International Masonry Institute News

Building Code Update Gives Designers Flexibility to Use Larger Exterior Adhered Porcelain Tile

An update to the International Building Code (IBC) will allow designers to use adhered porcelain tiles as large as 48x48 inches or 36x72 inches on building facades.

The proposed change, driven by the International Masonry Institute (IMI) and the Tile Council of North America (TCNA), was approved as Final Action this month and will go into effect in the 2021 IBC.

Prior to the update, the IBC limited adhered porcelain tile to a maximum of 24 inches on one side and a maximum of 3 square feet per tile. In common tile sizes, that means the largest permissible tiles were 16 inches x 16 inches, 20 inches x 20 inches, or 12 inches x 24 inches.


Advances in porcelain tile manufacturing have resulted in extremely large and extremely thin tiles – as thin as 1/8 inches, or 3.1 mm. Moreover, tile setting mortar is now more resistant to pullout and stronger in shear, thanks to advances in latex modified Portland cement mortar technology. The combination of these factors – thinner, lighter tiles and stronger mortars – already allow larger tiles to be successfully adhered to exterior facades. The 2021 IBC will make it possible for designers and builders to do so without using code variances to circumvent outdated restrictions.

With the update, designers, building owners, and construction professionals will have more flexibility to select tile as an alternative to precast concrete, metal panels, and other materials for building exteriors, expanding the tile market and work opportunities for union tile contractors and installers. Due to the complexity of large format tile installations, the work should always be specified to and performed by qualified tile setters. IMI and the International Masonry Training and Education Foundation (IMTEF) train International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers (BAC) contractors and installers on the latest materials and installation methods, preparing them to successfully complete large format exterior adhered tile projects.