Cracked tiles on floors and walls can be a source of frustration and aesthetic concerns for homeowners. This article aims to explore the various reasons behind cracked tiles and provides valuable insights on how to prevent them.
Cracks in tiles can often be elusive, making professional assistance crucial for accurate diagnosis and repair. Contrary to common belief, many tile cracks are not indicative of inferior tile quality.
Instead, they are frequently caused by underlying issues related to the tile’s environment and installation. This comprehensive guide will address each potential cause of tile cracks and offer practical tips on how to avoid them.
Cause 1: Tile Impact Damage and Prevention
Tile Impact Damage: Cracks in tiles often result from sharp blows, typically isolated to a single tile. These impacts may cause visible chipping or cracking, primarily occurring near the periphery of the floor, especially in high-traffic areas like kitchens and doorways.
Understanding the Cause: These cracks are usually the outcome of heavy objects falling or striking the tile. Unlike building standards that focus on heavy dead loads, there are no specific regulations addressing protection against sharp blows to tiles.
Prevention Strategies: To safeguard your tiles from impact damage
Utilize Gel Mats
Gel mats are a practical solution to reduce the impact of dropped items. They offer cushioning that lessens the risk of tile damage and provide comfort during extended periods of standing in the kitchen.
Cause 2: Tile Cracking Due to Heavy Loads
Tile Load Capacity: In some cases, tiles may crack under heavy loads, such as the weight of a refrigerator. Tiles are assessed for load-bearing capacity through ASTM C648 Breaking Strength standards.
Compliance involves withstanding 250 pounds of pressure per square inch. Certain specialty tiles, like Durabody brand tiles, can endure up to 400 pounds per square inch.
Understanding Load-Related Cracks: Although most tiles meet or exceed these standards, heavy loads can still lead to cracks. The critical factor is that these standards are based on dead weight and do not account for the impact of heavy objects being dropped.
Prevention Measures: To prevent tile cracking under heavy loads
Ensure Proper Thinset Application
Properly applying thinset between the tile and subfloor is essential. Eliminating hollow pockets of air is crucial, even when loads are within the specified parameters.
Cause 3: Impact of Control Joints on Tiles
Control Joints in Concrete: Control joints in concrete are intentionally designed preplanned cracks, foreseeing concrete’s natural tendency to crack over time. They provide a controlled path for these cracks to occur, often in straight lines.
Understanding the Issue: Tiling over control joints can lead to tile cracks, as these areas are prone to movement. Tiles are rigid, and when concrete cracks, this movement can transfer to the tiles above, causing them to crack as well.
Preventive Actions: To avoid tile cracks associated with control joints
Avoid Tiling Over Control Joists
It is advisable not to install tiles directly over control joints. This practice can minimize the risk of tile damage.
Consider Isolation Membranes
Using isolation membranes can provide an effective solution for managing tile placement over control joints, reducing the chances of cracks.
Cause 4: Tile Installation and Joist Spacing
Importance of Proper Joist Spacing: When working with tile, minimizing deflection is crucial. Tile is inherently rigid, whereas wood possesses flexibility.
Thus, pairing these dissimilar materials requires careful consideration, especially when installing tiles on raised, joist-based floors. Insufficient joist spacing can lead to unwanted flexing in the plywood subfloor, forcing the tile to bend, resulting in potential cracks.
Understanding Joists: Joists are horizontal wooden beams situated beneath the subfloor, providing structural support for the subfloor and all objects above it, including mortar, tile, room contents, and occupants.
Preventive Measures: To prevent tile damage due to improper joist spacing
Compliance with Codes
Adhere to the International Residential Code’s specifications for joist spacing. Ensure that joists are adequately spaced to minimize subfloor flex.
Consider incorporating supplementary underlayment structures to further control subfloor flex. These measures collectively help maintain the tile’s structural integrity.
Cause 5: Impact of Cracked Concrete Substrates on Tiles
Concrete Substrate Cracking: It is not uncommon for concrete surfaces, such as basement floors, driveways, or patios, to develop long cracks over time, particularly in older installations.
While concrete may seem like an ideal tile substrate, it presents its unique set of challenges. Cracks in the concrete substrate can lead to reflective cracks in the tile above.
Preventing Tile Damage: To prevent tile damage resulting from cracked concrete substrates
Use Crack Isolation Membranes
A comprehensive solution involves removing the existing tile and installing a crack isolation membrane before retiling. These specialized membranes decouple the tile from the concrete substrate, allowing independent movement to avoid tile cracking.
Consult with Professionals
If you haven’t installed the tile yet, consult with your tile company or contractor about incorporating a crack isolation membrane. This is now considered standard practice for most tile-to-concrete installations.
Cause 6: Tile Installation Over Uncured Concrete
Concrete Curing Process: Newly poured concrete contains a significant amount of water. As it cures, the water gradually evaporates, causing the concrete to shrink.
This shrinkage process is essential for strengthening the concrete’s particles and aggregate. However, it can exert stress on tiles installed before the concrete has fully cured.
Preventing Tile Damage: To avoid tile cracking due to insufficiently cured concrete
Follow Recommended Curing Times
The Tile Council of America recommends allowing the new concrete to cure for “as long as possible,” or at least for a minimum of 28 days. While some tile thinset manufacturers suggest a shorter curing period of 14 days, adhering to the TCA’s guidance minimizes the risk of tile damage.
Prioritize Adequate Curing
Given the potential for tile cracking resulting from inadequate concrete curing, it is advisable to allow concrete to cure for a minimum of one month before commencing tile installation.
Cause 7: Tile Quality and Selection
Understanding Tile Quality: In cases of cracked tiles, homeowners often assume that the tile itself is at fault due to its visibility within the installation.
However, this is not always the case. The root cause may be inferior or sub-standard tiles, either installed by the current homeowner or a previous one.
Ensuring Tile Quality: To avoid issues related to inferior tiles
Conduct Thorough Research
Expensive tiles do not necessarily equate to higher quality. Conduct diligent research before purchasing tiles.
Tiles from established retail sources like home improvement stores and reputable online outlets typically conform to ANSI and ASTM testing standards, ensuring tile strength and durability.
Review Manufacturer Specifications
Always review the manufacturer’s specifications provided on their website or printed literature about the tile. This information offers valuable insights into the tile’s quality, compliance with industry standards, and suitability for your specific application.
By adhering to these guidelines, homeowners can make informed choices and safeguard against tile damage arising from sub-standard tile selection or installation.