Wood plank tile floors: What you need to know

wood grain plank tile Seattle Washington Fremont neighborhood linear shower drain

Wood plank floor tile in Seattle’s Phinney Ridge neighborhood (9x36in)

Wood-like planks and other large format tile

wood plank tile problems Issaquah

Putting the tiles face-to-face will expose any flatness issues

There are some frustrating things about porcelain wood planks that your tile contractor may not have told you… and the salesperson at the store may not know. Here are some tips that you may be interested in before you shop for your wood grain tiles.

They’re not flat

They might look flat at first glance, but if you look closely, they probably aren’t. The center is higher, in other words, they are crowned in the middle. Some brands and types are worse than others. This becomes more of a problem when you offset (overlap)  them, which brings us to the next issue:

Don’t do a full offset with wood plank tile

By doing a 50% offset, where the middle of a tile is exactly in line with the grout joint of the next row, you have maximized the amount of unevenness, or lippage, between the tiles. In fact, unless the tile manufacturers say otherwise, the American National Standards Specifications for the Installation of Ceramic Tile sets the limit at 33% maximum offset (ANSI A108.02 Section 4.3.8). This means that on a 24 inch long tile the maximum offset is 8″.

offset wood grain tile Bellevue Washington problems

lippage from wood plank tiles in an offset pattern

The floor has to be extraordinarily flat

If your floor isn’t flat this will accentuate the problems with the crown of the tiles as you can see in the image on the left. For large format tile, which is any tile with at least one edge longer that 15 in., the maximum allowable variation is 1/8″ in 10ft. Floors are just not that flat nowadays.

Use the correct thinset

medium bed tile mortar issaquah washington

A great thinset for installing wood plank tiles

With large format tiles you want to use a medium bed mortar and the correct trowel. While I prefer Laticrete 4xlt for this, you may find Marble and Granite mix from Custom Building Products more readily available. With these types of mortars a 1/2″x 1/2″ notch trowel would be the smallest size that you will want to try. Yes, this uses more thinset and, yes, these types of mortars are more expensive, but this isn’t the time to skimp. If you want plank floors, you’ll want to use a medium bed tile adhesive.

Porcelain plank floors can look good but the biggest problems with them can be avoided by simply knowing what to watch out for and planning accordingly. You’ll find that they should last a lot longer than their wood counterparts as well.

wood plank tile danger issaquah washington

Wood plank tile can be risky business

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41 comments on “Wood plank tile floors: What you need to know
  1. Alice Overstreet says:

    This page/article helped us prevent an expensive mistake. We had planned to put a wood grain tile floor in ourselves and from this realized epwhen were out of our league. We hired a professional who was experienced and did good work. It was still a bit tricky. Thank you for this page!

  2. Lis says:

    So if most wood plank tiles are not flat in the middle, do “rectified” edges solve that problem? I’ve see the term used to describe some tiles but not others.

    • admin says:

      Good question, Lis.

      A rectified tile has to do with the fact that the tiles are cut after they are baked. This makes them consistently sized. Believe it, or not, many tiles are not consistent in their sizing. The tile I’m currently using on a project vary by about 1/16th of an inch from one to the next.

      So it is possible for a rectified tile to be the proper size but still be warped.

      I don’t know all the science behind this but from what I understand, the warp-age in the tiles comes from the edges cooling after it’s been baked, but the center cools at a different rate. So as it cools the edges want to curl.

      The bottom line is that some of the wood plank porcelain tiles are flatter than others and the only way to tell is to look at them before they are purchased. Take two of them, stack them face-to-face and see how much they will rock back and forth.

      If you want to know more about rectified tiles, Roger has a post on his Floor Elf site that does a good job of explaining it. http://floorelf.com/tile-stone-types-honed-rectified-gauged

      I hope this helps. :)

  3. Lauren says:

    We are planning to put wood plank tile in our basement since hardwood is not a food option down there. From your experience, are there brands you recommend vs stay away from? We ideally want narrower tiles if at all possible to coordinate without hardwoods upstairs. Thanks for the tips?

