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Thread: Plywood thickness under tile

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    DIY Member SH140's Avatar
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    Default Plywood thickness under tile

    After reading a bunch of posts on this subject, 1 1/4" thickness seems to be the minimum thickness recommended, (usually 3/4" plus 1/2"). There is already 5/8" plywood underlayment, can I add another 5/8" sheet and have enough strength for tile?

    I also had about 1/4" to 1/3" out of flat problem, detected with a 4' metal straight edge, on the sub-flooring. Most of the problem occurs in a shorter distance. (1 or 2 feet). I removed a section of the sub-floor and found one of the floor joists was at least 1/4" high. I shaved it down to match the surrounding area and replaced the plywood..........My question is..How much flatness variation is OK, and over how short of a span. Will be using large format tile. (12" x 12", or 8" x 24"). Thanks
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    Retired Defense Industry Engineer jadnashua's Avatar
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    It's nice to get as stiff a subfloor as possible, but in fact, the MINIMUM TCNA guidelines for a tiled floor over 16" OC joists is 5/8" with T&G (or blocked seams). More is nice, and is required if the tile is natural stone (second layer a minimum of 3/8"). Many pros would not even consider laying tile over 5/8" (except a low-cost new house, or a flip, maybe), but it will hold up if that layer is properly installed and in good condition. It's always nice to get a bit over the minimum, and I'd not have any problems installing over a good layer of 3/4".

    I'd have to look it up, but for flatness, I think the standard is 1/8" in 10'.

    But, subflooring is only one part of the equation...the joists must also meet the minimum (preferably better) deflection standard of L/360 for ceramic (porcelain is a type of ceramic and has the same requirements). If that's deficient, no amount of subflooring will provide a reliable result.
    Jim DeBruycker
    Important note - I'm not a pro
    Retired Defense Industry Engineer; Schluter 2.5-day Workshop Completed 2013, 2014

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    ACO Shower Drain Sales johnfrwhipple's Avatar
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    Default Plywood Thickness for Tile Installs - 3/4" and 5/8" plywood does not cut it.

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    Last edited by johnfrwhipple; 03-16-2014 at 07:23 AM.


    jfrwhipple@gmail.com - www-no-curb.com - 604 506 6792

    Always get construction advice double checked by your local city hall. Flood Test Every Shower - Every Time.

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    DIY Member SH140's Avatar
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    Thanks for the info. I think I'll be OK with the deflection. I have 9" joists, 14" O.C., with a span of about 10'. I'll be using Laticrete thinsets, with Ditra also.
    As far as the floor flatness issue, can any of it be compensated for with thinset thickness at tile install?

  5. #5
    Retired Defense Industry Engineer jadnashua's Avatar
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    FWIW, the Robinson floor test that is the basis for the approved tile installation methods makes no distinction between the tile size or shape, only in composition (ceramic or natural stone). So, the industry standards say, properly installed, L/360 works for ceramic, that's okay by me...they have the test results and industry concurrence. Certainly, more is nice.

    Cross-bracing does help with POINT loads, but has NOTHING to do with a distributed load...the joists are only so strong, and if a load is applied to all of them, cross-bracing adds little. What cross-bracing does do, as I said, is help with point loads AND it helps the existing joists MAINTAIN their load-carrying capacity, since it keeps them parallel with the load, and thus upright and able to use their full strength rather than potentially twisting and presenting a less than ideal load path. It can also change the resonant frequency of the floor, which is more of a perceived strength than a real one. IOW, a well-braced floor will feel stronger than any actual change, which is not a bad thing, but none of the industry standards require it.

    FWIW, when I was at the CTEF, where they do the Robinson floor test to verify the installation manual for TCNA and the manufacturers, they had some floor tile that was something like 2'x4'...same results, size doesn't matter. Installation is crucial, you must get good coverage of thinset and have a floor within the specified strength. The bigger the tile, the more important it is to burn thinset onto the back and ensure you have nice even coverage AND set it well to get proper coverage, which is the key thing for any tile, but crucial on a larger tile where a void could lead to cracking.

