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More customers are going big with their surface of choice for new construction and renovation tiling projects. Gauged porcelain tile panels and slabs, or GPTP/S, provide everything customers demand from a finished surface. Customers insist on large, luxurious and low maintenance. And now, GPTP/S, also called thin tile, finds itself in the mainstream.

What’s not to like about gauged porcelain tile? It’s highly resistant to stains, scratches, freeze-thaw cycles, abrasions and UV. The medium has a versatility that allows some manufacturers to provide the look of stone without saddling customers with the constant upkeep that is characteristic of true stone. And in terms of size, the options are almost limitless for interior installations (so long as the site and entryways will accommodate), suiting those customers desiring clean tile surfaces uninterrupted by grids of grout joints.

At the Heart of the Trend

Gauged porcelain tile panels/slabs are porcelain tiling materials that measure 1 meter by 1 meter (roughly 11 square feet) or larger. Pieces smaller than these dimensions are simply gauged porcelain tile. The larger you go, the more planning and preparation are required, but I will cover that later.

GPTP/S are widely known as thin tile because their distinctive density lends uncanny stability to their slim 3.5 mm to 6.5 mm profile. This same feature allows more square footage to be transported per container compared with conventional tile. However, this density greatly increases the weight of the panels, necessitating more tools and manpower to apply properly.

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Advances in technology have allowed for beautiful GPTP/S installations, such as this bathroom. Photos courtesy of Sika (Click on the image to enlarge.)

Installers Keep Up with the Trend

The more dynamic tilers in our industry have already embraced the GPTP/S trend. They have been able to increase their charging rates appropriately around the additional material, tool and manpower expenses that these jobs bring. They have also grown their bottom lines by offering the more skilled installations to customers very willing to pay for gorgeous finished surfaces that will last several lifetimes.

Tilers staying ahead of the curve are taking advantage of training opportunities that instruct the proper methods for installing GPTP/S. Jobs that require upholding ANSI A108.19 specifications will need teams to have completed a qualified installer program before they can proceed.

Organizations like the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF) provide training and Advanced Certification for Tile Installers (ACT) specific to GPTP/S to prepare tilers for these unique applications. Additionally, the National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA) works with panel manufacturers and tile-setting product manufacturers like Sika to provide hands-on training to professionals at all experience levels.

Tiling professionals are also assigning the correct number of qualified people to undertake GPTP/S installations. No fewer than four installers are needed to ensure safe, secure application of these oversized tiles. These teams are also amassing the right tools for the job. Slab tables, notched diamond blades and profiling wheels are being added to the work trucks for onsite cutting, while slab-handling systems and vibrating suction cups grant adequate control to set the panels and slabs properly to achieve the required mortar transfer. These upfront investments pay off handsomely as the demand for your teams’ skilled installations rises.

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Tile-setting material manufacturers are constantly improving and expanding their offerings to satisfy the increasing demand for GPTP/S as well as the specifications that guide sound installations. Photos courtesy of Sika (Click on the image to enlarge.)

Industry Standards Keep Up with the Trend

The ANSI A108.19 Technical Committee periodically updates the qualified trainer program. This makes sure qualified installers are up to date on the evolving language and techniques for successful GPTP/S installations. The Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF) also offers courses and advanced certifications for tile installers specific to GPTP/S. Moreover, the 2021 International Building Code (IBC) upgraded the allowable size of facade-installed panels and slabs to a maximum of 48 x 48 or 36 x 72 inches. The change from the previous year’s 20- x 20- or 12- x 24-inch cutoff was driven by input from International Masonry Institute and TCNA, and widely applauded by architects yearning to incorporate the larger porcelain pieces.

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Tilers staying ahead of the curve are taking advantage of training opportunities that instruct the proper methods for installing GPTP/S. Photos courtesy of Sika (Click on the image to enlarge.)

Manufacturers Keep Up with the Trend

Tile-setting material manufacturers are constantly improving and expanding their offerings to satisfy the increasing demand for GPTP/S as well as the specifications that guide sound installations. For example, thorough surface preparation is compulsory for GPTP/S floor and wall installs. To achieve the level tolerance outlined in A108.19, materials like SikaLevel®-025 Patch compound and the array of SikaLevel® self-levelling underlayments offer highly performant user-friendly solutions to all manner of substrate defects.

Due to the greater amount of time it takes to properly set GPTP/S and achieve the appropriate adhesive coverage, product open-time becomes a factor. One solution is to use a liquid-applied membrane over highly absorptive substrates to prevent them from leeching adhesive moisture. Membranes like SikaTile®-100 Moisture Guard prolong open times, while also delivering strong waterproofing and crack isolation properties that contribute to longer-lasting, more reliable installations.

Adhesives that meet ANSI A118.15TE standards are specially formulated to provide protracted open-times for GPTP/S placement. They additionally display the non-sag properties essential to vertical GPTP/S applications. Manufacturers have further developed lightweight, high-yield mortars that eliminate considerable poundage from GPTP/S applications. Adhesives like SikaTile®-475 LHT Premium Set and SikaTile®-500 LHT Lite cut much of the backbreaking burden associated with back troweling mortar onto the GPTP/S, upholding work rate and reducing installer fatigue. These full-contact adhesives also make it easier to attain the 80 percent coverage for walls and 85 percent coverage for floors outlined in A108.19 to properly secure the heavy porcelain panels.

Manufacturers also offer grouts and sealants that are optimal for GPTP/S installations. Grout joints for these projects tend to run between 1/16 and 1/8 inches. Like other tile installations, the inclusion of expansion joints helps guarantee the longevity of the GPTP/S surface. TCNA Handbook entry EJ171 Movement Joint Guidelines gives clear proven direction for placement of expansion joints to complete a compliant installation. Elastomeric, 100-percent-silicone sealants like Sikasil®-N Plus have extremely long service lives that afford remarkable expansion for enduring GPTP/S surfaces. Panels installed on interior vertical surfaces can receive a wide variety of high-performance, ready-to-use, polymer-modified cementitious and epoxy grouts. Exterior surfaces and interior floors demand resilient solutions like cementitious, ready-to-use and epoxy grouts. SikaTile® Ultima Grout is a strong example of a grout that is suitable for both floors and walls in interior and exterior applications. It is a top-line grout with colored quartz technology that provides stain resistance and easy cleanability worthy of the porcelain it is applied to. The consistent color complements the GPTP/S for the life of the installation.

Are You Setting a Trend?

The gauged porcelain tile panel and slab trend is shaping our industry, as well as the world around us. The demand for these mammoth maintenance-free surfaces increases year over year. As an industry, we are keeping pace with the trend. Individually, it is up to each installer to upgrade their tool arsenal, stay current on the changing GPTP/S regulations and familiarize themselves with the manufacturers and materials essential to successful job completion.