October 9, 2015

Ask the Experts – September 2015


I’m contacting you regarding talc on the back of tiles. Since there are no standards or guidelines regarding talc on the back of tiles from the manufacturer, what does your organization suggest for the tile installer? Are they required to clean this off, or can it be installed as is?


The talc is actually called “kiln release” and is used to stop tiles from fusing to the conveyor belts in tile firing kilns. Usually there is not enough to create a problem, but when there is too much, which will create bonding failures, you have two choices: wash the backs of all the tiles and allow to dry, or back butter all the tiles with the flat side of the trowel.

– Michael Whistler, NTCA presenter


I have a question regarding the TCNA Handbook. Is it required to have a soft joint between the floor tile and the vertical tile bullnose base?


According to Method EJ- 171 in the TCNA Handbook, you must provide movement accommodation at all perimeters as well as all changes in plane. So if you install your floor tile first, you must provide an open space (or sealant-filled joint) between the floor tile and the wall (or cabinet, toe kick, tub, etc.). Then set the tile base on top of the floor tile, thereby covering the visible gap.

If you are installing the base first, you still must have perimeter movement accommodation, accomplished by leaving the joint empty of mortar and grout and filling with compressible backer-rod and sealant, or use a pre-manufactured perimeter movement joint (available from a number of manufacturers). These details are shown in Method EJ-171 in the TCNA Handbook.

– Michael Whistler, NTCA presenter


We are dealing with a 70-plus hollow-tile issue. Our villa was built and the tile installed in 2011. The hollow tile started in January 2015 with two hollow tiles. As of May 2015, there are 70-plus hollow tiles. We would like to know the cause of the problem and the appropriate resolution.


Hollow tile is usually caused by bond loss. The timeline you describe is relatively common when tile is not provided with appropriate movement accommodation, an important part of any tile installation.

– Dave Gobis, CTC, CSI, Ceramic Tile Consultant

INQUIRY, continued

The original installer concluded the installation was good but the concrete settled, therefore the tile detached and became hollow. With this being the situation, he said this is what is supposed to happen (meaning the tile should become hollow rather than cracking) and that we are lucky we don’t have more cracked tile (about 10 now). He wants to inject the 70-plus hollow tiles with epoxy and replace the cracked grout and drill holes from the injection. This view is supported by the builder with whom the floor is under warranty until December 2015.

The two independent tile companies both concluded that the tile was improperly installed and needs to be replaced to address the underlying problem and that when tile is installed properly this should not happen (meaning 70 hollow tiles).

Our villa is in Venice, Fla. There is about 900 sq. ft. of ceramic tile. There are hollow tiles in all six tiled rooms with one room not being connected to the others. The hallway is where two hollow tiles started and now nearly all the tile in the hallway are hollow with cracked grout.

If you could advise as to the proper procedure to correct this tile issue, we would greatly appreciate it. Please contact us if you have any questions or need any clarifications. Thank you for your help.

ANSWER, continued

Your original installer is uneducated, ill informed, and incorrect.

I can’t speak for the other two tile contractors but they know more than the first one.

Injecting is something done to mask installation shortcomings. Based on your pictures, there is minimal bond to the surface, plus I still believe, a lack of movement accommodation. This is a very common problem and one that occurs frequently in Florida. I have been to Florida numerous times for this issue for several years now. Based on what I see replacement is probably appropriate.

– Dave Gobis, CTC, CSI, Ceramic Tile Consultant


Ask the Experts – August 2015 “Green Issue”


I was referred to you through my tile supplier. I am a general contractor and I would like to ask you a question regarding a former project of mine.

I took on a tile job for a person in an electric wheelchair. The chair weighs several hundred pounds (plus the amount of the person, probably 170 lbs-180 lbs). Before I started, the old tile in her hall, kitchen and entryway had broken, resulting in loose tiles. She had told me that her wheelchair was the cause of the damage. Those tiles were 12” x 12”, installed long ago. She wanted new tile installed throughout the house. I installed 18” x 18” ceramic tiles. I used flexible thinset, and 1/4” cement board. I staggered the board and used screws (in the correct sequence) as recommended by the manufacturer’s instructions. The joists are 24” center. Expansion joints were used throughout.

