Porcelain FAQS

01257 266696

Porcelain FAQS

We cut through the current porcelain hype and try to provide the facts, with the most important considerations and best advice for your project, especially for porcelain paving jointing, which is crucial for success in installation, and long-term durability in service.

There is a lot of information and misinformation about porcelain paving that is now available online, as well as in the sales brochures from Tile Manufacturers, Paving Stone Distributors, Garden Centres and Builders Merchants (the operative word probably being ‘Sales’!), - Not to mention the sales pitches from all the various salesmen. External porcelain paving is on trend in the UK, and so suddenly – Everybody is a Porcelain Expert!

The information on these pages is provided in the following sections if you want to scroll to your specific area of interest, or you can read through to be fully aware before you buy anything anywhere – Good luck!

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1. What is Porcelain & How are Porcelain Tiles Produced?
  • Advantages of External Porcelain Tile Paving

2. Porcelain Tile Paving Performance Characteristics
  • Cleaning and Sealing Porcelain Paving
  • Porcelain Paving Slip Resistance
  • Porcelain Paving Cleaning and Jet-washing

3. Successful Porcelain Paving Installation
  • Substructure & Bedding
  • External Porcelain Tile Paving Jointing / Grouting

4. Porcelain Paving Jointing – Using GftK's vdw 815+ and vdw 850+

1. What is Porcelain & How are Porcelain Tiles Produced?

Porcelain is a specific type of ceramic material that is made using very fine clays, with the addition of very finely ground and graded sands, plus quantities of the mineral feldspar, which are also added into the mix. This is forcibly sieved and combined in powerful compulsory shear mixing equipment, to produce a uniquely smooth and homogeneous base mix with a uniform consistence, which can be adapted and formed through pressure moulding and extrusion processes to make many different porcelain products. These can range from the traditional Chinese hand-made, top quality, almost see through, porcelain china for the best tea services, through high-tech electrically insulating porcelain components for many specialist areas in the power production and transmission industries, to porcelain floor and wall tiles, which now includes external porcelain tile paving. Today, porcelain ceramic components and surfaces are produced in specialist plants all around the world, and these are used for countless different applications in many different production and processing industries, where ultra-smooth, dense, hygienic, insulated and temperature resistant elements and surfaces are required. Porcelain tiles are one example where the concept of hard, stain and scratch resistant, easily cleaned surfaces is increasingly attractive, including to many people in the UK as one of the hottest trends for domestic patios and terraces.

Porcelain tiles are produced by moulding the specially produced porcelain ceramic mixture over a cheaper conventional clay ceramic base mix, and these layers are then fired together (heated quickly) at higher temperatures (~1400°C) than are generally used for most ceramic tiles (~1150°C). This results in porcelain ceramic tiles with a surface that is far denser, less absorbent and more abrasion resistant than normal ceramic tiles. These renowned positive material characteristics can also now be combined with recent technical advances that make it possible to print virtually any colours and images into the porcelain surfaces, allowing for almost unlimited design possibilities and effects with almost unlimited colours, to photographic images in the surface making the paving closely imitate all types of natural wood, natural stone, or pretty much anything else you can imagine, without many of the original materials limitations – What’s not to like….?!?

Advantages of External Porcelain Tile Paving:

External grade porcelain tile paving is also growing in popularity due to the almost unlimited range of paving unit shapes and sizes that can be factory produced and quality controlled, making even more designs possible, as well as having the virtually unlimited colour range and image imprinting that seems to expand and widen every month e.g. from porcelain tile s with mosaics, to timber planks, even including weathered driftwood or cut bamboo!

In fact with porcelain tile paving you can have the appearance of whatever you and your Architect / Landscaper can imagine!

As a result of all these properties and advantages, external porcelain tile paving is a great addition to modern hard landscaping options. The use of porcelain tiles is growing rapidly for many domestic paving applications at a tremendous rate, year on year, and all over the UK, especially for high-end domestic patios, terraces, and pool surrounds. However, for fast and successful installation, followed by good durability with years of service, just as with all types of paving, it is important to understand the product characteristics and be aware of its limitations e.g. when selecting the right paving jointing system for external porcelain tiled surfaces - This is because using the right jointing material is important for successful installation, and critical a long service-life. External porcelain paving is usually laid with narrow joints, typically 3-5 or 5-8mm is recommended, depending on the tiles size, and narrow joint widths also increases the importance of using the right jointing material to achieve durable results! To assist your decision making process and help ensure the selection of the best material for jointing on your porcelain project, we discuss and outline the best approach for the grout selection and then pointing external porcelain tiles, in more detail below on this page – Any questions or concerns then you can also email us for more specific porcelain support: sales@nccstreetscape.co.uk or call our Customer service team on 01257 266696 for their FREE Expert Advice.

