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The top ten requirements for a quality tile installation

In this article, the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF) Blog Team updated an earlier piece about what makes a quality tile installation. These pointers are instructional to a wide audience, including A&D professionals, reinforcing the importance of working with skilled, qualified tile installers and writing other important details into the spec like movement accommodation joints and flat and level surfaces to ensure not just a beautiful installation, but a long-term, well-performing one. Read on, and visit www.ceramictilefoundation.org/blog for more informational articles, as well as related links for this story. – Ed.

What does it take to ensure that you have a quality tile installation? Based on our experience, knowledge and work with the Tile Council of North America (TCNA) Handbook, we have identified 10 requirements. Note that these aren’t all industry requirements. However, they all contribute to a quality tile installation. Here they are:

1. Hire only skilled tile installers

Only well-trained and experienced tile installers can produce installations of the highest quality that provide long-lasting beauty and functionality. Realize that tile isn’t just a decorative layer in a home or commercial building. It must meet specific standards so that it performs as it should over time.

In order to differentiate this quality oriented tile installer from others in the field, consider hiring a CTEF Certified Tile Installer (CTI). CTIs have proven that they have the knowledge and skills that meet industry standards and best practices.

2. Incorporate movement accommodation joints in the tile installation

All tile installations, both residential and commercial, will move with temperature and humidity variations.

To accommodate this expansion and contraction activity, the use of expansion joints per the TCNA Handbook for Ceramic, Glass and Stone Tile Installation method EJ171 is essential and required in all tile work. As stated in the Handbook, “The design professional or engineer shall show the specific locations and details of movement joints on project drawings.”

Be certain that all parties involved in the project including the architect, the specifier, the designer, the salesperson and the tile installer know and understand the critical use and placement of expansion joints.

3. Work only with premium materials to install tile

The use of premium quality bonding materials is money well spent.

Merriam-Webster defines premium as: “of exceptional quality or amount; also, higher priced.” 

Exceptional quality comes at a price. The components that are added to these materials provide enhanced characteristics that affect both function and durability. For instance, saving a couple of pennies per square foot on a conventional and less-expensive thin-set mortar rather than using a feature-laden, large-and-heavy-tile mortar is a foolish idea.

Tile industry experts agree this is one of the easiest insurance policies for preventing installation problems. All types of setting materials are available in various performance levels to meet the requirements of the job.

Contact the setting material manufacturer for products with the specific characteristics and performance levels necessary for success. Always pay attention to manufacturer instructions.

Additionally, always read and follow the manufacturer’s guidelines printed on the bag of any product since the mixing requirements and/or application may be different than materials used in the past.

4. Confirm that tile installation surfaces are flat

In order to provide a flat ceramic or stone tile installation, carpenters, masons, concrete finishers and other trades must meet the tile industry standards for flatness tolerances.

If substandard surfaces are encountered, they must be corrected before installation begins. Otherwise, you will not have a quality tile installation: the quality of the installation will be compromised.

5. Verify that the tile installation surface is rigid

Ceramic tile installations require a stiff or rigid surface. In some cases, installations, including natural stone, may require additional subflooring, wall studs or bracing. Realize that the substrate for natural stone tile installations must be twice as rigid as that for a ceramic or porcelain tile installation.

Tile contractors should always follow the applicable recommendations of the TCNA Handbook for Ceramic, Glass and Stone Tile Installation, the ANSI (American National Specifications for the Installation of Ceramic Tile) as well as the recommendations of the manufacturer’s products being used in the project.

6. Minimum mortar coverage must be provided

Tile industry standards require minimum mortar coverage of 80% in dry areas and 95% in wet (showers) or exterior areas. Natural stone tile installations require 95% coverage in all applications.

This refers to the contact area of the bonding material (thin-bed mortars, large-and-heavy-tile mortars or epoxy adhesives) with both the back of the tile and the surface being tiled.

7. Ensure that tile site conditions are controlled

Jobsite conditions can have a serious impact on the success or failure of a tile installation.

ANSI A108.02 section 4.1 (excerpted) states, “Installation work shall not proceed until satisfactory conditions are provided.”

Many products used in tile installations require that the temperature be maintained within a specific range and duration. Be certain to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines to ensure a long-lasting installation.

In addition, insist on a mockup so you can view a sample of the actual installation, which includes items such as tile color/variation, grout joint size/color and gauge the variation from tile to tile. The mockup ensures that the final installation meets your expectations.

8. Use only the correct tile installation methods and materials

Not all installation methods and/or materials are suitable for all applications. Be certain that your contractor will use the TCNA Handbook method rated for the intended application or a method that is recommended, fully specified, and warranted by the product manufacturer.

Research manufacturers’ websites to determine suitability, application recommendations and product warranty information.

Review the manufacturers’ product data sheets and recommendations for the tile, backer board, bonding materials, membranes and grout that will be used on the job.

Just because a product is available doesn’t mean that it is appropriate for a given installation.

9. Allow for adequate cure time

Allow a tile installation to cure sufficiently per the manufacturer’s recommendations before exposing it to moisture, traffic, temperature changes or overlaying products. Otherwise it will not perform as a quality tile

The amount of time required will vary based on site conditions and the specific materials being used.

10. Make use of crack-isolation membranes as needed

Cracks in concrete and other areas of movement should be treated with a crack-isolation membrane (ANSI A118.12) to help eliminate cracked tiles. As mentioned previously, the addition of a crack-isolation membrane can be cheap insurance that provides a beautiful and long-lasting installation.

Check with the membrane manufacturer for specific use and application recommendations.

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