I have installed many jobs with these specs in the past without any issue whatsoever. The customer has said some of the tiles have loosened and the grout is cracking. I suspect this is due to the wheelchair (which is, of course, out of my control). I am looking for your opinion if you can share it with me based on this information.


There is no industry method for 1/4” backer over 24” centers. I understand it is done often and if all the stars are aligned and everything done correctly it might work. However, with a rolling wheel load extra precautions would be required. The PSI of a wheel is much greater than normal foot traffic. The deflection between 24” centers is too great. Flexible thinset doesn’t compensate for lack of a supporting structure. You need another layer of plywood at a minimum and I would consider some bridging as well to stabilize the truss/joist.

David M. Gobis CTC CSI, Ceramic Tile Consultant


I’ve been setting tile on and off for the past 11 years, and it wasn’t several years after getting started that I learned about the importance of using expansion joints in tile. That’s thanks to working under Mike Hearn, one of the few Certified Tile Installers in Atlanta, Ga.

I’d like to get your opinion on one project. I just moved to Guayaquil, Ecuador with my wife to be closer to her family. My father-in-law is in the final stages of building a house here where all the flooring and bathrooms are tile. They are nearly finished installing 24” x 24” rectified porcelain upstairs and 24” x 24” non-rectified porcelain downstairs. Each level is approximately 1000 s.f. and is tiled continuously throughout the entire floor.

On the rectified tile, the joint looks like maybe 1/32” and on the non-rectified it looks like about 1/16”. I emphasized to my father-in-law on several occasions the importance of expansion joints.  I’ve even pointed out how you can see them used here in malls and many commercial applications.  Well, they did not use any – and they grouted in hard around the perimeter.

thermal-heatThe subfloor is concrete and the walls are concrete as well. The first thing he said when I walked in was that he checked on it, and because here the temperature variations are minimal, there was no need for expansion joints. This is frustrating because they could have at least left a gap around the perimeter without any aesthetic change since it will be covered by base.

So I did some research on temperature variations here in Guayaquil. The average monthly temperature variation is only 5 degrees Fahrenheit, that’s the difference between the lowest average monthly temperature and the highest average monthly temperature. The average daily variation, and also the max, from day to night is 16 degrees Fahrenheit.

The only thing I could think to do about it now would be to cut out expansion joints around the perimeter of the rooms, but I’d like to get your opinion before I confront my father-in-law.

I know in the end this is his problem, but having worked in the industry I hate to see so much money invested into projects that will likely fail prematurely.


I had an argument like this on a project in Hawaii. They said the other projects had been in more than 20 years with no problems and chose to not use soft joints. A few years later one of those projects lost bond.

Temperate climates are helpful, but:

• Soils do move

• Tile gains size long term with moisture absorption from the slab, and cleaning.

• Sun exposure creates unequal thermal mass.

• Large tile has a fraction of the grout joints smaller tile does. Compression strength of grout is, maybe 1,500 lbs to 3,000 lbs. Compression strength of tile, laterally, is 25,000 lbs – 30,000 lbs. Big tile, fewer sacrificial grout joints. My experience is if you have a 12” x 12” and a 24” x 24” in the same installation, like a border, the 24” will go first. I see this a lot on malls where they have a fair amount of footage to observe.

• Small joints or butt joints have nearly no buffer of sacrificial grout.

Based on temperature range alone, this is likely not a problem. But, everything in a building moves and it all moves at different rates. My opinion would be this is low risk – not no risk – unless it is wet soil and sunny, then raise it a few notches. The picture attached shows the different temperature early in the morning on a floor that received sun exposure (yellow) and the shaded area (purple).

I have been down to Mexico a half dozen times in recent years in the Southern part of the country for bond loss due to expansion issues.

– David M. Gobis CTC CSI, Ceramic Tile Consultant

Ask the Experts – July 2015


I have a new construction (2008) post-tensioned slab where very small cracks have developed in my travertine tile flooring (ground floor). I had a contractor come out and he said that the standards recommend installing a slip sheet before applying the tile. Is there a professional article that I can use to back up my assertions to the original tile contractor that there should have been a slip sheet?


Since your installation was done in 2008, that year’s industry standards must be consulted. The 2008 TCNA Handbook for Ceramic, Glass and Stone Tile Installation states in method F113-07 in the Limitations section that “Method F111 is the preferred method over precast concrete floor systems, post-tensioned concrete floor systems and other floors subject to movement or deflection.”