2. Porcelain Tile Paving Performance Characteristics

Whilst porcelain tile paving can have tremendous potential and advantages, with this rapidly increasing trend towards using porcelain in the last few years, we have also seen that some of the positive characteristics have sometimes been exaggerated or taken a little too literally shall we say! Therefore it is probably good at this point in our dissertation to note and review some of the key performance characteristics – and todate we have heard all the following ‘characteristics’ individually or more usually combined, as the ‘reason’ people have originally decided to use porcelain tile paving:

“We are using porcelain tiles for our paving project because they are non-slip and do not need cleaning as they are washed clean in the rain and….
  • …… Red wine spills will not stain it!
  • …… BBQ fats, oils, grease, and foodstuffs will not mark it!
  • …… Bird droppings can be brushed-off!
  • …… Algae, moss, and other green growths, leaf and grass stains will just wipe-off!
So, porcelain paving needs any special cleaning or additional sealing / care and protection………!”

Really…. Good luck with all of this …!?! Porcelain to paving is therefore the universal panacea and answer to the maiden’s prayer then……?

No seriously though, much of this is, or at least can be, more-or-less true - BUT not always, and it is always a question of degree and must be considered with common sense and sensible limitations!

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Let’s have a look at each of these Performance Characteristics and hopefully explain:

Firstly, the facts-of-life are that like any outdoor surfaces, external porcelain tile paving will always need a good cleaning and maintenance regime and depending on the specific porcelain surface profile / texture and its exposure, the surfaces may also benefit from additional surface protection and sealing on site. We always advise caution in making external porcelain tile paving performance in service assumptions, because as always and again as with all types of paving, there are other important factors to be considered. So, we find that this is really a question of the level and relative ease of staining and/or ease of cleaning specific porcelain surfaces in different specific situations and exposure in different specific environments. For sure, all dense, highly fired, porcelain ceramic surfaces are going to resist staining and be far easier to clean than porous sandstone paving for example, but this may only be comparable with properly sealed sandstone or granite paving. This is always going to be a question of the type, extent, and scale of spillages, and like all exposed external horizontal surfaces, all types of porcelain tile will require regular if not frequent cleaning, and they may require some form of additional protection at sometimes, according to the exposure. For example, appropriate additional protection / sealing can make porcelain surfaces much more resistant to staining and easier to clean after spillages – horses for courses!

Cleaning and Sealing Porcelain Paving

Unfortunately, some people only find this out when their new porcelain tile paving, including their porcelain paving grout, is stained, and their porcelain surfaces seem to need frequent cleaning to keep their attractive appearance. This can be a difficult time for everyone involved, including the patio owner, paving contractor, tile merchant, tile manufacturer and lastly but not least!) the paving grout manufacturer – Everyone can get dragged into time-consuming debate and argument that is always best avoided. This is best done from the beginning of the process - In practical terms, porcelain tile paving is much like any other external paving and hard landscaping surfaces, as these all need to be installed correctly and then kept clean with an appropriate regime established, to keep the surfaces in prime condition for the best long-term performance and aesthetics. Fortunately, NCC have extensive experience, expertise and have invested in the research and development of the best materials to help you do this most easily, successfully and cost effectively, right from the beginning, with all types of paving and especially porcelain tile paving.

On the more detailed Paving Cleaning and Paving Sealing pages of this website there is a lot more information on products developed specifically to clean and protect all types of paving, as well as some special products that are designed specifically for external porcelain tile paved surfaces. All these products are also available from this website in our Online Shop Products specifically designed for external porcelain tile paving include:

  • NCC Porcelain Cleaner - Aftercare - Porcelain Cleaner - Aftercare is designed to make porcelain tile surfaces faster and easier to cleaning and to be used frequently for regular Aftercare.
  • NCC Porcelain Intensive Cleaner – As it says on the tin – for the Porcelain Intensive Cleaner is designed for the intensive cleaning of porcelain tiles surfaces after heavy soiling, and/or at the end and the beginning of the annual ‘alfresco’ season for example - Whenever that is in the UK!
  • NCC Porcelain Protector – As it says on the tin – Porcelain Protector is a specially developed external porcelain tile surface sealer, which can be applied prior to the initial tile grouting (see below) operations, or after thorough cleaning at any time, where this protects the surfaces by increasing resistance to future staining and making cleaning easier.

