A common misconception about tile and grout is that grout will somehow assist in stabilizing a tile installation. It does not. Unless you use epoxy grout it will add no significant structural elements at all.

So why should I use grout?

Grout is, structurally speaking typing, simply there to fill the spaces between tiles. That is an oversimplification, but it describes the grout’s function. More to the point, it is there to keep other things out of that space. Without grout the possibility of dirt, grime and all sorts of unruly, unwanted things may collect in the spaces between tiles. This may lead to not only unhealthy conditions, but also the chance of damaging your tile while trying to remove those things.

Does epoxy grout help stabilize tile?

If you’ve read any of my other posts regarding grout you have more than likely seen me state that epoxy is different. This subject is no exception.

Epoxy grout will actually add to the stability of your tile installation – to an extent. Epoxy will stabilize only the area between the tiles – the grout lines. It does not stabilize your tile enough to replace proper installation methods. This is not what epoxy grout is intended for.

A couple of reasons for using epoxy grout include the durability, ease of cleaning, and its ability to withstand staining. It is not intended as a product to make a sub-par installation correct. [click to continue…]

Elastomeric or liquid waterproofing membranes are one of the most convenient methods of waterproofing shower walls before installing tile. These membranes consist of products such as Custom Building Products’ Redgard and Laticrete’s Hydrobarrier and Hydroban and Mapei’s Aquadefense. I will refer to all the membranes as Redgard for the purposes of this post, but they all work nearly the same way.

These materials can be installed with a regular paint brush, paint roller, trowel, or even sprayed on. They are applied to your shower walls then tile is installed directly onto it. When I use these products I always use a cement-based backerboard as the wall substrate without a plastic vapor barrier.

redgardIt is imperative that you do not install plastic behind your walls since this would create two waterproof membranes with your substrate between them. Having two barriers this close together leaves open the chance of trapping moisture between them with no way for it to evaporate. This may lead to mold.You must also tape the backerboard seams with fiberglass mesh drywall tape. [click to continue…]

Installing cement backerboard is one of the more popular choices for a shower wall substrate. Cement backerboards include Hardiebacker, Durock, Fiberboard, wonderboard, and similar products. These materials bridge the gap between expense and effectiveness. When installed properly they will give you many, many years of durable shower construction.

The advantage of cement backerboards is that, while not waterproof, they are dimensionally stable when wet. That just means that when they get wet they do not swell up. Any swelling behind tile is a bad thing. It will lead to cracking grout, tile, and all sorts of bad things.

Waterproofing your studs

To install the backerboard you must have a vapor barrier between it and the wooden wall studs. While the backerboard will not swell when wet, your wall studs will. You must prevent any moisture from reaching them. The preferred material for a vapor barrier would be 4 mil or thicker plastic sheeting which can be purchased at places like Home Depot or any hardware store. You can also use tar paper or roofing paper, the thick black paper used under shingles. Although I personally do not use that, it is an acceptable barrier. [click to continue…]

Before installing tile on your floor you must make sure your floor is properly prepared.  A properly prepared floor does not have to be level. It must, however, be flat.

The only time the levelness (is that a word?) must be taken into consideration is when drainage is an issue, such as on a porch or in a shower. In those cases you must make sure your floor is not level – it has to be angled toward a drainage area.

If your floor will not be subjected to water regularly, such as a kitchen or bathroom floor, it does not necessarily have to be level. That does not mean you can have a 45 degree angle from your door to the cabinet (although I suppose you could if you wanted), it just means if your floor is not absolutely level it will not negatively affect your tile installation.

One of the things you must make sure of, among other things, is that your floor is flat. If it is not it will be difficult to set your tiles without what we call “lippage”. That’s a ridiculous word, isn’t it? Lippage simply describes the difference in the height of two adjacent tiles. If you have a tile that sticks up higher than the tile next to it you have lippage. You don’t want that. Starting with a flat floor helps prevent it.

When prepping your floor for tile trade your level for a straight edge. Don’t be concerned with how level your floor is, be concerned with how flat it is.

When there is a significant amount of movement on the substrate of a tiled floor or wall it may lead to grout cracking. When this happens it will leave what looks like a crack in the grout where it has come away from the tile. Unless your grout was installed very recently this is always due to movement in the tile. If your grout is new it may be caused by incorrectly mixed grout. With grout that has been doing this for a while it may lead to whole chunks of grout coming loose and leaving large voids in your grout lines.

