Thanks to advances in porcelain tile manufacturing, tiles as large as 6 feet x 12 feet and as thin as 1/8 to 7/32 inches are available. These tiles, known as gauged porcelain tile panels/slabs, are surprisingly lightweight given their size.
The tiles’ lightweight nature, paired with the availability of stronger mortars due to advances in polymer-modified cement mortar technology, makes them a good candidate for adhered exterior facades. But, until a recent update to the 2021 International Building Code (IBC), using gauged porcelain tile panels/slabs for this purpose required applying for a code variance — often a complicated and expensive process.
The 2021 Update
In response to the developments in both porcelain tile manufacturing and mortar technology, the International Masonry Institute (IMI) and the Tile Council of North America (TCNA) proposed an update to the IBC. This proposal has since been certified by the International Code Council Board of Directors, and starting in 2021, adhered porcelain tiles as large as 36 x 72 inches or 48 x 48 inches can be used on building facades without a code variance application.
Impacts on the Industry
This change is the first significant update related to exterior adhered porcelain tile since porcelain tile was first introduced to the IBC in 2009. Since then and prior to the 2021 update, the IBC restricted exterior adhered porcelain tile to a maximum of 3 square feet per tile and 24 inches on one side.
These restrictions meant that adhered porcelain tiles were generally 12 inches x 24 inches or 20 inches x 20 inches — the largest common tile sizes that fit the parameters.
Now, home and building owners, designers, and construction professionals have greater flexibility to use larger porcelain tile for exterior adhered facades. Gauged porcelain tile panels/slabs will become a more viable alternative to metal panels, precast concrete, and other exterior building materials with these advantages:
- Long life
- Durability to resist fading from the sun and damage from weather
- Ease of installation
- Choice of colors
- Energy efficiency
- Noise reduction
Additionally, the update may even expand work opportunities for qualified tile installers and contractors.