Neuse Tile Service

Tile installation and service tips from professional installers


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Tile upside down, but not backwards

Neuse Tile is all about customer satisfaction, and we’ve often laughingly said, “we’ll install tile upside down and backwards” if that’s what the customer wants,” but, with this story, we’ll have to modify that when it comes to glass tile.

An out-of-state relative hired a local contractor to renovate their master bathroom. They went to their home show, interviewed prospective contractors, reviewed their references, and selected one that gave them great confidence. We went up to visit, gave them some tips on selecting the tile and some things to look for as the process moved along.

The first text message asking about the adhesive being used in the shower was a little concerning, but not all that unusual. We gave some online references and told him to hold firm with his general contractor that he expected the tile subcontractor to adhere to industry standards. paper-face done wrong-not NTS

However, the text which said “we were awakened at 2 a.m. by the sound of falling tiles” was startling. When we got on the phone and he began to describe the issues with his glass accent liner, we realized the tile setter who had been subcontracted to do the work had installed the glass backwards. Sometimes glass tiles are what we call ‘paper-faced’ meaning the factory rolls an adhesive paper over the front of the tile sheets (usually mosaics) before boxing and shipping. This keeps the individual pieces aligned (for the most part). The intent is for the exposed glass tiles (which sometimes have small holes in them to absorb some of the setting material) to be laid into the troweled mortar and then the adhesive paper peeled off before grouting. However, this tile guy had laid the paper-side of the sheet into the mortar and gone home for the day. As the mortar dried and the tiles broke free from the adhesive paper, the small glass mosaics dropped off one-by-one. Thus, glass tiles hitting a newly tiled shower floor at 2 a.m.

This was the last straw for our relative, and he insisted the contractor hire a different tile installer and re-do the job. When the new – and more qualified- tile installer came, he determined that the whole shower had to come out and be started over. The accent tiles were obviously an issue, but the shower pan had been sloped by doubling up sheets of backerboard- clearly not an industry-approved method!

After 9 weeks, our relatives now have a great, new master bath and further appreciation for all the technical know-how that goes into our everyday work. And, we’ve contacted our national association to see if they can do something about getting more certified tile contractors in that part of his state.

In the Triangle area, you are fortunate to have some well-qualified tile contractors to choose from. Know what’s under your tile – hire a professional and make sure your tile is installed right side out!


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Tile selection tips from your installer

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by all the choices and the beautiful tiles when you first go to a tile showroom, so we thought we’d give you a few tips to consider as you’re making your selections.

— Large tile is very popular right now, and it’s getting larger. We’re glad to install it for you, but it does require upgraded mortars and more time to ensure the substrate is appropriately flat and that patterns flow with the maximum full tiles possible. Therefore, your price will be a little higher for large-format tile (anything larger than 15″). Because most large tiles have some degree of curvature, we can’t install large tiles with anything less than a 1/8″ grout joint.

— Glass tile and sheeted materials also require different setting materials (and tools in some cases), so there is usually a higher level of skill needed to install these materials. Many sheeted materials may not line up the same way non-sheeted materials will (grout joint widths will vary from one sheet to the next). The nature of the material will usually mean a little higher installation price for sheeted or glass products.

— Natural stone has a honed surface and will need to be sealed prior to installation (as will some that have polished surfaces). If the stone is pitted, grout will fill any holes and won’t be removed. Filled stones are not a good choice for floors where high-heel traffic may impact these weaker parts of the end-product. Sheeted pebbles/ river rocks will be grouted, and we’d like to make sure you like that look as much as you like the ungrouted version you might see in the showroom. (You might want to see a sample mock up for approval.)

— Accents and liners should be similar in thickness to the tile being installed. A good tile designer will steer you to products that line up well, so it’s important to take advantage of the talented showroom designers we have in our area.

— Grout joints are routinely 3/16″, so if you want a different width, please discuss it with the designer and your installer. Some tiles require specific types of grout and joint sizes, so it’s important to be specific in what finish look you want.

— Patterns, accents, and borders can add pizazz to a tile installation, so they are worth including in your plan. They do take more time to install, so your labor cost will increase each time you add an accent or extra feature.

— Standard heights of showers are 7′, and tub surrounds are generally 5′ off the tub. If you want a different finish height, be sure to let your designer and installer know that.

— Niches are more popular than soap dishes these days, and most showers now contain a shelf or foot prop, so be sure to specify which of these you’d like to add to your project. Waterproofing is needed behind that niche, and the best installers will be sure your design flows seamlessly through the indentation. There’s a little extra charge for these items, but having an easy place to keep your shampoo and soap is priceless!


