Home Improvement

Laying Porcelain Tile In The Laundry Room

A newly tiled floor in a new room of the house is almost enough to give me jazz hands (a York peppermint patty is enough to give Sherry jazz hands, so clearly we have different thresholds). We’re completely enamored with this floor – and there’s a budding romance that involves a saw – so let’s cover the laundry room tile installation, from floor prep to grouting & sealing.

Before any tile could get installed, the subfloor needed to be prepped with some cement board, which is a preferred surface for tile installation. They come in 3ft x 5ft sheets, so I was able to fit two full pieces plus a few strips in the room. I cut them all by just scoring them with my utility knife and then breaking them along that line.

Once I had “dry fit” all of my pieces, it was time to actually adhere them with thinset. The layer of thinset between them and the wood subfloor will help keep them from shifting, grinding or flexing against one another. I used the same thinset I would later use for my tile install, mixed with water (just by following the directions on the bag) and my drill’s mixing paddle. I’ll get into more details about the whole mixing-of-the-thinset process in a second.

I spread the thinset using a 1/4″ notched trowel – coating the surface with the flat side of the trowel (doing one cement board area at a time) and then scraping grooves into it using the notched side, just like you do when you install tile.

Then I was able to press the cement board pieces in firmly and move right along. Here are all of the sheets down, with about an 1/8″ gap between them and the wall.

To help pull them securely towards the floor during drying (and to further stabilize them for the long term) I screwed down the edges (about every 6-10″) using special cement board screws. And I threw a few in the middle too – about every 12 to 16 inches.

Many tutorials have you tape and mud (with thinset) all of the seams and screw holes next, just like with drywall. I’ve found it easier to just apply the mesh tape on the seams now and then apply the thinset during the tiling process. For me, it keeps me from accidentally creating any high ridges at the seams or screw hole bumps that the extra layer of thinset might create.

After mesh taping all the seams, we could start dry fitting our tiles, just to figure out the best way to situate the brick-pattern we were going for. We started off by centering the pattern, but we weren’t crazy about the thin slivers of tile it would have left on either side of the room. Note: Just look at the back two rows here (the closer tiles are just randomly placed).

After a decent amount of experimenting, we opted to shift the pattern slightly towards the left wall, which meant we could use a full tile on the left side, and also left room for a bigger piece of tile on the right end (no more tiny slivers). The washer and dryer will be offset to the left side of the room anyway, so we think it’ll feel nicer this way (especially since those few smaller cuts of tile on the right side will mostly be hidden by a base cabinet in that back corner and the door to the room, which will swing to rest along that side. Note: Once again, just the two back rows of tile are placed in their intended positions here.

Cutting the tiles was super easy. Why? Because we finally bought a full-size wet saw. After nearly five years of using our old $99 hand-me-down tabletop wet saw to tile our first house’s bathroom, our second house’s patio, and the sunroom floor in this house, I finally dropped $277 on this one at Home Depot thanks to a $20 off coupon (that’s not an affiliate link). The difference was incredible. I love this thing so much, I want to take it out to dinner.

I’ve yet to decide my favorite part. Could it be the stand that allows you to work at regular height instead of crouching on the floor? The big water tray that means you don’t have to stop to replace/de-sludge the water all the time? The laser to help keep cuts nice and straight? All contenders. But probably my favorite feature is the rolling tray that I can just set my tile on and slide through the blade. It’s not only a lot faster, it also helped me keep all of my cuts super straight.

Anyways, let’s get back to the tiling process before I sound like someone trying to sell you a Super Shammy (“this will solve all of your problems and change your life!”).

After getting some of the first few cuts done for our dry fit, Sherry and I went through all of our tile boxes to take inventory on the ones we liked best. We love the movement and veining in the tiles, so we wanted to be sure the best ones ended up in highly visible spots in the room (no sense hiding our favorites under the washer & dryer). So we sorted through them and pulled out favorites (which we’d be sure to position in the middle of the room), regulars (not amazing, but not bad either – ones we could use near the door or along the wall), and a third pile we affectionately dubbed “the not-as-nicers” (not pictured). They were more spotty than veiny, so we reserved most of them for the where the appliances would go.

Here’s the gist of my supplies for actually laying the tile (wet saw excluded, obviously).

I have a tendency to mix my thinset too thick, so I made a conscious effort to use a bit more water this time. They often say it should be like pancake batter and I like my pancakes thick, so I should’ve realized this about myself a while ago.

I worked about two rows at a time, doing my cuts as I went. It helps to have a nice long level on hand to check that none of your tiles are sticking up oddly for a smooth, level result.

These sorts of cuts were very straightforward. I started at the end with the full tile (or the 12″ half-cut tile) so once I got to the other side I just held up a full tile and marked where it needed to be sliced. Who knows how I ended up with this weird wooden tree pencil.

