In the new factory-fast prefab world, this is an attractive solution poles apart from the old way of doing floors.
We talk often about Open Building, the idea that buildings should be able to evolve and change with the times. Sometimes it is because of technological change; sometimes it is a matter of style and taste. One of the most expensive components in a building, and perhaps the most difficult to change, is a tile floor; if you drop something and crack a tile it can be difficult and expensive to fix.
We are also possibly at the start of a prefab revolution, where companies like Katerra are building new factories to crank out housing. Conventional tile doesn't play well with prefab; it can crack during transport and is relatively slow to install. We are in a fast new world now.
And don't ever make a mistake like I did in the last prefab I built; because the work is done in the factory far away from me and the client, nobody noticed that a 6x6 inch tile was being installed when the client wanted a 12x12. It is one of the reasons that it was my last prefab project.
That is why I was so intrigued when I saw Kablan Magnetic Flooring at a building show a few months ago. It is a new product where porcelain tile is not held down with toxic glues and grouted with mortar; it is instead held in place by magnets. There is not much information on their website about exactly how it works, but there is Gabriel Krausz's patent which describes it:
A flooring system combines a dimensionally stabilized sub-floor laminate with a dimensionally stabilized tile laminate, the sub-floor laminate and the tile laminate being held together by magnetic attraction....The tile laminate may include ceramic tiles, which may be glass or porcelain. Those tiles are substantially rigid. They have flat ground edges to provide abutting matching fit with adjacent tiles. On assembly, neither mortar nor grouting is employed.
As best as I can understand the patent, a layer of magnetized sheetmetal is attached to the subfloor; the metal may have punched out tabs to bang into the floor. The tiles, with magnetic backing, are then put in place.
Krausz summarizes the problems with conventional tile floors, which are pretty much the same as my complaints above.
In traditional tiling systems, a sub-floor is built on top of a structural base; a mortar material, sometimes termed a thinset, is applied and trowelled; the tiles are laid down; and grouting is applied. Sometimes a membrane is applied over the subfloor, and sometimes a membrane is applied between a first thinset layer and a second thinset layer. All of these are a labour intensive processes. Further, once laid, the tiles cannot be lifted and re-laid, or replaced, without great effort, and removal may tend to mean destruction of the tiles.
Instead, with magnetic flooring, the assembly is thinner because there is no troweled thinset layer, there is probably a lot more flexibility if you are putting it into a prefabricated unit (no grout to crack) and if you are like me and spec the wrong tile, it is not the end of the world to pull it up and replace it. It is also going to be a really fast installation. I worried about water penetration but on their site they note that their tile is so precise that they have this covered.
Traditional tile installation often involves heavy and uneven grout lines, which interrupt the flow of intricacies and nuances found in nature. Our porcelain offers one of the world’s only grout-free installation options, due in part to the ultra-straight and precise edges. If installed in wet or contaminate-prone areas, a razor-thin 1/32” joint is recommended to seal between the tiles – all the while preserving their natural flow.
There is lots to love about this kind of thinking. In this new Katerra world where everything is factory fast, old fashioned tile installation is a real drag. In an Open Building world, it is nice to see a system that can be fixed and replaced if required. It is an attractive idea. Lots of great photos but not a lot of information at Kablan, but I will update this post when I receive it.