I actually get a load of traffic to my blog with this very question (welcome to my blog which you found by typing that very question). A lugged tile is simply a tile that is self-spacing.
Lugged tiles are most commonly found in the form of 4 x 4 inch or 6 x 6 inch wall tiles commonly used in bathtub surrounds, small showers, and kitchen backsplashes (normally by builders). Standard tiled bathtubs normally use lugged tiles.
Each tile has two or three little ‘nubs’ on each side of the tile which, when stacked upon one another, keep the tiles a consistent distance apart. You can see the lugs in the photo above (click on it for a full-size version). The nubs of the tile actually stack on top of each other to create a nice, even grout line. With the standard lugged tile this grout line is just a bit under 1/16″.
While the 4 and 6 inch square tiles are the norm there are other sizes and shapes of lugged tiles. Some subway style tiles are lugged as well. These are rectangular, the most common being 3 x 6 inches, and are stacked in a running bond or brick pattern.
Lugged tiles are easier to install because they eliminate the need for spacers. By creating the grout lines in this manner you are normally ensured a consistent space. There are a couple of things you need to watch out for, though. Since the tile are consistently spaced any inconsistencies in your substrate will show up in your grout lines and throw them off.
If you have a bow in your wall, like where the wall goes over pipes or an out-of-plane stud (insert lame joke here) the vertical portion of your grout line will actually widen a bit over that area. Since the tile must conform to the wall this bow will push out and, by following that shape, the face of the tile along that grout line will also push out. Since the nubs are together this will cause the face of the grout line to actually get wider.
This is not normally a big issue but you do need to watch out for it or you will get to a certain point past this hump in the wall (insert another lame joke here) and wonder what the hell happened to your grout line.
This same problem can occur with a horizontal grout line – that’s a bigger problem. Vertical bows in the wall usually only affect the vertical grout line from the tub to the ceiling – so the entire grout line – but does so fairly consistently. Horizontal grout lines, on the other hand, will only affect that area and not the entire grout line which runs through the whole shower, knowwhatimean? That line will get larger then smaller and look like crap – don’t do that.
Another thing to be aware of as you are setting lugged tiles is, due to the small size of the grout line, any inconsistencies can throw the entire installation out of whack in a hurry. You need to constantly check your grout line to ensure it is still level and straight as you set your tile. Due to the size any inconsistencies are magnified – they stick out like RuPaul in a biker bar.
If you just want a basic, quick, inexpensive tile surround for your tub or shower the 4 or 6 inch lugged tiles are the way to go. They are readily available, fairly inexpensive, and easy to work with. You should still take your time to ensure a quality installation, though, and don’t make it look like drunken elves did it in the middle of the night.
Feel free to ask any questions you may have. I’m gonna try to answer some of the very basic ones first – here you go:
Yes, you can use spacers with lugged tile. You need to ensure, however, that the spacers are inserted either between the lugs or between the spaces between the lugs. One or the other to create consistent grout lines.
If your tiles are actually 4 1/4″ square rather than 4″ don’t panic! It’s completely normal and what I commonly refer to as 4″ tiles. There is actually a historical reason behind that particular tile size but that is a subject for another post.
When using lugged tiles you should…
- Use non-sanded grout due to the small grout line
- STILL waterproof your shower first! These, as any tile, are not waterproof. You still need a proper substrate
- Have a flat, level substrate – even more so for these tiles
- Not use them on anything but a wall – they are not made for flooring applications.
- Check the lugs on each side of the tile as you set them – sometimes they get chipped of which will throw off your grout lines.
If you have any other questions just ask away! I answer every one of them – I’m just super cool like that.