When my husband and I bought our house 15 years ago, it was a bit of a fixer-upper. Newly married, we purchased my grandfather’s old home because that is what we could afford at the time. We did a complete overhaul, gutting most of the rooms and completely remodeling. One of the jobs that we undertook was installing a ceramic floor in the kitchen. My husband had a lot of experience with framing homes and home remodeling, but had never put in a ceramic floor. However, just starting out, we did not have the money to pay someone else to do the work, and we felt that we would be capable to do it ourselves. While the floor looked good initially, some of the tiles eventually cracked and a lot of the grouting crumbled up and started to break loose.
What went wrong?
My husband had laid many different types of floors previously, but never ceramic tile, so the first thing we did was a little research. The problem is that we went against our initial instinct and got some bad advice from a salesman at a local home improvement store. We had planned to place an underlayment as a base under the ceramic tile such as Hardibacker board, which is a water-resistant surface made of cement and sand to bond tile to. Unfortunately, we were misinformed and told that it was completely unnecessary. Being young and naïve (and of course low on funds) we decided to forego the extra expense of putting something down underneath the tiles. This was our first big mistake. Then when we laid the tiles, we had help from friends even more inexperienced than ourselves. Having multiple people applying glue to tiles ended up disastrous because each person was applying a different thickness of glue. While the difference was not really noticeable to the naked eye, the floor was not as stable as it should have been. Being an older home, we quickly started to have issues. Without a level foundation to help absorb the shock and provide a firm base, as the floor settled we had a few tiles that ended up cracking. We also had the grout in between the tiles start to crumble up and come out. We tried re-grouting several times, but continued to have the same problems until we eventually replaced the floor.
What we learned
The most important thing that we learned is to trust your instincts. If someone tells you something that doesn’t sound right, then check with several reliable sources. Not everyone who thinks that they are an expert, actually is. When we put down another tile floor we learned from our mistakes and put down Hardibacker beneath the tiles and my husband applied all of the tiles on his own. If you are installing a tile floor, it is essential to put down some kind of underlayment beneath the floor. Another alternative to Hardibacker is Durock, which is a cement board that is moisture and mold resistant. Both underlayments are very easy to work with and can be found at any local home improvement store. We have had our new kitchen floor for over 10 years without any problems.