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Top 5 Tips: How to Write Successful Tile Installation Specifications

Video Transcript

Developing a good specification is like having an accurate, step-by-step road map that brings you to your destination safely. When the installation specification comes to life, it will look and perform the way it was envisioned by the design team.

While it doesn’t cover all other related trades’ work, specification documents within Section 09 30 00 provide detailed direction and warranty elements for tile and stone installations.   A Clear, Concise and Correct specification guides everyone involved with the project and contains the essentials to protect the owner’s investment.  A good tile spec helps prevent delays from RFIs, costly change orders or even failures in the tile assembly.

Let’s consider our Top 5 Tips for Writing Tile Specifications:

Tip #1: List specific methods and products

It is critical to list the appropriate Tile Council of North America’s installation methods for each tiled area along with the specific products for the Basis of Design. Short cuts, like stating “install tile per TCNA” without listing the actual method or products can have disastrous consequences for suitability, elevations and maintenance.  All too often, only an ANSI standard is referenced and the bidder can submit the lowest cost product meeting that standard, one that may not even be appropriate for your project.  Specifying a Basis of Design establishes the required quality and performance for your particular application such as extra heavy service conditions, wet areas, suspended slabs, balconies and exterior facades.  These demanding conditions require specific higher performing products.   

To help prevent errors and misunderstandings by contractors, delete all non-applicable terms from each specification you submit. This makes your instructions clear and concise.

Tip #2: Properly specify substrate conditions and preparation requirements  

Concrete mixture design and flatness requirements are considered in Division 03 specifications. Unfortunately, concrete shrinks and curls over time, exceeding the tolerances for tile or stone. Curing agents may also inhibit mortars and adhesives from bonding.  Site conditions or project timing can result in excessive moisture vapor emission, impacting certain tiles, stone or membranes. 

The prevalence of large format tile is any tile with any side longer than 15 inches, is driving the need to update tile specs.  Design professionals favor tile with 24, 36, or even 48” dimensions – up to 5 feet by 10 feet  in the case of reduced thickness porcelain tile. 

The larger the tile, the flatter the substrate requirements become. Uneven surfaces create tripping hazards and lead to damaged tile, in addition to a poor appearance.  For large format tile, variations in flatness for walls or floors should not exceed 1/8" in 10 feet or 1/16" in 24 inches. 

The best way to meet or exceed this level of flatness on floors is by using a high strength, rapid-setting self-leveling underlayment like CUSTOM LevelQuik RS. When leveling or proper surface preparation has not been specified, the contractor may try to correct the surface using mortars, maybe even spot bonding which always leads to failure.  Patching compounds and mortar beds may be specified for smaller areas or where buildup is possible.

Any wet or intermittently wet area must be treated with a effective waterproofing membrane meeting the requirements of ANSI A118.10 such as RedGard Waterproofing and Crack Prevention Membrane.  For areas such as steam rooms, specify that the membrane also meet the low permeability requirements of ASTM E96 Method E to prevent damage from moisture vapor. 

Tile and grout may be resistant to water or moisture, but they alone will not protect underlying or adjoining surfaces.

Although many TCNA details list membranes as “optional,” strong consideration should be used before deciding to eliminate them from your specification, as water damage is among the most costly repairs.

For concrete floors with high moisture emission readings, consider including a Moisture Vapor Barrier, such as CUSTOM’s TECH MVC.  Primers and levelers can be applied directly over these membranes. 

Due to fast track projects combined with thinner and less rigid construction methods, hard finishes are more subject to damage caused by movement. These conditions call for crack isolation membranes meeting ANSI A118.12.  RedGard also meets these crack isolation requirements.

Multi-story residential construction should include a sound reduction membrane with a high delta Impact Insulation Class rating to help prevent sound transmission through tiled floors.  In your specification, a thicker membrane may be required and therefore, elevations must be closely considered.  

Tip #3: Include control and movement joints in the tile assembly

The design team is responsible for determining movement joint locations. Properly placed movement joints will help prevent failure of the tile assembly.  Their inclusion is particularly important for demanding installations such as suspended slabs and exteriors.  But any tile exposed to deflection or thermal cycling, even interiors subject to UV exposure, merits extra consideration.  Perimeter joints are commonly overlooked or improperly placed, and a detailed specification will prevent this.  Movement joints must be filled with a suitable sealant that will add flexibility to the assembly, such as color matched, Custom 100% Silicone Sealant.

Address control joint relocation per TCNA detail F125 Full Coverage or F125 Partial Coverage and specify an appropriate crack isolation membrane in PART 2.

It is important to bringexpansionjoints, isolation joints and construction joints directly through new tile work, per TCNA Detail EJ171. However, cracks and control joints can be relocated with a suitable membrane.     

Tip #4: Ensure a long lasting system warranty

There are two ways to ensure that product performance extends beyond minimum ANSI standards.  First, specify a system of products from a manufacturer that will provide the owner with a warranty of not less than 10 years from the date of substantial completion. Second, obtain all of the products in the system from a single source manufacturer to ensure full compatibility and warranty compliance.  System warranties from CUSTOM offer the best coverage in the industry with terms up to a Lifetime.  Coverage includes labor to repair or replace the tile assembly in the event of a system failure when qualifying products are used together.

Tip #5: Update your master spec

The time taken to update your master spec can prevent many issues on a project, including future litigation if something goes wrong. Porcelain tile and installation products along with standards have changed.

Your entire specification document – not just Division 09– should be kept current to reflect these changes.

We understand that this can be time-consuming - in any practice, so CUSTOM’s Commercial Architectural Services Representatives are available to help. They can also assist in customizing your master spec to a project-specific document with the appropriate installation methods and products for each structure.

This team is comprised of experts on TCNA details, ANSI standards, ASTM testing methods and other criteria that must be met to successfully specify and install tile.  Spec writers will also want to take advantage of CUSTOM’s AIA continuing education courses.  Or, join us here at CTU - Custom Technical University – for programs on all types of tile installations.   

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