CPD: Unlocking the Potential of Porcelain Tile
The full title of this CPD is ‘Unlocking the Potential of Porcelain Tile: Decorative Solutions for High Pedestrian Slip Traffic Areas.’ It aims to look closely at the benefits of porcelain tiles and examine their suitability for use in high traffic areas
Beginning by offering a clear definition of the material followed by an overview of its benefits as a practical surface for commercial applications, we then dispel misconceptions about aesthetic options and provide guidance on suitability for use in areas of intense pedestrian traffic.
This CPD is sponsored by Tile of Spain which is the voice of the Spanish tile industry in the UK and represents 150 tile manufacturers who are all affiliated to ASCER. The Spanish Ceramic Tile Manufacturers’ Association, ASCER, brings together the majority of companies that make up the Spanish tile manufacturing industry and looks to promote their shared heritage, commitment to innovation and common principles.
Definition and characteristics ASCER defines porcelain tiles as ‘the general denomination of very low water absorption – less than 0.5 per cent – ceramic tiles that are dry pressed or to a less extent extruded, which can be unglazed or glazed and undergo a single firing.’
The face of unglazed porcelain tiles is the same material as the body and may be plain, brazen, mottled, marble or decorated. It has a natural appearance, closer to stone than other ceramic products. Porcelain has a high technical specification and compact composition and is vitrified throughout, with low porosity and good mechanical and chemical properties.
It is frost-resistant, impervious to chemical substances and cleaning agents, abrasion-resistant, hard-wearing and easy to clean – a practical surface for external and internal high-transit flooring and external facades.
Slip resistance When dealing with high-traffic floor surfaces, it is necessary to understand the industry’s classification systems and test methods. The Spanish slip-resistance regulations for floor surfaces follow the British friction test, known as the ‘Pendulum Test’, which uses a pendulum-shaped apparatus, originally designed to mimic the motion of a slipping foot.
The method is based on a swinging, imitation heel, which sweeps over a set area of flooring in a controlled manner. Manufacturers offer a wide range of porcelain tiles that are the equivalent of Britain’s Low Slip risk classification. Porcelain tiles can be used straight after firing as matt or natural tiles with natural slip-resistant characteristics and abrasive texture.
Surfaces can also be glazed, and the faces of tiles enhanced with a non-slip treatment. Alternatively, a chemical treatment for through-body tiles which does not rely on surface roughness can be applied.
Maintenance The main advantage of specifying porcelain for commercial projects is that it is easy to maintain once it has been laid. Because porcelain is impervious to the effects of exposure to water, mud and abrasion, and also exceptionally stain-resistant, the surface requires straightforward protection and regular cleaning once in place. Ideally suited to frequently-used walkways or public retail spaces where hygiene is of paramount importance, porcelain is a low-maintenance material and is highly resistant to chemical substances and cleaning agents.
Unglazed porcelain Traditionally, unglazed porcelain tiles offered limited design choice, but now there is a wide range of coloured finishes, with tonal blends such as salt and pepper or granite-style tiles suitable for high-traffic areas. Grid patterns and slate textures with multileveled relief on the face of the tile and honed and semi- polished textures are now available.
Decorative finishes have benefited from experimentation with depth, pattern and texture, with treatments incorporated into the body of the tile, maintaining commercial benefits and improving visual appeal.
• Soluble salts, double-loading and multi-pipe pressing create veining effects.
• Dry powder applications allow granules and flakes to be imbedded into the body of the tile and micronised powers create intricate travertine line patterns.
• Hammered and flamed surface textures can heighten dimensional interest and closely imitate natural stone and enhance slip-resistance.
Glazed porcelain The need for richer porcelain tile patterns in high-traffic areas with cost-effective porcelain tiling led to the introduction of glazed finishes. But the application of a thin layer of glaze affects porcelain’s physical characteristics, so the surface hardness or glaze abrasion must be reassessed for commercial applications.
Unglazed porcelain offers a better performance for high-traffic areas. The blurred line between unglazed and glazed porcelain may cause problems with installation, or even installation failures, so it is essential to understand performance variations in the different porcelain types.
As performance is affected by surface finish, when specifying porcelain tiles, especially glazed porcelain, it is important to consider surface abrasion resistance, referring to the ISO 10545-7 abrasion class and the Mohs scratch resistance evaluation, which should be at least four and six respectively for high-traffic areas.
Format and customisation Traditionally, tiled flooring surfaces for high-traffic areas had relatively small square- format tiles because larger tiles could be difficult to fire. But now, following investment in production processes and design, 300 x 600mm and 450 x 900mm tiles are the most popular format in Britain, and tiles up to 900 x 1,200mm are available.
The trend towards customisation has transformed commercial flooring and facades, encouraged by research into decorative effects. Rectifying, polishing and satin finishing can be used to treat unglazed porcelain and relief work has become more elaborate, aided by specialist laser machines and new coating technologies which can be used to apply a relief. Rectification, a treatment which is applied to the final product, allows dimensions to be adjusted. Digital printing, hydraulic cutting, grinding machines and slim profile tiles have expanded the possibilities.
Installation: flooring surfaces Laying porcelain tiles correctly relies on adhesive methods suitable for specific tiles and applications. The support base, intermediate substrates and surface must be suited to the adhesive. Establish that the support base is suitable by quantifying its dimensional stability and checking its flexibility, mechanical strength and sensitivity to water and surface-soundness.
Variations should be within a permitted range. Water resistance is important; even moderately water-sensitive backgrounds may need a damp-proofing primer. Surface soundness and flatness influence the support base’s suitability for installation. Only use a suitable adhesive and thin-bed fixing method and polymer-formulated products are recommended because of porcelain’s low porosity. Adhesives should be applied when the material substrate and ambient temperature are between 5 and 30°C.
Installation: ventilated facades Ventilated tile facades are functional but attractive and achieve high energy efficiency and they incorporate air gaps which provide ventilation and thermal insulation. Support systems are usually aluminium or steel, often with vertical sections anchored to load- bearing walls and horizontal support brackets, allowing movement through building expansion joints. Installing ceramic cladding panels only requires mechanical fixings on the building’s exterior walls, to which the exterior tiles will be fixed. The process is quick because the fixings and ceramic panels or tiles are prefabricated. Porcelain is suitable for ventilated facades because it is hard and has low porosity, requiring minimal maintenance. Following extensive research and developing of glazes and digital printing systems, there is now an enormous choice of decorative porcelain finishes.
Tile of Spain
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Further information www.spaintiles.info
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