Tile leveling systems can be a real time saver and are basically a requirement for a lot of the large format tiles we are faced with today. With the ever growing market for larger format tiles the market grows for leveling systems as well. This is something that I have tried several different styles and types of over the past couple years. I’m not going to mention any of them by name in this post but rather just speak of the amazing benefits they offer to the overall project both for the installer and the homeowner.
As defined by The Tile Council of North America, tile lippage is simply the variation in height from adjoining tiles. There are many factors that can affect the amount of lippage in your installation. A couple of these factors are how flat the substrate is, how much warpage is in the tile you’re installing, and whether or not you have implemented a leveling system.
It’s always important to install your substrate following whatever protocol that’s suggested by the manufacturer of the material you are using and/or your local building codes. Unfortunately in a lot of cases the substrate is pre-existing and we are installing on top of it. If that’s the case it’s important to use a self-leveling underlayment such as Laticrete NXT Level Plus to make sure that your working on a level playing field so to speak. It’s also important to consider using an uncoupling membrane such as Schluter Ditra on top of the leveling underlayment.
Once all of these things are in place you are ready to start your tile installation. In a perfect world the substrate will be completely flat (less than 1/16” variance over an 8’ span) and the tiles you are installing will be slow-dried in the kiln at the factory and have no warpage to them. But since we don’t live in a perfect world one of both of these variables are likely to be working against you. This is when the leveling system comes into play.
Most professionals will at the very least use spacers in the grout joints when installing to keep a uniform grout joint throughout the entire project. One of the benefits of the leveling system is that they generally incorporate the spacing in with the product. So you are essentially completing two tasks at once. Spacing the grout joints and leveling the tiles to one another. Most common leveling systems are plastic and come in two pieces. The leveler/spacer and the wedge. The leveler/spacer will be installed under a tile along the edges where after the tile has been set. These start off as one piece but will eventually be broken into two. Once the tile is set and the levelers are set on the adjoining edges you then set your next tile. While setting the tile you push the two into one another and add the wedge piece to the leveler. This is where the magic happens. A mechanical lock is formed as the wedge is pushed through. The leveler stays bedded in the thinset mix while the wedge pushes the top surfaces of each tile downward simultaneously drawing them into one another and leveling them off of one another. Its up to the installer to decide how many levelers to use and where they are most beneficial.
This is the basic concept behind tile leveling. I encourage you to look into some of the different systems and the components related to them. Some systems offer a set of pliers to ease the process of pushing in the wedge while others use a threaded screw for this action. I will write another blog post in the future featuring a couple specific brands and the pros and cons of each. But for now this is just intended as a “crash-course” into the world of leveling if you’ve never given any of them a try. I appreciate you taking the time to read this and wish you the best in your remodeling ventures. Please comment below with any questions, concerns, or other feedback you may have.