Outdoor tiling: the limitless external applications of 20mm porcelain tiles.
By David Kong Director Domus Group.
The latest innovations in continuous pressing technology by the world’s leading porcelain tile manufacturers has opened up important new specification possibilities for architects and interior designers in two vital areas.
The first is external patios and terraces, where frost-resistant 20mm porcelain tiles in an ever expanding range of formats, surface finishes, and designs, allows the current trend for inside-out living and al fresco architecture to be fully explored and exploited.
Concurrently, these 20mm porcelain tiles – available in huge slabs in sizes up to 1,600 by 3,200mm – are rapidly being adopted as a versatile new option for worktops, vanities, reception desks, bar fronts, and even food preparation areas in busy commercial kitchens.
And it is not hard to see why. Today’s 20mm porcelain slabs offer the perfect combination of aesthetic appeal and outstanding technical performance. They are, quite simply, the supreme surface solution for almost all architectural applications.
Paving par excellence
While the UK’s climate has changed little in the past 20 years, the UK’s enthusiasm for outdoor living and al fresco dining has grown exponentially over the same period. This, in turn, is revolutionising the design of patios, terraces, decking, courtyards, balconies, verandas, urban squares, pavements, pedestrian zones, and both public and private gardens.
The two most obvious manifestations of this trend are the increase in demand for outdoor living areas in domestic properties, and the ever-increasing provision of external seating by cafés, coffee shops, restaurants, and offices across the country. These range from simple paved zones for seating, right through to fully fledged entertainment spaces with BBQs and even outdoor kitchens.
A recent Houzz Landscaping Trends Survey found that more homeowners are relaxing, eating, and entertaining outdoors than ever before. Outdoor living is fast becoming an extension of the home, with homeowners aspiring to bring the décor and design of their home interiors to their garden. So, whereas paving once was an afterthought in garden design, today it is as carefully planned and selected as bathroom tiles or bedroom curtains.
The ability of modern 20mm porcelain ranges to faithfully recreate the tones and textures of natural materials like sandstone, limestone, slate, or granite, plays into this trend, while also offering a low-maintenance, and more aesthetically-sophisticated alternative, to traditional timber decking, concrete setts, or Yorkstone slabs.
It is little wonder then that leading tile manufacturers now offer 20mm exterior grade tiles in a range of slip-resistant finishes; suitable for both domestic and high traffic commercial applications.
The design options have become ever more sophisticated, with wood-, concrete-, and stone-effect tiles now rubbing shoulders with more decorative and unexpected options. Overall, exterior tiling has truly come of age.
Once available almost exclusively supplied in a 600 by 600mm format, there is now a plethora of sizes on offer, from 300 by 300mm through to mega formats like 1,000 by 1,000mm and 1,200 by 1,200mm.
High performance porcelain
Porcelain is the ideal material for external floors and hard landscaping, particularly in the UK’s highly variable climate. It offers a number of advantages over timber and natural stone: porcelain tiles are extremely durable, being impermeable, scratch resistant, not fading or staining, never suffering from mould or moss build-up nor from frost damage. As well as being a cost effective alternative to timber or stone, porcelain tiles are also made from up to 75% recycled material, and are themselves recyclable.
Across Europe the use of porcelain tiles in external flooring applications has risen dramatically in recent years. This was made possible by two major advances in manufacturing technology, allowing thicker, textured tiles to be produced.
Traditionally, porcelain tile surface designs were applied using a flat ink roller and then fired to create a durable finish. This meant that manufacturers were restricted to producing smooth tiles without the slip resistance required for outdoor use.
However, the introduction of industrial inkjet printing meant high resolution digital designs could be achieved over textured tiles. Not only did this improve the aesthetics of porcelain – finishes now come in a variety of colours, textures and patterns to rival natural timber and stone – but also allowed the manufacturers to produce slip-resistant surfaces.
The second manufacturing advance was the introduction of ‘double depth’ moulds to produce 20mm thick porcelain tiles, up to 1.2m long. This has now been augmented by the adoption of continuous pressing technology that makes the production of textured 20mm porcelain tiles faster and more efficient.
Twice as thick as traditional internal tiles, these 20mm porcelain tiles are so strong that, even when used with a raised floor support system, they can support the weight of a car.
Extensive choice from Domus
As may be expected of the foremost supplier of ceramic surfaces to the UK’s A&D community, Domus offers a varied and proven portfolio of 20mm porcelain tiles.
Domus Porcelain Wood 20mm, available in three neutral colours and two very striking large plank sizes, is a great starting point. This porcelain wood-effect collection offers a very authentic aesthetic. It is suitable for outdoor use in both residential and commercial settings, as with many of these designs, it is also available in a 10mm thickness to allow a seamless transition between inside and outside.
Specifiers seeking a harder edge feel should look no further than Industrial 20mm. This modern-industrial, porcelain tile range comes in six soft neutral and grey tones. It has a subtly-detailed surface texture that faithfully replicates the look of concrete in a bush hammered finish in one large format. Once again, this design is also available in a 10mm option in alternative finishes for internal use.
