September 12/19, 2016: Volume 31, Number 7
By K.J. Quinn
Choosing the right grout is a critical element of any ceramic tile and stone installation, experts say. Technological advances are triggering the development of products that last longer, enable faster installation and help ensure easy maintenance over the lifetime of the surface.
“Today’s tiles are larger, grout joints are smaller and end users expect higher grout performance,” said Tony Pasquarelli, director of marketing, Custom Building Products. “Stain-proof, color-consistent grouts that are easy to install and require no sealing are quickly becoming the new standard.”
As tile sizes get larger and joints become narrower, grouts need to be more fluid in consistency for ease of installation and deeper penetration to avoid shrinkage. “Ardex grouts have a different type of polymer technology than what has been typically available in North America containing very fine aggregate but still deliver outstanding strength,” noted Russ Gaetano, marketing manager, tile and stone installation systems. “Stain resistance and color consistency are very important components, and they have self-contained sealers that don’t require a grout sealer.”
Finding tile grout that withstands the test of time is an ongoing challenge for installers. While the basic functionality of the product remains largely unchanged—filling in joints between floor and wall tiles, preventing the edges from chipping or cracking, and maximizing the beauty of tile—suppliers continue tinkering with formulations to keep up with ever changing tile formats. New polymers and chemistries are allowing manufacturers to design rapid-setting grouts with enhanced performance characteristics while maintaining ease of installation.
“Premium grouts are more color consistent than ever before allowing a more worry-free installation,” said Michelle Swiniarski, market manager, ceramic installation systems, Bostik. “They offer enhanced stain, crack and chemical resistance making them easier to maintain and more aesthetically pleasing during the life of the installation.”
Ease and speed of installation are critical components for any tile contractor, especially in markets with high labor rates. This has helped accelerate introductions of more single-component grouts, where grouting and cleanup are measurably faster, industry members say.
“These materials have greater performance and colorfastness than their traditional cementitious counterparts and offer a kind of half-step between cement and epoxy grouts,” said Ryan Fasan, technical consultant, Tile of Spain.
Custom’s Fusion Pro Single Component Grout is warrantied to be stain proof and color perfect, making it ready to use from the get-go. “The single component grout is factory mixed, so there is no need to add water, mix on site or allow for slake time,” Pasquarelli said, adding it is easy to spread and does not require sealing. “Plus, you install then clean immediately, which is a huge benefit on typical jobs.” Fusion Pro comes in 40 standard colors, and eight Fusion Pro Designer Series options offer reflective color accents.
High performance, pre-mixed grouts reportedly combine the strength, durability and suitability attributes of cement-based and epoxy grouts for use in commercial spaces. “Premium, fast curing pre-mixed and cement-based grouts are the largest growing trend,” Bostik’s Swiniarski said. “End users are looking for premium performance characteristics, and contractors are looking for speed and ease of installation.”
These products are easy to use and attractive to the growing influx of installers new to the tile trade. “All pre-mixed grouts are polymer resin-based or urethane-based,” said Tom Plaskota, technical support manager, TEC. “Pre-mixed grout tends to be resistant to stains, cracks and shrinking.” TEC InColor Advanced Performance Tile Grout, available in 17 colors, is a high-performance, pre-mixed product applicable for residential or commercial usage, inside or outdoors.
Dimension RapidCure, a glass-based, pre-mixed grout, conveys a reflective appearance.
Grout comes in various colors, and specification often is determined by the width of the tile joints. For example, unsanded grout—made from a blend of Portland cement and powdered pigments mixed with water—is recommended for floor and wall tiling projects with joints spacing from 1⁄16 to 1⁄8 inch. Sanded grout is typically used for larger joints and consists of a cement-based mortar with small sand grains added to it to help when setting.
“There are even grouts that offer atomized glass beads of different colors, and even metallic, specifically for glass mosaic installations,” Fasan pointed out. “Some of the finer aggregate grouts are even safe for glossy finishes, depending on the hardness rating of the glaze. [This] helps alleviate the necessity of using non-sanded varieties that can be much more difficult in cleanup and frequently have shrinkage issues if too much wash water is used.”
In the cement grout category, new, higher performing cement grouts are growing rapidly in popularity. “They are rapid curing and more color consistent and efflorescence resistant than a standard cement grout while remaining easy to clean during the installation process,” Swiniarski said. “They also offer enhanced stain resistance. Their drying speed allows the installation to be opened up to traffic much sooner than a standard grout and are easier to maintain.” Bostik’s Hydroment Vivid, a rapid curing, premium-grade and cement-based grout, offers consistent color technology with enhanced stain and efflorescence protection for demanding commercial and residential projects.
Epoxy grout, considered a premium product and available in sanded and non-sanded formulations, offers water-resistant properties and can be utilized for virtually any tile application. Ardex WA is marketed as the easiest to apply and clean epoxy grout available.
“It has a very creamy consistency unlike any other epoxies and cleans off with only water, leaving minimal or no haze for the final cleaning,” Gaetano explained. “Ardex WA can also be used as tile adhesive for use in pools and other difficult environments.”
Indeed, grout is becoming much more specialized. Vendors are making them lighter in weight and easier to handle. And in the case of cementitious grouts, advances have been made to all but eliminate color inconsistencies. “With our new Permacolor Select, we can now offer thousands of custom colors within two weeks at a very small minimum, allowing designers no limit to their creative juices,” said Ryan Blair, product manager, grouts and sealants, Laticrete. Sealing of the cementitious grout is not required, thanks to new sealer technology incorporated into the base material, which saves on installation time and labor costs.
In reformulating their products, producers are mindful about the impact grouts have on the environment and meeting sustainable building design requirements. Manufacturers publish a list of low-VOC setting materials to aid in occupant health and safety concerns. “More and more grouts are exhibiting zero or low VOCs,” Plaskota said. “In addition, ready-to-use grouts allow grout to be resealed and used for future jobs, which reduces product waste.”
There are grouts that incorporate partially recycled content, if that is a consideration for a project. “We are currently looking into renewable resources as a large basis of our raw materials for many of our products,” Laticrete’s Blair said. “This change will happen in the near future.”
The use of recycled content adds a green component to these traditional products. For instance, Custom’s Prism Grout contains up to 15% post-consumer recycled content by weight. Prism is part of Custom Building Products’ Build Green and Emerald programs, which promote sustainability.
“To an installer, this lightweight component makes Prism easy to work [with],” Pasquarelli said. “Design professionals and end users find it ideal when they are seeking environmentally conscious installation solutions.”