The quality of the tile work seen by the consumer on the surface is only as good as what is underneath. This seems to be a simple statement, but if the appropriate prep work is not completed, the final appearance may not be acceptable.
In other words, as installers, you and I must adequately prepare the substrate for tile. Otherwise, you may not get paid.
Ensuring the Substrate is 'Tile Ready'
On most jobs the substrate (whether it be wall or floor) is supposed to be “tile ready when the installer arrives.” But as most of us know, it isn't.
According to The Top Ten Requirements for a Quality Tile Installation, in order to provide a flat ceramic or stone tile installation, carpenters, masons, concrete finishers and other trades must meet the tile industry standards for flatness tolerances.
And, if substandard surfaces are encountered, these problems must be corrected before installation begins. Otherwise, you will not have a quality tile installation.
It's that simple... or maybe not.
This means is that you must review the jobsite conditions before starting work to determine what needs to be done and who will pay to make it right if the substrate is indeed not tile ready.
At this point, be sure that you have a signed change order in hand from the general contractor, project manager, or home owner before proceeding. This way, at the end of the job, the installer gets paid for all the extra work that has been done to ensure tile readiness and a successful installation.
Two Critical Situations Where a "Tile Ready" Surface Really Matters
Perhaps you've encountered these specific situations where prepping the substrate for tile truly matters.
Tiling over a concrete block wall
Many times tile is specified to be installed on walls made of concrete block.
Even if the block mason did a really good job, the wall may have high and low spots that need attention. However, if the mason was not as skilled, the prep work required can increase significantly.
Either way, the surface must be flattened in order to produce a quality tile installation. With the vast array of patch products on the market, correcting these problems can be easily accomplished in a relatively short period of time. And once the surface is flat, installing the tile is much easier and faster.
The Ultimate Guide to Underlayment for Tile describes floor patch products as follows,
Floor patch materials come from a variety of manufacturers and are used to obtain the required plane for tile installations. This includes filling cracks, voids, rough surfaces, low or depressed areas (also known as bird baths) as well as feathering out high spots.
Most of these products are latex-modified, require mixing with potable water and are designed to tenaciously bond to the properly prepared surface.
This entire process is the best way to “fix the floor or wall.”
Tile and "wall wash lighting"
Another factor which can turn what appears to be an acceptable wall tile installation over concrete block into one that is not acceptable is known as “wall wash lighting.”
This occurs when the light fixtures are placed directly along the wall or very close to the wall. The light shining across the wall surface can create shadows on any part of the wall that is not completely flat.
As seen in the photo below, the lighting casts a shadow on the tiles that are not in line with the ones around it.
This situation is not acceptable and most times will require the work to be removed and replaced.
Prepping the Substrate for Tile Recap
Remember these tips prior to starting work.
- Review the jobsite conditions and find out what needs to be fixed
- Submit your price for the work in a written change order and get signed and dated approval
- Fix or flatten the surface so it is tile ready
- Request that the permanent lighting be installed before the tile work begins
- If wall wash lighting is specified, submit a written request to the architect asking that the light fixtures be moved away from the wall at least 24”
- Install the tile and get paid for the quality you provide
If you need tile installation resources, be sure to check out these blog posts:
An example of someone who had to do a lot of fixing,
Fix it or you may not get paid. It's that simple.
Thanks for reading.