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High-flow SLUs Level Today’s Tile Challenges

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New technology continues to transform the tile installation process – some products practically install themselves. Cutting edge high-flow self-leveling underlayment is one of those products. It is a game-changer for surface preparation. Many of the current trends in tile require a nearly perfectly flat substrate to achieve the intended aesthetic and durability of the flooring. High-flow is the next generation of self-leveling underlayments (SLUs) for delivering the smooth, flat surfaces needed to meet today’s tile setting challenges.

Most construction projects are under tight time constraints due to cost pressures, high demand and labor shortages. Though the high-flow SLU products may cost more than traditional SLUs, they achieve time and labor savings, and leveling performance that helps make the incremental cost well worth it. High-flow leveling usually has longer working time (20-30 minutes) and quicker setting time (just 2-3 hours) to be ready for light traffic. Most are pourable and pumpable, and these compounds are easy to install successfully – even for those with less experience. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to install properly. TEC® Level Set® 500 HF (high-flow) SLU flows faster and provides a smoother surface than any SLU currently on the market. Users save time because it requires no sanding or skim coating – cutting labor costs by up to 66%*. Additionally, the fast installation and 2-3 hour cure to walkability means installers save time and there is much shorter window for another tradesperson to inadvertently mar the new surface. 

Even with time and labor constraints, it is critical for installers to take the time to prepare for applying SLU, including removing contaminants from the substrate and determining the make-up of the substrate. The make-up of the substrate dictates its prep. SLUs must be installed over primer such as TEC® Multipurpose Primer (when using TEC Multipurpose Primer, dilute with water over highly absorbent substrates). A non-absorptive substrate may only require one coat of primer and highly absorptive substrates, like Gypcrete®, might require multiple coats of primer. Primer not only acts as a bonding agent between the SLU and the substrate, but it also lowers the porosity of the substrate. A lower porosity substrate means that the water remains in the SLU which can help extend the working time. Always consult the primer label for the proper application/dilution methods per ASTM F3191.

Today’s wild climate and humidity swings elevate the importance of properly handling the high-flow SLU, its temperature requirements and water demand. Carefully follow instructions for how to store, prep for and mix the SLU. Extreme high or low temperatures can change the prep, flowability and work/set times of the SLUs. For example, high temperatures can cure the SLU too quickly and cause cracking. Make sure to prepare and apply high-flow SLU within the manufacturer’s recommended ambient and substrate temperature ranges. Utilize the mixing water’s temperature to help counteract extremes in air temperature. Humidity levels also can impact work and set times. High humidity can slow the set time, so be certain the SLU surface has cured before allowing traffic. Always mix the SLU to the water demand specified. Most high-flow SLUs require a single specific water addition amount and do not allow a water range. Too much water reduces the SLU strength and can lead to cracks and debonding. By closely following the preparation instructions, installers can achieve the flowability and strong, smooth surface desired. When pumping high-flow SLU, prevent overwatering by supplying the correct water ratio. Also, be sure to understand the pumping equipment manufacturer’s recommendations (in addition to the SLU directions, of course).

Another challenge for installers is the added complexity of installing the enormously popular large tiles and gauged porcelain tiles and panels (GPT/P). Large tiles and GPT/P are extremely unforgiving of uneven substrates. With smaller tile, the standard for floor variation is ¼” in 10’. With large tiles and GPT/P that standard for variation is cut in half to 1/8” in 10’.” New high-flow TEC® Level Set® 400 SLU helps installers meet or exceed these standards. The new SLU can easily level from 1/16” up to a deep pour up to 1.5” in one application. It pours easily and flows to cover even hard to reach areas for consistent, even results across the substrate. Large tiles and GPT/Ps can be installed over the super smooth TEC Level Set 400 surface in as few as 2-3 hours. Apply high-flow SLU in compliance with manufacturer’s specification for the maximum thickness, to ensure a long-lasting flooring installation. 

High-flow SLUs offer advanced technology that delivers ease of application, quick flow and cure, and smooth, level surfaces. Though the technology may cost more than traditional products, high-flow SLUs can offer bottom line savings once the time, labor and performance advantages are figured in. Owners/clients are demanding more from their flooring contractors – fast timelines, uncompromising quality, fair pricing and transparency. High-flow SLUs are helping to revolutionize how contractors meet today’s flooring challenges. 

*When compared to patching

Article written by Heather Ruhl

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