Help, please! Subway tile installation issues

tina_maApril 13, 2012

The tile has been installed and grouted in my tub/shower alcove. I chose DalTile Rittenhouse Square; they are beautifully made and appear to be extremely uniform in shape and size. This was a total gut; the tile guy put up new Hardiebacker and sealed it prior to installation. With the light of day, I can tell that there are several random tiles that are not flat to the rest of the field. Is this within the realm of normal? I'd think that given a fresh surface that the tiles could have all been installed flat. In addition, there's a lot of grout between them - up to 3/16" in some cases (the recommended gout joint is 1/16"). My GC tells me that it is because the tiler didn't do a good job buffing out the final steps and that once buffing is complete there will be less grout and the groutlines will be 1/16". In the laying process, I took a picture one evening and there were spacers between some of the tiles near one of the interior corners. Why would this be? What should I know about this, and what can/should be done? Thanks again!!! (PS - the niche is lovely)

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If the walls aren't flat and true but the tile is, you end up with more varied spaces as it is installed over the waves. The entire installation starts with the studs used for the wall. Some might need to be shimmed to keep things straight. Only then can the vapor barrier and backer board be installed.

Post your pictures and we can judge the installation better.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2012 at 2:07PM
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It's been a challenge to take decent pictures of white tile with white grout, especially since there is no lighting yet in the bathroom. This project is a total gut down to studs; the tile guy installed new 1/2" Hardie before tiling. My GC came to look at the tile job, and his assessment was that the grout had been overfilled, then took a Pampered Chef tool and gouged away enough of the tile to get to 1/16" - at what depth, though I can't say. Can the grout be refilled at that same width? The tile guy told him that if I had wanted narrower grout joints than what he gave me, I'd have had to have chosen square-edged tiles, and not the lovely DalTile Rittenhouse Square tiles with the perfectly machined built-in spacers. The DalTile spec clearly states that grout should be 1/16" except for mosaics, which should be 1/8". The pictures attached are of some of the more egregious joints at 3/16"; to be fair most are a fat 1/8". of the 20 or so tiles that aren't completely flush there's about half a dozen with severly popped corners or edges; I have tried to photo those as best I could. Is this as bad as I think it is? Thanks so much for your experience!

Here is a link that might be useful: DalTile tub tile installation

    Bookmark   April 16, 2012 at 9:08PM
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Yes, it's bad. I would not accept it.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2012 at 2:15PM
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It's not an acceptable job. I hope you have not paid him. My suggestion is to not let him do anymore work. He should have used spacers for all the tiles to make sure the tiles are laid straight and spaced evenly.

I had a similar situation last year. Your guy and mine must of come from the same tile school.

I hate to tell you this but we just had ours redone last week. What a difference. We only had a small shower and tub surround to do. It was costly but now I can get beyond it. I'm hoping this does not happen to you.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2012 at 8:12PM
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Some people are just way to picky...

Judging by the photos, here are my thoughts:

The tile is bullnosed. This creates deep valleys between the tiles. When grouted, the grout will fill those valleys. Wiping off excess grout controls how thick the grout lines can appear. The 3/16" grout lines you point out, appear as if they were not wiped well or deep enough. I'll bet the tile was laid properly, but when grouted, it was not wiped uniformly and resulted in some thicker lines.

It sounds like the tile has spacers built right into them, allowing for the tile to be laid without temporary spacers. You said they were "Perfectly machined". Did you hold a caliper up to them and check each one for perfection? I doubt they're all identical. Their small imperfections will be hardly noticeable, but multiply 1/64 of an inch (not an easy amount to measure with a ruler) times 40 rows of tile. You're now at an extra 1/2" of issues.

Uneven tile is going to be common and can be found in every tile job. It's largely a result of the tile being hand laid and on a vertical surface. It's easier to get flatter tile on the floor because you can use a bubble level with ease. Vertical pieces are a bit harder. If you want perfection, and I mean the type of perfection you're asking for in this post, then you have to be ready to pay for it. You can't hold the tile guy to any kind of time schedule and you'll have to let him/her work meticulously.

All I'm saying is you can't have the perfection of a royal family's bathroom if you're paying for the remodel from a chimney sweeper's salary. Stop being so Diva..

    Bookmark   April 18, 2012 at 9:59AM
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bs ..... I assure you that I did not pay for this remodel from, as you put it, a chimney sweeper's salary. Even so, this job should not have come from any professional who puts his/her name to his/her work.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2012 at 5:01PM
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That's why bs-spewer posts anonymously.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2012 at 5:45PM
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But at least he/she is honest about what they are spewing.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2012 at 8:16PM
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Here's several sources of irregularities in a tile installation:

Unless the tile installer shimmed out the backing to compensate for any wavy studs, you will have a wavy backing, and the tiles will follow the waves ... occasionally one will hit the crest of a wave just right and you have a corner like you see.

2 - With a square-edged tile all the tile installer has to do is wipe ALL the grout off the face of the tiles and it's all even. With a rounded edge the visible grout width will vary depending on how much grout is wiped away from the rounded edge to reveal the joint. That's part of the "charming hand-made" look.

Had they known that you wanted machine-like precision in the grout lines they may have been able to warn you that the rounded edges of that tile are not conducive to precise grout joint appearance unless you want to pay for someone to use calipers and Q-tips on all the joints.

3 - Tile size variation depending on where they were in the kiln. It's tiny, but it adds up over the course of several rows of tile.

4 - Those spacers are not "machined" they are cast or pressed into the clay before it's fired, and subject to shrinking. They are a help to the tile setter, not any guarantee of absolute precision.

As for the spacers, unless your walls were perfectly squared and ceiling perfectly level, some of the joints probably needed to be widened a scooch so the tiles would line up properly with the tiles on the other wall. the easy way to do this is to slip a spacer into the joint and twist it.

My tile installer (and contractor) had to compensate for a 1 inch difference between one side of the alcove's rear wall and the other. He did it by starting about three rows up from the rim of the tub and widening the grout gaps a tiny bit on the high side, tapering back to normal on the low side.

It looks great, but it took him the better part of three days to do all the measuring, marking, and scooching, then letting each couple of rows set up so he wouldn't mess it up with the next rows.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2012 at 6:58AM
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I did not use calipers, but I did shape all of my grout lines with a small pointing trowel when the grout had half set to get all the lines to look right; I pared them back to where they were all 1/16"

    Bookmark   April 19, 2012 at 8:15AM
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Lazy, in your alcove tub scenario, are you saying that the upper width of the wall was an inch larger or smaller than the width of the lower part of the wall? And that to keep things straight at the edges you had to widen the joints to keep the tiles lined up by the time they reached the far wall?

    Bookmark   April 19, 2012 at 9:56AM
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I did some further research, and learned that allowable lippage on subway tile is 1/32", about the width of a credit card. I went back and identified a lot more out-of-flat tiles; my GC came by with a colleague whose expertise is in tile, and we all came to the same conclusion - the tile must come out. Thanks for your support.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2012 at 10:20PM
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