How to Tile a Patio

patio tiling cornerYou can give your concrete patio a new lease on life by laying down tile over it. Tile is available in a wide range of textures, materials and colors, so you can choose an inviting look that’s just right for your patio space. How is it done? Read on.

Surface Prep

The first step in tiling your patio is to clean and level the existing concrete surface.

Get yourself some Tri-Sodium Phosphate- a cleaner that helps remove dirt, grease and oil. Mix up a diluted solution in a pail and scrub the patio with a scrub brush. This allows you to see any cracks, pits or high points better, and ensures good adhesion for the tile mortar. After the TSP solution dries, examine your patio surface for flatness.

Laying tiles on anything other than a flat surface will result in cracked tiles as they tend to rock and pivot over high spots during foot traffic, so smooth it out with a good concrete patching compound. After applying with a trowel, you’ll need to let it dry for 8 to 20 hours, depending on the type you get.

Spend a little extra time here to seal the concrete once repairs have dried. This will prevent moisture from settling under your tile, and will also allow your mortar to stick tightly. You can buy pre-mixed concrete sealer ay any home improvement center or hardware store. It’s made to be applied easily with a hand roller.

You might want to set up a temporary tarp cover in case of rain during this phase of the project. It will also help keep you in shade during the tile laying and grouting if it’s going to be hot out.

Another part of surface preparation for laying tile on a patio you can look at is to square up the edges. Get a metal straightedge or a long section of 2 by 4 and lay in on the outside perimeter of the concrete patio. You’ll probably see some gaps that will need to be filled in. For this you can use tile mortar, using a 2 by 4 held in place with stakes as a wooden form.


You can choose either porcelain, ceramic, or stone tile to install on your patio if it’s concrete. But be aware that outdoor tile work does have requirements which interior tile does not. These have to do with concrete patio expansion joints, and temperature conditions.

Expansion joints are mandatory every 8'-12' in both directions for recently constructed concrete slab patios; these accommodate expansion and contraction of the slab due to temperature changes. So the main thing you need to know is not to tile over these joints, or the tiles will crack and buckle when the joints move.

The other thing to be aware of is that in colder climates, freezing and thawing temperatures can wreck havoc on outdoor tile installations. You need to be look at the water absorption rates for the tile you choose, and to select tiles recommended for use in areas subject to freeze/thaw conditions.

Look for tiles of the impervious water absorption type; this indicates less than .5% water absorption. This usually means some type of porcelain tile.
Next you’ll need to figure out the square footage you want to cover. Measure the patio’s length and width, multiply the two, then add 10% to allow for mistakes and edges.


Think about where your starting tile will be according to where you can best conceal any cut pieces as much as possible. Then mark your starting point on the concrete floor with chalk and draw a chalk line the length of the slab using a straightedge. The line will also ensure your first row is square and even.

To bond your tile to the patio, use a premium thinset mortar, such as Laticrete 272 or Keralastic. Mix up a small batch of the mortar and start spreading the mortar over a small area, using a grooved mortar trowel. Don’t spread more mortar than about three or four tiles worth at a time. It always begins to set up faster than you think it will.

Lay the tiles down onto the mortar one by one, using tile spacers to make certain they are running even with your chalk line. As you move on to adjacent rows, the tile spacers should keep your pattern square in both directions.

Wash off each tile using a damp rag right after you lay it. Try not to leave any mortar to dry on the tile surface; it makes cleaning them later way more grueling. At the end of the row, fit your cut pieces correctly, then leave the mortar to dry for the manufacturer's recommended time length.


Your next task is to apply grout between the tiles. For outdoors work, it’s best to use epoxy grout such as SpectraLock. Epoxy grout is a little more costly and challenging to apply, since it has a working life of only about 90 minutes, but it has a very low water absorption rate, (.5%), high consistancy of coloring, less risk of mold and mildew, and doesn’t require sealing ever.

Mix up the grout as per instructions on the packaging. Next, start generously spreading it over the tile with a rubber grout float. Use the float to make sure that there are no low spots, and then use a damp rag to wipe any extra grout off the tile surface. if the tile appears a little hazy at this point, don't worry. After your grout has had time to dry, do the process once again, using the rubber float to spread extra grout off tile surfaces.


Once the grout has totally dried according to the manufacturer’s recommendations, wash the entire surface of the newly tiled patio using a wet rag. You will now see a slight haze forming on the tile as it dries. Let the tile dry completely again. Now go back over it for one final wash with a rag that’s slightly damp; this should gloss the haze off like new.

It’s not overly complex to learn how to tile your patio, it just takes a little planning, some time and a good helping of old fashioned manual labor. After that, your patio will look like it’s had facelift and your yard will be ready for more fun.

Photo by Anthony M./CreativeCommons