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How do I Install a Tile Countertop?

By Licia Morrow
Updated Jan 24, 2024
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Installing a ceramic tile countertop creates a functional and lasting workspace. In order to install a tile countertop, the following materials will be needed: plastic sheeting, ceramic tiles, edge tiles, mortar, grout, grout sealer, drywall screws, 2 x 4 (foot 61 cm x 121.9 cm) scrap, ¾-inch (1.9 cm) plywood, backer board, backer board screws, 3-inch (7.6 cm) fiberglass tape, and tile spacers. Additionally, it will be necessary to buy or rent the following tools: saber saw, drill with a masonry bit and Phillips bit, tape measure, utility knife, notched trowel, drywall tape knife, wet saw, tile nippers, level, grout float, and cheesecloth or burlap.

With base cabinets as the supporting structure, it is first necessary to install 3/4–inch (1.9 cm) exterior quality plywood substrate cut to the size of the countertop and screwed into place with drywall screws. The next step is to cut out a space for the sink using a saber saw. Many sinks come with a template, but the cutout can be marked out using measurements as well.

Installing backer board under a tile countertop is a necessary step in this process as it ensures an even tile countertop that will not shift and crack. Cut the backer board to fit by scoring and snapping. Cut the sink curves on both sides freehand and snap away with pliers. Then, pre-drill screw holes six to eight inches (15.2 cm to 20.3 cm) apart. Staple on a plastic moisture barrier, reposition backer board, and install with backer board screws.

Next, it is necessary to tape and fill the seams. Reinforce the exposed edges of the backer board with fiberglass tape. Then, apply a 3-inch (7.6 cm) wide layer of cement mortar to fill in the gaps.

Cut the tiles to size using a wet saw and dry fit the tiles across the countertop. It is important to lay out the tile arrangement before working with mortar. Lay out the flat tiles first, then add the others that have been cut to fit. Make sure the tiles around the sink are even. Use spacers to ensure a consistent grout spacing pattern.

Once the initial layout is perfected, it is time to use mortar to attach the tiles to the countertop. First mix the mortar according to the packaging instructions, then spread in an even layer with a notched trowel. Hold the trowel at a 45-degree angle and scrape it across the surface. Lay the tiles in the mortar, first paying attention to tricky areas, like the sink and L-shaped, inside corners. Install spacers between each tile to avoid shifting during the drying process.

After the tile has completely set, according to the mortar instructions, it is time to grout the tile. Mix the grout according to manufacturer instructions and spread grout across the tile countertop with a rubber grout float. Once all joints are filled, remove excess and rinse with a clean, water soaked sponge. Once the grout is dry, rub the tiles with cheesecloth to remove haze. The final step of the tile countertop process is to seal the grout, in order to avoid stains and damage.

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