Sunday, September 30, 2012

A More Elastic Religion

After being lost for over a week, the tiles finally arrived, and my suspicions were quickly confirmed; most of the tiles are a little bigger than 6 x 6 inches. And on closer inspection I've discovered that the stair risers also are of various dimensions, some taller than others. Any random tile might fit on one riser but not on another. But this size problem is not my immediate concern. I have some philosophical issues to contend with.

It turns out that stairs are the least stable structure in a home. Tiles need stability. They are rigid conformists who believe in the ideals of geometry, not in some relativistic, wishy-washy abstract morality of physical law. If the tile looses the stability of its moral foundation, it will have a breakdown, and it will crack.

Tile professionals love this fact above anything else--no matter what environment they work in, the tile pro will seek to make it more stable, more waterproof, more solid, before the tiles go down. They are like over-protective parents seeing danger around every corner and well into the future.

I communicate with one such professional on the web, the Floor Elf, and he recommended that I put concrete backer board on the risers before tiling. Backer board is rigid, giving the tiles a nice safe foundation, because the stairs are a wild place, creaking and vibrating and moving as we stomp on them.

But here's my problem. Steps have a nose that sticks out over the riser. Why? They are a psychological tool to trick the brain into thinking that your foot has less room to land than it actually has. And so, the heel of your foot is less likely to come down on the riser, and you are less likely to take a fall. Stair noses are good.

Unfortunately my tiles are pretty thick (about 1/2 inch), so my stair nose will be shrinking. And if I put backer board on the riser first, I would loose even more of my nose. So what to do? An alternative (said the Floor Elf) is to use stuff called Ditra, an orange plastic material that's only about 1/8 inch thick. Whereas concrete backer board is rigid (like some old-school religions), Ditra allows for some flexibility while still providing a stable environment for the tile. Vibrations and movement (evil, immorality) on the the riser will be absorbed by the plastic so the the tile can remain rigid.

In an imperfect tile world, Ditra provides for a more elastic religion.

Here I am, applying the Ditra. When it dries, I can move on to the tile size problem. Yes, I will need to cut some of the tiles so that they will fit. In a perfect world, this would not be necessary...

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