Installing Tile over a Vertical Surface

Kitchen cubby wall

At Inglenook Tile, some of the most dramatic installations of our brick tiles have been on walls, ceilings and chimney boxes. Brick tile can be installed on all of these surfaces without needing to pour concrete footers or otherwise add extra support, one of the major advantages of brick tile over full-sized brick.

Installing brick tile vertically, however, can pose a conceptual challenge to many customers– how exactly do you install it? How does the surface need to be prepped? Are there differences between indoor and outdoor installations? How does the installation process change if the tile is being laid over wood-framed walls, cement block, or drywall?

To help answer some of these questions, we turned to Jim Glessner, a very knowledgeable installer who has laid numerous Inglenook Tile projects. These directions and tips apply to our brick tiles as well as any other unglazed tiles that you might use on a vertical surface.

Directions: Installing Brick Tile on a Vertical Surface

Depending on the surface type you install over, these steps will be slightly different. Read more details in the surface-specific sections below.

  1. Prepare surface by screwing backerboard firmly into the wall studs, if this step is necessary for your surface. Cover the entire wall area that you intend to tile with backerboard.
  2. Jim emphasizes the importance of taking the time to lay out your tiles properly before you begin to install. Take careful measurements and lay out your tiles, keeping 1/4″ grout lines in mind. You might want to draw out the final lines on the wall.
    • Pay special attention to the final, highest row when laying out the tiles. You don’t want to be left cutting a small sliver of tile for the final row at the ceiling– it ruins the illusion of full-brick. If the final row lays out as a less than the full tile height, split the difference between the first, lowest row and the last, highest row. This way, you will have the appearance of full-sized brick for the entire wall.
    • If you are installing with corner pieces, as for a chimney, horizontal layout is also crucial to avoid cutting a much shorter tile piece immediately before the corner piece. As with the vertical wall layout, plan ahead and spread out the cutting between two or more tiles so that they are all a similar size.
  3. Once you have laid out the wall installation, install the tiles using standard mastic and 1/4″ spacers. Start at the bottom and work your way up, row-by-row. Be very careful to keep the rows plumb as you install tiles across the wall area.
    • For small wall areas, you may choose to use speedset thinset instead of standard mastic or thinset. You will need to work quickly if you choose to use speedset.
  4. Allow 12-16 hours for the mastic to cure for standard mastic; 4 hours for speedset thinset.
  5. After the mastic has cured, pull out the spacers and prepare your grout or mortar.
    • Jim recommends mixing mortar in a bucket with a 1/2 inch mixing drill
    • The mortar should be a thick liquid consistency, much thinner than the mortar used to install tiles on floors. You should be able to scoop up mortar and pour it into joints with a trowel.
  6. Grout in-between the tiles and strike the joints. Jim strikes the vertical joints first and then the horizontal ones.
  7. Allow 24 hours for the mortar to dry.
  8. Seal the tiles and mortar with a penetrating sealer of your choice to allow easy cleaning and protection from water.

Installing Over Drywall

For installing brick tile over existing drywall walls, Jim tells us that you have two options depending on whether or not you want to remove and re-install your trim or wainscoting.

Option 1: Lay tiles directly on drywall

The first option is to leave the trim in place and install the tiles directly over the drywall. Our brick tile and most other tile is thin enough to lay flush against standard trim without an unusual transition from the trim to tile. This option has the disadvantage of being less resilient. For instance, as Jim explains, if the wall were to have a hard impact, such as a 2-by-4 hitting wall with some force, the tiles would go through the drywall. If you choose this option, start at step 2 in the above directions and then follow as given.

Option 2: Lay tiles on backerboard over drywall

Installing the tiles over backerboard makes the wall more resilient to impact, but requires the removal of all trim from the wall area before installation. You then screw backerboard through the drywall, making sure to hit studs. You might wish to glue up the backerboard and then screw it in. Follow the remaining directions as given above. After sealing the tiles and allowing them to dry, reinstall the trim over the tile wall.

Installing Over Wood-framed Walls (New Construction)

For new construction, you generally will be starting your installation project with a wood-framed wall. Installing over a framed wall simply requires screwing the backerboard into the wall studs, exactly as the above directions detail.

Installing Over Concrete Block

Concrete block is simplest surface over which to install brick tile. You can stick the tiles directly to the concrete block with mastic or thinset. Skip to Step 2 above and follow the directions as given.

Interior vs. Exterior Wall Installations

The technique is the same whether you install tiles indoors or outdoors, but the products you use will be slightly different.

  • When installing exterior walls or chimneys, Jim recommends laying tiles with mastic that has a much higher portland cement content. This type of mastic is more expensive but is much more pliable, allowing the tiles to move with the movement of the building once installed.
  • Make sure to seal exterior tiles to protect against rain. Use a sealer designed for exterior use.
  • Only use tiles that have been tested for freeze-thaw resilience if living in an area with cold winters. Inglenook brick tiles have been successfully tested for freeze-thaw resistance by the Tile Council of America.

Not interested in installing yourself and live in central Pennsylvania? Jim can be contacted at 717.672.1987.

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