Mesh-backed tile is a product that receives both praise and criticism in the tiling industry. Manufacturers and customers appreciate it because it makes it possible to create complex tile designs. These designs, which used to be possible only when an expert artist placed each tile by hand, can now be assembled and installed more easily.
However, mesh-backed tile can be challenging for inexperienced installers. Problems can be more if they don’t plan properly for the design or if they fail to use high-quality materials and reliable installation methods.
To help with this, here is a detailed, step-by-step guide on how to install mesh-backed tile correctly.
Table of Contents
A mesh backing is a wire net that holds the tiles of a mosaic sheet together. This mesh not only helps the glue to stick better but also allows the mosaic sheet to be shaped as needed. This means you can divide one mosaic sheet into three or four strips, which might save you money.
Mesh backed mosaics are flexible, making them suitable for curved walls or surfaces. Since they can be cut easily, there’s minimal waste. This feature is especially useful in customizing designs while being efficient with materials.
Step 1: Understand The Tile Pattern
Firstly, get familiar with the pattern of your mesh-backed tile and consider how it will fit in the area you’re tiling. This is a crucial yet frequently overlooked step. Tiles that lack a repeating vertical pattern can increase waste.
To test if your tile has this repeating pattern, place two tiles side by side with one flipped upside down. If their horizontal lines align, your tiles have a repeating pattern.
Pattern and Waste Management
When working with tiles that don’t repeat their pattern vertically, careful planning for waste is important.
For example, if each tile piece is 12 inches tall and you need to tile an 18-inch tall backsplash, you would use one whole tile and cut the next one in half to fit. The unused half, which doesn’t align with the pattern of the rest, might not be usable.
Thus, understanding your tile pattern and its fit in the intended space is key to accurately estimating the quantity needed.
Step 2: Get the Right Substrate
Not every base is suitable for tile installation. Typically, vertical tile installations are best on cement boards or similar materials. Regular drywall might need to be stronger for the extra weight of tiles. If you have drywall, you can cover it with a cement board to make a strong base for your tiles. This base should be firm, even, and clean to ensure a strong attachment to the tiles.
Step 3: Have the Right Tools
Every project is different, so it’s necessary to plan. Standard equipment for a successful mesh-backed tile installation includes a few buckets for mixing and wiping down, a tile saw, a paddle mixer, trowels, spacers, level, grout float, and a clean-up sponge. Depending on the type of tile being cut, such as stone, glass, or porcelain, you might need a different blade or other cutting tool for the job.
Step 4: Choose the Correct Thinset
Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines. The manufacturer usually gives instructions on what type of thinset (a type of adhesive) to use for installation. As a general rule, a thinset that meets or goes beyond the standards of ANSI 118.4 and ANSI 118.11 is appropriate for most installations involving mesh-backed tiles.
Step 5: Mix and Set
Begin by following the thinset manufacturer’s instructions to mix the thinset to the desired consistency. Be cautious only to mix what can be used within a 15 to 20 minute period. Trowel the thinset onto the wall, choosing a trowel with the right size groove for your tile size. Depending on the size and weight of your tile, a process called “back buttering” might be recommended. This involves applying a coat of thinset to the back of the tile to ensure full adhesion.
When setting the tiles onto the wall, it’s important to stay level. Use spacers against hard surfaces like floors, countertops, or windowsills. This creates a small expansion gap that can later be filled with caulk. Spacers might also be necessary between sheets or to maintain spacing on heavier individual tile strips.
Make sure to twist the tile during setting to ensure it is firmly and fully seated in the thinset. This step is particularly critical for mesh backed tiles to ensure the mesh does not interfere with a solid bond between the substrate and the tile.
Lastly, keep the work area clean by removing any thinset that gets on the face of the mesh backed tiles during installation. This helps maintain a clean and professional finish.
Step 6: Grout
After allowing the thinset to cure, which typically takes about 24 hours, prepare the grout as per the manufacturer’s instructions. Most mesh backed tiles have thin lines, so unsanded grout is often used. However, it’s best to consult the tile manufacturer for their recommendation on the type of grout suitable for your tiles.
Use a rubber grout float to apply the grout, ensuring that it fills all the joints between the tiles.
Wait for about 15-20 minutes, then use a slightly damp sponge to clean away any excess grout from the tile surfaces gently.
Step 7: Maintain Carefully
For maintaining your tile over time, follow the care instructions provided by the tile manufacturer. This may include sealing certain types of natural stone tiles or using specific cleaning products recommended for your tiles.