Are Floating Ceramic Tile Floors a Good Choice for Your Home?

Diagonal Tile In a Bathroom

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Floating ceramic tile floors hold out the tantalizing possibility of keeping all that is good about tile while eliminating many of tile's unfavorable installation aspects.

Can floating tile floors replace the traditional wet method of laying ceramic and porcelain tile? A floating tile floor, on the face of it, is a homeowner's dream come true as a way of laying real ceramic tile (not resilient tile) and doing so with utter precision and predictability. The tiles are attached to plastic trays which interlock to adjoining trays, no thinset mortar necessary. Not only that, but the trays automatically space the tiles and control alignment.

Floating Ceramic Tile vs. Traditional Tile

The floating floor system is common with other types of flooring, notably laminate flooring and luxury vinyl tile flooring. Floating flooring attaches only to itself and never to the surface below or to walls. The massive weight of floating floors combined with friction holds the flooring in place.

Elimination of Mortar

Traditional tile rests on a bed of thinset mortar that is dragged across the underlayment or subfloor with a trowel. This trowel automatically extrudes just the right amount of mortar for setting the tile. The mortar adheres the tile to the lower substrate and it fills in any 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.

Automatic Spacing

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.

Grout Application

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 requires a urethane-based grout that accommodates slight shifts and movements in the floating floor system.

Pros and Cons of Floating Tile Floors

Pros

  • Tile automatically spaced
  • Mortar bed is not required
  • Lippage (the vertical difference between adjacent tiles) is reduced or eliminated
  • Faster installation than traditional ceramic tile

Cons

  • Limited availability and few manufacturers of floating tile flooring
  • Cutting requires the extra step of cutting the plastic backer
  • Wider or thinner seams are not possible
  • More expensive than traditional tile

Should You Buy a Floating Tile Floor Product?

Are floating tile floors just another pipe dream doomed to failure? Many new ideas are met with initial puzzlement before they are accepted: OSB for subfloor or sheathing; laminate flooring instead of solid hardwood flooring; PVC trim instead of wood; Tyvek house wrap instead of tar paper. Could floating tile floors be one of those ground-breaking products?

The manufacturers of Kwik-Tile, a product no longer being made, ran studies to determine if a floating tile floor installed faster than a traditional tile floor and, if so, how much faster. They found that their floating tile product, when installed over an existing sheet vinyl floor, completed 72-percent faster, on average. Translated, this means that within five to six hours, you would be able to begin grouting 200 square feet of floating tile floor versus the 18 to 22 hours with a traditional installation. Also, because fewer materials and mess was involved, clean-up time was reduced.

One of the earliest floating tile floor systems was a product called Edge, which consisted of 1/16-inch tile glued to a laminate core board system. While innovative in its concept, the tile tended to crack under normal weight loads. The Edge was short-lived and the company is no longer in business. With the introduction of plastic tile trays and thicker ceramic tiles, the problem of cracking has mostly been eliminated.

Floating tile floors are designed to install directly over most existing well-bonded vinyl floors, wood floor, concrete floor, vinyl tile, plywood or OSB subfloors with little or no additional floor preparation. Floor preparation and setting materials are the cause of the majority of ceramic or porcelain tile floor failures. With floating tile, those possible areas of failure are removed for potential failures for the life of the floor. It is also designed for self-alignment and joint spacing, particularly for vertical alignment and limiting the potential for lippage issues that are safety hazards.

If you are at all hesitant about installing traditional tile and you have a small area in mind, it might be worth purchasing a floating tile product.