Tiling floors – A complete project guide
Adding a tiled floor can transform a room – here’s how to make the best choices and ensure you get value for money.
Hard flooring is by far the best choice for the ‘wetter’ rooms, particularly kitchens, utilities and bathrooms where carpets and certain types of wood flooring would be totally impractical. It’s also the best option for high-traffic areas such as hallways and boot rooms – for much the same reason. But it’s not just the practical benefits of tiled floors that make them more popular than ever – thanks to a huge range of designs, formats, colours and materials, tiled floors can add so much to the overall look of a house.
A tiling project, whether replacing existing flooring or in new extensions, requires sifting through a wide variety of options – which means lots of decisions to navigate.
Types of Floor Tiles
Very strong and durable, the key appeal of stone lies in its authenticity and versatility. Stone covers marble, slate, limestone, travertine, granite and more – because it’s naturally occurring it offers instant character through the inherent variety of pattern and form. That said, there are significant differences in terms of the individual types of stone. One common choice is between limestone and its cheaper alternative, travertine (which is actually a type of limestone). Travertine tends to be filled with resin (it is often formed with holes in it which make it weaker than limestone, which forms through pressure) – this can cause problems down the line (particularly with underfloor heating), but it also looks slightly different in appearance to limestone.
One thing to note with stone tiles is that they will require some form of sealer to ensure that spills don’t get absorbed.
This type of floor tile is formed from clay being fired at very high (quarry) and more moderate (terracotta) temperatures. They come in a range of different colours (not just brick brown) and are highly durable – particularly quarry tiles, which are less porous.
The cheapest option for hard flooring, ceramic tiles come in a huge array of colours and styles (as dyes are added to the manufacturing process meaning you can have anything you want).
Porcelain tiles are the big news story in floor tiling at the moment. They are popular for many reasons. Because they are so dense, they won’t absorb any liquids – so won’t stain – and are particularly well suited to kitchens and bathrooms for this reason. Long term durability is a key benefit of using porcelain, and in many ways they combine the design freedom of ceramic with better long term maintenance-free benefits than even stone. It’s expensive to buy and the density of the tiles makes them heavy, which can add to the installation cost – but they’re an excellent option for most homeowners.
Kitchen Floor Tile Design Tips
Our kitchens are much more than simply areas for preparing food these days – our modern obsession with the ‘living kitchen’ means that it has to work as a tranquil, calm living space as much as a busy cookery zone.
Overall, your floor tiles should be a reflection of your room’s design. If you’re looking for something contemporary, use relatively neutral colours (this will also allow for the units, furniture and wall colours to be changed without needing to change the floor too often) and, just as importantly, large format tiles. This is because you will want to minimise the amount of break-up in the tile pattern and by minimising the number and width of grout lines you’ll create a more seamless, modern appearance. Porcelain tiles are perfect for this type of look, with their smooth feel. The greys and lighter tones of some porcelain tiles can look very similar to the polished concrete that is a feature of leading contemporary homes.
If it’s a traditional tone you’re after, then consider something more riven (ridged) – it instantly gives the character of imperfection. Limestones in beiges and creams are a good option, as well as warmer colours provided by slate tiles. The grout lines are likely to be a bit wider, drawing more attention to the beautiful floor itself.
There has been a significant increase in interest in a more eclectic tiling take on contemporary design in recent years – people are bolder with colours, pattern and format. While this is more true of wall tiling than floor tiling, you could consider introducing Moorish, Mediterranean and even geometric patterns into the floor – best as an inset section rather than the whole floor – to create a bit of interest. These tiles would be smaller in format so would need careful planning, but can help to provide a bit of warmth to plain, smooth modern tiled floors.
Overall, the two main aims for kitchen floor tiles are to make the room feel bigger and ideally lighter. Excessive patterning that draws your eye to the floor too much can be a negative in this regard – you want light to bounce off rather than be absorbed – and is as much affected by the tile format and laying pattern than by the tile itself. So, the general rule is to always lay with the length of the room than across as it creates a longer perspective.
Kitchen Floor Tile Practical Guide
Kitchen floors get a lot of stick. We drop plates on them. We spill drinks on them. Our dishwashers leak and things fall out of our fridges. As a result, they need to be resilient and easily cleaned. Some materials are more stain-resistant than others, looking as good after five years with toddlers as the day they were laid. Porcelain would be the go-to choice for those looking for long-term durability and resistance to staining.
Don’t forget, too, that spilt drinks are just as likely to affect grout as the tiles themselves – and grout can wear very quickly. If you’re concerned about this it’s best to specify an exoxy resin based grout which is resistant to stains.
Floor Tiling to Outside Areas
Many homeowners aspire to enjoy adjacent outdoor space from their living kitchens and the use of level thresholds – where there is no step down to the patio – is increasingly common. This really lends itself to matching the inside tile with the outside, and there are a couple of choices here.
Bathroom Floor Tile Design Guide
While there’s only so much you can do to make a bathroom feel large, clever use of tile formats or patterns can make it feel light, warm and serene. While your bathroom floor tile choice should follow the overall style you’re after with the bathroom itself, think carefully about choosing darker colours (otherwise you’ll be constantly drawn to the water stains and more unsavoury detritus on the floor).
