Given all of the beautiful tile installations in both residential and commercial settings, it takes just one situation resembling the one in the photo to give the entire tile industry a black eye. The real problem with shoddy work of this type, which happens way too often, is that the unsuspecting consumer determines that all tile work looks and performs like this and decides that tile is not for them. It’s a really sad misconception.

This space has devoted a lot of words to the topic of mortar coverage—or should I say, the lack thereof? How can we address this epidemic of poor quality work? The easy answer is to train and educate those installing tile every day. The problem with this wish is that the tile placers (we can’t call them tile installers) don’t need any help since they have been “doing tile” for “x” number of years and “never had a problem.” Really? Wouldn’t you agree there is a problem with the floor shown here?

This tile failed due to the mortar coverage being less than 30%, which is a far cry from the ANSI requirement of 80% in dry areas. The best way to find the right trowel is to experiment with various notches and then lift the tile to verify the coverage; the ability to make the proper selection takes the skills of qualified labor. So where does the tile placer in need of this training find it?

The National Tile Contractors Association’s (NTCA) workshop program travels across the U.S., providing free, three-hour training events at quality-oriented tile distributors. Almost every one of the workshops include a demonstration of proper trowel selection, technique and expectations. Similarly, many mortar manufacturers provide free product demos that showcase the features and benefits of their new products—while also stressing the need for acceptable mortar coverage.

With all of this free information, why don’t the failure-ridden placers change their ways? The answer lies within the robust economy in which we now find ourselves. There is so much work available and qualified labor contractors can’t handle the volume. That means inexperienced tile people are also out there, doing failure-prone work.

Consumers don’t accept mediocre work at any time, but they should never base their decision on the lowest bid, thinking it will save money. Almost every time, it costs more. A lot more!