Floating ceramic tile floors hold out the possibility of keeping all that is good about tile while eliminating many of tile's difficult installation aspects. They play off of the concept of a floating floor—one where the flooring units are attached side to side but not to the subfloor. Laminate and many vinyl floors are attached with this method, but usually not ceramic tile. Are floating tile floors are viable way to replace the traditional method of laying ceramic and porcelain tile with wet mortar and grout?
What Floating Tile Floors Are
A floating tile floor is one where ceramic tiles interlock from side to side but not to the base below. The tiles are attached to plastic trays. Each tray locks to a neighboring tray with a tongue-and-groove system. The tiles do not join to each other—only their supporting bases do.
The trays automatically space the tiles and control alignment. No thinset mortar below the tiles is required, though grout must be installed between the tiles.
The floating floor system is common with other types of flooring, notably laminate flooring and luxury vinyl tile flooring. The massive weight of a floating floor combined with friction holds the flooring in place.
3 Features of Floating Tile Floors
No Thinset Mortar Bed
Traditional tile rests on a bed of thinset mortar. The mortar is dragged across the underlayment or subfloor with a trowel during installation. The teeth in the trowel are spaced to automatically extrude just the right amount of mortar for setting the tile. The mortar adheres the tile to the lower substrate and fills in cavities between the tile and substrate.
Floating tile requires no mortar bed. Instead, the tile is set into plastic trays that replace some, but not all, of mortar's qualities. The tile cannot be removed from the plastic trays. With other floating tile models, the tile is attached to a flat plastic board with tongue-and-groove edges.
Traditional tile requires seams, and these seams are filled with grout. Seams can be difficult for many tilers to achieve. Cross-shaped tile spacers help to create properly sized seams. These spacers are later removed from the tile.
Floating tile essentially has its plastic spacers built into the product in the form of the plastic trays. Teeth on the edges of the plastic trays snap into each other, connecting adjacent tiles. Width is typically set at 3/16-inch.
For traditional tile, either sanded or unsanded grout is forced into the seams between the tiles with a type of rubber trowel called a float. Sanded grout contains fine sand. Unsanded grout has no sand and is best for thin grout lines.
Floating ceramic tile does not use traditional sanded grout. Instead, it requires a urethane-based grout. This grout helps it accommodates slight shifts and movements in the floating floor system.
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Pros and Cons of Floating Tile Floors
Difficult to find
Seam width not adjustable
For many DIY tilers, laying down the thinset mortar bed is one of the more difficult aspects of installing tile. Though the trowel should extrude mortar at a predictable rate, it often doesn't work this well. You can end up with thicker or thinner deposits of mortar. As a result, the tile will be wavy and edges will not vertically match. Not only that but thinset mortar is heavy, dense, and difficult to work with in large quantities.
With a floating tile floor, the attached plastic base or tray substitutes for the thinset mortar. As long as the subfloor is level, the tile will be level. Lippage, the vertical difference between adjacent tiles, is eliminated.
Tiles need to be properly spaced. With traditional tile systems, this is accomplished with individual tile spacers that are placed between adjoining tiles. One spacer is placed on each edge, four per tile. Once the tile is in place, the spacers are removed. Tile is automatically spaced with floating tile floor systems. The trays or plastic bases attach at set distances.
Floating tiles install faster than mortared tile because there no mortar needs to be mixed up. But more significantly, there is no need to wait for the tile to cure in the bed of mortar. Floating tiles can be mortared immediately after they have been joined.
One of the most significant downsides of floating tile floors is that few manufacturers produce floating tile flooring. Only a small number of manufacturers make floating tile floor systems. Only a few colors and styles are available, unlike the thousands of choices with mortar-down traditional tiles.
Floating tile floors tend to be more expensive than traditional tiles. The tiles always have additional materials (the plastic base or tray) that increase costs.
Wider or thinner seams are not possible. Seam width is pre-determined.
Cutting requires the extra step of cutting the plastic backer. If you're cutting on a wet tile saw, this is not an issue since the saw blade cuts through all of the materials. But with a rail-style or snap tile cutter, you may need to cut the plastic backer after cutting the tile.
Floating Tile Floor Brands
RevoTile is tile maker DalTale's entry into the floating tile market. RevoTile tile units are real porcelain. On the back are plastic backers that attach side to side with click-fit joinery.
Similar to laminate flooring, RevoTile requires a flexible underlayment. RevoTile units must be grouted with their proprietary RapidGrout product.
QuicTile is DalTile's earlier iteration of a floating tile floor product. QuicTile fits together just like RevoTile, with click-fit plastic backers. QuicPrep Underlayment must be installed under the flooring units.
DalTile Quick Grout, a water-based flexible grout, must be used to finish off the QuicTile installation.
Floating Tile. Design Miter Tile