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Unread 12-17-2019, 09:13 PM   #1
Dan White
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Tile over cinder block

I got my first advice on tile years ago on this forum. I've done several tile jobs for myself since then and always got great advice here. I've got a new project:

I'm upgrading the look of my garage and want to do something with the cinder block walls (1 wall shown here). I'm thinking of tiling with maybe large format tiles but had three considerations I need help with:

1. I'm stowing lawn mowers, lawn tools, etc along the wall and it could get banged up every now and then... it's a garage. Would tough porcelain tiles be a good choice, or maybe a natural stone better? My thought is that if natural stone gets scratched it will blend in because of the solid color of the stone. Porcelain won't scratch as easily, but when/if it does it will be very visible.

2. I've only tiled over sheetrock walls in the past with mastic, not thinset. In this case, I'm assuming I'd use thinset. The cinder block has good texture. Would it be necessary to nail up lathe, or should the block itself be a good enough foundation?

3. The wall in the photo is an outside wall, which can get quite cold in the winter. The garage will be minimally heated, but will I need a flexible thinset for this application?

Thanks for any feedback!
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Unread 12-17-2019, 09:29 PM   #2
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Welcome back, Dan.

1. I would recommend an un-glazed, through-body porcelain tile for that application. Still possible to scratch it a little, but the entire tile is the same color and the scratch won't show much.

2. Depends upon just how flat the overall block wall is. It might be possible to tile directly to what you have. Or not. The industry standard for large format (any side longer than 15 inches) is no deviation from intended plane of more than 1/8th" in ten feet nor 1/16th" in two feet. I would personally discount the mortar joints in that measurement so long as the block face area was sufficiently flat.

3. "Flexible thinset mortar" is a very relative thing. I would suggest a good quality modified thinset mortar meeting ANSI A118.4 and hope the wall does not contain a lot of moisture come freezing time. You'll likely need to wait for Spring up there if your garage is not heated in order to meet the temperature requirements of any of the mortar manufacturers, though.

My opinion; worth price charged.
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Unread 12-18-2019, 03:39 PM   #3
Dan White
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Thanks for the reply. I'll check into that porcelain. I installed an oversized electric heater in the garage so I can make it like a sauna in the winter if need be. The blocks stay very dry. I've never seen a hint of moisture on them.

I'm also thinking about the ground wire from the panel. Not sure if there is any reason I can't tile over the ground wire (not really visible in the photo) but I'll have to check with the electricians. Plus, the wire has to be thin enough to be covered by the thinset, which it probably isn't. Maybe I'll need lathe afterall.

I'm curious about the 1/8" over 10 feet standard you mention for large format tiles. What is the purpose of that? It seems the thinset would help even out any irregularities over just a one or two tile span. I'm going to put a straight edge against the wall. I'm guessing it will be OK as whoever built the house in the late 50's or 60 did a pretty solid job.
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Unread 12-18-2019, 04:23 PM   #4
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They call it THINset for a reason...most mortars are not designed for deep layers or for flattening the surface...there needs to be a deep enough layer to account for any irregularities on the back of the tile (some are cupped, or warped, and may have a grid pattern that all needs to be filled to get the required coverage). Industry standards call for leveling (or flattening, if level isn't required) PRIOR to the tile installation.

The issue is, with a tile that long, say centered over a high spot, you may not get proper coverage at the lower sides or, the tile ends up cocked, and then you have lippage issues. It's really hard to apply a lot of pressure per square inch on a large format tile, so starting with things flat gives you a chance to embed it properly. The goal is always 100% coverage, but on a dry location wall, 90% and 100% of the edges is considered acceptable. That's much harder to do with a surface that is not flat. Lippage on a wall just doesn't look good, but on a floor, can also be a trip hazard and lippage anywhere subjects the tile edges to being chipped if hit. Much more robust when things are all flat.
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Unread 12-18-2019, 06:33 PM   #5
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Why not move the ground wire, Dan?
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Unread 12-19-2019, 11:27 AM   #6
Dan White
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Thanks. jad. I did a lot of back buttering when I put down and Indian slate at my business.

I'd have to check with electricians about moving the wires, but there is one ground wire that runs right through the cement near the breaker box, and there is another one that runs to the left across the cinder block wall a good 10 feet or so and then down into the ground. If I move the wires they will have to cross over the new tile to get to ground. I'm not sure why there are two ground wires but I assume they are both necessary. One might have to do with the standby generator I have outside.
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Unread 12-19-2019, 12:03 PM   #7
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I don't know why you'd have two such grounds either, Dan, but in any case I don't know why the inside one couldn't be rerouted through the wall to the outside.

My opinion; worth price charged.
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Unread 12-19-2019, 03:43 PM   #8
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I think I read that the latest electrical code wants a minimum of two ground rods, so maybe they ran separate wires to each?
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Unread 12-19-2019, 04:12 PM   #9
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Yep, two ground rods is required now. Typically one is set in the footers when they're poured, but if not, then two can be driven later. They have to be at least six feet apart.
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Unread 12-19-2019, 04:18 PM   #10
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Any electrical reason they can't be tiled over?
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Unread 12-19-2019, 04:45 PM   #11
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No reason the copper ground wire can’t be tiled over so long as you don’t disturb the ground rod connection. Ground wire is supposed to be protected, the tile would do that.

Regarding ground tied to rebar in footer, my foundation contractor forgot to bring the rebar up through top of wall so I had to install two UL approved rods spaced minimum of 6’ apart. Funny that although the contractor forgot to install the rod, they still tried to invoice me for it.

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Unread 12-19-2019, 05:20 PM   #12
Dan White
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I've included a photo of what I'm dealing with. It occurred to me that the horizontal run is along the mortar joint, which is deep enough to hide the ground wire. I think I could apply thinset over it just fine. The problem is the vertical section of ground wire. I might be able to grind or gouge out a shallow groove and hide the vertical section as well. I'm really not up for removing both ground rods and trying to drill through to outside in order to remove the wire completely from the wall. I think the grounds are better protected inside and maybe I can find a doable way to grind out a groove for the vertical runs.

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Unread 12-19-2019, 05:43 PM   #13
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Looks like those ground rods were a retrofit after slabs were poured. Unusual in my parts to have inside. My local authority in Virginia requires the rods to be located outside in “permanently wet soil” (last part is required by NEC).

The vertical section might be a good place to position a 1/2” control joint. Once you've got the tile installed, the the joint with polyurethane sealant and ferget-about-it!

Last edited by PC7060; 12-20-2019 at 08:05 PM.
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Unread 12-19-2019, 11:40 PM   #14
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I'd cut out a groove in the block and bury it, then tile right over it.
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Unread 12-20-2019, 03:21 PM   #15
jadnashua
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My preference would be to drill a hole, drive new rods, and install it outside.

If for some reason you ever had to replace it, that's what you'd do, as you wouldn't want to tear out the tile to get it in there the same way.
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