By David Wilson, Head of UK Technical Standards and Information at BAL: a market-leading manufacturer of full tiling solutions.
Every year more than 15,000 modular homes are built in the UK, plus thousands more in the commercial sector for hotels, hospitality, and leisure facilities.
Able to be mass produced, on average modular construction is faster and cheaper compared to traditional construction methods. The demand for modular construction grows each year as is thought to be fundamental in order to meet the UK’s housing and commercial needs.
These pods may typically be constructed from, for example, steel with building boards forming the walls and with steel or tile backing boards for floors. These are then transported completed with decorative finishes installed such as tiling, direct to site ready for final installation.
It is, therefore, essential that the tile adhesives and grouting products used will perform, combining high bond strength, enhanced flexibility and durability. Use of specialist products and careful design is required to ensure the tiling is robust enough to survive transport and installation on-site.
Challenges also come from the requirement for quick and easy off-site installation on production lines where tiling and waterproofing should be installed in accordance with British Standards Codes of Practice.
Adhesive companies, like BAL, need to take a holistic approach to working with pod manufacturers in order to meet their requirements.
Producing a specification for a pod manufacturer requires the need to look at the bigger picture.
There are so many things to consider, including the background, the environment, speed of production, transportation and final installation.
As with any type of tiling installation, considerations for tiling in modular builds should account for ensuring the background is capable of supporting the load it has to bear, where required the background is resistant to changing moisture conditions, potential water ingress and that the background is rigid and stable. Selection of tiles will also dictate the choice of tile adhesive and grout.
Depending on the background material, you may be able to tile directly to it, for example an S2 rubber-crumb based product like BAL Single Part FastFlex onto stainless/ galvanised steel, etc, may be considered.
Pod manufacturers may decide to overboard the steel with a lightweight tile backer board, in which case an S1 deformable cementitious tile adhesive, like BAL Flex One, may be considered.
If the construction is wooden, it may be that the areas to be tiled are also fitted with tile backer boards to provide extra strength and rigidity. Tiling direct to wood, can cause major issues, particularly with deflection and moisture; which I will touch on more later.
In most cases tiled areas within pod construction may typically be found in showers, bathrooms and kitchens; all areas which are affected by temperature and moisture.
It is, therefore, important to provide fast-track and dependable waterproofing systems that are easy to install.
British Standards already support waterproofing in wet areas, under the requirements of BS 5385: Parts 1 and 4.
BS 5385: Part 4 offers advice in Section 7 on wet and damp conditions. Wet areas in this section include domestic use showers (occasional wetting), or any other location that is subjected to frequent water contact including wet rooms and power showers. This means that it isn’t just wet rooms where tanking membranes may be required.
Tiles and grout alone are not enough to protect underlying substrates from possible water ingress. Cementitious adhesives and grout are water resistant but not impervious to water, meaning water may potentially pass through the joints into the underlaying substrates.
That is why a suitable waterproof tanking system – such as BAL Tank-it – is recommended in all wet areas including modular systems.
Not only is it rapid setting (90 minutes) it is also suitable where limited movement may occur and is particularly suitable for use in modular construction.
A waterproofing product that can be used on walls and floors with no ancillary reinforcing matting also improves the speed of application.
The main advantage of modular construction is the speed of build. Typically, a prefabricated bathroom pod can be constructed in less than a day and be ready for installation at the construction site which can take a matter of hours.
However, this speed of construction also provides its challenges, particularly to the tilers on the production line and adhesive manufacturers.
Then a tile adhesive may be required that sets in maximum of say 3-6 hours. Most pod manufacturers’ construction lines are temperature controlled, so that consistency for drying times can be achieved.
Finally a quick drying, flexible grout, like BAL Micromax2 is essential to complete the installation.
Combining the potential of fast-track construction with a unique degree of dimensional stability the pods are manufactured off-site and then transported to the project site, it is imperative that all the products used in the tiling areas will perform accordingly.
Tanking, adhesives and grouts must have some element of flexibility and deformability (typically S1 or S2 for adhesives) and be able to offer increased durability to withstand the rigours of transportation and installation.
All in all, it is imperative to get the best technical advice on any pod or modular construction from a trusted full system solution provider.
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