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When installing ceramic or porcelain tiles, either on walls or as flooring, you have to avoid lippage. Lippage is misalignment between tiles following the installation process. This is a costly mistake due to uneven surfacing, which can ruin a DIY project. Unfortunately, it is often not immediately noticeable and may only appear once the project is completed. Lippage is not only cosmetically unappealing — it can pose wear and safety challenges. If you need to slide furniture, carts, or other objects over tiles, an uneven surface can cause them to catch and damage the tile edges. Furthermore, unexpected raised edges can cause a person to trip or crutches or walking sticks to snag, potentially causing an injury. As a result, you must ensure your tile work is even and flat, particularly on floors. Building contractors and DIY enthusiasts sometimes fail to use an adequate tile leveling system, which can have severe consequences for your home or business.
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Straightness and Plumb
The first thing that you should be aware of when installing tiles is the straightness and plumb of the subfloor — i.e., the substrate that you place the tiles on. However, even if the subfloor is perfectly level and plumb, you can still experience lippage due to inconsistencies in the tile thicknesses. Level refers to horizontal straightness — i.e., from right to left or side to side. A perfectly straight horizontal line parallel to the ground is level.
Plumb refers to vertical straightness — i.e., up and down. The traditional way to measure the plumb of a surface is to use a plumb bob. This is a weight, typically metal, that’s suspended from a string. The weight has a conical shape that tapers toward the end. Modern tools for determining suitable plumb often use lasers. The tool for measuring straightness is also called a level and typically consists of a liquid-filled glass vial containing an air bubble. Spirit levels, also called bubble levels, are used in everything from carpentry and construction to archery.
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Methods of Tile Leveling
There are two general methods for leveling tiles: clip-and-wedge and threaded posts. Both methods use tile leveling spacers in different configurations.
The first type of tile leveling system uses sets of plastic clips and wedges. You lay the setting material on the subfloor first, following the manufacturer’s instructions. It’s important to remember that no tile leveling system can substitute for an uneven substrate. Place two clips under each floor tile. These clips have a slot through which you can insert a wedge.
Wedges in clip-and-wedge systems often have a series of teeth on a decline that you can use to tighten the wedge in place. You use these to ensure that the tiles are properly aligned with each other. Press the tiles against the clips as tightly as you can for a neat fit. When you’re finished, you can simply kick the tops of the clips, which will break off. The wedges are reusable, so you’ll need to collect them.
The second variety uses threaded tile leveling spacers onto which you screw a rotating cap. As with the clip-and-wedge system, you’ll place two threaded posts under each tile. Each post should be about two inches from the tile ends. When you have the threaded posts where you need them, you can screw on the caps. Rotate the caps until they fit snugly against the tops of the tiles, and adjust each cap until the tile surfaces are all perfectly level.
Which Is Better?
Clip-and-wedge systems can be faster to install; however, the rotating caps of the other method allow for more precise and incremental adjustment. This increased control means more control and, therefore, accuracy. The wedge system requires more coarse adjustment, so it’s possible to apply too much pressure. If the pressure isn’t correct and you insert the wedge too far, you will accidentally lift a tile and have to reset it. The clip-and-wedge system may also be more convenient because, once the wedges are set, you can leave them until you have the time to remove them.
Visit Contractors Direct for Professional-Looking Tiling Projects
Misaligned ceramic or porcelain tiles can cause headaches and cost money in repairs or replacement. With the right tile leveling system, you can lay tiling on walls or floors, eliminating lippage and contributing to a straight, even surface. When selecting a suitable tile leveling system, always check the number of wedges and clips or threaded posts and caps. Some kits include every tool you need, such as pliers, while others don’t. Browse our online store for all your tiling and masonry needs!