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Because it is inherently non-emitting and contains no plasticizers, synthetic materials or other hazardous ingredients, ceramic tile has long been recognized for its health benefits. Now, tile is in the spotlight as a finish material that combats the spread of disease with its natural non-porosity and ease of cleaning. In light of recent public health concerns, many facility and building owners are turning to tile finishes for the well-being of occupants.

In the early days of the Coronavirus pandemic of 2020, Infection Control Today magazine interviewed a panel of design professionals to gauge how the Coronavirus would affect the design of buildings. The response was, “Material selection, the role of nonporous hard surfaces, is going to be extremely important in fighting infections.” This article in May 2020 went on to emphasize the importance of materials that are easy to clean, repeating that “nonporous is truly the way to go. These are the surfaces that disinfectants work well on.”

One likely lasting change from the pandemic is the way building owners and design professionals think about interior finishes in public spaces. A Construction Dive article published in January 2021 quoted a white paper from Leo A. Daley Architects saying, “Offices, hotel owners and developers will put a greater emphasis on health-related features like antimicrobial finishes to heighten guests’ well-being and safety.”

In this same article, architect Mark Pratt, vice president and global hospitality practice leader at Leo A. Daly, said, “Contractors can expect a lot of retrofitting work needed immediately. For example, a full-service Marriott or Hyatt with carpet in rooms will need solid flooring that feels and looks cleaner.” He went on to suggest that hospitality contractors put together Coronavirus retrofit packages covering flooring in hallways and public spaces, and replacing countertops with antimicrobial and antibacterial finishes. “Materials typically used in health care facilities and commercial kitchens like porcelain and solid surfaces will become common in hotels.”

Another retrofit opportunity presents itself for existing gypsum board walls. Ultra-large gauged porcelain tile panels provide a healthy alternative to gypsum board and other wallcovering that may be porous and susceptible to microbial growth.

Gauged Porcelain Tile (GPT) panels are manufactured as thin as 3.5 mm, just over 1/8 inch, often precluding the expense of demolishing existing construction. Panel sizes of up to 5 x 10 feet result in minimal grout joints and a wall surface with the hardness and resistance to pathogens only porcelain can provide. With hundreds of colors, textures and patterns to choose from, interiors are benefiting from an aesthetic upgrade, as well as a functional one.

The installation of GPT and GPT panels is best left to the experts: trained BAC union tile installers and contractors. The material is similar to conventional porcelain tile, but due to its ultra-large format and extremely thin profile, its installation requires specialty skills and installers who meet minimum qualifications, according to the installation standard ANSI A108.19. For a GPT installation to succeed, it must meet a set of industry requirements quite different than those for conventional tile. For example, GPT has unique requirements for substrate flatness, mortar coverage, troweling technique, embedment technique and accommodation for movement. The cutting tools and even the trowels are specially designed for this material.

International Masonry Institute (IMI) offers retrofit tile details, which illustrate newly installed GPT panels over an existing interior gypsum board wall (Fig. 1 shown above and Fig. 2). For an existing steel stud framed wall to be a candidate for tile retrofit, the studs must be 20 gauge or heavier, minimum of 3 5/8 inches thick, and spaced at 16 inches on center maximum.

TILE 0522 Web Excsluvie Wellness Figure 2

Fig. 2. Tile retrofit detail over existing gypsum board walls, mortar bed method. (Click on the image to enlarge.)

In Fig. 1, the tile is adhered to the existing gypsum board with a cementitious bond coat of latex modified thinset mortar. A primer or bonding agent may be required by the mortar manufacturer. Optional profile strips are shown at the outside corner and at vertical expansion joints in the field of the wall spaced at specified intervals. This detail is a retrofit adaptation of the TCNA method W243. In Fig. 2, GPT panels are retrofit over existing gypsum board walls using a mortar bed method.

The use of GPT and other tile as a retrofit finish over existing gypsum board walls can be a cost-effective way to impart porcelain tile’s health benefits and ease of maintenance to lobbies, waiting rooms, and other public spaces. When installed by experienced union tile contractors and craftworkers, we can be confident in a beautiful installation that will provide decades of service.

Note: this article is adapted from a previous article by the same author published in 093000 Contractor, the journal of the Tile Contractors’ Association of America.