Installer Briefing: Large Format Tile Installers talk about the installation requirements for popular large format tile. September-October 2004
September 1st, 2004


So how large is large? Recently, the Tile Council of America, Tile Handbook for Installing Ceramic Tile Committee agreed large unit tiles were 8-inches and larger.

Since the late 1980s, the dimensions of ceramic tiles have grown. As first 8- and then 12-inch tiles became standard, stone tile dimensions increased and ceramic tile followed suit with 16-,18- and 24-inch sizes in squares and rectangles. Technology has not yet found a limit to growing tile dimensions, so bigger will continue to be better for many end users.

Although large format tile is most often installed on floors, it’s also becoming increasingly popular on walls, countertops and fireplaces. It mimics stone at a fraction of the cost, minimizes grout, and results in a genuinely elegant look.

However, large format tiles require adaptations in setting.

Flat substrates are a must when installing large-format tile. While smaller tile units are more forgiving, larger formatted tiles require special attention to substrates. It’s impossible to install large format tile over inconsistent substrates that create peaks and valleys. The substrate should be clean, dry, flat and structurally sound prior to the installation.

Suitable substrates include, but are not limited to, exterior grade plywood, cement backer board, concrete, mortar beds, cement plaster and existing ceramic tile or stone. Detailed information from sources such as Tile Handbook for Installing Ceramic Tile and from manufacturers is available to answer specific questions.

Large format tiles require special attention to bonding the tile to the substrate. Just as tile manufactures made tiles larger, thin set mortar manufactures have increased bonding power with latex and polymer additives. The mortar manufacturer has also made medium bed mortars available. Both of these products are geared to improve bond strengths to the substrate and help support the large tile. Contractors who have been successfully installing large format tile are aware of this need and use special, thin set mortars.

One key measure must be taken during the installation and that is making sure there is adequate and sufficient bond with the substrate and the tile. This may present a problem for those who only rely on their notch trowels to accomplish this. In general, the larger the unit of tile, the more difficult it is to achieve adequate and sufficient bond.

Using the right size trowel to get the right size notch is critical. Current recommended trowels are: ¼- by ¼- by 3/8-inches for 4- to 8-inch tile; ¼- by ¼- by ½-inch for 8- to 12-inch tile and ½- by ½- by ½-inch for tile larger than 12-inches. Wet saws and cutters sized to accommodate large format tile are essential. (Editor’s note: see New Tools for a New Era in this issue for more information.)

Contracting experienced installation professionals should assure the seller and the buyer of a successful large-format installation.

TileDealer would like to thank Michael Maiuri, president, Shores Tile Co. Inc., Roseville, Michigan, Technical Committee Chair for the Tile Contractors Association of America 2004-2005; and the technical specialists at Crossville Tile for their help.

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