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How to Prevent Your Tile Floor from Cracking

Broken Loose Tile

Imagine you’ve just spent hundreds of dollars to update your tile floor with beautiful, rectangular ceramic tile. You've selected tile because it's a great kitchen and bathroom flooring option because it's easy to clean. And now, your kitchen and bathrooms have finally received the facelift they’ve needed for years. Now, whenever your friends and family come over — and even when you’re home alone — you feel a sense of pride because you personally selected and invested your hard-earned money in these stunning floors that complete the look and feel of your home.

Now imagine that you turn on the bathroom light one day and notice a large crack through one of the tiles. Your beautiful, updated bathroom has gone from looking brand new to used and abused in an instant. You’ve been taking great care of your ceramic tile flooring, so how could this have happened?

There are a few very common reasons why tile cracks, all of which have to do with the installation of the tile (which applies whether you were the one laying tiles yourself or if you were simply hiring a professional). Whether your tile floor already has cracks in it or you just want to prevent possible cracking in the future, below are a few things you’ll want to know.

Why Does Tile Crack?

Cracks occur in tile for five main reasons. The first is if the subfloor is improperly prepared. In addition to ensuring that the subfloor is flat and stable, the installer must make sure that it is clean. This means more than just vacuuming up any particles; it means that the subfloor should be mopped with a solvent cleaner like mineral spirits. This will remove any grease, wax, oil or paint that could mix with the mortar and cause it not to harden properly, according to a GeeksOnHome article.

Second, the mortar must be spread evenly across the subfloor surface and given the time to harden. If the mortar is only adhering some of the tile to the subfloor, or if it isn’t completely hardened, the tile can shift and, therefore, crack.

Third, the tile floor can crack if the expansion joints are not large enough. What are expansion joints? These are the spaces left between the tiles during installation, which are grouted afterward. These joints are there to absorb pressure from shifting tiles. If they are too thin, the tiles won’t have enough room to expand and contract, causing cracking.

Fourth, a foundation problem can cause tiles to either pop at the grout lines or to form cracks in the tile surface. This will sometimes occur while the house "settles" because the subfloor will move more than the tile floor covering (which is the most fragile point) can tolerate, resulting in cracks and popped tiles. An uncoupling membrane can allow for a degree of flex between the subfloor and the floor covering, which is often enough to avoid damage.

Finally, tile floors installed over a concrete subfloor are the most susceptible to cracking because the concrete itself is prone to cracking, the GeeksOnHome article states. Generally, hairline cracks in the concrete will not present an issue to the tile floor above; however, cracks wider than 1/8 inch will eventually transfer to the tile, it notes. This is known as reflective cracking, and it can be easily prevented by adding a crack isolation membrane during installation.

How Can Cracking Be Prevented?

The WarmlyYours Prodeso uncoupling and crack isolation membrane is made of polypropylene with rounded square-shaped reliefs. This material and structure allows it to solve two of the four main installation issues mentioned above: It ensures that the installation surface is flat and stable, and it prevents reflective cracking by acting as a barrier between the subfloor and the tile. Instead of a crack transferring from the concrete to the tile, the crack isolation membrane absorbs the crack energy and spreads it over a large area, preventing telegraphing through the tile. In some cases, the crack may instead occur in the grout joint. Although it’s unsightly, it’s very easy to fix and it’s a much better alternative to a crack in the tile!

In addition to crack suppression, the Prodeso membrane is designed to hold heating cable in place, making the installation of in-floor heating easy. When you’re installing new tile, it’s the perfect time to consider heating your floor!

To install the membrane, a professional must simply cut it to size, place it over the wet adhesive on the subfloor, press the membrane into the adhesive with a plaster trowel float, install the heating cable (if desired), apply unmodified thinset to the membrane and the backs of the tile, and lay the tile and tile spacers! This can all be done in the same day, step after step.

Why Is Crack Suppression Important?

Suppressing cracks in your tile floor can save you hundreds of dollars. According to a HomeAdvisor article, most homeowners spend between $245 and $545 to repair tile and grout in labor costs and materials. By properly installing tile and using a Prodeso crack isolation membrane, you can save yourself time and money, all while keeping your tile flooring in pristine, pride-worthy condition.

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We have had marble around a tub shower installed by Best Tiler Castle Hill guys and on the floor and other walls in that room for 27 years and it is the easiest bathroom to care for we have other than the acrylic one in the attic!. The grout between the marble tiles is very fine and the same color as the main one in the marble has never got any mildew on it and we rarely wipe it down between showers and only give it a monthly clean. We also have the same tile on the floor of another bathroom and mosaic marble on the shower floor in that room. That mosaic does get dirty from feet and needs cleaning weekly but the ceramic tile grout around the walls of the shower gets mildew on it at the drop of a hat despite wiping it down after every use with a towel. Give me the larger (12″ by 12″) marble tiles any day for maintenance. I am not sure how to add a photo otherwise I would!

WarmlyYours Responds...

That's a great point and definitely something to keep in mind when selecting a tile floor. The smaller mosaic tiles will certainly present more grout-line volume per sq. ft. than larger format tiles which can increase cleaning times.

We want to install a zero entry shower in our new home build, and was hoping we could take the floor tile that will be in the main part of the bathroom and carry it into the shower. Are we limited on the size of the floor tiles we can use? If the main tiles are a different shape than squared off edges, is that going to be a problem?

WarmlyYours Responds...

We specialize more in electric floor heating systems (including heating systems for curbless or zero entry showers if you're interested for your new home) but since a lot of our projects do involve tile, we can provide a bit of insight. As far as the size of the floor tiles, there isn't really a set standard for zero entry showers but larger format tiles (basically anything larger in either dimension than 12" x 12") can run the risk of being a bit more slippery when they're wet and very small tiles (2" x 2" or smaller) can be too small for use with some uncoupling membranes like the Prodeso Cable Installation Membrane we sell. As far as the shape of the tile edge is concerned, you might run into issues depending on the slope of your shower since the tiles will need to be slightly angled toward the drain if they have an atypical edge profile. Hope that helps!

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