The aim of tiling is undoubtedly a perfectly flat surface and a uniform joint pattern. A task that is often not so easy. With a levelling system, however, it is relatively easy to manage. In this article you will learn how the user-friendly tile laying aid works, the advantages of laying tiles with a levelling system and the best way to proceed.
The challenge: Laying tiles flat
The laying of tiles is undoubtedly associated with many a challenge.
One of them – if not the largest – is to position tile after tile at exactly the same height and at exactly the same distance from each other.
Even the slightest unevenness in the floor or the slightest irregularity in the distribution of the tile adhesive inevitably leads to a difference in level between the individual tiles. And this can literally become an obstacle: If a tile is even slightly higher than the one next to it, there will be protruding edges. These so-called overteeth can quickly turn out to be an annoying tripping hazard, sometimes even causing injuries. Apart from that, such differences in height naturally do not look very nice and thus impair the overall visual appearance of the tiles.
Laying tiles flat is therefore no child’s play from the outset. The trend towards ever larger and thinner tiles is doing the rest. Whereas in the past, the tiles laid were mainly small format, usually square, the range of products has been continuously expanded in recent years thanks to sophisticated production processes and improved materials. Tiles with 60 cm side length have become standard in the repertoire of the tile manufacturers and also tiles in plank format with up to 3 m length are no longer a rarity.
Although modern tiles make completely new dimensions in interior design possible, XXL tiles sometimes have their price when they are laid.
With increasing size, tiles are by nature no longer completely flat. The reason for this is that the material bulges slightly during the firing process. Although these “bowls” are usually hardly visible to the naked eye at first, marginal differences in the height of the tiles become all the more noticeable during installation at the latest. Since the height offset usually extends over the entire tile, the larger the tiles, the longer the edges will logically be.
That is why even experienced professionals have their troubles with overteeth on large format tiles again and again. They can only be avoided or repaired – if at all – with a great deal of time and effort. Just how difficult it really is to lay tiles flat is shown by the fact that even in the binding set of rules of the DIN standard, height differences in tiles are permitted up to a tolerance limit of 1.5 mm.
The solution: levelling systems
However, this does not mean that a flawlessly even tiled surface is no longer possible in principle. On the contrary. Fortunately, as is so often the case, it did not take long to find the right solution to this problem. And in this case the solution is called a levelling system.
With the practical tile laying aid, height differences between two tiles can be compensated for without much effort and at the same time a uniform joint spacing can be ensured. So anyone who uses a tile levelling system during installation kills two birds with one stone, so to speak: considerably less work and a visibly better result – guaranteed without unsightly edges and dangerous tripping hazards. It is therefore not surprising that levelling systems not only make it much easier for do-it-yourselfers to lay tiles, but are also becoming increasingly popular with professional tilers.
What levelling systems are available and how do they work?
Levelling systems are available in two different versions: either as a pull system or as a push system. The underlying principle is the same for both categories, the difference lies in the concrete way in which the tiles are ultimately levelled.
With each system, plastic plates are first placed under the tiles – ideally at a distance of 5 to 7 cm from the corners. On each plate there is a flap that protrudes a few centimetres above the tiles. On the one hand, these brackets always guarantee the same joint spacing to the next tile (depending on the product, joint widths between 2 mm and 4 mm are possible) and on the other hand serve as a fastening element for the actual levelling system. Depending on which system is used, the further procedure is slightly different.
If it is a tile levelling system with pressure, the flap is usually in the form of an arch. As soon as two adjacent tiles are laid, wedges are inserted into the openings of these arched tabs using special pliers. The interaction of the wedges and plates creates pressure on the tiles. With the effect that the higher tile is pressed down until it is exactly plane-parallel with the lower tile.
In comparison, tension levelling systems work exactly the other way round: here the lugs of the plates serve as threaded lugs onto which tension hoods are screwed after the laying of two adjacent tiles. As the name suggests, these hoods create draft. As a result, the lower tile is pulled up until it reaches exactly the same level as the higher tile.
After the tiles have been levelled and the adhesive has dried completely, wedges or pulling hoods of the levelling systems are removed again and the protruding tabs are broken off at the predetermined breaking point provided for this purpose. That part of the tab that serves as a spacer remains in the joint of the tile and thus reliably prevents the tiles from slipping. The plastic plates also remain permanently under the tiles, but are of course – just like the lugs – no longer visible after grouting the tiles with grout.
What advantages do levelling systems (still) offer?
Regardless of which tile levelling system is used, in the end the result is the same there as there: the tiles form an absolutely flat plane with exactly even joint spacing. This prospect alone of achieving the desired perfect result makes it worthwhile to lay tiles with a levelling system. For those who are still sceptical whether levelling systems are actually absolutely necessary for this purpose, or whether, as used to be the case, spirit levels and joint crosses might be sufficient, the following overview of the advantages of a levelling system can make the final decision easier.
In practical use, a levelling system is as simple as it is effective. The procedure is basically almost self-explanatory and can be integrated into the laying of the tiles in just a few steps. To work with the levelling system, no special knowledge or experience is required. Even inexperienced hobby craftsmen can quickly get to grips with the levelling system and ultimately benefit from professionally laid tiles.
Universal application possibilities
A tile levelling system is extremely versatile in its application – there are practically no restrictions. Neither with regard to the material and thickness of the tiles, nor with regard to the way they are laid or the area of application. Ceramic tiles and slabs and porcelain stoneware with a thickness between 3 and 12 mm can be laid flat, as can natural stone tiles, which are sometimes up to 25 mm thick. This is regardless of whether the tiles are to be laid on the wall or on the floor, indoors or outdoors, and in half, three-quarter or cross-bonding.
