So yesterday it drizzled…

…all day. Without ever completely stopping. Never a trace of a shadow.

And you know what that means, don’t you, off-gridders? No power tools for you. Which means no tiling the floor.

Okay, yesterday was pretty much scheduled for domestic chores anyway, I needed bread and laundry and the laundry didn’t get done. Mostly sat around reading. But in the afternoon I got restless and started fiddling with tiles…

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…and I learned something I’d hoped to learn – after sitting here for seven years and being lived in for five, the Lair’s floor is still level. Which is good news, because I always worried about that.

Let me take you back, back through the foggy mists of time, to June 2009.


Three people, one of them a little frightened, none of whom really knew what the hell they were doing, presumed to pour foundation piers for a small house. We could make it level – but could we make it so that it would stay level after we built a house on top of it and let time pass?

Puppy Little Bear was skeptical.


We took a lesson from our friend T: When you don’t know what you’re doing, build it heftier than you think it needs to be. Then build it heftier than that. The holes went deep and wide, with nice broad pads anchoring lots of rebar left over from Ian’s Dome. Then the forms for the piers. Lots of cement with lots of iron.

On the piers went lots and lots of salvaged 2X12s. I’d spent most of the preceding winter denailing these, along with lots of other lumber. Had enough left over to make rafters for Ian’s powershed that summer.


And in the fullness of time there rose the Secret Lair in all its never-quite-finished glory.

I actually finished gathering the materials for the floor job last year. The tiles, thinset and miscellany I got two or three years ago, surplus from D&L’s massive years-long flooring job. I traded it for labor on the concrete piers for their wrap-around veranda. Bought the backer board with money left over from your generous donations to last summer’s siding project.

But I never had the guts to start. Now, as back at the beginning, I don’t really know what I don’t know and if I screw this up I’m going to stare at the mistake for the rest of my life, hopefully for a long long time.

On the other hand I sure am tired of trying to sweep dog hair up off OSB.

About Joel

You shouldn't ask these questions of a paranoid recluse, you know.
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18 Responses to So yesterday it drizzled…

  1. Ben says:

    Whilst you are waiting on sufficient heavenly photons to start work, how is the overcast-day performance of your new enlarged PV array doing? Is it enough to support lights and computing without running down your battery?

  2. Joel says:

    Yeah! I watched that with interest yesterday. It won’t bring the batteries up to float on a heavily overcast day, but it will maintain at a substantially higher level so you’re using the panels and not the batteries. Starting voltage this morning was quite acceptable even after watching a movie last night.

  3. Tierlieb says:

    Short question: You’re not going to place the tiles like that, right? You’re going to off-set ever other row to prevent them from moving, yes?

  4. Joel says:

    I’m debating whether to offset them for aesthetics, but don’t know if I want the additional work. But it’s a tile floor, not a block wall. Why would offsetting them affect their stability? Answer quick, I’m starting this today.

  5. Zelda says:

    One reason is that offsetting stops any individual crack that develops so an entire section won’t be destabilized if there’s a crack, and able to move like it would be if you didn’t offset them. Cracks Happen over time. The other thing I noticed is that tile floors are usually laid from the center out in addition to being offset – chalk marks determine center, you put tile down around the center point and work out. You do have a tile cutter with a new blade or two? If your computer is functional you can find this and lots of other useful information on the Internet. Or wait a day or so and Tierlieb and I can be there to help you…..Enjoy your day Joel while you can.. Oh, FOMCL and ROTF.

  6. Joel says:

    a: tile floors are usually laid from the center out in addition to being offset – chalk marks determine center, you put tile down around the center point and work out.

    Tile floors are also made to be looked at by more than one person, and are usually laid out in rooms not currently being occupied. I got preached at by Neighbor L about base lines and chalk marks in such detail I lost my nerve for two years. Now I’m just going to do it before frickin’ winter.

    b:You do have a tile cutter with a new blade or two?

    Actually I have two. 😉

    c: If your computer is functional you can find this and lots of other useful information on the Internet.

    I know that. Haven’t seen anything about how offsetting the tiles makes anything stronger, though. Still trying to understand that.

  7. M Ryan says:

    “I don’t really know what I don’t know.” I suspect that deep down inside you know a lot more than you think you do. Good luck.