    • admin says:

      Hi Lauren,

      I get asked this a lot and, for a variety of reasons, I’m currently not recommending any particular brands or lines of wood plank tiles. The aim of this post is to arm buyers with the necessary information to be able to pick out what flooring will be right for them.

      I appreciate the question.

  4. Kathryn says:

    Does the concern about the need for flat floors extend to all tile? If our floors are not flat, should we give up on the idea of porcelain tile flooring? I would like to use some kind of large tile in order to minimize the grouting.

    • admin says:

      Hi Kathryn

      The floor needs to be flat. If you aligned all the grout joints you can “roll” the floor a little more than if the tiles overlap but the official standard for big tile is no more than 1/8″ variation in 10ft.

      Your situation is normal. Most floors are not flat enough for tile so additional work needs to be done. Grinding, planing, and using self levelers are just a few of the ways.

      If you can make the floor reasonable flat, you’ll save yourself a lot of headache on the installation end of things.

      • Dawn says:

        What do you mean by aligning the grout lines and rolling the floor? I just purchased 8 X 48 wood look porcelain tile for about 600 square feet on the main floor of my house (all living areas, except the kitchen and bath). I am anxious to have it installed properly, and in the correct pattern. I do want minimal grout lines for a more real wood effect. Thanks for explaining why grout lines should not “hit” at the 50% mark. That made a lot of sense. I appreciate very much any guidance you may have for me.

  5. Leslie Thompson says:

    We purchased 250 sq/ft of plank tile and will have an experienced friend install, however, he’s never done this kind of tile before. I am gathering supplies for him, and other than the mortar, grout, tile cutter, and tiles, is there something else he needs? I’ve seen some posts talk about a cement board, some posts/videos don’t.

    • admin says:

      Hi Leslie, this is a good question but if your friend is experienced in tile he should know the answer to this. You absolutely need some form of tile underlayment whether it’s cement board, Ditra, hardibacker, or something else. Make sure you and the installer read the installation instructions. If you use cement board it needs to be thinset and nailed (or screwed) down and the seams need to have mesh tape and thinset on the seams.

      I just looked at a project that was built 3 years ago and the tile were loose and the grout cracked. The problem? There is no thinset underneath the cement board.

      Good luck with your project and come back if you need any further help.

      • James Barrett says:

        Am I correct in assuming that the underlayment(cement board, hardibacker, etc) would only be needed when laying plank tile on a wall? Would any other underlayment other than mortar be needed for the floor?

        I have a pretty flat concrete floor that my contractor is laying 500sqft of 6x36in wood plank porcelain tile. He will be applying some ‘quick crete’ self leveler in some places where there is minor unevenness.

        Thank you for your response.

        • admin says:

          Backerboard type underlayment is used both on walls and over wood subfloors. Since you have a concrete subfloor you don’t need to install any underlayment over it. There are benefits to using membrane-type underlayments over a concrete floor but it’s not required to use them.

          Thanks for the questions.

  6. Beryl Brown says:

    My installer wants to use both 5″ plank tile and 7 1/2″ plank tile in a random pattern. Will this minimize any warped tile problems? Will it make for a busy looking floor?

    • admin says:

      I don’t think it will have any effect on the warpage. I can’t help you with the pattern. It depends on the look you want for your house.

      Good luck with your project.

  7. Jim says:

    I should have checked out this site before starting tiling a largish terrace (over 600 sq. ft.)with dark, wood-grained rectified porcelain tiles (about 6″ x 48″ each in size).

    Almost 95% of the tiles came out of the carton slightly warped (some crowned, but mostly that were bent the other way, i.e., concave). I had resigned myself to what I thought was a defective batch (I had the tiles lying around too long to be able to return or exchange them with the vendor).

    Anyway, I had a professional installer and, since I was planning a staggered offset in any case, we decided to proceed and make the best of it, carefully selecting each tile for the best fit and cutting some of the tiles in different lengths to start each row with, which achieved the desired random joint pattern as well as reduced the discernable uneveness (by effectively halving the tile’s curvature). we still had to contend with the full length tiles along the rest of each row, however.