While it may be tempting to simply mix up some more grout and fill these voids you need to know that it will not last. If you do this it will fill the grout lines just like new but over time will lead to the same problem. Grout over grout is not a permanent solution.

Why it won’t last

The first reason is that when you go over the top of grout that is already cured with new grout, there is no adhesion to the old grout. It will instead simply create a layer of grout on top of the old grout. These layers have no way of  sticking to each other. When you grout tile the grout actually sticks to the sides of the tile rather than whatever substrate is beneath it. While it will stick to the substrate at the bottom of the grout lines to an extent, it is not a permanent bond. Attempting to grout over the top of old grout is simply stacking two seperate layers of grout. It will always remain two seperate layers.

The second reason is no matter how much of the old grout you may take out to install new, if you do not fix the actual reason the grout failed in the first place, eventually the same thing will happen again. As with any problem you may encounter with a tile installation, you must figure out the initial cause and fix it to prevent repeated problems. This is an involved process which I will cover in a different article. For now I’ll stick with the solution for the grout problem. [click to continue…]

One of the most asked questions by do-it-yourselfer’s is whether they should use caulk or grout in the corners. Industry standards state that a flexible material be used at all changes of plane. But! – if you ask a hundred different professionals you will more than likely receive fifty of each answer.  While there are pros and cons of each, I am in the camp that uses caulk. That being the case, I will discuss using grout first. I’m backwards like that.

Using Grout at Changes of Plane

While the phrase “changes of plane” may sound a bit uppity or technical – it’s not. It simply describes the corner or edge of any surface that changes direction such as a corner, a wall to a floor, or a wall to the tub edge. Many professionals simply grout that corner as they do any other space between the tiles. There are a couple of things that must be taken into consideration before choosing this method.

  1. Your walls and the framing of your shower must be absolutely rock solid. I do mean absolutely. Grout is a cement-based product and as such is not meant to flex. If your wall moves your grout will eventually crack – it’s that simple.
  2. The space between the tiles at the change of plane must be large enough (for sanded grout) or small enough (for non-sanded grout) to be able to support the grout. That simply means that if you are using sanded grout you cannot butt the tiles against each other at the corner and expect to be able to force grout into it. It will not stay if the grout has no grout line to hold onto – if it is simply attempting to grab onto the face of the tiles at a 90 degree angle. There must be a grout line at the changes of plane.
  3. You must decide you are going to use grout at the changes of plane before you install the tile. You can then make sure to leave a line for the grout as well as adding additional support for any spots that may move even the tiniest bit (which it should not do anyway).

If you have taken the above points into consideration and still decide to use grout in the corners – go ahead. The big advantages of using grout here is that it will match all the grout lines and it will never have to be replaced. So although extra care must be taken to properly use grout at your plane changes, the advantages for some people are worth the extra time. [click to continue…]

The size of grout lines for tile is something that comes up on almost every tile installation. The secret no professional will tell you is there is really no set or absolute proper size for your grout lines. There are some guidelines that need to be followed but the actual size is more of a personal choice than it is a set width.

Grout line guidelines

Since grout line widths are generally a personal preference I’ll let you know what mine are. I separate most tiles into three different categories:

  • Small format tile – Tiles up to and including 8 X 8 inches square.
  • Regular – 12 X 12 up to 16 X 16 inches square.
  • Large format tile – 18 X 18 inches and larger.

These are not technically official category names for tile sizes – it’s just what I call them. I’m weird like that.

Small format tile

A lot of smaller format tiles are self-spacing. That means that on either two or four sides of each tile there are what are called “lugs”. Lugged tile have small bumps or protrusions on the sides which are set directly against the tile next to it. Most of these tiles are made specifically for vertical applications, those are shower walls, backsplashes, etc., rather than floors.

The lugs on the tiles allow them to be stacked atop one another and keep the grout lines consistent throughout the installation. For tiles with lugs on only two sides of each tile you must make sure they are all stacked in the same direction, that the lugs are not butted against each other. Normally the lugs will create grout lines that are 1/32 to 1/16 of an inch.

