What are the effects of temperature/humidity changes on interior ceramic tile?


Temperature - What are the effects of sudden ambient temperature and humidity changes (cold climate in winter) on interior ceramic tile?


ANSWER - Ceramic tile is very tolerant to temperature extremes. The effects are that ceramic tile can expand and contract, to some degree, from exposure to temperature and moisture changes. The more absorbing the ceramic tile the more it will be affected. It is never good to have extremely rapid changes in temperature or in moisture, as we know how glass can crack with rapid temperature changes. As long as you have proper placement of movement (expansion) joints in the tiled areas and you have a good quality installation, the temperature and humidity changes in seasonal changes or from warming a cold house should not affect the ceramic tile. I hope this helps!

23 thoughts on “What are the effects of temperature/humidity changes on interior ceramic tile?

  1. Catalina says:

    I’m absolutely devastated we had our floor done about a year ago, and I woke up this morning and notice a long hump when I steped on it, it cracked and sunk in can cause this? Please help

  2. Donato Pompo says:

    Your description sounds like your tile floor is what we call tenting. This is caused by the tile expanding and that there isn’t any movement joints to mitigate the expansion so the tile isn’t subjected to more stress than it can resist.

    Often when tenting occurs, we find that the tile wasn’t bonded as well as it should have been; thus the tile is less able to resist the stress.

    Often when tenting occurs it is with very porous ceramic tiles, which are more absorbing and will expand more than denser tiles. Also often the tiles are butted up to the perimeter walls or the joint between the tile and the wall is filled with a cementitious grout. This prevents the expanding tile from expanding as much as it wants to, so that subjects the tile to shear and tensile stress that can cause the tile to debond and then tent up to relieve its stress.

    You need to remove the tented tiles and re-install them. You need to add movement joints at the perimeters and within the field of tile every 20 to 25 feet for interior applications and every 8-12 feet for exterior applications or interior applications subjected to direct sunlight.

  3. Jesse says:

    I had a water loss in my home where the first floor was covered with water; a week or two later we started noticing an excessive amount of hollow tiles throughout the first floor. We don’t know if it’s due to the large amount of water under the tile or maybe the temperature change?

    • Donato Pompo says:

      If the tile was not hollow sounding before, there is a good chance that being submerged in water caused the tile to expand. If there were not adequate movement joints in the installation to mitigate the resultant stress and the tiles were not bonded as well as they could be, then it might have caused the tiles to loose their bond to some degree. The only way to know for sure is to remove some of those tiles and look for evidence to determine if it was a pre-existing condition or if it was likely due to the water loss event.

      Higher temperatures can cause the tile to expand too. So it might have been a contributing factor; after the water drained away and the tile dried out.

  4. Arslan says:

    We had a bonfire on our roof top. I had placed the wood in a steel tray but after a while I noticed that there was a huge hump beneath the tray and it was extremely hot as if it were about to explode. There is a white circle around it and the tiles are still in a hump form and cracked.
    What could’ve caused this and what could be a possible remedy for this??
    Please suggest

    • Donato Pompo says:

      It depends on what kind of roof tile you have. I assume it must either be a concrete roof tile or a clay roof tile or a slate roof tile. Otherwise it would be some sort of composition roof or wood shingles.

      I’m guessing it is a concrete roof tile. There are light weight concrete tiles and regular concrete tiles and they likely behave differently. Bottom line is you subjected the tile to too much heat. Aesthetically there isn’t anything you can do other than paint it to match the other tiles. Material wise, if it is still shedding water off the root then you might be able to leave it. If it is structurally damaged where it could come loose during a wind storm or if it is not shedding water, then you should replace it. Call a roofing company and they should be able to replace it.

  5. Vincent says:

    we fix 2ft x 2ft tiles for entire house. but in our master bed abot 5 tiles de bonded and frightened us with huge noise. we never did anything. after complete house, we lock the house for past 3 years, now only move in but got problem like this. what would be the cause of yhis phenomena brother.

