Will tiled decks crack when it freezes?

Answered by Jeffrey ~ March 14, 2011 ~ No Comments

Our cement decks are covered only by open ramadas. We'd like something more attractive than the cement, like stone-textured ceramic tile. Will they crack during our many winter nights below 15 degrees?

Dennis W. ~ Flagstaff, Arizona

Jeffrey Anderson

Hi Dennis. I had no idea it got that cold in Flagstaff, Arizona. If you don't take the proper precautions, your tile and grout can definitely crack from extreme temperature changes. You are at a little bit of a disadvantage when trying to install ceramic tile over an existing slab instead of installing new concrete, but it can still be done.

One of the most important issues is that your concrete slab drain quickly when it receives moisture. Your slabs should have a fall of at least 1/4 inch every 10 feet so that water doesn't pond and eventually soak through your ceramic tile. If your existing slabs don't have that sort of slope as a minimum, you may want to consider another sort of flooring or pour new slabs.

Even with proper slope, you should take a few steps to ensure the tiled deck doesn't receive any more water than necessary. Modern concrete slabs normally have gravel underneath them to allow drainage as sitting water can eventually work its way up from beneath the slab. If you are able to, dig a small hole at the edge of one of your slabs to see if you have gravel as a base. If you do have gravel, you should be okay, but if you don't, you may want to install a waterproof membrane at the edge of the slabs to help prevent water intrusion.

It can also be a good idea to adjust any sprinkler heads or other types of lawn irrigation so that they aren't dumping water onto the tiled decks. That will help the ceramic tile and it should also reduce your water usage.

The last thing is to choose a tile with a low moisture absorption rate. Most tile manufacturers have tile that is recommended for exterior use and one of the considerations is that they are slow to absorb water. If there is moisture in and under the ceramic tile on your decks when you have one of your 15-degree Flagstaff nights, there is a good change you may have some damage.

I suggest that you consult with a local tile distributor and discuss with them the application you have planned. They should have a selection of tiles that they recommend and can also provide you with the manufacturers' tips for a successful exterior installation. They will probably also suggest that you have an expansion joint every eight or ten feet to allow the tile to expand and contract with extreme temperature changes.

These considerations aren't unique to ceramic tile. If you install brick pavers or flagstone on a concrete slab, you still need to be concerned with moisture penetration when you have the potential for freezing temperatures.

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