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Retailers' guide to tile & stone: Grout does more than fill voids

October 26/November 2; Volume 30/Number 10

By Ken Ryan

(Editor’s note: This is the eighth in a 10-part series familiarizing flooring retailers with merchandising and installing tile and natural stone.)

Screen Shot 2015-10-30 at 5.03.54 PMWhen retailers discuss the merits of stone or ceramic tile flooring with their customers, benefits such as aesthetics, versatility and longevity are often top of mind. Grouting is usually not mentioned within the first few minutes of conversation, but it is a critical component nonetheless.

Grout fills the voids between tiles and bonds them together while preventing the edges from chipping or cracking. When installed correctly, it provides a visual that makes ceramic tile or stone even more desirable to consumers.

Offered in a variety of colors to either match or contrast the tile, grout comes in two basic types; deciding which one to use depends on the width of the tile joints. Standard grouts are made from a polymer-enhanced Portland cement. Narrow joints of 1⁄8 inch or less call for unsanded grout, a pudding-smooth blend of Portland cement and powdered pigments mixed with water. Unsanded grout is primarily used for walls, tub enclosures and countertops. In cases where sanded grout could scratch delicate tile surfaces, such as marble or other natural stones, unsanded grout is recommended.

Joints wider than 1⁄8 inch require sanded grout—the same material as unsanded but with the addition of sand, which helps bulk up the grout and keeps it from shrinking in the joints.

Because grout is porous, it is highly absorbent and can easily become stained or discolored when dirt or stain particles seep into its small holes. As a preventative action, it is imperative that grout is sealed as soon as it is installed, especially in a busy home where spills are frequent and foot traffic is heavy.

“Standard grouts are susceptible to stains because they are porous,” said Steve Dalene, owner of Dalene Flooring Carpet One in South Windsor, Conn. “In the past the only solution was to seal your grout, which needs to be done every couple years, or to just pick a dark colored grout that looks cleaner longer. There are now better grouts out there that fix both of these issues. Epoxy grouts, urethane grouts and silicone-based grouts are the latest and greatest. They are not only more durable but more flexible than standard tile grout. They are also much more stain resistant. Some of these products come pre-mixed for quicker installation and a more consistent coloration. Most can be used in both interior and exterior applications.”

In the past mortar and grout required 24 hours to cure before walking on the tile. However, new technology has sped up the drying time.

A product marketed as Burst Add-A-Pak, from Merkrete, can be used to help speed up work times in almost any Portland cement mortar such as mud beds, masonry mortars, underlayments, thin sets and grouts. “It will make your grout serviceable in 30 minutes, which is important because time is money and the inconvenience of a family is money too,” said Mark Haaland, business development manager for Emser Tile.

He added that grout is becoming an aspect of design rather than function based on advances in technology. “Our Designer series, for example, adds an element of flavor to an otherwise bland category. Grout isn’t what it was years ago and people are paying a premium for steadfast color.”