Disappointed in Tile Installation

kercoveMarch 13, 2012

I'm just wrapping up a complete renovation of the only bathroom in my house. It was the original, built in 1950, and had held up quite well over the years, but it was finally time for something new.

I am GCing the job myself, and have done my best to find deals on all of the pieces that went into the renovation, especially since we have a new baby on the way. Looks like I may have gone too cheap on the tile and installation, as now that it's done, I'm quite disappointed.

There are a couple things that concern me. First, the height of the tile floor is more than 3/4" higher than the hardwood floor in the hall. This was all discussed ahead of time with my carpenter, the tile installer and myself. I was assured by the tile installer that the floor would be the same height as it was before, which was max 1/4" above the hardwood.

It doesn't seem like 1/2" more should be a lot, but it sure feels like a step up to get into the bathroom. Is this acceptable? We gutted the room all the way down to the subfloor, and now have layers of plywood, wonderboard, self-leveling, radiant heat, thinset and tile. I feel like more could have been done to make sure we didn't increase that extra half inch.

Second, the tile installer has told me that the marble basketweave I got from a wholesaler is complete crap, and made it extremely difficult to install. I can't say I know much about the quality of different tile, so maybe it is crap. That being said, he installed it all, and then proceeded to tell me not to be surprised if the tiles break over time, as apparently many of them broke in between laying them and grouting.

One of the tiles is broken already (and I can tell it was not done by us, as the grout goes into the cracked area), and the unsanded grout is cracking in a number of places. I've read all about how you can't just grout over areas that need it, but need to remove the grout and redo it all. What a nightmare for basketweave! Is it reasonable to think that the installer should fix all of this? He's warned me that adding new grout can mean that it no longer matches, which makes it sound like he just wants me to live with it. Does it all need to be ripped up? Or do I take my chances with my crappy tile and hope that nothing else breaks?

Finally, I should mention that I've already paid him. I'm hoping that he'll make things right, but he seems adamant that the majority of the problems come from my tile selection. What should I expect to be a reasonable solution at this point??

Please help!

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When did he inform you of the bad condition of the tile? What is the size of the grout joints? Since you added radiant heat, you very well might not have been able to get the floor closer to the level of the hardwood.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2012 at 8:35PM
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They obviously shouldn't of installed the tile if it was fragile. And for the height being off I think it is their fault if it was previously discussed that you wanted them even with the wood floors and if they couldn't line the heights up you should've been informed about this before they started laying the new tile.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2012 at 8:51PM
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The grout joints are 1/16". I heard about the condition of the tile once it was all installed. It was sort of a strange situation, where the guy told me the job would take 3 days, and it ended up taking 5, the last of which he stayed up all night (on a Saturday) setting the floor tile and then grouting, in order to be ready for setting the cabinets on Sunday.

I very much appreciated the extra dedication, as we were already behind schedule, but not as an alternative to doing things right, or letting me know that it just wasn't working how it should. He did have an opportunity to check out the tile during the week beforehand, if that would have helped to determine the quality.

I understand that the floor height issue may have been impossible to avoid with the added heat. I was just upset that he told me it would be the same height, and we went through all the layers with my carpenter to make sure. Oh well, that's the least of my worries...just a bit frustrating when we were planning for something else, and now have to pay to fix the door and the transition based on the new height.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2012 at 8:53PM
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Lynne Reno

did they install a transition strip between the carpet and the hardwood? Some of our floors have a height difference but I don't notice it because we have transition pieces that match the hardwood. You might check the Garden Web Flooring forum. As far as the tile, I'm not sure what is crappy about the tile, but I know for a fact cracking is more apt to happen if the subfloor is faulty and flexes so you might want to get a second opinion on the subfloor.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2012 at 8:53PM
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Lynne, the transition strip hasn't been installed yet, but my carpenter is creating one for me. Hopefully this will make the difference seem less noticeable.

