New backsplash = bad tile job

kateouApril 14, 2013

Hi everyone. I am new to these forums but need some advice. We just decided on and purchased backsplash tile. The contractor who is refinishing the basement told us he could certainly lay them. They are travertine subway tiles laid on a sheet (not individual tiles). When we had a chance to inspect the work they did we were really disappointed. The tiles are unevenly spaced, not level on the wall, slope down in some areas and some are even coming off the wall! Not to mention they used ripped cardboard as spacers (which is now adhered to the mud) and there was mud all over my cabinets, countertops and some of the tiles. The pic shows the big gaps between tiles to thin or no gap. Can you all look and advise me on how to proceed? Is it really that bad? Do they take it down, pay for new tile and redo it? Will it look better once they grout? Should we not pay for the labor? Or do we just live with it? Clearly I am a novice at all things construction related and a new homeowner. Am I just being too picky?

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A different pic

    Bookmark   April 14, 2013 at 9:29PM
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That looks terrible! I wouldn't even grout it. Start over.

This post was edited by teachertile on Sun, Apr 14, 13 at 21:36

    Bookmark   April 14, 2013 at 9:35PM
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Oh no! It really is that bad! Cardboard for spacers??? Seriously?! Yikes! Don't grout! Hopefully the tile will come off, can be cleaned up and then laid properly.

If you ever see someone using cardboard for spacers, it is their way of telling you they don't know what the he!! they're doing! Yikes!

So sorry.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2013 at 9:41PM
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I sincerely urge you to have them disassemble the tile before it sets up all the way. The cardboard is certainly unacceptable, and there should be no more than 1/16" inch difference between the largest spacing and the smallest spacing. And that is worst case! Do not be fooled by the old grout magic spiel. It will just make it worse. Good luck.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2013 at 9:59PM
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Unfortunately I think it has set up completely because it was done on Friday. I wish I could get some better pics of the bad job. Is it possible to scrape it off and start again? I just keep picturing broken tiles and damaged drywall. Why can't they just do it right the first time?!

    Bookmark   April 14, 2013 at 10:08PM
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You need to get these hacks o.u.t of your house. Pronto! Do not let them mess with anything else. Who knows what else they're totaling screwing up.

Check Angies for companies with lots of good references.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2013 at 10:16PM
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If you can't tell if this BS is bad or not then I'm lost for words.

With regards to your finished basement. Hire a third party inspector before they pack up shop and disappear into a new business.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2013 at 10:51PM
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Is it really that bad?
It's really, really bad. And then some.

Do they take it down, pay for new tile and redo it?
I would not let this person anywhere near your backsplash. It's highly unlikely you'll get him to pay you for your tile. I hope you can get the thinset off your cabinets and countertops. You'll need an actual tile setter to fix this. If you bought the tile from a tile shop, perhaps they could recommend someone.

Will it look better once they grout?

Should we not pay for the labor?
That's correct, you should not pay.

Or do we just live with it?

Clearly I am a novice at all things construction related and a new homeowner.
You are, and unfortunately this is going to be an expensive learning experience. IowaCommute is correct, you need to have an inspector in to review whatever is being done in the basement. Did you pull permits? Did you need to? The problem is that it's hard to imagine anyone who works in construction doing that kind of a tile job. If that's the kind of a tile job he did, it makes everything else he did highly suspect. Is there any plumbing or electrical down there? Really, everything needs to be checked for safety.

Am I just being too picky?
No. You were smart to come looking for help figuring this out. If this job was in any way acceptable, people here would tell you it wasn't great, but could be lived with. That's not the case and it raises huge red flags for any of his other work. I'm so sorry.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2013 at 12:18AM
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Okay, in defense of your installer, oftentimes those tiles that you buy on sheets are already applied crooked on the sheet. His use of cardboard may have been his attempt to get some of those crooked tiles to line up correctly. Unfortunately, if that's what he was trying to do, it didn't work. The edge tiles in your second picture look really crooked and sloppy. Were they glued on the sheets in that fashion? There are some instances in tile installation where cardboard can be used to help get tiles to stay in position while the thinset firms up. But I've never seen it used entirely in place of spacers, and I've never seen it left in place so long that it gets hard in the thinset. All that aside, it doesn't look like tile is this guy's specialty.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2013 at 12:40AM
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Oh my. That's terrible- don't pay them for that.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2013 at 1:15AM
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Where did you find these people? How in the world you even need to ask people if "is it really that bad"? Yes, the work is horrible, it is beyond bad.

When I saw the first photo, I thought it was a photo of demolition.

Don't pay them, the tiles need to be completely removed and redo. Make sure to have some one to inspect the other work they have done. Don't let them touch anything in your house.

Not only they need to pay for material and labor for redo, they may need to pay for all the damages they may have already caused.

It seems you are too inexperienced and uninformed to handle this project, you may need to hire someone who could speak and fight for you.

I cannot believe someone would "in defense of your installer". You are just joking, right?

    Bookmark   April 15, 2013 at 4:08AM
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I agree! Do NOT pay them. I would also insist they pay you for the tile they ruined.

I am sorry you have to deal with such idiots!

    Bookmark   April 15, 2013 at 8:18AM
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Circus Peanut

It's not too late to scrape it all down; the thinset behind the tile will take a while before it's absolutely irrevocably dry. And honestly don't worry about damaging the drywall -- it's quite possible to tile over some pretty bad nicks, gouges and even large holes if you know what you're doing. Alas, I don't think your contractor did.

As a novice, he may have assumed that the tile being on sheets obviated any need for providing his own spacers; he will now have learned otherwise.

The mud will probably come off cabinets, etc, with a damp cloth and a razor blade. Go very carefully and the globs will pop off. Then go back over it with a clean damp cloth once you've gotten it up, just to get any haze off.

