Install a Tile Landing

Preparation is 75% of the job

When working in older homes, you must always be conscious of the build up of flooring. As the years pass, it seems, we (in the general sense of collective humanity) always opt to cover old with new. And in this case, I was following the herd, but first I had just a little prep to do.

In our home office, we had a plywood subfloor that was intact enough. This floor had to be sound enough too. So I went to work with a box of decking screws, and after about an hour, it was. For a little added insurance, and well for some comfort underfoot, I also chose to install a ¼ inch thick Luan as an underlayment, glued and fastened with roofing nails.

In the computer room, we have an exterior door that leads to one of the house’s five porches. (This is the same room where we textured the ceiling.) While we have oak flooring throughout the house, and now a tiled laundry room floor, we have decided to go with a wall-to-wall carpet here. For me, however, there was no way I could rightly butt carpet up to an exterior door. I was going to start by installing a tiled landing here.

The underlayment down, and with the landing going in, I had to raise the threshold on that exterior door. In this, you find the biggest consideration that must be made when flooring in rooms that spill to the outdoors. (And honestly, I didn’t love that I had to do it.)

To read more about flooring in general and/or about this project –  Our Budget Laundry Room, Powder Room & Office Remodel. To read more about setting a home office, here – Your Home, Your Office.

Installing a Tile Landing :: rectangular tile landing at exterior door

Raising the Threshold

As hinted at above, our farmhouse has five porches, and hence five exterior doors that lead to and from them. Each door on the house is constructed of solid fir, and has been there for a handful of years. The door here that faces the back of the property is 1 and 3/8 inch thick (the thickness of a standard interior door). It is contains 15 beveled panes of glass.

If you are following along at home, you get the significance of this. As the floor level comes up, so must the clearance at the bottom of the door. And thankfully in our case, we have a wood door with which to work. Not only do I have to raise the threshold, but I must shorten the door. And in the case of this job, I will cut it at its bottom.

I am not saying that it is impossible to cut down a metal or a fiberglass door; I am saying that this proposition instead is much easier when you have a wood door to work with. Raising a threshold, I will be frank — isn’t always an elegant endeavor. In my case, it wasn’t like I was going to dig into the existing door sill. This, more than likely, would have required neat saw cuts, potentially pulling back decking (in my case a mahogany porch), and replacement, ultimately, with an inferior material.

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Calculating the height to raise the threshold (The step before the step)

To raise bottom of the door enough to clear not only the added height of the underlayment and the new floor covering, I had to first calculate how far the threshold must come up. I came up with a working measurement of 1 1/8″. This number was derived by adding:

* ¼ for the thickness of the underlayment,
* 1/8” for the leveler I used in adjusting a low spot at the door,
* 1/2 for the tiles’ thickness (including a mortar bed), and
* ¼ for general clearance at the door’s bottom.

Before I set anything in motion however, I did make sure to check for high points in the floor within the arch of the door swing.

Installing a Tile Landing :: tile landing called for raising exterior threshold Pressure treated lumber used to elevate the threshold

This particular door configuration employed what I consider to be an old school weather stripping technique. It couples an adjustable brass (or maybe it is bronze) rail set on the door’s sill with a grooved aluminum flange that, in turn, is rabbeted into and tacked to the bottom of the door. When joined male/female, these parts create a virtual air tight seal.

To give me the elevation off the sill I needed, I found a scrap piece of pressure-treated lumber. I ripped it down to the exact thickness of the door – 1 3/8, and put a slight bevel on both the inside and outside edge at the top. Because I live in an old house, and because the sill had settled a bit out of level, I had to make two passes at cutting this piece to the height I needed. (There ended up being a full 1/4 difference across the width of a 32 door.) On my second attempt and free-handing on my table saw – I almost nailed it. A little power planer work and I was good to go.

No tile is an island; It’s more like a lily pad

With the build-up to the sill screwed down, the threshold’s rail installed, and the door re-hung, I was finally ready to tackle the tile work. I was using a 12×12 (actual size a little smaller) porcelain tile that I used in the closet, and as part of the border in the adjacent laundry room. It very much had the look of a polished slate. My wife assured me it was going to look stellar here.

To start my layout I found the center point of the door opening and placed a little mark at the base of the door. I then made a corresponding hash on one of the tiles I was using and married it to the mark on the door. Working from that point, I continued to lay out a total of six tiles – two deep and three across. (My wife and I had agreed earlier that this would be an appropriate size for this landing.) I used ¼” tile spacers (the same ones I would use in installation) to ensure my layout was perfectly stepped.

