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The Myth of the Thin Brick Installation system for interior walls

For coming up on twenty years now, I have been involved in the manufacturing and marketing of thin brick tile. Thin brick has come a long way in that time, I once had to explain what exactly a thin brick was. And we were constantly fighting against the preconceived notion that our thin brick veneer was a fake looking vinyl tile in the shape of brick, like the ones that people remember from the 1970’s. But perhaps the most frustrating idea that we are still trying to combat, is the notion that you need some type of a “system” to successfully install thin brick for interior use. Companies have marketed aluminum grids, or systems with tabs or holders, for thin brick for decades. Indeed a google search for “thin brick” will bring up these systems on the first page, and for people that might have the occasion to install thin brick only one time in their lives, the confusion that this is a necessity to a thin brick veneer installation is something that the manufacturers and sellers of these systems are counting on.

I want to set the record straight.

You do not need a system to install thin brick that is different than any other tile installation. Brick is a ceramic. When it is cut thin, the product you have is an unglazed ceramic tile. Period, end of story. The fear mongers have done a great job of perpetuating the myth that thin brick is something different. Because it has the word “brick” in the name, they put forth the idea that it must be heavy and need some added support compared to other ceramic tile. This is far from the truth. Most thin brick weighs under 5 lbs. per sq. ft. Compare this to a marble wall tile, which is more likely in the 6 lb. per square foot category. And yet, you will not find similar tabs or grid systems for use on marble tiles. You would think you would, based on the rhetoric of the system manufacturers, the system makes the install easier, it prevents slippage, etc., yet these systems do not exist.

The truth is, with modern modified thin set mortars your tiles, or thin brick tiles, will not slip. With the right mortar and notch trowel, once you set a tile, it is not going to move unless you decide to move it. So why would anyone go through the added step of installing a grid on a wall? The grid will not mechanically affix the tile to the wall, the mortar or adhesive does that. All you really need to do is snap chalk lines (we like every third row) so you can align your thin brick properly, spread the mortar with a notch trowel, and set your tiles. Then grout them once they are dry, with either sanded grout or mason’s mortar.

On top of this, thin brick systems have an additional drawback; they are made to a fixed height in each row. I am sure there are walls where the height of the brick works out perfectly with uncut rows at the top or bottom of the installation, but the chances of this being the case are very slim. With a fixed height system, you will almost always have an unnatural horizontal cut in either the top or bottom row of bricks. If you are installing thin brick as you would any other ceramic tile, you have the option to slightly fudge your grout lines wider or narrower, so avoid any awkward cuts at the top or bottom of the installation.

So, if you are looking to install a thin brick, skip over the systems. Use a good thin set mortar or mastic and treat the brick as what it is- an unglazed ceramic tile.

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