Floor tile should be set following interior paint. It can be set before or after cabinets. I prefer before because it can be set all the way to drywall and sealed with grout or silicone. Depending on how much of the home will be done and how complicated the layout, it should take 2-3 days to lay, 2 days to grout and a day for clean up.


If the owner builder wants to install a custom tile shower, the process begins in the frame stage. Before plumbing rough inspection, a shower pan must be installed and be shown to hold water. If not, you will not pass plumbing. The setter will come in, set a pan and float mud to the drain. Usually during drywall, green board( a water resistant drywall) or Dura rock will be installed. Typically, the walls are water proofed before tile is set.

Bath tops must also be mud floated. Remember to select a bull nose corner tile for along the front edge of your bathroom vanity.

Protection of cabinets is critical. Thin set and grout are cement based products and are very abrasive. They can leave small scratches in cabinet faces even after being wiped off. Use plastic to cover cabinets and insist on cleanliness from your setters. As you would with the trim carpenters, make sure the tile setter's equipment is set up outside. Wet saws can cause a tremendous mess in the house. If inclement weather prevents this, be certain to have adequate protection. Plastic sheets can be put out and the saw can be placed away from walls. Wet saws send a mist of dirty water for several feet in all directions. This can damage painted walls and drywall.

Ceramic Tile

Ceramic is the nationwide standard for hard flooring. It can come in almost any design and look very much like true stone. It is nearly impermeable to water and so, is easier to clean and maintain than real stone. There are no sealers required other than grout sealer. Tile can be found at any local hardware store, starting at about $.99 per square foot. Ceramic will range up to five or six dollars per foot depending on the design.



Stone is beautiful and will add value to your home, however, it is difficult to set and maintain and is far more expensive than ceramic tile. Travertine is the most popular true stone flooring right now. It is what many call “ poor man’s marble”. It has a matte to semi glossy appearance and varies in color from white to brown. It is very pitted. In most cases, pits are filled with a clear epoxy or other substance. It can be very expensive. The least expensive stone usually starts at 3-4.00 a foot and goes up.

Even when gauged, stone is not exactly even. When I worked in California as a trim carpenter on custom homes, the tile setters there would mud float the entire floor for travertine. Then they would apply thin set to the floor AND to the back of each tile. If the tile was a bit uneven, they would compensate by adding more thin set to tile. Imagine the expense. Very labor intensive if done correctly.

Stone and Tile Auctions

One way to reduce the amount spent on flooring is to go to auctions. There are stone auctions periodically nationwide. You can bid on travertine, marble, granite( including slabs for countertops), and ceramic. Be prepared if you go. Know the square footage of your house. Have a cabinet door sample to match up with the products and have tile bids as well. You want to know that this will actually save you money. Also, some auctions give you 24 hours to remove your lot. Have a trailer or truck that you can take the material with you. Be sure the lot allows enough material for breakage and waste. Normally, it is difficult to get replacement tile later on.


If you are building a rustic themed home, consider slate and/ or flagstone for your flooring. These are both very rugged and will lend to the overall rustic feel of a home. Slate also goes very well with wood floors. Sometimes transitioning from a wood floor area to tile is awkward, not so with slate. Often, slate is even used as an inlay to complement wood flooring.

For images of slate, travertine and ceramic tile see click here.

If you do decide to set slate on your own, be sure to purchase gauged slate. Natural stone costs less if it isn’t gauged but can vary in width by almost ½ an inch, even in one tile. Gauged slate is cut to be about the same width from unit to unit. It makes for easier setting and a more even finish. Slate, of course, will never have a completely even finish. It is a rough pitted stone and will vary, even when gauged from tile to tile. Be sure if you have any stone set, that you have a realistic expectation of what the result will be. Slate is not marble or travertine. It will never be smooth.

If you like the look of slate but require a smooth floor, look for a ceramic with a slate pattern.

DIY vs. Hiring a Contractor

This a big dilemma for some owner builder’s. They feel a need to contribute physically and creatively to their project. I’ve made my position clear on DIY. I really believe that it takes away from the owner builder’s ability to manage the overall process. Setting tile well takes a great deal of effort and to do it quickly, takes a great deal of experience. Layout, balance, cuts, floating where necessary, grinding where necessary, hiding flaws in walls such as bows, etc. Flooring, like any other trade task, is not rocket science but doing it well is no cakewalk and shouldn’t be entered into lightly. My suggestion is hire a licensed flooring contractor whose work you have seen.

If you decide to do it yourself, be certain to have a helper and go to a class or two. There are classes at the local hardware store and sometimes at the local junior college. Be sure that while your are setting tile you have 1-2 hours set aside for specific management duties each day. Don’t let your project fall behind.

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