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Residential tiling projects comprise an expansive assortment of installation types that each demand a specific set of products and skills to ensure success. Residential property owners are increasingly looking to add stone or tile to kitchen counters, backsplashes, any and all flooring areas, showers, tub surrounds, patios and many other surfaces of new and existing dwellings. These installations have individual set of industry standards that must be met to prevent project failure, and products rated for one type of installation aren’t necessarily adequate for others. Let’s look at a few types of residential installations and the products developed to set and protect them.

Surface Preparation: The Tiling Constant

Every one of the residential installations mentioned above (and any others) requires a flat surface before the first tile is laid. Without a flat surface to affix tile to, the installation is sure to contain defects that can result in puddling, debonding, unsightly and dangerous lippage, and other flaws. To help installers avoid these issues, the Tile Council of North America (TCNA) Handbook provides clear guidance on flatness requirements for various types of tile.

It is crucial to maintain no more than a quarter inch of plane variance within 10 feet for standard tile installations. And for owners partaking in the growing large-format tile trend, the variance cannot exceed 1/8 inch in 10 feet. Walls and floors can be brought in line with these strict standards with patching compounds and mortar beds. Additionally, self-levelling underlayments are extremely handy remedies for flattening large floor surfaces.

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It is always recommended to use some form of crack-isolation protection to safeguard a tile installation from the inside out.

Patching products are a great solution for nearly every type of leveling project. They can be used from featheredge to a 1/2 inch to repair surfaces that exceed the required variance. These patching compounds are made to fill large voids, holes and cracks in the plywood and concrete substrates. Additionally, these products set in a half hour, preventing needed surface prep from eating too much of the project timeline.

Crack Isolation

Residential properties will continue to “move” throughout the life of the structure. The structure is constantly settling, and outside forces like temperature fluctuations and earthquakes can cause substrate fractures at any time. For this reason, it is always recommended to use some form of crack-isolation protection to safeguard a tile installation from the inside out.

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Without adequate waterproofing protection, liquids can easily seep through the tile installation, damaging structures and spaces beyond.

Even if no faults are present on the surface before laying tile, eventual cracks can develop. These often transmit their energy out to the finished surface, putting unsightly cracks across a beautiful tile installation. This damage will be costly to repair (or replace, depending on availability of matching tile).

A crack-isolation membrane, however, acts as an insurance policy to protect the tiling investment. Crack-isolation membranes are applied to the level substrate. They serve as a barrier that blocks in-plane substrate cracks from transferring to the tile surface. One type of membrane is sheet applied. These sheets of flexible material that are trimmed to the needed size or shape of the unprotected area.

Liquid-applied membranes are applied with a roller, trowel, brush or airless sprayer to easily cover any space. These products have exceptional elongation that stops cracks as large as 1/8 inch from transferring to the tile surface. The membranes are also applied thin, adding practically no elevation to the installation.

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When it comes to choosing mortars for residential installations, there are three main categories: thinset, large & heavy tile (LHT) and epoxy.


Industry requirements dictate that many residential kitchen, bath and water feature tile installations must have some form of waterproofing. Without adequate waterproofing protection, liquids can easily seep through the tile installation, damaging structures and spaces beyond. Water will even penetrate sealed grout. For this reason, a waterproof membrane needs to be used in areas where water contact is expected.

Like crack-isolation products, waterproof membranes are available in sheet and liquid-applied form. The sheet variety still needs to be trimmed to fit the space requiring protection. But sheet membranes also feature seams that must be meticulously joined lest leaving an opening that would allow water to pass through.

Liquid-applied membranes are applied as easily and as flexibly as the aforementioned crack-isolation products. These membranes form a monolithic barrier free of leak-prone seams. They also boast the same elongation properties mentioned above, effectively doubling as crack-isolation protection.


When it comes to choosing mortars for residential installations, there are three main categories: thinset, large & heavy tile (LHT) and epoxy. Choosing the correct mortar boils down to location, tile size and tile type. Selecting the wrong mortar for a project can quickly lead to debonding

Exterior installations need a mortar suited to handle the extreme environmental conditions and changes they will face. Mortars were developed to withstand severe freeze-thaw cycles encountered in many outdoor settings. These mortars are lightweight and provide phenomenal adhesion in a wide variety of environments. Plus, they are creamier and easier to mix and spread.

Projects with large tile or popular gauged porcelain tile panels and slabs demand heavy-duty mortar with special features that accommodate their more involved installation. There are products that were specially developed to set hefty oversized tile, planks and slabs. These mortars have extended open time that support the protracted process of backbuttering large panels and slabs, and transporting them to the spot where they will be set. Non-slump features help prevent lippage while non-slip formula creates an instant bond for tiles hung vertically. Dustless Technology also eliminates most mess while mixing products, leading to cleaner working conditions.

Then there are the installations that preclude cementitious mortars for one reason or another. Perhaps the tile or stone selected contains a resin or mesh that cementitious mortars cannot sufficiently bond to. Or maybe the contractor is setting natural stone that is water sensitive. For these, a mortar that is three-component, 100-percent-solids epoxy compounds are required. Their formula provides an unyielding bond for moisture-sensitive or resin-backed stone like black, red and green marble. These epoxies also double as a chemical- and stain-resistant grout ideal for sanitary spaces.


Speaking of grouts, their selection can be one of the more challenging tasks in residential tile installations. Because grout is the one visible tile-setting component of an installation, it is exposed to many stressors while needing to maintain a pleasing appearance. The right grout, again, depends on the type of application.

With more property owners opting for larger tiles and smaller grout joints, the demand for high-performance grouts has grown. These cementitious grouts are highly durable and stain resistant. They are denser than standard grouts and resist efflorescence that will see contractors called back to remedy. And many of these properties of high-performance grouts can be found in timesaving ready-to-use grouts that require no mixing. These grouts are ideal for quick projects or repairs and, being pre-mixed, take much of the guesswork out of the job.

Find Your Partner

The abundance of residential tile installation options can seem daunting. It’s easy for some contractors to make the wrong product selections for the job, or even use the right product incorrectly. It is essential to partner with a respected responsive manufacturer with an interest in the success of your projects. A number of the top manufacturers have customer care lines that provide all the information needed to complete residential installations. They will also offer comprehensive system warranties that will cover their products throughout the life of the installation.