I certainly hope you don't ignore grout manufacturer directions which just about guarantees that your tile installation will fail. In fact, that's true for just about all the products tile installers use. For the sake of this article, though, I'll focus on grout and more specifically High-Performance Cement Grouts.
Here's why you need to take the grout manufacturer's directions seriously.
Tile Installation is Becoming More Technical
Ultimately, the installation of tile is becoming more technical as tile sizes get larger, materials become more specialized and standards become more detailed.
As a technical process, tile installation requires a strong appreciation for not only taking seriously but also fully embracing tile industry standards such as the Tile Council of North America (TNCA) Handbook and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Specifications for the Installation of Ceramic Tile - Material and Installation Standards (ANSI A108 / ANSI A118). These are the recognized documents that guide successful tile installations in the United States.
These books are also the professional tools that guide the work of Qualified Labor and Certified Tile Installers because they realize that the tile industry is constantly evolving and the only way to keep up is by following grout manufacturer directions as well as any other manufacturer's directions since so many products require mixing on the job according to specific instructions!
Example: High Performance Grouts
Let's take High Performance Cement Grouts as found under ANSI A118.7 which include a redispersible, latex/polymer powder to which only water is added at the job site.
Grout manufacturers conduct extensive research in the development of their products and continuously improve (change) them as new technology becomes available. For this reason alone, it is crucial that the instructions on the bag or box be followed to the letter.
Pay Attention to Water Measurements
For instance, an original formula grout that previously required the addition of 2.75 quarts of clean, potable (drinkable) water to a 25lb. bag may, after being changed or improved by the manufacturer, now only needs 2.0 quarts of water to function properly. That is a significant difference!
Similarly, thinking that all grout manufacturers require the same amount of water to properly mix the dry powder is a serious error. The amount of water is geared specifically to the chemistry in the bag. Arbitrarily modifying this ratio can cause numerous complaints and failures.
Check out the grout in the image below. Can you believe how soft it is? Grout should not perform in such a way that thumbnail rubbing across it will cause it to turn into powder.
Also, on the left side of the photo, you will see a shade variation in the grout color.
Both of these problems occurred due to the installer or his finisher (helper) adding too much water when mixing the grout.
Here's a similar situation that a consumer recently shared with us:
"I had a tile floor installed Dec 21st, grout placed Dec 22nd. I was told it would be dry in 24 hours. Well, one week later the grout (was soft and sandy and) came up like sand."
I guarantee you that the grout was improperly mixed with too much water because the tile "placer" (not a qualified installer) never read the directions!
Sadly, the solution only got worse with the next "fix" on January 5th when more grout was added on top of the loose sandy grout already in the joints. The newly installed grout did harden... somewhat. The problem was that the hard grout was attached to the loose sand with started to come out of the joints almost immediately.
"The "fix" was to put more grout over the top. That was January 5th and the grout, when wet comes up like sludge and when dry it comes up with a fingernail...pretty much everywhere."
Pay Attention to Water Quality
Note that the grout manufacturer instructions refer to clean, potable (drinkable) water. In other words, the quality of the water matters, too. Here are some of the water sources which should never be used to mix grout
- Swamp water isn’t clean or potable.
- Pool water is loaded with chemicals.
- Forget about pond water which may be loaded with algae.
In some areas, the water (whether it is a well or a public water system) is extremely hard. To overcome this hardness, water softeners add significant amounts of salt. Consider using distilled water.
Pay Attention to Water Temperature
Beware of the temperature of the water. Water that is too hot might set the grout chemical reaction off too soon. If you use water from a hose that has been sitting outside in the sun, run the water first until it is cooler to the touch.
Additionally, if the water is too cold, the Portland cement will not function well and most likely fail.
What About Mixing Up Odd Amounts of Grout?
Depending on which grout product you use, you will notice differing periods of working time. Some installers address this by working with partial bags. Better, though, to purchase small bags rather than trying to guess the amount of water needed for the partial bag. Mix the entire bag to be on the safe side.
Installing Tile and Grout is a Serious Business!
Ultimately, what's at the heart of the situation is respecting that installing tile and grout is serious business and, rather than assuming that you know it all, you need to take the time to read the directions. That's what qualified labor does.
Don't Resist Change and Assume You Know It All! Read the Manufacturer Directions Every Time You Use a New or Unfamiliar Product.
Change can be difficult. Most people resist change, but it must occur for the new product or method to succeed. In the case of grouting tile, you need to be aware of these changes and apply them to your work to be successful.
It is a fairly well-understood fact that people do not read the directions for most products, especially the ones with which they are familiar. The mindset of, “I know what I am doing and have done it this way for twenty years,” is a bad idea. If the information on the bag or the data-sheet is not reviewed on a regular basis, changes may have taken place yielding results that may not be favorable.
Don't be a tile "placer."
Instead, embrace change willingly. Be diligent about reading the directions which will eliminate unnecessary problems and headaches. You may have to step outside your comfort zone, but attending a manufacturer’s training event or an NTCA Workshop helps to maintain consistent quality on every job. That's what proud Certified Tile Installers (CTIs) do each work day.
Ultimately, you need a strong commitment to quality installation which does not allow any subpar work.
Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments below.
Thanks for reading.
Note: This article was originally published on February 14, 2017, and has been updated.