The growing appeal of large format tiles

Applications and considerations for the newest trend in hard surfaces
Wednesday, February 4, 2015
by Dale Kempster

In the late 2000s, a new type of tile developed out of Europe (predominantly Italy) that was both very large and very thin. Today, large format tiles have tremendous appeal for designers and architects. With sizes that can reach1500 mm x 3000 mm (5’ x 10’) and 3 mm (1/8”) in thickness, there are many applications that make them ideal.

Some of their common applications include:

  • Countertops, where grout joints can be nearly eliminated, depending on the configuration and size of the counter
  • Going over existing tile in places, such as showers. This technique has been very popular for renovations in hospitals. No tear out is required, there is little down time and it can be the least destructive method to renovate a delicate environment. Large format tiles are also ideal for barrier-free floors where a single slope or two-way slope has been designed using a line drain in the front, middle or back of the shower floor
  • Exterior facades are another target area for these large format tiles, as they require fewer grout joints and create a more monolithic appearance
  • Many more creative uses are being introduced every day, including facings on furniture and doors

These new tiles have become very popular and seem to have no limits in colour and design potential.

This being said, no standards currently exist for either ISO (International Standards Organization) or ANSI (American National Standards Institute). The big challenge for the standards bodies is that the technology used is relatively new and constantly changing and evolving. Performance standards are being worked on at both levels but a final series of standards will probably be a few years coming.

As for installation recommendations, there is now a report called, “General Guidelines for the Installation of Thin Ceramic Wall and Floor Tiles and Panels” by ISO under the auspices of TC 189 – Ceramic Tile.

One of the biggest challenges with this format is the installation process. Handling the thin, large tiles requires very delicate, meticulous work, and special crates and extended forks for fork-lifts. In addition, special tools such as racks with suction cups are needed to move the tile on the job site.

For installing these materials, a special trowel is needed, such as a Zip or Euro Trowel, and often special mortars that have non-sag properties and are thixotropic are required. The mortar needs to be troweled on both the back of the tile and the substrate. It is recommended that the coverage be 95- 100 per cent, especially in floor applications, which makes these large tiles very heavy. In addition, the TTMAC (Terrazzo, Tile and Marble Association of Canada) has a very strong warning in their 09 30 00 Tile Installation Manual indicating that the floor needs to be exceptionally flat at 3 mm in 3000 mm (1/8” in 10’) and that the minimum thickness that can be used on the floor is 5.5 mm* (just under a ¼”). It is also important to note that most, if not all, of these tiles are not recommended for high traffic areas such as in airports or malls.

Many of the manufacturers of larger format tiles have joined up with mortar manufacturers to teach installers how to work with these large format panels. It is strongly advised that a tile contractor to be selected for this type of installation is a member in good standing with the TTMAC and has been specifically trained and has the knowledge to install large format tiles. These tiles are different from traditional tiles so responsible installers will seek out proper training before committing to new projects. In addition, verify what types of environments the selected tile can be used in as many of these large format tiles cannot be used where subjected to heavy vehicular traffic such as heavy carts and pallet jacks.

Back when large format tiles were first introduced there were only approximately six factories that made them. Now that has more than doubled, so it is safe to say that these tiles will become more and more popular.

In addition, large format thin ceramic tiles have had a huge impact in the architectural and design community. Recognizing the inherent challenges to install these materials, and the absolute necessity to have qualified, trained and knowledgeable labour is essential for these unique tiles to perform and have a long life cycle.

Dale Kempster, CSC, CTC, TTMAC, is the technical director of Schluter-Systems (Canada).