Tiling a bathroom isn't an easy job, but with the right tools and planning, it's well within the reach of an experienced DIYer. Take advantage of professional advice by consulting your local tile shop for ideas about materials and tools, and then apply their ideas on your own without having to hire a contractor. Many independent tile shops even offer free classes and demonstrations.
1. Your tile size should be proportional to the size of the room. This is especially important in bathrooms, which tend to be the smallest rooms in the home. When in doubt, go for the smaller size. They'll actually help your bathroom to feel bigger.
2. Start with a level floor. The only way to get a level tiled surface is to start with a level floor. Bumps and ridges make tiling a nightmare, and make the floor much less durable and even unsafe. Use a long straight edge to check for waves, bumps or valleys. If there are only a few low areas, spread some additional thin-set mortar to achieve a level surface. Really wavy floors will benefit from a base layer of self-leveling compound.
3. Lay out your design before laying a single tile. Proper planning will help minimize the number of cuts and tricky placement. Use a piece of graph paper and a ruler to make a scale drawing to figure out the best arrangement, and dry fit a row or two to see how everything will come together before mixing your adhesive. Then, lay out the job on the substrate.
4. Select the right adhesive. There are two main categories of adhesives: mastic and thin-set mortar. Mastic is a glue made from tree resin and requires no mixing. However, since it's organic, it can harbor mold in high-moisture areas like bathrooms. Thin-set mortar comes in several varieties, including water-mixed, acrylic-mixed and epoxy. Be sure to consult the experts at your local tile shop for advice, including your climate and what substrate or setting bed you'll be using.
5. Yes, you need a wet saw. If you're only replacing a tile or two, you might be able to get away with a tile snapper or nipper, but for full-on jobs like bathroom floors or showers, you'll want to grab what the pros use: a wet saw. These are similar to a table saw for wood, except they sit in a tub of water to cool down the friction created from cutting porcelain or ceramic, which also helps to control dust and chips. You can rent one from a local shop or home center for around $50 a day. Our vote: unless you have rooms and rooms to re-tile, it's better to rent a heavy duty saw that can handle your cuts safely than buy a lightweight model.
6. Sheet tile is your friend. When planning to use smaller tiles such as random mosaic or penny tiles, sheet tile can save you tons of time. These are 12" or 6" square units mounted on mesh or webbing that help you maintain geometric patterns and a consistent layout.
7. Make a jury stick. A jury or a layout stick is a long straight edge with the proper tile spacing marked along its length. These are especially helpful when planning tile on walls, since you can't lay the physical tiles to see how they'll fit. To make one, lay down a very straight 1x2 or cut piece of piece of plywood on the floor. Use spacers and tiles to create a perfect row, then transfer the layout pattern onto the wood with a pencil. When you're done, you'll have a series of short line pairs to indicate where the spacers will go.
8. Lay out to accommodate permanent fixtures. When laying out your design (especially on floors) consider the permanent fixtures such as a tub, sink or vanity. You'll want the tiles around these areas to be the same size and perpendicular to maintain focal points, and place cut tiles in the least visible areas.
9. Tile over tile. In a bathroom, you may be able to avoid the hassle of removing old tile, and lay your new tile over the existing floor. If the floor is sound and free of major cracks and loose tiles, you can fill the grout lines to make them flush with the tile, then sand the faces with a rough grit paper to create a scuffed surface onto which the new mortar can bond. This will, of course, raise the height of your floor, so you'll want to accommodate with a new threshold or transition.
10. Remove everything you can. Before beginning a new tiling lay out, it's best to take away as much as possible. Most pedestal sinks and vanities can be removed with just a few bolts. Likewise, you can cut tiles to fit around a toilet, but it's much easier and attractive to take the toilet off its flange and reinstall later. You'll also want to remove any baseboards or molding so you can butt the tile against the wall, and use baseboard to cover any gaps or seams.