Cottage Q&A: Stone bathroom tile in cold temperatures

Published: January 27, 2021

A modern bathroom with natural stone tile walls By on_demand_photo_uk/Shutterstock

We would love to install a walk-in shower in our uninsulated cottage. Can we use stone tile on the floor and walls of the shower or will the tiles crack in the cold temperatures?—Betty Ristau, St. Lawrence River, Ont.

If stone is what you want, stone is what you shall have. “Stone tile is a great option in this application,” says Stefan Helmrich, a technical expert with Tile Ideal in Grande Prairie, Alta. “Stone has one of the best temperature stabilities of surface covering products on the market. Stone doesn’t care too much about temperature,” he says. 

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You could, however, run into trouble with the tile staying put if you install it during cold weather. “Cement adhesives and grouts are generally temperature stable once cured, but it’s mandatory to allow them to fully cure at room temperature,” says Helmrich. Normally, a full cure takes 28 days, but check with the product manufacturer. 

While temperature itself won’t be a problem for stone tile, moisture—residual, left after closing up, say, or caused by internal high humidity or a leak—could be. Stones can absorb moisture, and they have natural geological faults (think the veining in marble). “This makes these tiles susceptible to cracking if they absorb water, which, when frozen, will expand and contract,” says Helmrich. If your cottage is prone to bathroom dampness, you could choose a porcelain tile instead. They absorb very little water, and “there are many that mimic the look of stone,” says Helmrich.

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Regardless of the tile you choose, seriously think about insulating the shower area, says Dave Depencier, a contractor in Dresden, Ont. Why? “You’ll already be ripping the wall down to its substrate, or tearing it off and putting on a new, stable one,” he says. “A couple of bags of insulation won’t cost a lot.” And it’ll save you some trouble if you decide to winterize  in the future—which, trend alert—more and more cottagers are doing.

This article was originally published in the Winter 2020 issue of Cottage Life magazine.

Got a question for Cottage Q&A? Send it to answers@cottagelife.com.

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