One Room Challenge {Week 4}: How to Install Cement Tiles

Are you interested in using cement tiles in your next project? Check out everything that we learned while installing cement tiles during our shared boys’ room renovation.

I cannot believe we only have 2 weeks left in the challenge!!!  We are actually right on schedule to finish on time – I’m so relieved.

We have tackled almost all of the big projects and mostly just have finishing work to do.

Honestly, I’ve been completely slacking with some of the design elements these past two weeks and really need to pull it together.  What good is a finished room with no decorations??

If you’re just stopping by today or if you want a quick refresher on what we are doing, head over to the previous weeks to see where we started and the progress we have made so far!

Week One // Week Two // Week Three // Week Four (you’re here) // Week Five // Week Six (Reveal)

Learn how to install cement tiles in this One Room Challenge update! These black and white patterned cement tiles look great around a natural brick fireplace.

This week was all about finishing the interior of the fireplace and installing the cement tile hearth.

I posted earlier this week about my newfound love for cement tile (and where to use it in your home).  Well, I thought I loved the tile when it was just in the box.

I’m completely blown away by how it looks installed and finished.  This little unfinished area has been bugging me since we moved in almost a year ago.  I can’t imagine a more perfect tile for the space.  I may even sleep right there on it.

Let’s back up.  Here is what we started with:

Our exposed brick fireplace - surrounded by kids toys - before installing the cement tile hearth.
A closer look at the exposed brick fireplace before installing the cement tile hearth.

Yes, that is insulation falling out of the top.  Scary, right?

Here is what it looks like today:

A look at our exposed brick fireplace, after installing black and white patterned cement tiles, and the interior of the fireplace painted black.

ALL the heart eyes, my friends.

If you know the general process of installing tile and want to just knowΒ specific tips for installing cement tiles, skip to the bottom of the post πŸ™‚

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How to Install Cement Tiles in a Fireplace Hearth

Step 1: Prep the Fireplace Hearth

First, we started by creating a level surface from the hearth to the inside of the fireplace.   Since the hearth was already concrete and level, we used quikrete to level the inside of the fireplace with the hearth.

I found this full guide on how to use quikrete which seems pretty extensive.  For our purposes, we poured in the concrete and used concrete tools to level the surface.

Next, we painted the interior bricks with a satin black enamel paint.  The bricks were so damaged we couldn’t clean or salvage them.  Luckily this paint only required one coat!

Lastly, for the prep work, we used a piece of plywood to fill in the opening to the top of the chimney to hold up all the debris and keep the kids from trying to climb the chimney looking for Santa.  {This still needs painted black}

A look at our natural brick fireplace in the middle of a makeover. The inside of the fireplace is painted black, and we leveled out the floor using quick-set concrete.
A closer look at the inside of our natural brick fireplace, which we painted black, and leveled out with quick-set concrete.

Already doesn’t look like it’s straight out of a horror movie anymore!

Step 2: Prep the Cement Tiles + Measure

Next, it was time for the tile!

We chose this gorgeous tile from The Tile Shop!  I wanted something that looked as though it could have been original to the house – so something a bit more traditional looking.

{But, if you aren’t a fan of that tile, I linked to TONS of other cement tile styles in this post to choose from}.

The tile came in, and we were all set to install it when we realized we needed tile edging to separate the tile from the wood.

There are several ways you can separate tile and wood, but we went with an aluminum edging trim that of course had to be specially ordered.

We liked this specific trim because it basically goes unnoticed.  You probably didn’t even see it in the picture from above.  They make it in different colors and different “metal” colors, too.

Once we had the trim in hand, we measured the hearth and cut it to the correct length. We ended up with three pieces: two short ones for the sides and one long one for the front. Make sure you cut the trim at a 45-degree angle for an interior corner so the pieces don’t interfere with each other.

Prepping our fireplace hearth for cement tile installation, we taped off the area with painter's tape.

We started by laying out the tile to see what arrangement looked the best and also measured which cuts we would have to make.

We used these spacers in between the tiles.

