In my previous post about thinsets I explained what modified thinsets are and how they came about. That post actually started out as this post, I tend to get sidetracked by beer my dog.
Unmodified thinsets, in one form or another, have been around forever. With the expanded use of modified thinsets, the unmodified version had nearly gone by the wayside with everyone except us hard-headed setters who bought unmodified thinsets and added liquid admixes to them – to create modified thinsets. I no longer do this for my modified thinsets, but it was a hard habit to kick.
The reemergence (I know – doesn’t even look like a word) of unmodified thinsets came about in November of 2001. At an NTCA / Schluter workshop the statement was made that the preferred method of installation over ditra is the use of an unmodified thinset.
Mass confusion ensued.
This has continued to this day with even seasoned professionals questioning if unmodified should be used, and if so – why and which unmodified to use. This problem is compounded for do-it-yourselfers who don’t have nearly the understanding nor material and product access that we do. It’s difficult to find and purchase. If it helps, it’s sometimes difficult for us as well.
What is the difference between modified and unmodified thinsets?
Which unmodified thinset is better?
What makes a modified thinset modified?
Why do you drink so much beer?
These are questions I get asked a lot, along with ‘why is my dog on fire’ (because you used the incorrect product for a specific installation).
Unmodified thinset is simply a thinset which does not have any latex polymers or other products added to it. It is essentially portland cement, silica (sand) and lime. Recipes vary, but those are the basics.
History (pay attention – there may be a quiz…)
To understand modified and unmodified you should understand why modified exists. Way back in the 1940’s Henry M. Rothberg was a chemical engineer. Back then the standard installation procedure for floor tile was the full bed method. This was a 2″-3″ deck of portland cement and sand upon which tile was installed. The need for the thickness is at the heart of the development of modified thinsets.
It needed to be that thick in order to retain enough moisture for the cement to fully cure.
In the first part of this tutorial I showed you how to frame up your access panel and get the magnetic latches on it and all lined up. So right now you should have an access panel in the side of your fancy-pants tub and a box of tile just sitting there and laughing at you. If you don’t have that check out the link above. I’ll wait.
That post is the meat and potatoes of building your access panel. This one simply describes the basics of installing your tile as well as placing an insert, if need be, into the access panel.
The biggest thing you’ll need to pay attention to as you install your tile is the perimeter of your access panel. You don’t want to get thinset into it or otherwise block it. If you do – it simply becomes a wall with a lot of pieces.
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.
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.
I am not writing this to tell you why your tile is cracking or why your grout is cracking – I have other posts that may tell you that. (Click on the pretty little links ) If you happen to have Schluter Ditra as your substrate, this post will tell you why either one of the above may be happening.
While Ditra is my preferred membrane for floor tile installation (as well as countertops and tub decks) it absolutely needs to be installed correctly. The two main techniques for this are fairly simple:
Make sure the cavities (waffles) are filled correctly
Install it over an approved substrate (and with the correct type of thinset mortar)
I constantly reiterate the need for a tile installation to be flat. Not necessarily level, but always flat. This is the mark of a true professional and the thing that turns an ‘okay’ installation into a spectacular installation. (Did I just type ‘spectacular? Jesus…) Anyway, the method I use on floor tile to get it flat is fairly simple and ensures that each tile is the exact same height as the tiles surrounding it.
Before I show you that you need to understand, as always, that the substrate preparation is the most important aspect of this. If your tile substrate looks like a skate park you’re never going to get a flat tile installation over the top of it. Your substrate needs to be as flat as you can possibly get it. Take time with your preparation – it makes the rest of the installation run smoothly and gives you a solid foundation.
In the last month or so there has been a lot of hype about Loxscreen’s new polypropylene tile underlayment membrane. That’s just a big phrase for plastic tile underlayment. It is being marketed as a replacement product for Schluter Ditra.
Since I use Schluter Ditra almost exclusively as my preferred underlayment for floor tile I felt it would be a good idea to give this stuff a try. I did not do this in order to find a replacement for Ditra, I’m extremely happy with Ditra. I do feel, however, that due to the way this product is being ‘marketed’ to consumers and since it claims to be a replacement for a product I regularly use, people may want a professional opinion about the way it performs. AND! if there is something better out there – I want it.
Now that your floor looks like a can of silly string exploded (figure 8 ) its time to add more layers to it and cover up all your hard work. If you have not yet done all the hard work then your floor doesn’t look like that. Check out How to install WarmWire Part 1. I’ll wait.
Okay, you may want to check out a speed reading class. Just sayin’. My preferred method is Schluter Ditra underlayment installed atop the WarmWire for your tile installation.
The best method of leveling out your floor for your Ditra would be an SLC or Self-Leveling Cement. This product is mixed with water and poured over your WarmWire. When mixed properly (follow the instructions to the letter – really) and poured it will – wait for it – level itself. When cured you will be left with a level, flat floor.
You can actually install your tile directly to this layer if you chose to do so. I do not chose to do so. I prefer to have an additional uncoupling membrane above these layers then my tile. That’s just how I roll.
One of the best upgrades for a bathroom or kitchen tile floor is the use of in-floor heating. There are several different products available to accomplish the coveted ‘warm tootsies when it is forty below’. One of the more popular products (around here, anyway) is the Suntouch WarmWire radiant in-floor heating. That’s just a really long term for wires that heat your floor (and warm your tootsies).
Now that I’ve used the word ‘tootsies’ twice in one paragraph I believe it’s time to move on.
As an ‘official’ reference the manufacturer’s installation guide can be found online in one of those fancy-ass pdf thingies HERE. It contains all sorts of things that you need to be aware of before starting your installation. While this post will walk you through how I do it, your installation may differ in aspects of which you are unaware. You need to read through the manufacturers information as well before you actually install you WarmWire.
This is as close as I’ll ever get to an official disclaimer: Be aware that the methods I use will differ somewhat from the manufacturer’s instructions intended for the do-it-yourselfer. I am a professional tile guy (really – what are you laughing about?) I accept liability with everything I touch in a customer’s home and accept that risk with the methods I choose to utilize. Read the manufacturer’s instructions before installing your WarmWire!