As for the subfloor flexing, I'm pretty sure that's not the case, unless something happened when he added the wonderboard and self-leveling compound. The original tile was in near perfect shape after 60 years, so the base itself is pretty solid. Could something have happened with all the layers he added? He told me the marble tiles were like sand, and they were just disintegrating when he cut them, and broke when he stepped on them before grouting.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2012 at 9:01PM
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Lynne Reno

wow..if I were you and if you have any extra tile I would take it in to a few local tile stores and ask them to judge the quality of it. I am no tile expert but I know that marble can be fragile along veins but I have never heard of the issues he is claiming. If it's really a faulty tile you might have some recourse with the dealer you bought it from- but why did this guy continue to install it if it was so bad? It seems like the responsible thing would have been for him to warn you about the problems with it rather than just install it

    Bookmark   March 13, 2012 at 9:12PM
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Did you go from ceramic tile to marble tile? If so, then it still could be a flexibility problem. The subfloor requirements for ceramic tile are different from those for natural stone tile.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2012 at 9:53PM
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Dekeoboe, yes we did go from ceramic to stone, so maybe that's part of the problem. How would we find out if the issue is with the subfloor vs. the installation vs. the tile itself? Is this something the installer should have alerted us to?

    Bookmark   March 13, 2012 at 10:16PM
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Can you post some photos? If he installed the right kind of tile correctly it should not have cracked, because the thinset would fill the space under the tile completely.

If they are cracking there are three things I can think of- one, the tile is not floor tile, two, there are voids under the tile because the thinset was not put down correctly for that type of tile or three, the floor is flexing. I would definitely take a look at the leftover tile and see how brittle it is.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2012 at 2:18AM
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I'm thinking a bit more about this- how does it look to you when you stand at the door and look in? Does it look pretty? In other words, if none of the tile was cracked, would you be happy with the look?

Unsanded grout gets little cracks in it- the sand is to prevent that kind of shrinkage. Are any of the grout joints greater than 1/8"? If the grout is unsanded white, you can scrape some out and regrout without any change in color.

I'm hoping it's not as bad as the tile guy made it out to be.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2012 at 2:41AM
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Thanks to everyone for the responses. Here are some photos:

As for it looking good from the door, yes, overall it looks nice (though let's not even talk about the poor caulking job in the niche). I'm a very detailed person, and I realize that people aren't going to be down on their hands and knees looking at my grout. One of my concerns, though, is will this become a bigger problem down the road? Thankfully, other than in the shower niche, we don't seem to have much of a problem in the shower, and it's all waterproofed with Kerdi, so I'm hoping the grout cracking can't lead to moisture issues. I think the tile guy just scared me with his warnings of crappy tile, and how I shouldn't expect it to hold up over time. I'm just afraid that I'll move on and live with the tile for now, and then have to pay to have it ripped out and replaced in a year's time.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2012 at 7:43AM
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I'm sorry, but that looks bad. The grout job is very bad - maybe the grout wasn't mixed properly? It certainly wasn't installed properly
Don't worry about grout cracks affecting waterproofing. Neither grout nor tile are waterproof, so what's important is what is underneath, and you are good with the Kerdi.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2012 at 2:01PM
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Is marble more brittle than tile and harder to work with? absolutely. But it should not crack after installation assuming it was installed correctly, unless there is some flex in the floor as mentioned previously. The installer also should have picked out any cracked pieces and replaced them as he was laying it. The grout can crack because of flex in the floor, wide joints (which is not the case), and if mixed in incorrect proportions. As for the gaps with no grout... that is very much an installation issue and not a grout issue.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2012 at 2:01PM
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Well, I'm glad to know that I'm not overreacting!

The installer has seen the pictures, and has agreed to come back to fix the cracked tile and address the grout. But I think that he'll only be fixing the areas that look terrible, not regrouting the entire job. Should I be worried?

I will be asking him to recaulk the shower niche as well, as it just looks messy. As for picking out the broken tiles before grouting, I think he may have just missed this one. He did tell me that 15+ broke before he was able to grout, and he replaced all of those. I never thought tiling 30 sq. ft. was going to be such a nightmare!

