Ceramic Industry

Guest Blog: Tile Tech Notes

October 20, 2010
It’s time to venture further into the life cycle of tile and look at problems that may arise. How does the consumer know when their tile isn’t right?

When Complaints Happen

So far I’ve discussed how tile is made, what it’s made from and the specifications we use to determine whether it’s acceptable. Now it’s time to venture a bit further into the life cycle of tile and look at problems that may arise. How does the consumer know when their tile isn’t right? I can’t cover everything in a short blog entry, but I will try to cover the majority of the issues I get and explain which problems are the manufacturer’s responsibility.

Before I get into that, I want to make a couple of disclaimers. The easiest time to fix a tile problem is before it is installed. The hardest time to fix a tile problem is when the consumer’s new lighting goes in and they turn on the lights on their installed tile for the first time, or when the sun washes through their new floor-to-ceiling windows and reveals every little deviation in the installation. Consumers should inspect their tile before it’s installed to verify that it’ll look the way they want it to.

Things that Aren't the Manufacturer's Fault

Shade. Consumers shouldn’t choose tile based on a single piece on a sample board. With today’s trend toward more natural-looking variation, that one piece may only represent 1% of the tile. In addition, shade varies from run to run. The consumer should inspect the tile before it goes on the floor. It is possible that there was a problem on the production line, so the consumer should verify that they received the color they wanted before it is installed.

Obvious visual defects like chips and spots. They happen, and ANSI specs allow a few of them in every pallet. If they get installed on the floor, that doesn’t mean that we make lousy tile-instead, it means that the installer wasn’t watching what they were doing. If there are more in a pallet than ANSI allows, then that is my fault and I’ll provide new tile. However, every warranty excludes labor for visual defects because they should be noticed before or during installation.

Lippage. On occasion, tile is warped enough to cause lippage; however, lippage is most often caused by an uneven subfloor, small grout joints (less than 1/8 in.), and installing in a running-bond pattern where the middle of one tile is next to the corners of another.

Cracks that show up after installation. Tile is pretty tough, but a shifting sub-floor or settling building can cause it to crack. There isn’t anything about tile that will cause it to spontaneously crack, independent of outside influences.

Tenting. If a row of tiles pops up, an expansion joint in the subfloor was necessary prior to installation.

Individual tiles popping up. Likewise, if the tile didn’t stick to the floor, it’s not a tile problem. More likely, the mortar was allowed to “skin over” or the tile wasn’t beaten in properly. The installer should check that they are getting good coverage and adhesion as they go by pulling pieces back up and looking.

Things that Might be the Manufacturer's Fault

Lamination. If an air pocket develops in the body of the tile when it is pressed, that can leave a void in the tile. The void may never be an issue, but if it is close to the surface it may chip off over time. Chips caused by lamination tend to be very large and the piece that chipped off will look rough on the bottom.

Warpage. There WILL be some warpage (read my previous blog posts for why this happens), but if it gets to be outside the ANSI limits, it will make the tile hard to install or look odd.

Size variation. Again, there WILL be size variation, but if it is outside the ANSI limits, it will make for ragged-looking grout joints.

Decorating problems. Obvious problems like noticeable lines, wrong colors, or missing areas of print should be removed by our inspectors. Once in a great while, a consumer will find one; if a high percentage is found, there’s a problem and we will make it right.

What Consumers can do to Protect Themselves

While we try to make our tile as perfect as possible and inspect every piece before it goes into the box, the consumer is ultimately the one who will see (and have to live with) the pieces that are installed in a home or business. Consumers should:
  • Inspect the tile before installation. (I may have mentioned this once or twice already.)
  • Deal with a tile company with local contacts. Consumers who run into a problem with tile purchased at a big-box store or from a pallet in a flooring warehouse won’t have as much recourse as they will if the company has its own store or one of its distributors in the community.
  • Ask questions. If it doesn’t look right, consumers should get clarification from their installer, contractor, or distributor before the tile is installed.
  • Be knowledgeable. The Tile Council of North America (www.tileusa.com) has handbooks that cover tile and how it is installed. A significant percentage of the complaints I get would never have been complaints if the customer had known what to expect and the tile had been installed correctly. By the time it crosses my desk, there is already an unhappy customer out there somewhere.