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Laying Outdoor Porcelain Tiles / Slabs / Pavers: Installation, Cutting, Benefits

We are becoming increasingly spoiled in this industry with the new products entering the market each and every year. Whether it is a new colors blends, new patterns, or new products that we get to play with, every year allows for something new we can play with in our designs and in our construction of outdoor living spaces for clients.

Porcelain is a product that has become increasingly popular in the industry. It is most definitely a luxury product that comes with some incredible advantages with a top of the line price tag. This is a product that should be added to your repertoire of choices that you can offer your clients for a variety of reasons. The most of which being the benefits that come along with a porcelain patio and the appearance it provides. Not to mention the labor it may save you in the install.

In this article, we dive into the advantages and disadvantages of porcelain tiles for outdoor living and how to lay porcelain paving slabs including how you cut these products to ensure there is no flaking or cracking. In this article, you will see pavers, slabs, and tiles being used when discussing porcelain for outdoor uses, though the correct term would be slabs for these outdoor porcelain products.


Outdoor Porcelain Paving Slabs

Outdoor living spaces is a growing trend in North America. As people see value in investing back into their property to take advantage of the outdoors treating it as another room in their house, the growth of the industry continues year in and year out. This has seen a variety of products exploding onto the scene as consumers search for the look that suits them best.

Enter porcelain paving slabs. 20mm outdoor porcelain tiles have been embraced by the industry for a variety of reasons in outdoor living spaces. They provide an incredible finish that cannot be matched by lower grade products in the industry. If your client is looking to make the most of the money they spend, porcelain paving slabs will bring a lot of value to their space while creating an area that is completely unique.

Porcelain has been used for centuries. These outdoor porcelain products have been developed to be thicker as technology has allowed the ability to create 20mm porcelain and 30mm porcelain slabs for outdoor use. It is made using special clays and additives, then pressed and kiln fired at temperatures exceeding 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit, creating a hard porcelain product.


Outdoor Porcelain Pavers Cost

In comparison to the mid-range concrete paver, porcelain is going to most definitely be more expensive. The mid-range paver will cost somewhere around $4 per square foot, whereas porcelain slabs will cost upwards of $10 per square foot. However, when comparing this porcelain slab price to that of a wet cast concrete product that is on the higher end of the paver scale, the prices are most definitely comparable. Additionally, comparing these 20mm outdoor porcelain tiles prices to that of natural stone, it is just the next step up in terms of cost and even comparable in some cases. Comparing these costs then comes down to weighing the pros and cons of each of these materials. Arguably for a backyard living space, porcelain is the best option if the prices are comparable by providing the most value to the client for the price. Ultimately it comes down to what the client wants and what they find appealing. Budget is important, but so is the appeal of the product and porcelain definitely is a modern product.

Do not rely on these prices per square foot as they are retail prices sourced locally and will fluctuate from one year to the next. This is just an example as to how much more these porcelain products will cost compared to concrete pavers and other products on the market. The best thing for you to do is source the products you would want to install and do the comparison of pricing yourself.

When comparing the porcelain pavers vs concrete pavers cost, concrete pavers are definitely the most economical and still provide excellent value in comparison to other paving products on the market that your client could choose from. See our pros and cons of stamped concrete vs pavers article here.



Porcelain Paving Pros and Cons

Porcelain comes with numerous advantages that also come with a price tag that is larger than most other products that it replaces. When adding this product to your arsenal, it is important to know these pros and cons of porcelain paving. This information will help you talk about this product to your client and to highlight why or why they may not want to opt for a porcelain patio. The more you can offer your client, the more value that you can offer them as a contractor and help them make decisions. This does not mean laying out all of the options in front of them and having them choose, but to be able to ask the right questions and narrow down their choices for them. By learning more about various products, their pros and cons, and their applications, you can bring the most value to your client.

Here are the porcelain pavers pros and cons:

Outdoor Porcelain Pavers Pros

  1. Durable
  2. Made of clays and additives, compressed, and kiln fired, the end result is a hard, durable, and impermeable product that has a high load-bearing ability being able to withstand heavy foot traffic. This is the basis of all the benefits of porcelain that will be outlined in the following points.

