Challenges of Setting Long Lengths of Tile

I was called out to inspect various tile and grout issues on this job and write a technical report for the general contractor, as his current tile contractor had abandoned the job.

The tile on this wall looks rippled.  There is lippage on this installation.   “Lippage” is defined in the ANSI (American National Standards Institute) standard A108.02, Section 4.3.7: “Lippage refers to differences in elevation between edges of adjacent tile modules.”  In other words, it refers to tiles that are out of plane with each other by more than a dime’s thickness.

This is not the fault of the installer; the actual tiles are curved in the center, and when you stagger them above and below each other the curve is accentuated by the natural crown of the tile.  Lippage occurs on stagger-set installations because the ends of the tile are flatter, and adjacent to the center crown of the tiles above and below it.

Also, lippage tends to be a common problem when installing plank-length floor tiles as well.  Examples of this would be 6×24″, 6×36″, and 6×48″ sizes, usually finished to look like wood.

One way to lessen the lippage is to stagger set in thirds.  This photo shows a stagger set in halves.  Lippage occurs with a stagger set layout in thirds, but it will be greatly reduced.

I Can’t Believe It’s Not Marble

The homeowners wanted an antique looking tile for their 1940’s home.  I encouraged them to pick out this porcelain mock Carrera marble tile. 

The tile had a honed finish rather than a typical shiny finish on the top of the tile.

The benefits to selecting this porcelain tile over real marble are:

  • Real marble needs to be frequently sealed, especially Carrera due to its porous nature.
  • Real marble is soft and scratches easily.
  • Real marble can stain permanently with products that contain acid, even when sealed.
  • Carrera marble absorbs water from your feet and shower splashes and darkens the marble noticeably until it dries out.

Hairspray Stains on Tile

I was called in to inspect a floor that had mysterious white spots on the darkened tile.  Plumbers had worked under the homeowner’s vanity and she thought that the plumbers had done something to her floor.

I grabbed some scouring powder and a damp rag and made a circle in the center of the tile with the powder and some elbow grease.  The dark finish came right off, revealing the bright original finish of the tile.

Moral of the story:  make sure you put a large mat or beach towel down before using hairspray over a tile floor!

How to Remove Grout Film on Non-glazed Porcelain Tile

Sometimes, when using heavily pigmented grout over a non-glazed surface you get a grout film, despite your best efforts to prevent it. 

Here I used clean wash water, and I didn’t let the grout sit too long on the tile surface and I still got heavy grout film.

I waited four days for the grout to cure.  Then, fortunately a mild dilution of phosphoric acid took care of the problem and brought it back to a nice clean surface.

Dirty Tile Shower to Clean

If you look closely at the lower half of these walls in the photo on the left, you can see the buildup of white soap scum on the tiles.  The photo on the right shows the tile after the soap scum has been cleaned off.

These pictures show the tiled shower pan, before and after cleaning.  I use a heavy-duty alkali cleaner which cuts through the soap scum on the walls.  The shower pan grout did not come perfectly clean, so I applied a colorant to the grout joints which closely  matched the color of the tile.


Top Secret Way to Keep Your Tiled Bathroom Walls Clean

The solidifiers in bar soap lead to heavy duty soap scum buildup on the tiles and grout joints in bathrooms.  A very simple way to reduce your cleaning labor is to switch from bar soap to clear, colorless liquid body soap. 

Evidence of Leaking Shower

I was called out to clean this shower and I stopped dead in my tracks.  This shower displays all the classic signs of water leakage leading to damage. 

I noticed the sheetrock and paint damage immediately adjacent to the shower curb, classic indicators of water wicking upwards out of the shower pan.  When the weep holes are blocked in the subdrain, hydrostatic pressure takes the path of least resistance.   This water path travels through the curb and shows up visibly in the areas most susceptible to water damage, in this case, the sheetrock walls and paint.   You can read more about this dilemma and solutions here.

