Setting different thicknesses of tile for inserts

by Roger

There are numerous really cool mosaics and liners which can be installed as an accent into your main field tile to add a unique touch to an otherwise standard tile installation. These are products such as glass and natural stone mosaics, individual painted tiles, or custom accents.

The biggest problem with these, however, is they are oftentimes not the same thickness as your main tile – they are usually thinner. This is especially true of most glass mosaics. I usually solve this problem with Schluter Ditra. Although I use ditra as my example in this post, you can also use regular 1/4″ backerboard if your inserts are significantly thinner.

glass mosaic insert

Photo 1

See that glass (and metal) mosaic right there? (Photo 1 – You can click on it for a size larger than a small dog) It’s setting inside the main linear mosaics I’m installing on a backsplash. See how much thinner it is than the surrounding tile? That’s what we’re gonna fix. When you have your tile installed you want it all to be on the same flat plane without either tile sticking out (or sinking back). The best way to do this is to have an additional substrate behind your thinner tile to bump it out flush with the rest.

You want to cut your ditra about 1/16″ smaller than the overall size of your insert. You want to make sure you have enough support behind the insert, but you don’t want it larger. (Photo 2)

glass mosaic insert with ditra

Photo 2

glass mosaic insert with ditra

Photo 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Photo 3 you can see where I’ve flipped the ditra upside down so the fleece side is out. You want to install your insert onto the fleece side rather than the plastic, dovetailed side. this is much easier, especially with smaller tiles, and gives the insert more adhesion on the backside once installed. The thinset will ‘lock’ it to the wall doing it this way.

Photos 4 and 5 show how the ditra bumps it up to the same height as the field tile. If your insert is a LOT thinner, it may be better to use the 1/4″ backerboard, although you can double-up the ditra to make it thicker.

glass mosaic insert with ditra

Photo 4

glass mosaic insert with ditra

Photo 5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once you get your ditra and inserts cut to size (cut all of them at once) get your thinset mixed up and cover the entire fleece side of the ditra inserts. Make sure the entire surface is covered, most mosaics are fairly small and any uncovered areas may lead to just one or two pieces not being adhered well. Spread it just like these here:

glass mosaic insert with ditra

Photo 6

glass mosaic insert with ditra

Photo 7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then place your inserts onto the ditra and press down slightly – only slightly! Before you firmly press the inserts and the ditra together you want to flip them upside down. Doing this ensures that the face of your inserts, the shiny part that makes people go ‘ooooh, pretty’, is completely flat. Flipping them upside down, then pressing down firmly, will get the entire face totally flat and get a full bond onto the ditra. It is always best to use a flat surface on the back, squeezing them between the flat surface and the flat countertop or bench – whatever your wife lets you use. Like these:

glass mosaic insert with ditra

Photo 8

glass mosaic insert with ditra

Photo 9

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once you get them all installed to the ditra, flipped, and pressed down firmly to ensure a full bond – leave them alone! Give the thinset at least three hours to cure and get a grab, ideally let them set overnight. Really, leave them alone. Stop staring at them. Go have a beer Pepsi and have some dinner. We’ll get to them later.

glass mosaic insert with ditra

STOP STARING! GO AWAY...

Once the thinset is cured you can fill the dovetails with the flat side of your trowel, then comb on the thinset with the notched side and install them into your design. You can cut your main field tile with spaces large enough for your insert (don’t forget the measurement for the grout line around the mosaics). And tile away. When you’re finished you should have two different tiles, with different thicknesses, installed flush on the same plane. Like this here:

glass mosaic insert with ditra

Finished

This method works for backsplashes, shower walls, even tile floors. As long as you have good contact with the insert to the ditra, and good contact behind the ditra to the substrate, you should have a nice, flush tile installation which makes people go ‘ooooh, pretty’. Like these here:

glass mosaic insert with ditra

Ooooh, Pretty...

Porcelain backsplash tile installation with glass mosaic inserts in Fort Collins, Colorado

Ooooh, Pretty < See?

 

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David

Hi Roger,

My question is: when installing one row of 12″ x 24″ heavy tile above 3 rows of smaller decorative tile (two rows of 2″ x 4″ separated by one row of 1″ x 2″
), how do you keep the upper heavier row of tile from squeezing the the lower three rows of decorative tile together.

Reply

Roger

Hi David,

You either use hard spacers in the smaller tile, use a non-sag thinset, or wait until the smaller rows have cured to install the larger above them.

Reply

Nathan

Hi Roger,

I’ve installed some slate tile “wainscot” to the height of my vanity and continued it all the way to my bathtub surround. Picture here: http://i.imgur.com/KewvZpq.jpg

Next I’m planning on putting in a 8″ tall strip of glass/stone mosaic around the whole area. It wraps around the room for a total length of about 18 feet. That’ll be the top of the wainscot area, but then of course in the tub I’ll continue with the slate to the ceiling, with another smaller 4″ strip of mosaic somewhere in there.

Some of the fine folks at the JohnBridge.com forums also recommended using Ditra to butt out the mosaic, and I found your article helpful, but it seems your method wouldn’t exactly work since I’m doing a full length of mosaic, not just little pieces. Any tips on how to go about it?

Thanks!

Reply

Roger

Hi Nathan,

It works exactly the same way, you would just have a full strip of ditra all the way around the room beneath the mosaics.

Reply

Nathan

Thanks for the response! I was referring to the fact that you thinset the mosaic to the Ditra before putting the Ditra on the wall (I didn’t see how that could work with a really long section since the thinset would crack), and how you installed the Ditra flipped so that the fleece is against the mosaic instead of against the wall.

I actually ended up putting the Ditra up yesterday (fleece side against the wall) and plan to fill in the waffles with thinset and add the mosaic tonight. Picture here: http://i.imgur.com/BUPhDD7.jpg

I may even add a layer of KERDI between the Ditra and mosaic because the Ditra still doesn’t quite push the mosaic out far enough.

Reply

Dave Bear

What type of thinset do you use when putting the Ditra with tile on the wall, modified or unmodified?

Reply

Roger

Hi Dave,

You can use either. If you are installing glass tile you should use modified, anything else can be installed with either one.

Reply

Denise

My tile guy just installed my tub surround with a 4″ row of glass tiles that are 1/8″ thinner than my field tile. The tile guy said he has had problems with the glass tiles falling off if he used something behind them to make the them the same thickness as my field tile. Have you experienced this problem if tiles falling off over time? When I asked him if he could put mud on the wall and let it dry and then put more mud on when he places the tiles so they would be flush with the field tile, he got defensive about his work and said it would take more time to do that. He assured me I would like the finished product. I’m not convinced after reading this. any suggestions on how to handle this.

Reply

Roger

Hi Denise,

No, I’ve never had any problems with tile falling off. If it does it means they weren’t properly installed to begin with.

Reply

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