Should travertine tile be set with a grout joint or no grout?

QUESTION

Why Grout Joints? - Hi,
Can You please tell me if the travertine tile should be set with a grout joint or no grout. I am have this installed in my home tomorrow and the installer is telling me he needs to utilize a small grout joint to lay the tile and tight is not possible. I was under the impression the natural stone should not have any grout between the tiles. I would appreciate any information you could give me.

ANSWER

ANSWER - All stone or ceramic tile installations should have a grout joint for two basic reasons.  First reason is that tiles will vary in size to some degree and the grout joint allows the installer to compensate for those irregularities to some degree to allow for a straight grout line.  The more the variation in size the wider the grout joint should be for the tile.  That is why Mexican paver tiles have such large grout joints is because they tend to vary in size so much.

Second reason is that tiles will expand and contract to some degree due to thermo conditions, moisture conditions and various dynamic movements within the structure.  The cement grout joint is much more compressible than the tile itself.  If the tiles are butt up to each other then expansion within the floor can lead to spalling at the edges of the tile.  It is normally recommended to not have a grout joint any more narrow than 1/8” so it can be fully filled with grout and be more stable.  The stone industry standards do allow for a grout joint as narrow as 1/16” wide if the stone tile is especially precision cut.

Also consider that the smaller the grout joint width the more likely you will get lippage from two adjacent edges of tile, where one edge is higher or lower than the other.  The industry standard for smaller width grout joints is that there can be no greater lippage than 1/32”.

Good Luck!

13 thoughts on “Should travertine tile be set with a grout joint or no grout?

  1. Karina says:

    Too late I’m reading this. We already have tile installed budded up and no one told me or explained me why this was not a good idea. What can we do to fix it without ripping all the tile up? Can we cut through lines to add grout?
    Also, all floor tile is installed now (patio) and installer has been buffing it it to the point some of the tiles are shiny when the original tile never was!!!! He said that will go away with the sealer (I don’t know!)
    Also, there seems to be in other areas like a thick white film. I thought it was dust but it is not. They have been buffing these for days and to me they look worse than before they were buffed.
    Any advise on how to fix this??? Will sealer fix this issues?

    • Donato Pompo says:

      All tiles have to have a grout joint. You cannot but them together or you can have potential problems such as the edges will tend to chip. Plus when they are butted together, normally the tile joints don’t line up properly.

      It is possible to cut in grout joints with a dry cutting saw blade, but it would be a tedious job, and there is a good chance they would tend to chip the tile edges.

      Not sure what kind of tile you have, but an unglazed porcelain tile or a natural stone will buff to a polish. Over time it might wear down, but it would not wear evenly. The sealer will not take away the shinny condition; it is more likely to make it shinier depending on what type of sealer you use.

      If there is a white film you don’t want to seal over it or you trap it in. The white film could be a cementitious film that should come off. It could be a latex film that requires special cleaners to come off. It could be efflorescence staining that can be cleaned easily enough, but the question is what caused the stain and will it reoccur?

      The only way for us to know what your situation is, if we performed an inspection and evaluated all of the conditions. It may or may not be practical to hire a company like ours, as it can be costly.

    • Timothy Morgan says:

      Karina,
      I just saw this post regarding the tile you had installed. We are actually installing travertine and there is no grout line. Wish i would’ve known before also, have you had any trouble with the tile since it’s been laid?

  2. claudio says:

    I’m not a paid tiler…this question is about Travertine and grout spaces needed or not. The simple answer is SHOULD. Grout Locks or secures the tile besides “assurance” of straight lines. I’ve seen non grouted ceramic, granite, marble, limestone in a wide variety of locations, airports, subways, palace and museums all without grout lines/spaces cannot recall in my 81 years noticeable ugly signs of an issue caused by lack of grout space. Yeah a few funny lines…not granite or marble however….I’ve done my own tile/stone work (and family members) since my teenage days

    • Donato Pompo says:

      The Natural Stone Institute Dimension Stone Design Manual and the Tile Council of America Handbook for Ceramic, Glass, and Stone Tiles, and ANSI A108 state that butting tiles together is not allowed. They state that a grout joint can never be less than 1/16″ wide, but in many cases it is necessary to be wider.

      One of the reasons for grout joints is to compensate for the inherent dimension variations in tile and stone. They are not perfectly sized and the standards provide tolerances for these products.

      The other reason for grout joints is to mitigate the inherent movements in tile. All tiles will expand to some degree when subjected to moisture or heat, and will contract when dried or cooled. Some with move more than others. This is referred to thermo movements and moisture movements. The grout joints to some degree can mitigate movement, but not to the extent of a movement joints with resilient sealants.

