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Thin porcelain tiles: practical benefits, design options and proven installation techniques

By offering an extensive range of exquisite porcelain tiles, exemplary customer service and a real dedication to state-of-the-art testing, Porcel-Thin has established a peerless reputation for thin porcelain contract tile supply.
But, as Ray Smith, Managing Director, is quick to point out, the success of this fast-growing business is based on much more that its broad portfolio of top quality porcelain tiles in a range of attractive styles.

“While our lightweight, ultra-thin porcelain tiles offer a range of practical benefits and attractive style choices to specifiers, architects and interior designers; it’s the added value of our range of specialist services that makes us the go-to people for tile contract supply,” explains Smith.

“From single, luxury homes, through to large scale international projects, Porcel-Thin’s dedicated contract supply department provides timely, professional support that customers can rely on. With experience in both domestic and commercial developments, including current projects in London, Dubai and Las Vegas, our specialist team are well versed in all aspects of tile contract supply,” continues Smith.

However, as TSJ’s Joe Simpson found when he recently visited Porcel-Thin’s HQ in Rotherhithe, South London, the company is keen to educate and inform customers not only about the many benefits of thin porcelain tiles, but also about the correct way to test and install this outstanding material.

For instance, Porcel-Thin provides independent PTV tile slip resistance and Light Reflectance Value (LRV) testing for specifiers, interior designers and architects.

PTV testing to determine the exact slip resistance of any type of porcelain, ceramic or stone tiles enables the company to offer advice and products best suited to any environment and usage.

LRV testing allows Porcel-Thin to accurately ascertain the exact colour of any porcelain tile or surface covering; thereby making it much easier for interior designers to attain consistent results when matching or contrasting tones.

The company also has a lot to offer when it comes to selecting the ideal tile for specific applications. From antibacterial tiles ideal for medical institutions, through to ultra-large format digitally printed stone or wood reproductions, Porcel-Thin’s lightweight yet incredibly strong tiles aim to set a worldwide benchmark for quality and design.

Of course, the basis of thin porcelain’s appeal lies in the material composition and manufacturing technique.  While standard tiles are made using wet clay, porcelain tiles are formed from the dry dust of high quality porcelain clays. The result is a tile which is harder, smoother and with a finer grain. While ceramics are baked to remove the high water content porcelain tiles can be fired at a much higher temperature,  producing a tile with a much lower water absorption rate. This makes them tougher, longer lasting and much more resistant to water and frost than ceramic equivalents.

The porcelain clays used are much denser, have a higher feldspar content and fewer impurities than ordinary clay, giving porcelain tiles their great strength and hard-wearing nature.

Consequently, the porcelain tiles distributed by Porcel-Thin typically have much higher PEI ratings than ceramic alternatives – typically around PEI 3 to 5 – making them ideal for heavy residential and commercial traffic.  Hard-wearing, strong and with a high resistance to water absorption porcelain tiles are also far superior for outdoor use, in all weathers.

Porcel-Thin’s business ethos is that only one surface material is superior to a porcelain tile … and that is a thin porcelain tile.  By working closely with some of the most technically competent manufacturers around the world, particularly in China, Porcel-Thin has moved porcelain floor and wall tiles forward by applying innovative design and next generation manufacturing techniques.

Typically a mere 4.8mm thick, Porcel-Thin’s porcelain tiles are less than half the thickness of standard 13mm porcelain tiles. This results in amazingly thin, lightweight tiles.

“With an ultra-low water absorption rate of just 0.05, Porcel-Thin’s porcelain wall and floor tiles not only have better resistance to moisture and dirt, but independent testing has also confirmed that they are nearly twice as strong as their conventional, full-thickness equivalents,” says Smith.

“In addition to this, we’ve also managed to pull off the seemingly impossible concept of making Porcel-Thin porcelain tiles not only lighter and stronger but larger too,” continues Smith.  “Our large porcelain wall and floor tiles measure 1,200mm by 600mm or 1,800 by 900mm for our Mona Lisa and Mono collections; yet remain light enough to be easily handled by one person. Needless to say, this larger standard format also allows for faster, easier area coverage, even in areas which are traditionally tricky. Using our large porcelain tiles also means less grouting, producing a more seamless finish with fewer materials. Porcel-Thin large porcelain tiles can also be easily applied directly over existing tiling, saving you time and money by not having to worry about prior removal or making good afterwards. Our lightweight wall and floor tiles also mean less overall loading in building construction,” explains Smith.

