Crossing the Line: Tile Enjoys a Surge in Outdoor Installations
January 1st, 2011


Homeowners around the country are embracing the concept of expanded outdoor living space and, in many applications, tile is right there, providing attractive and durable horizontal and vertical surfaces, braving the elements and doing very well, indeed. Outdoor installations of porcelain, stone, cement and glass tile are increasingly popular. Aesthetically pleasing, durable and high performing tile installations are everywhere from on a deck or patio coming right off the kitchen (where the same tile used indoors may be extended past the door jamb for pleasing visual continuity) to wellequipped and comfortably accoutered outdoor kitchens and living rooms.

First popular in the sunbelt, the widespread availability of tile rated for outdoor use has made exterior tile more prevalent all around the country. Outdoors tile works well in terms of performance both on the fl oor, on kitchen counters, and around grills where it wipes up grease and other spills easily. It works vertically on the sides of cabinets and storage units. Tile is also increasingly popular on the ground and vertically around fireplaces, firepits, and chimineys.

In cool climates, the tile of choice is full-body porcelain tile rated for outdoor use, ideally with an absorption rate less than 0.5%. (In comparison, ceramic tile usually has an absorption greater than 3%.)

According to Doug Hayes, Director of Business Development, Florida Tile, manufacturer of porcelain tile, “There is nothing more durable for vertical and horizontal applications than porcelain tile. Unlike ceramic tile, which is porous and absorbs water and so can crack from freeze/thaw cycles, porcelain tile is not porous and does not absorb water, and won’t crack from freeze/thaw cycles.”

With so many porcelain offerings, some manufacturers provide guidance in matching tiles to applications. For example, Florida Tile delineates which of its porcelain tile should not be used outdoors; which can be used outdoors in covered locations not subject to standing water, ice, snow, leaves, oils or contaminants; and which can be used with some exposure to the elements.

Some grout manufacturers offer products formulated to perform well in exterior applications that can weather the elements. For example, Mapei’s Ultracolor Plus is an effl orescence- free, fast curing grout that contains polymer, so it is freeze/ thaw stable and includes Drop Effect technology, a hydrophobic additive that helps repel staining and dirt from the surface of the grout.

The rise in popularity of modular units for outdoor kitchens – the kind that arrives on a fl atbed, equipped with grill and countertop workplace – has also driven up sales of porcelain tile. They can take about 200 square feet of tile (or more) apiece on the ground and more than that if tile is used on the side walls of the units or on the workspace counters.

Though porcelain tile does not crack from weather, it can be slippery in standing water or if icy. Tiles with textures that meet ADA recommendations of 0.6 coeffi cient of friction (COF) or higher provide a more slip-resistant surface on the fl at and 0.80 COF for ramp surfaces. Use of the same fl ooring material in the same pattern and colors outdoors as indoors keeps space visually integrated.

Exterior Installation Products

Newly developed types of insulated sheathing that are designed to resist expansion and contraction when installed under outdoor tile and stone have eliminated a major problem that has plagued outdoor tiling over wood subfl oors – the high failure rate due to shrinkage or movement of the wood over time.

“Insulated sheathing under tile installations performs very well and is very effective against expansion and contraction of underlying wood in cold climates, which can cause failure,” notes Brian Turner, president of Tile DIY, the manufacturer of Ti-ProBoard, a composite structural material developed especially for tiling decks. When used on a deck and covered with porcelain tiles, Ti-ProBoard forms a solid tiled surface that is impregnable to the elements in all 50 states and won’t corrode, points out Turner. This allows use of the same tile indoors and outdoors in any climate. (The planks are 12” wide and come in 8’ and 12’ lengths for direct fi tting on joists 16” o/c. They carry E84 UL approval on fire rating and screw onto a stud, interlocking as they install.) “People like the look of tile outdoors. The aesthetics and the fact that tile is pretty much low maintenance combine to drive sales,” suggests Jeff Ketterer, National Sales Manager, Fin-Pan a manufacturer of backerboard building products.

Trends in glass and ceramic pool tile include:
• Continued use of various shades of blue, with customers either using one color to cover the whole pool or using random blends or even custom blends to satisfy precise customer taste, notes Marshall Malden, President of Hakatai Enterprises, importers of glass mosaic tile.
• Increased use of gradient tiling, with colors flowing from a dark blue to a medium blue to a very light blue in a column.
• Increased use of patterns at steps, around the perimeter, and even throughout the pool (This affords each pool, regardless of shape, a distinctive custom look, Malden points out.).
• Use of ¾” or other small sized glass tile to create a custom fine-cut mosaic mural at the bottom of the pool. According to Malden popular themes include birds, flowers, and abstract art.
• Use of mixed media tile that incorporates metal or stone on the tile sheet.

Commercial Application: Exterior Cladding

In commercial applications, there is a growing trend to use tile on the outside of buildings for cladding, at least in part because it results in good energy effi ciency. “The air space behind the tile provides a naturally insulating barrier so you get a very good energy efficiency in the building by using tile as a cladding,” explains Marvin. “Using tile for cladding started in Europe and is now starting to gain traction in the U.S. In Europe, the tile often goes up the entire height of a building but in this country tile as cladding is typically only on a first fl oor, with large pieces easily sliding into grids and secured with special fasteners.”

Used on a vertical surface, insulated sheathing that mounts directly to the studs is a lot faster and less labor intensive than having to put up traditional sheathing, cover it with a weather barrier and then mount backerboard to accept tile or stucco. In cold climates, it circumvents the problem of expansion and contraction of the sheathing under the tile. With some insulated sheathing, installers can mount stone, tile or thinbrick using an adhesive specially designed for mounting stone or tile on vertical surfaces. Some materials of this type can withstand up to 160 mile an hour winds and may, in projects aiming for LEED certification, qualify to contribute to LEED points, notes Dick Crawford, Director of Business Development, T.Clear Corporation, a manufacturer of an insulated wall system. The system, which installs faster than conventional building techniques, consists of a lightweight impact resistant concrete sheet laminated to a continuous layer of rigid insulation. For commercial projects, “we are seeing a lot of requests for white or other light-colored tile that reflects sunshine and improves energy effi ciency and, for projects aiming for LEED certification, can – if the tile has a solar reflective index of 29+ – help earn LEED points in the Site category,” points out Marvin.

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