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Question DetailsAsked on 1/28/2017

Should ceramic tile be a certain thickness to keep from cracking?

Am remodeling older home. Found nice looking ceramic tile at Home Depot on sale for $.77 sq ft. Would want to use this tile in laundry room (wood subfloor) and lower level family room & bedroom (on concrete). There is no brand name on back of sample tiles that we purchased so don't know manufacturer. My concern is...at this price, am I asking for trouble with tile easily cracking/breaking/chipping? What quality and thickness should I be looking for?

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Yes - but the desired thickness would be dependent on the quality of the tile, the way it was fired, and the intended use. Except for mastic-adhered wall tile which will not see impact from pots and pans and such or bewalked on, any tile under about two-tenths to quarter inch thick would be pretty suspect to me, and floor tiles commonly run more like quarter to three-eights inch thick, with non-ceramic/non-porcelain "clay" tiles like quarry tile/terra cotta commonly 3/8-1/2" thick or even more.


AT $0.77/SF - I would not count on it being very durable, because you are on the real low side for materials cost. Good glazed ceramic tile usually runs $1-1.50/SF for simple surface finish (and on up for fancy finishes), clay / terra cotta or quarry tile typically more like $1.50-2.00/SF, and porcelain more like $2-4/SF - generally speaking, and for plain/simple finishes of course. Unfortunately, there is no "industry standard" for tile strength or thickness. Certainly, if you can grip it in one hand wrapped over the edge (fingers on front, thumb on back), fingers and thumb gripping it in the middle roughly, and break it by prying down with the hand with the tile at about a 30 degree angle against a surface resting along its lower edge (prying in the "out-of-plane" direction on a tilted tile with bottom edge resting on solid surface), I would not count on it working well as a floor tile. I remember in the old days we used to test brands of tiles unknown to us by taking it in both hands with thumbs in center and fingers along two oppositve edges and try to break it like you would say breaking a graham cracker in half - but these days this would probably rule out about half the tiles out there. But cetainly if it breaks e3asily that way I would be real suspect.


As far as cheap tile getting damaged, your best protection is a rigid base, and getting a quality installer who knows how to properly prepare the base, prep the tile and apply the adhesive/thinset, place the tile so it adheres well to the base, and properly grout the joints (which greatly increases resistance to popout). Other than direct impact on the tile, the most common causes of floor tile breaking are probably poor adhesive/thinset coverage on the back or failure to "seat" it well in the adhesive or to properly prep the tile for placement (like soaking it before placing in mortar/portland cement-based thinset), or putting it on a flexible base. As with most work, but perhaps more so than some other trades, the quality of the installer and his (or your if DIY'ing it) attention to prep and procedure detail can commonly result in an acceptable job with marginal but suitable materials, but a poor tradesman can make any product underperform.


Of course, the base and application method matters a lot too - well-adhered tile on a concrete base (properly prepared concrete slab or thick drypack mud-coat with metal reinforcing mesh on a wood subfloor) with full-back thinset adhesion should not break under normal use - point loads from heavy equipment or very heavy or metal-footage furniture feet and impact damage excepted. Wearing through from traffic or scratching would be a function of the glazing job quality - try sample pieces lying flat on a firm support like some newspaper or dishrag on a table (to avoid point loading on the back breaking it), and try scraping the main field area with knife blade tilted partly on edge or with a screwdriver and see if the glazing does more than take on a metal streak - it should not pop or gouge out, just show a minor scratch and usually leaves a streak of metal behind which can be buffed out.


Regardless of tile quality, but certainly with a thinner or cheap tile, I recommend buying at least 10 pieces spare (minimum 1/2 box or more spare if doing a large area or substantial portion of the house with one tile), including 10% or more of installed trim pieces but at a minimum a couple of spare pieces of each type of base or trim to match whatever you use, for future repairs. The extra $10-100 in extra tile is well worth it when you end up having to repair a damaged area, which will inevitably happen at some time (or several times and up to annually in some households).


Note on laundry room, since evidently not bottom floor or over crawlspace or such - on new installs/remodels like this I recommend sloping the tile to a floor drain which leads through a 3 or 4 inch pipe to a nearby suitable disposal area - typically through the nearest outside wall - so if you have a laundry flood the water is contained and can drain away safely (excepting any spray that escapes the area, like from a broken hose - though "floodproof" laundry hoses can mitigagte that pretty well. Unless you put a fair slope on it (which means washer and dryer may try to "walk" in operation, though foam rubber feet eliminates that pretty well), you need to put a small curb at any door opening, and a row of full-size base around the walls, to basically "bathtub" or "basin" the area so it traps the water an inch or two deep so it can all go down the drain. Note this is NOT a drain connected to the sewer (though it can be, but you then have the issue of keeping the trap filled with water) - in most areas this sort of graywater (not sewage) overflow drain can drain straight to the ground same as water flowing across a floor and under a wall or door might do. Cheap protection while putting the new floor in - ditto to flooring or pretty much any type under dishwashers - even laminates and sheet flooring can be given a waterproof base around it and a caulked transition piece or sill across the front to trap the water and let it go down an overflow drain. Note on dishwashers pay attention to flooring material thickness and clearance over any sill piece for the dishwasher to be taken in and out - sometimes requires that sill piece be a caulked-down or compressible-gasket sealed removeable strip to provide clearance.



Answered 1 year ago by LCD




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