Note: We should probably also say here, amidst what are not meant to be demeaning comments about porcelain paving, as we do believe that handled correctly, external grade porcelain tile paving is a fantastic addition to the landscaper’s options, and it is ideal for many domestic patios, terraces, and pathways.

Porcelain Paving Slip Resistance

Well yes it can be, especially when tested to the International, and mostly European (read German) Test Standards and test procedures that are now generally used as the basis for such statements. These standards are also widely used for many other types of floor coverings, from vinyl sheeting to resin flooring and even carpets and ceramics, including porcelain tiles – BUT as clearly stated, most of these test procedures were and are intended as INTERNAL FLOOR tests i.e. for floor covering materials used indoors and for ‘shod’ feet (wearing shoes), whilst barefoot testing, such as for use around swimming pools is something else again, take a look at the tile profiles near your local public pools – hmmmmm?

There doesn’t seem to be any standardised test for this form of surface when used outdoors. However, notwithstanding this, the results of these tests and the classifications received by specific porcelain tiles, can be a very good guide to their potential slip and skid resistance. BUT their actual slip resistance performance will almost equally depend on the interaction of other important aspects including any slope, the type and extent of spillages, the nature of any footwear and the type of activities in the area e.g. running is always more risky!

Slip resistance measurement and standards
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Table of R ratings (SHOD Feet)

The commonly referred to R ratings relate to the typically non portable DIN Standard Floor RAMP Test for Shod Feet, where the ‘R’ relates to the ‘R’ in Ramp Test This basically works by floor samples being fixed to a ramp and then oil is applied on to it, whilst the ramp is raised and then the trained test technician walks in small steps backwards and forwards wearing boots until they slip on the floor. The computerised readout then determines the R ratings for the floor surface based on the angle of slip. Note - the values start at R9 which is the LOWEST slip resistance and R Rating (NOT R1 as you would think – no one seems to know why…?); the R Ratings then progress through increasing values of resistance to the HIGHEST floor slip resistance at R13, the highest slip resistance achievable in the test.

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Table of ABC Ratings for BARE Feet

’ABC’ Ratings for BARE FEET must conform to DIN 51097. ABC Ratings are used for wet floor conditions where bare feet are the norm such as saunas, Jacuzzis, public showers, swimming pools etc.

German standards DIN 51130 and stipulate an ‘R rating’. These tests involve a person walking up and down a ramp where the surface is the test floor contaminated with oil whilst the angle of inclination is increased. The results are given in a range (starting for no good reason we know) at Class R9 - Most likely to be slippery, and they go up to Class R13 – the least likely to be slippery - BUT - When the surface is wet and/or contaminated with spillages, and outdoors – Don’t bank on it!

So in summary – Yes - Porcelain Tile Paving can be slip resistant, but please use common sense – All and any external paved surfaces, using porcelain, natural stone, or concrete, can and will be slippery and therefore dangerous in some situations, and especially when wet and/or contaminated with any other spillages – especially any oils and greases, where dense porcelain maybe more slippery as none is absorbed into the surface, therefore increasing the risk of slips and falls! Common sense is required!

Porcelain Paving Cleaning and Jet-washing

Porcelain paving does not need cleaning e.g. by jet-washing……? Well maybe, BUT ONLY if you keep it pristine clean and treat the porcelain paved surfaces like you do your indoor floors, where you would normally remove and completely clear-up any spillages immediately. Plus, again as you would do indoors, you ensure that the porcelain paved surfaces are swept and mopped clean at least once a week or so, according to use, and that this cleaning regime continues throughout the year, EVERY WEEK of the year and NOT JUST IN SUMMER! – Otherwise, you will find it necessary to jet wash your new porcelain tile paved surfaces regularly, if not frequently, but it will be advisable to do so several times every year as a minimum, to keep it clean and looking good! This will certainly be necessary at the start & end of the season, as well as after any days of heavy use and/or spillages!

As YOU WILL need to jet wash your porcelain tile paved surfaces, please be sure to point the tiles with a paving grout / paving jointing mortar that can withstand this direct jet-washing treatment and will not wash-out! As mentioned, and explained in more detail elsewhere on this website, NONE OF THE 1-Part vacuum packed ‘resins’, bag-in-a-tub products, so-called ‘resins, or ‘brush-ins’, paving joint compounds etc., are suitable for porcelain tile paving in the long term. They just do not adequately resist direct and/or frequent jet-washing - They may be widely available in most merchants; they may seem relatively cheap and very easy to apply - BUT - They will cause you problems with your nice new porcelain paving – and usually sooner rather than later, so all these compounds are best avoided – Why on earth would you want to select expensive porcelain tile paving, and then use the cheapest grout available from a local garden centre, builders merchant – or from anywhere come to that……!