It took me less than two hours to get the whole thing down once I started actually placing tile, so it was definitely one of my faster tile jobs.

I left everything dry about a day and a half before pulling out my spacers (I opted to keep my painters tape contraption around the dryer plug through grouting).

One of the parts I’m most proud of in this project is the transition, which Sherry and I decided we should attempt to make, well, transition-less. I had originally planned that we’d have some sort of transition piece (you know that slopes up a little to connect two different flooring types), but we’ve always liked the two transition-free tile-to-wood doorways downstairs (it’s perfectly flush where the tiled foyer meets the wood-floored office and dining room) so we opted to give it a go here too.

It required adding back two pieces of wood first (to bring the hardwoods about halfway into the middle of the doorway) and thankfully my planning with the subfloor height paid off: the floors are EXACTLY the same height. I still can’t believe it. Here they are all grouted and complete just so you can see what I mean:

Speaking of grouting, after letting the thinset cure for 48 hours, it was time to grout. The material list was somewhat similar:

You add the water to the bucket first, then the grout powder. I started with a crazy amount of water for some reason, so I ended up mixing up a ridiculously large batch of grout for such a small room with so few joints.

Grouting is pretty easy, especially when you’re working with big tiles, since it’s quick to cover all of the joints. Using the rubber float you press grout between the tiles, then at an angle you wipe off the excess.

I was able to grout the whole room in about 20 minutes, and you can see how it starts to dry lighter – indicating that it’s time to start wiping it off.

I made the mistake of using too much water when grouting the sunroom (which we think caused the grout to dry lighter than we had intended) so I was really careful to make my sponge only slighty damp when wiping off the excess this time.

After a couple of passes with my barely-wet sponge, it still looked extremely hazy (this is the point where I think I panicked in the sunroom and got water crazy).

But this time around I let it dry another 90-minutes and then came back with a completely dry microfiber cloth (they recommend cheese-cloth, but I didn’t have any handy). The microfiber cloth seemed to do the trick just as well, and some light scrubbing buffed off a lot more of the haze.

Here’s the floor post-buffing. MUCH better. Phew.

We let the grout dry for 3 day, per the instructions. Things were still looking a little hazy in there, so Sherry busted out some grout hazer remove that we had leftover from the sunroom project. You basically spread it on liberally with a sponge, let it sit for a few minutes, then wipe it off with a scrub pad. Then she wiped the room down with clean water a couple of times to get all of the haze remover off.

Then we waited for that to dry out for around 12 hours before applying a sealer on both the tile and the grout to help protect it from staining. It too is pretty easy to do – just wipe it on with a sponge, let it soak in for a few moments, and then wipe any excess off with paper towels.

Those two steps definitely brought the tile to life a bit more, which is why we recommend not skipping over the haze remover step.

Sometimes you don’t realize the film leftover from the grouting process until it’s gone.

Here’s the cost breakdown for the floor tile project:

So it was pretty much $350 in tile and $100 in supplies. I’m excluding our new wet saw since it’s not a cost specific to this one project, and I don’t want someone to think that $277 must be incurred on a project like this, but after seeing what a difference it made, if you’re working with a cheap old tile saw I highly recommend the upgrade. I’m actually mad that I did our giant sunroom without my new tiling toy.

Wrapping up this tile job means we can actually start putting this room together. Which is especially exciting because we bought our cabinets at Ikea on Friday (ignore the random pillows in that basket, they were for a cousin we met up with on the same trip).

We’re thinking we’ll get at least the upper cabinets hung before we bring the washer & dryer in, since dropping cabinets on expensive appliances is not a risk we want to take. But once those are in, we may finally be back in business to wash our clothes at home again. High five! Anyone? High five? Are you leaving me hanging because I smell like a guy that just tiled without a washing machine?

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How To Tape, Mud, And Sand Drywall

Over the weekend we wrapped up our how to hang drywall adventures in the laundry room. It was a humbling experience, but we’re feeling nothing short of glorious about how it turned out. In fact Sherry and I spent a few minutes doing this in there on Sunday.

Project Completion Euphoria. It’s a real thing. And it can make a grown man twirl.

We’re not ready to put “pro drywaller” on the ol’ resume quite yet, but I do think we’ll go into our next drywallstravaganza with a lot more confidence. We devoured YouTube videos and online tutorials for about an hour one morning, and quickly learned that there seem to be just as many variations on proper technique as there are opinions (reminder to self: never read YouTube comments). We finally decided to generally follow this video, since it was clear and seemed consistent with the most common advice. So this post will show you the process we went with, and what techniques seemed to be the most effective for us. We even threw in a couple of videos for you (although none of them have our Sound of Music reenactment).

