Decades have sped by while Tile Manufacturers made their attempts to produce a large unit (over 18” x 18”) tile that looks and installs like natural stone. There have been some efforts that have looked pretty good, but there was always that problem of grout joint size. Stone floors, installed properly using the “mud set” method of installation, are (or are supposed to be) flat with very small grout joints. This could be achieved through machine cutting of the stone resulting in clean, true, and square edges with a relatively flat surface. Since this process produced a product with little variation from piece to piece, a very small grout joint could be used. Tile, on the other hand, being kiln fired, has variation from piece to piece and required a larger grout joint.
The evolution of tile from ceramic body to what is now known as porcelain allowed the individual pieces to be re-cut after firing to become true, straight and square. This is called rectified. All of this is an over simplification, but it will go to my point. It is important to know that all rectified tile is not the same and generally, you can count on the old saying “you get what you pay for”. This discussion will presume that a quality tile is being used. I have looked for a very long time in the effort to find a large unit porcelain that, when properly installed, would give the look of a high quality natural stone. The biggest benefit to that is there would be no sealing, and the need for homeowner awareness regarding proper maintenance and maintenance products would be minimized. Homeowners and cleaning crews could use, pretty much, what they wanted to use without fear of damaging the floor.
Enough history. I finally found the “right” tile. We now have a 24” x 24” rectified porcelain that is perfectly calibrated, is flat, and is a dead ringer for natural travertine. Actually, we found a very large manufacturer with an entire line of these porcelains. Step one solved! My next project was to find an installation method (other than “mud set”) which would allow for a minimum grout joint. In leafing through an on line edition of a trade publication, I found the system hiding in plain sight. I was looking at an ad for Pearl Abrasives and the subject was an installation system allowing the installation of large unit porcelains , thinset with a 1/32” grout joint. Yep, 1/32”! Normally, the smallest grout joint is 1/8”. This is seventy five percent smaller! Now we are talking! The Territory Manager for Pearl is an old friend that I have not seen in a long time, so I picked up the phone and he was in my office that afternoon. Within a week, the inventor of the system was training our installers. The Tuscan Leveling System (TLS) was beginning to make my dream come true. Step two solved! Installation materials have always been kind of a “me too” industry with one standing out at the cutting edge of technology. I opened a dialog with another old friend who happens to be a V.P. at Laticrete International. Laticrete has always been a leader in their industry. We not only landed on installation products that will work, Laticrete has stepped up to the plate and offered their 100% labor and materials warranty on installations using TLS and Laticrete products. Steps three and four solved! We now had four legs under the horse and it was time to see how he could run.
We have now completed thousands of square feet of large unit porcelain tile installations using the TLS system, thinset bed, with 1/32” grout joint. These installations are flat as a desk top and all of the “Achilles heels” have been corrected. We now have the system!
Our real test is getting the word out. There is a whole lot of incorrect information circulating out there and there are always the old-schoolers that will never “get it”. The really good news is that through an internet forum on what is called “professionals hang-out” I am finding overwhelming support from across the country. There is now a large movement toward this new technology and it is getting larger by the day. Refreshing and exciting!
Tom Dardis is your source for all the components of this new technology. Call me! I will be happy to share the rest of the story.