Making a Dimensional Wall Plan

This story deals with potential problems encountered when planning a wall installation.

Walls can exhibit the same out-of-square conditions as floors. Walls might also be out of plumb (their surface may not run true to vertical) and their surfaces might be wavy. You need to perform some routine checks and identify any problems on your layout drawing.

Any of these conditions on one wall may not be noticeable if it is not severe and if you are not tiling an adjacent wall or the floor. These problems become noticeable when tiling a neighboring surface.

Use a 4-foot level to check the walls. Make note on your plan how the condition will affect your layout. Adjust the pattern of the tiles as necessary to deal with the problem. For example, measure the amount by which the edge of the wall is not square and draw the edge on your layout plan to reflect its angle. Draw cut tiles on this line. Making the tiles as wide as possible will improve the appearance of the edge.

Check for Plumb

Before drawing the pattern of your wall tile, check the wall to see if it is plumb. Hold a 4-foot level vertically at the corner of the wall. If the spirit bubble centers in the glass, the wall is plumb. Repeat the process on the adjacent wall if you are tiling it as well. An out-of-plumb wall will not be as distracting if you are not tiling the neighboring wall.

Out-of-Plumb Wall

If your plans call for tiling adjacent walls and if one or both of them is not plumb, now is the time -- when the plans are still on paper -- to consider possible solutions.

For minor discrepancies and no matter what tile you plan to install, apply a skim coat of thinset mortar at the corner of the out-of-plumb wall. Apply the mortar in the corner, building up one wall to create a square corner. Spread the mortar out on the wall's surface 2 to 3 feet, so when you sight down the wall, it appears plumb to the other wall. Check your work with a 4-foot level.

You also can plumb the wall by nailing or screwing vertical shims to the wall from floor to ceiling. Then screw drywall or backerboard to the wall and tape it. Use backerboard if you're installing ceramic tile in a wet location. If the condition is extreme, you can remove the wall surface from the framing and recover it with backerboard or drywall, shimming it out on the studs. Don't tile adjacent walls that are out of plumb.

Hiding Out-of-Square Walls

Walls that are out-of-square will require that you cut tapered tiles in the corners. If the condition is not severe, you may be able to make it less noticeable by arranging your layout so you have at least one-half to three-fourths of a tile at the edges. Slightly adjusting the grout width across the entire surface of the wall may help you space the edge tiles more evenly. Rigidly uniform tile will accentuate tapered cuts. Consider using a larger, irregular tile and/or an accent pattern to diminish the effect of tapered cuts. Set the cut tiles in the back corner of sidewalls where they will be less noticeable.

Lay Out Walls with Windows

How you lay out a wall with a window depends somewhat on the width of the wall. On long walls with a centered window, pencil a line through its midpoint and draw in an evenly spaced tile pattern on either side of it. If the window is not centered, draw a line midway between the edges of the window and the corners.

How you lay out a wall with a window depends somewhat on the width of the wall. On long walls with a centered window, pencil a line through its midpoint and draw in an evenly spaced tile pattern on either side of it. If the window is not centered, draw a line midway between the edges of the window and the corners.

What if... walls are not flat?

Like floors, walls to be tiled must be reasonably flat. Tiles installed on an irregular wall surface are not as likely to crack as floor tiles, but an uneven surface is much more noticeable on a wall than a floor.

When tiled, wavy walls will go unnoticed if the variations in the surface are broad and not severe. Correct minor depressions by skim-coating them with thinset to level. Feather the edges of the skim coat. Check your results by sighting down the surface of the wall with a 4-foot level. For severe problems you may need to resurface the wall with backerboard, shimming it to level.

 

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