Before we started this reno, I was quick to tell Sherry that my vote was to heavily consider hiring out the mudding/taping of the drywall. It’s just a skill we have limited practice with (patching a hole here and there mostly) and it really is an art when you watch the pros. My biggest encounter to date was 5 years ago during our first bathroom gut job, but it was just doing a handful of seams. Somewhere along the line I felt my opinion starting to shift, and as we decided to take on more of this renovation ourselves, I realized this would be a good room for us to build our drywall finishing skills. There would be lots of seams to practice on and if they didn’t turn out so hot, we would have various items like baseboard, crown molding, cabinets, appliances, and backsplash tile blocking some of them – and it’s not like it’s a major gathering spot (like a kitchen or living room for example).

So let’s start with our materials, most of which should be available right in the drywall section of any home improvement store:

The mud pan is not only a handy way to not have to lug the whole bucket around with you, but it also has some metal edges so you can keep your knives clean and scraped off throughout the process.

We started with the easy step: covering the screw holes. Having used a drywall counter-sink bit during installation, our screws were already set into the drywall slightly (kinda dimpled in there) making it quick and easy to slop on a bit of mud and scrape it flat.

There were lots of screws to cover, but Sherry took two sides along with the hallway and I got the other two and the laundry room ceiling so it went pretty fast that way.

Next up was taping the joints or seams between sheets of drywall. There’s mesh tape that has an adhesive built in, which we’ve used before and found tough (if you sand too much, the mesh texture comes through easily), so we chose to use paper tape this time, which requires a bed of mud to stick to the wall. That application method was an extra step, but almost all of the pro tutorials that we watched used it, and it ended up being a lot easier to work with in our opinion (we didn’t have that mesh-showing-through issue – so it made for a smoother result).

First I applied my “bedding layer” on the horizontal seams. The drywall boards taper slightly on the edges, so this whole process is meant to bridge the gap between boards and flatten the taper. Once I got a decent layer of mud applied, I dragged my 6″ blade across it to smooth it out.

Once it was smooth, I took my piece of tape (already ripped to the length of the seam) and lightly pressed it into the layer of mud. It takes just a soft tap for it to stick to the mud. Note: I saw some tutorials suggest wetting the tape first. I tried this once and didn’t find it any easier, just messier, so I worked with mine dry.

Once lightly adhered across the seam, I dragged my 6″ knife across the seam with a little bit of pressure to smoosh it down into the mud. It helped to start in the middle of the wall and work out to one corner and then repeat that on the other side. Since the tape may drag when you first start, it helps to put a finger on it to keep it in place when you first pull your knife across it.

With the tape embedded, I then used a slightly larger knife (an eight incher) to put and smooth another layer on top. By using a larger knife it helps feather out the edges so they blend more seamlessly with the wall, all while disguising the taper of the boards.

Here’s my horizontal seam after my first round. It actually wasn’t that hard at all, so it had me thinking I could do this all day…

… and then came the corners. The added corner element definitely made them more of a challenge. I wouldn’t rate this step as a “panic and throw things and curse the DIY Gods” undertaking, but I think a “you have to concentrate more and it takes more time” descriptor is fitting for this part (I’d call it a 6 on the DIY difficulty scale, while the flat seams are a 2). The process started off pretty much the same as the flat seams. I could even use the same tape, since it comes pre-creased for corner applications.

Just like before, I applied a bedding layer first – which involved running my mud-filled knife down each side of the corner.

Once both sides of each corner were covered with a fair amount of mud, I broke out my corner trowel to smooth it out. The corner trowel is a lifesaver when it comes to getting a sharp angle in the corner and smoothing both walls simultaneously.

Then on went the tape with a light tap, just to keep it in place.

Next I pressed the tape into the mud with another swipe of the corner trowel. Since it was hard to get my finger and the trowel in the top corner (to keep the paper from dragging), I found it sometimes helped to dip my trowel in water first to glide along the tape more smoothly.

The corners ate up a lot more time than the flat seams since we had four vertical corners in the room, four horizontal corners around the ceiling, plus nine more around the doorways in the hall. But hey, at least we had 17 corner seams to practice on! Note: I’ll explain in a little more detail what else was challenging about the corners in a second, complete with a video to show you what ended up working nicely, so stay with me.

Oh and I thought it would be helpful to mention that my first round of mudding took longer than the 12-24 hours to dry that most tutorials suggested (Sherry started a second round after 24, but noticed it was pulling some damp mud up in a few areas so we decided to wait one more day).

Once everything was dry (you can tell because the mud will be one consistent color) we put another coat on our seams, this time using a slightly larger 10″ knife to further spread the edges out a bit.