    One trick we learned along the way was to place weights (5 lbs or more) at the shorter joints in case of uneveness. The adhesive strength of the wet mortar, together with the flattening weights, was enough to considerably pull down and smoothen out the joints, which for concave tiles would otherwise be sticking upwards. This doesn’t work for crowned tiles, though.

    In the end, the overall finish and flatness came out to be quite acceptable, especially for an outdoor installation, with only the occasional negligible uneveness along some of the longitudinal tile edges visible.

    Good to know, though, that this is a common issue and that I hadn’t been cheated into buying rejected or recycled tiles, which is what I had begun to think ‘rectified’ implied!

  8. Cajun Lady says:

    We are getting ready to install 8×36″ wood look tile and found we have one corner of the 160 sq ft room that slopes 3/8-1/2 inch. Do we need to self level the entire room or can we get away with bringing the one corner up to level?

    • admin says:

      The term leveling is a bit misleading. The floor has to meet a certain level of flatness. It’s OK to bring up one corner to help flatten the floor without leveling the entire space.

      Good luck with your install.

  9. Terri says:

    Just wondering what the minimum grout line for 6″x36″ porcelain?

  10. Terri Bercier says:

    Can you tell me what the minimum grout space should be for porcelain tiles that are 6″x36″?

    • admin says:

      First I would check with the manufacturer of the tile. They may specify a grout joint range for their tile. The second step is the industry guideline which says that the grout joint should be 3 times the amount of variation in the tile. Also the minimum is 1/16th.

      So if you line your tiles up next to each other, check how much variation there is between the sizes of them. If the longest tile is 1/16 longer than the shortest one then 3x that would be a 3/16″ grout joint.

      It’s not unusual to have porcelain tiles that are very consistent so in that case you may just decide to default to the minimum of 1/16″.

      A word of caution on your tiles: Even if they are consistently sized they probably have some sort of crown to them. Assuming they are off-set a 1/16th grout joint probably is too thin if there is any kind of lippage on the surface from one tile to another. As an installer, I don’t know that I would agree to 1/16th grout joints with porcelain plank tiles for just this reason. I normally default to an 1/8″ for 36″ long porcelain planks like yours if you are using an off-set pattern.

      One more thing: if you use a 1/16th grout joint with porcelain plank tiles make sure you use a cement grout that is in the “high performance cement grout” category. Custom Building Products makes one called Prism and Laticrete makes one called Permacolor. Mapei makes one but I don’t know the name of it. Urethane grouts, Fusion, and epoxy grouts will work for this also but check the instructions to make sure.

  11. Tom says:

    I am installing 6X24 tiles on my concrete floors. In one of your responses you advised that hardi panel be put down first. Is there a specific thickness that should be used and what is the best way to check to see if floor is level enough without using hardi panel.
    Thank You
    Tom

    • admin says:

      You don’t want to use any sort of backerboard on your concrete floor. This includes cement board and fiber cement board (hardibacker).

      Tile will stick directly to the concrete if you want. Use a straight edge or level to see how flat the floor is. You are looking for flat- not necessarily level so don’t worry about what the bubble says. For 6×24 plank tiles you are looking for not more than 1/8″ deviation in 10 ft. I doubt your concrete floors are naturally that flat so you will probably need to do some prep work before hand.

  12. Dennis says:

    Do I have to have a grout line in wood-grain porcelain tile? I am using 6″x24″ inch tiles and have been told by a contractor I have to have at least 1/8″ grout line. If not, it’s almost impossible to get it straight. I initially intended to put it down side by side to look just like a hardwood floor.

    • admin says:

      Hi Dennis

      Take a look just a couple of comments up and you’ll see my remarks about grout joints. You will need them and I would suggest choosing a grout color that keeps the planks looking like hardwood.

      Thanks for visiting my site.