3. Successful Porcelain Paving Installation
Substructure & Bedding

There is a lot of useful advice and information available from many sources in the UK, on the use and installation of external porcelain paving, so this is not our focus. For assistance we recommend the UK’s only fully independent source of natural stone and concrete paving information, which has extensive information on the correct installation of all types of paving in the UK, with special sections on external porcelain tile paving. This is the excellent www.pavingexpert.com/porcelain-paving.

A word of caution: beware of similar named website imitations of this superb trade advice site, that have recently created by Online merchants trying to cash-in on the PavingExpert name, and which unfortunately something the internet does not yet police properly!

The suggestion that porcelain tile grouts must be totally impermeable when laid on full concrete beds rather than consolidated granite chippings as prevails in Italy for example, is also a bit of a ‘red herring’. This is explained in detail by an excellent article by the paving expert Tony McCormack at www.pavingexpert.com In principle this is a red herring and irrelevant because like all external paving, the porcelain tiles should be laid to a recognised falls, which is in order to ensure water run-off into adequate surface drainage provided, plus the now established UK method of laying porcelain with an SBR or proprietary bonding slurry on the backside, directly into a full wet mortar bed, also prevents any possible theoretical underflow. In any event there is absolutely no evidence of any sub surface freeze-thaw damage to paved surfaces anywhere throughout most of the UK. The substructure and bedding used for external porcelain tiles is therefore normally much the same as for most other types of quality ceramic and natural stone paving, e.g. in requiring a sound substructure to take the anticipated load, a suitable bedding mortar, and then using an SBR Slurry Bonding bridge ‘wet-on-wet’ to ensure the secure bedding of porcelain paving tiles. However, the jointing of external porcelain requires special consideration due to the nature of this material, and we have tried to outline below in an evaluation of the available options for you to consider (or not!):

External Porcelain Tile Paving Jointing / Grouting:
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There are two keys to the long-term success in the jointing (also called grouting or pointing – same thing) for external porcelain tile paving - the material must provide relative Ease of Installation to prevent errors and unnecessary additional work on site, and then the jointing material itself must be stain resistant and able to withstand water-jet cleaning to have the necessary long-term performance for Durability in Service.

1. Ease of Installation: For external porcelain tiles it is essential to always use an equally high-performance jointing material. This means not only selecting one that is initially easy to apply in the widely different British weather conditions at the time of grouting, but that also has minimal requirements to remove and clean any residual haze or stains from the jointing material from the porcelain surfaces.

2. Durability in Service: For example, as mentioned above, ALL 1-component brush-in, vacuum packed, bag-in-a-pail type ‘resin’ jointing compounds are just not durable enough to be recommended.

The commonly used porcelain paving jointing options are effectively all those materials from bodger builders sand and cement mix on site, to the various pre-bagged and pre-packed paving jointing compounds and mortars that are now widely available on the market, many of which are oversold and are often recommended beyond their natural limitations, including those sold for both specialist professional and / or DIY use. There is a complete summary of all these paving jointing materials and a detailed assessment of their respective characteristics, performance, and limitations on the Paving Jointing pages of this website.

The following is an extract from these pages as a brief summary, and specifically in relation to their use with external porcelain tile paving:

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Brush-in Jointing Compounds for porcelain - Any of the one-component brush-in ‘resin’ paving grout products may well go into the narrow (generally 3-5 or 5-8mm) joints used with external porcelain tile joints easily, but they will also come out easily too! In fact this will likely be within a disappointingly short time, especially with any significant jet-washing, plus these materials are porous themselves and will stain, as well as discolour with green algae and other micro-organic growths, plus they will be susceptible to freeze-thaw damage and break-up in the event of frost. These jointing compounds will therefore only last a few years, even if left well alone! – So once again we ask the question: “Why on earth would you put a cheap DIY jointing compound in between expensive and professionally installed porcelain tiles….?” It would seem to be Madness to us! – Plus, all the 1-component, vacuum-bag packed, so-called ‘resin’ brush-in jointing compounds tend to leave a haze over the porcelain surfaces, which can also be difficult to remove after installation. So, …..Why would you do it…? Best avoided..!

