How To Prevent Lippage For Tile Perfection

In a perfect world, all floor and wall tiling installations would feature parallel tile edges, consistent grout joints, and precise vertical alignment. Achieving this requires a perfect substrate, correct adhesive application, flat tiles, and careful installation. But life, of course, is not perfect. Fear not. All these potential problems can be overcome … resulting in perfect tiling. We will look at substrate preparation, adhesive application, and grout selection in greater detail in other posts. But here we will concentrate on lippage.

Lippage is the term used to describe a difference in height between the edges of installed tiles. If this issue is not addressed during installation, the result can be unsightly, and may even cause damage to the tiles, or become a trip hazard.

As tiles have become larger, and rectified tiles (with edges are precision cut after manufacture to allow minimal grout joints) more popular, lippage prevention has become more important. In response, there is now a wide choice of systems on the market to alleviate this potential installation problem.

The main cause of lippage is bowed tiles: many tiles have a slight bend due to effects of heating and cooling. On smaller, square tiles this is rarely a factor. However it is more obvious in larger rectangular and plank tiles (think wood effects), and, of course, tile dimensions have been growing steadily over the past couple of decades.

Another cause is poor adhesive application, resulting in an uneven thickness across the bed. This is often due to alteration of the angle of the trowel during spreading.

Lippage can also occur due to irregularities in the thickness of the material being installed, particularly when setting natural stone or hand-made terracotta tiles. This is when tile levelling systems really come into their own, especially with larger format tiles.

Avoiding lippage with tile levelling systems
Avoid lippage with a tile levelling system

Tile levelling systems interlock the tiles, ensuring that the surface remains smooth and flat while the adhesive dries. The interlocking design not only minimises the possibility of lippage, but can also reduce or eliminate settling from shrinkage. It can also minimise the need to adjust the adhesive layer during installation.

Most tile levelling systems have three main components: strips, caps, and pliers. These elements work together to prevent the movement of tiles while the adhesive is setting and to improve the flatness of the surface. The base of the tile caps help to distribute pressure evenly over the surface of the tile. Because the pressure is applied vertically (using a similar ratchet system to the humble cable tie), installers do not have to check for variation in height between the tiles constantly.

There are also systems on the market that use a screw thread and butterfly-style pommel cap which is screwed down until the required pressure is applied.

Whatever the system being used, it is important that the tiler sticks to best practice when installing tiles, particularly when it comes to mixing and evenly trowelling the adhesive prior to setting the tiles. Anti-lippage systems are an aid, not a panacea, and should not be used to manipulate the tiles so that they stick to the surface evenly.

Apart from ensuring a level installation, anti-lippage systems serve other functions. Many systems come in different widths and so can take over the grout joint spacing function of traditional tile spacers. Another key benefit, often overlooked, is that these levelling systems provide a clear and quick quality check during larger installations. In normal floor or wall tile installations it may be possible to miss one joint, resulting in lippage, in an otherwise perfect installation. However, by fitting anti-lippage clips at every junction, the tiler is reminded to ensure every joint between tiles is parallel and level.

It is not possible to detail every anti-lippage system out there, but here are a few worth researching. The Raimondi Tile Leveling System is one of the originals and many installers still believe that it is one of the best. It comes with breakaway levelling clips, levelling wedges, and adjustable tension pliers; and follows a three-stage process, which includes setting the supports, inserting the wedges, and removing the supports. It is suitable for use on minimum joint sizes of 1.5mm, and tile thicknesses ranging from 3mm to 12mm.

The Spin Doctor Tile Level System similar, but reviewers claim it is more time-consuming, but offers greater strength, and levelling power. T-Lock By Perfect Level Master is another system that provides great levelling power. Peygran’s Perfect Master T-Lock kit is also among the best performers, while the ATR Resolution system’s screw-down clips do a great job of keeping tiles in place and reducing slippage, although there may be drawbacks in terms of cost and installation time.

The QEP 99720Q Tile Leveling System is a cost-effective option. And most on-line forums agree that even cheap tile levelling systems can deliver good results. More expensive systems may have better clips and hold tiles in place more securely, but many argue that this extra performance is not really needed. MLT System, an evolution of the high profile Mechanical Lippage Tuning system, claims to be is the only floor and wall tile installation system on the market that makes it possible to create joints with a minimum width of 0.5 mm. Simple, reliable, and quick to use, it is claimed to produce impeccable results. One of the more unusual systems is Progress Profiles’ transparent version of its Proleveling System, which features transparent and punctured rotating pommel caps. This system does not require the use of pliers or other tools. Rubi’s Delta Tile Leveling System is ideal for laying large-format ceramic tiles using the back-buttering technique. Various different models are available. They offer six position height adjustment, according to the thickness of the ceramic tile. Other options worth considering are the Tuscan and the Tornado levelling systems.

On-line reviews of tile levelling systems all agree that they are a great time saving tool and can improve tile installations. But different reviewers rate the systems differently. So perhaps the best advice is to try a few of the best selling options and see which one works best with your style of tiling.

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