Our main bathroom has been a work in progress for over a year now, as it was gutted completely including no ceiling and no floor. I’ve been spending the last couple of months doing the tile, first the walls and then the floor. As I had never tiled walls before, I was a bit hesitant about tackling that portion of the project. However, it went pretty smoothly and I’m happy with the result. We used subway tile purchased from Heritage Tile. We went with them because they offer a pre-made Greek Key pattern border that I wanted for the floor, and they specialize in tile that is historically accurate. However, I am disappointed they don’t offer the floor tile in a bright white to match the subway tile on the walls. It’s only available in an off white.I had tiled three different bathroom floors before starting this one, so I didn’t think it would be as much of a headache as it turned out to be. All of the installation problems can be traced to the design of the Heritage Tile itself, and how they bond the sheets together. I wanted the authentic unglazed flat hex tile that is more historic. For our other bathroom we used Daltile‘s 1″ hex which has a slight bevel on the edges of the tile. I should have used the Daltile for this bathroom as well, as it is a superior product and much easier to install. That product is hard to find on their web site but here’s the PDF brochure for it, and it’s available locally from Pierson’s and Johnny’s Flooring.
The biggest difference between the two products is how they assemble the sheets. Even though the tile is a mosaic, it comes in sheets that are bonded together to make installation easier. That’s where the similarities between the two end.The Daltile product comes in 12″ x 24″ sheets, and the tile is bonded on the bottom using dots of glue. The Heritage Tile product comes in 11″ x 11″ sheets, and the tile is bonded using a removable plastic sheet that is adhered to the top of the tile.
The larger sheet of the Daltile means that you don’t have as many seams, and since it’s a rectangle it’s easier to offset each row so the seams are staggered. That makes it much easier to keep the rows straight and the gaps even.
The grid that Daltile uses is pretty stiff, and that keeps the tile panel from stretching. The thin plastic (sort of a thick Saran Wrap) covering of the Heritage Tile product can stretch and shrink, so it’s harder to keep the grout gaps even and I found that some sections had stretched but by the time I came around for the next row, the mortar had already set pretty good and so it wasn’t possible to adjust the spacing.
The worst part of having the plastic on top of the tile is that you can’t clean the mortar from between the tiles by sponging the tile while the mortar is still wet. I was hesitant to really push the tile into the thinset because I knew that was going to create a lot of work scraping out dry mortar so I had a place to put grout. Also, the Heritage Tile is really thin (only 1/8″ thick) so there isn’t a lot of leeway between getting the tile into the mortar, and having it gush into and fill the grout spaces. It also made it a lot harder to level the individual tiles in each sheet, and to level each sheet with adjoining sheets. If you have to remove the plastic to cut any tiles, (which given that it’s a hex pattern you have to cut a lot of pieces to get straight edges) then the level of those pieces doesn’t match up with the pieces that have the plastic still on them.The Daltile product is 1/4″ thick, twice the thickness of the Heritage Tile giving you much more room to set it into the mortar and provide a firm bond without the mortar completely filling the joints.
Having the plastic on top of the tiles also makes it harder to judge the spacing of the grout lines visually, and it makes it harder to insert spacers.
You can’t remove the plastic until the mortar dries. I tried on one piece and the plastic is sticky enough it will pull the tiles out of the mortar. Even with the mortar dry, I’m finding that as I remove the plastic, occasionally I’ll pull a few individual tile pieces out that didn’t get a good bond with the thinset.
When I was cutting the tiles for the edges, I first tried cutting a full sheet with my tile saw. The tile is just too brittle to it that way, so I had to resort to the time consuming method of score and snap. These tiles snap as easily as a Wheat Thin. That made that part of the job quicker, but I really worry about the durability of the tiles should something hard get dropped on them. Just scrapping off the dried mortar I’ve damaged a few so I’m glad I have lot’s of extras and I’ll store them away should I ever need to make repairs.
I’m now in the process of removing the plastic and scraping out the extra thinset. I’m finding that it’s very easy to dislodge the tiles as I’m scraping, so it’s going to be a further process to clean the thinset out of those missing tile areas, and then reset the tiles. I’m looking at several days extra work doing boring, meticulous scraping, that I wouldn’t have had to do with the Daltile product. Further, since the Daltile has the grid below the tile, it gets set into the thinset and bonds a lot more securely to the floor.
I don’t know if this review will ever catch anyone’s eye, but I sure hope I can save someone the trouble of working with this product, and I hope Heritage Tile will change the way they assemble their sheets. I like the look of the authentically styled tile, but it’s just not worth the extra work to install it, and the end result is a floor with a lot more uneven gaps than I would have liked.