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The Importance of Using Expansion Joints

by Dave Gobis Writers for TILE Magazine receive the editorial calendar a year in advance to allow judicious planning for things such as research, interviews, evaluations, writing and pictures each article must have pictures! Being summertime, distractions from our editorial obligations seemingly increase with perfect weather conditions. his coupled with a little natural procrastination by yours truly found me receiving emails from my editor followed by phone calls that this month!s issue was ready for layout and they needed my article. " had been traveling a lot recently so when " found myself at home with some time off, " was hoping a rainy day would #eep me indoors so that " could start this month!s issue. he rainy day never materiali$ed. here " was, three days before publication and " hadn!t even loo#ed at what topic " was going to be writing about %which means " had no pictures, had done no research, and barely had enough time to type &,'(( words) " am in trouble now!*. " opened my file to see this month!s editorial subject) +,pansion -oints! " was saved! .oo# familiar/ 0nytime tile meets a dissimilar surface, in this case a plastic trench drain, a sealant %caul#* should be used to accommodate the differential movement that will occur. 1ement grout will not provide lasting results and restricts the movement needs of the tile installation. "t!s a rare day when " don!t receive an email that has something to do with the lac# of them. "n the past &( years, " had written && articles and made si, presentations on the topic. " even had a 2'34B folder of pictures of failed jobs on the subject alone. o top it off, " am currently monitoring the installation of e,pansion joints in a swimming pool after the first tiled pool failed, for among other reasons, a lac# of e,pansion joints. 0s part of the tile replacement, sealant is to be installed every &3!25 in a 3((6ft.6 by6'(6ft. pool. 7nce that is completed, the contractor will start replacing the tile on the adjoining 8,'(( s9. ft. pool dec# that has become unbonded after three years of use with nary a movement joint in sight. "n case you!re curious, the total replacement cost under warranty) :8;3,'((. <ailures due to lac# of movement accommodation joints abound. With each failure, fingers point in all directions as retailers, contractors, and installers hope to find a poc#et to pic# other than their own. "n the case above, a reputable union contractor, with whom " actually used to compete against years ago, installed the project. here was not a single e,pansion joint in the pool, dec#, or loc#er room. "n conversation, he li#e most had his share of crac#ed grout, loose tile, and a few tented tile jobs but never a complete failure. =e had his installers put in joints when specified but if nobody as#ed, he would avoid the time, cost, and typical owner>end user resistance to use sealant, caul# joints or pre6made profiles whenever possible. his is the same story we hear on many occasions when problems occur. he late tile industry icon Bob ?oung once said most bond failures are held in place by the @three G!s) God, grout, and gravity.5 Aonetheless, these installations have lost their bond and are on their way to replacement at some point %perhaps with a nice laminate or carpet*, but in many instances, never again with ceramic tile. " have said this before and " will say it again) "f you do not install the appropriate e,pansion>movement accommodation joints in a tile installation, then the 9uestion is when it will fail and not if it will fail.

