N addition to the traditional tricks for improving your home’s curb appeal—landscaping, fresh paint, pretty windows—a tiled entry makes a wonderful, positive impression. To be suitable for tiling, stair treads must be deep enough to walk on safely. Check local building codes for specifics, but most require that treads be at least eleven inches deep (from front to back) after the tile is added.
Before you start laying any tiles, the concrete must be free of curing agents, clean, and in good shape. Make necessary repairs and give them time to cure. An isolation membrane can be applied before the tile. This membrane can be a fiberglass sheet or it can be brushed on as a liquid to dry. In either case, it separates the tile from the concrete, which allows the two to move independently and protects the tile from potential settling or shifting of the concrete.
Choose exterior-rated, unglazed floor tile with a skid — resistant surface. Tile for the walking surfaces should be at least one-half-inch thick. Use bullnose tiles at the front edges of treads (as you would on a countertop) and use cove tiles as the bottom course on risers.
Pressure w’asher Masonry trowel 4-ft. level Carpenter’s square Straightedge Tape measure Chalk line
Tile cutter or wet saw’ Tile nippers Square-notched trow’el Needle-nose plier Rubber mallet Grout float Grout sponge Caulk gun Latex or epoxy’ patching compound Isolation membrane Wet/dry vacuum Tile spacers Buckets
Paintbrush and roller Plastic sheeting Paper towels Dry-set (thinscO mortar Bonding adhesive Field tile Bullnose tile Grout
Grout additive Latex tile caulk Grout sealer Tile sealer 2×4
Carpet scrap Cold chisel or Qathead screwdriver Wire brush Broom
Eye protection and work gloves
Tiled front steps dramatically upgrade tired-looking, plain concrete. If your concrete is in good condition but you’re ready to add curb appeal, this is a perfect DIY solution.
Use a pressure washer to clean the surface of the concrete. Use a washer with at least 4,000 psi and follow manufacturer’s instructions carefully to avoid damaging the concrete with the pressurized spray.
Dig out rubble in large cracks and chips using a small cold chisel orflathead screwdriver. Use a wire brush to loosen dirt and debris in small cracks. Sweep the area or use a wet/dry vacuum to remove all debris.
Fill small cracks and chips with masonry patching compound, using a masonry trowel. Allow the patching compound to cure according to manufacturer’s directions.
If damage is located at a front edge, clean it as described above. Place a board in front and block the board in place with bricks or concrete blocks.
Wet the damaged area and fill it with patching compound. Use a masonry trowel to smooth the patch and then allow it to cure thoroughly.
Test the surface of the steps and stoop for low spots, using a 4-ft. level or other straightedge. Fill any low spots with patching compound and allow the compound to cure thoroughly.
Spread a layer of isolation membrane over the concrete using a notched trowel. Smooth the surface of the membrane, using the flat edge of a trowel. Allow the membrane to cure according to manufacturer’s directions.
The sequence is important when tiling a stairway with landing. The primary objective is to install the tile in such a way that the fewest possible cut edges are visible from the main viewing position. If you are tiling the sides of concrete steps, start laying tile there first. Begin by extending horizontal lines from the tops of the stair treads back to the house on the sides of the steps. Use a 4-ft. level.
Mix a batch of thinset mortar with latex bonding adhesive and trowel it onto the sides of the steps, trying to retain visibility of the layout lines. Because the top steps are likely more visible than the bottom steps, start on top and work your way down.
Begin setting tiles into the thinset mortar on the sides of the steps. Start at the top and work your way downward. Try to lay out tile so the vertical gaps between tiles align. Use spacers if necessary.
Wrap a 2 x 4 in old carpet and drag it back and forth across the tile surfaces to set them evenly. Don’t get too aggressive here—you don’t want to dislodge all of the thinset mortar.
Measure the width of a riser, including the thickness of the tiles you’ve laid on the step sides. Calculate the centerpoint and mark it clearly with chalk or a high visibility marker.
Next, install the tiles on the stair risers. Because the location of the tops of the riser tiles affects the positioning of the tread and landing tiles, you’ll get the most accurate layout if the riser tiles are laid first. Start by stacking tiles vertically against the riser. In some cases, you’ll only need one tile to reach from tread to tread. Add spacers. Trace the location of the tread across the back of the top tile to mark it for cutting.
Cut enough tiles to size to lay tiles for all the stair risers. Be sure to allow enough space for grout joints if you are stacking tiles.
Trowel thinset mortar mixed with bonding adhesive onto the faces of the risers. In most cases, you should be able to tile each riser all at once.
Lay tiles on the risers. The bottom tile edges can rest on the tread, and the tops of the top tiles should be flush with or slightly lower than the plane of the tread above.
Dry-lay tile in both directions on the stair landing. You’ll want to maintain the same grout lines that are established by the riser tiles, but you’ll want to evaluate the front-to-back layout to make sure you don’t end up with a row of tiles that is less than 2" or so in thickness.
Cut tiles as indicated by your dry run and begin installing them by troweling thinset adhesive for the bullnose tiles at the front edge of the landing. The tiles should overlap the top edges of the riser tiles, but not extend past their faces.
Set the first row of field tiles, maintaining an even gap between the field tiles and the bullnose tiles.
Add the last row of tiles next to the house and threshold, cutting them as needed so they are between Vi and V" away from the house.
Install tiles on the stair treads, starting at the top tread and working your way downward. Set a bullnose tile on each side of the center line and work your way toward the sides, making sure to conceal the step side tiles with the tread tiles.
Fill in the field tiles on the stair treads, being sure to leave a gap between the back tiles and the riser tiles that’s the same thickness as the other tile gaps.
Let the thinset mortar cure for a few
Days, and then apply grout in the gaps between tiles using a grout float. Wipe away the grout after it clouds over. In the event of rain, cover with plastic.
After a few weeks, seal the grout lines with an exterior-rated grout sealer.
Select (or have prepared) a
Pretinted caulk that’s the same color as your grout. Fill the gap between the back row of tiles and the house with caulk. Smooth with a wet finger if needed.