A close up look at the black, white, and gray cement tiles and the tile spaces we used when installing cement tiles in our fireplace hearth.
A close up look at the tile spacer in the white, black, and gray tiles we've installed on our fireplace hearth.

Then, we removed all the tiles and used a wet tile saw to cut the tile to fit around the edges.

We marked where the middle was so we didn’t forget!

Marking the middle of the tiled hearth with an arrow drawn on painter's tape.

Step 3: Lay Down the Mortar & Install the Cement Tiles

Next, we installed the tile using Thinset Mortar and a square notched trowel to spread the mortar.  Apply an even layer to both the surface and the back of the tile.

Remember to place the tile spacers back in between the tile!

We didn’t need to lay anything under the tile since it didn’t need to be waterproof and the surface was already flat.  You *may* need something if you’re using the tile in a bathroom or kitchen or on an uneven surface.

Spreading tile mortar on the fireplace hearth before installing the cement tiles.
My father-in-law carefully placing the cement tiles on the mortar, and adding the tile spacers.

Rough idea of how much mortar to put on:

A look at the underside of one of our cement tiles, and how much tile mortar to put on the tile to securely install it on the hearth.
The process of installing cement tiles on our fireplace hearth - these black, white and gray tiles are installed using mortar and tile spacers for perfectly-set tiles.

We wiped the excess mortar off the top of the tiles and let them dry!

Step 4: Apply a Tile Sealer

After a few days to dry and set in place, we applied a sealer over the tile.

We followed the manufacturer’s directions using a rag – wipe on, wait 5 minutes and wipe off any excess with a dry rag, then wait 30 minutes and reapply.  We then let the sealer dry for a few days.

Finally, we grouted the tile!  We used unsanded powder grout and a rubber grout float tool to apply the grout.  Work in small sections and wipe off any excess with a wet sponge.

And …. ta da! Installing cement tiles wasn’t super easy or quick, but it sure made a huge different to the character of the room!

The completed fireplace hearth with cement tiles and painted background! I love the look of these black and white patterned tiles with the natural brick fireplace.
A close up look at the decorative woven basket sitting on the fireplace hearth and new black and white patterned cement tiles.
A look at the ornate pattern on the black, white, and gray cement tiles we installed on our fireplace hearth.
A closer look at our completed fireplace - with black, white, and gray patterned tiles, natural brick painted black, and a decorative woven basket.

I. Am. Obsessed.

It came out perfectly.

Pro-Tips for Installing Cement Tiles Flawlessly

So, specifically for CEMENT TILE, here are a few tips we came across to help:

  1. Cement tile is NOT presealed so make sure you seal tile before grouting
  2. Use unsanded grout with a tight joint of 1/16″ – 1/8″
  3. Use white or light-colored grout (dark grout can permanently stain the cement tile .. yikes!)
  4. Find the nearest father-in-law to help (mine’s taken so find your own!) … but seriously he helped SO SO SO much, well, basically did the whole thing  —  THANK YOU!
  5. Here’s a more detailed guide I found for using cement tile

Let’s review our One Room Challenge task list:

  • clean out room (toys,clothes, old books, etc)
  • build under-bed train table
  • build shelves for closet
  • add storage and functional design to the closet – check out the mini DIY basket labels in the closet here
  • repaint dresser and add new hardware
  • build reading nook tent frame
  • sew reading nook tent
  • sew reading nook floor pillows
  • make gallery wall for above dresser
  • design reading nook area (where books go, etc)
  • add lights to the inside of reading nook
  • build magnet board
  • install buckets to hold magnets
  • make or buy curtain rod
  • hang curtains
  • install fireplace tile
  • finish interior of fireplace
  • make space felt board
  • make name art for each boy
  • pick sentimental pillows/decor for each of their spaces
  • paint/design letters to designate spaces
  • build craft table
  • add craft table storage
  • buy craft table chairs
  • install wire hanging to display art work
  • disassemble old bed and assemble bunk beds

I’d say we are right on track!  Which is pretty exciting.