For small format tiles that do not have lugs I will usually use 1/16″ spacers. Depending upon the texture and consistency of the tiles I may use 1/8″ spacers on occasion. For instance 8 inch slate tiles will usually look better with a slightly larger grout line.

If you prefer larger grout lines but have lugged tiles – don’t panic. You can still use spacers with the lugs. To ensure consistency you need to make sure that you either put the spacers between all the lugs or between the spaces the lugs are not. In other words do not put a spacer between the lugs on one tile and between spaces where there are not lugs on another. To figure out the size of your grout lines you also need to add the size of the lugs to the size of the spacer if you use the spacers between them. [click to continue…]

There are three basic materials used to set tile.

  • Mastic
  • Thinset Mortar
  • Epoxy

For each installation there is a specific material you should be using. Before you start any tile installation you should ensure that the material you choose is suitable for that application.

Mastic

Mastic is a latex or solvent based adhesive that cures by evaporation. It is sold in airtight containers (buckets) and requires no mixing. It is ready to use immediately. It is suitable only for non-wet applications.

Mastic should never be used for showers or floors! Ever! When mastic gets wet the water will re-emulsify the adhesive base. This means that mastic turns to goo when it gets wet. Goo will not keep your tiles on the wall. Every one of the failed showers that I’ve ever replaced were installed with mastic.

With that said typed, mastic does have its place. It is “stickier” than thinset mortar which is why some prefer to use it – for everything. It should only be used in non-wet areas such as a backsplash, wainscot, or fireplace. An area that is not consistently exposed to water or moisture. It should also only be used on tiles smaller than 6 inches square.

Think about it like this: mastic is stored in a bucket with a lid on it. This keeps it from being exposed to air which would cause it to cure (dry). If you spread it on your wall and place a 12 X 12 inch tile on it, that’s just like putting the lid back on the bucket. It will never fully cure. If any moisture gets behind that tile with the mastic it will eventually re-emulsify and lose adhesion. That means is that your tile is going to fall off the wall.

There is also a product called “premixed thinset adhesive”. This product is pushed as a suitable material with which to set tile – it is not. It is only mastic with sand added to it. While sand does help materials from shrinking as it sets, it does not make mastic suitable for showers or floors. [click to continue…]

This is a question I get asked from time to time. The short answer is no, you should not. Although grout does not add to the stability of the tile installation (unless it is epoxy grout), you still need to grout it.

Why you need grout

A lot of natural stones, namely granites and marbles, are manufactured to be consistently sized. For the most part all the tiles are identical.  This makes a lot of people want to install them without grout lines. Although in some people’s opinion butting the tiles against one another looks better than having even the smallest grout lines, it is not a recommended installation procedure.

Even if all the tiles look like they are the same size I can nearly guarantee they are not. Unless they are “rectified” they will differ, even if only a tiny amount, from tile to tile. Attempting to butt the tiles will result in a “jog” of the lines between them. The larger the area, the more those lines will run off. By leaving even 1/32 of an inch grout line you will be able to compensate for the difference in tile widths. [click to continue…]

There are three basic types of grout available for your tile installation. They are:

  • Non-Sanded (also known as Unsanded)
  • Sanded
  • Epoxy

Choosing the correct grout for your particular installation will not only complete the job correctly, it will also cut down on maintenance. Properly installed and sealed grout will last for the life of your tile. So which to use and when?

Non-Sanded (or Unsanded) Grout

Unsanded grout is made specifically for grout lines smaller than 1/8 inch wide.  This is a general rule. I use unsanded grout only in tile with grout lines smaller than 1/16″. Unsanded grout (all grout to different degrees) will shrink as it cures. The reason for only using it in smaller grout lines is the wider the grout lines, the more grout must be used to fill them. The more grout you have, the more it will shrink. If you try to fill grout lines that are too large the grout will shrink enough to pull away from the sides of the tile.

Unsanded grout is easier to work with, especially on vertical surfaces such as a shower wall, because  it is “stickier” than the sanded variety. You can spread it onto the wall and it will stick there while you force it into the grout lines. It is also much easier on the hands than sanded.  Although it is easier to work with, you need to make sure that the application for which you are using it is correct. [click to continue…]

If you need to decide which method is best for you I have a free shower waterproofing manual that you can download here. Shower waterproofing manual. Go get it – it’s free! And I’m not gonna use one of those damn annoying pop-ups! I hate those things…

There are several ways to prepare the wall of a shower for tile. Depending upon what was originally there, what stage the shower rebuild is currently in, and what type of tile you plan to install plays a minor part in choosing which method to use.

