Installing tile showers

Shower installations can be a difficult task for even the most experienced tile setters. All tile installation jobs require a strict attention to design, layout, placement, and bonding. With shower installations, though, you need to address some additional and unique challenges. Waterproofing, incorporating plumbing fixtures, achieving proper drainage and meeting code requirements. Changes in waterproofing, drain and tile-setting technologies will allow you to more easily meet these demands. Here are some things you need to know before tackling a tile shower installation:

1. Understand the installation requirements of the drain assembly waterproofing system.

Not so long ago, shower installers only really had one option for waterproofing showers: hot-mopping. That process involved installers applying a thick layer of hot tar to the floor of a shower pan, creating a waterproof seal that prevents leaks from damaging the subfloor. Hot-mopping is still done, however, today’s installer has a variety of other waterproofing options.  These include roll-on, trowel-on, and sheet products. Installers typically place the waterproofing materials just below the surface of the tile, bonding the tile directly to the waterproofing membrane. This allows water to run off the surface and down to the drain before saturating the walls, avoiding any potential fouling spaces.

Regardless of what waterproofing system you decide to go with, you must completely familiarize yourself with all of its elements – to include the drain assembly. Failing to follow the specifications or the manufacturer’s directions can end up causing the need for expensive repairs. The entire system is critical: from the waterproofing product itself to the drain.

2. Test the waterproofing after it is installed, but before the tile is installed.

All too often Tile setters ignore testing. This is a final and critical step of the waterproofing process. Once the system is in place, but before installation of the tile, you must ensure waterproofing is completely effective. This confirms that you have a functioning system, which is absolutely essential to a long lasting installation. If a leak is found, it can be repaired before it causes any damage.

3.  Be sure of the compatibility of the materials involved.

After the waterproofing system is in place, you can go back to the basic aspects of installing tile. Using the proper setting materials, ensuring 95% coverage and achieving straight and plumb lines. When you are choosing setting products, be sure that they will work with both the type of tile being used and the waterproofing system. For example, mastics are not acceptable for bonding tile to membranes. Normally, in a shower installation, you will need to use a modified bond mortar; though some uncoupling membrane manufacturers require the use of unmodified mortars. Whenever possible, try to use the same manufacturer’s materials for all steps of your installation. Having one point of contact for all installation materials simplifies things should any issues come up.

Linear drains have allowed for the use of large format tile in shower environments. Not so long ago, tile 6 inches or smaller could form the proper slope to the small drains. With linear drains, however, it is possible to place larger tile on the shower floors, giving both the owner and designer additional options.

4. Ensure sure you achieve 95% mortar coverage.

When working with large format tile, setters commonly make the mistake of using the “dot method” of installation. Using this method, the installer puts blobs, or dots, of mortar on the back of the tile, instead of carefully troweling it. The dot method might seem like a time-saver, but it will not provide a successful installation in the long run. It does not create full substrate contact or proper embedding and may cause voids behind the tile that collect moisture and potentially house bacteria. When using natural stone, there are even instances when the dots of mortar are visible through the tile.  This can leave unsightly circular stains, efflorescence and color variation.

Remember that tile installations in wet areas, such as showers, requires 95% mortar coverage. When using natural stone, that requirement increases to 100%.

5. Using 100% silicone caulk can prevent mildew and cracking in the grout joints.

Improvements in grout and sealant have expanded the variety of products available to setters and their customers. For wet areas, many owners request grouts that are low in absorption, do not require any sealing, and are stain resistant. These types of grout are now available and recommended for such use. 100% silicone caulking has become the product of choice for the flexible sealant required in showers. These caulks prevent mildew and cracking in the grout.

6.  Know the cure time requirements of the of the setting materials before putting the wet area into use.

Once installation is complete, be sure to abide by the cure time requirements of the setting materials before the shower is put to use. This can prevent potential problems or mishaps for the customer. It also shows the owner that you know and understand your craft and want to give them the best work, from beginning to end.

Advances in products and installation techniques have expanded the performance and aesthetic possibilities for tile and stone shower installations. In the tile industry, one trend remains constant: the perpetual introduction of new and exciting tile and stone goods along with the materials to set them.

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What is that white stuff? – Grout Efflorescence

Have you ever seen discolored grout after you finished your tile installation? That discoloration may be something called “efflorescence.” Efflorescence is a whitish crystalline or powdery deposit on grout lines and tile surfaces that can mar even the best looking grout-tile combinations. It will turn grout from an accent to eyesore. Luckily, grout efflorescence can be removed, and even prevented with proper tile installation technique.