With thin porcelain there are also huge benefits in on-site handling, lower production and transportation costs: all factors that play well in an era where sustainable construction is so high on the agenda.

Book match tiles provide the wow factor
Porcel-Thin’s Calacatta marble-effect porcelain tile range is the perfect blend of practicality with classical elegance.  A sophisticated reproduction of white marble with strong black veins, the book match collection can create up to seven striking and eye-catching mirrored patterns; all of which are easily achieved to cover an area 4.8 metres in width by 3 metres in height.

Using ultra-realistic digital printing, these Calacatta marble effect tiles recreate the opulence of natural stone, without the drawbacks of cutting and installing heavy, fragile natural marble.  In addition, the mirroring effect of book match thin porcelain tiles enables the creation of stunning fractal designs, highly suitable for the creation of large feature walls in both domestic settings and commercial spaces.

The hardwearing nature of Porcel-Thin’s book matched marble-effect tiles also lends itself to uses for which natural marble would be unsuitable, such as the construction of feature floors in the entrance halls of large luxury houses or commercial reception areas.

Porcel-Thin’s Calacatta range has already proved popular.  It was, for instance, specified by The Studio Harrods for their luxury hotel suite design study, unveiled at the Sleep Design event in November 2015.

Porcel-Thin will be extending it’s range of book matched marble-effect tiles through 2016 and beyond, the aim being to ensure that there is an attractive, hardwearing and scratch-resistant mirror pattern available for use wherever high quality and elegant designs are valued.

As the feature in this issue of TSJ shows, underfloor heating is enjoying a period of sustained growth and popularity.  Already firmly established in Northern Europe, it is fast becoming the preferred option for new build homes in the UK.  If the UFH system selected is either hot water pumped through pipes under the floor (a ‘wet’ system) or electrical heating coils beneath the tiles (a ‘dry’ system) thin porcelain tiles, claims Porcel-Thin, are proven to be the perfect partner for UFH.

While ordinary ceramic tiles, natural stone and even wooden floors can be installed above UFH systems, large thin porcelain floor tiles make the most of an UFH system.

“Typical of the current UFH market,’ explains Smith, “was the developer of a stunning penthouse apartment in central London.  He chose Porcel-Thin tiles for their size and quality, but also because their ultra-thin format allowed the underfloor heating to heat up faster and work more efficiently.”

“With a thickness of between 4.8mm and 5.5mm, our large porcelain floor tiles are significantly thinner than traditional porcelain tiles (typically 10 to 13mm thick), and thus require around a third less energy to reach and maintain their required temperature.  Consequently, our ultra thin porcelain tiles also heat up faster than standard tiled or wood floors, ensuring that the underfloor heating much more responsive,” says Smith.

Despite their slim profile Porcel-Thin’s large porcelain floor tiles are incredibly strong and hardwearing, due to their being pressed rather than extruded.  This rugged, highly resistant, construction also means that Porcel-Thin’s tiles do not require any additional strengthening, such a fibreglass mesh.  Smith is very clear on this point.  “The use of strengthening materials can actually cause lesser thin tiles to fail, with the mesh matting expanding at a different rate and thus stressing the floor tiles laid on it. With Porcel-Thin’s large porcelain floor tiles this is simply not a problem,” he claims.

Cutting-edge new designs
Treasured since classical antiquity, the exquisite splendour of Statuario marble has now been flawlessly reproduced by Porcel-Thin for the new Statuario Onyx marble-effect wall and floor tiles.  Utilising cutting-edge digital printing techniques, this new stone-effect tile forms part of the popular 3D Shadow tile collection.  Statuario Onyx marble-effect tiles replicate perfectly the much prized white Italian stone, shot through with elegant veins; the colour of which, in natural marble, can vary from grey to gold.  In this aspect the Statuario marble effect floor and wall tiles are similar in appearance to the classic Carrara and Calacatta marble tiles already in Porcel-Thin’s Ferrara Collection; enabling easy matching while maintaining the subtle individuality of each collection.

