Skirting boards are usually there to provide a decorative interface between walls and floors as well as providing a protective boundary to prevent marks on painted and papered walls or damage to soft plaster. They also allow the edges of floor finishes such as carpets, vinyl and laminates to be neatly finished and accommodate some movement without exposing bare floor. Skirting’s don’t have to be finished with wooden skirting boards but could be made to act as a concealed radiator with embedded heating pipes or finished with tiles to match the floor. Tiled skirting boards have proven to be popular in office corridors, hospitals and some industrial establishments. The biggest problem is usually the poor finish behind wooden boards as the wall is usually unfinished or does not have a neat edge so the walls may need to be prepared first. The tiles don’t have to match the walls or the floors as decorative border tiles can be used to provide a ceramic or stone skirting rather than utilised for a dado effect.
Before you jump in and use leftover tiles or buy expensive border tiles it’s worth considering your flooring material. Carpet, for instance are sometimes folded or tucked under the skirting edge so can exert significant upwards pressure on occasions. A continuous wooden board will be able to flex and accommodate some of the pressure but tiles won’t flex and may crack or pop as the adhesive bond fails. Providing you allow an expansion gap for carpet, laminate or vinyl and seal a tile-to-tile interface correctly; a tiled skirting should provide a decorative and long-lasting finish to your room.
The bottom edges of most walls that have been finished with wooden skirting will probably need cleaning and preparing to accept your tiles. Leaving a gap behind the base of the tiles will create a fulcrum where tiles may be levered off or crack if kicked or knocked. It will be OK to leave a gap of 2 or 3mm to help accommodate movement but the base of the wall should be levelled using suitable gypsum or cement plaster. Floors in bathrooms or areas likely to get wet may also need to be treated with a suitable tanking or waterproofing compound. This is beyond the scope of this guide but you could check our guide on wet rooms for more information on waterproofing.
When you use specially made tiles with decorative edges then you can simply draw a line the width of the tile up from the floor; allowing a 2 to 3mm gap for movement and sealing. Make sure the line is horizontal and adjust accordingly. This is most important if you also plan on tiling or part-tiling the walls. Make sure to draw a line right round the room so that you know your skirting will line up. Measure the centre of each wall and check the size of part tiles that will be needed for corners and around obstacles. Adjust the arrangement for either a symmetrical tile pattern or a part tile to one side; preferably behind a door or where it is least noticeable. Begin tiling from the centre or just in from 1 corner if fitting a single part tile. Use spacers below the tiles to keep to the guideline and fit spacers between tiles for a regular grout pattern. Cut the corner tiles to fit. If the tiles are a rectangular profile then they can probably be but jointed; fitting 1 tile first then cutting the meeting corner tile to fit with a standard gap for grouting.
Profiled tiles that create a lip or have a 3d shape will not fit together easily in a corner. It may be possible to cut the tiles at 45 degrees so that they meet or one tile can be fitted and the meeting tile is then cut using an electric tile saw to match the profile. A profile guide that uses strips of metal to create a profile template is a useful purchase for this and usually inexpensive.
It is important to make and check a card template as it is easy to get the dimensions wrong. Use the saw blade, and abrasive stone and guide to cut away small sections of border edge, shaped to match the profile. When fitted and grouted; this will look like a perfect chamfered corner. If you need to fit an external corner then it may be better to avoid 3d profile tiles or use a different way of finishing the corners with profile tiles on the main walls only.
If you are using large tiles to match the floor then it may be worth experimenting with a tile height that looks visually correct such as a third, half, two thirds or full tile height. If you use cut tiles; use the cut side nearest the floor for a better finish. The upper edge and corners can be concealed using decorative trim. Stone tiles look best with a 1 to 2 mm 45 degree chamfer on exposed corners.
Once the adhesive has set and cured, typically 24 hours, you can remove the spacers and grout the tiles with a suitable grouting material for your chosen tiles and room conditions. Stone tiles may need sealing prior to grouting to avoid difficult-to-remove marks. Apply grout into the gaps and finish with a length of dowel or similarly round profile; removing excess grout. The top edge where the tiles meet the wall and lower floor-skirting interface can be finished with a flexible sealant such as silicone to cope with any slight movement.
You may still wish to use a door architrave and simply butt-joint the tiles with a 2-3mm gap to allow movement. This can be finished with flexible silicone sealant.