If you're looking for trouble, you've come to the right place: A primer on what to look for when something goes wrong with a tile or marble install
If an installation is not exactly right, it is up to the installer to make it exactly right. That's where troubleshooting comes in. On a tile or marble job it can be difficult, time consuming, and, worst of all, it can with diminish your profits. It is the job many installers hate but it can be relatively painless if you know what to look for.
First, remember that tile or marble flooring problems are usually related to installation issues. An industry study of claims found that installation problems were the cause nearly 70 percent of the time while inadequate maintenance was the culprit about 20 percent of the time. Erroneous specifications were to blame in 8 percent of claims, while manufacturer errors accounted for just 2 percent. (So much for the blame-the-manufacturer strategy some installers like to employ.)
If the low percentage of manufacturing errors seems a bit surprising, it only reinforces the point that good floor prep is essential. And remember, even the most seasoned, highly skilled installer gets hit with claims, so don't get rattled when you hear a complaint. First, do two things: Assess the problem and determine the exact nature of the complaint. Then document every detail of the installation, including the time it required, the conditions, the products and manufacturer used and the bonding agent applied.
As you do this you need to ask a few questions: Was a moisture testing done? Was the slab contaminated with oil, paint, over-spray, etc.? Was a crack isolation membrane used? Was a waterproofing membrane used? (If so was it a membrane acceptable to the industry?) Was a concrete curing compound used and if so was it removed? Was the slab deflection within the industry standards of L/360 for ceramic and L/720 for marble?
A floor installer checking a claim is like a doctor examining a patient. A symptom can suggest any number of ailments. (I realize, of course, the installer's "patient" is supposed remain lifeless. But you get the idea.) Here are a few examples of issues that arise after an install and what they may be indicating:
Problem: Loose, hollow sounding tile
Possible Causes: Contaminated slab concrete curing compound, poorly mixed mortar (crumbly), membranes that have broken loose due to moisture, lack of expansion joints, expansion or contraction due to conditions-cold-heat-moisture, Incorrect trowel size, mortar skinned over, no-transfer to back of tile, marble with dusty backs.
Problem: Cracked ceramic or marble tile
Possible Causes: Too much deflection, improper membrane, expansion joints incorrect, poor coverage on the back of tile, mortar skinned over or incorrect trowel, not beat in causing poor support.
Possible Causes: Not removing old asphalt adhesive and moisture appears, "dirty" water transmitted through slab, asphalt paper used as a membrane then becoming saturated with water/alkali, organic mastic used with marble and gray thinset mortar.
Problem: Grout mottling or decolonization
Possible Causes: Dirty mix water, over glaze not allowing grout to hydrate evenly, over watering grout mix thus increasing porosity, mix water containing high sulfur content, unequal hydration due to some areas exposed to sun light.
Of course the process is more that simply finding and addressing the cause of a problem. Troubleshooting also involves customer relations when the customer is angry at you because the floor is not what he or she expected. Don't take it personally. Be professional. Remain calm and courteous regardless of the customer's rudeness and degree of agitation. (And, yes, I realize this is much easier said then done.)
While I would avoid saying something like: "Don't worry, we have a lot of experience handling complaints about our work," it's important to stay positive and reassuring. Demonstrate good faith by commencing action on the complaint and make sure the customer knows you are on top of it. Also, identify for the customer others involved in handling the complaint, by both name and title.
The next step, of course, is to keep your promises to the customers, and follow through on your commitments. Don't interfere with the customer's right to complain. Instead, look at each complaint as an opportunity to retain the customer's business and improve the quality of your product. Correcting an error or a misunderstanding is never a problem for a business that prides itself on integrity and professionalism.
If you find any of this tough to swallow, put yourself in the customer's place. See things as the customer sees them, and to treat that customer as you would wish to be treated if you were in his or her place. Remember there is no such thing as an unimportant customer just as there is no such thing as frivolous claim.