He's just not familiar with tiling. It looks worse than my first tile job ever as a homeowner. The lippage, poor bedding and spacing are the major problems -- if you absolutely had to, you could probably get the cardboard out before grouting. But in this case, NO. You really need to pull it all down. I'm so sorry!

    Bookmark   April 15, 2013 at 8:48AM
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Sophie Wheeler

I think this was "a perfect storm" type of situation. Your wall probably isn't as flat as it could be. The tile was low quality with irregular spacing on the mesh. And you had a complete novice attempt tiling.

Rip it down. Then reassess the flatness of your wall as you're doing the bit of drywall repair that removing it may cause. That's the time to do any skim coating that may be needed to make the installation look perfect when you have someone more competent attempt it. And look for better quality tile the next time. Take a some tile spacers with you and check the gaps yourself. Or, buy rustic tile that's not on mesh and IS more irregular on purpose. You won't have regular spacing with it either, but it will be more uniformly irregular, if that makes sense. When handmade or rustic tile is set, a good installer can make minor adjustments (and use a wider grout line) to make the installation look deliberate rather than sloppy.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2013 at 9:15AM
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As a general rule, you get what you paid for. Don't settle for anything just for low price/cost. If funding is tight, wait until you have sufficient cash. Don't rush and compromise.

The scary part is paying high price may not guarantee you a well qualified contractor or high quality product. You have to do research, you need to educate yourself.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2013 at 9:41AM
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Holy cow! That looks like something I'd do myself. Which is why I won't do it myself.

Definitely tell this guy he's gotta rip it out, then get someone else to do it. Can you salvage the tiles? If not, I'd expect Mr. Sure-I-Can-Do-It to replace them.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2013 at 10:00AM
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I don't think there's any defense of this contractor. Even if there were issues, he continued.

Look at the cutout for the wall switches! Crazy.

Yes, get an inspection done of all his work! The backsplash is about aesthetics but but other things could be dangerous or hazardous. See what the inspector says. Consumer protection might need to know, to keep this contractor out of other people's houses.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2013 at 10:22AM
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This just happened to us in a guest bath. I was so distraught and just wanted the guy out of my house so I did pay him and told him how disappointed I was and asked him if he was proud of his work and he said no. I asked what he thought we should do about it and he said well if you hire me to do more work I could fix it then. At this time I considered I was dealing with an unreasonable incompetent, unprofessional and decided to cut my losses and move on. It was not easy as I don't have a money tree in the back yard but I couldn't even look at it. Like you, we had tile falling off and he poured grout and caulk into the places he didn't cut the tile to fit, it was crooked and the thresholds were metal strips he found somewhere that looked more like carpet tack strips. OY VEY.

We hired someone else and I had to go and buy new tile because they said it could not be saved. They charged me extra to tear out the old. It makes me sick to think about it, but it looks nice now. Remodeling is not for the fainthearted and heartbreak is nearly always involved. Disappointment in people always included. It can be a little depressing both for the outlay of money and for the things you learn about people that sadden you.

Good luck! Cut and run...

    Bookmark   April 15, 2013 at 10:30AM
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Does he have a license? Maybe you can complain to the contractor's board.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2013 at 10:59AM
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Hi all. A new day and things are looking up. I spoke with our contractor this morning and he said he would tear it out, reorder/pay for new tile and not charge us for the labor. When I got home a bit ago it was already gone. He assures us that he is capable of doing it right and that it was done by his employees. We are going to hire a tile guy recommended by the tile store. I am impressed with the contractors resolve to make it right. I was anticipating a battle.

The whole thing was a bit surprising because we have been happy with his work so far in the basement. We did our research. He was reviewed well on Angie's, came highly recommended by both my sister and a coworker and we saw his work first hand prior to hiring him. Hopefully we get what we want and what we are paying for. Thanks for all of your replies!

    Bookmark   April 15, 2013 at 2:13PM
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I really did think this was a prank post when I saw the pictures. Seriously, the first time I did tiling myself I did a better job than this. Really, who does not use a $7 bag of spacers? I have nothing to add, other than start over.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2013 at 2:15PM
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That's great there is no battle. Was this the first time he saw it? You should not have had to bring it up. And he should not have people like that working for him. Scary stuff. Beware and be careful. I would move on. Glad to hear you are getting a tile person for the re-install.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2013 at 2:21PM
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Glad to hear things are going better, but I still have concerns about other work. Are there permits? If so, then the city or whoever will be along to be sure work is up to code, and safe. Safe is a big concern. If there are no permits, should there be? Regardless, if the city isn't coming to verify things are safe, then someone who knows should. You have to wonder, is the guy who messed up your backsplash the same guy who was trusted with hooking up your electric or plumbing? Were your studs or joists (and therefore the integrity of your house) compromised by inexpert workers? Was your HVAC compromised in any way?

Your contractor may be all smooth this morning, but the bollocks on the backsplash pretty much demands that you protect your property and yourselves by having his other work double-checked. It may all check out just great and no hard feelings, but if it doesn't, the sooner you know, the better.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2013 at 4:37PM
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Take a lot of pictures and document everything if you talk to him including dates he did the work and DO NOT PAY him yet. I am always for giving a contractor a chance to fix the problem if he asks for one, but don't pay until you are satisfied that the work is done correctly. You may even want to to take pictures to a high end tile store and have a designer look at the finished project if you are unsure if it is acceptable or not. But do not pay a dime!

    Bookmark   April 15, 2013 at 5:05PM
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That is downright ugly -I am glad you are coming to some kind of resolution!

    Bookmark   April 15, 2013 at 7:53PM
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