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External cement-based paving grouts / jointing mortars are suitable for porcelain and indeed they are widely used throughout the UK, BUT these are also not ideal, as like all cement mortars they have some poor performance characteristics. This also includes the recent crop of so-called, hybrid cement-based grouting mortars - ‘hybrid’ in this context is just a bit of ‘Marketing-Speak’ for some products, which simply means that they have a bit of polymer added as a plasticiser, which ALL prebagged, cement based, paving jointing mortars now do to reduce their natural tendency to shrinkage and cracking! However, these are still cement, hybrid-polymer-modified or whatever, with all the advantages of cement products such as low cost and high compressive strength a low permeability, but unfortunately, they also have disadvantages in relation to paving jointing and specifically to porcelain! Indoor cement tile grouts are not sufficiently durable for long term external exposure i.e. they lack flexibility and crack due to the wider outdoor temperature variations and thermal cycling e.g. from the sun; cement-based grout will also stain easily with typical patio spillages such as red wine and BBQ foodstuffs on patios and terraces. Cement based paving jointing systems used for external stone paving, including porcelain, generally has more cement with graded sands, made smooth and flowable with plasticizing polymers. Unfortunately the key weakness outside is residual water in the joints or washing down or sudden rainfall, which destroys the carefully designed water to cement mix ratio, and this will lead to cracks on site, maybe only visible after a few days and the contractor has been paid and moved on! There is also the issue that in any event, any dense substrates, so especially like porcelain, will have only limited adhesion to cement mortars and so once again, this makes shrinkage cracking and debonding due to normal thermal movement likely over a relatively short time, particularly at the top of the joints – which is of course, the last place you want any cracks!

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2-component, epoxy resin based, resin bound paving jointing mortars: The best and most technically sound solution for good quality, high performance, external grade porcelain paving jointing in our experience, is a high performance, 2-part, epoxy resin bound, graded fine alluvial sand based jointing system. This unique technical solution is provided by using the most appropriate GftK Paving Joint Mortar according to the porcelain tile joint widths i.e. 2-part, epoxy resin based, GftK vdw 815+ or GftK vdw 850+, for joint widths from >3mm or >5mm respectively, which are undoubtedly the best we have seen for durable external porcelain tile jointing / pointing., without cracking issues. Cement style shrinkage cracking is always a ‘none-issue’ with GftK’s 2-part, vdw range of epoxy resin jointing products. The only permeability related issue for the UK, only happens with 1-part, vacuum packed paving joint compounds; as these will quickly discolour and allow algae and other green growths to collect in the pores and as they cannot be jet-washed and cleaning chemical discolour them, the green discoloration cannot be removed – another reason to avoid this type of inferior products for quality porcelain paving!

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4. Porcelain Paving Jointing – Using GftK's vdw 815+ and vdw 850+

GftK's vdw 815 and 850 Paving Joint Mortars are unique, 2-component, epoxy resin based, materials that is designed for durable sealing of narrow joints, making it ideal for grouting porcelain paving with joint widths from 3mm, though the normally recommended spacing for larger format external porcelain tiles is 5-8mm to avoid edge issues. When grouting newly laid porcelain after the tiles are firmly bonded in position and strong enough to walk on, the surface must always be rinsed clean and then dried. This is also an opportune time to protect the pristine surface against future staining and resides for building works. This is done by applying NCC Porcelain Tile Protector and allowing this to dry, prior to the grouting operation. As the video shows, mix the 2-components of the GftK vdw 815+ together thoroughly until the mix is fully homogeneous, which should be for around 3 minutes. Pre-wet the paving and then pour out the vdw 815+ as shown, using more water to help it flow into the joints, you can't use too much water at this time. Continue moving the mortar with a rubber squeegee as it effectively self-compacts into the joints. Once filed leave for a few minutes and then use a wet coconut brush to remove any excess, using more water in a fine wide spray as required to remove any residual material and clean the surface. Job done!

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To help ensure success with your project, on the Case Studies & Video Application Guides page of this website there is a recent Project Case Study and Application Guide for grouting external porcelain tile paving joints with vdw 815+, plus pre-sealing the tiles with NCC Porcelain Protector. This video is also available to view on the NCC Streetscape YouTube Channel here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2exywKqYN0k&t=19s

Call NCC Streetscape and, use the GftK vdw 815+ or GftK vdw 850+ solutions to get it right first time - and for the long term!

For more advice or assistance with your specific porcelain tile paving project:

- To Select the best jointing product use our Product Section Guide.

- To Estimate the quantity of material required use our Paving Joint Consumption Calculator.

You can also email us for more specific support: sales@nccstreetscape.co.uk and you can call our Customer service team during normal office hours, on 01257 266696 for FREE Expert Advice.