Keeping in mind that usage dictates selection, the use to which the tile will be put dictates specific installation considerations. These considerations, in installation sequence, are:

Tile Preparation

Prior to beginning an installation, inspect each tile for cracks or other deformities that make its use inappropriate for the application intended. For example, a cracked tile that might unusable for a countertop could be used on a decorative vertical surface. Once placed in a wall panel, the crack may be unnoticeable and, thus, does not detract from the overall appearance of the installation. In some cases, such a crack can actually enhance the antique quality of the tile panel.

If the tile is going to be used in a constantly moist area, it might behoove you to dip the tile in a water repellant. I use a clear, proprietary, water repellant that, when dry, gives no sign of its presence yet creates a barrier that minimizes moisture migration in either direction.

Surface Receiving Tile

The surface receiving the tile is either vertical or horizontal. Tile placed on a vertical surface is generally subjected to much less impact or abusive environmental wear than horizontal surfaces. Thus, conventional tile installation practices are appropriate most vertical surfaces.

Horizontally surfaced tile installations require increased care. Carefully inspect all horizontal surface that will receive tile, if the surface is a concrete stab, look for surface cracks wider than the thickness of a business card. Such cracks are indicative of a lack of or inadequate reinforcing steel in the concrete. These cracks, if they continue to widen, will ultimately transmit through to the tile. If cracks of this width are detected, the use of a crack isolation membrane is highly recommended. When I detect cracks of this size or when the slab is over an interior space, I specify an epoxy-based crack isolation membrane that both minimizes crack transmission into the tile and provides a waterproof membrane that protects the space below from moisture intrusion.

If the horizontal surface receiving tile is a walking surface supported by wood framing, attention must be given to deflection occurring in this framing. As the floor is walked on, a downward bowing, or deflection, occurs which can place stress on the tile, which can cause it to crack. Tile, being a brittle material, does not deflect well!

Verify that the structural members carrying this floor load are sized to carry both the live load (the people and things moving across the floor as a dynamic load) and the dead load (the weight of all building materials, including the tile and its grout bed). This structural flooring system should include a floor sheathing designed for minimal deflection between its supporting floor joists. This sheathing should be a minimum of 3/4″ thick tongue and groove material for joists that are spaced 16″ on center. If both the floor thickness and budget allow, I prefer to use a 1 1/4″ thick tongue and groove subfloor.

The subfloor should then be covered with a mortar bed conforming to specifications found in the Dimensional Stone Design Manual, published by the Marble Institute of America. These specifications, in part, call for a “slip sheet” or “isolation membrane” to be placed” directly on the subfloor, covered by a mortar bed reinforced with 2x2x16/16 steel mesh onto which the tile is placed.

Surface Preparation

The surface to be finished, whether concrete slab or mortar bed on wood subfloor, should be swept clean of all debris. A Portland Cement-based thin-set adhesive should be applied to both the receiving surface and the back of the tile with a notched trowel. The back of the tile should be fully covered with the adhesive. Place the tile onto the grouted surface, verifying that the direction of the grooves of the adhesive on the tile are laid perpendicular to the groove direction on the floor surface adhesive. Tap the tile into place. This process minimizes air pockets under the tile and maximizes adhesion between the tile and subsurface. If the Talavera tile is being used in tandem with handmade clay tile, as suggested above, attention must be given to the varying thickness of two tiles. Install the thicker tile first, using the method described above. Fill in the surface on which the Talavera tile is to be placed to a level such that, when the Talavera tile is placed on the adhesive grout bed, the surface of both tiles are at the same level.

Joint Grouting

Give design consideration to joint grouting. Such consideration includes grout joint width, grout color, grout composition, and grout texture. Grout joint width can be varied to adjust tile alignment with adjacent handmade terracotta tiles or other architectural elements that are more pleasingly incorporated into the overall architectural design when the tiles edge is aligned with these elements.

Attention should be given to the grout color as relates to the color of tile chosen. There may be a desire to accentuate the tile with a border of contrasting grout color. To more closely connect each tile with each other, use a grout color in a hue that approximates the colors found in the tile.

Grout composition refers to a sand/Portland Cement grout compared to a piaster grout. Generally, the wider the grout joint, the more the tendency to use the rougher sand/Portland Cement grout. Since Talavera tiles are handmade and thus somewhat irregular, a thicker grout joint can accommodate this irregularity more easily. Plaster grout is used when a thinner and smoother grout joint is desired.

Grout texture, even when a sand/Portland Cement grout is used, can be kept smoother by using a “tooled” joint. A slightly rounded smooth metal tool is used like a miniature trowel as it is drawn over the joint, creating a slight indentation that is made smooth by the use of this instrument. A rougher texture can be achieved by using what is referred to as a “sack rubbed finish”, achieved by gently rubbing the grout joint flush with the surface of the tile with a burlap sack cloth after the grout has become somewhat firm.

If Talavera tile is being installed alongside handmade clay tile, apply a grout release to the tile prior to installing the grout, this keeps the fine particles of Portland Cement from becoming imbedded in the tile which will dull the rich warm tones of the terracotta prior to finishing.

Sealing And Finishing

Sealing and finishing is done after the grout is fully dry. DO NOT attempt this process until both the tile and grout joints are completely dry otherwise moisture can become trapped in the handmade clay tile and cause a milky film to form on the tile after sealing and finishing.

I first apply a thin coat of the clear water repellent mentioned above in “1. Tile Preparation”. This creates the initial protective barrier that penetrates both the tile and the grout and on to which is applied the final finishing coats. The final coats of sealer/top coat are more for the benefit of the grout joints and terracotta tile than they are for the Talavera tile which has already gained its resistance to the elements from its glaze. Apply as many final coats as is necessary to achieve the finish and texture desired. These coats should be thinly applied to minimize “blushing” (a milky white forming within the coat).

Summary

Much more could be written in each of the above segments of this article however it is my hope that this limited presentation has given you a greater appreciation of this wonderful tile called “Talavera” and directed you on a path that helps you use it in an optimum manner in terms of both aesthetics and function.