Anything else I should discuss with him, or be on the lookout for?

    Bookmark   March 14, 2012 at 4:09PM
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Lynne Reno

In the picture of the niche, it appears there are numerous cracks in the grout. I'm no expert but I know that can happen if the grout is mixed too dry.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2012 at 5:15PM
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"He told me the marble tiles were like sand, and they were just disintegrating when he cut them, and broke when he stepped on them before grouting."

Sadly, I've seen tile like this before. Bought some even, though in my case, the super-softness was actually a plus. (I had very detailed cuts to make to inset some laser-cut tiles shaped like leaves, and I was able to select the super-soft pieces for my 'nasty cuts'.) However, mine went onto a wall, so durability was not an issue. But the different thicknesses of the various mosaic pieces DID create a grouting nightmare -- and this was all due to the poor quality (cheapness) of the marble mosaic tile. Again, for my particular installation, I wanted a rustic 'stone wall' look, so the lippage and less-than-perfect grout lines actually worked with the design. But for a floor in an elegant pattern like yours? Knowing what I now know, I would not have bought the tile...

Anyway - Based on my experiences with my cheap tile, I do suspect your poor-quality tile played a big role in the installation and grouting problems and that it's unlikely to perform well for you for terribly long. A painstaking grout-removal and regrouting job MIGHT improve the appearance to some degree, but probably not do too much for the durability.

The installer should have told you your tile was junk before he installed it, though, or at least, when it became apparent that the installation was being compromised because of it. I know THAT would have been a mess too, but you'd have had more options...

Good luck --

    Bookmark   March 14, 2012 at 5:28PM
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We built our house six yrs ago. Many of our bathroom tiles started feeling "crunchy" underfoot. Long story short, the tiles were loose, grout was cracking, it had to all be torn out. The new guy tapped the tiles and could tell the tiles were loose by the sound they made.

What was found....the wonder board was not screwed into the subfloor. The nimrod that laid the tile and built our leaky shower used screws that were too short.

This was impossible to diagnose until the floor was removed. I hope your tile layer is more competent than mine.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2012 at 6:04PM
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I've got the same problem (house isn't quite 5 yrs old) - plenty of screws, but no thinset b/t the subfloor and the backer board. Looking at tearing out and replacing 400 sf of tile in kitchen/foyer/laundry room (so no access to house) in a few years. Got tired of calling the installer every year to come reset and regrout, gave up after 3 years. Haven't touched it in almost 2 years, but it's about time to pull a few that are really loose and reset them again this year.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2012 at 9:18PM
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Well Ajsmam, we had to redo the shower so we figured we might as well do the floor at the same time. Cabinets, granite, plumbing, toilet...everything had to come out. Hope that is not the case for op.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2012 at 11:34PM
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If that shower niche is your man's work, I don't know if I would let him back into my house. He probably rushed through the grouting because the job took him longer than he thought it would.

That grout job is terrible. How wide are those grout joints in that shower niche? If they are over 1/8", sanded grout should have been used. The grout should be flush with the tiles. You are going to have a heck of a time cleaning that. That cracked tile must be removed and replaced. I would have him scrape out the grout around those tiles that have voids and cracks and regrout them correctly, blending in the grout with a q-tip, if necessary. The niche is unbelievable. Make him get all of that stuff off of your tiles. Is the rest of the shower like that too? You will have to supervise. Stand over him and point out what you want fixed and watch him do it, and if it's not good enough, tell him so. I tell you all of this, but I have not taken this advice myself in the past and I am still living with some awful stuff people did. This is why general contractors charge so much- it's a tough job finding skilled people and then making sure they do things right.

If I was in your shoes, I'd jump up and down on that floor about a thousand times tonight to see if anything else crunches or breaks. I'd mark every spot that needs repair with blue masking tape after crawling over it on my hands and knees.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2012 at 2:01AM
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I'm really hoping that tearing up the floor isn't the only option...at least not for a couple of years. With our first baby on the way in 10 weeks, we have plenty of other things to think about!

