plan to determine the pattern and orientation that you want your tile installed.


A straight, temporary chalk line is commonly used to create a guide for the installer to work from.

Give Me A T

A single row or column of tile is laid directly on the substrate without adhesive, thus giving the installers a better sense of how the tile will fit into the room. Another row or column is then added perpendicular to the first, forming the shape of a T. This process creates a starting point for setting the tile. Once the installer has determined the correct layout, it’s time to apply the adhesive mortar to the substrate.

More About Grout

Once the entire tile floor has been set in place and left to fully cure for 12 to 24 hours, the grout is then applied. As previously described, grout is available in a wide range of colors, as well as in both sanded and un-sanded forms.

Mortar and grout need 24 hours to cure before walking on the tile. This period ensures that the tiles won’t shift or become loose before the thinset has a chance to set. Sometimes it’s recommended that the tile be mopped daily for several days to prevent the grout from cracking, pulling moisture from the underlying mortar or curing unevenly.

And there you go! Your new ceramic tile floors are ready to enjoy!


You may want to spend time the day prior to installation of your ceramic tile floors prepping your installation space.

Remove all furniture and other stuff from the areas where the installation will take place.

Some installers will move furniture for you, but they may charge you for it. Be sure to empty the contents of china cabinets, closets, refrigerators, etc. — those can get mighty heavy.

Check with your retailer about disconnecting and removing appliances. We recommend that The Gas Company or an appliance company disconnect and reconnect all gas appliances.

Also, ask your retailer about the removal and replacement of toilets if you plan to tile a bathroom.

It’s important that the installation area is climate controlled (heated or air conditioned). Indoor humidity should be kept between 45-65%.

Goodbye Hello

What do you plan to do with your old floor covering? If you’re going to remove your old floors or carpets, do it at least one day prior to arrival of your ceramic tile to allow for time cleanup and floor preparation. Your installers may remove your old flooring for you for an additional fee.

Need A Trim?

In most cases, moldings and baseboards need to be removed prior to ceramic tile installation. Your installer may do this at an additional charge, but will most likely not be responsible for damage or breakage. Painted baseboards and woodwork may need patching and painting after the installation is complete. This is typically your responsibility.


Existing subfloors may require preparation to receive the ceramic tile, or a new subfloor may be required. Be sure to discuss your unique situation with your specialty flooring retailer or installer. Subfloors need to be as clean and level as possible.


There’s always the possibility that doors may not clear your new ceramic tile floors. Some installers will remove doors in order to install the tile and then re-hang them — if possible. Check with your installer about their policy and cost. You may require a qualified carpenter to shave or cut your doors down after installation.

The Clean Up

Installing ceramic tile floors will create a mess inside and possibly outside your home. Typically, waste materials are collected by your installer and disposed of for a fee. Confirm this prior to installation so that you understand the terms of the agreement.  

Take the Day Off

Plan to stay home on installation day. Inevitably there will be questions to answer and decisions to be made. Your presence will help ensure that your new ceramic tile floors are correctly installed in all the right areas.  

Safety First

Ceramic tile installers use a variety of tools and techniques that can make the work area hazardous. Be sure that children and pets are kept out of the work area. In you’re installing floors in the kitchen, for example, plan to have food and drink available in another room so that entering the kitchen during work hours won’t be necessary.

Walk Thru

Prior to the completion of the installation, it’s important to walk the job site with the chief installer. This “walk thru” gives you an opportunity to ask questions, point out any unsatisfactory aspects of the work and ultimately “buy off” on the overall job.


If you or family members are sensitive to dust or odors, good ventilation should be established for 48 to 72 hours after installation of your new ceramic tile floors.