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How to prevent efflorescence
Grout contains Portland cement. Efflorescence can occur in any Portland cement product. It occurs when water-soluble minerals dissolve and migrate to the installation surface.  You can interrupt this process and help prevent efflorescence. 

1. Keep Out Moisture: Waterproof membranes installed close to the installation surface can help prevent grout efflorescence. Tile can be bonded directly to the membrane, which will work to deflect water from the installation and prevent its absorption into the substrate. Products like these are especially important in wet areas like showers, spas, pools, hot tubs and fountains. It is always best to confirm that your membrane, tile, mortar and grout are compatible, and make sure your installation is capped and has the correct flashing as necessary.

Also consider using a penetrating sealer on your installation. Penetrating sealers can form a water-resistant shield over your installation without changing its appearance. Just be sure the grout is cured, prior to sealing the installation.

2. Choose the Right Products:  Look for high performance tile setting products with lower absorption rates.  It should be noted that even the best quality mortars require proper coverage. Incomplete coverage can allow water to enter the system, ultimately leading to efflorescence.

Some grouts are specifically designed to deliver color consistency and reduce the risk of efflorescence. Look for grout that exceeds ANSI A118.7 when efflorescence is a concern.

Removing Efflorescence
If you think you see efflorescence, there are a few simple tests that can confirm your suspicions. Efflorescence will turn into a powder when pinched between fingers and will dissolve in water. If you positively identify efflorescence, you can take the following steps to remove it:

1. Dry Brush: If you notice the efflorescence soon after it appears, you may be able to remove it simply by scrubbing the grout gently with a stiff nylon brush.

2. Use a Mild Acid: If water alone does not do the trick, try using a mild acid to remove efflorescence. Products with sulfamic or phosphoric acid can be used effectively, but stronger acids can burn fixtures and tile. Be absolutely sure that when using an acid to dilute it.  A 1 part acid to 10 part water for example. If you do not have an acidic cleaner on hand, you can create your own by mixing 1 part vinegar with 1 part water. Be sure the grout has cured 10 days and wear gloves when treating efflorescence with an acid. Apply it with a sponge or brush. If your problem is truly efflorescence, it should react to the acid immediately.

 

Make sure you rinse the installation surface with clean water once grout efflorescence removal is complete, and use acid cleaners sparingly. Acidic cleaners should not be used on marble, limestone and travertine. Check with manufacturer of your tile to make sure an acidic cleaner will not alter your installation’s appearance.

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Grout – It shouldn’t be an after thought

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Dal Tile put out a good article a little while back about selecting grout for your tile.

Most people are so focused on picking tile, trying to figure out patterns, directions, and the rest of their home improvement that grout often gets forgotten about, and overlooked, which can be detrimental as the color of your grout can make or break the look of your floor.

Generally, you have three options:

  • Match the tile
  • Contrast the tile
  • Go neutral

Matching

If you want a less pronounced grout look, you might want to pick a grout color that “matches” the tile you chose. Picking a grout color that is somewhere around one shade lighter or darker helps pull everything together. This course is also an advisable  when your tile only has one color because it helps create a more fluid look.

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Contrast

If you want to make your tile stand out, you might want a contrasting grout color. This will frame the tile and will draw attention to them. It might also be advisable to use a thicker grout in this instance to really bring out your choice in tile.

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Neutral

If you want something that feels like the safest choice, you might want to go with a “neutral” grout color from the tans, beiges, or grays. Neutral colors tend to have mass appeal, a neutral matching color is the most widely recommended approach.

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Other considerations
Your grout color is important to achieve your desired look; but, you still need to consider the type of grout being used on your floors. Grout functions to bond tiles and stone edges together and prevent chipping.  It is important you understand the types of grout available.

You need to consider traffic patterns in the room where your tile and grout will be used when choosing a color.  A light grout is probably not a good idea for a busy kitchen, but could be ideal for a less used guest bath.

It should be noted that darker grout will fade more quickly, while a lighter color will show stains and dirt.

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Tile repairs can be fun…

….not really.

We had recently finished installing some 20×20 squares in a house in Peoria.  Within 2 days, the customer had called that another contractor (electrician?) had done some damage.

By damage, I mean apparently dropped a 10lb sledge hammer from the top of an 8 foot ladder, and busted 4 different tiles.  How does this happen?  Beats me.

All I know is cutting away grout with a utility knife, smashing what parts of the tile weren’t already broken by the above magic flying sledge hammer, and scraping away thinset is not fun.  Nor is fun to discover that 3 of the 4 tiles had been placed over flex-guard which is an absolute joy to try and scrape up.

