A common misconception about tile and grout is that they are waterproof. Once you install tile in your shower you have a big waterproof box that will last forever. Ummm, no.
Tile and stone (as well as grout) will actually retain water. How much water it retains is directly related to the density of the tile. For instance, porcelain tile is much more dense than travertine. This means that travertine will retain more moisture and allow more water to seep through to your substrate. If you happen to have travertine in your shower – don’t panic. As long as it was installed properly it will be fine.
So how do they figure this out?
When a specific type or brand of tile or stone is manufactured for production, the company will determine its density. There are four different categories into which each tile may be placed.
This is determined by weighing the particular tile, submerging it in water for a period of time, then weighing it again. The difference in the two weights determines the density or absorption of that product. Basically how much water it holds. It will then be placed into one of the four categories.
- Non-vitreous: These are tiles that absorb 7% or more of its body weight. These are for indoor use only, normally on vertical surfaces such as backsplashes and wainscots.
- Semi-vitreous: These absorb between 3% and 7%. These are also for indoor use only.
- Vitreous: Absorb between 0.5% and 3%. These tiles may be used for interior and exterior applications.
- Impervious: These are the most dense (porcelain) and absorb between 0.001% and 0.5% of their weight in water. They are suitable for all applications.
Depending upon where you intend to install the tile you may need to consider this. In most cases it’s not an issue. Only in the most extreme or unusual circumstance will you need to take into account the category of your particular tile. A tiled patio in Alaska, for instance. If you have a tile that absorbs a considerable amount of moisture and it freezes, well, you’re gettin’ a new patio.
The biggest factor to consider is the amount of water to which the tile will be exposed. (Along with the possibility of freezing, of course.) For anything up to and including a regular shower, it isn’t necessarily an issue. These applications, using proper methods, should be at least water resistant before a box of tile is even opened.
Why is this an issue?
With any tile application, the durability of the tile will be only as good as what is beneath the tile! Let me say type that again – that again.
If you have a wall in your shower with just plain drywall and you stick your tile to it, it may look good for about a year. It may look good for much longer. But, if moisture gets behind the tile (and it will) through the drywall, to the framing studs, well, you’re screwed.
Your framing studs are (most likely) just simple 2 X 4’s. If even a minute amount of moisture from your shower reaches it all hell’s gonna break loose. Common studs will do what we call “wick” moisture. It is aptly named because it acts just like a candle wick (tile guys are simple folk).If you place one end of a candle wick in water the other end will be soaked in short order. Wooden studs do the same thing.
Think of it as a water highway. The water will simply continue along that same path until it finds something else to soak into. That something else is more wood. When wood gets wet it . . . wait for it . . . swells. Normally that swell has only one place it’s going – right against the drywall and into the back of your tile. Tile’s will crack, grout will crack, your patience will crack, and the end of the world will be right around the corner. You get the idea.
This is not (normally) a subject that needs to be considered when installing tile on your floor. A shower (or other wet area) is unique in that it is subjected to a great amount of water on a regular basis. Unless your kitchen is a swimming pool you really don’t need to be that concerned about it.
Just understand that tile and grout are not waterproof so care needs to be taken to eliminate as much moisture from the surfaces as is realistic in any given application. You know – don’t make your kitchen floor a swimming pool.