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Old 10-24-2009, 11:02 AM   #1
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Crumbling Grout


Last year, my husband and I hired a guy to replace our vinyl kitchen floor with porcelain tile. He was recommended by friends who were very happy with the installation of their marble bathroom floor. We chose 12 x 12 tile, and I wanted the thinnest grout lines possible for that tile. I'm a closet interior designer, and I spend a lot of time watching HGTV, DIY shows, and reading books and magazines about design projects. Everything I read say you should use non-sanded grout for thin lines. The grout manufacturer and store sales rep said the same thing. But the installer insisted that sanded grout was the way to go, based on his experience. I reluctantly gave in, and just days after the floor was finished and sealed, the tile began to crumble in a few places. The guy came over a couple of times, and when I complained about the broken grout, he told me how I could fix it. His macho tendencies, resulting from his culture, make it difficult for him to take me seriously. And I am trying to control not going off on him. I've asked my husband (who has the same cultural background) to address this issue with him so that he can fix the floor, but he still hasn't done anything. I'm losing patience as my floor is falling apart. This guy is supposedly licensed and works for a professional contractor. Ours was a moonlighting job completely independent of the contractor. What's the best way to deal with this and to fix our floor?

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Old 10-24-2009, 12:22 PM   #2
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Crumbling Grout


Lawyer, small claims court?

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Old 10-24-2009, 04:56 PM   #3
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If he is licensed, file a complaint with the licensing board and yes, small claims court.
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Old 10-24-2009, 05:27 PM   #4
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Crumbling Grout


Your post says the tile began to crumble in a few places. Was it the tile or the grout that started to crumble?
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Old 10-25-2009, 02:04 AM   #5
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Crumbling Grout


Sorry, Daniel! I meant the grout was crumbling. Thanks for advice everyone!
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Old 10-25-2009, 11:41 AM   #6
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Crumbling Grout


Boy a lot of variables here...first, the actual size variances of each tile will sometimes dictate the width of grout lines so your stipulating that the minimum grout width be x of an inch would depend on the tile. Second, unsanded grout will get you 1/16" grout width. Sanded grout needs twice that.

Third, you didn't say what method was used to lay down the tiles and if any modifications to the flooring were needed to meet deflection standards for tile. Those standards are very stringent for natural stone tiles so we presume he knew that - but did he?

Grout cracking can be from the above info as well as simple plain bad mixing of the grout, but most often comes from movement in the floor. You seem to know about his attitudes - but what about his qualifications as a tile setter?

But either way, this is a substandard job.
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Old 10-25-2009, 04:32 PM   #7
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Crumbling Grout


It's hard for me to say what might have caused the crumbling. The average grout line measures 1/4 inch. Does that get sanded or non-sanded grout?

The disadvantage that homeowners have in these situations is that, even if we're pretty knowledgeable, we're generally not expert enough to ask questions about "deflection standards."

As far as prep goes, they ripped out the vinyl, made minor repairs to the plywood subfloor, laid down something called DuroRock (?) and I think a thin sheet of something that guards against humidity. It did seem that the Thinset was put on very thickly and quite unevenly in terms of thickness. There are now a couple of places in the floor that feel uneven. At the end of one day they left a patch of Thinset to dry overnight, which alarmed me, but they removed it the next day and continued placing the tile.

His helper mixed the grout, so I have no idea if it was done correctly. All the grouting was done the same day, but the cleanup was rather wet. Overall, I think he just did an bad job. Is it possible to scrape out the crumbling spots and re-grout them? Or do we have to scrape out all of it and completely re-grout?

Thanks!
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Old 10-25-2009, 05:38 PM   #8
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Before condemning the installer to purgatory, it would be worthwhile thinking about what actually went wrong. Without pictures, it is hard to tell if a small area of grout failed, or a large area. As for use of sanded grout, we used sanded grout on our stone tile floor, and it worked quite well. Due to the type of stone we were using (pebble tile), the joints varied from 1/8 inch all the way up to 3/4 inch, and there have been no problems. So I would not automatically condemn the sanded grout, it may have been a reasonable choice.

