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Glass Tile for Bathrooms & Kitchens

Glass Tile for Bathrooms & Kitchens
Green glass tile applied in an elegant masonry-like pattern wrap
Glass tile is a popular finish material for bathrooms and kitchens these days, and for good reason. A well done glass tile installation is beautiful, providing a look that is clean and contemporary. Unfortunately, there are many ways to mess up a glass tile install, and even someone who has successfully installed other types of tile won't be prepared for what can go wrong. This is not intended to be a guide for installing glass tile, but rather an informational piece designed to inform and help you, the homeowner, in making selections, so that you choose the right tile for the intended application, and are aware of possible installation pitfalls that could come up. Just because the manufacturer says a tile can be installed on walls for example, doesn't mean it is the right choice for your wall. When it comes to installation methods and materials though, the manufacturer's word is gospel. Below is some general information. Always read the fine print before purchasing tile for your home.

Types 
Many different types of glass tile are available these days. From small mosaics mounted on

mesh backing, as shown here in pearlescent hues that add sparkle to the vanity wall of Plan 451-15, to large 12"x24" tiles, a size that was unheard of not long ago. The glass surface may be tumbled, iridescent, or crystal clear. The color may come from the glass itself, or it may be painted on the back of a clear glass.

When choosing tile for your application, make sure the tile is rated for that use, choose the look you like, and then think about the factors named below to make sure it is a good candidate for your specific application.

Cutting
While an old diamond blade on a wet saw will often do a perfectly good job cutting through ceramic tile, glass tile is not as forgiving. Make sure the blade used is capable of providing a clean cut without visible chipping, and make sure the saw fence is clean and free of debris. The cut through a back painted tile may be perfectly clean, but if the paint on the back peels off in the process this will be visible through the face of the tile after install. Also remember that once the tile is cut, the edge is sharp. I once saw a glass tile install on a drop-in tub surround -- the outside corner where people would sit was as sharp as a blade. More on edges below, but needless to say, this had to be redone.

Mortar
There are two main considerations when it comes to mortar for glass tile. One is that glass is not very porous, so the mortar has to be able to grip the tile properly. Use a thin set mortar designed for glass tile. Second, unlike any other tile installation, the mortar is often visible through the face of the tile. This means its color, and texture, will affect the look of the install. Generally a bright white mortar is used. Whereas normally a notched trowel can be used to spread mortar and then tiles pressed into the thin set, when setting a transparent material like glass, the tiles must be back-buttered, where a thin layer of mortar is spread onto the back of each tile before pressing it into the notched thin set.

The mosaic glass tile behind the range adds an iridescent sparkle in the kitchen of Plan 132-226

Glass Tile Size
A small glass mosaic will be more forgiving when it comes to the substrate, but glass is very reflective, so if it is not installed on a very flat surface and the tile gets a lot of light, the reflection may give away the uneven install. I recommend choosing large format glass tile only when you are sure you situation and installer can handle it. Glass tile expands and contracts at different rates than the cement materials used for substrates and bonding. It is also more likely to crack due to structural movement in the house. Some manufacturers recommend installing plywood over the framing before the drywall or cement board to minimize movement in the structure. Also, as with any large format tile, the substrate must be perfectly flat, or it will show in the finished product. In other words, don't change your tile to selection to large format glass after the bathroom is framed and prepped. Special care must be taken planning the stages through to the tile prep to make this install work.

Edges
Obviously you don't want to end up with a bathroom tub surround that can cut you, like the one I mentioned above, so some thought needs to go into how edges will be handled. Some glass tiles offer a coordinating bullnose piece, but many don't, since the edge of the glass tile often looks finished enough to act as an outside edge. If this is the case with your tile, the install must be planned so that no cuts end up where the field tile stops, and doesn't terminate into a corner or cabinet. Another option is to use a trim piece from Schluter (manufacturer of edge profiles) to cap the edge of the tile.

To see a collection of Master Bathroom plans click here; to browse a collection of Kitchens click here.

Kenny Grono is a Philadelphia-based contractor.

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