We’ve all seen them—tile installations that at first glance look pretty good, but then there they are: small and unbalanced cuts in the corners. Are they properly sized or are they whatever is left over? Unfortunately, not every tile installer uses the industry standards and best practices which, when followed, provide a professional appearance.
An often-used method, which does not meet tile industry standards and also appears unprofessional, is to start with a full tile at one wall and a cut of whatever size ends up at the opposite wall. This trick is employed to supposedly save tile (a full tile has no waste) and/or save time by not having to lay out the area appropriately.
The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) specifications provide language that guides the installer on the correct path to a good layout. Specifically, ANSI A108.02-4.3 “Workmanship, cutting, fitting and grout joint size” speaks to this situation. Section 4.3.1 makes this statement: “Center and balance areas of tile, if possible.”
This language directs the installer to provide a layout where the tile on the left is the same size as the cut on the right. Similarly, the cuts at the bottom of the installation should be the same size as the cuts at the top. This sounds simple, and it should be. The words “if possible” are there to cover those situations when, no matter how much effort is placed in the layout process, equal cuts are not achievable. This does occur from time-to-time, but this statement is not made to cover the lazy installer who doesn’t take the time to do it right.
In addition, section 4.3.2 states: “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.” Common sense would tell you not to install a lot of small pieces into the installation, which would look bad and reflect poorly on the installer. Now, there are times where a pattern or mosaic would employ numerous small cuts—however, that would be an appropriate part of the design. Generally, making cuts smaller than half a tile is an appearance issue and should be avoided.
An otherwise good installation can be ruined by sliver cuts along the wall (which also get smaller as you look forward) as seen in the attached photo. It is like a neon sign saying “Poor-quality work exists here.” The last part of this specification directs the installer to place the cut tiles to the outside of the layout where they can be easily covered with a molding along the floor or sealant joint on the inside corner of a wall.
When an installer who falls under the qualified labor category in the TCNA Handbook follows these guidelines, the consumer receives a high-quality installation, which unlike the example shown, is easy on the eyes and speaks to the tile installer’s level of professionalism. Be that installer.