A Case of tile and error
With tile formats continuing to increase, it is critical to choose a spacing + leveling system that will ensure a successful installation
One of the curses of being in the tile industry is being able to spot that one tile in a set that is misaligned or not level. In my 20-year-old main master bath, which someday I’ll get to fixing, I have a tile at eye level with a lippage problem that haunts me every morning — and it’s only 12 x 12 inches!
Bigger, higher, faster, stronger — that’s our world today and tile’s no exception. Manufacturers have taken it beyond the typical 12- x 12-inch and it’s (literally) a growing design trend. Tiles that are two feet across, even four or five feet at least one way or another, have been inching their way into the home and commercial market. Along with them come new installation challenges. If you have a small tile with a problem, it’s relatively easy to step over. A bigger tile that suffers from a spacing or lippage issue is more noticeable — and you do not want tripping over lipping.
Spacers with leveling has grown in need as tile increases in size. The market is flooded with so many choices – wedges, clips and caps. To tension tool or not to tension tool — that is a question. Is it worth it? With so many spacer systems on the market, it can be hard to decide which to use. Let me break down a few considerations when deciding which spacing + leveling system is right for your project.
Homeowners are going to notice issues as they pop up, so make sure the spacing + leveling system allows for tight bonds at the corners of the mortar and tiles. The best systems have spacers with wide holes in the base to prevent tile cracking or separation. Secondly, consider how the second leveling component of the system interacts with the tile. Wedges may scratch softer tile as they're slid in. Screw systems could shift tile with any rotation. Systems that use caps, however, are pushed straight down, limiting the potential for tile to shift or scratch.
To tension tool or not to tension tool? I look at it this way, your installer could avoid using a rubber mallet on install, but their palm will likely get sore. In lippage control, the tension tool is designed to do that adjusting for you. When looking at the system, consider if the tension tool is sturdy and easy to clean. Consider how much force it takes to lock in the tension, as the best systems allow installers to customize that force. I know of one system that takes the squeeze force of only a finger and thumb with a couple audible clicks to lock in.
How much more per square foot? When you add the benefit of leveling, it will cost more per component than the dinky dime-a-dozen (or less) spacers. However, you gain time and get better results. The strongest consideration in this case is how many components are needed per tile installed. If only one top and bottom component per tile is needed, it could be faster and cheaper in total cost than systems that use four or more top and bottom components per installed tile.
With their growth in popularity, it’s safe to say that larger tiles are here to stay. That said, it’s important your best laid plans include the best spacing and leveling system.