While installing marble tile isn’t the single most difficult task in the realm of Do-It-Yourself home repair, it can still be a tricky process that requires precise planning and intricate implementation. This type of installation can be quite an undertaking, with large rooms requiring two or more days to complete with another three or four days for drying. However, by breaking down the task into some easy-to-follow steps, you can install marble tiles and add a stunning enhancement to almost any room.
Along with the marble tile you’ve picked out, this job will require a large number of necessary materials, including:
- Cement board
- 1.25-inch board screws
- Line chalk
- Notched trowel
- Tape measure
- Tile spacers
- 2-by-4 lumber or wood stud
- Rubber mallet
- Marble sealer
- Grout float
- Foam brush
- Work gloves
- Wet saw (for custom-cut pieces)
Prepare the substrate
“The substrate should be as smooth as possible before laying tiles.”
Next you’ll want to install cement board sheets or another type of vapor barrier underlayment. Using a notched trowel, spread thinset mortar directly on a plywood subfloor, and then fasten cement board sheets with 1.25-inch screws. These steps help decrease any space between the two surfaces that can lead to water seepage or cracks in the tiling, thereby damaging the overall integrity of the area.The substrate is the foundational base that you will cover with marble tile. Remove any excess dirt with a nylon or iron brush, straighten out all the uneven areas and fill any cracks. You want the substrate to be as smooth and clean as possible before attaching the tiles.
Once the surface is as clean and smooth as you can get it, you will need to identify the proper starting point with guidelines to assist in a straight and symmetrical layout. You want to install the tiles from the center point of the room so that they radiate outward instead of abruptly going from one wall to the next. Find the midway point of two opposite walls, draw a chalk line to connect them and then measure the center of that line and use a T-square to make an intersecting chalk path to the other two opposite walls. Doing this will indicate the center of the room while also dividing it into four neat quadrants.
Prepare the mortar
Each manufacturer has specific instructions for mixing their mortar, so be sure to closely adhere to those rules. There’s no need to mix all the mortar immediately, so only make a small amount and then continue making more as you need it.
Time to bust out the trowel. For marble tiles 12″ square or smaller, a ¼” notched trowel is suitable. However, for larger tiles and irregular tumbled or natural cleft materials, you’ll need to use a ½” notched trowel to create larger, deeper grooves in the adhesive. Starting from one of the corners of the intersecting chalk lines, apply a layer of mortar with the flat side of the V-notched trowel, creating grooves in the mortar as you go. Remember, because the adhesives dry so quickly, it’s wise to only cover a small area of the substrate at a time and immediately attach the tiles before moving on and adding more.
Lay the marble tiles
“Inspect the tiles to ensure none are broken or defective.”
After you’ve spread a bit of mortar large enough to cover the tile’s surface, line up the tile perfectly with the chalk line intersection and then gently press it into place. A small twist will help the adhesive bond more tightly to the tile. Use a rubber mallet to lightly tap the marble tile firmly into place. Despite its durability, be careful not to tap too hard as marble can crack.Before you start laying your marble tiles, inspect them to ensure none are broken or defective.
Once you have three or more tiles in place next to one another, you can place a 2×4 over the tiles and gently tap the rubber mallet on it to ensure that the tiles are all the same height. Continue on in this way with the rest of the tiles, following along on the chalk line you made for reference. Using a tile spacer will assist in maintaining uniform grout lines. The tiles will probably not fit perfectly once you reach the wall, so take note of any gaps to custom cut pieces with a wet saw later.
Be sure not to step on the freshly-laid tiles until after they have dried, so the quadrant closest to the door is the one you finish last. That way, you don’t tile yourself into a corner. After the mortar completely dries based on the manufacturer’s instructions, use a paint stick or a utility knife to remove any excess mortar that might have seeped up in the spaces between the tiles.
Seal and grout the marble
Once all the marble tiles have been set and dried, you will want to safeguard them from cracking, chipping, staining, and general wear and tear by applying a high-quality marble surface sealing agent. This step should be done before the grouting process since the grout mix can stain the tiles.
Just like with the mortar, be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the grouting, and only mix enough for you to use within 15-20 minutes as it dries so quickly. Use a grout float to apply the grout to the joints, and be careful to keep as much of it in the grooves as possible while quickly wiping up any that gets on the tiles. After finishing this step, apply another layer of sealant to protect the grout. Depending how much foot traffic the room gets, applying a marble sealant once or twice a year is a good way to keep the tiles looking shiny and new.
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