Method F111 is an unbonded (includes cleavage membrane) wire-reinforced mortar bed, minimum 1-1/4” and maximum 2” thick. Hope this helps.

Michael Whistler, NTCA presenter


Could you direct me to a simple method to calculate the regulated flexural strength of cementitious floor tiles (i.e. equation or formula) for various areas of application (i.e. residential use vs. commercial use vs. industrial use)? There must be an ASTM standard for these floor coverings and a simple way to determine these flexural strengths depending on the length/width/thickness of the tiles. European standards use EN 14411 with the following formula: Breaking force F(N) = 2 x ß x h² x b /3 x L in which:

1. ß is flexural tensile strength of the tile (N/mm2)

2. h is tile thickness in mm

3. b is tile width in mm

4. L is tile length in mm

Thank you for the time that you will allocate to this information request.


There is no standard for cement floor tile, though there have been discussions over the years.

Relative to your question about flexural value, the U.S. does not address that issue in ceramic tile well. In addition to EN 14411, there is EN 14617 for agglomerated stone. I have found the 14617 standards of greater value when considering cementitious floor tile, primarily in the area of dimensional stability. On flexural value, architects typically put the cementitious tile in section 09300 and treat it as floor tile. When I get a claim on cement tile, one of the tests I often use is ISO 10545-4 because it has a standard for flexural value for ceramic tile. While ceramic is >30 N/mm2 and porcelain is 35 N/mm2, I often find cement tile anywhere from 10 to 17 N/mm2. This requires a surface with less curvature than a conventional tile to be successful. I have had well over a dozen large claims on cementitious floor tile. In the majority of them this was an issue and the dimensional stability was a problem as well.

David M. Gobis CTC CSI, Ceramic Tile Consultant

Ask the Experts – June 2015


I am a contractor from Northern California and have been setting tile for 23 years. I did a job where two shower walls cracked. The ceramic tile with a high gloss finish, bought from a local distributor, cracked from the inside. No one is sure why these tiles cracked in many directions. The grout lines did not crack, just the tiles, looking like a crackle or crazing under the surface.

The contractor board and its expert came in. He said I used the wrong materials and did not let the mortar bed cure long enough. He did not say how long a mortar bed should cure and he did not ask me how long before I started to set the tile.

crazingThe materials I used for my float bed include a moisture vapor retarder and 20-gauge stucco netting, stapled into the wall. All these products were bought from my local distributor, and are the same materials sold at all the tile stores in my area.

The inspector said I used the wrong materials. I have used these same materials for 28 years. I was in the tile union when I started and papered and wired apartments in the Bay Area. These are the only products I know, so I was very surprised when I was told I am using the wrong materials. If so, why are the tile stores all selling the wrong materials?

I have spoken with the Northern California Tile Institute and was told that in northern California 20-gauge, one-inch galvanized stucco netting stapled to substrate is acceptable in residential applications not to exceed nine feet in height. This is the application I use as well as most of the guys around here.

I am confused. I do not believe that is the reason the tiles cracked. If you could help me in any way, I would greatly appreciate it. I could give more information if you need it.


You are correct that the method you describe using stucco netting (chicken wire) is considered an “Allowed Local Practice” in your area and is allowed when a local building inspector comes to check your rough-in. A few Northern California counties and cities are pretty much the only places in the USA that do allow this method.

This practice was developed in Northern California by large union shops for tiling tub splashes at a time when tile above a tub extended no higher than 5’0” above the floor height. Also, the tile used with this method was almost exclusively 4-1/4” x 4-1/4” or 6” x 6” white body tile, a very lightweight material. At this point in time, almost all of the companies that developed this method have abandoned its use due to the high failure rate.

There is a faction of Northern California Tile Contractors and Inspectors that are pushing to exclude the use of this method altogether, due to the high risk of failure that affects everyone involved in the project: specifier, general contractor, tile contractor, tile distributor and property owner.

Unfortunately for you, when you use the “Allowed as Local Practice” defense, if you ever do experience a failure, all the risk is yours.  The tile industry standards (TCNA Handbook for Ceramic, Glass and Stone Tile Installation, and ANSI A108/118) make no mention of stucco netting as an approved material. In fact, minimum 2.5 lb. per square yard galvanized wire lathe is the specified reinforcement material. Also, as a California C-54 Licensed Contractor, you are obligated to follow the TCNA and ANSI A108/118 standards, since they are the basis of all regulations regarding tile installation in California.

