September 14, 2016

How to put down tile over sub floors | Part I

How to put down tile

Hi peeps,

Let’s talk tile today, and in more detail, how to put down tile over sub floors.  So, let me start by telling that this was the biggest project we did in our house so far.   It was also the most challenging one in so many different ways.  First, of all did we totally underestimate how long it would all take.  And secondly, we did it during a really inconvenient time.

So we started the project back in August last year.  I was leaving for a two week trip to Germany a few days after we started.  Hubby was about to leave for a two week Air Force training almost during the same time.   To top it off I was supposed to start a new job right after I returned from Germany as well.  Looking back, our timing could not have sucked more!  But we just sucked it up and got through it.  As I said before, we totally underestimated how long this project would take.  We actually thought it would take us less than a month to do it.  Oh boy, were we wrong.  In fact the entire project took us THREE months in total from putting down HardieBacker to finishing the baseboards.  It was a major project and we were both so exhausted and happy once we were done.

In the course of the project we had to move out of the house and into our neighbor’s garage apartment.   He generously rented out to us.  Luckily we had amazing help during the project not just from our neighbor.   My brother in-law and father in-law both came out and helped us.  We could not have done it without each of them and we are so grateful for their support.  So I guess this is my recap, let me now share with you the step-by-step guide on how to put down tile on sub-flooring.  Hubby wrote this all up himself before we started the project and we split the entire process into three posts, one for each phase of the projects.  So let’s start with phase 1—the HardieBacker.

Put down Tile over sub floors – HardieBacker (HB):

  1. Screw down any springy plywood.
  2. Use two pieces of cardboard, a piece of HB and a piece of tile as a spacer to cut door jams.
    • A 3rd piece of cardboard can be added to create an extra 1/16” for ease of installation.
  3. Sweep/vacuum.
  4. Fill any wooden sub floor gaps with caulk.
  5. Check if sub-floor is level with a 6-8’ level or straight edge.
  6. Roll paint “latex primer sealer” in areas requiring self-leveler.
  7. Mix lever.
  8. Spread leveler with flat edge of trowel.
  9. Use “polymer-modified” thin-set over sub-floor.
  10. Mix to consistency of creamy peanut butter.  Let thin-set stand for 10 minutes prior to use.
  11. Notches in trowel should be square 1/4” thick for HB.
  12. Lay “scratch-coat” with flat edge of trowel.  Notch at 45° in arcs.  Firmly notch “straight pass” parallel to direction of HardieBacker.
  13. Lay 1/4” HardieBacker perpendicular to sub-floor’s plywood direction.
    • Pick up 1st HB to ensure good coverage of thin-set.  Half should be on the floor, and half on the HB.  If most of the thin-set is still on the floor, you need to thin your thin-set a little more.
  14. Use 16d common nails as spacers between HB to keep an 1/8” gap at all ends.
  15. No four corners should ever meet.
  16. Walk on the center of the HB to firmly secure to floor.
  17. Secure with epoxy-coated screws 3/8” from edges and 2” from corners, & in the field (center) as required.  (HardieBacker suggests 52 screws in each 5’x3′ sheet).
  18. Remove 16d common nails.
  19. Use high-strength alkali-resistant glass fiber tape.
    • If tape is self-adhesive—tape, then cover with leveled thin-set.
    • If tape is not self-adhesive—thin-set joint, tape, cover with leveled thin-set.
  20. Let cure for 24 hours before allowing foot traffic.

So these are Hubby’s step by step instructions.  Below are some pictures of our floors after we put down the HardieBacker.


Living Room – facing down the hallway

Living room – facing into dining room and kitchen

Dinging Room – facing into kitchen

So, that wraps up our post for today.  Watch out for part II of the series in which I will give you the step-by-step by guide on how to put down the tile.  Let me know in comments below if you have put down tile yourselves and what your experiences was?  How long it take you guys?

Are you looking for more renovation tips?  Click here.

As always, thanks so much for stopping by.


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  • Reply Kelly September 16, 2016 at 3:17 pm

    This is such a great tutorial! We are hoping of start on our tile next week and will referencing back to these! P.s. can’t wait to see the finished product!

    • Reply Sabrina September 18, 2016 at 1:38 am

      I am so excited for you guys to start with your tile! Do you guys have to do over sub flooring? I can’t wait to see your finished mudroom and bathroom 🙂

  • Reply Sarah @ Making Joy and Pretty Things September 20, 2016 at 12:24 pm

    This sounds like a project I would give to my husband and father in law to complete 😉 Can’t wait to see your finished tile!

    • Reply Sabrina September 20, 2016 at 1:02 pm

      I don’t blame you. I would have done the same if I had that option. Even though it was challenging, I am proud I was able to help hubby with it! Thanks

  • Reply Lora September 21, 2016 at 3:34 am

    I sooo appreciate how you break this tutorials down into simple, short steps. There are times that I might want a lengthy video, but also many times I need to be able to mark off a checklist off tasks.

    • Reply Sabrina September 21, 2016 at 3:04 pm

      Thank you Lora, that is so sweet of you! I feel the same way and putting down tile really is a task that comes in different phases. It can get overwhelming if you have to read through pages and pages or watch a super long video. I like to do it in small increments.

  • Reply Shani | Sunshine & Munchkins September 23, 2016 at 7:45 pm

    I’ve never laid down tile on the floor, but I’ve put glass tile up on my backsplash and that was a serious pain. I can’t imagine doing flooring!

    • Reply Sabrina September 26, 2016 at 12:14 am

      Believe me it is pain! But it was all so worth it, the house looks really nice! And everyone always thinks the floors are actual hardwood, so win win!

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