Bo just what necessitates this overwhelming need for movement %e,pansion* joints/ "t starts with the tile itself. 4any people are 9uite surprised to hear that ceramic tile, a product manufactured by firing clay and other minerals at several thousand degrees, e,pands when e,posed to direct sunlight. Corcelain tile, a dense6bodied product with a low thermal e,pansion rate, e,pands appro,imately . (((((; inches per degree <ahrenheit. "t may sounds minimal, but that same porcelain tile covering ;( linear feet e,posed to a '(6degree change in surface temperature has the potential to e,pand appro,imately &>&2 to 8>835. he adhesion of the bonding material to the tile and substrate reduces the actual amount of e,pansion but does not eliminate it. ypes of tile other than porcelain, especially glass, are much more e,pansive under heat. hermal e,pansion is a two6way street) tile both e,pands and contracts due to thermal variation. his is one reason for my personal preference of using the term movement joints. "f " were only concerned about moisture, then " could use an e,pansion joint. Why/ 4oisture is an e,pansive force on ceramic tile. 7nce it e,pands, it does not contract. ?es, it!s true, as my swimming pool friend above found outD tile e,pands when e,posed to moisture. he growth rate is slow and minimal. +,cept for this minor amount of growth, ceramic tile is unaffected by moisture or water it is an inert material. When someone says they have a tile failure due to e,cessive moisture, what they really should be saying is that the failure was due to defective wor#manship. +ither they used the wrong thinset, did not allow it to fully cure prior to moisture e,posure, or, there were no e,pansion joints and li#ely a few other ills. <ailures due to moisture e,pansion can happen in as little as a few years in areas of high water e,posure applications, such as an e,terior dec# or restaurant #itchen. =owever, most often they ta#e a number of years to occur. 1oastal areas such as <lorida and Aew 7rleans, which have high ground water tables, show a disproportionate amount of slab on grade moisture6related failures, most commonly due to a lac# of movement accommodation joints with a good solid smattering of people still using roofing felt and paper fully adhered by multipurpose adhesive for crac# suppression that didn!t hold. Capers have no tolerance for moisture, nor does multi6purpose adhesive. <or movement joints to perform their necessary tas# in tile installations they must have the proper width and depth. his conscientious contractor elected to use a saw to provide a clean unobstructed joint for treatment. 0ll movement joints must e,tend through the setting bed without obstruction. .ess we digress, what are some other good reasons for movement>e,pansion joints/ Wood structures. "f it!s made of wood, it!s going to move. Wooden6supported floor systems all have a certain amount of deflection. o accommodate normal deflection of the floor structure, perimeter joints are critical in wood construction. "f there is a beam running down the center of the room or home, then common sense tells us that is a pivot point from which the floor will deform on either side, li#e a board over a fulcrum. "t would be prudent to put a soft joint or movement profile over that area to allow the floor to move without putting the tile assembly in stress. 7ther areas of consideration are doorways. a#e the e,ample of a #itchen with an adjoining dining room. "f we have a 8((6s9.6ft. #itchen with a doorway to a 3'(6s9.6ft. dining room, both installed over bac#er board, then we have roughly &,E(( lbs. on one side of the wall and &,'(( lbs. on the other side, joined together at a three6linear6foot doorway, li#e a bar bell. 0gain, common sense would say this is not a good idea and real world e,perience will confirm that you need a movement joint.

We also have the moisture of the wood floor system to consider. 4ost areas of the country go through seasonal changes in humidity levels. hese changes affect the dimensional stability of the supporting floor structure. his moisture6induced movement is magnified several times if the method of construction utili$es a crawl space, which subjects the supporting structure to a greater level of dimensional instability. 1oncrete does not earn a free pass on stability either. Did you #now that concrete spends its whole life moving/ 1oncrete has a natural tendency to warp. 1ontrol joints are placed primarily for shrin#age during the initial curing process. Because a concrete control joint for tile is not crac#ed at the time of tile installation does not mean it will not crac# at some point. ?ou can be fairly well6assured it will. 4ovement>e,pansion joints must be provided at all control joints. 0s the concrete continues to fully cure, which can ta#e as long as a year, some additional shrin#age will occur. +ven after fully cured, there will be some minor warpage. "f tile is installed without proper movement accommodation joints, then the tile may either crac# or debond. Fsing a membrane does not eliminate the need for movement joints. <or a membrane to function properly, it must be placed within the installation. Bome products and methods will allow you to select an atheistically pleasing location. he physics of concrete are complicated) " have been studying cement and concrete for a number of years and still struggle with the comple,ities of its movement. Gecently, " redoubled my efforts to better understand the dynamics due to some emerging .++DB practices relative to changing formulations. Bottom line) all building materials move, none at the same rate. 0ll structures move by necessity to avoid buc#ling which could cause structural failure. 0rchitects, general contractors, owners and end users are adverse to seeing caul# joints or movement profiles they feel destroys the ambiance of their building. " am from the real world of installation and understand the challenge. 0wareness of the need for movement joints in tile installations needs to begin at the sale or specification stage, well before ordering products and certainly before the installer arrives on site. 0s#ing an end user how they prefer these joints to be treated should be no different than, and is of much greater importance, then selecting grout color. 0s an investment, measures should be ta#en to protect tile flooring. Why not ta#e a loo# at your current policies regarding e,pansion>movement accommodation joints and see what you can do to better protect your company and those who invest in your products/ Dave Gobis David 4. Gobis, a third6generation tile setter, is an independent echnical 1onsultant. 4r. Gobis is an author of over &(( trade6related articles and a fre9uent spea#er at industry events. =e is a voting member of he 0merican Aational Btandards, and ile 1ouncil of 0merica "nstallation =andboo# committees. =e can be reached via email,