Available in the extra-large 1,800 by 900mm format, or in a smaller 900 by 900mm option, the new Statuario Onyx marble effect tiles a striking new addition to the portfolio.  They are straightforward to install, offering easy cutting, simple shaping and lightweight handling on site.

Another new design, the Paris collection, is billed as Porcel-Thin’s premier league porcelain floor and wall tiles.  Just like the city from which it takes its name, the Paris collection is the epitome of modern style.  Chic and sophisticated, it comes in an impressive range of thirty-six different designs: from classic plain colours like pure white, warm cream, bold aquamarine and elegant grey, through to contemporary patterns and even abstract nature prints.

The Aquamarine large porcelain tiles make an elegant and practical substitute for coloured glass in kitchens and bathrooms; an excellent choice for a hardwearing splashback, as they were in one of the bathrooms created by Porcel-Thin for the 2015 Sleep hotel design event.

The Paris range has already found favour with high end designers and luxury developers.  Interior design and project management consultancy, Nicola Scannell Design recently made use of Porcel-Thin’s porcelain bathroom tiles in a luxury south-London home refurbishment and extension, using a mixture of the Vintage Floss and Tree pattern porcelain tiles to create a cool, modern look.

The company’s standard 1,200 by 600mm thin porcelain tiles are robust enough for both indoor and outdoor applications, allowing for a wide variety of design options. Even at only 4.8mm thick the matt or polished porcelain tiles will resist water from a power shower or steamy bathroom.

Another popular option in Porcel-Thin’s range are highly realistic wood-effect porcelain tiles.  These offer all the warmth and elegance of timber yet still retain the convenience of a hardwearing, easy to maintain, modern surface.
Offering the textured feel of natural wood, but without the drawbacks which prevent timber products being used in areas such as bathrooms and wetrooms, Porcel-Thin now has two premium porcelain wood-effect wall and floor tile ranges: Pattaya and Mono Lisa.

Pattaya draws it’s inspiration from the elegant wood grain patterns of South East Asia.  It is available in five tones, from Rice White to Ebony, with three natural colour shades. The Mono Lisa range, available in a 1,800 by 900mm format, provide a choice of two ash-effect ash tiles in light or dark tones, together with a Wood Wave tile with a deep colour reminiscent of dark mahogany or rosewood.

Wood-effect tiles can be used in all areas of the home including challenging locations such as bathrooms, steam rooms, wet rooms, swimming pools or exterior areas.  Due to their high strength and durable nature, wood-effect porcelain tiles can also be used in high traffic areas, such as entrances or hallways.  Together with their innate weather resistance this allows for designs which flow from the exterior of a building into the inside: design styles which ‘bring the outside, inside’ are very much in vogue at the moment.

Wood-effect floor tiles are also efficient when used in conjunction with UFH systems. Natural wood is an insulant, which makes wooden floors slow to heat and inefficient. Thin porcelain tiles conduct the heat much more quickly, warming a room in less time and using less energy.

New antibacterial tiles
In 2016 Porcel-Thin launched a new range of porcelain, antibacterial tiles that take advantage of the properties of Zinc Oxide (ZnO); a compound that is well known for its ability to kill and control a wide variety of harmful bacteria. The zinc oxide nanoparticles used in the new antibacterial tiles are highly stable, have a long shelf life and, most importantly, contain high levels of antimicrobial agents.  These properties create an ultra-thin porcelain tile that is ideally suited for long term use in any environment where cleanliness and hygiene are major considerations.

One of the biggest problems with traditional bacterial control ceramic and porcelain tiles is that once the glaze, which houses the antibacterial properties, is damaged (through ageing, wear and tear, etc) the effectiveness of the tile is compromised.   Once this first and only line of defence is breached, the exposed inner make-up of these tiles can allow bacteria to form.

Porcel-Thin’s new concept of imbuing the whole of their bacteria control porcelain tiles with antibacterial properties solves this problem at a stroke.  With the entire porcelain tile containing antibacterial zinc oxide nanoparticles the new Porcel-Thin product retains its bacterial fighting properties, even if the surface is penetrated.