The most critical aspects of which product to choose are: how much work you’re willing to put in and how much money you’re willing to spend. The end result should be the same – a waterproof box. The methods used to accomplish that vary in effectiveness and cost. So we’ll start with what I consider the most bullet-proof method.

Kerdi Shower System

A company called Schluter makes a shower system called Kerdi. The entire system, which can include everything from the wall membrane down to the entire shower base, is considered by many professionals to currently be the top of the line in shower substrates and waterproofing membranes. And no, I don’t work for them. I don’t owe them money. And they don’t take me on those all expense paid vacations to Bermuda – bastards. I like their products anyway.

The waterproof membrane made by Schluter is called . . . well, Kerdi. It’s bright orange and you can see it from space. It is installed over regular drywall or cement backerboard with regular thinset. It makes your shower a big bright orange waterproof box that glows in the dark. Okay, it doesn’t glow in the dark.

The material is difficult to describe with words, it’s kind of like a fleece-lined rubber(ish) membrane. I like it for two reasons: It is the best available and it happens to be the easiest, least work intensive option (once you are used to working with it). While there is a fairly large learning curve to effectively work with it, Kerdi is fairly easy and very well documented. There is a wealth of infomation on the internet about it. Just Google Kerdi. Go ahead, I dare ya. Noble company also makes a similar membrane called NobleSeal, but it isn’t pretty bright orange.

Liquid Membranes

After Kerdi, a brush or roller applied liquid membrane such as RedGard works very well. It is applied with a brush or roller like a thick paint. It’s bright pink. You coat it once, after it changes to red, coat it again. Usually two coats is sufficient for any shower (except steam showers). After is sets overnight just go in and stick the tile to the membrane itself. It is a bit expensive, but they are also simple and quick to install.

There are several of these membranes on the market, the most common being Redgard. My favorite is Laticrete Hydroban. Laticrete also makes Hydrobarrier and Mapei has Aquadefense. They are all pretty much comparable.

Preparing shower walls with RedGard

If you are building a shower and want a manual describing the entire process you can find it here: Liquid waterproofing membranes for shower floors and walls

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Which tile to choose depends mostly upon where you plan to install it and, of course, whether or not is has the look you want for that specific application.For the former I will explain several things to take into consideration. The latter is entirely up to you (unless you’re the husband, in which case it’s up to your wife). So before you choose your tile you need to consider a couple of things.

Where are you installing the tile?

If it will be installed on a wall in a non-wet area, you do not need to worry about much except whether or not you like the way it looks. A non-wet area is defined as an area that is not regularly exposed to a significant amount of water. Wainscots, backsplashes, and fireplaces are examples on non-wet areas.

If it will be installed in a wet area, such as a shower, you need to take into consideration the absorption rate of the tile to an extent. Although it is not that dire to consider this, the lower the percentage of absorption, the better it will be for your application.

You can install travertine in a shower but porcelain will be easier to take care of. An application such as a steam shower or exterior patio would suggest a lower absorption rate. A good rule of thumb is the higher the chance of exposure to moisture and temperature, the lower the absorption rate you want.

If the tile will be installed on a floor you will also want to consider what is called the Static Coefficient of Friction. That’s just a big phrase to describe how slippery a tile is.

This number will (usually) be below one.  Just consider this number to be between 1 and 10. For instance, consider a SCOF (Static Coefficient of Friction) or COF of 0.5 to be a 5. This is the number which most standards consider “slip resistant”.The higher the number, the less slippery it will be.

Tile will have two COF numbers – one for wet and one for dry. You may want to consider both numbers for an application such as a bathroom or shower floor or a patio. Consider a 1 (0.1) to be akin to ice and a 10 (1.0) to be sandpaper.

Other factors to take into consideration include the size of the tile as well as the size of the grout lines (to a smaller degree).  If you have 2 inch by 2 inch tile with fairly large grout lines, such as a shower floor mosaic,  it will have more friction than 18 X 18 inch tiles with 1/16 grout lines. The grout lines add friction because they are uneven and break up the flat, continuous surface of the tile.

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