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How to lay tile for floor tile installation

You've gathered your tools and setting materials and prepared your floor substrate. It might be tempting to roll up your sleeves and start laying tile. Here's a few things to know before you jump right into installing tile.

Quick Tip

Smaller grout lines require less maintenance, and floors are often subject to stains. Keep that in mind when spacing your tile.

When designing your tiled floor, keep the installer – yourself! – in mind. Strive for a layout that maximizes the number of whole tiles and the size of any cut tiles. Doing a dry – adhesive-free – layout will give you an idea of how well your design will work in a particular room.

1. Divide the room into quadrants

A man prepares for tiling a floor by dividing the floor into quadrants.

First, divide the room into quadrants. Snap a chalk line down the middle of the floor’s longest side and a second line down the middle of the floor’s shortest side, to form a perpendicular intersection. Check the intersection’s angles using a framing square.





2. Do a dry run

A person measures out tile while conducting a dry run of the floor tile installation layout.

Before beginning to mortar, dry lay out at least one vertical row and one horizontal row in a quarter – making sure to leave room for grout lines and movement joints.

Movement joints are 1/8 in. to ¼ in. spaces where the tile meets adjacent walls, which you will caulk later. They allow the tile to expand and contract – without cracking – as temperature and moisture levels change.

Grout lines are also important – so important that many small tiles are self-spacing, meaning that they have bumps on their sides that create consistent grout lines between tiles.


3. Use tile spacers

Several grey tiles spaced perfectly with tile spacers.If your tiles are not self-spacing, you’ll need to use spacers to create grout lines. You can buy tile spacers at Lowe's.






4. Adjust tile spacing

A diagram to show how to adjust tile spacing when doing a tile installation.

 If your layout leaves you with end tiles less than half a tile wide, simply adjust its spacing or vertical centerline. If the problem is unavoidable, arrange your layout so the tile fragments end up in an inconspicuous area.





5. Cut a tile "sandwich"

Hands using a wet saw to cut tile to fit in a corner.It is inevitable that you will need to cut some of the tile to cover your entire floor space. To cut the tile, you may need a tile cutter and/or a wet saw. You may be able to rent a wet saw tile cutter at your local Lowe's. A "tile sandwhich" is tile that is correctly cut and positioned, and ready for mortar. Each tile you cut to fit your floor, should be measured and cut individually.




A diagram showcasing the first step of what to do when preparing to cut tile.Step 1:  To begin cutting your tile, place a loose tile atop the last laid-out full tile. Instead of positioning it directly on top of the tile, however, put it against the wall, corner or edge where the floor stops. Remember to leave room for a movement joint between the tile and wall.


A diagram of the second step to cutting tile for a floor tile installation.Step 2: Lay a second loose tile over the first. However, align this tile exactly with the last laid-out full tile, instead of placing it against a wall, corner or edge. The loose tile you placed previously should stick out – reaching the wall, corner, or edge – between this tile and the bottom tile. This “tile sandwich” will demonstrate the necessary size of the partial tile. The tile that is the “meat” of this tile sandwich will become the partial tile.

A diagram of the third step of what to do when needing to cut tile for a  floor tile installation project.

Step 3 Mark the cut line on the “meat” tile, using the second loose tile as a guide. For straight cuts, use a tile cutter. "Polish" the edges with a rubbing brick. Cut openings around pipes, faucet stems, etc. using a power drill with a hole cutter attachment.


Now that you have laid and cut your tiles, the next step is to begin applying mortar. Read on to the next step of our "How to Install Tile Floor Guide" to learn how to do this.

Our diy Expert

Ron Sheldon

Ron Sheldon is a tile and floor installation guru. He has far too much knowledge on obscure topics like grout and floor leveling. A passionate tile contractor by trade, Ron’s spent the past decade dedicated to educating people about tiling, and has great advice on how to perfect your project.

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