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Top 5 Tips for Thin Tile Installation

Video Transcript

Large, thin tile can be used in many applications where traditional tiles can't. However, these tiles present unique and new installation challenges. Get CUSTOM's tips for a simple, successful and durable thin tile installation.

Thin tiles have become very popular. Architects & designers appreciate the distinct, modern look, the great variety available and especially how their low profile makes tiling over existing tile such a time-saving option.

So, what is thin tile and what are its standards for performance? The Tile Council of North America recognized “reduced thickness porcelain tiles” beginning in its 2013 Handbook. They are nominally 3 to 5.5 mm thick and up to 5 by 10 feet in size.  

Since these tiles do not comply with existing ANSI Standards for tile, the industry is developing a new standard to address their unique characteristics and new methods of installation. 

Consider these five important tips for installing large thin tiles:

Tip #1: Carefully plan your project details from beginning to end.

  • These tiles must be transported correctly. Longer forklift forks, transport racks and expandable frames with suction cups are required to move them safely.
  • Since some are very large, make sure you have a passageway to move the tiles into and throughout the building. You’ll need a workplace with plenty of room to maneuver the tile along with some very specialized tools to cut and shape them.
  • Plan on a three or four man crew to properly handle the tiles and prevent very costly breakage.

Tip #2: Choose the correct surface preparation

  • The surface must be flat and true with a maximum surface variation of 1/8 in 10’ or 1/16” in 3’ with no irregularities >1/32”. To achieve this level of flatness, include a self-leveling underlayment in bids where thin tile is installed on floors. 
  • A rapid setting formula such as LevelQuik RS can reduce the setup timeor if weight is a factor, consider a reduced weight product like LevelLite.
  • Installing thin tile on walls also presents some challenges to achieve a flat surface. Depending on the severity, irregularities will need to be floated or patched.
  • For tiling over tile, we recommend MBPMulti-Surface Bonding Primer, which eliminates the need to scarify most surfaces.
  • And if waterproofing or crack isolation is a concern, apply a thin bonded, elastomeric membrane like RedGard to protect the installation. Compressible membranes cannot be used.

Tip #3: Choose an appropriate premium quality mortar. 

  • A thin tile typically requires 1 ¼ - 2 pounds of mortar per square foot.  Using a lightweight mortar will make it much easier on you when backbuttering and lifting these tiles into place.
  • Using MegaLite provides high bond strength and great sag resistance along with an extended open time - essential factors when installing thin tile. 
  • Continuous mortar coverage is particularly important on floor applications. Every effort should be made to achieve 100% coverage, especially at all edges to prevent chipping.
  • A great way to accomplish this is to use a flowable mortar like Complete Contact LFT.  It may even eliminate the need for back buttering.
  • Some thin tiles are reinforced with a resin mesh backing so check with the tile manufacturer to see if they recommend a high-strength polymer-modified mortar or the use of an epoxy bonding mortar. If so, useEBM-Liteas it won’t sag like other epoxy mortars and is also lightweight.
    • Regardless of your adhesive, only 5.5 mm thick tiles are being recommended for installation on floors due to point load considerations.

Tip #4: The way you spread your mortar and bed the tiles can mean the difference between success and failure.

  • The correct technique begins with a trowel that is designed for very large tile, such as CUSTOM’s Premium Notch Trowel.
  • Apply the mortar in one direction with no swirls. Comb it parallel to the shortest side of the panel. This makes it easier to collapse the ridges and remove trapped air. 
  • When back buttering, comb the mortar in the same direction so that when pressed together you get a zipper effect.   Use extreme care lifting panels to check for coverage.
  • Research has proven that the best method to eliminate voids behind the tile on floors is to actually walk across the short side, shuffling your feet as you go. Be sure to do a mockup and check with the tile manufacturer for their recommendations.
  • Using an edge leveling system is a must to help prevent lippage that leads to edge chipping & cracking.

Tip #5: Understand the unique challenges of grouting these tiles. 

  • Stain prevention is especially important.  Pre-treating the tile with a protective product (like Grout Release) can help prevent fine grout particles from adhering to and “pictureframing” the tile edges.
  • Since the grout joints between thin tiles are so shallow, they must be carefully cleaned of mortar and then completely filled to protect the tile edge. 
  • Use a highly stain resistant grout like Fusion Pro or use CEG-Lite epoxy grout in more demanding high traffic areas.
  • Some of these tiles are so large that movement joints are required around each tile! In this case, use Custom’s Commercial 100% Silicone Caulk for the entire project instead of grout.  Mask the tile edges with painter’s tape to make cleanup easier and prevent discoloring the tile. 


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