Full-wall porcelain panels offer the seamless look of stone with less cost and maintenance.
Synopsis: Big-slab tile delivers the rich look of marble with much less maintenance and much lower cost than a thick stone slab. Builder, remodeler, and tilesetter Joshua Oduin explains the basics of porcelain-slab tile, including installation considerations and costs and tips and tools for safe handling. Using photos of a recent project, he details the process of cutting the tile, setting the slabs, and using templates for complex layouts.
Supertough and virtually stainproof and waterproof, porcelain tile is the undisputed champion of the modern bathroom. The latest development— and a logical extension of the big-tile trend—is full-wall porcelain panels, which nearly eliminate grout lines, delivering the rich look of marble with much less maintenance. Better yet, big-slab porcelain tile has an installed cost that’s 30% to 40% less than thick stone slabs.
Large porcelain slabs are known formally as gauged porcelain tile panels (GPTP), with “gauged” referring to their precise thicknesses. The most common thicknesses are 6 mm (roughly 1/4 in.), the bread-and-butter choice for residential builders, and 12 mm (1/2 in.). The 6-mm panels are much lighter—160 lb. for a 10-ft. by 5-ft. slab vs. 320 lb. for the same size 12-mm panel— they’re easier to snap and cut, and their edges are quicker to polish.
The 6-mm slabs also make it easier to avoid lippage and misalignment, a notable perk because these huge panels are often bowed by the manufacturing process, and a thinner, more flexible slab makes that much easier to deal with.
While much lighter than quarried stone, big porcelain panels are still far heavier than other tile formats, and less forgiving of inconsistencies in the flatness of walls and substrates. So the learning curve is significant, even for experienced tilesetters. At prices up to $1000 per panel, you can’t afford to damage one or make a slight mistake in layout or cutting. You’ll need to make an initial investment in specialized tools and gear, and a three-person crew is the minimum for safe handling.
The new tools and challenges are why I strongly recommend that anyone seriously interested in large porcelain slabs take one of the excellent training courses conducted by regional retailers and wholesalers such as MSI, Daltile, Crossville, and Bedrosians. Even after 16 years of tilesetting, I jumped at the chance to practice using these new tools and techniques on the manufacturer’s material and not my clients’. The investment paid off quickly, and today big-slab work is both fun and rewarding for me, my crew, and my customers.
From FineHomebuilding #292
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