One thing I should mention, is the scale of the tiles. I showed the earlier pictures to a friend last night, and he was under the impression that they were much larger tiles than they actually are, so here are two pictures that give some context.

By no means am I saying it isn't a bad job...clearly there are issues, but I want to make sure we're all on the same page. I'm pretty sure the grout width in the shower niche, as well as everywhere else, is 1/16". I did mention the grout being closer to flush with the tiles, and was told that it was low because he was having trouble getting the grout of the face of the marble, and therefore wiped out more of the grout.

Any other thoughts for how to make sure he fixes things the right way? Thanks again for all of the help!

    Bookmark   March 15, 2012 at 9:37AM
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I'm glad the basketweave is just in the niche, shouldn't be too hard to pull out and re-do if there is a problem. But check how brittle a spare tile is, maybe they aren't really meant for floor use? What is the rating on the box?

Just make sure the tile is appropriate before you start blaming the installer for any problems. If the tile is rated for floor, I don't see how you really could have used any larger grout lines (and sanded grout), but check out the floor for any "Rice Krispie" sounds ASAP.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2012 at 10:35AM
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Your project appears to be about a week ahead of mine; I'm also having my 50's bathroom completely gutted and redone. I would be distraught if my grout was looking like it had already failed, and it was brand new. I had a similar issue with a tiled floor I had done in my kitchen; the grout failed where two sheets of subfloor were supposed to, but didn't quite meet. The problem didn't appear until it was really too late to go back to the installer. I agree with others who urge you to insist that he fix it to your satisfaction; you are going to have to live with this every day, you have paid him well to do the job correctly, and it's best to get it resolved right now. There are plenty of photos here that you can use as examples of correctly done work. Please keep us posted!

I have also learned from this thread about some of the questions to ask my installer when we meet tomorrow. I had no idea that marble basketweave tile had use ratings. I know I paid less by getting mine online than at a local tile center, but I attributed that to the likelihood that it was made in China and the little dots aren't all perfectly square with the 1x2's; now I'm gonna make sure it's going to be durable enough to hold up to floor traffic.

I have saved your niche picture to my Pinterest board to show my installer; it is a beautiful design! May I ask what you used for the shelves? It's been proposed that I use the same marble as my vanity, but that's 3/4" thick, which seems like too much to me.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2012 at 12:24PM
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I've sent out an email to the place I purchased the tile (online as well), hoping to find out whether the tile is rated for flooring. Based on this notation on their website, I would say it is, or at least they are claiming it to be:

"mainly preferred as floor tiles for its clean, aesthetic qualities"

Though who knows, as clearly it isn't the best quality. I've also let them know that I'm unhappy with the product, so we'll see if they have any comments on that.

Thanks for the compliment on the niche, tina_ma! I actually used staceyneil's design as my inspiration, and am happy with the overall result, obviously ignoring the issues with the tile. It fits all my crazy shower potions, with room for more in the future. The shelves are actually 12x12 polished carrara tiles (5/16" thick), cut down to the right depth. I took them to a local fabricator and they charged me $5 apiece to round and polish the front edge. All said and done, the shelves cost about $60, which is way cheaper than any other options I found.

One disappointment I did have with the niche was about the depth. When we opened up our wall, we found that this particular wall was built at 2.5" deep, instead of 3.5". I guess they wanted the extra space then as much as we want it now! So my niche is only 3" deep, but it works. Hopefully you have more space to work with. Good luck, and let me know if you would like any additional info.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2012 at 1:27PM
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kercove, your floor looks fantastic in the overall shot, and so does your shower. The scale did make a difference. Nevertheless, I would be concerned about how those very small tiles cracked, and I would want it repaired.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2012 at 2:13PM
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kercove, it does look better in the faraway shot!! The floor looks gorgeous and so does the niche.

One question, what color grout did you use for your subways? And brand? It is just a hint of gray, very nice.
Hope it all works out with the tile.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2012 at 4:24PM
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I thought giving some shots of the whole room might be a little more fair, though I still don't want cracking floor tiles or an impossible to clean shower niche. As I said in one of my earlier posts, I realize no one else is going to be looking at my tile quite the way I am at this point. Once we get all of our stuff moved back in, I'm sure it will just fade into the background. But I do want it done correctly, hence all of my questions.