  13. Justin says:

    Nice article. One thing that I saw mentioned in your comments section is the need for grout with wood look tile. Yes, you have to grout the tiles, and once you see the product installed you will be perfectly happy with the results. I have never had a customer who didn’t want their floor grouted like a floor that wasn’t grouted. It is a big difference between 1 piece and an entire floor. A lot of wood look tile has what I call framing around the tile. Grouting helps hide these frames as well.

    Another thing to note is that rectified is not always a more expensive characteristic. A lot of tile that comes from Chinese factories are rectified due to the fact that they can’t produce a consistent size in their tile batches. Italian and US manufacturers are much better at creating consistent sizes so each tile will still vary but a decent grout joint can hide the variation in size. So when seeing the term rectified, it doesn’t mean that it should always cost more, it just means it has been cut along the edges. Just a note when looking for your perfect floor.

  14. Steve Glass says:

    We recently had the 3″x36″ woodgrain tiles installed and we have raised edges as well as low spots all over the floor. We had the sales company come out and look at it. Their estimator/contractor came out and looked at the floor and finally deduced that the floor, about half way the length of the floor was crowned. Kitchen is approx 14′x 23′. Do you have any suggestions to remedy the problem? The company installing the tiles should have stopped once the tiles did not match up, but continued to finish. I see no alternative but to remove the tiles and make the surface flat. I am not sure how to go about that. The middle floor joist is a double joist.

    • admin says:

      You’re right that it’s the installer’s responsibility to check the floor and point out if it needs additional work to make it flat enough.

      At this point the tiles would have to be removed and the floor brought into the proper flatness before continuing.

      With these sorts of tiles it’s basically impossible that a floor would be flat enough without having to do any prep work. The installer should know this but the salesman would also hopefully know and have included some prep work into the price. I have a hunch that neither the installer nor the salesperson figured on any prep.

      • Steve Glass says:

        I hit the wrong key but they are 6″x36″. Thanks for the feedback. The company is willing to replace the floor but the installer isn’t sure he can fix the issue so they are sending another installer to look at it. I would think off the flat surface of the floor with a straight edge you can determine the “drop” and add a leveling compound to the low areas. Also if they tear out the floor are the tiles reusable if not chipped or broken?

        • admin says:

          Hi Steve,

          It’s unrealistic if they think they can save the tile. I don’t know what it looks like but it’s probably going to involve a good amount of tear-out possibly even the entire floor. If they try to patch it in then make sure that the new tile matches the old tile. Otherwise you’ll probably see the shade variation which would be in a line across the floor.

          • Steve Glass says:

            Thanks again. From what I can determine there appears to be close to a 1/4″+ slope from the center of the room to the edge of the room. Other than leveling compound what would you recommend to make it flat? We thought about tearing up the subfloor and plane the joist, but that involves quite a bit of work and working around 2 cabinets over the joist.

          • admin says:

            Hi Steve, sorry I missed this.

            It’s tough to remove only the center high spot and try to patch it in. You don’t want to plane down the subfloor and removing the subfloor and planing the joists is probably a better option. Patching the tile back in can be problematic. I know it’s more work and more money but I would recommend tearing out an entire section, wall-to-wall, if not the entire thing. Maybe you can get 1/8″ from planing the joists in the center and 1/8″ by leveling up the edges.

            My experience with patching is that you spend a lot more time and it doesn’t look as nice as if you had wiped the slate clean and started over.

  15. Alan G says:

    Great find. Thanks for posting this. Are there any additional issues that arise when putting heating coils under this type of floor? I’m very concerned that the floor won’t look like real wood once completed (larger grout lines and uneven tiles. We are redoing a sun room open to the kitchen that was originally done with no backer board, just tile directly to floorboard. After 20 years lots of cracks and loose tile. Will have contractor put in a backerboard. Can that be used to help level up the room or is that best left to after heating pads are put down?

    Much thanks again.

    • admin says:

      Hi Alan

      I would say that it depends on how out of level* the room is. If it’s a little out of level it can be done with the self leveler. If it’s a lot then you don’t want the wires down 1 inch in one spot and next to the surface on another.

