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Top 5 Tips for Exterior Tile Installations and Balconies

Video Transcript

Many projects now call for setting tile in exterior conditions. These may be commercial or residential applications using tile or stone on patios, decks, walls or building facades.  One example is tiled balconies, which have become popular as an extension of interior space.  Exposure to extreme temperatures and moisture are just a few of the elements that must be carefully considered.

Here are our top 5 tips for your next exterior tile installation.

Tip #1: Only Install Tile that can Hold Up to the Elements

Ideally, all exterior rated tile should be appropriate for the weather in North America, and can survive freeze/thaw cycles.  Regardless of where the project is located, it should have a maximum porosity of 3% -- even less in areas where harsh weather prevails in the winter, because the less absorbent the material, the lower the likelihood of ice crystals forming inside and cracking the tile.

Currently, there is no ANSI standard encompassing all exterior tiles. However, any tile set on an outdoor walking surface should have a dynamic coefficient of friction (or D.C.O.F) of at least .42. This will meet the requirements of ANSI A137.1 for slip resistance of interior ceramic tile when wet. Check with the tile manufacturer about the suitability of the material for your project and consult the absorption and D.C.O.F. test results.

Tip #2: Incorporate Movement Joints Correctly

In addition to freezing, tile installed outdoors must be able to handle the fluctuations of thermal expansion and contraction. All tiles will absorb heat from the sun and darker tile will absorb the most. Temperatures can change dramatically and a coolrain shower on hot black stone causes rapid contraction. Exposure to sun andsnow means that the installation must accommodate significant movement without sustaining damage from the freeze and thaw. 

To help with these conditions, the Tile Council of North America recommends the installation of movement joints every 8 to 12 feet, using a flexible sealant like CUSTOM’s Commercial 100% Silicone Caulk. We strongly suggest adding movement joints every 8 feet and making them as wide as possible. Against any building walls, make your joints at least 4 times the amount of normal movement expected; especially for an above-ground installation that is cantilevered -- like a balcony -- and don’t forget to add soft joints to all steps and risers. Never tile over joints in existing concrete or make the movement joint smaller.

Tip #3: Tiling Balconies Requires Extra Planning

Think of balconies as shower stalls – only you can’t just turn off the water. Waterproofing is central to the longevity of tile work installed on raised porches, decks or balconies -- any area that abuts or covers an inhabited space. The primary concern is draining water away from the structure or to a drain, preventing water from entering the building. With proper care and planning, both goals can be accomplished for an installation that will resist the elements.

The TCNA Handbook offers several methods for tiled balconies and decks – F103, 103B and 104, which describes direct bonding.  Each of these methods requires a pre-sloped concrete subfloor for proper drainage.  The construction must also comply with local builder codes. To deflect water away from the building, the slope on the balcony or deck must have a minimum pitch of ¼-inch per foot towards the drains.   No birdbaths or divots in the slope are allowed!

Proper flashing must be installed to prevent seepage, including a coved reglet embedded into the wall above the tile, mortar and waterproofing layer. Include a waterproofing membrane that meets or exceeds ANSI A118.10 (and A118.12 if possible) and that is rated by the manufacturer for these applications.  Liquid applied RedGard Waterproofing and Crack Prevention membrane serves a dual purpose in exterior conditions, protecting both the tile and the structure.  When tiling over green concrete slab on grade with high moisture content, SpiderWeb II Uncoupling Mat is an excellent choice for waterproofing and crack isolation.  All movement joints and any intrusions – including drains or balusters – will require a flexible sealant.

Study the appropriate method and follow the product manufacturer’s directions carefully throughout each step. Be sure to use a premium quality mortar that is rated for above ground use, like FlexBond Crack Prevention Mortar -- and if you’re going to tile a balcony or deck, make sure you have a highly experienced installer on the job. 

Tip #4: Protect the Installation during Tile Setting

The outdoor environment can wreak havoc before you even begin. Keep in mind, both the installation materials and the environment should stay between 50-90 degrees during the work.  Fully protect the project site from sun, wind and rain for the duration of the tile setting process and throughout all stages of the cure.  Fast curing waterproofing, mortars and grouts can help prevent an extended period of tenting. 

When working with a natural stone, it should be sealed to protect it from the elements and outdoor contaminants. More porous stone can benefit from 6-sided treatment with a penetrating sealer, like Aqua Mix Penetrating Sealer or TileLab SurfaceGard Penetrating Sealer, prior to bedding the tile.

To deepen and enhance the color of natural stone like travertine or slate, apply an enhancing sealer like Enrich’N’Seal – but do this after the tile is installed.   Also, enhancing sealers cannot be applied over stones or tiles that have been previously treated with a penetrating sealer.

Tip #5: Use Quality Tile Installation Products Formulated for Exterior Use

Like the tile, the installation products need to stand up to harsh weather conditions.  Always use a polymer-modified dry-set mortar that is rated for exterior use and exposure to wet conditions.

To support the weight of heavy natural stone and large format tile, consider ProLite Tile and Stone Mortar.  For non-sag applications on exterior walls and all floors, CUSTOM offers MegaLite Crack Prevention Mortar with premium bond strength and flexibility.  These lightweight formulas are easier to carry around a jobsite and offer superior workability.

If you are using a cementitious grout, make sure it meets or exceeds ANSI A118.7 and will not effloresce.   CUSTOM’s Prism SureColor Grout is a fast-curing option that delivers consistent color without mottling or shading, regardless of temperature or humidity. With Prism, you won’t have to worry about efflorescence.

Using a system of eligible CUSTOM products, you can set exterior tile confidently– even on a balcony – and qualify for up to a Lifetime System Warranty on the project.  

If you'd like to know more about tiling exteriors, or how CUSTOM products can help you with your next project, please visit our website——or give us a call. And be sure to “like” our video, share it and subscribe for the latest tips on tile installation.

Thanks again for joining us at Custom Technical University. See you at our next edition of CUSTOM's Top 5 Tips!

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