In today’s society, we are now seeing more people concerned about their home environment than ever. Health and comfort have become a very high priority and now the average consumer is looking at life cycle, carbon footprints, recycled content, Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), energy consumption and other environmental-related concerns. Some of the more sophisticated consumers may even be asking for Environmental Product Declarations (EPD) and/or Health Product Declarations (HPD).

In this environment, it is surprising to hear that Luxury Vinyl Tile (LVT) has such a strong growth rate. The latest industry estimates put it at approximately 30%, whereas tile is still lying low (no pun intended) in the upper single digits between 8-9%. LVT is made of Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC), which has large quantities of persistent toxic organochlorines such as dioxins and phthalates. Both of these chemicals are highly persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic to humans and other life forms. Tile, in contrast, is made of natural products, including clay, quartz and other minerals, and has no harmful toxins or chemicals in its make-up and does not contaminate landfills when finally disposed. The life cycle of LVT cannot even hold a candle against tile with its 60-year designation from LEED. For all intents and purposes, the real life cycle is only a few years but is graciously given as 10 years by the Tile Council of North America’s (TCNA) Green Report. 

When considering carbon footprint, if you look at the 60-year life cycle of tile, it has one of the longest life cycles there is in comparison to any other floor covering, with the possible exception of natural stone and terrazzo. At the last Qualicer conference held in February in Castellon, Spain, there were some presentations given on tiles that were made from 100% recycled content. These tiles are probably not commercially viable at this point in time, but they have come a long way from recent days when 10% or 20% recycled content was an accomplishment.

There, of course, are other floor coverings out there such as carpet, engineered wood or sheet vinyl, but they do not fare that much better when compared to tile. The consumer needs to understand there is a huge discrepancy between floor coverings and they need to understand these differences.

As for other aspects of health, tile pretty well wins it, hands down, as it generates no VOCs and nor do most of the mortars and grouts used to install tile. In addition, no harsh cleaners or chemicals are needed for day-to-day cleaning. Allergies and sensitivities have become a big concern for consumers and tile rates at the top of the list as it presents no concerns. As a matter of fact, in LEED certification, tile is one of the only products that does not need to conduct VOC testing.

There are now generic and some proprietary EPDs for tile, mortars and grouts. In addition, the TCNA has initiated discussions with the industry to possibly create HPDs for the same materials, and the possibility looks hopeful.

Comfort and health have always been top priorities for most home owners. Sometimes, these priorities can be married together with one other attribute that was referred to earlier —energy efficiency.

In 2014, Schluter-Systems introduced Ditra-Heat, which was the first electric floor warming system with an integrated uncoupling membrane. Two years later, another version was launched, which was called Ditra-Heat-Duo. The arrival of Ditra-Heat-Duo was a significant addition as it added two features for comfort: first was a faster reaction time to heat the floor and second was to lower the noise level between floors in a multi-story building.

Ditra-Heat-Duo has a thicker bonding fleece than regular Ditra-Heat and has an actual R-value of 0.35, which creates a thermal break, especially when used on concrete. This becomes particularly efficient when using this floor warming system for heat cycling, which is how most people use these types of systems. In other words, most people will have a programmable thermostat and will have it set at a higher temperature to operate at the busy time when the family is up and doing their activities in the house. When they leave to go to work, school and sleep, they turn the system down, say from 82°F (27.8°C) to 68°F (20°C). Laboratory testing showed that Ditra-Heat-Duo was 70% faster to warm the floor compared to regular Ditra-Heat on a concrete slab below grade with no insulation underneath. It would have taken an additional four to six hours to get to the same set heating point without the thermal break. This, of course, means more energy consumption as well, so over many days, especially with heat cycling, a measurable amount of energy can be saved. Another study collected data over a whole winter. In one area, the system was left on continuously at 82°F (27.8°C). In another area, the system was on a 12-hour to 12-hour schedule where the thermostat set point altered from between 72°F (22.2°C) to 82°F (27.8°C) and vice-versa, and there was a 41.4% savings in energy.

Part of comfort, of course, is quiet and tranquility, and now with the phenomenon of the reclamation of the inner cities and construction of multi-tower condos, sound control is becoming more and more critical.

It is obvious that living in a well soundproofed multi-unit building ensures the quality and comfort of daily living. It protects privacy; people don’t want their neighbors to hear what they are talking about or doing. It ensures quality of sleeping time and good sleep can improve productivity, as we know. People can easily experience fatigue, bad mood or lack of focus due to a night of poor sleep. Undoubtedly, sleep quality is associated with long-term health and well-being, so using Ditra-Heat-Duo for sound control in multi-floor condo units can be very beneficial. 

Over an 8-inch concrete slab, which is quite typical for most high-rise condos, with no dropped ceiling, Ditra-Heat-Duo will achieve a 50 IIC or more. With a dropped ceiling, 9-inch (23 cm) plenum insulation, 5/8-inch (15 mm) gypsum board, a 67 IIC can be obtained. This product is only 5/16-inch (8 mm) in thickness, and when tested under ASTM E 2179, it was rated at a Δ(Delta) 20; with a 12- x 12-inch (30- x 30-cm) porcelain tile using ASTM C627, it achieved a “Light Commercial Rating,” perfect for residential environments.

In addition, contributing to the sustainability theme, Ditra-Heat-Duo has no VOCs. It also can be made to be waterproof, protecting rooms below. For instance, if there was a pipe burst or toilet overflow, which often happens where the membrane is located, so waterproofing can be a critical step. The lifecycle and the enjoyment of the building and the health and comfort of the occupants is improved by the use of tile and the appropriate assembly, as described in this article. Tile is the “natural choice” and we should be proud to be in an industry that is so environmentally friendly and contributes to sustainability as we do. It is not by accident that the LVT, linoleum, VCT and other manufacturers are making their product look like tile or stone, but unfortunately for them, that is about as close as they can get. Performance-wise, quality-wise, health-wise and earth-wise, they fall far short of tile.