The history of the flooring industry is ripe with examples of innovations intended to floors easier and faster to install, and nowhere is this more true than for ceramic and porcelain tile. Up until 50 years ago, ceramic tile was always laid into a thick layer of wet mortar reinforced with metal mesh—a method that made for a very durable floor but one that was very hard to remove and replace. The introduction of cement-board backer panels in the early 1970s gradually led to the elimination of mortar-bed installation in most situations and opened the way for the use of thin-set adhesives for applying ceramic and porcelain tiles on floors, walls, and countertops.
Now, there is an even more recent innovation—products that eliminate even the backer board by using ceramic/porcelain tiles with built-in "trays" of backing material. These ceramic tile products are "floating" floors that are not glued to the subfloor.
SnapStone Porcelain Tile Flooring
The SnapStone Floating Porcelain Tile System is one such product. The system uses real porcelain tiles that are permanently adhered to a proprietary "tray" layer that has click-together tabs along the edges. The system requires no backer board or thin-set adhesives, and it does not even require mortar grout. Instead, grout lines are filled with a flexible urethane grout.
SnapStone is a true floating floor, much like most laminate flooring planks. It is not adhered to the subfloor and underlayment in any way; instead, it simply lays on the surface, gaining its stability through the interlocking edges that hold the entire flooring layer together as one unified surface. The heavy weight makes this a fairly stable floor so long as the underlayment is solid and smooth.
Unlike earlier attempts at ceramic tile products of this type, where the tiles were laid down into a separate tray applied to the subfloor, SnapStone is an integrated system in which each individual tile includes the porcelain layer, the tray layer, and side-locking mechanism. Even if you wanted to, you could not separate the tile from the tray.
Unlike floating laminate flooring, which tends to lock by butting the edges together and pivoting downward, SnapStone tiles lock by placing each tile flat on the floor and then sliding one tile toward the other until you hear a click.
One of the best things about SnapStone is automatic spacing. In order to maintain grout space with traditional tile, you either eyeball them or you use tiny plastic removable spacers. Both methods can be difficult for the casual DIY tiler. The locking system on SnapStone automatically gives you a 1/4-inch space that will not move, even if you walk on the tile. The downside is that you have to live with the 1/4-inch space; you can't adjust the spacing to create narrower grout lines.
SnapStone can be cut with a wet tile saw or snapped with a snap cutter, just like normal porcelain tile.
Pros of SnapStone Porcelain Flooring
- Installation is easy. This is the main advantage to SnapStone, and it is a big one. This is a very easy floor for DIYers to install.
- Better sound-deadening. The bottom tray layer on SnapStone is made from a rubberized material that deadens sound transmission. This is a quieter floor than traditional ceramic tile.
- Can be installed over existing flooring. While tear-out of old flooring is often necessary with traditional ceramic tile installation, SnapStone can be installed over wood, vinyl, or concrete floors.
Cons of SnapStone
- Limited selection: Although selections have increased in recent years, there is still a relatively small selection of SnapStone when compared to thousands of colors and styles available in standard ceramic tiles. Currently, SnapStone offers 14 types of 6 x 6-inch tiles; 3 types of 18 x 18-inch tiles; 27 types of 12 x 24-inch tiles; and 7 types of 6 x 24-inch tiles.
- More expensive. SnapStone costs $5 to $7 per square foot when purchased from a home center. Even when you consider that you won't have to buy cement board underlayment, SnapStone is more expensive than most stock ceramic tile. But costs are still more reasonable than for many high-end designer porcelain tiles.
- The floor flexes. Unlike a mortar or thin-set installation, a SnapStone floor will flex somewhat underfoot. This is one reason why this system uses a flexible urethane grout rather than traditional mortar grout, since grout lines would crack without a flexible filler. This tendency can be countered somewht if the subfloor is very solid and well constructed.
- Structural reinforcement may be necessary. SnapStone installation guidelines carefully delineate how much floor deflection is allowable in the floor framing. This may require additional carpentry work if the floor is too bouncy.
SnapStone is one of the latest entries into the arena of home building products designed for easier, more convenient installation. Much the way that click-lock laminate flooring quickly became a viable alternative to solid hardwood, SnapStone is becoming an accepted alternative to traditional ceramic tile flooring.
SnapStone has been in business since 2005 and has gradually expanded its product line and distribution network. With a product and installation system that has eliminated most of the problems found in early attempts at similar products by other manufacturers, SnapStone is now an accepted flooring option, sold at many national big-box retailers.
Be aware that SnapStone is not the only supplier of this type of porcelain flooring. Avaire Interlocking Floating Porcelain is another well-regarded brand, and there are also foreign-made versions available.