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How to Set Outdoor Patio Tile

Materials, Spreading Thinset and Setting Outdoor Patio Tiles

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You've chosen an outdoor patio tile, prepared the concrete slab, done a proper layout, allowed for expansion joints, and purchased the right adhesive. Now that all the prep work is done, it's time to start setting the units in place.

Things you'll need. I keep all of these tools handy when setting outdoor patio tile: knee pads (you'll thank me at the end of the day), trowels (margin trowels and, especially, notched trowels), buckets, spacers, a sponge, a tape measure, a pencil, and a level.

  1. Where to start. After completing your layout with a grid, you should be able to see where every outdoor patio tile goes. That means you can start anywhere. Some people start in the middle, some start in the corner farthest away from where they will be cutting tile and mixing thinset and work their way back. Wherever you start, make sure you don't tile yourself into a corner. After the outdoor patio tiles are placed in thinset, you can't walk on them until the next day. Make sure you have an escape route in mind before you begin. You don't want to spend the night on your new outdoor tile patio waiting for the thinset to dry.
  2. Choose the right trowel. Outdoor patio tiles are set using notched trowels, available at most home improvement stores. Use a trowel with notches that are appropriate for the units you are setting. The larger the tile, the larger the notch you need. A 12-foot by 12-foot outdoor patio tile needs to be set with at least a 1/4-inch notch trowel.
  3. Spread thinset. Using your notched trowel, spread the thinset (i.e., the tile adhesive) over a small area, enough to cover four tiles to start with. It's all right to cover most of the grid lines, just make sure you leave the corners where the lines intersect so you can see where to place the tiles. Using the notch side of the trowel, spread thinset so the notches are a consistent size and all running in the same direction.
  4. Place your first outdoor patio tile. Line it up on the grid lines. Apply pressure to the tile to bed it into the adhesive.
  5. Take the tile back up. I know, you just put it down, but you need to check the coverage of the thinset on the tile. If there isn't enough coverage, the installation won't last. Almost all of the back of the outdoor patio tile should be covered with thinset. If not, you need a trowel with a larger notch.
  6. Re-set the outdoor patio tile.
  7. Set the next outdoor patio tile. Set the next tile using your grid as a guide. If you didn't make a grid you can use spacers, small plastic dividers used to equally space tiles from each other. With tile spacers, the joints between tiles will all be the same size, but without a grid it is easy to get off course and not run your tiles in a straight line.
  8. Continue setting your outdoor patio tiles. Continue this process until all the units are laid. You will almost certainly need to cut some of the units. Read this article for advice on how to cut tile.

Tips

  • Keep it clean. I keep a bucket of water and a sponge handy so I can clean as I go. It's much easier than trying to clean things the next day when the thinset has started to cure. Don't worry if you miss a few spots; it will come off the next day, but it's much easier to clean as you go.
  • The right amount of thinset. If there is a lot of thinset coming up between the units, your notched trowel is too large. You need to find the proper balance of complete coverage without too much excess.

  • Use a level to check for straight lines. After each row of tiles, I put my level against the edge to check for straightness. The grid helps, but it is always good to double check.

  • Take your time. Don't try to go too fast. Only cover a small area at a time with thinset.If it sits too long it will film over, not allowing a proper bond to occur. If this happens, remove and apply new thinset.

  • Stay off the outdoor patio tiles until the next day.

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