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Tile Spacers - a closer look

TILE SPACERS – A CLOSER LOOK.                    

 

The main purpose of tile spacers, whether they're being used on walls or floors, but particularly on walls, is to hold your tiles in the correct position whilst the tile adhesive sets. And, of course, they also maintain a consistent gap between each tile.

Main types

Peg Spacers: These are placed along the edge of the tile and protrude outwards so that they can be gripped and removed. At least two peg spacers are required for each edge of a tile to maintain a consistent gap.

Cross spacers: These are designed to lay flat at the corner of four tiles where the gap forms a cruciform shape. Although less cross spacers would be required than peg spacers, care needs to be taken to make sure the spacer doesn't drop below the level of the tiles, otherwise their spacing function won't be effective. Cross spacers used like this can also be difficult and fiddly to remove. Although cross spacers are designed to be used flat at corner intersections, many people use them as peg spacers.

'T' spacers: These are specifically designed to fit in the T formed by the tile gaps when a brickwork effect design is required. However, you don't need a T shaped spacer to achieve a brick effect pattern because peg spacers can be used along the edges of the tiles instead.

Full 3 dimensional cross spacers: These are cross spacers but much deeper/longer and some have the advantage of the ability to use them to maintain the grout line and spacing around corners. They are also much easier to handle and remove.

Spacer material

Tile spacers are mass produced and made of injection molded plastic. This is usually Polypropylene, however, some better quality spacers are made of ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene). Very small polypropylene spacers can bend and distort under the weight of heavy, large format tiles.

Spacer sizes

The size of spacer you need depends on whether you're tiling a wall or floor, on the size of tile you're using and on the aesthetic appearance you want to achieve. There are no hard and fast rules regarding spacer sizes although, as a general rule, 2mm are suitable for walls and 4mm for floors. 4mm can, however, be used on walls, particularly if large format tiles are used. Sizes below 2mm are not really recommended because this makes the grout line too narrow and difficult to fill with grout.

Required characteristics

Particularly with the popularity of large format tiles, tile spacers need to be strong, resilient and resistant to bending , twisting and compressing. Small polypropylene spacers can become distorted under the weight of heavy tiles. Spacers should be easy to handle and remove. And they're more economical if you can clean and reuse them.

Leave spacers in or take them out?

It is poor building practice (and lazy!) to leave spacers in the wall or floor for two main reasons.

1- It's not environmentally friendly to leave plastic spacers under tiling. They don't break down or bio-degrade over time and, of course, they can't be recycled.

2- However, the most important reason why tile spacers shouldn't be left in situ relates to a building standard called 'uniformity of depth'. There are three elements to tiling - the tiles, the adhesive and the grout. Out of these three, probably the most important is the grout because it's the other aesthetic feature after the tiles and it's the main barrier to moisture apart from the tiles. So, it's essential that the grout is correctly installed. Because tile adhesive isn't waterproof, this means that a full depth of grout should be installed and its depth should be consistent and even. If the grout is shallower in places, it will be prone to drying out more than deeper areas, shrinkage and, ultimately, damp penetration. And, of course, if spacers are left in position, the grout will be shallower over the spacer. Some would say that you can push the spacers into the adhesive, although this would have to be done before it sets which could compromise spacing. The correct way, therefore, and the way the professionals do it, is to remove the spacers and clear the grout lines of excess adhesive. The result is a proper job where the grout can fulfill its function properly and minimise the risk of damp penetration. Spacers are an important element in the tiling process, so, don't skimp on the type you use and you'll achieve the result you want. And you might be able to use them again sometime which will save you some money!