cement tile installation guide

Inspecting & preparing your encaustic cement tile for installation

 

First things first - know what you have  

You’ve just received your shipment. Besides taking a moment to admire your beautiful tiles, please take time to inspect your tiles prior to accepting them, as you only have 48 hours to report any issues with your order.

What is normal to expect when inspecting cement tiles:

  • Variations in thickness, shade and pattern
  • Irregular or chipped edges and cracked or crazed surfaces
  • 2-4% of tile breakage
  • There may be dust and residue that should be cleaned from the tiles prior to installation (stubborn residue is easily removed with water and rubbing with 400 grit sandpaper)

These qualities are part of the natural appeal of hand cut cement tiles and should not be considered defects. Encaustic cement tiles from clé are tiles cast from cement and natural materials, therefore they are subject to color and shade variations. There is always a potential for breakage during the moving and shipping of tiles. It is normal, and expected, that 2%-4% of an entire order will arrive damaged. We highly recommend adding 10% more to an order to accomodate for replacements for damaged tiles and to store for possible future construction or repair needs.

clé is not responsible for material(s) that have been cut or installed. Ensure that any tile issues are addressed PRIOR to cutting or installing as clé does not accept returns for tiles that have been altered or used. This policy insures that you do not pay for the installation of improper materials, as clé does not pay for any installation, even if tiles are incorrect, damaged, or otherwise unacceptable.

After inspecting your tiles and accepting them be sure to store all tiles properly until the installation date. Take care to store them in a dry area, as moisture or dampness can cause tiles to stain, fade in color or damage the tile surface (cracks and pitting).

 Blending

Each cement tile from clé is handmade, one at a time; as a result each tile is subject to color and shade variations - perfectly imperfect. clé recommends that your installer mix tiles from all of the different cases once they have arrived and several days prior to installation. Blending is the key to ensuring that your cement tiles share an array of variation. Once blended, allow the tiles to sit in their natural environment for a few days prior to installation. Much like hardwood, this allows the tiles to absorb the humidity of the space around them before they’re installed.

Please make sure all of your tiles are on the jobsite BEFORE you schedule the installation date - the single largest issue clients face when trying to schedule their install date is not waiting until all their tiles and setting materials are in place.

 

Are your walls and/or floors ready for tile installation?

Installing is all about what goes under your tiles, because what’s under your tiles is just as important as the tile itself. For encaustic cement tiles this means a perfectly level, clean, dry, and slightly rough surface. Take time to confirm that your professional installer understands the strength and make-up of your substrate (the support floor beneath your tiles). Be thorough when reviewing your substrate needs – always consult your architect or engineer. clé’s guides are only to help direct you in the right trajectory for all installations, but each installation is unique and therefore requires a professional who can give the exact specifications for your installation.

For floor installations:

Your installer will need to allow for 3/4" below your finished floor height (5/8" for the tiles and 1/8" for mortar). If your substrate is plywood, be sure the plywood complies with the architect’s specifications for your site and use an installation mat to ensure the perfect installation (Schluter® and Noble® are two of the best brands for installation mats).

If you’re using wood flooring:

Assuming that your floor joists are sufficient and not flexing, you can install tile on a wood floor if you first put down a cement backer board like you would do in a shower behind the tile. Your installer can use any quality-brand dimensionally stable fiber/cement wall boards or magnesium oxide boards.

Preparation

If you are installing over a concrete slab, double check that your concrete surface is the right height, completely level and completely dry before installing. If it isn’t completely dry, the moisture in the concrete will try to escape through your tiles. If that happens, your tile will develop powdery white limestone deposits (efflorescence). Additionally, do not lay your cement tiles directly onto fresh (uncured) concrete.

IMPORTANT: Just because a concrete surface has cured doesn’t mean it’s moisture-free. This can be problematic if left unchecked. A quick way to check is to tape a piece of clear plastic onto your slab (about the size of a piece of paper). Be sure all edges are thoroughly taped down. If you see condensation (an indication of moisture), you will need to apply a waterproof membrane before proceeding with your installation.

Preparation doesn’t end at a level and dry surface. You’ll need to add expansion joints to any large floor or wall application(s) in order to prevent cracking or fracturing from the possible movement of the substrate. With expansion joints placed according to the proper guidelines (please refer to the TCNA handbook for proper guidelines) expansion, construction, isolation, contraction, generic and perimeter joints will ensure what’s under your tiles has plenty of the right kind of “give”.

If you’re installing walls:

Walls require just as much care under your tiles as the floor prep we’ve just outlined. However, unlike the concrete substrate required for floors, your encaustic cement tiles can be installed over drywall, plaster, cement block and cement backer board (for moist areas). You’ll want a flat, smooth and dry surface, completely free of any loose coatings (paint). Any cracked surfaces must be scraped smooth and patched. If you’re using a backer board be sure to follow the installation guidelines from the backer board manufacturer.

