Installing Tiles and Mosaic Designs
Whether installing a classic mosaic pattern on a small bathroom floor, or bringing some interest to a backsplash by layering mosaics of different colors through a larger field tile, learning how to lay tile that is mounted in sheets takes practice and a little know how. Follow these tips to ensure that the job turns out the way it’s imagined.
Learn the Difference in Mounting
Mosaic tiles can come in a few different formats. Loose tiles, which care placed individually, and those that are mounted on mesh, craft paper or contact paper.
Loose mosaics are installed like any other tile, and are typically used for accenting, or piecing together a small, but intricate design. Mounted mosaics come in full square foot increments in patterns to be pieced together, or in sheets of one color or repeating design that can be cut up.
Mesh mounted mosaics have the sheet mounted to the back of the tiles. These tiles are installed right side up, with the mesh being pressed directly into the mortar, and are among the easiest mosaics to install.
Face mounted material will have either brown craft paper, or contact paper covering the front of the material. In the case of custom mosaic patterns, there will sometimes be contact paper on both sides, the back side of which will need to be removed prior to installing. These mosaics are installed with the paper facing out and the mosaic tiles being pressed directly into the mortar.
Paper faced material is typically used with glass mosaics, where the mesh could be seen through the glass, or in materials that are uneven in thickness. Face mounted material will require extra steps during the install to ensure that the spacing between the sheets is even, thickness differences are accommodated and the paper is removed when the tiles are set.
Begin by gathering the supplies needed for installation, including a grout float, tile saw, tile nippers, sanded grout, white thinset, tile spacers to the exact size of the grout joints already set in the sheets, sponges, water and trowel. Prepare the surface to be clean and dry; mosaics are able to “flex” more than other materials, due to the many grout joints, making them ideal for floors and other surfaces that are less than flat.
Begin with a dry layout; practice piecing together the patterns, and lining up the grout joints, to ensure an even pattern without visible separation between the sheets.
Make any cuts at this time, either to the mesh or paper or to the tiles themselves with the tile nippers or saw. Lay the sheets from the center of the wall outward to the sides to ensure an even layout with cut tiles buried in corners.
Mesh mounted materials can go down in full or partial sheets much like any other material. Paper faced materials, however, should first be back buttered, or have an even coating of thinset applied to the back of the sheet to even out thickness differences and provide an even surface with no trowel marks for glass tiles. Flip the sheet upside down and sprinkle dry grout into the joints to prevent the thinset from leaking through. With the flat edge of the trowel, smooth a layer of thinset onto the back of the sheet. This is in addition to any thinset applied to the wall, and can be used to make up thickness differences between mosaic accents and field tiles as well.
When the sheets are in place, and the spacing correct, allow paper faced material to set for about an hour. Thoroughly soak the paper with water to loosen the glue and peel the paper away. Any tiles that come loose should be replaced with a small amount of thinset as quickly as possible. Make any adjustments to the grout joints at this time, and leave to dry for 24 hours. Apply the grout at this, taking care to pack it well in to the many grout joints before wiping away excess and leaving the grout to set for an additional 24 hours..
Mosaic designs can be created by cutting up and reconfiguring the sheets prior to install for a creative, custom look. Mosaics also create inexpensive and interesting borders when cut into strips.
Always be sure to remove a few tiles from paper faced material upon receipt to ensure that the correct material has been received, as it can sometimes be difficult to tell when looking at the back of the tiles.
Be sure to work slowly and carefully, and enjoy the product of effort and the beauty of the mosaics for years to come.