The cracking of your tile could have been caused by several problems, or a combination of problems such as mortar mixed too rich in portland cement, with an excess of lime, too fine sand, too wet- all could be contributing factors. Also cure time could be a culprit, as you mentioned. ANSI A108 specifies that a minimum of 20 hours at 70 degrees F should be sufficient, but cure times of up to 10 days are desirable. This pre-curing before installation allows the mortar bed to shrink and move prior to covering with tile. Many times stress cracking in tile does appear if the mortar bed is not allowed to pre-cure properly.

I am sorry you are having a failure, but this should sway you that following the TCNA and ANSI standards can truly be in your interest.

Michael Whistler, NTCA presenter and trainer

Ask the Experts – May 2015


My husband and I are at a loss. I was hoping you might be able to recommend a local recognized tile consultant (in Houston, Texas). We moved into a brand new home approximately 15 months ago. We have had a number of stone/tile issues that we have been trying to get resolved.

The one at hand at the moment is that we have an exterior archway that leads to our front door. It stands approximately 15’-18’ tall. It is covered with stacked stone. Individual pieces have been falling off for at least the past 10 months.

We have discussed this issue with the builder and he is insistent that this is normal. We have a 5- and 8-year old at home who are constantly running through these archways to get to the yard/basketball hoop on the driveway. I am fearful that they will get hurt one of these days. “It’s completely normal” is not an excuse I am willing to accept and anyone that offers that as an excuse makes me uncomfortable with being able to remediate such an issue. I would appreciate any professional advice you may be able to offer.


Of course this is not “completely normal.” If even one piece falls off it is considered a failure.

Unfortunately, much manufactured veneer is incorrectly installed. Exterior installations generally require the most care and planning, as well as following the industry standards, since they require the highest performance due to extreme conditions.

Prompt action is advised, as you are correct about danger of possible injury. Since you are already aware of this problem, your liability is increased. Perhaps retaining an attorney to send a letter to your general contractor could help as a first step, since he is being unreasonable. It is entirely possible that in your GC’s experience this IS a normal occurrence, but this would be due to using the same mason or tile setter that repeatedly uses a faulty installation method. This project needs to be repaired, which should probably include tapping each piece firmly with a rubber mallet to ensure it is bonded.

If you receive no satisfaction through a lawyer, it would be time to contact a forensic consultant, but be warned, their fees are usually quite high. Then you go to court. It would be much preferable to get the GC to pony up and fix an obvious failure in your home.

Michael K. Whistler,
NTCA presenter/technical consultant

As a follow-up to this inquiry, the NTCA webmaster responded to the homeowner, connecting her to a local NTCA Recognized Industry Consultant who is working with her on a resolution with her builder. In addition, advice was offered to look into the possibility of a warranty on her home or a “waiting period” where grievances can be filed after the purchase of a home.

For information and technical advice, email [email protected].

Ask the Experts – April 2015


I hope you can help me solve this problem. I have a very polished black granite bathroom vanity top. I placed a cleaning bottle on top and now have unsightly white spots. The finish is completely smooth and undamaged. The white area looks like it is under it somehow. I tried baking soda paste for 24 hours and nothing changed. I also tried white distilled vinegar. I am at a loss. I would appreciate it so much if you could suggest something.


Stone is actually quite easily stained and is highly susceptible to changes due to contact with various chemicals. It is possible you have stained the stone, but also possible you have changed the character of the stone.

ATE-0415Always assume staining first, which you have already done. Try your baking soda paste again, but this time cover with plastic wrap and tape the edges with 3M ScotchBlue™ Painter’s Tape and allow the poultice more time to work. Diatomaceous earth can also be used as an effective poultice.

Some chemical stains can be removed with modeling clay, but the oil in the clay will soak into the stone requiring a secondary poultice of baking soda to remove the oil stain.

There are many other remedies available for stains, and a better association for answers about stone is the Marble Institute of America (MIA). Be it known, MIA does charge for technical assistance to non-members. Visit the website for information: www.marble-institute.com.