    Thinset, by design, is not intended to be applied very thick. Depending on how big the deviations from flat your floor is, if it does not exceed the max depth for the thinset you are using, yes, you can use it to level as you go. But, it is MUCH harder to do this while maintaining full coverage or risking the tile sinking into the thinset if you happen to lean on it (or just gravity of it's own weight) if you aren't careful. In this instance, you might want to consider something like the Tuscan Leveling system or the QEP clips and wedges (there are others, too) that actually hold the adjacent tiles perfectly level with each other. While the QEP stuff is a little harder to use, if you aren't doing it often, you don't need to buy the tool required with the Tuscan system, and you don't need to think ahead as far (their clips MUST be soaked in water overnight before use).
    Last edited by jadnashua; 10-07-2013 at 03:24 PM. Reason: added some info...
    Jim DeBruycker
    Important note - I'm not a pro
    Retired Defense Industry Engineer; Schluter 2.5-day Workshop Completed 2013, 2014

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    ACO Shower Drain Sales johnfrwhipple's Avatar
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    Default Uncoupling Systems with Plywood - what thickness for the tile

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    jfrwhipple@gmail.com - www-no-curb.com - 604 506 6792

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    ACO Shower Drain Sales johnfrwhipple's Avatar
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    Default

    Post(s) removed by John Whipple
    Last edited by johnfrwhipple; 03-16-2014 at 07:23 AM.


    jfrwhipple@gmail.com - www-no-curb.com - 604 506 6792

    Always get construction advice double checked by your local city hall. Flood Test Every Shower - Every Time.

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    DIY Senior Member BobL43's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by johnfrwhipple View Post
    If you want to fix it with thin-set you will need a medium bed mortar. We often set this way.

    .................................................. .................................................. ..........................
    Better wait for Jim to double check all this with his notes - I think he is going to tell us non-modfied thin-set is stronger than modified next.
    .
    Hi John, just peeked in here again; Been real busy, but I missed this place. I see you still have a way with words, so don't hold anything back
    I am definitely not a pro plumber, but I am a pro crastinator

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    ACO Shower Drain Sales johnfrwhipple's Avatar
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    Post(s) removed by John Whipple
    Last edited by johnfrwhipple; 03-16-2014 at 07:23 AM.


    jfrwhipple@gmail.com - www-no-curb.com - 604 506 6792

    Always get construction advice double checked by your local city hall. Flood Test Every Shower - Every Time.

  10. #10
    Retired Defense Industry Engineer jadnashua's Avatar
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    If John would read what I said, I also suggested the QEP LASH system so you DIDN'T have to buy the tool, but both will work. For a pro, using it often, I think the consistency you get with the tool is faster and more reliable, but the LASH system works fine if you use it properly.

    I've never said a dryset was stronger than a modified, BUT, there's always the question of how much do you need, and what is the application. There's a very good technical reason why Schluter calls for an unmodified between the tile and the mat...independent tests have shown that a modified was still not up to the specs (i.e., still wet) after two months when they stopped looking. How long are you willing to wait for that extra strength that is not needed? The bond between the Ditra and the floor will break FAR before the bond between the tile and the mortar. Since neither the tile nor the mortar holding it into the Ditra mat is physically connected to the floor, you get PLENTY of allowance for expansion and contraction, so the argument that you must have a modified for that tile is kind of moot IF you understand how it works!

    All floors are designed (or should be!) for a dead load and a live load. Exceeding the sum of the dead and live load means the floor is overloaded. Anything attached to the joists or hung from them is a dead load. Adding extra layers of ply, blocking, etc., come at a cost - raising the dead load on the structure. A tiled installation can be quite heavy when you start to add layers that are not required. Exceeding the load design on a floor doesn't mean immediate failure...I've read some forensic test results on failed tile installations that occurred after something like 10-years that was finally attributed to excessive dead loads. A common design for residences is a 40# dead load and a 10# live load per square foot. In a bathroom, your total floor load can add up very fast. Keep in mind, a non-loadbearing wall is also a dead load applied to the floor as is stuff like heating ducts, drain lines, whatever subflooring you have, and the ceiling drywall of the floor below since all of that is being supported by the joists. Then, throw in a fully tiled shower with a full-conventional mudded pan, and maybe a 6' soaking tub and you can exceed the dead+live load of the floor. Throw in a nice granite counter on a big vanity (at around 250#/cuft) and it starts to add up really fast. This often doesn't show up for years, if it does at all. But, the object here is to know when enough is enough. Adding extra stuff than the industry has tested and approved that works COULD lead to a failure further down the road. The belt and suspenders approach may just come back to bite you...it is important to build strong, but it is also important to know when enough is enough. I don't think John realizes that. He really likes belt and suspender redundancy...
    Last edited by jadnashua; 10-08-2013 at 11:23 PM. Reason: fixed one number
    Jim DeBruycker
    Important note - I'm not a pro
    Retired Defense Industry Engineer; Schluter 2.5-day Workshop Completed 2013, 2014

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    ACO Shower Drain Sales johnfrwhipple's Avatar
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    Default I've never said a dryset was stronger than a modified

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    jfrwhipple@gmail.com - www-no-curb.com - 604 506 6792

    Always get construction advice double checked by your local city hall. Flood Test Every Shower - Every Time.