These new antibacterial  tiles have undergone independent testing by the UK Health & Safety laboratory and were found to be extremely effective in killing both MRSA and MSSA.  Their tests recorded that a bacterial kill rate of 98% and 96% respectively was seen over a 24 hour period.

These antibacterial tiles are ideal for use in a wide range of applications. Perfectly suited for medical institutions, such as hospitals, doctors’ surgeries, dentists, clinics or even veterinary surgeries, their long lasting, durable bacteria control can also be highly desirable in places where hygiene is an important consideration, such as food and beverage production units or research laboratories. Moving beyond such specialist environments, antibacterial tiles can also be of great value in gyms, health clubs, swimming pools or businesses such as tattoo parlours, beauty clinics and therapy rooms.

Insider’s guide to cutting and installation
It is fair to say that the installation advice provided by Ray Smith and his team is sometimes at odds with the accepted wisdom of the UK tiling fraternity.  However Porcel-Thin points to the top-notch list of contractors with whom the company has long established business relationships, and the host of successfully completed contracts, as proof that their carefully considered installation techniques really work.

For Smith, cutting and shaping thin porcelain tiles starts with a robust workbench, covered with a layer of fibre-bonded carpet.  This material is used because it absorbs vibration, reduces noise from power tools, protects tiles against accidental damage and, perhaps most importantly of all, allows clear unobstructed access to the tiles without tiring bending by the fixer.

“Porcelain tiles are generally harder and more durable than ceramic products.  Some people believe that this makes them harder to cut and shape,” comments Smith.  “This is not the case with Porcel-Thin.  Although it is, indeed, an incredibly strong, solid porcelain tile, with the correct tiling tools and knowledge Porcel-Thin tiles can be easily cut, drilled and shaped for a perfect finish every time.  

To prove the point readers can visit our website – www.porcel-thin.com – and watch a simple video in which I demonstrate how easy it is to cut, drill and shape Porcel-Thin large format ultra-thin tiles using a variety of tools and techniques,” says Smith.

For cutting straight edges, or even curves, Smith swears by a professional glass cutter with an integral oil reservoir.  Offering fast, smooth cutting, the life of the tungsten carbide wheel is greatly extended by the lubricating oil which is dispensed via a pressure release system. These oil-filled glass cutter, originally designed for 6 to 12mm thick glass, make light work of Porcel-Thin’s 4.8mm thick porcelain tiles, producing sharp, clean cuts time after time.  All that is required is a straight-edged guide.

Smith is certain that using a glass cutter on a work bench offer superior results because it allows even the largest tiles to be scored and snapped in one fluid, continuous, movement: something, he contends, is very hard to achieve with conventional tile cutters.

Smith has equally clear views on mixing and applying adhesive when fixing ultra-large format porcelain tiles.  He is convinced, following extensive testing, that a standard width notched floor trowel, with adhesive mixed at the stiffer end of its mixing envelope, simply will not provide the degree of adhesive coverage required to achieve failure-free installation.

His preferred method is to mix the adhesives at the upper limits of its wetness range, creating a easily deformable mix.  He then advocates applying this with a Ragni R319 mastic trowel with a serrated edge.  This provides a high count of thinner adhesive beads.  The tile, back-buttered with a 1mm skim, can then be slid into position, achieving extremely high coverage rates.  The alternative method of vertically placing the tile and then spreading the adhesive beads using pressure simply does not achieve the same high coverage rates, believes Smith.

To prove the enhanced coverage achieved with the ‘slim bead and slide’ method, Smith advocates that fixers use a simple glass sheet as a ‘trial’ tile.  This allows the installer to witness the enhanced coverage that this method achieves; as the results can be clearly seen through the transparent glass tile.

In addition to invaluable tips on thin porcelain tile cutting and adhesive preparation, Smith is also more than happy to provide professional tiling contractors with fully researched and tested guidance on selecting suitable backerboards, installing tiles over UFH systems, and selecting and installing movement joints; as well as practical advice on edge protection, adhesive and grout formulations, and tiling trims.  His aim is to ensure that the manifold benefits of thin porcelain tiles are not compromised by poor site practice and ill-conceived installation techniques.