COVID has brought many changes, one of which is that people are spending more time outdoors and appreciating and expanding their outdoor living spaces: lanais, exterior cladding, patios, balconies, decks and regionally walkways and in Florida, pool decks.
“Outdoor home-based activities seem to be increasing and a desire for upscale amenities that go with it,” said Ceramic Tile Consultant David Gobis. “Stamped concrete looks and sounds attractive for some of these applications until you look at the true long term cost of maintaining the aesthetically-pleasing surface. Concrete finishes are temporary and must be reapplied where ceramic is permanent.”
Materials and aesthetics
Natural, conservative aesthetics are the favored choice for outdoor installs: stone looks and natural stone, clay thin brick with some snazzy graphics in Florida, wood look porcelain in New Jersey and the Midwest. Gobis said, “Pavers are always the safest bet in my opinion BUT, there is a plethora of porcelains going down. That is the dominant player.” In the Tampa, Fla., region, Frank A. Canto of Canto Tile & Stone Consulting said he is seeing more 3/4″ (2 cm) porcelain pavers for driveway, sidewalks and commercial entries. That’s echoed by New Jersey contractors Carl “The Flash” Leonard, Cutting Edge Tile, and Metin Gungor of Dekor Construction LLC.
Gobis said that no matter what material is used, installers must ensure the tile or stone selected is suitable for the application. “I have a client right now who has an unfilled travertine deck installed last fall in upper Michigan that is popping out all over,” he said. “He has the same stone at his winter residence in Florida and really likes it but it just isn’t going to work. Conversely, I have pavers on my front porch with soft joints at changes in plane. They have been here under ice and snow every winter for 26 years; have not replaced nor touched up the grout, which I clean every year or so with a 2,900 PSI pressure washer. It is a standard sanded cement grout with struck joints at time of installation. We back buttered every piece in addition to troweling the substrate. No problems. Oh, and the urethane sealant is original as well. It can be done with careful planning and execution.”
The challenges of bonded systems
Traditional bonded systems seem to be the preferred way to go in Florida, Canto said. But there are challenges to be overcome, such as convincing an owner or architect of the proper minimum slope required for drainage of 1/4″ per foot.
“And NO the dishes won’t slide off the table!“ Canto quipped. He also stressed the importance of getting the facts across to the installer that at least 95% coverage is needed and convincing the owner of the importance of appropriately- placed movement joints.
Canto said, “Typically, at least here in Florida, the few pedestal systems I’m even aware of have been installed by a separate specialized mechanical trade. Unless I’m missing something, I have never seen much demand in the past – maybe more applicable in ‘Northern’ climes.”
Gobis said, “In direct bond to concrete, the surface has to be properly prepared. It may or may not require waterproofing depending on application. I think waterproofing is overused in direct bond slab on grade. Movement accommodation is critical. Exterior installations can go through many warm and cold cycles in a single day. You have a never-ending cycle of expansion and contraction even in temperate climates. Premium setting materials and proper movement accommodation are key.”
Pedestals on the rise
Gobis observed, “Pedestals are on the rise, and while I was initially skeptical of that type of installation, I have become increasingly supportive. They have the potential to be much less problematic than bonded installations. However, the areas where they can be successfully used are much more limited than direct bond applications.”
For Dekor Construction’s Gungor, exterior installs are challenging, for a number of reasons – price being one. He is staunch about following industry standards from ANSI and the TCNA Handbook, and he’s found that the cost of doing the job right is pricing him out of consideration, in favor of less expensive landscaping options. “Some people are finding value, and some people think you are taking them for a ride,” he said.
When he does manage to land a deck or patio, he swears by pedestal systems, especially over living spaces. Why? For starters, the weight of bonded systems can create problems for the structure, plus drainage issues and expansion are easier to manage with a pedestal system. Ongoing maintenance – which he noted isn’t always done – can cause the system to fail. In addition, the way taxes are calculated in New Jersey, a bonded system becomes part of the home structure and increases the tax base.
Cutting Edge Tile’s Leonard also favors pedestal systems, especially those by Profilitec and Progress Profiles. “You can make up to a 4-degree micro adjustment from above the tile,” he said. “It cuts down your time.” And Gungor noted that he’s had good results with pedestal systems from Bison as well.
Leonard said that engineers don’t always give an accurate plot of the elevation that accurately accounts for the doors, windows, siding or stairs that have to be matched up.
And when it comes to water management and waterproofing, Gungor wants to take complete ownership for the process. “If the system fails, they are looking at you,” he said. “The ANSI and TCNA books say that tile person had to look at everything before he commences work. But I can’t see if a roofer does something – he gets the money and I have to inspect his job for low spots and pitch. Even with a pedestal system, there needs to be no standing water – it needs to evacuate or you can get ice that can lift the system up.”
When it comes to the 3/4″ (2 cm) porcelain pavers themselves, Gungor noted another challenge. “They can be very difficult to cut, due to the tension of the stone,” he said. “The middle doesn’t get cooked right.” Leonard added that he’s gone through multiple blades trying to cut these materials. “It will explode when you cut it.”
Gungor said he’s had the best success with Daltile products, and using a turbo mesh blade on a grinder for a straight or L cut to take some of the tension out of it, which made it easier to cut.
Do it right!
Gobis admitted, “I think there is no higher rate of failures in any tile application segment than outdoor work. But, showers are a very close second (Canto concurs!). As a forensic consultant I am pretty sure I could make a good living just looking at decks in Florida, and definitely if you add in lack of movement joints in interior installations.”
He called out frequent causes of failures: “On wood decks it is lack of a suitable substrate, failure to properly waterproof at the structure and rail interface. On all decks it is poor coverage and lack of movement accommodation. Having a proper pitch to shed water is also important.”