  12. #12
    Retired Defense Industry Engineer jadnashua's Avatar
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    John, you sure know how to twist words.

    ALL cement products require moisture to properly cure and attain their full strength. Putting it between a waterproof membrane and a nearly impervious tile means any moisture that is there doesn't evaporate (well, at a typical 1% max absorption rate, some will slowly get through porcelain, but maybe none through glass tile) and can be incorporated into the cement's crystalline structure. So, holding what moisture IS there, means the concrete gets to fully achieve its strength AND (this is the big thing that at least Schluter realizes) you get a guaranteed, repeatable, reliable result in a realistic timeframe. Sort of like wetting or covering a newly poured slab. But, a modified also needs to DRY. A modified thinset does not attain it's full strength until it both cures AND dries. The study showed that it still had not dried its modifiers after two months, when they stopped. It's a different story whey you install it on something like say cbu...that stuff will wick away the moisture just fine, and in fact, if you don't prewet it, it will wick it away TOO fast, before the thinset can cure and create a weak bond. This is also one reason why you use a modified underneath Ditra - it CAN dry out. Nowhere in the section you quoted did I even mention a modified thinset, so to characterize that as unmodified is stronger has no basis at all. All I said was when using a membrane like Kerdi (or Noble's, or anyone's), the mechanical bond of the membrane to the wall or floor is MUCH less than a dryset mortar's bond to the tile. So, why is it so 'necessary' for strength? Installed over cbu, it may be nice partly because there's more mass and no cleavage layer between the wall and the tile.

    I never said the room ended up on the lower floor...I'm talking about cracks in the floor that didn't happen for years after the install. A dead load in excess of the design means the floor doesn't rebound, and takes a set. The longer that load is applied, it will continue to bend until it reaches some equilibrium. This can increase as live loads are added and removed, thus the reason why it may take a long time to become noticeable. The joists are only so elastic. Ever notice an old building's roof where it has dips between each rafter? Likely overloaded (snow?) periodically. It didn't bend that far the first season, it bent a little more as that load was applied each time it was overloaded. Your floor will do the same thing if it is overloaded. It just takes time.

    A bathroom can have a very significant load on the floor. Run the numbers by yourself. See how close you get to the typical design build of a residential floor of 40+10. When you throw in the partition walls, all of the subflooring, the tile underlayment, the mortar, the fasteners, the tile, the toilet, the shower, the vanity, the heavy granite countertop...it all adds up. Then, in your fancy homes you like to work on, throw in a 100# chandelier hanging from that floor below and a real plaster ceiling, and your dead load margin goes down even quicker.

    Throwing in extra stuff just because it makes you feel better, is not always the right decision...the cost/benefit/risk needs to be taken into account.
    Jim DeBruycker
    Important note - I'm not a pro
    Retired Defense Industry Engineer; Schluter 2.5-day Workshop Completed 2013, 2014

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    DIY Member Justadrip's Avatar
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    For those of you newbies that want a bit of backround....
    Mr Whipple:
    Banned from at least 2 tile forums 1) John Bridge and 2)Contractor Talk
    Denied from joining TileGeeks on Facebook
    Told to cease and desist his slanderous rants from a major manufacturer of tile products(read his posts and you can guess what one)
    Does very little tile himself. Stands around watching and takes credit for his setters work.
    He is a plumber
    Looked at as a complete and utter lunatic from everyone in the tile industry.
    Thinks, in his own mind, he is a major player in the world of tile.

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    DIY Member Justadrip's Avatar
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    You forgot to mention
    A hot topic on Moderns Board Room.....

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    Retired Defense Industry Engineer jadnashua's Avatar
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    You gotta love someone who thinks he knows better than hundreds of engineers, multiple testing agencies, thousands and thousands of installs, and years and years of experience, that his way is the only way to do something, and better than anyone else's.
    Jim DeBruycker
    Important note - I'm not a pro
    Retired Defense Industry Engineer; Schluter 2.5-day Workshop Completed 2013, 2014

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