      We have investigated many tile installations where the tile or stone are butted together and they end up getting what we call a chattered edge with little chips because of the expansion and compression of the materials. I have also seen installations with tiles butted together than hadn’t failed yet. Under the right or wrong conditions they could fail in the future.

      The industry standards are established by volunteered consensus groups of tile installers, tile manufacturers, stone processors, installation product manufacturers, consultants, including many scientists and engineers. Standards are recommendations and not mandatory, but they are established to prevent reoccurring problems and failures.

  3. Trey says:

    I think the difference with some circumstances is that the “tile” is actually a travertine paver…often used outdoors…where they wouldn’t use a grout. They are placed beside each other with no grout.

  4. Donato Pompo says:

    Whether it is a natural stone tile like Travertine or a ceramic tile like a porcelain tile, all have to have a grout joint for two reasons. One is that there are tolerances for size variation as each tile is not always exactly the same size. The width of the grout joint is dictated by how much variation in sizing the tile as so it can compensate for the variation. The second reason is if you but tiles together then when they expand, as all do expand due to temperature and moisture fluctuations, it can cause the the tile edges to chip or worst cause the tile to tend/debond.

  5. Henry w says:

    Hi, I have been reading the above and still have some uncertainty about how to tile my living room. I am wanting to replicate a floor seen in a midcentury house in Connecticut designed by Philip Johnson in the 70s. It has unfilled vein cut travertine tiles that are grout-less. I’ve spoken to the owner of the house who said that over the years he has owned 2 tiles have come loose but nothing more serious than that.

    • Donato Pompo says:

      Keep in mind that unfilled travertine has holes in it that collect dirt and are difficult to clean. Not very practical for floor applications.

      Industry standards state that stone grout joint widths should be at least 1/8″ wide but never less than 1/16″ wide and should never be butted together.

      Grout joints have two basic purposes, one to compensate for the sizing irregularities of the stone and in a micro respect to add some resiliency to mitigate expect stress from the stone as the grout is less dense than the stone.

      I have seen butted stone installations that did not seem to have any problems, and I have seen butted installations that did have problems. A common problem is edge chatter where the edge of the stone chips from the stone expanding. The stone will expand as it heats up and when absorbing moisture or humidity. Another problem is the stone tiles debonding and tenting particularly if there were no movement joints installed at the perimeters and within the field of stone.

  6. Gordon Hetherington says:

    Don
    Just finding this posting though I hope I am not too late
    Travertine rough tile floor installed in 2013. Grouted on edges but it appears no gap was used in some joints.
    The issue I have is the grout keeps popping out. Behind the missing grout is the butted joint.
    I can fix this with a diamond oscillating tool by opening a gap between the tiles. Those with issues all have cracks in the grout. No cracks in the tile. And it appears there is no grout between the joint and the sub floor.
    My question is if I do the work and grout it properly, do you think the grout will stay in place.
    It was repaired once by the installer but it looks like they just applied the grout on top of The cracks.
    The issue is the grout

    • Donato Pompo says:

      Gor

      Tiles should never be butted together per the standards. The grout should fill the grout joint full.

      As long as the travertine tiles are well bonded to the substrate, that you cut open the joints so they are about 1/8 inch wide, that you clean the joints thoroughly, and let them dry, and then if you install a polymer modified cementitious grout meeting ANSI A118.7 per the manufacturer’s directions it should perform well. That is assuming you do have adequate movement joints at the perimeters and within the field of tile meeting TCNA EJ171 requirements.

  7. Jay says:

    Hi There Donato, the scenario i have is that I am using travertine tiles for wall application. Due to the nature of the tiles having holes, the tile installer recommended not to use grouting but to spaced the tiles 3mm apart. this caters for material thermo and moisture movement. The main consideration for his recommendation is that, because there are holes on travertine, applying white grout would inevitably fill those holes and the grouting line might look fuzzy, not a clean straight line. May I know what are your thoughts on this?

    • Donato Pompo says:

      If you prefer the look of unfilled travertine for a wall application, then you might as well not fill the joints between the tiles with grout. having the 3mm grout joint is good as industry standards say not to butt the tiles together because of the thermo and moisture cycles the stone will go through expanding and contracting.

      For floors unfilled travertine can be problematic because dirt can get in them and it is a maintenance problem.

      Some people will grout unfilled travertine. Depending on what color grout you use it can give you an entirely different look depending on what color grout you use.

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