    • Donato Pompo says:

      Normally when you hear a loud noise and tiles have tented up and debonded, it is caused by not having movement joints at the perimeter of the room and within the field of tile.

      Tiles will expand when subjected to higher temperatures and/or moisture and they will contract when they are subjected to lower temperatures and/or become dry. If you don’t have resilient movement joints at the perimeter of the rooms adjacent to restraining walls, then when the tile expands it causes the tile to tent up and debond.

      Movement joints are joints filled with a resilient caulking that meets ASTM C920 that is normally a 100% silicone or a polyurethane sealant.

      Per TCNA EJ171 movement joints should be placed at all perimeters and changes of planes and changes of materials. Plus for an interior application they should be placed within the field of tile every 20 to 25 feet in each direction. If there is direct sunlight coming in from windows then the movement joints should be placed every 8 to 12 feet in each direction.

  6. Brian says:

    My lovely wife enjoys her hour-long, hot bath everyday. My concern is with the humidity build up and the effect it may have on the grout between the ceramic floor tiles. Can this become a problem over time?

    • Donato Pompo says:

      If the grout is a cementitious grout, moisture actually makes it stronger over time as long as the grout properly mixed and installed in the first place. The moisture is the mechanism that causes hydration that increases the strength.

      If the grout is an epoxy, it is impervious and isn’t affected by the high humidity.

  7. Millie Hue says:

    It got me when you said that ceramic tile is tolerant to extreme temperatures. With that in mind, I will choose this kind of material for the decorative tile installation that I need for the dirty kitchen located outside the house. It would be perfect for that area since it will receive a lot of sunlight during the noontime and afternoon.

  8. Tina Roberts says:

    Last evening while watching tv, we heard two loud pops. Today we noticed two cracked ceramic tiles between sink and fridge. In Dallas, we have had extreme triple digit heat for 2 months. Will that cause the cracking?

  9. Elena says:

    We had a problem with our hvac and our air conditioning was out for 5 days. We live in Florida so the temperature in our lower level got to 90 degrees and our upper level got to 106 degrees. The humidity in the house was at around 77% the whole time while we were without air conditioning. Now in that 5 days we were without air conditioning, our tile floors out of nowhere started bowing upward and cracking in several different spots in our home. Our home is only 2 years old so we of course contacted our builder and they are claiming it is probably defective tiles but I think it’s awfully coincidental that they started popping up at the same time we were without air conditioning when we have never in the two years that we lived in the house had a problem with our tiles. My question is, is it possible that all the bowing upwards and cracking of the tiles was caused from the extreme heat and humidity because the HVAC was out.

    • Donato Pompo says:

      Tile floors should not bow up if they were installed correctly.

      Chances are that there were no movement joints (filled with ASTM C920 resilient caulking) installed at the perimeters of the tile installation at the restraining walls or throughout the installation at least every 25 feet in each direction or at least 12 feet in each direction if the floor is subjected to direct light from windows.

      The movement joints are required per industry standards in order to mitigate expect expansion and contraction movements within the tile floor.

      Florida tends to install a lot of the less expensive red body tiles that are very porous. The more porous tiles have a greater propensity to expand and contract when subjected to moisture/humidity and temperature changes.

      The high humidity plus the temperature fluctuations from the HVAC going out could have caused the expansion in the tile and in the underlying materials to create the stress that the adhered tile could not resist thus the tile debonded. Compounding this problem could be that the tile was not adequately bonded to the substrate so its resistance to stress is less.

      Bottom line is that the tile was not installed correctly or otherwise it would not have failed from the HVAC being off.

      The tile floor might be repairable. You need to remove any loose tiles and add movement joints at perimeters and within the tile installation per TCNA EJ171 movement joint requirements.

  10. Nadia Anderson says:

    We are selecting tile for our bathroom 2nd story bathroom and estimating the tile weight will be 1,800 lb total. It is a combination of ceramic and stone tile. Should we be concerned about adding this additional weight to the bathroom? Is there a way to assess weight restrictions?