  3. Resistant
  4. Resistance to a variety of damage because of its density is the biggest benefit to choosing porcelain over other alternatives and is definitely a major appeal to choosing the product. The product is not affected by UV rays as alternatives are and does not deteriorate at the same rate. It is chemical resistant making it the perfect choice around pools as opposed to paving and sealing on an ongoing basis as well as being able to be cleaned easily with household products. Additionally beneficial to a pool patio, it holds anti-slip characteristics to the surface. Due to its density, it is much more scratch resistant when compared to concrete or natural stone. Its density allows it to be non-porous and prevents absorbing liquids. This is what makes it so easy to clean without requiring sealing. Spills from a BBQ or other materials are removed with minimal effort and household cleaning products when necessary. Something that is not achievable with alternative products without further maintenance. Its non-porous surface makes it frost resistant. It does not hold heat like other paving materials will and become hot to the touch, especially when choosing lighter colors. Finally, porcelain is resistant to moss and mold, keeping it clean and removing that added slip factor that comes with this growth on top of pavement.

  5. Easy to Maintain
  6. Because of everything listed above in what it is resistant to without any additives, porcelain is an easy to maintain product that does not require the maintenance required with other alternative products. For other products to achieve what porcelain is able to resist, they would have to be sealed and maintained over the years of use on an ongoing basis costing additional materials and labor to do so.

  7. Aesthetically Appealing
  8. Porcelain slabs are definitely beautiful pieces of paving that would enhance any outdoor living space. They offer a gorgeous minimal textured modern looking appeal that will withstand the test of time with the variety of options available on the market. There is no doubt that with their luxurious price tag comes their luxurious appeal.

  9. Ease of Installation
  10. If you are a hardscaper already doing installation of pavers and natural stone, you do not need to learn anything new when it comes to installation. Porcelain patio tiles are installed similarly to any other hardscape installation taking into factor the depth of the base and levelling. Because they are typically larger pieces and smooth, it is important to ensure that each one is at the same height as one another with minimal lippage as these inconsistencies are magnified with this product. Additionally because these products are calibrated, they are equal with tolerances considered to one another. Unlike installing natural stone which have inconsistencies, porcelain slabs will install much faster and easier. However, the large format of these products and the lightweight nature to them make the installation fly much faster than other concrete products. This helps you save on labor by choosing to install porcelain compared to the products you are likely installing right now. Though their installation is faster, cutting is not.

Outdoor Porcelain Pavers Cons

  1. Cost
  2. Outdoor porcelain slabs do continue to become increasingly affordable as more manufacturers enter the market, but they are still on the more expensive end of the spectrum when it comes to outdoor living space materials. This becomes magnified when it comes to transportation, moving them around the job site, cutting, and installing this product as these are areas in which they are likely to be broken thus increasing the cost of this product on the install. All of this should be taken into consideration when pricing a project with porcelain slabs.

  3. Hardness
  4. Much like there is an advantage of porcelain being such a dense and hard material, it also is a disadvantage. This is particular when you are cutting the material as you will need to have the right blade to be able to cut it efficiently and properly which is an added cost. Additionally, it will cost you more in blades as it will wear through them at a faster rate than cutting other materials you are likely working with such as concrete. Do not forget the added time to cut this material because of its hardness and the time it takes to cut through the material carefully. This should be taken into consideration when quoting a project.

  5. Brittleness
  6. Because porcelain is so hard and dense, it can also be more brittle than other alternatives such as concrete pavers though similar to some natural stone. This makes transporting them difficult, as well as the added care that comes to moving them around on a job site and installing them. When installing them on pedestals and not directly on top of base material like what is the case in some deck or rooftop applications, careful consideration should be taken into factor the ability of the material to break and cause injury by placing pressure on the center of it.

  7. Material Waste
  8. With these past two points involved with the cutting and the brittle nature of the material, it is important to note that material waste with this product is going to cost you or your client (depending on whether or not you built this material waste into the quote) more money. It is best when planning a porcelain slab project to design with the product in mind to minimize the cuts as much as possible in order to make the most use out of every piece that you can to avoid added material waste.

  9. Improper Base Preparation
  10. As with any installation, improper base preparation is going to expose and amplify flaws on the surface. With porcelain which is typically a large format slab, these flaws are amplified. It is important to take your time in your installation to ensure proper compaction and prepare your base with the utmost integrity. As with any installation.



How to Lay Porcelain Slabs Outdoors

Fortunately if you already are a hardscaper, there are no new laying methods you need to learn when laying porcelain slabs. The same base preparation methods can be applied to laying porcelain paving. When installing porcelain tile outdoors, we recommend you install using either of these three installation methods depending on the application.

