Once the electric floor mats and Ditra was put down and sufficiently dried we went back and filled the Ditra squares. Pros and experienced tilers will do this step at the same time as laying down the tile but we decided to take everything nice and slow especially after messing up the previous layer of thinset. To fill in the waffle like texture we just used the flat side of a trowel. Since the squares are undercut it’s very important to pack them from every direction with thinset.
Making this a separate step also gives you a better surface to mark out and lay the tile so we plan to do this again in the future.
Next up we had to figure out our tile pattern. The American Olean Catarina Coliseum White tile I fell in love with only comes in two square sizes for the floor, 12×12 and 18×18, so that limited our options. For the walls I liked the 10×13 size because it was like an oversized subway tile but it only comes in glossy which I didn’t like the look of in person. The matte tile looked much more real and would help hide water spots. So I had to use one of the two square size tile options in the shower too. I wanted to break things up a bit and not use the 12×12 tiles on both the walls and the floor so I went with 12×12 on the shower walls and 18×18 on the floor.
I knew for at least one of the areas I wanted to use a classic running bond pattern. But because 18×18″ tiles are considered large format they will have some cupping in the center. Non-large format tile (12″x12″ and smaller) has cupping as well but it’s much less obvious. Running bond pattern doesn’t work as well with large format tiles because the low center will be right next to the higher ends of the tile right next to it. Tilers recommend offsetting the tile by 1/3 instead of 1/2 of the length of the tile to counteract this.
Keeping that in mind a 1/2 offset with the 12×12 tiles in the shower would work the best with the length and side of the tub being divisible by 6″. But having a 1/2 offset in the shower and 1/3 offset with the large format floor tile would look strange. Like someone wasn’t thinking the design through before laying it out. So the only other options were a square or diagonal pattern. Of course I wanted the diagonal pattern because it’s much more visually interesting! Putting large tiles on a diagonal meant a lot of cutting. I know I like to make things difficult.
With the tile pattern figured out we had to pick what direction we wanted the “grain” of the tile. One of the downsides of this fake marble tile is the limited number of grain patterns. There were only about 4 different printed grains so you have to be careful with what tile you put where. Flipping the tiles 90 or 180 degrees also helps diversify the look. Originally I thought I would want the grain to all go in one direction like this:
The other option is what our tile pro family friend recommended. It’s called a quarter turn grain pattern where every tile you lay is turned 90 degrees from the previous tile.
This essentially makes a checkerboard pattern of tile directions. We really liked how it helped hide the fact that there was a limited number of grain options. It also doesn’t lead your eye to any one direction like the lined up grain lead your eye to either the toilet or the tub. Quarter turn it was.
Now it was finally time to laying out the tile! Our tile guy recommended we dry cut the tile first because it was a large format tile in a small space. We started the design by snapping a caulk line to base all of our tile off of and measuring off additional lines from that line. Walls and tubs aren’t necessarily straight so don’t measure off of them or your whole floor may be crooked.
We started near the front of the tub since that was the most crucial edge being the only tile edge that wouldn’t be covered by baseboard.
Knowing we’d be cutting a lot of tile between the two bathrooms I bought a heavy duty wet saw off Craigslist months earlier. This was our first time using it and it…um…left something to be desired. More on than later. It worked for what we needed to cut but luckily we had a lot extra.
For the small cuts we bought an angle grinder and a diamond tipped blade. Worked like a charm on the intricate toilet ring cut and the small square cuts around the piping. First Flannel Man cut lines in the area he wanted to remove.
Ooh look sparks!
Then he carefully followed the curve of the line.
Making sure to wet the area with a sponge every once and while.
I think that is one of the nicest looking toilet ring cuts I’ve ever seen! He’s such a perfectionist.
Since we’re tiling under the vanity as well we had to cut squares out for the piping. This was done by drawing the square on the backside and slowly plunging the diamond blade on the angle grinder into the back of the tile. Stopping to wet the area has he went. He cut each side until the most of the front had been cut but stopped short of cutting the full line at any one time. That way when he moved on to the next side the tile was still sturdy enough in the corner to not flex the tile and crack. Once all of the sides were mostly cut he carefully finished off each side to complete the corners. All of the cutting was done from the backside so the backside corners had overlapping cuts due to the radius of the blade. Because of that you have to be careful when handling or laying down that area of the tile. This tile took two tries to get right. The first one cracked between the drain line and the nearest copper pipe.
Same thing was repeated for the toilet water supply. Unfortunately this had to go in the floor as the toilet is on an exterior wall.
The linen closet also had some fun cuts.
This piece miraculously only had to be cut once.
Busting out the wide angle lens to show you the dry fit run.
Note we just eyed the grout joints as closely as possible and checked them occasionally with tile spacers. Our tile pro says one of the biggest mistakes DIY tilers make are to make the grout joints too thin and to rely more on measuring than your eye. Being an engineer I kind of side eyed that last comment but I trusted Flannel Man and gave him the benefit of the doubt that he could get it as close to exact as possible. He is a machinist who works in the 1000ths of an inch. His eye is trained to be able to pick up small variations.
Once all of the tiles were cut our family friend tile pro stopped by to help us lay the first couple rows and show us how it’s done.
We quickly learned large format tile = lots and lots of pulling up the tile to reduce lippage.
The margin trowel (on the floor) became our new best friend.
Here you get a good idea of how big these tiles really are.
Steps to Laying Large Format Tile (bigger than 12×12″)
First you mix up the thinset (we used modified thinset) to a consistency that is thick enough to hold the notch of the trowel but wet enough that it still sticks to the tile. Then keep a sponge and bucket of water handy.
Next smooth over the Ditra one more time to make sure all dimples are filled in.
Then run more thinset over the area with the notched side of the trowel. We used a 1/4″ x 3/8″ trowel.
Now back butter the tile with a thin layer of thinset. Just enough to cover the square pattern on the back of the tile.
In the corners we added a small extra dollop of thinset. This accounts for the higher corners of the cupped large format tile. Most of it gets squeezed out but it ensures the corners are solid and won’t crack from a lack of support.
Next you lay down the tile by getting it in the right spot and dropping it ever so slightly into place. Followed by a firm press you should have even coverage of the thinset under the tile. Pull up your first couple tiles to double check this.
With the tile down slide it up to the neighboring tile on one side and check that the whole length of the tile is flush. Our tile pro and this tile pro recommend this procedure. If it isn’t flush pull up the lower tile and add more thinset on the back of the tile in that area.
Wipe off the excessive thinset and pull the tile back into place.
Repeat on the other sides of the tile. This should give you a level floor and fairly clean grout joints.
Overall Flannel Man’s tile cutting job was pretty flawless but when it came to the tile around the sink piping some minor adjustments with a Dremel was needed.
As we tiled the available floor space got smaller and smaller. Soon I was kicked out and let Flannel Man to pull up and put back down tile after tile. I’m not kidding when I heard “Sigh…that is at least 4/1000ths of an inch of lippage!” come from the room.