If you have indeed changed the character of the stone, you can usually get a satisfactory fix by actually re-staining or dyeing the stone in the affected areas. Since you have a black stone, judicious use of permanent marker (like a Sharpie) can achieve amazing results.

Michael Whistler NTCA

Who is responsible for the floor?

In our February Ask The Experts, we offered this “bonus question” for your consideration and response:

If an installer installs a tile floor and a second installer grouts the floor but then a third installer removes that grout and re-grouts the floor who is responsible for the floor? The original floor was installed (no grout) by a licensed contractor, grout was done by an unlicensed individual hired by the homeowner, and then a third individual was hired by homeowner to remove the grout and re-grout. The individuals doing the grouting were independent and not working for the original company.

We’ve gotten a couple of answers we’re sharing here. If you have any other responses, please send your comments to me at
[email protected]. Thank you for continuing the discussion!

The stupid homeowner who doesn’t want to pay for a qualified contractor.
– Kurt von Koss

As a tile installer, I would have to say that the answer to the question is this: the last person hired by the homeowner, who “re-grouted” the job, is responsible.
– Jean M. Marino

Ask the Experts – March 2015


I am reaching out to you because the electric floor heating installation instructions of the system I am about to install listed you as a source for technical advice. I am about to install a cable system, and according to their installation instructions, they say to put down either cork underlayment or anti-fracture membrane prior to installing the wire. This makes sense to me for heat distribution up rather than down. I don’t see how I can just lay cork on the floor and tile over it.

suntouch-heated-floorAs far as the anti-fracture membrane, other manufacturers say to put the heating wire under the mat. That seems to defeat the purpose of putting anything down for insulation. This is a 60+ year old floor, no cracks; so barring an earthquake, I don’t foresee any cracks starting now. Could I have your views on this please?


Floor-warming systems generally work way more efficiently if you incorporate a “thermal break” to stop a good portion of the heat from radiating downward into the substrate. Cork or foam building panels are all used as this thermal break beneath the heating element. Follow manufacturer installation instructions to properly install these products over your substrate.

Michael Whistler, NTCA presenter


I have a question regarding the installation of a porcelain tile floor using 12” x 12” tiles. The room size of the kitchen is 23′ x 13′.

We have 24″ on-center (OC) trusses, which are known for flex. We currently have 3/4” plywood nailed to the trusses.

I need to know what is required for additional subflooring to prevent the tile and grout from cracking because of the flex.

From research I have done online, I have come up with varying opinions, but all seem to point in the direction that additional plywood is required before the cement board.

If specs could be sent, it would be greatly appreciated.


There are actually six methods in the 2014 TCNA Handbook of Ceramic, Glass and Stone Tile Installation that show allowable 24” OC installations. Five involve the use of a secondary layer of plywood, one shows uncoupling membrane and one shows coated glass mat water resistant gypsum backerboard.

There are also numerous backerboard and tile substrate manufacturers that allow and warranty their products over 24” OC if used in accordance with their installation instructions.

The NTCA always recommends that you contact the manufacturer of the products you intend (or would like) to use and procure a written warranty. We also highly recommend that you have and read the TCNA Handbook before proceeding in order to acquaint yourself with all the issues involved and to ensure a successful installation.

Michael Whistler, NTCA presenter

Ask the Experts – February 2015

SponsoredbyLaticreteIn November 2014, TileLetter published the story, “Stacking the deck: manufactured/natural stone veneers pros and cons,” on page 54. Later that same month, this question about installing brick veneer came in from an NTCA member:


Hello – I’m an existing NTCA member, with a question about an upcoming project involving brick veneer.

Does method W243 – 14 apply to brick veneer, and if so, is it applicable in a basement environment? Are there any limitations as to when or where this method can’t/shouldn’t be used?


The method W 243 – 14 that is referred to in the TCNA Handbook for Ceramic, Glass and Stone Tile Installation is a suitable installation method for installing “thin” veneer brick paver tiles but not an acceptable method for “full thickness “ brick veneer installations. “Thin” is typically 5/8” thickness or less. This direct-bond method is only applicable due to weight-pounds per square foot dead load applied to substructure including the facial surface of the gypsum backer unit .

Full thickness brick veneer is much too heavy to direct bond to a gypsum backing unit using this method.

Limitations are listed in the method, such as environmental temperatures not to exceed 125 degrees F and stud spacing not to exceed 16” on center.

