Top 10 Tiling Tips for Cold Weather Installations

By Heather Ruhl

When working in cold weather, it is important to consider water, powder, ambient and surface temperatures. Low temperatures for any of these four can inhibit a product’s cure. Once a critically low temperature is reached, the cement curing reaction stops, which can lead to job site failures. To avoid this, here are 10 tips for cold weather tile installation.

1. Ensure the powder temperature is between 50 F and 80 F (10 C and 27 C) prior to mixing. Store bags in a conditioned space, if possible. Powder generally makes up 78 to 86 per cent of the final weight, which means that cold powder will lead to an artificially long working time.

2. Try to plan the job to avoid ambient temperatures that dip below 10 C. This might mean protecting the installation with tents and/or heaters if in an unconditioned space. Low temperatures during installation can permanently affect bond strength. Once the installation has dropped below the required temperature, the cement stops curing, permanently damaging the installation.

3. Consider using a fast set product. Since these products achieve final set faster, the installation is less likely to be affected by temperature fluctuations.

4. Be aware of water temperature. If necessary, condition the water to be room temperature (50 F to 80 F) before mixing.

5. If reusing buckets, clean any residual product out of them before starting the mix. Cross-contaminating cement-based products can affect the product’s working time and performance.

6. Be aware of the substrate and tile temperature. It should be between 50 F and 80 F. This is especially critical when installing over, on or below grade installations, as the substrate temperature can be vastly different from the ambient temperature. If possible, use a temperature gun thermometer to ensure the substrate is warm enough to install tile.

7. Always add the powder to the water before mixing. A low speed (300 to 350 RPM) drill is recommended for grout and mortar installations. Allow the product to slake before remixing, if required. Be careful to not over mix the grout or mortar.

8. Mix using the recommended water amount, being sure not to exceed the maximum. Do not add more water to the product after slaking. This can cause issues with bond.

9. Once the installation is complete, double check that the area is set to remain at a temperature between 50 F and 80 F (10 C and 27 C) for at least 48 to 72 hours. This might mean tenting or adding heaters to the installation area.

10. Longer foot traffic protection may be necessary. This is because cold temperatures can extend both the pot life and final set of mortars and grouts.

Heather Ruhl is the training program manager for H.B. Fuller construction products. Heather specializes in ceramic and porcelain tile installation techniques, surface preparation and adhesives. Before taking on her current position, she spent three years as a technical representative with TEC, offering technical support, on-site training and troubleshooting.

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