Thin tile truly represents a new age in coverings for floors, walls, counters, backsplashes, spas—virtually anywhere tile can be installed (or any other hard surface, for that matter).
The most important thing to know right up front is the expression “thin tile” applies to large-format porcelain tile with specific attributes. It is not a thinned-down, good-looking cousin of traditional ceramic or porcelain.
There are numerous properties unique to thin tile which make this new product category not only attractive but practical as well, and define the difference between traditional tile and the new large-format thin tile. That also means, of course, there are new techniques with which qualified installers need to be familiar.
Stated more simply, this is not your grandfather’s basic bucket-and-trowel job. Knowing and adhering to correct installation procedures will spell the difference between a stunning and durable installation…and one that is not.
Installed correctly, thin tile can do virtually any job its stouter predecessors can. Planarity and flatness are very important. However, thin tile can be installed over most existing, stable hard surface flooring.
Tile, and Thin Tile Basics
As the Tile Council of North America (TCNA) explains it, so-called standard tile thicknesses average between 8 and 12 millimeters, and anything under 7.5mm previously could not be used for flooring. The TCNA defines thin tile as 6mm or less. Be aware that while thin tile is still not endorsed for floors, millions of square feet of large-format thin tile have been successfully installed on floors worldwide.
The exploding popularity of porcelain tile collided head-on with evolving manufacturing technologies that allowed for large-format, thin porcelain tiles—down to 3mm—with virtually the same performance characteristics as standard-thickness porcelain. Again, keep in mind correct installation is the key.
For porcelain in general, the finer materials together with higher firing temperatures result in a product that can be used indoors and out, in wet areas without compromise and on virtually any surface. These capabilities also translate to large-format thin porcelain tile.
Right off the top, it is easy to see that with thin tile, 40% to 60% less material is needed to cover the same square footage as standard tile. That obviously saves on raw material, but it also saves on production time and energy use as well as shipping costs. Since thin tile such as Florida Tile’s Thinner product (one of several lines) is about a third the weight of traditional porcelain, at the installation level it becomes easier to handle, and installation jobs go faster.
Couple that fact with our capability of producing 3.5mm panels of up to 1 x 3 meters, and it is easy to see how design and installation opportunities rise. Increasing design possibilities and falling installation costs make for a greater potential for business at every point along the chain from manufacturer to user. Can you imagine handling a standard-thickness 1 x 3-meter piece, then installing it on a vertical surface? Thin tile, at 1.6 pounds per square foot, opens up a whole new world of possibilities and contract opportunities. We estimate that thin tile installation time is reduced at least 40 percent which is a significant bottom-line contributor.
Our unique manufacturing process compresses each tile to greater than 15,000 tons psi. This creates a very dense, strong, thin tile with increased flexibility, and breaking strength. Further, a 0.5mm fiberglass mesh backing is adhered to each panel, providing additional strength and allowing for ease of drilling, cutting and handling.
With the large-scale commercial and residential installations in mind, sizes available are 1m x 3m (39” x 118”), 1m x 1m (39” x 39”) and .05m x 1m (19.5” x 39”) all rectified. All Thinner products have been third-party tested at the Tile Council of North America laboratory. 3plus (3.5mm) is suitable for interior and exterior, wall, floor and countertop applications in residential and light commercial construction. 5plus (5.5mm) received an “extra heavy” duty service rating and is ideal for commercial floor, wall and exterior applications as well as all residential floor, wall, countertop, stairs—and the list goes on.
Because it is a color-body porcelain product, thin tile is non-absorbent and easy to clean, and it resists acids, stains and pollution. From an installation standpoint, thin porcelain tile is very easy to cut with a wet saw or in the case of most Florida Tile products, using a glass cutter. It is also easy to drill.
With respect to installation, the TCNA has been an industry partner and out in front on subjects ranging from underlayment specifications to setting materials. The TCNA is a wealth of thin tile installation information and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You also can view the TCNA Installation Handbook at www.tcnatile.com/products-and-services/publications.html.
Before tile installation begins, the installer is responsible for checking the tile for obvious visual defects. Tile must be blended to achieve an aesthetic blend. To make the installer’s life easier and the final outcome the best it can be, Florida Tile offers a series of online videos to accommodate typical installations. On our website, www.floridatile.com, one can find tutorials on installing 1m x 3m panels on a new floor or new wall; installing 1m x 1m panels on an existing floor; installing 0.5m x 1m panels on an existing wall; as well as positioning profiles, cutting to measure, cutting rectangular holes, drilling holes, manual handling of 1m x 3m panels, and handling with a forklift.
