Time once again to open the mailbag and respond to some of the questions readers have sent. Whether they ask about situations that are common or unique, the volume of mail suggests there is no shortage of questions about tile. That may be a reflection of our industry’s lack of formal training. To the unschooled, something that would be a minor issue to a trained pro suddenly looks like a manufacturer’s plot to fleece the installer and pad the bill. But keep in mind that there are two sides to a story. With rare exception we only hear one. The opinions therefore are based solely on the information provided and may not accurately reflect the actual issue. As always we look for issues that seem the most pressing, and rest assured we did some judicious editing to protect the innocent.
Q:I’m a homeowner and I don’t know much about tiling floors. What I do know is
that my 17’ x 21’ kitchen floor had to be torn up this week and replaced after
only two years. It had six broken tiles, and no grout left in one third of the
kitchen. The original installer re- tiled the floor and spot re-grouted once.
Neither worked. I hired a second company to re-grout, but the tiles kept
breaking and the grout disappeared.
what I know about the floor: its 18” by 18” porcelain tiles were laid with 1/4
backerboard. The original vinyl floor was not secured with nails or screws
before thinset was applied. Non-sanded grout was used on both re-grouts. The
tiles sounded hollow when a new contractor came to estimate and could be lifted
with minimal effort (there was little glue on the back). I have spent so much money on my dream
kitchen and haven’t been able to enjoy it. I would like the original contractor
to give me my money back for his labor and the cost of the tile. Is this
A:A most unfortunate set of events. We are not qualified to offer business or
legal advice so we’ll stick to the technical issues. Before any tile
installation, the floor needs to be assessed by a qualified professional. Tile
is heavy and not all floor construction can carry the added weight. While it is
common to apply underlayment over existing vinyl floors, you are inviting
problems. The sheet vinyl underneath does not provide the support needed for
ceramic tile. There is too much movement. (That’s why you have cracked tile and
loose grout.) You also need to use the proper amount of bonding material, and
that too appears questionable in this case.
Also, if I
understand correctly, cabinets were installed after the tile work was
completed. This is a poor practice. Loading the floor with additional weight
after installation can cause loose tile in the best of circumstances. It is my
opinion that your floor needs some additional work before trying to replace the
existing installation. You may want to call someone besides the first two
contractors. It appears they are somewhat lacking in even remedial knowledge.
of stories really get to me and they have become very common. Someone saves for
a dream kitchen and is victimized by either an untrained or uncaring
“professional.” Unfortunately, as residential tile is not a health and safety
issue, there are no codes to force adherence to professional installation
standards. Instead, in this case the end user faces a legal quagmire in which
there will be no winners and neither will ever be made whole.
Q:A guy called us and asked about problems with the tile in his auto showroom.
It’s from a reputable porcelain manufacturer--graphite is the color. He said the grout was a little too light
when it was installed, so it was cleaned with phosphoric acid and turned
darker. Over time the grout turned near
white. Somebody then applied a grout sealer, which soon evolved into a daily
situation. The tile would be cleaned in the evening but the next morning, after
only a couple hours of use, shoe tracks were everywhere. The manufacturer says
the tile is on standard and it is not at fault. This is probably the fourth
situation like this we’ve seen in the past 6 months. Have you ever heard this complaint? Is it something about the
flooring used in car showrooms? We were also asked how to clean tire marks off
near-white tile. (Those black marks are next to impossible to clean off.) Any advice?
A:This is fairly common-and avoidable, if the installation is done right.
Polished porcelain used in auto showrooms quite often can be an even greater
(and also avoidable) issue with the open pore structure of the face. In the
interest of space, here, briefly, are
some things to ponder:
manufacturer in question may have a clear glaze on the “unglazed tile” to
colored grout suggests over-washing. This causes some cement and pigment loss,
leaving white silica sand exposed with the diluted cement and pigments becoming
attached to the tile surface
the cleaning technique used. They used an acid to burn both the dead cement and
good cement from the tile and grout to expose the original color. The amount of
acid dilution required to do this would have a very negative impact on the
use acid it burns the face of the tile. In this case microscopic examination
would no doubt confirm that part of the protective glaze application applied in
the firing process was also burned off. Under a microscope, the raw surface of
the tile would resemble a pineapple instead of an orange. Maintenance will be
greatly impacted as pineapples are much harder to wipe clean than oranges.
Use of a
sealer on grout joints offers very little value. The value is substantially
less than a good compacted and properly cleaned grout joint would offer. Based
on the information provided I will speculate that some sealer found its way to
the tile surface and was not adequately removed. When the sealer carrier dissipates
it leaves pore -clogging solids that help make grout stain resistant. In this
case it appears to have been left on the tile surface as well, causing the whitish appearance. This will readily show
normal foot traffic
commonly found in automobile tires will stain all types of floors. I suspect
the stains they are seeing come from oil migrating into the sealer solids left
behind on the tile surface. It would be possible to have this condition with or
without the current tile floor conditions under the right circumstances, but
not overly common. A lot depends on the composition of tile. If they could have
avoided making the tile surface like a pineapple, it could well be a non-issue.
So what we
have here is someone who does not know how to grout further damaging the floor
with an acid cleaner, then using sealer as a remedial measure but they don’t
know how to use that product either. I seriously doubt the floor can be brought
into a condition of reasonable maintenance without replacement. Sorry, but the
only hope for this floor would be a topical dressing which will require
substantial maintenance, defeating the purpose of the ceramic installation.
Q:I have a client asking for paper face-mounted glass tile on an exterior wall.
The setting material directions call for mud and lath, which I agree with. But
they also specified epoxy grout. My experience tells me it is a bad idea in an
exterior application. The manufacturer also does not address the need for any
expansion joints. Am I missing something here? This job is about 700,000 sq ft.
A: Excuse me? Did you say you’re covering
700,000 sq. ft.? What is this, the Great Wall of China? First, I would not go
with epoxy grout. There is no reason for it and it may actually induce failure.
Glass is very expansive, epoxy is not, and that may cause fissures to develop
and allow moisture penetration. Once moisture has penetrated, the wall will not
be able to breathe. This could cause some very unsightly focused effloresce,
and with enough heat and moisture, possibly delamination. I think if you
express those specific concerns they may be willing to change the spec. For a
job of this scope, some shear bond data with the specific product would be
ideal. You might want to get an all-clear on environmental protection required
for the in-progress installation too. If this tile bakes in the sun, you’re in
As for the
expansion joints, that information is covered under reference to industry
standards and included in all manufacturer instructions. For the scope of this
job, I would request product specific expansion data so an engineering
calculation of the appropriate joints and placement could be incorporated into
the project. I would request the joints be detailed on the plans as they will
be numerous and of aesthetic concern as well as a bid item. These items should
all be considered as very significant. You may also want to acquaint yourself
with the new glass mosaic standards. Good luck! (FOLLOW-UP: The writer erred when he sent his original email.
It was not 700,000 sq. ft., but rather a $700,000 job. I don’t think that makes
it any less significant, do you? They did change the specification, allowing
the installation to breathe and providing for expansion.)
Remember tile installation is
no longer a predominately skill-based business. It’s a knowledge-based
business. Manufacturers should take into account the conditions needed for
success as well as the effect their products will have on existing installation
systems. In today’s extremely competitive environment, every segment is eager
to land a sale. Taking products to their outer limits requires an installation
pro who is extremely knowledgeable, so he can properly make a responsible risk
assessment. Join a trade organization, attend trade shows and network. Seek out
the knowledge you need to protect your profits.