Book Review: “Tiling Step by Step” by Better Home and Garden

Tiling seems to imply lots of work. I often thought it’s not something I am able to do myself. In fact, I have hired contractors to do the tiles for my kitchen, bathrooms, and even front porch in the past. Through this book, I’ve learned quite a few things to make me feel confident enough to be dangerous.

I discovered the intricacy of tiling like selecting the types of tiles (slate/stone, porcelain, ceramic) for different purposes. And the various degrees of water absorption for each type of tiles was a surprise to me. After reading the book and walking through the tiles isles at the neighborhood Home Depot, I came to appreciate the arts of tiling – its beauty and crafts.

The backboard serves to support the tiles and requires stiffness so the the tiles won’t flex and result in cracks. The author emphasizes this point throughout the book. I believe the success of the tiling depends so heavily on preparing the surface in terms of its smoothness, flatness, and levelness, it’s almost 80% of success if done right. I have seen cracks on tiles and grout; they could be attributed to the poor prep work. Also, installing felt roofing paper or membrane to prevent water from seeping through is also noted as a critical step.

Setting the focal point (could be middle of the room) and tiling from the focal point is something I didn’t expect. I always thought you would tile from the corner or sides and work from there, like hardwood floor. The art of creating symmetry of the tiles all depends on where the focal point is and where the reference lines are drawn. This makes tiling a bit of challenge as you may end up tiling yourself to a corner or many corners.

Maintenance tips for sealing the grout and tile is helpful to prolong the life of the grout and tile. It never occurred to me that tiles would need maintenance. But it makes sense.

The tips on repairing/preparing concrete surface for tiles are very helpful. One must fill in the cracks and patch uneven surface to ensure proper support for the tiles.

The tip about removing all the objects (toilets, vanity sinks, and etc.) for ease of tiling seems very reasonable to me as well.

The reminder to allow thermal expansion of the tiles and caulking (not grouting) the edge where the tiles interface a different material is very critical to ensure long term reliability of the tiles. Often time, we forget that the tiles react to temperature cycles and end up shortening the life of the tiles.

The various grout materials (plain, sanded, epoxy, colored, mortar, and premixed) for different purpose serves as a good reminder that picking the right grout materials to join the tiles are very critical to the success of the project.

The book went into so many different projects (stairs, chair, bathroom, and etc.) that it almost make you think tiles can go on any surface of the home. Perhaps in the old days, there weren’t that many other alternative than tiling. These days, I wouldn’t want to tile over the kitchen counter, and tiling over stairs riser seems to be an overkill to me. On the other hand, the book gives me enough details to be successful in doing a small project. But for big projects, I would still hand it over to the professional.

I have a few ideas on where to try on my newly acquired tiling know-how. Only if my wife would let me …