Basement Renovation 07 – Tile Floor

This tile floor has been giving me problems. I measured everything out to fit 3 mats by 7 mats perfectly, each mat consisting of 12 one inch by one inch mosaic tiles. I was feeling pretty good about things after installing the base. The tiles were big and easy to handle, they were solid, they stayed where they were supposed to, they more or less fit where they needed to go. And they stuck to the wall after a day, so I was feeling confident about my thinset mixing abilities.

Then it came time to lay out the actual tiles. To refresh you, here is the layout:

BR07_Good Layout

Here was the plan: start at the left of that sketch, just inside the door. That way, when you were seated on the throne, you would be staring at full tiles the whole way across. Then I wanted to ‘march’ the tiles from left to right, so that when I got to the end and had to have a wide grout joint or something weird, it would be behind the toilet where you wouldn’t see it. Here’s the problem: I didn’t have enough space to actually do that; I would have been tiling myself into a corner, as it were. Instead, what I decided to do was proceed in the order marked on the sketch, which was to lay the first three tiles at the left, then all the tiles along the wall opposite the door, and then work my way back towards the door with the last two rows. It still seems like a logical way of proceeding to me.

Here’s the problem, though: I was working from two different boxes of tile. The tiles I bought were “natural stone”, which means that even though they were the same manufacturer, there were natural variations in size. You know, to give the floor character, and to completely screw up my layout. The first tiles I laid down (highlighted yellow below) were ever so slightly smaller in all dimensions. They fit three across and were a little thinner. The first thing I noticed when I started working my way back towards the door was that the thickness was off. And of course, since I had laid the thinner tiles first, there was no easy solution. If the first tiles were thicker, I could have laid a thicker grout bed. With the thicker tiles in hand, though, I was basically screwed. The second thing I noticed was that they didn’t fit three across anymore. I had to cut one row of the 1″ tiles off each mat, leaving a half-inch gap at the wall that the door is in (the red line below).

BR07_Bad Layout

That’s the problem with laying things out exactly, is that if something is slightly off, nothing works anymore. And then the third thing I noticed is that as I worked back towards the door, the tiles didn’t meet correctly at the beginning. Of course. So there ended up being what would have been a wider grout joint right at the door to the powder room (the orange line above), exactly the opposite of what I was going for to begin with.

At this point I was pretty frustrated, and my back was killing me from being cramped in a tight space. So I pulled up a few tiles, tried to space out the single wide grout joint into a couple of slightly less wide grout joints, and convinced myself that I could live with it like it was.

The next day I unconvinced myself and decided to fix it. The good news was that I had accidentally let my thinset get too dry, so the last few tiles I laid down never stuck in the first place. #blessed

I pulled up everything that came up easily, and then chiseled up a few more. Where the thinner tiles were, I chiseled up the first three tiles in each mat and put fresh thinset under them, making a little ramp so they would meet the thicker tiles. Then I spaced out the single wide grout joint over 5 mats so now you can barely see it. Unfortunately, there wasn’t anything to be done about the tiles not fitting across, so I had to cut a single strip of tiles down to size.

The final results are still not as perfect as I tried, but way better than what they could have been if I had left well enough alone after that first day. What’s especially irritating is that the tile is slate, so that when I mopped the floor to prep for sealing and grouting, some of the tile sheared off halfway down. Pictured below: the phenomenon, demonstrated in a mat that was not installed:

BR07_Ed Shearin'

This happened in a few different places, so I had to replace them on a tile-by-tile basis. Since they are all connected by a mat, sometimes taking one tile out loosened the others around it. I only had thick tile to work with at this point, and I couldn’t always match it up everywhere there was a problem. All things considered, I like the final look, but I can’t say I’d give the tile I used an unqualified recommendation. Maybe I could have gone with a black hexagonal tile instead. It would have been more labor because of all the cutting at every edge, but I think I would have avoided all of the dimensional and quality control issues that made the natural stone tile such a pain to work with. Live and learn, I suppose.


The advantage to the natural stone is that I can play off the dimensional discrepancies as a ‘rustic look’. In the end, it’s passable and something I can live with in a basement powder room. And as it turns out, grouting the tile does a lot for the final look of the floor. But that’s a post for another day. Like tomorrow, or Wednesday.

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