Large-format tile (LFT) had previously been viewed as a specialty type of installation, but the accelerated popularity of LFT has made it a daily standard for residential and commercial installations. Gauged porcelain panels continue to increase in popularity and most certainly require special training, tools and experience. We still see a fair share of mosaics, subway tile, 8″x8″ and other smaller sizes in everyday installations, however, 12″x24″, 24″x24″, planks and other larger sizes are now common installations. The Tile Council of North America (TCNA) defines LFT as any tile that is 15″ or larger on any one side.
These larger tiles require careful consideration when it comes to substrate preparation and installation materials. LFT of any size requires a smooth, flat surface to avoid lippage and hollow spots under the tile. Building up with mortar is never acceptable. Attention to substrate preparation – whether floor or wall – is critical to achieving a successful installation.
Flowable Hydraulic Cement Underlayments FHCUs (formerly known as self-leveling underlayments or SLUs) were rarely used by tile installers. Given the complexities with LFT and gauged panels that require truly flat surfaces, FHCUs are becoming more widely used by installation professionals. These materials are guided by the standard ANSI 118.16. Although FHCUs were not used in the two feature projects, they were faced with their own unique challenges.
Choosing the right mortar type based on the type of tile is also critical. LFT requires excellent bond strength and longer open times given the complexity in layout and working time adjustments. LFT should be installed with an ANSI 118.15 or 118.4/118.11 mortar. Because more mortar is applied in LFT installations on the substrate – as well as back troweling the tile – preferred mortars to enhance productivity are creamy and easy to apply. Mortars that are hard to trowel slow down an install and add cost in the long term.
Large-format tile: Crescent Heights, Calgary Alberta
The installation company for this project was LFT Professionals of Calgary, Alberta, specializing in large-format tile and gauged porcelain panel installations. The project was awarded the 2023 Hardscape Residential Project of the Year by the Terrazzo Tile and Marble Association of Canada (TTMAC). The home is located in the prestigious community of Crescent Heights in the Northern section of Downtown Calgary. The renovation project encompassed the installation of over 1,000 sq. ft. of tile with the crown jewel, a spa retreat bathroom.
Beautiful 6mm 120″x60″ gauged porcelain panels adorned the walls and ceiling in the luxury master bath. Many intricate cuts were required around the plumbing fixtures that added to the complexity of the installation. In addition, all the door returns were mitered to keep the continuous vein pattern throughout the panels.
ARDEX X 77 MICROTEC® Fiber Reinforced Tile and Stone Mortar was selected, given its true 60-minute open time and long history with gauged porcelain panel installations. Twenty-year tile installer Mind Grab, founder of LFT Professionals, commented on the very creamy consistency of the ARDEX X 77, and its outstanding bond strength that was required, especially for the ceiling pieces. “We have tried several other products, but use ARDEX X 77 exclusively for gauged porcelain panels,” Grab said.
LFT Professionals instructed the contractor to use cement board on the ceilings for strength and stability, but they installed drywall. The drywall had to replaced adding time and cost.
Selected for the floor of the spa master bathroom were 36″x36″ anthracite porcelain tiles. These beautiful tiles were installed over the ARDEX FLEXBONE® HEAT In-Floor Radiant Heating System. This system features the 3 in 1 FLEXBONE® HEAT Membrane for uncoupling, anti-fracture and top side waterproofing that is easily prefilled in just one pass. The hot/cold lead section of the FLEXBONE HEAT cables is contained within the cable itself and snaps right into the mat without the need to cut through the membrane voiding waterproofing protection. The FLEXBONE HEAT System was installed with ARDEX X 78 MICROTEC® the sister product to X 77, a semi-pourable, microfiber-reinforced mortar. Even though it’s very fluid, it holds its trowel lines proud and has tenacious bond strength. ARDEX X 78 is a true full-contact mortar.
The curbless shower was waterproofed with ARDEX TLT Waterproofing Membrane, with ARDEX 8+9 Waterproofing Compound used on transitions and changes of plane for a belt-and-suspenders full-proof waterproofing system.
Unique design features included a recessed shower head and LED lighting, along with a linear drain and a floating bench. Other aspects of the project included a 6’x12′ fireplace crafted of the 6mm gauged porcelain panels and a living/media room, powder room and wine room with bottle holders for 300 bottles of wine cut into the gauged panels. It was easy to see why this stunning renovation won the 2023 Hardscape Award!
Large-format tile: Pittston, Pa.
This large-format project was installed in Pittston, Pa., located in Eastern Pennsylvania by Kaye Construction of Shickshinny, Pa. The renovation was 860 sq.ft. of tile, encompassing a foyer, hallway, powder room, kitchen, backsplash and dining area. Selected tile for the floors was an Italian porcelain 24″x24″ tile installed in a diagonal pattern with a 2″x12″ border around each tile.
The substrate was prepared with 3/4″ plywood plus an additional layer, per the recommendation of the local ARDEX Sales Professional for a sound, solid substrate. ARDEX FLEXBONE® Uncoupling Membrane provided maximum shear movement protection for this beautiful tile work throughout the project.
Jason Wujcik, owner and installer on this project, praised ARDEX FLEXBONE® Uncoupling Membrane because of its minimal memory and ease to prefill. “I had not used FLEXBONE before, but will use it moving forward; it was very easy to work with,” said Jason.
Key challenges were planning work to accommodate the family’s schedule, since they remained in the residence during renovation and the many intricate tile cuts necessary to maintain a consistent look around doors, room transitions and existing fixtures.
ARDEX X 5 Flexible and Versatile Tile and Stone Mortar was used to install FLEXBONE Uncoupling Membrane, as well as the tile and the backsplash. ARDEX FL Rapid Set, Flexible Sanded Grout was used throughout the project.
As you can see with these two beautiful installations, ensuring proper substrate prep, a strong plan and use of proper installation materials for large-format tiles were all essential to a successful and long-lasting installation.