The firm ofSlaggie Architects, Inc. in Kansas City, MO, was asked by Kansas City car dealership Legends Honda to design their new building at 10050 Parallel Parkway in Kansas City, KS. The owners wanted a large-format white tile facade on the exterior, and project architect Alan Kovar overcame a number of obstacles to achieve their vision, the largest of which was building codes.

The building code requirements of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County (UGW)/Kansas City, KS, severely limit the types of materials that can be used on commercial building facades. When large-format tiles are used for exterior facades, they are generally set in metal panels; but this technology was prohibited by the UGW. Looking at available resources that would meet the code, Kovar elected to design with SlimLite™ Porcelain Panels from Daltile that measure 118 inches in length x 39 inches in width with a thickness of only 3.5 mm. He worked closely with Daltile to verify that the panels would comply with the code requirements.

“Though these large-format tiles do not look like regular tiles, they are great tiles to work with,” said Elizabeth Lester, architectural representative for Daltile in the Kansas City area. “Daltile is promoting this large-format thin tile because it is a space saver and environmental. Architects have shown a lot of interest, and we are pleased that Slaggie Architects chose to work with it on this project.”

“The look of the SlimLite Porcelain Panels is exceptional,” said Kovar. “We chose the color ‘Oyster’ to get the bright white impact that contrasted well with Legends’ blue color for accents and their Honda logo. I’m not certain people will associate this facade with tile, because most consumers would compare it to large tiles in their homes that are traditionally no larger than 24 x 24 inches; but the look and texture make it very attractive. I think visitors to Legends will like the look.”

The heroes of this legend

Moving the vision from the drawing board to the building facade involved a lot of learning and doing by the heroes of this story. Midland Marble & Granite (MM&G) set out to bid on the Legends Honda project with enthusiasm for the unknown. Though the company has an established a reputation for tile setting, this would be their first experience with the SlimLite large-format thin tile panels. After discussing the fiberglass resin backing on the tile with their Daltile representative, Joe Stewart bid the project with Mapei’s Kerapoxy® 410 100% solids epoxy setting mortar and Mapesil™ silicone sealant for caulking.

When MM&G won the bid, they knew they would need strong technical support to ensure a successful installation. Working with Daltile, Mapei sent a team of technical specialists to train Stewart’s installers, demonstrating all the components needed to do the job effectively. Everyone got a chance to work with the large tile panels and get answers to their questions about handling and installing it properly. Representatives from Slaggie Architects and the general contractor, Turner Construction, also attended the training session to help them advance along the learning curve with this latest trend in tile design.

Primed with knowledge and ready to go, the MM&G crew went to work in the toughest weather of the year in Kansas — December through March. To help keep installation materials and the tile panels at workable temperatures, Turner Construction tented and heated the building. “In December and January, that meant 50 degrees at best, and [also] that the large-format tiles were not nearly as flexible as when we worked with them during training,” explained Stewart. “If there was one thing I could have changed about the project, it would have been to do the work during warm to moderate weather.”

The all-important surface preparation came first. MM&G used Planitop® XS to true and level the walls of the building, knowing that if they were not perfect, the undulations and imperfections would transfer through to the tile. The Mapei technical specialists recommended a leveling system if there should be any problems, but the Planitop XS provided such a smooth surface that the installers didn’t need it. Next, Mapelastic™ 315, Mapei’s trowelable waterproofing membrane, went over the concrete and cement backer units that formed the substrate to protect the installation from moisture. Then it was time to start setting the tile.

“We worked with four two-man teams throughout the exterior installation,” explained Stewart. “We also used two extra apprentices, who cut the tiles and kept everything in order for the guys up on the scaffolds.” At roughly 32 square feet per tile, Stewart estimated between 250 and 300 of the large tile panels would be needed for the 8,000-square-foot project. “We first thought each team would be able to install three panels per day, but once they got used to the routine of the installation, we were able to beat that number,” he said.

Implementing what they had learned in training took some innovation and creativity on the part of the MM&G crew.

  • The architect wanted to limit the amount of cuts on the tile and keep spacing consistent, so MM&G adjusted the panel spacing to match the expansion joints.
  • Another challenge that presented itself was figuring out how to cut the large-format tile. In training, they had learned that it could be cut with a glass cutter. First, they bought a very expensive glass cutter, but that one didn’t work very well. A less expensive version worked the best, but they went through a number of them before the project was complete.
  • The resin backing on every tile had to be “burned” (coated) with the epoxy mortar, using the flat side of the trowel. Then they used a Raimondi Flow Ridge/Slant Notch trowel that produced 45-degree ridges to apply the Kerapoxy 410 mortar to the substrate. The “collapsed” trowel ridges allowed for maximum mortar coverage when the tile was applied to the substrate wall.
  • The installers had to vibrate each tile panel to make sure all air was out from underneath it. MM&G bought special industrial massagers that chiropractors use and wrapped cloths around them so as not to scuff tile. This rather original tool worked just fine.
  • To pick up the tile, which has a little texture on the front of it, they found they couldn’t use their large, marble-setting suction cups. Smaller tile cups wouldn’t work either. As a final solution, the installers wound up wearing surgical gloves and just picking up the tile. Each tile weighs only about 50 pounds, so the biggest problem was the awkwardness due to the large size of the panels.
  • When they had worked with the tile at the training session, it was very flexible and curved easily, leading the installers to think it wasn’t all that fragile; but their perception soon changed when they had to move the tile in the frigid winter temperatures.
  • The entire assembly has a ³⁄8-inch spacing grout joint. To prevent water intrusion into the assembly and allow for expansion/contraction of the large panels, the installers used Mapei’s Mapesil™ 100% silicone sealant to “grout” the exterior.

In addition to the exterior facade, MM&G also installed 7,500 square feet of 24- x 24-inch tile in the sales lobby and locker rooms inside the dealership. “That was really easy to do after working with the big tile panels,” said Stewart.

Inside and out, the MM&G crew led the way to a beautiful new home for Legends Honda. With the support and teamwork of Mapei, Daltile, Turner Construction and Slaggie Architects, Midland Marble & Granite did a very successful two-story installation of large-format thin tile.

The test of time

Like all legends, this installation must now face the test of time. “I think people will see the possibilities with very large-format thin tile, and it will be a popular trend for some time,” said Stewart. “I want to watch this project for the next few years to evaluate its sustainability and durability,” explained Kovar. Both men said they would work with large-format thin tile again. The Legends Honda installation put them much further along the learning curve in the use of this environmentally beneficial resource, and they will be able to undertake future projects with added confidence.

Installation Details

Installer: Midland Marble & Granite

Architect: Slaggie Architects, Inc., Kansas City, MO

General Contractor: Turner Construction

Tile Products: SlimLite™ large-format porcelain panels, Daltile, Dallas, TX

Installation Products: Kerapoxy® 410 100% solids epoxy setting mortar, Mapesil™ silicone sealant for caulking, Planitop® XS and Mapelastic™ 315 — all from Mapei, Deerfield Beach, FL

Number of Installers: four two-man teams

Installation Time: December through March