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Specify tile installations that last

To help architectural and design professionals demand installation excellence, the tile industry approved historic new language for its 2012 Tile Council of North America (TCNA) Handbook. This update details the credentials an installer needs to complete a specific project so that the customer can rely on both the beauty and longevity of the tile.

In the past, correct tile specifications have included types of tile, setting materials, methods of installation, and any mention of installer qualifications has been vague at best.  However, this new TCNA handbook, “strongly recommends using installers who have demonstrated their commitment to their craft and taken the time to stay current with the latest materials and methods.”

Listed are recognized certifications and programs which give an indication of a tile professional’s qualifications. Also referenced is a Contractor Questionnaire developed by the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF) which can be used “to aid in evaluating and comparing contractors.”

“Well-established and recognized programs like CTEF Certification, National Tile Contractors Association’s (NTCA) Five-Star Contractor designation, and Tile Contractors Association of America’s Trowel of Excellence distinction allow specifiers and owners to feel confident that their material is being installed by a company which has the expertise and integrity to do the job correctly. They also assure manufacturers that their quality products are being installed by knowledgeable craftsmen who will stand behind their work,” said NTCA and Neuse Tile Service president, Nyle Wadford.

This industry-approved language has also been added to MasterSpec and other systems designed for use by engineers, architects, specification writers and owners.

Most tile installers will tell you they do a ‘quality’ job, but for true ‘quality’ other things MUST be considered:

-How long will the installation last?  will it move when the structure breathes? how much use can the surface withstand? will the setting material keep the tile in place when water seeps through? how challenging will it be to maintain the surface?

-What are the consequences of a project’s failure? grout coming up or ‘crunching’ heard each time you walk across a floor? tiles popping loose and creating a trip hazard? down-time and money to re-do the project; or water seeping through the downstairs ceiling?

As TCNA executive director Eric Astrachan said, “For a tile installation with permanence and artistry, specify installers who are passionate about their craft. For a permanent finish, the issue should never be who is cheapest, but rather who is best.”


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Why is my tile cracking?

     Properly installed tile doesn’t do much moving on its own, so when a tiled surface is cracking, there’s often an underlying problem. A recent article by Katelyn Simpson of the Tile Council of North America gives us some insight:
     In an installation over a concrete subfloor, reflective cracks can result from movement or cracking of the concrete. Concrete continues to shrink long after it’s first poured, and “it causes many shear and compressive forces on the thin-set, tile, and grout. If the shear force exceeds the strength of the bond, the tile may de-bond from the floor. This is also called tenting.”
To help prevent the problem?
       Allow concrete to cure so that any cracks that form can be filled and any distortion of the slab can be ground down. A cure time of 14 to 28 days may be sufficient depending on the thin-set adhesive to be used. Crack isolation or anti-fracture membranes can also be of help. These membranes bond to the concrete subfloor, and then the tile is installed with thin-set over top of the membrane. This can reduce any concrete movement from being transferred to the tile.
     The addition of movement joints can also diminish the stress that occurs between the concrete substrate and the tile. Of course, all floor tile installations should make allowances for movement.
     In an installation over wood, a possible cause for cracked tile is excessive deflection (lack of rigidity or excessive ‘bounce’). Typically, the grout will crack first, and in severe cases, the tile can crack as the compressive and tensile forces bear on the installation.
To help prevent the problem?
     Appropriate joist spacing can minimize deflection. This information from the TCNA information page sheds more light:
            “Traditionally, the accepted minimum requirement for floor rigidity is L/360 – before the tile underlayment is installed. The L/360 standard means that the floor should not deflect more than the “span” divided by 360. If the span of the joists is 10 feet (between supports), then the deflection should not be more than 1/3″ between the center and the end. Frequently, there is misunderstanding regarding deflection between joists. For example, while joist manufacturers regularly meet the standard L/360 criteria for code construction with 24″ on center systems, these floors often have deflection between the joists exceeding L/360.
      Recent research has shown tile to fail under some conditions, when the floor is more rigid than L/360 – in fact failures at L/600 have been observed. It is for this reason that recommendations for floor rigidity are not based on deflection measurements but on empirically established methods found to work over normal code construction.”
Neuse Tile‘s staff can provide consulting and repair services if you have a problem with cracked tile.


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Tile tidbits — did you know?

