During a deposition as an expert witness for a plaintiff where a tile assembly failed, the defendant’s attorney asked me this question; “Does it surprise you to know that the defendant has not had a single incident such as this in it’s thirty plus year history?”
“No” I replied. The attorney looked somewhat surprised and said “Why?” I replied “It would not surprise me because an installer can get very lucky for a very long time doing things incorrectly.”

That is how a company with poor installation practices manages to operate and appear professional. Luck. Tile assemblies can be forgiving. In spite of poor practices the assembly may have some resiliency. Conditions in and around the assembly may be stable, and so the system is never pushed to the point of failure.

People purchase real estate sometimes after it's been renovated. If the tile fails, the purchaser may have no idea who the contractor was and thus have no way of making the company aware that there was a problem. Bad contractors leave a wake of bad installations behind, repeating the same failed process, and never look back. No news is good news, everything must be fine. Until that one day the attorney comes calling.

 The statement, perimeter and field movement joints within a tile installation are essential and required, are not my words. This is the first sentence in the first paragraph of
EJ171, in the TCNA Handbook. This requirement is often neglected by bad contractors. If the tile is installed without these joints the chances of a failure go up. Failure is not guaranteed without them. In fact success is not guaranteed with them. If expansion joints are in place but the grout joint is smaller than the minimum required per ANSI, the floor could still experience a failure.

Installations that are built as a system where each essential component or method is in place have far less instances of failure. I have never performed an inspection where there was a failure and all of the required standards and guidelines were in place and followed. The Miami Sandwich is an example of an installation that does not meet standards or guidlines and often has other system components absent due to an installers overall lack of installation knowledge.

Installation systems should be assembled to mitigate forces that accumulate within the assembly, as well as forces that are acting outside or adjacent to it such as dis-similar materials.

Tile installers must have knowledge to make their craftsmanship count. If you’re interviewing a potential tile installer for a project in your home you must be sure they have knowledge behind their skill. Are they a member of the
NTCA? Do they have a certification from the CTEF? Does their estimate include any method or standards in the work description? Can they articulate to you what they're going to do and why?

Did I mention I can hang a fan? I’m not a professional electrician but if you’re willing to gamble on me, I’m willing to gamble that I can make that fan stay up just long enough so you forget who I am.

That…is the reality when you don’t go with a pro.

When a contractor has a lawsuit brought against them, the ANSI Standards and TCNA Guidelines are front and center. If a contractor fails to include these standards and guidelines in their assembly, they may get a lesson on the handbook from an attorney. This is not the way to acquire this knowledge!

Two examples of methods shown in the TCNA handbook. These two excerpts are just the drawings for these assemblies. Information such recommended uses, service ratings, limitations, requirements and so much more are part of every single method in the handbook. The TCNA handbook is available directly from the ANSI webstore. Installers that do not own this handbook, or have the ability to navigate it, are not professionals. There are over 40 different assemblies in the handbook!

The TCNA handbook methods are to be used in conjunction with the ANSI Standards. You need utilize both for professional results. Drawings above used with permission from the TCNA.

One late morning when I was a young teenager my father opened my door and surveyed the disaster that was designated as my room. It was typical in that besides being a mess, I had also made it into somewhat a state of disrepair. The shade on the window was known to eject itself upon roll up, the bi-fold closet door never stayed on the track, and the ceiling fan was noisy, wobbled, and only had one speed, I.e. dangerous. My father looked up at the fan and while I lay in my bed, lazily, because life was so good, he said we were going to change the fan. While I was a general helper of sorts, on this task my father had me do most of the work.  My skills were almost non existent, but with my fathers direction and critique, he saw to it that I did something useful. The fan was up, it spun like it should, and it was quiet for about a year. Now I knew how to hang a fan, or let us say, this particular fan, but I was not an electrician. I could hook up a light, put a dimmer switch in, and maybe figure out where a problem was, but my capability had a limitation. There was a definite point where my lack of knowledge on electricity would serve as a barrier as well as a danger to any higher tier electrical work I thought I could take on.

How does this relate to
tile failures? Perfectly. Tile work has many different methods of installation. Tile work, no matter where it is attached, will become an assembly. The assembly brings functionality and aesthetic requests onto the same plane. An assembly can be as simple as tile and thinset mortar over concrete or as complex as a tile over thin-set, over a cured mortar bed, with reinforcing, over a cleavage membrane, over concrete. Knowing how to do each method is important but knowing which method applies to a given area, with a specific tile type, is just as important.

Tile failures sometimes occur due to under developed skills or poor technique, but more often a failure is the result in a lack of knowledge. Utilizing the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and Tile Council of North America (TCNA) standards and guidelines, is the best way to ensure installation success.

The lesson in this video is apparent. Without a professional bad things happen.

Why do tile failures happen?

Written by  Michael Weaver

One type of location that has assembly failures is in shower receptors. Tile work in a shower is ultimately a veneer. Its beauty conceals the work below that makes the shower function. Tile is not waterproof, no matter what kind of tile it is. Even porcelain tile which is categorized as impervious, still has a rate of absorption, even as low as that absorption is at 0.5% or less.

Depending on how much water flows into the shower receptor and how often the shower is used, the amount of water and moisture vapor, can be significant. Grout does not stop moisture from getting into the assembly either.

If water is not managed it has the potential to
destroy the assembly from within as well as surrounding areas.
Shower receptors that are found to have failed are often long term failures. Clients don’t realize there is a problem until the rest of the receptor has been compromised. By then, insurance will not cover the claim since the failure is not considered sudden. And if the tile work was not installed per ANSI and TCNA guidelines it may not be considered accidental, it may be referred to as negligence on the part of the contractor.

For myself it has been a long road of learning and refining the techniques that make a shower operate properly and last a long time. Often in this trade skills are learned through a master and apprentice relationship. But knowledge is often withheld or not available. Some contractors do things not because they were taught properly, but just because they saw something done and now feel that repeating the technique will have professional results. A good example is
spot bonding. One bad contractor may hire ten different apprentices in any given amount of time. Every one of those apprentices may think that spot bonding tile is the way tile setting on walls is done, after all, everyday this is how the boss does it. And he seems to be getting away with it. Bad contractors do not own curriculum, they do not provide a basis as to why they do the things they do, and they often have a false pride or ego that may make the impressionable apprentice believe that the boss actually knows what he is  doing.


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