  8. Kyle says:

    I laid tiles on osb no backer 12×12 tiles no offsett using the special thinset that is made to flex to prevent cracks! Loooks amazing and held up for 5 years so far!!!!! The only tile experience i had was liquid nails and laminate squares again on osb not to mention warped and cracked osb it looks great too ur going to make small errors but only u will notice others will see a nice tile floor!!! So get over urself if it isnt perfect nothing in life is! Good constructors know how to hide imperfections because ive never in my life seen a perfectly straight and dimensioned 2×4…..

  9. Mark Matis says:

    Don’t believe Kyle, Joel. LB will notice. And he will remind you of the error of your your ways every day for the rest of his life.
    }:-]

  10. Joel says:

    Only if it gets between him and the food bowl, MM.

  11. Working tile dead from the center can result in more small cuts along more walls. If working from the center it’s easier to determine center and then plan which way/s to shift to minimise cuts and awkward borders. Some layouts lend themselves to setting the tiles to best hide the cuts along a wall that people don’t easily see by setting whole tiles from one corner and working to the cuts.

    Don’t see any spacers there, Joel – gonna’ freehand this one? If you have enough coins around they’ll work in a pinch.

    The more times you lay it out the less surprises you’ll have. Glad to hear it’s stayed level – how is it for square? I’ve worked on a lot of parallelograms and trapezoids that purported to be square.

    Cute puppy there – reminded me of when he got his head stuck. “Who’s a lucky dog?” Tempus sure can fugit!

  12. Zelda says:

    “Haven’t seen anything about how offsetting the tiles makes anything stronger…”
    Not stronger. More stable. Re cracks.
    But any height difference will be ugly and obvious if you offset.
    SOHF Chalk Lines Are Your Friends…really
    Gotta love that Thinset!
    How’s it looking?

  13. Joel says:

    Oh, it’s not going anywhere. Turns out there’s a tool I hope to buy tomorrow, so I’ve been working outdoors instead. Got the woodstove moved and the old floor tiles pulled up and that’s about it.

    Then I’ve got to dogsit for Ghost all next week, so I may just say screw it and work on firewood instead of tile until I’m down to one dog again.

  14. Goober says:

    There is zero benefit to an offset pattern in tile. Not sure how that got in someone’s head, but he’s wrong. Source: 16 years of commercial construction project management on projects up to 30 million dollars in one project, and by now hundreds of thousands of square feet of tile laid.

  15. Malatrope says:

    One minor detail, and I’m not trying to be insulting here: you do have notched trowels, right? It’s practically impossible to lay tile without them.

  16. Joel says:

    Yeah, I’ve got a notched trowel. What I don’t have, which I’d forgotten all about, is a stirring paddle for the thin-set.

  17. Tierlieb says:

    Joel> Why would offsetting them affect their stability? Answer quick, I’m starting this today.
    Joel>
    Sorry for being late. Your blog is usually only a weekend pleasure for me. But enough people answered anyway. So what did you do in the end?

    Goober> There is zero benefit to an offset pattern in tile
    Goober>

    Let’s find a consensus: If you lay tiles deep in mortar, no, there is no benefit. If you put them on a poured concrete foundation, neither. Preferably you do both (and I hope you do that on your big projects).

    But Joel is putting them in his cabin with an OSB foundation, if I remember pictures from the time of construction correctly. That will have more flex than your usual flex glue will compensate. That means there will be cracks in the mortar near the corners. So the tiles will move more freely much quicker than average. And without an off-set that means that the force of a tile moving gets transferred in a straight line though all tiles in that row.

    So: There is no need for off-setting in an ideal setting. But there is more need on this project that on, say, an industrial hallway that is built much closer to ideal.

  18. Zelda says:

    Following up on Goober’s post and Tierlieb’s comment, yesterday I checked out all the commercial tile floors I encountered and all of them were offset and as far as I could tell on poured concrete foundations. Countertops and walls, not so often. Some residential and commercial bathroom floors are offset, some not, maybe depends on whether the tile is on net backing? The BUT in my location is that I live where the soils are high in volcanic ash, therefore high in montmorillonite and so subject to shrink/swell depending on moisture content. So could this be the reason for the offset as things tend to crack and shift a lot due to varying water content of the soil? even when the soils are compacted and the floors and walls are concrete. So what Tierlieb said is what I know – that any force from tile movement gets transferred along that straight line if the tiles are not offset. So if the foundation the tile is on can flex, offset. Love this blog. I learn so much really useful stuff from all of you.

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