      Here’s a free tip: Sun rooms get a lot of sunlight and the tiles want to expand and contract more than a normal interior room. You’ll need to put movement joints (also called soft joints) in the installation every 8-12 ft. in each direction. I know you won’t like to hear that but the reason that your tiles are cracked and loose may not be because of the substrate. It may be because of a lack of movement.

      *level isn’t really the right term. Flatness is what’s important, not necessarily level.

  16. My tile man is nervous about the installation of 48″X8″ Plank tiles in my basement due to the floor’s rolls. (1939 house) The decision is to either put down self leveling materials, or to shorten the planks to avoid rises/drops. After reading the information above, I’m wondering which is the best route to take both esthetically and cost effectively. Could you please give me your thoughts on this? Thank you kindly.

    • admin says:

      The question that I would ask is “What does shortening the planks accomplish?” Shortening the planks wouldn’t help you to avoid the rises and drops but it might help a modest amount in allowing the tile to rise and drop with the floor.

      The older and more experienced I get the more prep work I do and the flatter I get my walls and floors. If this were my project I would do a combination of dustless grinding of the high spots, self level the low spots, and then use a feather finish-type leveler to fine tune it from there. In other words, I would make the substrate flat before tile. Yes, this costs more but that’s the proper way.

      Offset plank floors need to be flat or the edges will stick up. So when you think about it, flattening the floor isn’t really an option- the final product determines this. So if it’s done during the process of installing the tiles (which is very frustrating as an installer) or done ahead of time through proper floor prep- either way it has to get done and has to be baked into the cost of the install.

      The only budget-friendly option I can think of would be to go with really small square tiles and let them roll with the floor. And be prepared to put blocks under your furniture legs. :)

      • Thank you for your response sir. I will forward to my tile man. You recommended the Latricrete 4XLT Medium set. I went to the site and saw the 4XLT, 4XLT-rapid, 255 Multimax, and 220 Marble and granite Mortar. I have no idea of the difference in each except perhaps the rapid set. For the basement application, do you recommend one over the other?

        • admin says:

          I really like Laticrete 4XLT for installing big tile. The 255 Multimax is a lightweight mortar which is usually used for walls. It can be used on floors but it costs more than the 4XLT. I’m not familiar with the 220 mortar but I think it’s a medium bed unmodified mortar. Most thinset manufacturers want polymer modified mortars to be used when porcelain tile is being installed. Maybe your installers plan on using a liquid additive to modify the 220 or maybe they have another use for it?

          If they’ve stocked 4XLT and 255 then they are buying the proper mortars for plank tiles. It indicates that they’re not cutting corners and this is a good sign.

  17. mary669 says:

    Excellent article. I learned so much about 12X24 tiles from it. I will use this info to work with my contractor to make sure that he will do the installation correctly.

    Regards,

  18. Dawn in TX says:

    Hi – I am about to have 8 X 48 inch porcelain planks installed in my main floor living areas. The length of the room is 34 feet (extending from front door to back patio doors). Due to this long, well lit room, I chose the really big planks, vs the 6 X 24 inch option, as I felt that I would get a more realistic wood appearance with the longer planks. Having read this forum, though, I am concerned about being able to get my cement slab flat enough for long, inflexible planks. I do not want lipping to occur, and the contractors I have spoken with state that a little lipping is just par for the course. Hmmm. I plan on purchasing self leveling filler, but I wonder if I should re-think the longer/bigger planks. Suggestions? Finally, I understand that the tea need to be staggered no more than 33%, to avoid a grout line at the middle of the tile, where the arch is greatest. However, I can still stagger them, so that I don’t have grout lines marching across the room at the same place every other row, right? I have seen it laid like that, and it makes the wood-look tile look like, well – TILE.

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  1. [...] They also happen to be very versatile in different home designs, especially since you can install those that take on the look of various types of hardwood floors. There are certain things you should keep in mind when installing plank tile and large format tile.  [...]

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