CUSTOM interviewed experts from around the industry to learn their thoughts about large format tile (LFT). How big will these tiles get? What about thin tile? What do specifiers and installers need to know? How do you define large format tile? Here’s what they had to say.
What is the most important thing to consider when installing large format tiles?
Steve Taylor, Director of Architectural and Technical Marketing, CUSTOM: The larger, thinner or narrower the tile, the more important surface flatness becomes. Lippage is a huge issue because it increases the possibility of chipping. A 1/16" standard allowance is way too much when you are installing a thin tile that is only 1/8" or even 1/4" thick. With plank tiles in particular, we see doming when the porcelain bows with heat, so a one-third offset in a running bond pattern and use of an edge-leveling system are good practices.
How well do specifiers understand the demands of installing large format tile?
William McLaughlin, Resource Manager, Perkowitz+Ruth Architects: People ask me all the time “what is the largest tile that can be installed on a building façade?” The answer is “the largest one that one person can handle on a standard scaffold.” A typical installer of an average height can install up to 24" x 36" and still comfortably maneuver. As they get bigger, it requires two people and you can double the labor cost. I do know that installers are charging more for material to cover breakage and more labor to handle the larger tiles during installation. Installers will become more comfortable and labor cost may get lower once they get used to the new format.
Steve Taylor: There are many jobsite and material requirements that specifiers need to be aware of when selecting installation products. For example, the substrate, tile and other jobsite conditions will dictate the precise mortar to use, but a medium bed, dry-set mortar that can be applied up to 3/4" thick is recommended to support all large format tiles. Of course, the larger the tile, the smaller the desired grout joints from a design perspective. However, the grout joints need to be large enough to accommodate the variations in tile – three times the variation – which is why a minimum 3/16" grout joint is recommended for large tiles.
What do installers need to know about large format and thin tile installations?
Mary Yocum, Western Divisional Sales Manager, Crossville: The explosion in popularity for large tile has definitely changed the industry. As the panel sizes increase, designers, specifiers and contractors need to consider the new challenges of how to work with the tiles. Those who invest in training and take the time to learn about the products are able to stay a step ahead to get the best results on their projects. Tile installation is unique with each project requiring its own needs and training; proper specification and qualified labor are key to lasting success for any professional installation. The industry has pulled together to communicate a unified message: proper specification, adhering to substrate requirements and using qualified labor are the key to success.
Mark McCandless, Owner, Charles McCandless Tile Contractors: The larger the tile, the more prep and work goes into installing the tile. The cost of installing large format tile can be more than double. Proper floor and wall prep is critical. You need to have the substrate floated to a tolerance of 1/16-inch in 10 feet. You also need 100% mortar coverage when installing the large format tile panels.
What are the biggest challenges installing thin and large format tile?
Josh Castelli, VP Operations, Christian Brothers Flooring: The most challenging part is the weight of the tile because you have to work slower. It is good to educate the community not to underbid these jobs. One way to eliminate some issues would be to require qualified installers in the specs, like an NTCA Five Star Contractor.
Mark McCandless: We recently completed a restroom remodel project at Universal Studios where we installed 60" x 120" thin porcelain panels from Fiandre. The tile panels were so big that the general contractor had to cut a hole in the ceiling so we could bring them into the room and stand them up since they installed vertically on the walls. We used templates to layout each panel for cuts. It was especially challenging to cut around all the pipes in the plumbing wall.
Is thin tile a design trend, or is it here to stay?
Mary Yocum: We introduced our first thin large format tile in the summer of 2012, and the interest and acceptance of the tile was slow but gradual. This year, there has been a dramatic increase in the interest in and installation of large tile across the industry. The 1M x 1M size is leading the current customer favorite, but designers and homeowners are starting to look towards 1M x 3M tiles for inspiration. Designers and homeowners love the design and embrace the concept of fewer grout joints. They see the opportunity to use large thin porcelain tile not just in traditionally-tiled areas like floors and countertops, but also in vertical installations where paint and wall coverings are traditionally used.
Josh Castelli: It's here to stay! Thin tile can be intimidating, because everyone is afraid to break it or cause a facture. But once you get the feel for scoring and cutting it, it’s easier than you thought. CUSTOM has been a great partner on the jobsite working with us on the right products and techniques. Thin tile will be improved over time to have better breaking strength and denseness.