Tech Tip Tuesday: Q & A With NTCA Training Director Mark Heinlein

Member Question:

I need installation guidance to install a ceramic or porcelain tile over a concrete slab/sidewalk. This will be outside of a church and it is currently a concrete floor and curb. What would you recommend we use at the edge and expansion joints?

Mark’s Response:

There is a lot to consider before tiling a project like this one.  Since you may not have yet received your 2017 TCNA Handbook, I have attached a couple of photos of two methods (F101 and F102) that may be most applicable to your installation.

F101 describes an on ground concrete substrate with proper drainage below the slab, bonded mortar bed, ceramic tile and optional waterproofing / crack isolation membrane.

F102 describes an on ground concrete substrate with proper drainage below the slab, cementitious bond coat and optional waterproofing / crack isolation membrane.

Both of these methods will require proper drainage beneath the slab and drainage for surface water runoff from the finished surface and further drainage into the landscaping.  If the slab abuts a permanent structure, you will want to be certain that the drainage is slope away from the structure – the general rule would be 1/4” vertical slope per 12” of horizontal run.  Besides methods F101 and F102, there may be other methods and materials that will help with system drainage if that is an issue.

Prior to proceeding you will need to determine if this is a well cured slab and whether it is dimensionally stable and free of cracks, films, curing compounds, sealers, etc. and whether it’s surface has been at least steel troweled with a fine broom finish suitable for mortar to bond to it.  The flatness requirements of 1/4” per 10’ must be met for application of an F101 Thick Mortar Bed or for F102 direct bonding of tiles less than 15” on one side.  For direct bonding of tiles with one side 15” or longer the slab must meet the 1/8” per 10’ flatness requirement before the tile (or membrane) is to be set.

You will see that both of these methods list a membrane as optional.  Inclusion of a membrane will help with waterproofing above the substrate and a degree of crack isolation from minor existing or future in-plane cracks.  If the slab is abutted to a structure, I suggest looking for a way to flash the membrane up the side of the structure, potentially beneath the siding (if any).  The “Membrane Options” section of the method lists the specific membrane requirements and also points to Handbook methods F125-Partial / F125 – Full for crack isolation.

Some membrane manufacturers state that their membranes will be able to span certain types of joints if installed per their instructions and as part of a full system warranty (use of one manufacturer’s mortar, grout, membrane, sealant, etc.).  Installation of a membrane will help with waterproofing, some system drainage, and to protect against efflorescence from the substrate.

The “Materials” section defines the specifications for the tile and setting materials to be used in this method.

You are correct that this installation will need Movement Accommodation Joints.  TCNA Handbook Method EJ-171 provides the details.  As a minimum, those joints should be placed around the perimeter and at every change in plane or where the tile meets a different material.  Expansion joints in the concrete slab must be honored upward through the finished surface of the tile.  Expansion, Isolation, Construction, Contraction and other joints must be addressed.  For an exterior installation, joints throughout the tile field are required every 8’ – 12’ depending on materials and environmental conditions.  Appropriate joint width must also be determined based on environmental conditions the installation is expected to be subject to.  Sealants complying with ASTM C920 with an appropriate designation for this type of installation will be required for the soft joints.  As this is a traffic area, a sealant with a shore A hardness rating of 25 or greater should be considered.  Conversely, a manufactured joint may be available to use.  As we discussed in our workshop, it is the responsibility of the design professional or engineer to determine the location / placement / width / construction of these joints.  Method EJ-171 provides details on constituting these joints – but is too much information for me to forward in this e-mail.

Since this is an exterior installation with some potential of freeze/thaw cycling, expect there to be some system / component degradation over time that may require routine maintenance.

You will want to finish and protect the exposed edges of the tile with a commercially rated, durable metal trim such as brass or stainless steel. Bullnose, or tiles that have been custom bullnosed for the project may also work well depending on the expected use and conditions.

I hope this helps point you in the right direction.  You should have your new 2017 TCNA Handbook soon so you can refer to these methods and all of the other great guidance it contains.

Mark Heinlein

NTCA Training Director