Like floors, be sure that any concrete substrates for your walls have gone through the same drying steps - any excessive moisture will try to escape through your cement tiles.

For areas like showers, pool surrounds and other areas subject to moisture, the underlayment should be sealed with a waterproof membrane or another moisture-resistant product. Cement-fiber backer boards are an ideal underlayment for tile in wet locations. Please review the manufacturer’s recommendations if using for a wet application.

As with your floors, check with your architect or installer for expansion joint requirements for wall installation.

Now it's time to install

IMPORTANT: REVIEW BEFORE YOU START

Install your tile after all other construction is completed, if possible. Even though clé cement tiles are the only cement tiles that arrive pre-sealed and pre-polished, it will be next to impossible to clean them if they become soiled from damage at the construction site. Throughout the installation process and handling of the tile, be careful not to damage the finished surface, edges and corners of the tiles.

clé recommends the use of Mapei Flexcolor CQ, which is intended for unglazed tiles.

The right grout is key but what's even more important is getting the grout off the face of the tile immediately. It should be applied in smaller sections (2'x2' or 3'x3') to help facilitate quick clean up. Please keep in mind that even with grout release, if the grout is allowed to set up on the the face of the tile it could cause grout haze and staining due to tiles porous nature.

Preparing for your cement tile installation

  • Use a high quality, cement based thin-set adhesive.You can always contact the tile adhesive manufacturer to receive a recommendation on the appropriate adhesive. Always follow the adhesive manufacturer’s instructions
  • Cement tile installation should not use large and/or excessive amounts of water. With that being said, Cement tiles are absorbent and should be soaked in water for a few seconds so they are damp (not wet) when laid in the thinset mortar bed. This is to ensure that the tile does not pull excess moisture from the thinset which can cause premature curing and improper adhesion.
  • Cement tiles should not be installed in direct sunlight, as excessive heat could disrupt the drying of adhesives.  

Proper placement of your tiles to the substrate

  • Make sure that adhesive completely covers the back of each tile. Back-buttering the tiles is a recommended method, but be careful to not allow excess adhesive to form into the grout joints.
  • A small (1/16") grout joint is best. A larger grout joint could disturb your pattern and may harm your tile edges.
  • Gently press tiles into floor adhesive with a perpendicular back and forth motion to collapse ridges and ensure a level set. Avoid beating tiles with mallets or rubber hammers as this can break and crack tiles.
  • Continuously check that your tiles are perfectly level throughout the installation. Pay close attention to the intended pattern alignment.

clé cement tiles come pre-sealed to support tiles during transportation and through the first stage of  installation - adhering tiles to the wall or floor. This pre-seal will not protect tiles through the remainder of installation and grouting. Therefore, cement tiles should be sealed with a penetrating sealer, like Miracle 511 Porous Plus, before and after grouting. Refer to our Sealing and Maintenance Guide to learn more.

clé recommends using Mapei Flexcolor CQ, which is intended for unglazed tiles. For more information about grouting, refer to our Cement Tile Grout Guide

Care for tiles before, during and after installation

  • Handle tiles carefully to avoid chipping edges, however, chipped edges can be eased with a tile stone.
  • Clean as you go. If there’s excess adhesive on the tile surface, use a damp cloth or sponge to remove it quickly and avoid staining.
  • Use a sharp diamond blade in wet saw to avoid chipping of edges.
  • Let the tiles completely dry after installation - this can take several days. Do not seal, polish, cover or walk on your installation until it has dried completely.
  • Moisture left in your installation can cause stains, pitting or cracking in the tiles surface. Efflorescence will occur if there’s moisture in your substrate.

 

Patina overview and what to expect with your tile installation

All unglazed tiles will slowly develop a patina, but most people are unclear on what this treasured finish is and how it develops.

What is patina?

The term, patina, is Latin for “shallow dish.” This comes from copper dishes that always garnered a green patina. The use of the term, patina, has come to refer to any fading, darkening, muting or other signs of age, which is natural and, usually, unavoidable. Patina is an inherent part of the heirloom experience of your cement tile installation and the reason that cement tiles are specified for so many projects requiring a surface that will beautifully age with the structure it protects. Although cement tiles are having a resurgence around the world (especially in the United States), there is a lack of familiarity with patina.

Patina separates new materials from antiquated ones – creating objects and surfaces that are prized as heirloom quality. Patina itself is a thin layer that forms on the surface of stones, leathers, metals, clays, cements, woods etc., and creates a protective coating on the materials it covers. Because of these attributes, patina has become a celebrated finish and a requirement to what is known as an ‘antique finish’. Derived from oxidation and other chemical introductions that render age, patina is a wear and a polish enhanced by age and exposure. These effects all combine to create a softer appearance in both color and character.

Please share this information not only with your installer but also your maintenance crew so they can understand the beauty and protection patina offers to your cement tiles. Because your tiles arrive new, it’s important for you to know the best method to see them through their out-of-the-box new condition to their inherent patina.

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