Happy new year! 2017 is already here, and this might be the year you look at tackling that long awaited tile project in your home. Whether you do it yourself or hire a contractor, it is important that you ensure the substrate is properly prepared to accept your new tile. In most cases (unless you are installing tile directly onto a concrete slab), it would be advisable to utilize an uncoupling membrane. This membrane is installed directly onto your subfloor with thinset mortar. An uncoupling membrane achieves a few things:
Firstly, it separates and protects the tile itself from damage due to expansion and contraction of the subfloor itself. This is important because your house expands and contracts as the seasons change. Your subfloor will too. An uncoupling membrane allows these forces to occur without transmitting the damage to your tile installation.
Secondly, it protects your investment. If you plan on staying in your home for the foreseeable future, chances are you will be selecting a tile that you wish to enjoy. Good quality tiles aren't always cheap, and if you purchase something expensive for your space, you want it to last. Having to redo a poorly done tile installation is not cheap, and the tile itself cannot be reused. A quality uncoupling membrane will always come with a warranty backed by the manufacturer which covers the material and the labor, in the event that a claim is made. Note that for the warranty to be valid, the uncoupling membrane must be installed in compliance with the specific manufacturers directions. Any reputable contractor should be intimately familiar with these requirements - if your installer is not, it may be wise to find a new one.
Thirdly, it will allow you to integrate your tile with neighboring flooring surfaces in the most seamless manner. A typical uncoupling membrane, like Schluter Ditra, is only 1/8 of an inch thick. Compare that with cement board, which comes in 1/4 and 1/2 inch thicknesses. A properly done mud bed is over an inch thick - not very practical in modern homes that were not planned for one from the outset. An uncoupling membrane will allow you to have a flush, or near flush transition with many types of hardwood flooring, including 3/4 inch thick solid hardwood which is very common. The benefit to the homeowner is that you can achieve a flush and seamless transition between your new tile installation and an existing hardwood floor in your home, rather than having to deal with huge height differences and sloppy looking transition pieces.
Please note: If your tile installer is trying to sell you a tile job where the subfloor preparation includes a metal mesh stapled down to your subfloor and filled with a skim coat, they do not have your best interests at heart. Commonly called a scratch coat, this thin mesh does not add any value to the tile installation, and will very likely result in numerous problems down the road, such as cracked tiles and crumbling grout. A scratch coat is an outdated and incorrect method of installation, and should be avoided at all costs.
Be sure to reach out to us at Tremendous Tile Installations Inc. if you have any questions on the usage of uncoupling membranes for your particular installation.