functional waterproofing systems and applications seem to be as elusive as ever
if you’re the one answering my phone and email. As I have mentioned in a few
articles past, starting work this year as an independent consultant has been an
eye-opening experience. Having been a trade educator, I knew things were less
than perfect before starting this consulting job. I have been busy doing claims
and consulting beyond my wildest imagination.
I grew up learning how to install with just sand and
cement. Thinset was still a relatively new product as was liquid latex. There
was no such thing as dry polymers. Our installations were primarily deck mud on
the floor and fat mud on the wall.
My fairly recent entry into an inspection and
consulting career has already broadened my horizons considerably. In my
previous position I had the good fortune of landing a job developing a national
training program after working nearly three decades in the field installing.
Spas and pools are
jobs that strike fear in the mind of many a tile installer and dollar signs for
the consultant. And for good reason: they frequently fail. Any installation
exposed to submersion can be very unforgiving in many ways. Both products and
installation techniques are severely tested and some find themselves unable to
withstand the rigors of being constantly under water and subjected to endless
chemical treatments. As most of you know, I now work as an independent
consultant and that has afforded me the opportunity to see firsthand and in
much greater detail the installation issues I have been preaching about for a
number of years. In this article I will share some findings of my most recent
experiences. All tile installations perform as a system, making each component
as important as the other. So, the watch list items expressed here are all of
most loyal readers know, after almost 30 years of installing, I gave up
troweling on a full-time basis and accepted a position as Executive Director of
the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF).
After 11 years at CTEF developing and presenting courses, which included
more troweling, I tried to ease the increasing aches and pains of my body by
further reducing my troweling time and got into the inspection and consulting
business on the first of this year. I am happy to report that both my knees and
arms are much happier these days. However, I must unhappily report that there
is no shortage of poorly performing or failing tile installations. Of all the projects I have looked at thus far
this year, exterior decks lead the way in frequency, damages, and cost of
replacement. Exterior tile decks have
always been a challenging installation. Nonetheless, uncounted numbers of
exterior decks and patios have been successfully installed for hundreds of
There has to be nothing more
misunderstood and underutilized in the whole tile industry than the need for
movement accommodation joints in a tile installation. While manufacturers all
rightly insist on their use in printed literature, they provide few if any
options or guidelines on how to deal with them otherwise. The salesperson
almost never makes mention of the fact that the 18-inch rectified tile they
just sold with 1/8” grout joint spacing needs a ¼” expansion space every 20 to
25 feet. They either don’t want to jeopardize the sale or perhaps, as they are
in sales, don’t know anything about their necessity. This leaves it up to the
installer, the last and most important link in the process, to create awareness
because it is he who stands to lose the greatest amount of cash if the floor
fails. Then of course, there is always the guy who has never used them and
never had a problem. Most often, this person’s place of business has four
wheels and tires so he is not the easiest guy to find.
Times are certainly changing. At the moment
probably more challenges than changes. The current economic conditions have
left no stone unturned or 401k (for us older folks) unscathed. But, this can lead
to good things as we will see. In the past 20 - 25 years we have had an
unprecedented growth in the building market. Until 2006, the tile industry grew
100% every seven years for the previous thirty-five years reaching 3.2 billion
feet in 2006. With this unprecedented boom, we now find ourselves in the throes
of an unprecedented bust. Some of us who have been around awhile have been here
before, albeit, not quite as severe, but bad enough. During these boom times, a
barrier to entry in any trade was nonexistent. If you could walk, talk, and
showed up for work, you’re hired. If you wanted to be a contractor, no problem.
technology allows, ceramic tile continues to get bigger and the quality better.
Consumers seem to love it; bigger tile, less grout, easier maintenance. I
remember when large tile was considered 12x12, 25 to 30 years ago. We had much
of the same conversations then as we do now about how will we ever get that
tile to lay flat on the floor. Prior to that, 6x6 quarry tile was everywhere
with some occasional glazed 8x8. You could tile speed bumps with a 6”x 6”! But
then as now, some things never change, like the salespeople who point out how
much easier the care of less grout and small or tight grout joints will be.
There is even the occasional mention of benefit to the installer that bigger
tile means faster installation and more money.
No one can argue (well, I could but I won’t) that less of the dreaded
grout certainly has the potential to make floor care easier. But, anyone who
has ever installed large tile can tell you it certainly isn’t easier or less
time consuming to install.
has to be a question we always ask ourselves numerous times during the course
of a week. This has long been a source of frustration for residential customers
as well. Seek four quotes and get 4 different prices for four different
methods. How is one to choose the best course of action for their investment?
Tile is assuredly an investment, it is not something one needs but rather hopes
to be able to have. As we all know when it comes to bidding or installation things
can be very subjective. That is to say that one person’s opinion may vary
greatly from another even though both may have merit. In commercial work these
decisions are often made for us and are part of the contractual terms in
accepting the job. However, making the right installation choice for a
residential job can be very challenging even for the most experienced tile
In simpler days tile setters could
easily fit all their tools in a canvas satchel, as was typical of most building
trades. When you wanted to cut a hole or
an “L” you got out your chipping hammer and started tapping away. No drills, no
bits, just a little bitsy hammer with a carbide end. Nearly everyone had an 8”
score-and-snap cutter; there was no 12x12. You did not really need a drill;
thinset was not very popular, but you could not install tile without soaking
tubs to saturate your tile with water before you placed it in fresh mortar.
Notched trowels were something you saw used with glue, definitely not tile
setting. Grout came in 3 colors, black,
grey, and white. Sponges? What sponges? Grout was field mixed, joints pointed,
and rubbed with either cheese cloth or a burlap bag and occasionally sawdust
when needed to help with the cleaning. Total tool investment, a few hundred
dollars for a good installer including trowels and straight edges. Ah the good old days! $200 today desn’t buy
much in the way of tools; most of us have thousands of dollars invested and
still waiting for just the right opportunity to spend a little more.