Possibly the mixing was inadequate, or the water/grout ratio may have been off, or the grout itself may have been part of a bad batch. The OP did not mention whether the grout was premixed or dry, that could impact the results. I am far more hesitant than others to immediately assume that the installer caused the problem. That said, the installer is normally responsible for the outcome, regardless if the product is defective or the installation. I have been involved in several nasty cases where the installer blamed the product, the supplier blamed the installer, and no one left happy. In this case, it would seem reasonable to offer the installer the opportunity to come back (at no charge) and correct the problem.
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Old 10-26-2009, 07:47 AM   #9
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Crumbling Grout


This just doesn't sound like a good job. Heck, that's why we take our cars to mechanics, call in plumbers, electricians or roofers because no matter how educated we try to be, there are still some things a professioanl knows that make the difference.

The tiler ought to know the standards and it sounds like he doesn't. I like the 1/4", the Durock and the membrane - but still the issue is deflection which is mostly the cause of the cracking.

Professionals don't have excuses; they are paid to not to. Not bad batches, not poor mixing, not broken equipment etc - just to do the job and educate the HO in the process. Witness what we have here: (a) failure and (b) a customer who wasn't educated on the process. What chances are there that this job wouldn't come back and haunt both the installer and the HO? High, IMO...

No good tiler can afford "comebacks" and remain in business. Nor can homeowners.

The (somewhat) good news is that grout can be replaced; but that's treating the symptoms not the cause. Next time, ask the tiler for the associations or affiliations he has with tiling bodies (TCNA , TTMAC etc), what standards he goes with - and more references.
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Old 10-26-2009, 10:53 AM   #10
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Crumbling Grout


A quarter inch grout line would get sanded grout, so that is not the problem. That would not normally be considered a thin grout line. There are several here with more tiling experience than me, but I see three basic possibilities:

1) Failure due to improper grout installation. Specifically, I wonder if the “rather wet” cleanup after grouting may have washed the cement out of the grout causing it to crumble. Improper mixing of grout and/or bad grout would fall under this category too. This would be the best case scenario. The old grout can be removed, the floor re grouted properly, and you should be able to enjoy you new floor for many years to come.

2) Failure due to floor deflection. Numerous other posts on this site cover this topic so I won’t say much here. Suffice to say that if your floor joists span too far of a length between supports for there width, or if you subfloor isn’t thick enough, then the floor will bend too much from people walking on it, etc, and you will experience tile failure. Is you floor over a crawl space or unfinished basement and can you report back with more information?

3) Failure due to floor movement for other reasons. Specifically, you don’t say if thinset was placed under the Durock before it was laid down. If seen one floor where this step was omitted that moved so much when walking on it that is felt like walking on loose hardwood flooring. If insufficient gaps (needed for expansion) were left at the edge of the room this could cause problems as well.

If the problem is either 2 or 3, then the floor will basically need replacement. In fact I’d be willing to bet that you will start seeing cracked tiles soon.

This is where you would probably benefit from someone with more experience, but since it sounds like you problem happened rather quickly after the floor was installed, I’d be inclined to guess 1 or 3. If the problem were deflection I think it would have taken longer to manifest, unless the problem was really really bad, which I doubt. That’s just a guess though.
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Old 10-26-2009, 09:14 PM   #11
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Way too many unknowns to blame the installer for anything at this point.

Maybe should have hired the contractor and had some recourse instead of hiring the flunky employee.
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Old 10-26-2009, 10:00 PM   #12
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Thanks, everyone! You've all been very helpful. Based on what you've shared, here's what I think:
1. I suspect the dry grout (not premixed) was a good batch. The installer used the same grout to lay mosaic pebble tile (those random-shaped mats with mesh backing) in our powder room. With the exception of having to lay individual tiles as in the kitchen, he followed the same process. That floor is perfect!
2. To answer LanterDan's question, the kitchen is over a basement that was finished when the house was under construction. We visited our house every day during the build and shot video. During that time we had an architect friend go through the house when it was in stick form, and he noted that all the joists met or exceeded standards.
3. The crumbling grout isn't limited to one specific area. There are five different areas that are spread across the floor: near the stove, on the other extreme as you enter the family room (precisely where a tile square feels uneven), near the basement entry, near the refrigerator, and near the island.
4. With the exception of the crumbling grout, I was impressed with how solid the floor felt after the installation. They squeaked before, as do many of the floors in vinyl-sided, cookie-cutter houses.

Note to Bud: I have to agree with ccarlisle. It's not the homeowner's job to hold the installer's hand. He was supposed to know. No possibility of hiring the contractor, who is a home builder. The "flunky," who runs his own side business, was highly recommended by a friend whose floor looked incredible. Still, it IS our fault for not checking him out sufficiently. Next time, we'll go with a tile company. A rather expensive lesson learned.

