How to Avoid Common Tile Installation Mistakes
We have prepared a list of the some popular current failures but first, let's talk about these "standards." Who exactly is the "industry" and why are they telling installers what to do? The United States has used the ANSI (American National Standards Institute) A108 as its standard for ceramic tile installation many years. This document sets the definitions and standards for proper installation of ceramic tile. The A108 was last published in 1999. One of ANSI's requirements is that standards must be revisited and re-approved every five years. A new edition is currently in revision and should be published in 2005. The Tile Council is approved and recognized as the secretariat for the ANSI standards for the ceramic tile industry. There are actually three different tile standards; ANSI A-108 is for installation, A-118 for setting materials, and A137.1 for ceramic tile products. All of the ANSI standards, definitions, and methods are subject to open review called transparency. This prevents any one group or industry segment from dominating the process and thus prevents the promotion of product specific or inferior standards.
These standards are designed to act as a basis for establishing a common platform between the producer, specifiers, middlemen, installers, and end users. Organizations are invited to participate in the standards generating process. Those that have an identifiable interest are invited to send voting members to the committee meetings. The existing committee then approves new applications. It is not an individual serving on the committee but rather an appointee of the organization he or she represents. No legitimate interest is excluded and anyone may submit comments and suggestions to the committees. The make up of the committee is audited by ANSI to confirm that no segment dominates the process. Guests may be invited to sit in on meetings to state any particular viewpoint.
The other document often referred to as a "standard" is the Tile Council of North America Handbook. The Tile Council of North America, Inc. (TCNA) publishes the Handbook for Ceramic Tile Installation. The 2005 edition is completely revised from years past and will include 15 new methods and several hundred editorial changes; it is published every two years.
The Handbook is meant to be a guide for anyone who uses, works with or specifies ceramic tile. It clarifies and standardizes installation specifications for ceramic tile in the United States. It is a quick-reference type book that outlines most installation methods and conditions such as exterior and interior floors, exterior and interior walls, ceilings and soffits, bathtubs walls, counter tops, renovations, shower receptors, steam rooms, and swimming pools. The book provides a guide on recommended uses, limitations, requirements, materials, preparation by other trades, movement joints, installation specifications and references ANSI and ASTM standards. The information presented in the Handbook for Ceramic Tile Installation represents a consensus of over 30 national and regional organizations, each casting one vote. The last meeting had over 100 people in attendance. The meetings are open and anyone with an interest is welcome to attend. If you are reading this article, you are part of the industry and welcome to attend.
So how does this all filter down to the installer? All standards are voluntary; there is no requirement to follow them. However, nearly all manufacturers make reference to use of industry standards as part of their installation instructions. Realistically, you can only fit so much information on the back of a bag, bucket or box. These are the recommendations that don't fit on the product packaging. If you take a basic installation over a concrete floor for example, you would find 21 additional pages of information and recommendations contained in the TCNA and ANSI documents. Not only are they recommendations to the installer, they also serve as a base line target to the manufacturer in the development of products. For now, we want to concentrate on what can happen when instructions are not followed.
1. Poor workmanship (grout, grout lines, cuts, chips, poor layout)
2. Cracked tile or Grout
3. Hollow sounding tile
4. Movement (Tented or sheared tile)
5. Water leaks into substrate or structure
6. Maintenance in general
7. Proper materials and conditions for installing glass
8. Failed outdoor decks
10. Substrate preparation
Space prevents us from addressing every issue, each mentioned is a subject for an article all by itself so let us take a look at a caller complaint received earlier today, workmanship. Industry standards are intentional vague in this area so as not to limit the installer too much. However, many are clamoring to tighten the definition of what is and is not acceptable. In this example the customer's whole lower level is tile, $17,000 worth. The installer failed to do adequate layout and instead put a row of tile centered in each doorway to breakup the lack of alignment going room to room. Further, it was 18-by-18 tile and they are not all laying on a flat on the plane. Surprisingly, it was a good job otherwise according to the field inspector. So what is acceptable, and what is not? Ultimately, the person signing the check makes that decision. This person was looking for documentation the job was not acceptable not only to him, but under industry guidelines as well. He was concerned the installer, who he had enjoyed working with very much till this point, did not feel singled out by him as an unreasonable customer. Before you think "then why did the customer let him proceed?", it is high-end new construction, a vacation home. The customer was present to approve the material and had a general conversation but never questioned the installer's layout abilities. He rightfully expected all the joints to align as they extended through various rooms in the entire first floor of his home. So what does the industry say? Under The American National Standard for the Installation of Ceramic Tile, specifically ANSI A108 the following is the industry recommendation.