  1. Traditional Base
  2. Synthetic Base
  3. Open Graded Base

Each of these articles provide detailed information on each of these installation methods and their applications and can be applied to know how to lay porcelain pavers. When preparing backyard patio on grade, we prefer to use a synthetic base when installing porcelain tile outdoors. For a raised patio application, we prefer to use an open graded base. And when installing a driveway which is not applicable to these porcelain slabs, we will install a traditional base. Though some installers will prefer to keep to the traditional base method which is still acceptable, but not the most efficient. This involves installing porcelain pavers on sand. There are other installation methods that could be applied with laying porcelain tiles outside such as laying on a deck with silica grates, a rooftop installation with pedestals, or even an overlay on top of concrete. These will be discussed in great detail in future posts on this website.

The only thing worth noting when learning how to lay porcelain tile outside is that they are not manufactured with built-in spacers like other paving products are allowing you to lay piece to piece while being able to install jointing compound in between each piece without worrying about keeping a consistent spacing. In the case of installing outdoor porcelain tiles, you will need to factor in spacers separately from the product itself. These can come in the style of a typical tile spacer or even better are platforms that are laid directly on the bedding layer or synthetic base with a four way spacer that the slabs are laid directly on top of.

Because of the low profile of the porcelain itself, it makes it difficult to install a traditional plastic edge restraint. Choosing the best edge restraint for porcelain requires knowing how much height you will have available to fit that edge restraint in. You will scrape away your 1″ bedding layer as you normally would to install an edge restraint and have an additional 3/4″ – 1″ depending on the product to the top of the slab. Ideally you are looking for an edge restraint that is only 1.5″ in height tops. Or, you can install a concrete edge system so that you can manipulate to suit your needs.

Laying outdoor porcelain tiles is not anymore difficult than installing any other concrete alternative, but it does require more care as they are more expensive per piece making breaking one a little more of a hit to your bottom line on that project. Because of their low profile and typically large surface area per piece, installing outdoor porcelain tiles will save you in labor. Moving them around and laying them will both increase your install efficiency which is one selling point to this product that may be a little bit more expensive than what your customer was anticipating.


How to Cut Porcelain Slabs

Knowing how to cut 20mm porcelain pavers without chipping, flaking, or breaking requires some skill and technique that does not necessarily need to be considered when cutting other concrete alternatives. This is because due to the hardness of porcelain, it is a brittle product that requires more care and detail when you are cutting it to prevent these things from happening. That is where the skill and technique come into play.

So the question being how to cut porcelain tile without chipping? The answer is by using the right blade for porcelain and cutting very slowly with the addition of water if possible. There are some dustless saws on the market that do not allow for the flowing of water over the blade, but it is recommended to reduce the friction of the blade against the porcelain. Water acting as a lubricant in this situation.

The best way to cut porcelain tile without chipping is by running the blade smoothly from one end to the other a little bit at a time without plunging all of the way through the product until cutting a consistent depth from front to back and reaching the bottom of the slab. Additionally, creating a slight dip on either edge when reaching it prevents the slight cracking of that slab when it is finally cut through.

Best Blade for Cutting Porcelain Slabs

Cutting porcelain tiles for outdoor use or porcelain outdoor slabs is a difficult process and should be taken with care. As should choosing the right porcelain blade. Because exterior porcelain pavers are such a relatively hard material, your blade is going to have less of a lifespan in comparison to cutting other less hard materials. There are good blades on the market and there are definitely bad blades on the market. Unfortunately telling the difference between the two is difficult especially if you do not know what you are looking for. Typically a good porcelain blade will have a mesh diamond design on the cutting wheel and cooling holes drilled into the blade. Both of these hold importance in ensuring the blade does not overheat and crack the porcelain allowing for careful dry cutting and that it cuts it uniformly. When shopping online, it is safer to choose a blade that is dedicated to hard materials and is highlighted as a porcelain blade. There are porcelain tile blades that cut very thin porcelain very well, but these same blades cannot be transferred to cutting 20mm porcelain successfully the same way.

Can you use the diamond blade that is already being used on your job sites for other concrete products? You could as long as you are very careful. Try it and see what the result is. Try with a new blade that has been used to cut some concrete to work it in and expose some diamonds on the blade. Porcelain is one of the hardest materials you will likely be cutting with that blade, so if you are going this route you should understand that you will go through these concrete blades fast. Build that into your quote.


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