Lippage, trippage... what are the fixes?

kmcgOctober 14, 2012

I did a test walk on our newly laid floor, and noticed several corners with noticeable differences in tile height. Ouch potential! These are rectified porcelain 12x12 tiles, with a grout line of just a hair over 1/8". Tiles are flat and true. The contractor put in new subfloor, then the floor heat coils, then whatever gray goo sits on top of that. He used modified thinset from a big brown bag to set the tiles. The floor was grouted Thursday. I was assuming it would be essentially perfect since they were working with a new, level floor.

I need to figure out what to tell the contractor. I want to be fair but I have to live with this for 20 years or so! I did Bill V's credit card test to identify all the spots where the card would crash into a higher tile, and it's probably 15 tiles in a 35 square foot area. About half of those areas look like the difference is about 1/16", maybe more. The others are more subtle, but still stop the credit card abruptly. Does this seem like a problem to you experts?

Are there ways to fix this that don't involve ripping out the tiles - like sanding down the corners and sealing them, or adding more grout so it buffers the sharp edges better? If the tiles were just set 5-6 days prior, is pulling them less horendous than I'm imagining? Will the heat coils need to also come up? I'm assuming there's no way those tiles could be re-used, right?

Thanks in advance for advice!

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I'll be following this, as - to a lesser degree - I too have a similar scenario with 12x24 rectified tile / newly installed floor / heat coils underneath ........

    Bookmark   October 14, 2012 at 11:51PM
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Lippage standards are 1/32" for grout joints up to 1/4" wide and 1/16th of an inch for joints over 1/4" wide. And 1/32nd of an inch is indeed just about the thickness of a credit card. If you look up and standard you might see these number in reference to "pavers", don't let that confuse you. We think of pavers as the thick cement-based patio pavers. But the industry refers to pavers as floor tiles.

As to adding more grout, making a grout "ramp" from one tile to another is more effective with wider grout joints. Like most things though, if you're going to do this, the sooner it is done, the better.

Sanding or grinding down the high edges of the tile, it's not a typical option with a glazed tile. Rectified does have a sharp sawn edge. There is the possibility that the edge could be eased just a bit. Bit that's a crap shoot, and there are variables involved.

Removing and resetting can indeed be the best option. But with under-tile RFH, your concerns are valid as care has to be taken to not damage the heating elements.

With any cementitious installation (thinset or grout), it's best to make repairs or modifications sooner rather than later due to the bond strength increasing over time.

Not that I'm defending your tile guy. But I'll write that even after it has been set, tile can move. He could have set the tile perfectly, but as thinset cures, it can shrink a bit. The shrinking can simply pull down one edge of a tile, or even pull down one edge and elevate the opposite edge. So perhaps there could have been a little post-setting movement. Again, that's not an excuse. Just a reality. A frustrating reality at times.

So sure, talk to your tile setter, or to your GC. Whatever the chain-of-command may be in your case. Your main points are that the setter had control over the substrate and the SLC should have provided a flat setting bed. The tile was rectified, so tile warpage should have been minimized, resulting in a near lippage-free installation.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2012 at 10:17AM
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mongo - Thanks a million. This is really helpful as I prepare to talk with the contractor. I promise not to tell him his tile guy is incompetent! Just curious - do you use one of those little tile level tools as you work? I'm pretty sure this guy eyeballed this, although he did get nice grout lines.

anajane - I hope your problem works out for you.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2012 at 12:00PM
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It certainly depends on the job at hand, but when tolerance does matter, yes, I do use a straight edge for checking tile elevation.

In a critical installation, setting tile "flat" is more than just controlling lippage. It's about getting the entire surface in plane. That's especially important with light reflection; a polished stone floor in a highly windowed entry for example. Any slight changes in plane will be highlighted when they show a broken up reflection. You can have zero lipage but still have a wonky surface. Thus the use of a straight edge.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2012 at 12:19PM
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