Category Archives: Tile advice

How can I identify asbestos in an old floor and what can I do about it?

For many decades asbestos was considered to be a useful versatile material that had many benefits for use in buildings, insulation, fireproofing and even floor tiles. That was until the 1960s when evidence started to emerge of its deadly effects.

In 1985 the most deadly type of asbestos was banned in the UK and all types have been banned since 1999. It was so popular though that there is an enormous amount of legacy material still existing and in use in buildings. It is quite safe unless it is disturbed or damaged but in areas where it may be damaged it should be removed or covered up. Floors are one area where damage is most likely because they are intended to be walked upon and can be damaged by footwear or dropped items

Asbestos containing floor tiles, courtesy of the HSE

Any vinyl or bitumen flooring laid before 2000 could potentially contain asbestos and unfortunately it is not easy to identify if it does or not. The average length of home ownership in the UK is 21 years, meaning that more than 50% of homeowners were not in the same property when asbestos was banned so are unlikely to know the history of any existing materials.

Testing the material to confirm the presence of asbestos can cost hundreds of pounds and the subsequent removal if it is present can cost thousands. The best solution in most cases is to enclose the asbestos flooring in another material and ceramic or porcelain tiles are an ideal solution as it will be impossible for the asbestos fibres to escape while the floor is down. It can be made safer still by the use of an uncoupling mat which does not need to be bonded to the substrate, the mat can be laid gently on top of the old floor at the start of the process and then work can commence as normal on top of the mat.

If you have concerns about the potential presence of asbestos in your floor we will be able to help you make the most suitable choice for your situation.

Asbestos containing floor tiles, courtesy of the HSE

Tile Patterns (a.k.a. bonds)

When designing your tile installation one of the key things to decide on is the pattern in which you want to lay your tile. This should not be an afterthought but should be considered alongside the type of tile you want because not all tiles will be suitable for all patterns.

In tiling, the pattern in which the tiles are laid is called the bond, and there are a great deal to choose from. Traditional square, stretcher and herringbone or stack, basket weave and running bond, and so many more, there are a lot of choices.

Tile bond pattern diagram
Just a few examples of tile bonds…

They each add their own visual texture to a room and can alter our perception of the space. For example a herringbone or chevron floor could add visual length.

Chevron floor tiles add length

But care must be taken because you can have too much of a good thing, a large area of complex bond cold be a visual feast or a migraine. Complex bonds require much more skill and time to install and there will be greater waste due to off-cuts which will of course increase the cost of the installation.

How, then, can we decide what will work in the space? If you are choosing a complex bond consider using a relatively plain tile so as not to overload the senses, or consider using the bond only in one specific area for a feature wall.

Here are a few images of different bonds to inspire you…

Straight herringbone
Running bond to brick bond
Vertical stacked bond
Vertical stacked half-offset

Tile shapes

In a recent post we looked at the different types of patterns or bonds in which tiles can be laid. Here we’ll take a look at another important feature to decide upon when choosing tiles, the shape.

The two most common shapes are the square and the rectangle; rectangles typically have a length to height ratio of 3:1 or thereabouts. But in recent years a wide variety of shapes have become popular and they can be laid in an even greater variety of patterns.

Expanding on the 3:1 rectangle, even longer styles are available with ratios of 5:1 or greater.

One of the most popular choices today is the hexagon. Hexagons are incredibly important shapes in nature, of the three shapes which can tile infinitely (when you place many of them next to each other there are no gaps), equilateral triangles, squares and hexagons, a hexagon is the most efficient as it can encompass the largest area with the shortest perimeter

Natural hexagons, honeycomb and the Giant’s Causeway

It is no wonder that this wonderful shape has found its way into many homes in recent years, it is efficient and attractive, it provides a regular structure without relying on right angles.

Trapeziums can make interesting patterns, though laying them feels a bit like competing in the Krypton Factor.

Another unusual quadrilateral is the diamond, often in tiling a diamond pattern is made by simply tilting a square 45 degrees, but these diamonds are proper rhombuses

After using up all the quadrilaterals and hexagons we get into some very unusual shapes;

Moroccan fish scales
Irregular hexagons

Whatever you choose you can be sure that Wirral Fine Tiling can make your new design something special.

Anhydrite screed and Laitance

If you are building a new extension or renovating an existing building the builder might choose to use an anhydrite (calcium sulphate) screed. For the builder it has a couple of benefits, it is pumpable so it can be quicker to install with less manpower, and it is self-levelling.

Once the screed is down and the builder is finished you will probably be very keen to get on with the finishings. Unfortunately the drying and preparation of an anhydrite screed for tiling can be a lengthy and labour intensive process. It can take three or four months for the screed to dry and then meet the humidity requirements for it to be an acceptable substrate for tiling. As it dries a layer of fine particles called laitance is deposited on the surface of the screed.

This laitance is too weak to tile directly on to and should be removed by abrasion 4-6 days after the screed is laid, using a sanding or grinding machine which can be noisy and dirty process, then the loosened dust is vacuumed up.

None of this is ideal and if not done properly it can lead to failure of the tile over time. Fortunately there are now products on the market which help the tiler and the customer avoid many of these issues. Decoupling mats sit between the screed and the tile adhesive and provide a stable background on which to tile without the need to wait for months or to remove laitance, simply vacuum the floor, The mat can be laid in minutes, saving substantial labour costs and tiles can be laid directly on top of it.

If you have an anhydrite screed you want to tile on, be sure to get proper technical advice from your tiler before proceeding to ensure the installation lasts the test of time. At Wirral Fine Tiling we can help advise you on the most suitable matting for your surface.