Gerald Sloan, NTCA trainer

Our second dialogue concerns a question of replacing grout or the entire floor that was damaged as a result of a flooding situation. Expert response by industry consultant David Gobis helped this homeowner settle the matter with her insurance company.


My kitchen floor is tile that is about 10 years old. We recently had new countertops installed along with a backsplash. We kept the tile floors because they were in beautiful condition. On January 8th, 2014, a second-floor bathroom pipe froze and burst onto our kitchen tile floor. That water sat in an area for about 6-8 hours. Now we have tile that clicks and grout that is coming up in the area where the water sat. The insurance company wants to just re-grout the area and not do anything with the loose tiles. My husband and I have had tile experts to the house who would not recommend just patching the grout since the tile is no longer attached to the board underneath. Please email me your thoughts.


Grout will not fix a floor that clicks, which is likely the wooden panel riding up and down a nail. With a flood, the water works its way through the grout and becomes trapped in the supporting wood structure under the tile. With most tile having a glazed (glass-like surface) it takes a long time to dry out. That causes the wood to change dimension by swelling, often breaking the tile or cracking the grout. While it is possible a regrout will help  the problem, it is not likely. I would let them try their grout fix offer with the caveat that if it does not work  they will look at replacement – and I would ask for it in writing.

David M. Gobis CTC CSI, Ceramic Tile Consultant


Since your last email I just wanted you to know that the insurance company did come to our home along with a tile expert. And what you said is the same thing that the tile expert said. So we have had a new tile floor installed in the kitchen to replace the damaged one.


You answer it!

We received this technical question – what is YOUR opinion about who is the responsible party for this job – the licensed contractor? The first unlicensed contractor to grout the floor – or the last? Send responses to [email protected]

If an installer installs a tile floor and a second installer grouts the floor but then a third installer removes that grout and re-grouts the floor who is responsible for the floor? The original floor was installed (no grout) by a licensed contractor, grout was done by an unlicensed individual hired by the homeowner, and then a third individual was hired by homeowner to remove the grout and re- grout.  The individuals doing the grouting were independent and not working for the original company.

Ask the Experts – January 2015

SponsoredbyLaticreteThis month’s conversation is between a knowledgeable female do-it-yourself tile setter and Dave Gobis, CTC CSI Ceramic Tile Consultant. It illustrates the vast amount of misinformation that’s passing as expertise at point-of-sale. It’s a classic tale of buyer beware, and know-your-stuff.


My shower is almost complete, having installed my cement boards over a wood structure covered with plastic sheeting. I have used 100% silicone to seal all joints including those between the cement boards and my mortar bed. I am also going to waterproof all the cement boards with a waterproofing membrane. I know I’m supposed to use latex thinset for the floor. What kind of mortar do I use to install the tiles on the walls of my shower? As per the TCNA, I’m supposed to use latex thinset for the walls as well but a tile dealer I work with has told me that I can’t use latex-modified thinset for my walls because it will take three months to cure on account of the plastic I put on my wood structure. I would be much obliged for your help. Thank you.


Your tile dealer is misinformed. Your waterproofing membrane would be even less permeable than the plastic which has holes in it from fastening the board. There is truth that a longer drying period is required when installing tile with latex over a waterproof membrane. The thinset will use about a third of the water for mixing the thinset in growing a cement matrix, the rest will have to evaporate through the grout joints. Leave the joints open a few days before grouting and you will be fine. Cement grout is porous and will allow any residual moisture to pass if needed.

– David M. Gobis CTC CSI
Ceramic Tile Consultant


Thank you for your reply on the latex thinset; I just didn’t know who else to turn to and was getting exhausted with the different input I was getting from my tile suppliers.

In the same vein, should I wait three months to install glass doors on my curb tiles? Not that I mind; if I have to wait, I will. Furthermore, if I have to wait weeks to grout, I won’t mind either. At this point, being so close to finishing, I don’t want to mess up anything.


What was the reason for waiting three months on the shower door? Have never heard anything remotely close to that. Biggest thing is to not puncture the waterproofing. If you could let the tile set up for a week to 10 days that would be good enough.

