Large-format Tile: Size Matters
Pinterest is filled with photos of almost seamless marble bathroom walls, backsplashes and great rooms with few grout lines. How is this look accomplished? When marble slabs are out of the budget, are large-format tiles the answer to the grout and cleaning problems associated with smaller tiles? Is this the future of flooring and bathroom tile?
Book-matching as shown in this bathroom by designers Jeremiah Brent and Nate Berkus. Photo by Douglas Friedman
Large-format tile (or LFT in the tile world) seem to be the tile of the future. More and more homeowners and designers are seeing the advantages of large-format tile, not only visually, but also from a cleaning and maintenance perspective. There is no doubt that the benefit of having much less grout to clean is a welcome change to those who love a light, bright floor but hate to see dirty grout lines. Visually, it gives a room a more modern aesthetic.
Most large-format tile is made of porcelain which makes it an excellent choice for durability. Many tile manufacturers have done an impeccable job of making it indistinguishable from its marble look-alikes. Having a marble slab in place of porcelain could cost up to 10 times more.
Brazilian Porcelain 48x48 from Floor & Decor
Is there a downside to LFT? Most tile installers are familiar with 24" tile. Some have done jobs with 24x48". Few have used 48x48". This means that finding an installer who is experienced with 48x48" and larger may be challenging. It may seem like the only difference is that it is always a two-man job (for cutting and laying). LFT placement must be carefully planned. When purchasing tile, consideration must be given to the waste involved with large tile. Most installers are used factoring in 10% waste. In the case of 48x48" tile it may be necessary to factor in 15% for waste.
Another consideration is the subfloor. In order to accomplish a minimal grout line and no lippage, the subfloor must be flat. Any unevenness in the floor will be a problem with LFT. Leveling the floor is key. In addition to being sure each surface is totally flat, a crack suppression membrane is paramount. "Ideally two products should be used under 4x4 tile: a liquid and a mat" according to tile specialist George Varga of GVS Custom Renovations. Blanke Permat is a superior choice for underlayment for flooring. When installing wall tile as large as 48x48" it is necessary to use a high-quality mortar like Ardex X-77 to ensure the strength. Mixing instructions must be strictly followed and will be a more watery consistency than many other mortars.
Although the material price tag on LFT may not deter you from choosing it for your project, the installation cost might change your mind. You can expect to pay anywhere between $12-20 per square foot for installation. Yet even at this price, it is still a more cost-effective choice compared to slabs of marble or quartz. If this price point is still way over budget but you love the slab look, you could always go with the economical fiberglass bath surrounds found at many big box stores or online.
Here is one from Wayfair.
In conclusion, if having fewer grout lines and a seamless look matter to you, LFT is the most cost-effective way to have a modern, luxury look without spending $60 per square foot. Just make sure you have an experienced tile installer.