I chose the same grout for all of the tile - Laticrete Silver Shadow. I love it for the subway, but I think I probably could have gone a shade darker for the floor. I have fears that it's going to become quite dirty over time, though I guess at that point, if it's still intact, I can stain the grout darker.

We finally got our countertop (carrara) installed yesterday, and faucet today, so I'll be sure to post some final pictures in the next couple weeks. Still need to paint, install the cabinet trim, and pick out towel bars and knobs. Getting closer though!

    Bookmark   March 15, 2012 at 4:48PM
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I am sad to hear this is happening especially with a little one on the way, and I was shocked with the first pictures - some will have to be replaced for sure. You did make wonderful choices of design. I think your tile setter may be right, the tile may be crap. I would take them to task on it...The old saying about oiling squeaky wheels, let them hear from a hormonal mommy to be. Good luck kercove. I have until Wednesday to choose my tile, I want Carrara and I am scared as heck about it, someone posted the thread with the catsup, mustard and all that on it and I was cringing. I love GW but often times I come away second guessing lots of my choices, like today I was trying to get the nerve up to call the plumbing supply and change my mind one more time on the toilet, after getting an email about the Guinevere being a better choice for me than the Lloyd....Sorry didn't mean to hijack your post....guess I was venting again, maybe I should do decaf.....

    Bookmark   March 15, 2012 at 8:47PM
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I know! It's so difficult to think about every little detail, and I end up second guessing myself all of the time, especially with all the good ideas here on GW.

There are already a couple of things that I would choose differently, and we're not even finished yet! But as I saw with my kitchen 3 years ago, I'll slowly get used to the quirks, or the things that weren't quite right, and if not, I can always replace things down the road (i.e. our handheld shower hose falls right in the way of our valve, making it super annoying to turn the shower on and off...but they sell a longer hose, so once I get fed up enough, I'll probably just replace it).

Good luck with your choices! As I keep reminding myself, it's just a bathroom...

    Bookmark   March 16, 2012 at 1:09PM
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I can totally sympathize with you; the number of tiny details can be overwhelming! I am so grateful to you for your timely posting of your comment about the handheld shower hose. I was showing my GC your niche this afternoon and I happened to scroll down to your latest comment and Oh, my! we had just been discussing niche/shower issues with my bathroom. Also built in the 50s, also 2.5" deep wall where the niche should have gone. So we've decided that the best place for the niche (I have Stacyneil's saved as my inspiration too!) is on the same wall as the shower plumbing, but of course the rough has already gone in. Which would leave me with the same draping hose cross-over dilemma. Seeing your comment has just confirmed my GC's belief that moving the wall union and hand-held to the other side of the wall will be our best option - thanks for sharing! By the way our bathrooms look eerily similar - I can't wait til you post your 'befores' and 'afters'!

    Bookmark   March 16, 2012 at 8:35PM
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Not to be the voice of doom - but have you tried out the underfloor heating yet? You might want to, and see what effect that has on your floor tile and grout. Someone told me that their marble tile cracked and was ruined by the heat (an installation problem?).

We bought our marble mosaic floor really cheaply too - direct from an importer, we actually went to their warehouse near the seaport - but it seems to be really good quality: no broken tiles and our contractor didn't complain. He's a bit of a perfectionist, and he wasn't happy with the quality control (thickness and size) on the marble field tile we chose for the wall. We're not sure if that's the effect of going for the cheapest vendor (the contractor conceded that this was a problem he "often" saw, and the vendor told us that 1/16" variations were standard). It's so hard to judge: if we'd ordered our tile from a high-end showroom, would it still have come from the same quarry and factory in China, only with more of a mark-up? It looks great installed, and we bought enough extra that the contractor could discard the tiles he really didn't like.

    Bookmark   October 10, 2012 at 5:00PM
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