– David M. Gobis CTC CSI
Ceramic Tile Consultant


You’ve just answered all my questions. The three-month cure time was told to me by one of the two tile stores I bought my tiles from. Based on that information, I started asking myself about the glass shower doors on the curb. Such is the nightmare of having no experience! Thank you so much for your prompt answers. Have a great one.


The misinformation out there is abundant. It’s sad that people know so little about their chosen line of work. It certainly keeps me busy, but it’s a hard way to make a living when all you sell is what you know. The tile setter I was with when I got your three-month email chuckled and said something about a knucklehead.

– Good Luck, Dave


I’ve been doing my own tile work for 20 years, but had never undertaken a shower from drain pipe to shower head. It became clear to me as well that misinformation was rampant, even amongst the professionals showing how to do it on YouTube. I could not get proper instructions on the internet or YouTube until I got hold of the ANSI code and the TCNA instructions. Even if you do decide to follow the code, as I decided to do, most stores don’t know the code and/or don’t follow it which has made my project that much more difficult as products are not always available. I feel like I’m speaking a foreign language to these people. You should’ve seen the hardware store reps when I asked for wet sand. Not to mention that some of these reps have tried to sell me gypsum or thin cement boards (3/8”) for my shower walls. One of these reps at a big box store actually told me – with Oatey pan liner package in hand – that I didn’t have to do a mortar bed after putting my PVC pan liner on my pre-pitch; I could put the tiles directly on my PVC pan liner and save myself the trouble of doing a mortar bed (!?!?). He even said, with certainty, that this was up to code (after I told him it wasn’t).

Tell your tile setter that he is right; knucklehead it is. Now, all I have to do is go back to the knucklehead and put in a special order for my latex thinset because they don’t carry these products in their stock room.

Again, Dave, much obliged.  I will sleep better tonight knowing that I now have the proper information.

Ask the Experts – December 2014


Dave, I came across your article The Importance of Using Expansion Joints this morning. I’m tiling (porcelain) a good size interior room (~15’ x 44’) with staggered, plank-style tile in the long direction. According to the TCNA Handbook, I should have at least one movement joint. However, with this layout I would need to terminate the tile runs somewhere in the middle to lay in a straight movement joint across the width of the room, breaking up the flow of the tile.

I have not come across any solutions to this aesthetic problem. With perimeter spacing, limited temperature variation, and no direct sunlight, I’m tempted to skip the movement joint.

Any suggestions?


Expansion joints have always been a battle; nobody wants them and installers don’t want the extra work that they know will result in complaints about appearance if they do put them in. Early in my career I ignored them and felt they were not necessary. Having a fixed place of business for over 20 years and hourly employees, that came back to haunt me. Anyone could find me whenever they so desired, and when they had problems they did.

The lesson learned was we either put movement joints in or have someone sign a form letter saying they chose to ignore our advice and not to have them installed. Some were offended, and others chose to sign. It was never a good feeling either way when we encountered resistance.

The value of expansion joints – also known as movement accommodation joints – is not realized for years after the installation. It doesn’t matter what part of the country you live in, including Hawaii. Tile expands and contracts with changes in temperature. Tile expands on a limited long-term basis and does not contract with exposure to moisture, be it water or vapor.

2-ATE_1214Concrete experiences endless shrinkage and wants to curl, in addition to the tile properties. Keep in mind the tile is getting bigger while the slab is getting smaller. Concrete slabs without effective vapor barriers experience a high degree of vapor transmission. We commonly receive calls about tile tenting after big storms. Wood structures experience endless dimensional changes due to moisture changes. Above-grade installations experience deflection, be they wood or concrete. If it is your turn to have Christmas for the family (yes, we get those calls), it will experience increased deflection it is not accustomed to.

All structures move, all tile moves. If you chose to roll the dice because you feel yours is different, that is your decision. Based on personal experience, having done thousands of installations over three decades, I would say 80% of the time you will be OK for 10, 20, maybe 30 years or more. The installation will likely fail due to lack of movement accommodation at some point. The question is – will you be there when it happens? Tough call to make when your desired ambiance will be destroyed by their inclusion. The cost to replace the floor will be double what it was going in. The risk management decision is yours.

Yes, I have had this conversation many times. By the way, stair-step joints are better than no joints and include a 1/4” at the perimeter if you do put them in. Keep both free of thinset. Believe me, it makes a difference.

ATE_1214David M. Gobis CTC CSI, Ceramic Tile Consultant