Some interesting tile tidbits for you today:
–A wet piece of tile that is still dripping when removed from the wet saw will interfere with the mortar bond.
–‘Keying in” tile is covering an area with thinset with the flat side of a notched trowel before tile is placed. A trowel with notches impregnates the substrate with setting material; and thinset bonds to itself really well.
–For proper installation, trowel in one direction at a 45 degree angle, and as you place the tile, press it forward then pull it back to ‘burp’ out any air that might interfere with the bond in the future, as you collapse the ridges the notch trowel has made.
–For appropriate trowelling, 80 percent coverage is necessary. ‘Five-spotting’ just won’t do.
–Only cement-based setting materials can be used in a wet area.
–All installations need movement joints.
–The minimum grout joint for tile is 1/16″. Large format tile and offset patterns must have larger joints.
–Large format tiles require a substrate that is twice as flat (no more than 1/8″ variation from plane in 10 feet).
–Grout joints up to 1/4″ allow for 1/32″ of lippage (variation in the height of adjoining tiles).
–You need 3 times the facial dimension variation of the tile for minimum grout joint width.
–Wall-wash lighting can be a problem unless it’s out 24″ from the wall because no tile is perfectly flat.
–Too much sealer can cause hazing on the surface, damage, or change the color of your installation.
These notes are from a recent National Tile Contractors Association symposium. Yes, it’s more complicated than it looks on HGTV. Call a qualified tile contractor; don’t spend your hard-earned money on second best. Tiled today to last for tomorrow.


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Tile shower pan for water management

     A typical residential shower uses 2.5 gallons of water a minute. If you take a 12-minute shower once per day, that’s 30 gallons. Take those 30 gallons x 365 days a year x several family members, and you’ve had 5 times more water in your house than it rains in most places each year.
     So, for anyone with a shower, water management is an important issue. Both tile and plumbing can be part of that effective system. Obviously, most water that sprays from your shower head goes down the drain, but, because tile and stone are not waterproof, there is water that seeps through to the pan liner (a rubber membrane under the tile that directs water to the drain’s weep holes).
For a successful water management system in your shower, you need:
— a waterproofing membrane bed that has been flood tested prior to tile installation (a minimum 24-hour ‘pan test’);
— weep holes that are open prior to & after the installation of the tile mortar bed;
— a tile substrate and setting material that are approved for installation in wet areas;
— positive slope of the finished floor and the pre-slope below the membrane of at least 1/4″ per foot to the drain.
     Without positive slope, water won’t make its way to the weep holes, and that water can become septic causing odor and staining of the grout on the shower floor. In most of NC, the plumber installs the pan material, and some of our favorite plumbers have been going the extra mile for their customers to install a ‘pre-slope.’ Though it’s only a suggestion in the latest local building code, ‘pre-slope’ is the best way to ensure a shower floor meets the positive slope requirement and to cut down on the possibility for mold and mildew. There won’t be any low spots in your shower floor to hold water, and there’s less chance that any debris under the pan liner could make its way through the bottom and puncture your waterproofing membrane.
     A knowledgeable plumber will also ensure that your pan material is no less than 3 inches above the finished curb height and has absolutely NO nail holes or punctures in that rubber membrane. With properly installed plumbing preparation and effective tile installation, the water in your shower should wash away your troubles rather than adding to them.


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Glass tile & supermodels take work to be beautiful

It takes a lot of work to be beautiful– ask any supermodel!
The same is true for popular glass tile installations. Glass tiles can be stunning accents or features, but special care needs to be taken to make sure the look you want is actually achieved.
You don’t want that ‘perfect’ glass feature of your project installed by a contractor who can’t make it look as good as it does in the catalog or showroom. It takes specific adhesives for glass tiles, and translucent ones require particular attention to setting material color, coverage, and even trowel ridges.
Each glass tile manufacturer has specific recommendations for their product, but the TCNA Handbook points out that the look and performance of glass tiles can be affected by the following:
— Glass tile is more sensitive than ceramic to thermal shock, so it should be used carefully in areas where there will be rapid temperature changes (i.e. exteriors, kitchen countertops, fireplace surrounds);
— Glass tile expands more than ceramic, so more movement accommodation is necessary;
— Glass tiles require a more rigid substrate than ceramic;
— Glass tiles are impervious, so it may take longer for setting materials to cure;
— Some low-temperature, coated glass tiles should not be installed with cementitious materials, because the mortar’s “high alkalinity may deteriorate those low-temperature-applied backings.”
Your beautiful design will last as long as its installation. And, as any supermodel will tell you, it takes a lot of behind-the-scenes know-how to really make a fantastic finished product.