There are many practical issues to consider. The first one being that, considering the limited size of the floor itself as well as the unusual shapes around showers, a smaller format tends to be more practical in order to avoid too much cutting of tiles. It’s also important to ensure that you have a finish that can be easily wiped clean and doesn’t harbour too much dirt – so heavily riven tiles are best avoided, particularly considering you’re likely to have bare feet here.
Of course, the most important practical issue of all is to avoid slips. Bathroom floors are inevitably going to get wet and it’s therefore important to choose a tile that minimises the risk. The thing to look out for on tiles is the slip resistance rating, which ranges from R9 to R13 (the most slip resistant of all). Ratings of R11-R12 are essential if you have specified a wet room (where part or all of the bathroom floor effectively becomes the shower tray).
Hallway Tiles & Other Areas
One part of the house that really does benefit from more interesting floor tiling when it comes to patterns and formats is the hallway. Quarry and terracotta tiling has been a feature of the British hallway for centuries, and has never really gone out of fashion. It’s hard wearing and easily cleaned, and its deeper colours can hide all the dirt that comes in from outside – making darker tones perfect for hallways and boot rooms.
When should you tile?
There is, of course, a practical benefit to hard flooring in ‘wet’ areas like kitchens and bathrooms – protecting the floor structure underneath against wear and tear. It certainly pays to consider laying your floor tiles in the kitchen before installing the units – not only will they help to ensure that any leaks from dishwashers, sinks and taps don’t get soaked into the ground but also, they allow you to one day change the unit layout without needing to change the flooring.
It’s much less of a practical option when it comes to first floor bathrooms, with a lot of pipework penetrating the floor structure below and therefore making tiling in the areas designed for showers and baths a bit of a waste of money.
Tiles and Floor Structure
The floor structure itself – the floor below the tiled cover – is an important part of ensuring the success of a hard-tiled floor. Floor structures consist of either concrete (solid) floors – common on ground floors – or suspended timber floors (common on first floors and specific on ground floors to homes built before the 1950s). Both can cause issues, but concrete floors simply need to be relatively level in order to build off successfully – if not, an installer should look at pouring a self-levelling compound to equalise the levels (it’s quite expensive). As houses can be prone to some element of movement too, it’s important to insert expansion joints to allow some flexibility in the surface every 6-8m or so.
Those building floor tiles off suspended timber floors have a bit more to think about. The primary issue is that timber is prone to some element of movement as it expands and contracts in response to water (and even humidity). Up against a hard surface such as a tiled floor, that can cause tension and potential cracks in the worst case. Again, expansion joints over large areas can help but particularly in wet areas such as bathrooms it is important to compensate for not just the lateral movement of the floor structure but also any deflection (bounce) from the joists. Many installers have different approaches to this but the key principle is to use either plywood or a tile backer board, with gaps filled with silicone sealant – this will reduce the chances of movement.
What Should I Pay for Tiles?
There is a lot of competition in the tiling retail sector with a lot of companies selling similar tiles (often from the same manufacturers but sold under different brand names). That’s good news for homeowners, because it drives prices down. Here are some general guides for what to target by material:
Porcelain – £25-60/m2
Slate – £20-40/m2
Ceramic – £15-30/m2
Limestone – £30-50/m2
How Much Will Floor Tiling Cost?
A typical 5m2 bathroom will take 1-2 days to tile and grout, meaning that you should expect to pay between £200-400 for the job (plus VAT). Most tilers tend to charge in the region of £25-40/m2 plus VAT (although measured rates like this aren’t so easy to apply to smaller jobs), so it’s easily possible to spend £1-2,000 on a large floor tiling project. See our cost calculator below to estimate your tiling project costs.
Tiling is a complex, physically demanding job (just ask any tiler about his or her knees). Professionals can deal with any of the above issues and more besides (such as those rooms that are never quite square) – and do the whole thing twice as quick as a DIYer. They will have all the necessary cutters and other tools which are often very expensive for the DIYer to buy. A tiler will usually visit the house and price up the job – you should ask them if they can source tiles for you at better prices than you can from the well-known tile outlets).
Getting it right the first time!
Our expert tiler, Bruce Johnson from Bruce Johnson Tiling helps you make the best decisions.
- Choose the colour of the tiles wisely
- Select the size of tiles with care
- Pick grout colour with levels of traffic in mind
- Consider rectified tiles, the finish is superior
- Don’t buy adhesives and grout until you have spoken to your tiler
Tile colour selection
Sometimes dark tiles can make the room look smaller.
Size of tiles is important.
Not too big a tile in a small room, or not to small a tile in a large room.
Grout selection is key
Picking the grout colour is very important. White or a light colour is probably not a good idea on floors, even if the tiles are that colour, because the high traffic areas, ie kitchen sink, cooker etc will get dirty a lot quicker than the low traffic areas, and it will show.
Machine cut tiles are precise
Rectified tiles are cut instead of moulded, this means that the calibre (size) of the tile is very precise, so a tile fixer can fix using a smaller grout joint, normally 2mm.
Adhesives and grout selection can be a minefield
Try to avoid buying the adhesives and grouts without asking the tile fixer first. A lot depends on the type of tile and the substrate they are being fixed to.
And always have plenty of tea bags in the cupboard, tile fixers are renowned for drinking lots of tea!