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Tile Installation Problems: How to Avoid the Worst Mistakes

Tile floors are once again very popular due to the advantages that ceramic tile provides over other flooring materials. But, how many times have you seen issues with tile layouts? Tile installation problems are very common and sometimes so easy to spot, but even experienced tile installers may fail when dealing with challenging installation projects.

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Tile professionals are always looking into alternatives on the best layout possible or those little things that will make their installation spot on. In this article, I will cover the worst tile installation problems related to the floor layout, proper use of materials, tools, and bonding.

First Thing to Know: Are You Using Tech Gadgets to Layout the Floor?

To understand how the shape affects the installation process, normally a tile setter completes a layout analysis before commencing. However, many tile installation problems come precisely from inaccurate floor layout. Knowing your tile and room dimensions is the first step to complete a flawless project.

Tile installation problems - Nice Layout using chalk lines
 Nice Layout using chalk lines – Photo © Pcutler Flickr

I would suggest that the best thing you can do is to start using some tile layout software. It will help you measure and complete the layout, but be sure to use a laser measurement tool to get the right room dimensions.

[Looking for the best tile layout software? Watch how the RUBI EASYTILER app can do much more than that (only available for tablets)]

The Most Common and Worst Tile Installation Problems

We all have heard about it, tile installation is relatively easy and can be completed without issues, unless… Yeah, unless something throws you off, something simple like irregular shapes, subfloors, existing surfaces or material issues. It is very common to see the same tile installation problems over and over again. Here is a list of the worst tile installation fails and how to avoid them:

Loose Tile

Sometimes the existing tiling material is coming loose from the substrate and you will not notice it without further investigation. To determine whether the existing tile is in good condition to accept another tile on top of it, use a tool to gently hit the tile. A hollow sound indicates that the tile does not adhere properly or, in some instances, it might be because of the type of substrate used. If this is the case, then the whole floor should sound hollow because of the uniformity of the substrate. Before starting the installation, check the floor and if needed remove the loose tiles.

Tile installation problems - Cracked tiles
 Cracked and loose tiles are the most common installation problems

Cracked Tile

Sometimes tile will crack without you noticing. Professionals tend to think that the tile cracked because something fell on top of the tile, but it is not always the case. Cracked tiles may occur because the joists tend to move and probably the tiles are located mid-span between joists. Before starting to perform the work, make sure that the floor is leveled and the subfloor is properly reinforced. The maximum deflection allowed needs to be in the range of 1/360th of the span length.

Not Enough Expansion and Contraction

Curing concrete and the chemical reaction process are two critical items affecting the expansion and contraction of tiles. The lack of proper joints, especially against adjacent surfaces or materials, can cause the tiles to pop into the air. The tiles will expand and contract and so other material, so be sure to leave at least ½ inch in between the last line of tiles and the next surface or material, either on the floor or wall, to allow for both materials to expand and contract accordingly. Remember, smaller joints are susceptible to fail if not worked adequately.

Tile installation problems - Tile spacers
 Using tile spacers may help with the joint width.

Lack of Cleaning and Workmanship

This is very clear, right? Well, sometimes tile setters will not take proper precaution cleaning the tiles and preparing the surface. Proper cleaning of the back of tile will help on obtaining better bonding between the adhesive and the surface. Using the right joint and caulk is a best practice that will facilitate the installation work. It is important to highlight that proper inspections should take place at least 6 feet away from the tile, anything closer than that does not follow ANSI standards and might create additional issues.

Improper Adhesive

Sometimes, the amount of adhesive is not enough or there is adhesive only on the corners and the center of the tile. The adhesive must be spread uniformly underneath the tile, creating an even layer of adhesive. On residential installations, the tile must adhere at least on 80% of the contact surface, while commercial tile installations should have 95% of adhesive on the contact surface.

What happens when the adhesive is too strong? This might sound awkward, but sometimes the adhesive creates a better bonding with the substrate than with the tile, causing a weak point at the tile adhesion. To take care of this, follow manufacturer’s recommendation to use the right adhesive, depending on the type of substrate and tile. The performance and characteristics of the adhesive may change depending on how the setter’s practices and used chemicals.

Tile installation problems - right amount of adhesive
 Use the right amount of adhesive for proper bonding.
Guide How to achieve the best tiling finishes

Using the Wrong Underlayment

When it comes to installing tile, the rule of thumb is to have at least 1 1/4″ of subfloor sheathing underneath to provide the necessary strength. The underlayment should be placed over a mortar bed. This mortar bed is important but it is not a substitute of the tile adhesive, which main purpose is to fill voids and provide a workable level surface. Now that the underlayment is in place, the next step is attaching it to the subfloor.

Applying the wrong grout

Using the right amount of water when mixing grout will prevent the mix from being too dry, presenting the right consistency during the installation process. Be aware that a good tile setter is aware of issues with grout coloring and buys the needed amount of grout at once, avoiding multiple orders of grout. Grout manufacturers can use different materials causing changes in the grout color. I recommend using sanded grout as it offers more consistency for better results than the non-sanded grout. Two hours after finishing the grouting process, proceed to remove the excess of grout from the tile. Two hours is enough time allowing for the grout to dry.

[RELATED: Are you mixing mortar correctly? Read the expert’s guide to mix mortar like a pro]

Tile installation problems - Grouting
Using the right grout is critical for installation success

Installing Tile Over Poorly Prepared Subfloor

Many tile installation problems happen because the substrate or subflooring is not ready or lacks the proper preparation. If you have no other option than installing tile over other type of materials, make sure you verify the following:

  • Check the existing tile and make sure there are no loose or chipped tiles that can prevent proper adhesion.
  • It is extremely important to level the surfaces. If not, you can level the surface using a grinder, sander or a tile level system.
  • Create a rough surface to improve bonding. The existing surface needs to show some sort of roughness that will facilitate the bonding between the new adhesive and the old surface.
  • Use a vacuum to remove all dust, clean with water and remove all dust particles and debris from the surface.
  • Use and epoxy or other adhesive material recommended for this type of installation and surface. These can help you avoid common tile installation problems later.
Tile installation problems - Preparing the subfloor
Always prepare the subfloor! – Photo FCI Magazine

Now that you have verified these issues, check on the following items too:

  • Tile Over Wood Subfloor – Make sure there is no moisture or water affecting the wood members and apply thin-set adhesive and install backer board. Use leveling compound to level the surface so it can minimize cracks in tiles over time.
  • Tile Over Existing Tile Floor – Be sure to break or create a rough surface so the adhesive created proper bonding between both surfaces. If possible, remove the tiles or at least be sure to create that rough surface.
  • Tile Over Hardwood Flooring – This is not the best option and one very common mistake. If possible, don’t do it. If you don’t have another option, remove the polyurethane membrane of the hardwood flooring to create a better bonding surface. Before starting, verify the condition and spacing of the joists as it might change from older to newer construction. Also use a modified thin-set type of mortar for better results
  • Tile Over Vinyl Floor – In situations on which the vinyl floor has been installed over concrete, take extra time to make sure the vinyl is clean and ready to receive the thin set mortar.

 Did I forget to mention other frequent tile installation problems? Let me know in your comments below!

Guide how to achieve the best tiling finishes

Website comments

  1. Wow, wonderful. The tile gives a different look to every area we require. They add an amazing value. There are so many varieties of tiles and choosing from it will be a difficult job. Thanks for sharing such a great post.

  2. I’d say to avoid all these mistakes, it is very important for homeowners to choose a tile installer that has passion and great workanship. The type of materials and tile laying techniques used will all follow if you have someone who has strong attention to detail working for you.

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