We also tackled another layer of mud on our screw holes together, since you could tell our first pass had shrunk a little bit when drying.

With that done, it was time to face the corners again. I actually watched a few more videos with tips before beginning, which seemed to help – and I even made a video to show the technique that ended up working for me in the hopes of passing it along to you guys. I didn’t let Sherry record me until my third (and final) round of mudding, just to be sure I had a good handle on it – so forgive the time jump. It’s also on a ceiling crease, but it works the same way on vertical wall corners.

For those who can’t watch the video, I’ll do my best to explain it with photos. It started like I did the first time – slopping some mud on both sides of the corner with my 6″ trowel, followed by a pass with the corner trowel to smooth it out and wipe off excess.

The issue is that the trowel edge tends to leave ridges where the excess is pushed out, but not smoothed down.

So to take care of those, I used my 6″ trowel to flatten them and feather the edge better. The challenge here is that you risk creating another ridge with the trowel (in the case of the photo below it would be the left corner), basically creating a vicious cycle of ridges that are left behind. But if you hold your 6″ trowel at a slight angle, that can help you apply pressure on the outside edge so you can eliminate the first ridge without making a new one (or at least a very big one). This takes some finesse, so forgive yourself if you don’t get it right away, but once it “clicked” for me it was a lot easier.

After eliminating (or greatly reducing) the ridge, then I went back and did one more pass with my corner trowel, just to be safe.

Here’s the room after two rounds of mudding. Fortunately the second round was much faster since (a) we weren’t taping and (b) I was getting better at those corners (cue the Rocky music, guys).

After 24 hours, it was sanding time. You can see in the photo below that my best efforts to smooth everything out with those trowels weren’t perfect and I still had some defined edges that needed to be smoothed out and blended into the wall better.

I was actually excited to try out the idea of “wet sanding” to help eliminate some of the dust that threatens to coat everything in a normal “dry sanding.” I’d heard people use everything from a sponge to a t-shirt for wet sanding, but I went with this sanding sponge that was sold alongside all of the other drywall sanding materials (since it has a coarser side for scrubbing). I also kept an 120 grit sanding block nearby for any tough spots.

Well, I have to say I wasn’t very impressed with the damp sponge. It did the job, but it took a lot more effort that I had expected.

So I decided to try something different – which I explain in the video below – that ended up working really well.

Again, if the video is a no-go for you. Here’s the gist – I used the 120 grit sanding block as a sponge, since it retained water AND had a little more scrubbing power than the plain sponge did.

I didn’t want it very wet at all (that could rub off the drywall paper) but just damp enough to moisten the dried mud (and so that that the dust from sanding stuck to the surface of the block, which didn’t happen when it was bone dry).

I wouldn’t call this method “100% dust free” by any means, since once the block got coated with a layer of dust it started to toss it around a bit. The difference was that the dampness caused the dust to just fall to the ground right below whatever I was sanding, rather than becoming a cloud in the room. Once one side of the block got covered, I turned it over to get a more time out of it before having to rinse it in my bucket (it took a bit of massaging to get the dust coat off).

This step was a HUGE relief, because I was worried about a few corners where my application wasn’t as smooth as the others. Here’s one particularly rough spot and how well the wet-sanding step corrected my mistake.

Once the sanding was done, we could put our third and final finish coat on the walls. A bunch of tutorials suggested thinning out the mud a bit so that it goes on even smoother, so I dumped a little water in…

…and blended it with a paddle mixer. You can see I did this in an empty bucket, so we weren’t diluting our whole stash. It didn’t make it too much thinner, just about the consistency of mayonnaise.

I’ll spare you pictures the photos of our third round of application and our second round of sanding (they were identical to the process I’ve already shown, and this post is already overloaded with pictures) – so let’s just jump to the after.

 

Since that’s not the most exciting picture ever, let’s jump one step further to the primed room. We were so eager to see how our taping, mudding, and sanding held up to the test of being coated with primer that we jumped right on it yesterday. And it looks like a real room, guys! A space that didn’t exist a few weeks ago is there now – and everything is smooth! We feel like having people over to stand around and look at the walls with us. Is that a thing? No? Ok, we won’t.

Here are a couple more before/afters for you. We’re really happy with how smooth the transition is in the hall too.

Here’s one last (waaay) before & after to show how this formerly dead end of the hallway has changed. It’s going to be funny to look back on old house tour videos and see a laundry closet there instead of a doorway.

Next up is painting and then installing the floor (we picked tile! more on that soon!). After that we’re debating whether we should roll the washer and dryer back in (at least temporarily) just to have them hooked up again, or if we should hold out to get a few more things done without them in the room, like hanging the doors and adding the molding. Decisions, decisions…

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