Checking for Squares and Laying Out Tiles

It’s the rare house that’s completely square, so it’s a good idea to check all sides of the surface before laying any tile. Otherwise, you may wind up with drastic angled cuts along some edges, says the expert tile setters. Measure from each end of each reference line to the edges of the wall or floor that are parallel to it. If things are out of sync, adjust your reference lines so they’re parallel to the most visible edges.

This could be the counter-top if you’re tiling a backsplash or, if you’re tiling a floor, the wall you see when you enter the room. Hide the problem along the least visible edge, such as along the upper cabinets for the backsplash or along an out-of-the-way wall for that floor.

Lay Out Floor Tiles

Once you have the layout lines, you can start dry-laying the tiles. A tape measure could do the planning job instead, but you’ll get the most accurate plan by actually placing tiles and spacers into position.

1. Start placing tiles. On a floor or other horizontal surface, dry-lay a row of tiles along each of your two reference lines, so that you make a tile X over the floor. Use spacers that are the size of the grout lines you want. Plan a ¼ inch gap around the perimeter of the floor, and determine how much you’ll need to cut off the tiles at the edges. Pros try to avoid anything smaller than one half of a tile, because it looks unprofessional, so shift your tiles as needed to avoid the problem. You may need to make new reference lines to do so. If necessary, adjusting your spacer size slightly can also help, as long as you stay with a look you like and spacing that’s approved by the tile manufacturer.

2. Mark tile locations. Once you’re happy with your arrangement, dry-lay additional tiles to test the cuts around major obstructions in the middle of the space, such as island in a kitchen floor. Tweak things again to avoid anything smaller than half-tiles around them as well, if possible. Check the tiles to ensure that they’re all arranged on the reference lines and spaced properly. Then use them to make reference marks on the floor. Mark the location of each side of each tile on each reference line.

Getting the Right Spaces

A few decades ago, the standard gout line was ½ inch wide, but the trend now is toward much narrower spacing. Often, they’re only 1/8 inch. Somewhere between 1/8 and ¼ inch is ideal for a floor, as smaller grout lines require unsanded grout, which is harder to work with than grout containing sand. Always check with the seller to see what’s recommended for your tile.