    • Donato Pompo says:

      You need to determine the configuration of the floor in terms of type of floor joists and spacing between floor joists, what type of subfloor, and what type of tile and type of installation you are installing.

      5/16″ thick porcelain tiles normally way about 4lbs/sf. A natural stone 1/2″ thick ways about 8 lbs/sf. If you are installing cementitious backer board that will weight about 4 lbs/sf for 1/2″ thick board and 2 lbs/sf for 1/4″ thick mortar. Depending on the type of mortar bed that you might use the weight could range from 9lbs/sf to over 15lbs/sf.

      If you can access the floor joists it is always good to add additional bracing. Per the standards the floor cannot deflect more than L/360 ceramic tile and L/720 for natural stone. You need an engineer to evaluate your floor to determine what kind of dead and live loads it can withstand.

  11. Rachel says:

    My ceramic tiles were installed 16 years ago. I installed new windows 4 weeks ago and my ceramic tiles began tenting 2 weeks later. Is it possible that the new windows affected the moisture content in my house to cause the tenting?

    • Donato Pompo says:

      If you just installed new windows then I assume they are at least double pane glass that is more insulating, so that should make windows less likely to case a temperature fluctuation.

      If it might have anything to do with the windows is maybe there was more foot traffic as the windows were being uninstalled and installed and that was the straw that broke the camels back…. The floor might have been on the verge of tenting and the construction traffic was more than it could withstand? Or it was a coincidence? Can’t tell without doing a forensic investigation.

  12. Nadine says:

    Hello Mr. Donato Pompo. So I Live in the Caribbean where the sun tends to be hot. In my gallery / porch I have a steel gate and the flooring of the gallery is tiled. Recently though, I have been encountering an issue with opening and closing of gate due to a dragging on tile. The flooring seems to be higher at that position when the sun is out also. Now the tiles where installed on painted ground. No problems when the place is cool but only when the sun is out I have this dragging gate on tiles. What can I do to prevent this? I also have some hollow tiles around the house. Two in particular that have some grout missing. When I put the grout it comes out. What can I do to fill in these areas of no grout?

    • Donato Pompo says:

      Not sure want you mean by the tiles were installed on painted ground. You should never install tile over paint, unless it is a liquid applied membrane for tile.

      When tiles heat up they expand. So if the joints between the tiles are butted together or even filled with a cementitious grout and you don’t have any movement joints then the tile can tent up to some degree. When it cools down the tile contracts and so it won’t be higher any longer. It is possible that you can remove the grout in the tile joints or if they are butted together cut in a 1/8″ joint and then fill it with an ASTM C920 traffic grade sealant. This will allow the tile to expand without being constrained.

      Normally if the tiles are missing grout it is because they were subjected to excessive movement. Here again you may not have adequate movement joints that should be placed at all perimeters at restraining surfaces and every 20 to 25 of interior space and every 8 to 12 feet of exterior space or interior space with direct sunlight.

  13. Gail says:

    We found cracks in our newly installed 12×24 porcelain tile. Only cut to fit area tiles cracked. This was in July, 5 months after installation. Not on a crawl space. The cracks were very visible. Now, in the winter, we cannot see the cracks – but obviously still there. Seems the contract/expand in summer/winter is opposite of my wood floors?

    • Donato Pompo says:

      You might have indent fractures where they actually do not create a separation in the tile surface, but is a low spot from various types of shrinkage that can only been seen under certain lighting at certain angles. You can’t feel the indent fracture because it isn’t actually cracked.

      I have seen where tiles will have a very tight crack that when the tile is cool in the morning you can’t see it, but when it heats up it expands and can be seen.

      To determine what has caused it and what needs to be done to remediate it if in fact it is a defect, then an intrusive forensic inspection must be done to remove certain tiles under certain conditions and look for the condition underneath the tile.

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