A-3.3 Workmanship, cutting, and fitting
A-3.3.1 - Center and balance areas of tile, if possible.
A-3.3.2 - An excessive amount of cuts shall not be made. Usually, no cuts smaller than half size should be made. Make all cuts on the outer edges of the field.
A-3.3.3 - Smooth cut edges. Install tile without jagged or flaked edges.
A-3.3.4 - Fit tile closely where edges will be covered by trim, escutcheons, or other similar devices.
A-3.3.5 - The splitting of tile is expressly prohibited except where no alternative is possible.
A-3.3.8 - Nominal centerline of all joints should be straight and of even width with due allowances for hand-molded or rustic tiles.
And relative to the tile not being flat under ANSI A-3.3.7
Lippage refers to differences in elevation between edges of adjacent tile modules. These differences or perception thereof are influenced by many factors such as:
A) The allowable thickness variation of the tile modules when judged in accordance with manufacturing standards.
B) The allowable warpage of the tile modules.
C) The spacing or separation of each tile module, which would influence a gradual or abrupt change in elevation.
D) Angle of natural or manufactured light accentuating otherwise acceptable variance in modules.
E) Highly reflective surfaces of tile modules accentuating otherwise acceptable variance in modules.
The following is a guideline for identifying acceptable lippage in addition to the inherent warpage of tile manufactured in accordance with ANSI A137.for typical installations of tile:
Wall/Mosaics 1-by-1 inches to 6-by-6 inches, 1/8-inch grout joint or less, a maximum of 1/32-inch variation
Quarry 6-by-6 inches to 8-by-8 inches 1/4-inch or greater grout joint, a maximum of 1/16-inch variation,br> Paver (most floors) Tile All sizes 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch grout joints a maximum of 1/32-inch variation. All sizes greater than 1/4-inch grout joints a maximum of 1/16-inch variation
A-3 General requirements for tile installations
A-3.1 Inspection of surfaces and conditions
Prior to commencing ceramic tilework, the tile contractor shall inspect surfaces to receive tile and accessories, and shall notify the architect, general contractor, or other designated authority in writing of any visually obvious defects or conditions that will prevent a satisfactory tile installation. Installation work shall not proceed until satisfactory conditions are provided.
A-3.1.1 - All surfaces shall be structurally sound, clean, dry, and free of oily or waxy films and all foreign matter. Concrete surfaces shall be free of form oil, curing compounds, and laitance.
A-3.1.2 - Concrete floors shall be screed-finished for application of bonded portland cement mortar bed, but steel-trowel finished if a cleavage membrane is used under the mortar bed. If tile is to be bonded directly to concrete floor with one of the thin-set methods, the slab shall have a steel trowel and fine broom finish, wood float finish, or mechanical scarification.
A-3.1.3 - Grounds, anchors, plugs, hangers, door frames, electrical, mechanical, and other work in or behind tile shall be installed before tile work is started.
A-3.1.4 - Surfaces to receive tile shall be plumb, level, and true with square corners. Floors in wet areas shall be sloped with cementitious fill under membrane. Maximum variation from required plane shall be:
A-18.104.22.168.1 - Sub-floor surfaces: 1/4-inch in 10 feet (6 mm in 3 m).
A-22.214.171.124.2 - Wall and ceiling surfaces: 1/4-inch in 10 feet (6 mm in 3 m).
As you can see, while industry standards do not cover all possible scenarios, they do cover the vast majority of situations that can occur. These standards have existed for many years and with rare exception, are those to which one is held accountable. While they may not be the law, they are a formidable tool to assuring proper, pleasing, and long lasting tile installations.
I came from 28 years of real world, everyday tile installation before getting my current position. It is with first hand experience I can totally agree that rules are made for perfect world conditions and we do not live in a perfect world. But when designing installation products and systems, we do have to have a basis for their development, in the tile industry; TCNA and ANSI serve that purpose. When guidelines are followed, successful installations and happy customers are the result. When we are not able to follow guidelines, we take a risk. If we do not inform the appropriate party, like it or not, we assume that risk entirely. That makes it a business decision whether to proceed. Sure, it probably means a rescheduled job and loss of income but is certainly better and cheaper in my mind to go fishing, play golf, or watch the grass grow for free than to work hard on my knees all day just so someone can make me work twice as hard to take it all out and replace it, plus take my money to do it. So next time you get on a job where things are not quite right think about how much risk you want to take and decide how bad you really need the money. There could be a very large interest payment on the loan you are about to take.