Florida Tile refers to the TCNA with respect to the following general installation guidelines. The following are basic installation considerations. Nothing will prepare you better than hands-on training.
Substrate preparation: Substrate preparation should be completed following ANSI A108 AN-2 “General Requirements for Sub-surfaces.” All substrates should be plumb and true; surface deviation should not exceed 1/8” in 10’.
Setting materials: Define the characteristics of the substrate on which the thin tile panels will be installed. Choose a mortar and grout that is suitable for the substrate and intended use of the project. In most installations a premium-quality ANSI 118.4 mortar will be used. Consult the Thinner Technical Manual and check with the setting materials supplier.
Movement (expansion): Joints should be provided to comply with TCNA method EJ 171. Installation must comply with the current version of ANSI A108.02, A108.1B and ANSI A 108.5. Mix the mortar to the highest mix consistency according to the mortar manufacturer’s current data sheet.
Installation safety: Prior to handling, cutting, or installing the Thinner products, it is important to have on safety equipment (typical PPE including sure grip gloves, safety glasses and dust mask).
Cutting: It is essential to work on a flat and clean surface; you can use the cover of the pallet of the 1m x 3m. We have found with our thin tile products, by cutting with a glass cutter or mechanical tile cutter excellent results can be achieved in terms of shape and clear cuts by scoring (we recommend Silberchnitt 2000 special cutters by Bohle America). To achieve superior cuts, maintain a smooth, even pressure along the cut and do not stop in the middle. After scoring, simply bending the slab will separate the two pieces. Glass fiber mesh can be easily cut with a razor knife. Another practical tool for cutting is the tile cutter ruler.
Some final tips:
- Ensure the screed is perfectly flat.
- Begin by applying mortar to the substrate with the flat side of a trowel, with enough pressure to firmly work into the surface. Immediately follow with a heavier coat of material, spread with the 1/4-inch-tooth towel, tilted, in wide semi-circular arcs to ensure coverage.
- Finish substrate adhesive application by troweling in straight, parallel notch lines which will be perpendicular to the longest edge of the panel at the time of installation. Work quickly enough so adhesive does not skim over.
- To ensure mortar coverage, spread the entire back of the panel as well using the fine-tooth, 1/8-inch trowel. Again finish with complete parallel lines that terminate with notches perpendicular to the longest edges of the panel.
- To provide superior support at all edges, back-butter all corners and edges with a ribbon of adhesive completely and without gaps to a thickness equal to but not greater than your notch depth.
- Using two people, lift and guide the slab into place, resting the edge on the floor. Slide tile back and forth, perpendicular to the ridges. Coverage of mortar is essential to a successful installation of Thinner tile.
- Use suction cups to adjust the panel to accommodate your spacers. Recommended spacing is 2mm or 1/16-inch
- To eliminate air gaps, tap the surface of the slab with the rubber-faced trowel. For walls, you can use rubber coated trowels or a hard grout float. For floors, tile tapping tools with plastic plates or orbital sanders should be used to further embed the tile in the mortar. Consult with the mortar manufacturer for set times of the tile and thinset mortar before grouting
- Never walk on the thin tile panel until the adhesive is dried according to the adhesive manufacturer’s instructions.
- It is advised that during the installation, remove a tile to ensure the mortar has not skinned over, and check the tile and substrate mortar coverage. However, do not reuse that test tile.
- Keep the tile and grout joints clean.
Florida Tile, in partnership with McGraw Hill, Architectural Record and construction.com offers an online, accredited continuing education course on thin large-format porcelain tile especially for architects and designers. The course was developed by Florida Tile Product Manager for Thin Tile, Jim Whitfield, an active member of CSI (Construction Specification Institute). He also has served as president of the Materials, Methods, Standards Association (MMSA), and member of the Technical Committee for the National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA), and Green Initiative and Handbook committee for the Tile Council of North America (TCNA).
For additional detailed information on installation, please reference the Thinner Technical Manual #48875R or visit us on the web at www.floridatile.com/thinner.
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