Ideal for large format tiles
Admittedly, a levelling system is actually not absolutely necessary for small format tiles. Overteeth are to be found there anyway relatively rarely and/or can be concealed in the case of the case also relatively well. In addition, the demand for brackets and pulling hoods is above average, which means that the levelling system probably causes more effort than it brings benefits. However, small tiles are hardly laid nowadays. Which in turn means that for most tile projects the much more demanding, large format tiles are used – and levelling systems are highly recommended.
Low price, high savings
A tile levelling system is relatively cheap to purchase. Usually the different systems are available as a set with all necessary components. A big advantage is that the wedges and pulling hoods contained in the kit can be reused several times. Only the plastic plates including the tabs are consumables, as they remain permanently between or under the tiles.
The low price for the levelling system is at the same time offset by high savings. Namely time, effort and of course trouble. At first glance, it may appear that laying with a levelling system is more complex and time-consuming than without. But in the end, despite the additional work steps, a quick installation is guaranteed. Firstly, attaching the plates, wedges, pull straps or pull hoods for the respective system is practically automatic after just a few tiles. Secondly, tiles of unequal height do not have to be removed and re-laid as is necessary without a levelling system. And thirdly, the levelling system allows easy readjustment as long as the tile adhesive has not yet hardened – for example, if an unevenness between the tiles has been overlooked.
What to look for when buying a levelling system?
Once the decision has been made to install the flooring with a tile levelling system, the next step is to find the optimum product. For this to succeed, two essential aspects should be taken into account:
The right system for the tiles used
The crucial question is first of all: tension or compression. Basically one levelling system is not better or worse than the other. However, the key to the scales is which tiles are actually laid. If it concerns common sizes or rectangular formats (e.g. 60 x 30 cm), both push and pull systems are equally suitable. In this case it is much more important which levelling system is more appealing to the do-it-yourselfer. For particularly large tiles, however, it is recommended that printing systems are preferred. This is because with pulling systems there is sometimes the danger of lifting the large tiles too far out of the usually quite thin mortar bed or of tearing off the pulling straps during levelling.
The best set for the respective requirements
For each system there are numerous different product variants from different manufacturers. Well-known brands, such as Karl Dahm, Hufa, Knauf or Kaufmann, generally guarantee the high quality of the systems and therefore generally offer more security than no-name products. Regardless of the brand, levelling systems are usually available as a complete set in tile specialist shops or DIY stores as well as in various online shops or on Amazon.
In order to be able to search specifically for suitable products and compare them with each other, a few essential considerations should of course be made in advance. This primarily concerns the material requirements – i.e. how many pieces of pulling straps, wedges or pulling hoods are required for the respective tile format and whether any other accessories (e.g. pliers, rubber mallet, adhesive, etc.) are advantageous for laying with the tile levelling system.
The planned installation method and the desired joint width also play a role. This is because it determines what the lug should look like in the optimum case for the respective tile levelling system. In addition to the standard basic brackets, there are often special X or T brackets for laying in cross or three-quarter joints. In addition, the tabs are available in different widths to create joints between 2 mm and 4 mm.
TIPP: Wider joints can be easily achieved with joint crosses in addition to the tile levelling system.
Which of the numerous set offers ultimately offers the best price-performance ratio depends on how exactly the scope of delivery meets the needs and requirements.
Laying with tile levelling system in 3 steps
Finally, we would like to use our step-by-step instructions to show you once again how easy, quick and uncomplicated it is to achieve a perfect result when laying your tiles with a levelling system:
Before laying: Prepare the subfloor
Whether with or without a levelling system – before you can even start tiling, you need a perfectly prepared substrate. This means that the soil must be load-bearing, clean, dry and level. Depending on the adhesive, a adhesive primer should also be applied to the tiles. In case of cracks in the substrate or for bridging, a decoupling mat for tiles should be used. Please note that although levelling systems are ideal for levelling differences in height between tiles, they are not suitable for levelling uneven surfaces. It is best to use self-levelling putty for this purpose.
Step 1: Laying tiles
Once you have completed the preparations, you can start laying the tiles. First apply the tile adhesive evenly to the floor with a suitable notched trowel and lay the first tile on top.
Attention: Especially for larger formats, it is recommended to use the buttering-floating method. This means that you also cover the back of the tile with a layer of adhesive.
Then take two (or more for large tiles) plastic plates with flaps and place them evenly along the edge of the tile underneath the tile. Remember that the distance to the corners should be about 5 to 7 cm. Then take the next tile and place it next to the first one so that the plate is firmly fixed under both tiles and the tab sticks out of the joint. Repeat this procedure until the first row of tiles has been laid.
Step 2: Levelling (using the example of a train system)
Now take the pulling hoods and screw them onto each threaded lug. Turn carefully until you encounter resistance – you will then be at the level of the first tiles. To bring two adjacent tiles to the same height, continue turning until they are exactly plane-parallel.
carefulness: Stop the levelling process immediately after the tiles have reached a level. If you continue to turn, there is a high risk that the pulling cover will break off. Once all tiles are levelled, allow the adhesive to cure according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Step 3: Remove levelling system
When the tile adhesive is completely dry, you can remove the levelling elements. First unscrew the pulling hoods (you can collect these and reuse them for the next tiling project) and then break off the remaining tabs at their predetermined breaking point. This can be done very easily with your hand or foot, but of course you can also use a suitable tool (e.g. a rubber mallet) instead. Finally, simply sweep up the leftovers and dispose of them in the trash.
Your perfectly even tiled surface is already finished and can be grouted as usual! By the way: The fixing elements of the levelling system secure the tiles so reliably against slipping that you can walk on them carefully even before grouting.
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