Cracking grout. Buckling floors. Shifting walls. If you’ve dealt with any of these tile system failures, understanding the critical role of movement joints is a must. Industry research shows over 90% of tile installation issues arise from incorrect handling of these joints, especially in environments prone to temperature changes. By accommodating the expansion and contraction tile assemblies undergo daily, proper movement joints help preserve the beauty and integrity of your tiled surfaces for years to come.

In his video, Movement Matters! Why Your Tiles Need a MOVE, Craig Cahoon explains the necessity of movement joints in tile installation.

The Science Behind Tile Movement

Tile, mortar, and grout expand and contract at different rates as temperatures fluctuate during natural daily cycles. Clay and ceramic tiles themselves undergo only minor dimensional changes. Cementitious mortar and grout, however, expand more significantly with heat and moisture exposure. This mismatch places stress on rigid tile installations and eventually manifests as cracks.

Daily solar heat cycles create temperature differentials of up to 45°F from the morning lows to afternoon highs. While tiles move minimally, the grout lines they trap can elongate up to 1/8 inch across a 10-foot run over this range! Annual seasonal cycles also bring drastic climatic shifts. Combined, these temperature swings cumulatively force movement our rigid tiles must accommodate.

The Tile Council of North America (TCNA) is the leading industry group. They provide very detailed guidelines in Section EJ171 on putting movement joints into tile installations. This means properly spacing the joints at certain intervals based on the tile size. It also means anticipating how much the tiles will move in different types of places. 

TCNA gives important info on where to put joints, the best sealants, materials behind the joints, and how wide joints should be based on their depth for maximum flexibility. With over 80% of big commercial projects following these standards, TCNA’s research gives a proven plan for usable, long-lasting tile.

Basically, tile materials expand, shrink, and move differently from each other. Having purposeful movement joints accommodates these stresses and saves the look of the tiles. Understanding this science shows why TCNA’s guidelines exist and are so widely trusted.

Identify and Prevent Common Failures

Carefully inspect all tile installations, both new and existing, for key indicators of insufficient accommodation of expansion and contraction. These telling signs include:

Cracks in grout joints are wider than hairline fractures. Inspect where grout meets tile edges.

  • Uneven grout joint spacing or widths, signaling shifting tiles.
  • Tenting, hollow sounds, or cracked tiles signal loss of bond.
  • Loose, dummy, or hollow-sounding tiles when tapped.
  • Uneven tile surfaces and lippage issues create trip hazards.
  • Cracking or loss of grout at corners and between planes.
  • Leaking or flooding through cracks in questionable areas.

Additionally, identify factors that contribute to tile movement failures like:

  • Large temperature swings in unconditioned spaces.
  • Prolonged or excessive moisture exposure.
  • High weight/traffic demands.
  • Insufficient control or isolation joints.

Pinpointing areas of damage and the root causes behind them provide critical insight into where to integrate additional movement joints and what level of flexibility is needed for repair materials to withstand the demands. This methodical examination is key to an effective remedy.

Simple Solutions for Smaller Spaces

Recognizing these prevalent issues begs the question of how we can mitigate such risks. Interestingly, simple solutions exist, especially for smaller-scale projects. Properly sealing perimeter spaces allows a slim yet effective area for movement without compromising visual appeal. Using sealants as a protective measure has been shown to reduce cracking risks by up to 50% in rooms under 400 sq ft. For most residential bathrooms or laundry rooms, this straightforward approach helps prevent costly problems down the road.

When selecting an appropriate sealant, the composition and solvent type are key considerations. Solvent-based sealants typically offer stronger adhesive power but also emit VOCs as they cure. Water-based formulas have a lower odor and are more eco-friendly but sacrifice some bonding capability. 100% silicone solvent-free sealants like Latasil present an optimal balance – all the durability, mold resistance, and compatibility with minimal VOC off-gassing. Designed specifically for tile and stone applications, Latasil delivers powerful adhesive properties, durable flexibility, and waterproof protection. This solvent-free sealant is resistant to mold and mildew growth while providing maximum stain protection.

No matter what kind of sealant you use, applying it correctly is extremely important. Thoroughly clean all the joint areas first. Then follow the product’s instructions to put on any primer coats needed. Use a closed-cell backer rod for any joints deeper than 1/4 inch. Tool the sealant nicely within the stated working time. Let it fully cure before letting people walk on it or get it wet. Following the best practices for choosing sealants and applying them makes getting durable, flexible joints much easier. Taking the right steps for the product and application helps ensure top-quality movement joints that will last.

Involving Professionals for Large Spaces

For more formidable commercial and industrial tile projects, high traffic areas, and eminent temperature/moisture fluctuations, however, sealing alone is likely inadequate. Here, a professional architect or engineer’s involvement has proven invaluable. With their expertise, these specialists can assess the demands of each unique space and specify appropriate movement joint placement, ensuring the longevity of any large-scale tile installation. Reports show hiring such qualified professionals decreases tile assembly failures by up to 60% in public applications.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why are movement joints so important in tile projects?

Movement joints are crucial to avoid issues with the tile system over time. As tiles expand and shrink a little each day with temperature changes, having proper joint spacing allows this movement without causing cracking, shifting, or other problems that can ruin the look and durability of the tiles.

How do I figure out the right movement joint plan?

The TCNA’s EJ171 guidelines give an excellent starting point. But looking closely at the specific demands of each project is key to customizing a movement joint strategy that works. Consider the tile size, traffic in the space, expected changes in temperature and moisture, materials used, and more. For complicated spaces, talk to a professional tile installer for help making the perfect plan.

Can I add movement joints to a tile that is already installed?

Sometimes you can. Carefully cutting spaces for extra sealant in areas that align with the tile pattern, and then grouting the gaps may relieve movement pressure and damage. But for tiles that are already coming loose, doing this risks making things worse. Proceed very cautiously or talk to a pro first if your existing tiles have deteriorated.


Whether it’s a home bathroom or a commercial building lobby, ignoring the critical flexibility tile installations require can ruin the look and durability over time. Following the TCNA’s guidelines gives a blueprint for seamless, long-lasting tile systems that can handle climate, foot traffic, and anything else. Understanding and addressing movement joints properly protects your vision, safety, and investment in tile – no cracks about it!

Watch Craig’s video Movement Matters! Why Your Tiles Need a MOVE