Tiling an Entryway

Most professional tilesetters agree that the best substrate for tile is an old-fashioned mortar bed. But laying it smooth is a job for the pros. Backerboard has made it easier for do-it-yourselfers to install their own tile. There are times, though, when backerboard won’t work. This is often the case when you cannot afford to raise the height of the finish floor too much. Entryways frequently pose this dilemma, because the floor connects with several rooms and often a stairway as well. In those situations, a modified mortar-bed installation is best.

Tools: Steel trowel, stapler, utility knife, and paint roller.

Bringing the Outdoors In - Often the best types of tile to use for an entryway are those that are commonly used on exterior applications, such as unglazed pavers, (machine- or handmade), slate, and half brick. If you also plan to tile an adjacent patio, porch, or other entrance to the house, use matching tiles inside and out to unify the spaces. Be sure the tiles you choose won’t become slippery when wet.

1. Prepare floor. Stabilize any spongy areas of the floor using drywall screws twice as long as the thickness of your flooring. If necessary, add plywood so your sub floor totals at least 1 1/8-inch in thickness. Install 15-pound felt roofing paper overlapping the edges 2 to 3 inches, and staple the paper to the subfloor every 6 to 8 inches. After stapling, trim the edges with a utility knife so the felt doesn’t ride up any adjacent molding or stairs.

Measure felt paper, cut with a utility knife 2-4 inches longer than needed. Rolf it loosely, then unroll in position.

2. Attach metal lath. Staple galvanized metal lath (mesh) over the felt paper. Available at masonry-supply stores and large home centers in 2-foot-wide strips, the lath can be cut with tin snips. Butt the pieces together; don’t overlap them.

3. Spread the mortar. Prepare a cement mixture of half portland cement and half fine (builders) sand. The fine sand should not contain stones that would make the surface bumpy. Spread cement with a steel trowel to a depth of 1/4 inch, smoothing all ridges. Avoid smearing mortar on stair riser or adjacent molding.

4. Smooth the surface. Let the mortar cure over night. Then carefully go over the cement with a trowel to scrape away any high spots. Sweep it to remove any loose material.

5. Lay out and set tiles. An entryway can be difficult to lay out because different parts of the floor are visible from different directions. Choose the most public point of view and plan your layout around it. Dry fit the tiles to ensure there won’t be any slivers of tile.

6. Grout and seal. If the tiles were not sealed when you bought them, apply the sealer recommended by the tile maker before grouting. After the tiles are grouted, wait about a week before applying a liquid top coat, which should be renewed once or twice a year.

Choosing Sealers and Finishes - Grout lines, unglazed tile, and unpolished natural stone are vulnerable to stains, dirt, grease, and mildew. For protection of porous surfaces apply a sealer or finish (the terms are interchangeable). Product types vary according to porosity of the material being covered and the degree of sheen you want. All require that the surface is clean, dry, and free of any other coatings or wax before application. Typically sealers and finishes can be applied in one coat but for very porous surfaces like brick, two coats are needed. Confirm that the sealer or finish you choose is rated for outdoor use; some are rated for indoor use only. Use a small paint brush when sealing the grout alone; apply it with a roller when sealing tile and grout.

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