How to Properly Tile a Wall in Your Home

Hexagonal Floor Tile in Bathroom

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Overview
  • Skill Level: Beginner

Veterans of floor tile installation may think that wall tile installation is equally easy to do. After all, isn't a wall nothing more than a vertical floor?

Wall tile installation has its own set of rules that you dare break at your own risk. The penalty for poorly installed wall tile is a lifetime of looking at it. To make the experience pleasant, not painful, follow these wall tile installation tips. Your project will go much smoother, be less frustrating, and might actually be more affordable.

Before You Begin

Always begin with the understanding that vertical wall tiles are more visible than horizontal floor tiles. Floor tiles sometimes even disappear: under tables, desks, or carpeting. But wall tile is always prominent.

Walls, windows, doors, and other reference points can create aesthetic harmony or havoc with wall tile. Laying tile on a featureless wall with no obstructions is fairly simple because you only have to design with tile in mind. But when other geometric shapes come into play, you'll need to incorporate them into the overall look, too. Take your time in evaluating the space and the tiles to determine the best approach for visual appeal.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Bubble level
  • Wet tile saw
  • Snap tile cutter (optional)

Materials

Keep in mind you might need one or the other of these supplies, not both.

  • Tile spacers
  • Batten board

Instructions

  1. Use Tile Spacers or Batten Board

    Gravity is the enemy of wall tile installation. Vertical tiles can slide before they are firmly set into place. Plastic tile spacers help keep tiles separate. After the bonding thinset has cured, the spacers can easily be removed.

    Besides tile spacers, another way to deal with the problem of gravity is to use a batten board.

    A batten board helps you start your bottom-most course or row of tiles. A batten board is usually a 1x4 or 1x2 board screwed directly into the wall. The batten board should be horizontal and level.

    Do not start the batten board on the floor. Instead, bring the board up to about three-quarters of the height of your tiles. So, if you're dealing with 4-inch tiles, your batten board would start 3 inches off the floor.

  2. Drape Tiles in a Pyramid Shape

    With the bottom row of tiles started, the question is: what next? Do you stack the tiles vertically, one column at a time? Or do you choose to complete one row, then do the next one?

    The best way is to arrange your wall tile in a draping pyramid shape. Here's how you do it:

    Install the first four tiles in a pyramid: three on the bottom and one on top.

    Every subsequent row is a process of draping over the pyramid, back and forth. Begin your first drape on either the right or left side, and bring it up, over, and down the other side. Repeat your second drape in the opposite direction. Continue back and forth, alternating sides.

  3. Check Floor for Level and Walls for Plumb

    Tiles need to be installed in a square space. Holding a bubble level to a straight, 6- or 8-foot board, make sure that both walls and the floor are plumb (vertical) and level. In many cases, they will not be plumb and level.

    If it is off by more than a half-inch, you need to correct the wall or floor. Additional trim and baseboards can cover up severe problems.

    If your plumb or level is off by no more than 1/2-inch over the course of 8 feet, it will show in your tile installation. This can be remedied by taking the following step.

  4. Use No Tiles Less Than Half Wide

    Along the outside of your tile field, any tile slivers (tiles that are less than half the width of the tile itself) will markedly show the out-of-plumb wall. You can remedy this by making sure that the tiles are positioned so that no slivers are used.

    Also, make sure that tiles are symmetrical. In each row, any partial tiles should be at the very left and right sides. Each partial tile in a row should be the same width.

  5. Use a Wet Tile Saw

    Wet tile saws produce cleaner cut edges than snap tile cutters do. Snap tile cutters work fine when you can hide those imperfect edges with baseboards or shoe molding. But wall tile doesn't afford you the same luxury: all edges are visible, and very much so. For that reason, it's helpful to buy or rent a wet tile saw for perfect tile cut lines.