How to Install Specialty Tile Floors

In this section, we'll describe three specialty tile installation situations you may encounter given how versatile ceramic, porcelain and stone tile are for flooring and transforming them into beautiful as well as practical surfaces.

More specifically, these specialy ceramic, porcelain, or stone tile flooring installations include:  

Installing Tile and Floor Warming Systems

If you are interested in a floor warming system, you'll have two types to choose from: hydronic or heated water systems and electrical systems powered by high and low voltage.

  • In the hydronic line, you'll find systems that use a plastic type water line and systems that utilize copper lines. The water is heated to the desired temperature and then routed or pumped through the lines heating the adjacent areas in contact with the lines. For example, Warmboard, Inc offers a system consisting of a 1 1/8” subfloor panel which is routed out for the hydronic tubing; routed out channels are then covered with aluminum sheet.
  • In the electrical line, you'll find manufactured mesh mats, such as the one we show you in this section, manufactured rubber mats, and ones where the installer runs the heating wires in a grid fashion. Electrical current heats the wires to the desired temperature which in turn heats the areas in contact with the wires.
Both the water and electrical systems work well and have distinct advantages which the purchaser must weigh out. Generally, the hydronic system is installed in a fairly thick application due to the large tubing while the electrical system is generally much thinner. The hydronic system generally is installed as part of a new construction effort while the electrical is handy for thin remodeling projects.

Let’s look at a radiant flooring system from Warmly Yours, Inc. (The following text and photographs are compliments of Warmly Yours, Inc.. Thanks to Fred Selvais for sharing his expertise.)  

This radiant flooring system was installed in a large bathroom located on a residential second floor. We therefore had to prepare the subfloor to receive the warm floor product and eventually travertine stone floor tile.

As detailed in other tile installation tutorials on the Tile Outlets of America website, you will want to prepare the bathroom floor and travertine tile for warmed floor conditions by installing a backerboard surface.

Below, Fred explains the Warmly Yours radiant heating mesh mat system as we examined the enclosed mat, thermostat, warning buzzer, and wiring. Note that the kit includes simple to follow instructions.  

This system relies on the integrity of the heating element wire and the wires that are at either end of the mat. Be particularly careful not to injure any of these wires. The only thing that is OK to cut is the mesh. Be sure to follow the manufacturers instructions carefully.

Fred then measures the room to make sure that we have enough mat to cover all the necessary areas that we wish to warm under the travertine tile.

Next, Fred lays out the mat in a “dry” fashion and demonstrates how to cut it to fit the space.

Note that you'll find wires at each end of the mat: a white wire which is 26 feet long and a yellow wire that is 13 feet long. The layout is situated so that these two wires can meet at the thermostat and power station. This system runs on 110 volt AC.

It may be best to have a qualified electrician install a box and power up the unit. In this installation, we located the thermostat and power box right next to the entrance door where there was already power at a light switch. The mat, when in the process of heating the floor, will draw approximately 11 amps for our 200 square feet installation.

The mat is then cut and laid out in the room without using any staples or glue. Final adjustments are made for coverage.

At this point, the wires are arranged and lead back to the point they will enter the electrical wall and box. The wires are connected to the alarm buzzer which will sound if the wires are cut or damaged.

A hole is drilled to allow the wires to enter the floor plate just above the subfloor and then the wires are fished up through the wall to the junction box. It is a good idea to reconnect the alarm buzzer if it was disconnected during this step.

Note the one wire with the large diameter black connector. Both ends of the mat will have these. If possible recess the floor where this connector is located. It will be glued in place later.

Now you will want to install the floor temperature sensor. Locate the sensor in a part of the floor that will not be covered with furniture or anything else that will radiate heat back into the floor. The sensor tip should be between the heating element wires. You want to avoid situations that will create false sensor readings.

 Inspect the loose wires inspected; use hot glue to hold them in place; then staple the mat in place using ¼” staples.

The heating element wires within the mesh must never overlap. Whenever possible, the control wires and sensor should also not overlap.

This is the finished floor warming system.

By the way, the reason for using glue and staples to hold the mat and wires in place is so that the floor can be thinset and tiled directly over the mat. For this installation, we elected to float the mat in place with a self leveling mortar bed.

 

The travertine tile was then installed in thinset over that.

 

Installing Tile in a Geometric Floor Design

The next specialty flooring installation topic details the installation of a geometric tile design for a residential project. While the floor was in the layout stage, the geometric design was included and chalk lines were placed in the appropriate position. The marble tile selected for this design was then cut into the necessary shapes using a template provided by the homeowner.

When the tiles were cut, they were laid out in the design to verify the fit.

The installer then set about the task of installing the tiles on the concrete slab using latex Portland cement mortar.

Following the installation, the tiles were allowed to cure and were grouted along with the balance of the floor.

These are some additional fine examples of beautiful mosaic floor tiles.

Installing Tile for a Commercial Bathroom With Focus on a Waterproof Floor

The following photos deal with a special need for a waterproof floor in a commercial bathroom. These photos are courtesy of Paramount Tile in Riverside, California.

The project started with the removal of existing tile by the demolition crew.

This left the sub-floor pitted and uneven - which meant it was not suitable for the subsequent flooring. The remedy for the project included waterproofing the floor. This was accomplished using a premium liquid applied waterproofing membrane. The membrane is reinforced at all corners and extends up the vertical surfaces by 2".

Following the waterproofing step, the floor is carefully pre-floated with a self-leveler.

Note the technique used by the tile mechanic in using the self-leveler.

If you encounter a similar specialty installation, once you are satisfied with the waterproofing and leveling steps, you will install the tile following tile installation best practices as described in our tile installation tutorials and shown here. 

This includes grouting and eventual sealing of the grout joints.