Thanks!
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Old 10-26-2009, 10:42 PM   #13
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Bliss you have just answered your own question and have gotten to the bottom of the issue.

Quote:
They squeaked before, as do many of the floors in vinyl-sided, cookie-cutter houses.
A squeaky floor is an absolute sign of movement in the structure and its components. Adding a tile floor DOES NOT repair a squeaky floor, it merely changes a few dynamics enough to alter the squeak.

Squeaky moving structures ARE NOT the fault of the installer. Moving structures are the responsibility of the owner. Even the Tile Council of North America (TCNA) addresses this issue in their handbook.

Quote:
"The performance of a properly installed thin-set ceramic tile installation is dependent upon the durability and dimensional stability of the substrate to which it is bonded."-TCNA
It would be nice if all installers and those professing to be professional installers were also structural engineers but that simply isn't the case.

Quote:
"As tile is a "finish" applied to and relying upon the underlying structure, an inadequate substructure can cause a tile failure. In many cases, problems in the substructure may not be obvious, and the tile installer cannot be expected to discover such."-TCNA
A friendly architect simply "walking-thru" can't possibly determine a structures suitability of fitness for such a purpose. Wood species and grades and allowable separations and spans for those components must be known via a series of calculations, to say nothing of subfloor thicknesses and product quality.

You can try to blame the installer but he isn't the guy with deep pockets and isn't likely to stand behind such a failure. Just because he did a job for a friend that "looked incredible" has nothing to do with the comparative qualities between the two structures. One structure was simply more suitable than the other.
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Old 10-27-2009, 08:18 AM   #14
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Yeah, putting the responsibility of 'structural suitability' of a flooring system for tiles onto the shoulders of a tile-setter is too much and goes beyond their qualifications, IMO. And I'll add that most tile installation standards are preceeded by references to the effect that "local Building Codes shall apply" - and unfortunately, that can give a false sense of security to the unsuspecting HO and setter alike. Saying "a floor meets a given Building Code" doesn't give enough details - unless that code specifies things like load levels for a particular situation - and that isn't likely.

So it comes down to whether or not your particular floor was physically suitable for tiling or not - and few people are in a position to know that answer apart from your architect, your builder or an independent engineer - and who of us have those guys on speed-dial?

So what are HO and tile setters to do? Well, one answer is that if your floor squeaks before the job, then adding the weight of a tile installation should tell you that something may already be less than adequate and that there is a good chance that something may go wrong afterwards.

Now I would hope that walking on a squeaky floor might just tell a tile setter that if he should tile onto that surface, then the likelihood of a callback is high - and expensive. I would also hope that the tile-setter would say to the HO "there's a problem with your floor" and have that problem solved before doing his work.

Now, there are theoretical calculations that can be made to give a better practical understanding of the likelihood of a failure and involves investigating the floor joist size and their span - to name but a few parameters required. Now the result of these calculations may or may not be correct nor sufficient for the HO to have the job done - but should at least be a starting point for the tile setter to proceed or not.

I believe anyone calling themselves a 'tile-setter' should have this information available to him. If the results tell him there is a liklihood of failure, then that dictates the rest of the content of the contract, doesn't it...he can either give a guarantee or not, take responsibility or not - it's his choice - but a call back due to a failure may not be and may become a legal requirement. So calculations like this are at least a "CYA manoeuvre"...

Continuing on with the legal viewpoint - not that I'm a lawyer or anything - but IMO a tile setter is in a superior position of knowledge and the onus is on him to qualify the jobs he does. If the job fails and he is at fault, guess who the court will find at fault? and waving the standards isn't going to help him, I don't think.
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Old 10-27-2009, 09:14 PM   #15
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Quote:
Continuing on with the legal viewpoint - not that I'm a lawyer or anything - but IMO a tile setter is in a superior position of knowledge and the onus is on him to qualify the jobs he does. If the job fails and he is at fault, guess who the court will find at fault? and waving the standards isn't going to help him, I don't think.
I think this should read:
an ethical & skilled tile setter should be in a superior position of knowledge and the onus would be on him to qualify the jobs he does. If the job fails and he is at fault, guess who the court will find at fault? and waving the standards isn't going to help him, I don't think.

Just keep in mind...anyone can be a tile installer...just ask the big boxes. "You can do it we can help".

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