Are there any VOCs emitted when tiling with a ceramic tile and sand and cement? Is there a type of cement that has no VOCs?


Are there any VOCs emitted when tiling with a ceramic tile and sand and cement? Is there a type of cement that has no VOCs?

Asked by Emily Dempster

We want to use a porcelain tile in the living and bedrooms, and lay it with sand and cement (no adhesives). Will the porcelain tile 'stick' to the sand/cement even though no adhesives are used? Or should we use a terracotta tile, even though it is not as strong? What kind of cement should we use, is there a cement that has no VOCs compared to low VOCs - Blue Circle Builders Cement is what our tiler generally uses. Thankyou.

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Molly McCabe, AKBD, CGP, CAPS's picture

Dear Emily,

To answer your first question "are there any VOCs emitted when tiling with ceramic tile andsand and cement" - the answer is . . . it depends.

  • Porcelain tile is a wonderful floor material, as it ishighly durable and requires minimal maintenance, unlike terracotta tiles which typically needto be sealed and resealed (and then we fall down the rabbit hole of sourcing a durable no/lowVOC tile sealant).
  • Typically a porcelain tile will be inert with respect VOCs - what you need tobe careful of is the dust when cutting any tile.

As for terracotta tile, you need to be a bit morecareful, due to potentially lax manufacturing rules in the country of origin and the fact that theyare porous by nature, making them potentially more prone to off-gassing.

The "sand and cement", which I interpret as thin set, is very likely to emit VOCs as mightthe backer board if you are using backer board.

  • Today's multi-purpose thin sets have acrylicadditives which raises the VOC levels.
  • However, the acrylic additives also increase yourinstallation options from concrete only sub floors to wood sub floors while also increasing thedurability of the installation and theoretically the life of the floor.

The one thing you did notmention is what type of sub floor or underlayment you will be laying the tile on. So if you donot have options as to what you are applying the thin set to, i.e. concrete, backer board orwood, success of your installation may be dictated by your substrate. We all have differentsustainablity criteria for our projects and we each need to weigh a product's attributes basedon our own criteria.

In addition to Blue Circle Builders Cement, you could also consider:

  • Custom Building Products Porcelain Tile Fortified Thin set Mortar Adhesive which cancontribute to LEED points under the Adhesive and Sealants section IEQc4.1, or
  • LATICRETE registered 272 Premium Floor N' Wall Thin-Set Mortar - which is GreenGuard certifiedfor Indoor Air Quality standards for VOCs.

Good luck!