Limestone 20mm, as the name suggests, offers the timeless and versatile beauty of this popular natural stone. This unique and recognisable surface has been faithfully created using moulds from natural stones, exhibiting a typically rough texture. This range is offered in four colours and two sizes. It is complemented by Limestone and Limestone Slim in 14mm and 6mm thicknesses respectively; variants for indoor and wall use.
In a similar vein, Material Stone 20mm delivers a truly faithful reproduction of Italian limestone. This design is ideal for dynamic and creative, commercial and residential, architectural design. These frost-proof tiles demonstrate exceptional durability and low maintenance.
Norr 20mm, in three colours and two sizes is a high performance porcelain collection inspired by a combination of engineered stone, terrazzo and Nordic landscapes with prominent markings and high tonal variation.
Wood-effect porcelain tiles in large plank formats have become one of the external tiling heroes in recent years. Domus’ Norway Home 20mm delivers a winning combination of an elongated format and exquisite surface detailing in three neutral and one grey colour options for outdoor use.
Available in five distinct variants, Petrology Stone 20mm is a quite stunning and comprehensive collection of external grade porcelain tiles. Aesthetic options include high grade quarzite in two grey colours; stunning veined porcelain stone-effect tiles with great tonal variation; a porcelain interpretation of French stone with subtle shade variation and an undulating texture; totally naturalistic interpretations of natural limestone in two warm colours; and, finally, a porcelain interpretation of Pietra Serena sandstone.
Other 20mm options from Domus include Quarziti 20mm, a quartz-effect tile in five neutral and grey colours and two large formats; Secret Stone 20mm with a resin dye that simulates the effect of bush-hammering; Selection Oak 20mm, a timeless porcelain oak timber-effect tile; Terranova 20mm in five organic, pastel and grey shades which is manufactured using between 20 and 45% recycled content; and, finally, Vestige 20mm, a porcelain concrete tile with a modern industrial feel in grey colour options, that features high shade variation for an authentic look.
External raised access floors
The introduction of pedestal systems for external flooring has accelerated the development of external grade porcelain tiles able to compete with natural stone and timber.
This development has gone hand in hand with the growing use of pedestal systems as an alternative to traditional bedding materials. Introduced to the European market in the late 1980s by Belgian manufacturer Buzon, pedestals can be used with a wide range of surface materials, including timber, natural stone and porcelain, to create raised floors, terraces, green roofs, water features, roof gardens, and balconies.
Along with the benefits of raised floors – to hide services and drainage – pedestal systems offer a number of advantages over traditional installation methods.
Laying mortar is time consuming and can create long-term maintenance issues due to ground movement, grout decay and if access to services is required. In contrast, pedestals are fast and easy to install. Pedestals are kept in place by the weight of the material above and no grout is needed between the tiles. Instead, spacer tabs allow for 2 to 10mm gaps between tiles. This facilitates drainage which prevents ponding and reduces the risk of slips.
Pedestals can be used in high-traffic areas and reduce the loads on substrates since they obviate the need for screeding, sand or cement beds. They are particularly suitable for balcony or roof space refurbishment, as the existing substrate does not have to be removed.
Pedestal systems also allow external and internal floor finishes to be at the same level, creating drain-free and step-free access without compromising the DPC restrictions or the need for precision screeding and levelling of the substrate, particularly where interior and exterior meet. And, if porcelain tiles are used, a seamless look can be achieved inside and outside.
Height-adjustable pedestals allow compensation for ground movements over time. Another significant advantage of raised floor systems is easy maintenance of any services hidden below. All pipework and cable runs hidden beneath the flooring can be easily accessed at any time for maintenance or modification. In contrast, with a conventional bedding material, it is difficult to accurately locate a leak and repairs can be disruptive.
Exterior grade porcelain tiles are ideal for raised floor systems because of their high strength to weight ratio and the ability to support high loads, even when only supported at their corners.
Because porcelain tiles are precision-made and all are exactly the same size and thickness, they can be laid much more quickly than natural stone slabs, and can be easily trimmed on-site or pre-cut off-site, if more complicated shapes are required.
In contrast, the natural variation in the thickness of stone slabs means sorting them before laying to minimise the adjustment needed in each pedestal, slowing the installation.
Stone slabs are also heavier since they must be thicker in order to support loads through their corners.
For architects, the wide range of sizes, finishes and colours in today’s porcelain portfolios means choosing porcelain for hard landscaping means no compromises on aesthetics or safety.
Developers, and facilities managers also welcome the combination of high durability, low maintenance, and ease of access provided by this ‘fit and forget’ raised floor solution.
Every day, Domus advises and supplies to hundreds of unique and individual projects from private homes and offices right up to the largest residential or commercial developments including the Battersea Power Station Development, and Heathrow Airport T5 and T2.
Many residential and commercial projects require bespoke designs and technical solutions that draw from the many years of knowledge, experience and expertise that the Domus specification and technical teams have acquired and developed.
In addition to technical advice relating to slip resistance, setting out, sub-floor preparation and care and maintenance, Domus provides advanced technical systems that resolve many significant flooring challenges.
Domus has three award-winning specification showrooms in London: Battersea, W1, and Clerkenwell. Each showroom is designed to inspire, inform and ensure the best materials are selected for every project. Showroom specification teams are on hand for walk-in customers and provide design and technical advice. All showrooms have material libraries and samples ready to take-away or available for next day delivery to the office or home.
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