Here you see another indicator of water buildup below the surface of the tile. On the right-hand side of the curb you can see the tile trim pieces are separating outward from the field tiles, causing the grout joint to widen.  Many people with leaking showers expect to see pools of water as evidence of the leak.  However, in most cases the water damage is happening below the surface of the tile and mortar, causing swelling to the wood structure of the curb.

Vintage-Look Bathroom

The homeowner asked if this solid surface Carrera marble vanity top needed to be sealed. Based on the fact that this guest bathroom is rarely used, we recommended that it be sealed with a solvent-based product once a year.

Beautiful basketweave Carrera marble.  It is not recommended that you put this inside a shower on the shower pan floor.  This is due to the fact that Carrera marble especially is soft, and super porous and will show dark water stains for quite some time before drying out.

This particular designer selects tubs with open areas on the face of the tub so that they can be tiled.

In this shower the top trim to the bathroom wainscoting acts as a point of interest by wrapping around into the shower.

Overall shot of the bathroom floor.

Why You Don’t Hire Workers From the Big Box Store

I was called out to a shower damaged by an electrician. He was working on the back side of the wall to install a subpanel. Using a reciprocating saw blade, he had cut into the wall all the way through the mortarboard and tile on the other side. He had damaged four large tiles.

Unfortunately, I had to work over a refinished, painted tub surface. Great caution must be undertaken to protect the tub finish because it is as fragile as an automobile finish. I used a half-inch thick lightweight fiber mortarboard to protect the surface directly below the repair.

I also covered the vulnerable edge of the tub with a moving blanket.

When I removed the four tiles, I discovered multiple deficiencies for an area that is subjected to extreme moisture. First of all, the tile did not stick very well to the mortar board. I suspect that they used a very inexpensive, non-modified thinset. Second, as you can see from the grid on the mortar board visible in this picture, quarter-inch thick mortar board was used instead of the required half-inch thick board made for wet installations.

Additionally, the mortar board should be screwed every six inches on the perimeter. As you can see, there’s a much wider, open span between screws. Not surprisingly, the grout in this vertical joint, had cracked out due to movement. While installing screws where they belong, the mortar board visibly cinched up ¼-inch tighter to the studs below.

Also, all of the open seams in this installation were not covered with mesh seam tape.  I also strongly suspect there was no waterproof membrane placed behind the board, and obviously there is no waterproof coating on the front of the board.  One of these two waterproofing options are required in this installation to make it watertight.

Of course, as required, I installed mesh seam tape. The seam tape is then covered with a fine coat of thinset. This further ensures the installation against movement and prevents the grout and tile from cracking.  When the tile and grout cracks, this could lead to water leaks into sensitive areas of the bathroom, walls, and adjacent rooms.

Restoring Vintage Grout

**Please click on individual photos to see a larger image.  The improvements in the grout are more easily seen when the photos are enlarged.**


This is a vintage installation dated to the 1920’s and contains the original grout.  Almost a century later, we knew it was going to be impossible to bring back the grout to perfection by simply cleaning it.  The homeowner selected a color of her choice, and after cleaning the grout we painted it Bone color.  We used the best epoxy-based grout colorant.  Our competitors often use a cheaper, non-expoxy colorant which is less durable.



You can see that there is cracking grout wherever the tub meets the tile.  We applied a custom colored non-sanded caulking to match the grout.


I really enjoyed improving the look of this striking vintage tile.


We also improved the master bathroom in the same 1920’s home.




In the first picture you will see many voids because the grout is missing in sections.  Also the homeowner wanted to change the grout color to a dark tan, so the difference in the before and after is more subtle.



This bathroom was remodeled in the 1980’s and the homeowner had selected a white grout, which greatly discolored over the years.  We thoroughly cleaned the grout prior to applying a white grout colorant.  Heavy-duty cleaning is required for the colorant to bond to the grout.  What a difference!  The homeowner is super pleased.


This vanity was in the same 1980’s bathroom.