On the plan for this week is finishing up the craft table and magnet board and startΒ decorating! UPDATE: Check out the finished shared boy’s room here!

The reading nook tent is going to be the last thing we install and I cannot wait!  Liam is already asking when it will be done so he can sit on the pillows πŸ™‚ (not the point of the tent, kiddo!)

Remember to stop over to Calling it Home to check out the other One Room Challenge makeovers!  I’m following so many blogger friends and I’m completely amazed at what they’re doing.  Check it out!

I want to say THANK YOU again to our amazing sponsors!  We are so lucky to have teamed up with some great companies!

Wishing you a joyful day!

Signature2

Process for Installing Cement Tiles

Process for Installing Cement Tiles

Want to learn how to install cement tiles? Here's the step-by-step process we used to install cement tiles in our fireplace hearth.

Prep Time 2 hours
Active Time 5 hours
Total Time 7 hours
Difficulty Intermediate

Tools

Instructions

    Step 1: Prep the Fireplace Hearth

  1. Create a level surface inside the fireplace and fireplace hearth. Since the hearth was already concrete and level, we used quikrete to level the inside of the fireplace with the hearth.
  2. Paint the interior of the fireplace with a satin black enamel paint.
  3. Lastly, for the prep work, we used a piece of plywood to fill in the opening to the top of the chimney to hold up all the debris and falling insulation.

Step 2: Prep the Cement Tiles + Measure

  1. Our hearth needed tile edging to separate the tile from the wood. We went with an aluminum edging trim that of course had to be special ordered.
  2. Once we had the trim in hand, we measured the hearth and cut it to the correct length. We ended up with three pieces: two short ones for the sides and one long one for the front. Make sure you cut the trim on a 45-degree angle for an interior corner so the pieces don’t interfere with each other.
  3. Lay out the tile to see what arrangement looks the best and also measure which cuts to make.
  4. Removed all the tile and used a wet tile saw to cut the tile to fit around the edges.

Step 3: Lay Down the Mortar & Install the Tiles

  1. Next, install the tile using Thinset Mortar and a square notched trowel to spread the mortar. Apply an even layer to both the surface and the back of the tile.
  2. Remember to place the tile spacers back in between the tile.
  3. Wipe the excess mortar off the top of the tiles and let them dry.

Step 4: Apply a Sealer

  1. After a few days to dry and set in place, apply a sealer over the tile.
  2. Follow the manufacturer’s directions using a rag – wipe on, wait 5 minutes and wipe off any excess with a dry rag, then wait 30 minutes and reapply. Let the sealer dry for a few days.
  3. Grout the tile with unsanded powder grout and a rubber grout float tool to apply the grout. Work in small sections and wipe off any excess with a wet sponge.

Did you make this project?

Please leave a comment on the blog or share a photo on Instagram

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71 Comments

  1. You guys did such a great job with this tile. It’s so easy to make tile look like a DIY job, which is why I don’t know that I could ever do it! I’m sure the spacers helped a lot. This looks amazing, and I love the tile you chose!

  2. Ahhh, those tiles are gorgeous! My dad is a Masonry so I am familiar with how to lay cement tiles (although I have never done it myself). Looks like your list has gotten so small now and I know that table and tent will be the bomb. I agree with your kid, pillows in a tent are the best!!

  3. I love it! We used cement tile as the backsplash in our kitchen. It is a show stopper for sure. I really love your choice to use in the fireplace. It looks great with the brick.

  4. That tile is amazing!! Seriously cannot wait to see the rest of the room come together. And well done for being on target (I’m not so much myself, but still hoping to pull a lot of it together this week).

  5. Oh wow this looks so pretty Sarah! The tile is so lovely!! I can totally see why you are so in love with it. I am so excited to see what the final room will look like!!

  6. Wow that turned out so good I love the rustic feel. Very cosy and homey now all you need to do is sit in front of the fire with a cup of pumpkin spice latte and enjoy it

  7. This looks amazing! I’m about to start a similar project and this is so helpful. Silly question, but the tile edge needs to be the same thickness as the tile?