LESLIE: Well, a new tile backsplash can really wake up a tired kitchen. Or what about a tub surround that really just wows with every soak?
Tiling projects are not that difficult and they really can deliver instant appeal in your home.
TOM: Well, that’s right. But with the variety of adhesives to choose from, it can be tough to know which works best for your particular project. Here to tell us how to choose is This Old House general contractor, Tom Silva.
Welcome, Tommy. And the products that are available today are actually making this process a lot easier than it used to be, aren’t they?
TOM SILVA: Oh, yeah, it’s a big difference today. They have all kinds of thinset mortar, they have mastic, they have all kinds of different things. And they have additives that go with them, too, to give them a lot more adhesive and a lot more flexibility, too.
LESLIE: Well and I think there’s a lot of confusion as to the type of adhesives and when to use which one where. So how do you know where to start in selecting the adhesive for your project?
TOM SILVA: Well, you’ve got to think about what you’re going to be doing. If you’re going to be doing a floor – let’s say you’re going to be using like an exterior tile, for example.
TOM SILVA: Then you’d want to use a thinset mortar. There’s not a lot of flexibility in it, so it doesn’t move with the floor. So if you’re going over a floor that has some flex in it, like a wood floor – the subfloor isn’t strong enough; there is deflection between it – then you probably don’t want to be using a thinset mortar because what’s going to happen, the tile is going to break away from the adhesion over time.
TOM: Now, we get calls on that all the time where folks are complaining about a couple of loose tiles. And the problem is that even if you pop those up and fix it, it’s just the beginning of what could be a long line of that happening over and over again.
TOM SILVA: Absolutely. But another mistake that people make when using a thinset mortar or any – almost any kind of adhesive is they put too much on, they wait too long before they cover it. So what happens is the air dries the surface. Although it still may feel soft, it’s skinned over. So that adhesive that you’re applying the tile to isn’t going to hold.
TOM: It’s only sticking to one side at that point.
TOM SILVA: Exactly, exactly.
TOM: Now, when it comes to thinset, you can get the dry, powdered type, which is a fair amount of work to mix, or the stuff that’s already premixed itself. Do you have a preference on that?
TOM SILVA: Well, I mainly use the dry powder because I have the tools to mix it: the buckets and the quantity, so I can mix up just what I need.
TOM SILVA: The premixed thinset stuff, I must say it works pretty good; it works great. I mean if you need a little bit or a lot, you can get it that way. It is a little more money than the dry powder, though. I’m basically cheap; I’m a Yankee.
LESLIE: Now, when it comes to mastic, that’s really the best application if you’re doing a wall-tiling project, correct?
TOM SILVA: A wall tiling like a backsplash or something like that, it works great. Yep. It’s flexible, it goes on quick, it’s easy to clean up.
TOM: When you put the tiles on, they’re going to stay stuck pretty much when you use the organic mastic?
TOM SILVA: Yeah. It dries quick so – and you can usually grout the same day, too, which is nice.
TOM: Yeah. Well, that saves a lot of time.
TOM SILVA: Yeah.
TOM: Now, what about brick mortar? That’s a very, very coarse type of mortar compared to the thinset. What do you use that for?
TOM SILVA: Well, the sand is thicker or sometimes there’s even like a small pebble in there.
TOM SILVA: And that’s more or less for setting brick or a real thick tile, like if you’re going to do a slate floor and you need really some …
TOM: Or like a Mexican tile or something like that, that is very thick and heavy? Mm-hmm.
TOM SILVA: Yeah. Anything like that that needs like – we’ve set tile that we needed a 1×1. Most of the time, you see a 1/16 or a ¼ x ¼ . Well, we’ve actually had to make a trowel where we set 1×1 and we’ve used a real thick thinset with that.
TOM: Now, I think it’s interesting. We all spend so much time picking out the appropriate tile but we really need to make sure we pick out the appropriate mastic, too.
TOM SILVA: Mastic and tool.
LESLIE: And I think a lot of times, people just interchange the words: mastic, thinset. They sort of interchange them without realizing they’re two very distinct products for two very different projects.
TOM SILVA: Exactly. Or they call it the generic when it’s really not …
TOM: But they all better stick, that’s for sure.
TOM SILVA: Yeah, that’s right. That’s right.
LESLIE: Now, what about epoxy thinset? I think that’s sort of the last category when it comes to adhesives. Where is that best used?
TOM SILVA: In areas where you want that sucker to really hold well. Can I say “sucker”?
LESLIE: Yeah, of course.
TOM SILVA: You want that sucker to really hold well and you want it to set up quick. Epoxies do work fine but you’ve got to work fast for it.
TOM: Now, work is the theme throughout this entire discussion but there is actually a new product on the market that comes in a mat format that glues tiles. And we’ve actually used it on countertops ourselves and it’s called Bondera Tile MatSet. Have you seen this stuff?
TOM SILVA: I have done and I have used it. And you can actually use it in wet areas, too.
TOM SILVA: Yeah, it’s pretty good. They actually – but you have to tape the seams. So you put the – you put this – basically, it’s a roll. It’s like two-faced tape.
LESLIE: And it’s super-sticky.
TOM SILVA: Yeah. Two-faced tape. You roll it out on the wall. Once it’s in place, you peel off the face and you put your tile right on it and you can grout it the same day.
LESLIE: We were doing the backsplash and the counter and the countertop sort of face for a project with the AARP – Tom and I – and I was putting all of the Bondera on the backsplash of the counter and the facing and …
TOM: And I had to go get Leslie off the backsplash.
LESLIE: And I would peel it all off and then my belt would get stuck and I was stuck across the top and I was like, “Alright. This is awesomely sticky but I need to figure out a better process.” Because I was literally stuck in place.
TOM SILVA: All this time, I thought you were coordinated.
LESLIE: No, not that coordinated. But it’s funny. We found out later that I was actually pregnant on that project, so no wonder why I was such a doof.
TOM: But the Bondera had nothing to do with …
LESLIE: No, no, no. No, no, no.
TOM: It’s good stuff, though. I mean it comes in a roll. You can – with the adhesive. You can peel off both sides, stick it to the wall and stick your tile. And again, it’s a situation where you can grout same day.
LESLIE: Right away.
TOM SILVA: Yeah. We did an Ask project with it where I basically did a backsplash, in a town local from here, and it was great. Roll it on a wall, stick the tile.
LESLIE: And it even has sort of a grid laid out on it, so it helps with cutting and laying out your tiles if you’re trying to do something a little bit more detailed and make sure everything’s square.
TOM SILVA: We did an Ask This Old House project using that and it was great.
TOM: So bottom line: take some time choosing that tile but even take just as much time choosing the adhesive, whatever it might be. You want to get it right; otherwise, you’re going to be trying to do that job again and again and again as time goes on.
Tom Silva from TV’s This Old House, thanks so much for stopping by The Money Pit.
TOM SILVA: My pleasure.
LESLIE: Alright. You can catch the current season of This Old House and Ask This Old House on PBS. For your local listings and some great step-by-step videos on projects that you can tackle, visit ThisOldHouse.com.
TOM: And This Old House and Ask This Old House are brought to you by Home Depot. The Home Depot, more saving, more doing.