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Installing a Tile Landing :: tile landing leveler working lines and spacers Use working lines, a square and spacers

In an old house, and I confirmed this earlier when installing my Luann, walls are not necessarily always square. I had this in mind of course, so to check myself, I pulled some quick measurements off the wall immediately opposite the exterior door. It turned out that the distance between that wall and the edge of my landing was off by approximately 3/8″ across the width of the 36″ pad.

Ok. So what’s the adjustment? Well, as you often have to do in an old house, I eyeballed. I sited the island from the laundry room doorway, I sat in my chair here at the computer desk (yeah the island I speak of is sitting about four feet away from me right now). I stepped back and looked at it from the doorway of the adjacent dining room. Hell, I said – no one will ever notice that minor irregularity. As long as the tile landing is squared with the exterior door, I’m good to go. I grabbed the pencil from behind my ear and marked out some thick lines around its perimeter.

Accounting for Wall Thickness in Landing Placement

One last hurdle to overcome. I had talked earlier about built up flooring. Well, guess what? In an old house, you sometimes need to deal with built up wall surfaces as well. In this particular room, and I know this from working previously on the electrical fixtures here, there was a ½” wallboard hidden discretely behind our ¾” floor-to-ceiling paneling. The end result, of course, a slight recess in the wall at the exterior doorway.

Now, how to address this? I dabbled with a few ideas. First, and intermittently mingled trips to Facebook, I neatly notched the outside tiles of the first course, and set them in place. I stood back and looked. Did I like this? The answer, No. Ok, so I wasted a couple tiles here, but oh well, sometimes it is worth it to make that visual in your head all that much more real.

Next, I toyed with the idea of a wood filler here. How about the scrap oak that came off the saddle threshold I installed a few weeks earlier? No, that wouldn’t work; it would simply be too tall at 1 1/8 inch. How about piece of scrap pt? Nope – too Spartan.

I had some marble thresholds lying in the garage, so I walked down this path a bit. I ripped a long strip on my budget wet saw, and set that in place. Ah, I don’t know. It just didn’t look right. It came up a little too high at the bottom of the door, and in reality, it just added another place to trip.

Workforce economy wet saw Economy wet saw works great on notch cuts

So I simplified. I had some 4×4 ceramic left over from the border in the laundry. I decided to cut these into thirds and set them in place right at the sill. They looked marvelous. They fit surprisingly well with the slated porcelain, and there was no change in elevation at the door.

Trimming the Tile Island

Let’s not forget that we need to butt carpet up to this tiled landing. Through the years, I have seen this done in various ways, and to be honest, some of these have been far less than elegant. So in preparation for this moment, and actually several weeks in advance, I had the foresight to ask the question of my tile supplier. And his answer was, Use a squared off joint spacer – Tile Edge Trim.

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Sweet, I thought. I already had a ten-foot strip of this material on hand. It was brass. While I do tend to shy away from bright brass finishes for several reasons, it was free, so I was using it. I was going to encase the perimeter of my landing with this material.

cutting tile joint spacer on a miter saw

To work the tile edge trim, I cut it with my miter saw. Any good carbide blade loaded into a chop saw can handle these types of materials. I thought briefly about mitering the corners, but because of the miter saw’s tendency to tear out when working with metal, I shied away from it. Butt joint were used at the corners. I made sure to extend the most high profile edge, that visual from the dining room doorway, over the others.

I will point out that these corners probably would have finished a little more nicely if they were mitered, but in this case, and knowing that carpet would creep up its face, I decided to move on.

Inspection and installation

I assembled the whole thing and had my wife in for a look. After a brief objection over the brass edging, I got approval, and was good to go with installation. I pulled the tile up and proceeded to install it as I would with any other floor tile.

I had about a third of a bucket of pre-mixed thin-set mortar lying around. Despite my aversion to using pre-mixed batter anywhere, my frugalness took hold and I simply went for it. Slapping the mortar down with a margin trowel, I then followed quickly behind with a ½” square-notched trowel. I made sure to stay neatly within my working lines, and just like that was done with my mortar bed. I dropped my tile in place and quickly finished with my edge.

A couple quick taps with a rubber mallet, I made sure to flush up the corners of my tile. I checked to make sure my spacers were in perfect placement, and I finished by giving the whole assembly one big squeeze. I then dropped a 2-foot level on top. Perfect, I am happy.

The whole process setting my tile and the cut spacer took about 25 minutes or about 25% of the total time on this job. I will return in the near future to finish with the same epoxy-fortified grout I used in the laundry room.


 To read more about this project and to see more pictures, again, check it out here – Our Budget Laundry Room, Powder Room & Office Remodel. To read more on flooring and or working with tile, please see those category links.