Anyway, complaining side, tiles were fixed, customer was happy, all is well in the tileverse.

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Wood look Tile planks. Are they the better option?

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                       Which one is the tile?

 

Tile flooring comes in many shapes, sizes and textures these days, and a wood look is no exception.

Wood tile planks are a big seller today.  With manufactures printing a high definition wood look on tile textured to simulate wood, even savvy homeowners can be fooled.

In addition to that realistic look, you do not have the traditional problems of real wood floors.  Wear and tear is a non issue.  You are not going to see fading, gouges, wear patterns on high traffic areas, and you won’t have to sand and reseal them.  If you spill water on your floor, you’ve got nothing to worry about.  Its tile.  It isn’t going to warp on you if you leave it sit too long.

Now, with everything positive, you’re probably wondering what the downside is.  Truth is, depending on the tile, they can get pretty expensive.  They do a great job of helping keep your home cool in the summer, but in the winter, they may not be so comfortable to walk on bare foot, especially in a cooler climate.  Tile flooring can be unforgiving.  If you drop a glass or plate, chances are better than not that they are going to shatter.  They can also be uncomfortable to stand on for long periods of time.

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Pros:

  • Gorgeous look – Self explanatory.  These tiles look great.
  • Durability – Tiles can take quite a bit more of a beating than a wood floor.
  • Longevity – You don’t have to worry about wear patterns on high travel areas, sanding, and refinishing every few years.  Tiles are not going to fade.
  • Plenty of options – Manufactures are releasing a huge variety of sizes, colors and finishes.

Cons:

  • Installation can be tricky – The installer needs to be aware of how to use the proper width of grout, and find a matching color to the tile to really bring that wood look out, other wise it will be pretty obvious the floor is actually tile.
  • Its a hard surface – If you drop something fragile on it – it will break.  Standing on it for long periods of time can be uncomfortable.
  • Tile doesn’t retain heat – Walking around on tile flooring in the winter barefoot can be fairly uncomfortable.
  • Repairing a damaged tile can be tricky later down the road – Generally, installers will leave you with extra tiles after an installation for repairs later down the road, but eventually they might run out.  If they do, trying to find a matching tile can be extremely hard, or even impossible as finding a matching dye lot  can be like finding a needle in a haystack.

wood-plank

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Tile Trends

Gone are the days of boring mono-color 12×12 tiles with little to no personality.

As we continue to upgrade the flooring of many homes in the West Valley of the Phoenix metro area, we contentiously  find ourselves looking at a varied history of flooring and how far its come.  Be it the classic single color 6×6 squares of the 70’s and 80’s to the lovely (and nightmarish to remove) varieties of vinyl and linoleum that we quite frequently find under a do-it-yourselfer’s floor.

These days large pattern (24×24) tiles are in, as are planks designed to simulate wood flooring.  Daltile for example has a vast variety of styles designed to simulate all sorts of wood types.  Realistic renditions of wood are especially prevalent this year. More and more suppliers have begun using digital printing to simulate the look of petrified, aged, or reclaimed wood. A wide range of colors and sizes are available, including squares and the more traditional wood ‘plank’ forms.

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Three-dimensional tiles are also becoming a trend for uses on walls.  When the light refracts off these tiles, it creates an interesting visual effect of movement.

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Sculptural wall tile by Kravitz Design for Lea Ceramiche

Now that there is an emphasis on texture on tile, it isn’t surprising that shimmering metallic tones are becoming popular once again. They are now readily being used as decorative embellishments. Gold tones are adding an air of opulence to any environment, and tile manufactures are offering a wide range of elegant patterns, as well as bold, high profile accents.

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Cottonveneto’s “Gold” embellished wall tile

Innovation is not limited strictly to design these days, either. A technical trend has followed after the development of self laying and quick laying flooring systems, which make installation easier for we professional installers as well as those who like to do it themselves.

In the self-laying category, companies are offering 3/4″-thick porcelain slabs that can be dry laid over gravel, grass, dirt and sand or installed onto a patio or terrace using an adjustable raised flooring system, without the need for grout or adhesives.

Companies are also promoting quick laying floor systems that can be used over existing floors. For example, “Clip Tile” by Imola features an adhesive-free dry interlocking technology. “Del Conca Fast” is a patented system for installing ceramic flooring without joints and mortar.

All of these advances in tile design and technology have had one important result: They’ve allowed consumers to create highly styled and profoundly personalized looks at reasonable prices.

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