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TIPS FOR HIRING A TILE INSTALLER

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TIPS FOR HIRING A TILE INSTALLER

You are ready for a new tile installation and are looking for the right installer. Imagine gazing with pride at the beautiful tile or stone you have just had installed. Now fast forward one year, or perhaps five. Is it still just as beautiful? With an installation that is structurally sound from the outset, followed by proper care and maintenance, your answer can be a resounding "yes!” Read these tips for hiring a tile installer.

There are two primary considerations when installing tile:

1. You want the result to be visually appealing.

2. You want the job to be structurally sound.

You can tell right away whether your installation is visually appealing, but whether it is structurally sound may not be readily apparent until years down the line.

Signs of a structurally unsound job include cracks in the tile, hollow floors, and grout that falls out.

The Best Preventive Measure...

Unless you are qualified to install tile, your best preventive measure is to hire a knowledgeable and experienced contractor. A quality professional installer knows how to prevent many common problems from occurring. But keep in mind that there are run-of-the-mill installers and then there are professional installers. If you are shopping price only, you may find yourself regretting it down the road, and you may actually end up paying more in the long run.

The following are measures that should be taken to prevent potential problems:

Hollow Tiles/Lack of Adhesion: Correct subsurface preparation for the slab is vital and includes making sure there is no paint or drywall mud on the slab which can cause a lack of adhesion between slab and tile. Any paint or drywall mud must be mechanically removed by either scraping or sanding the floor. If this is not done the paint or drywall will cause the tile to go hollow or even raise up off of the floor.

Cracking: A crack suppression membrane or uncoupling mat should be used to keep the tile from cracking when and if the concrete slab cracks. The most popular methods to accomplish this are:

  • Paint-on crack-suppression membrane. This is a flexible coating applied between the slab and thinset that bonds the tile to the floor. The flexibility of this product helps absorb movement from the slab to prevent it from cracking the tile. It is an economical way to protect your floor from cracking but has limitations to how much movement it can absorb.
  • An uncoupling mat. This is a plastic mat with a waffle-like texture that is thinset to the slab. The tile is then stuck to the mat. Thinset fills the spaces in the mat and leaves the tile sitting on little posts with room in between them. This absorbs movement in the slab and keeps it from passing through to the tile. Use of an uncoupling mat is more expensive but can absorb more movement than the crack suppression membrane.

Mismatched Tiles: There is nothing worse than having your tile crack two years down the line and having to find replacement tile to match. Every run of tile has different tolerances both for size and for shade variance. You have to be extremely lucky to find tile that will match. Buying extra tiles at your initial purchase may cost more up front, but it will save you a lot of hassle and disappointment down the line should any tiles need to be replaced.

The bottom line is, a quality installation employing proven techniques and precautions will result in a floor that you will be happy with for many years.


Serving the Palm Springs area in Southern California, Jim Hartman, owner of FloorEver, is a Certified Stone and Tile PRO Partner. He believes that “the least costly way to do something is to do it one once.” He and his crew have installed over a million square feet of flooring over the past twenty-four years. In addition, they have ten years of flooring restoration experience. You can visit them at www.floorever.net.

The estimate and interview process

Once you have identified your prospective tile installer candidates, schedule an appointment for an estimate. Almost all contractors will perform a free estimate. Be sure you are there for the scheduled time. It can be very frustrating for a contractor to arrive for an estimate and no one is home. On the other hand if the contractor doesn't show for the scheduled appointment without at least calling, he obviously isn't interested in your project. 

Following is a list of questions you should ask when interviewing your prospective tile installer. A qualified professional understands the leap of faith you are taking in hiring them and should neither balk at, nor be offended by any of the following questions. If they seem more interested in quickly securing the job than in setting your mind at ease regarding their competence and qualifications, think carefully about whether they are the right one for the job. 

What experience do you have?

A bad installation can result in a less than satisfactory result with a variety of potential problems. Look for a tile installer with years of experience and a reputation for quality work. 

Can you supply me with a list of references?

Ask for references—and check them. Many contractors in all fields have references, but you’d be surprised how rarely they are actually checked. Call at least two and ask if the installer did a good job. Were there any problems and, if so, did he correct them? Were his employees professional? Were the surrounding areas carefully protected? 

Are you insured?

Ask for proof. Have him show you a certificate of insurance, or, if the job is large enough, have his insurance company send you one. Be sure he carries liability and workers’ compensation insurance.  Any reputable company will carry both. 

Do you carry workers compensation insurance?

Workers Compensation Insurance protects you from liability if a worker is injured while on your property. Be aware that if the contractor does not carry workers compensation coverage, you will be liable for any injuries suffered by the contractor or any of his employees on your property. If the contractor is a one-man operation, he can be exempt from having to carry workers compensation insurance. Ask him to show you his certificate of exemption from workers compensation. This is very risky for you though. If he shows up with a helper and the helper gets hurt, with no workers compensation insurance, you may have to pay the medical bills. If the uninsured contractor is sloppy about verifying his sub-contractor’s workers compensation insurance and the sub-contractor gets hurt, again you may have to pay the medical bills. 

What professional organizations are you a member of?

Well established companies are affiliated with professional organizations.  For the stone and tile industry, it might be Stone and Tile PROS or The Marble Institute of America, among others. In all cases, these organizations only attract conscientious contractors interested in bettering the industry and in weeding out unprofessional contractors. In order to become a member, the contractor’s background and references are thoroughly investigated. While a new contractor may not be a member of any professional organizations, it is highly unlikely an established contractor would not be a member of at least one, unless there is a reason that he cannot join. 

What are the risks? While the risks may be minor, there are contractors that just don’t belong to any professional organizations, they are the rare exception and the vast majority of substantial companies do belong, because they understand the benefits of continuing education and peer review. 

What are your work practices?

It can't be stressed enough how important this information can be to you! Ask questions such as, how do they perform their work? What time do they start? How will they protect your carpets and surrounding cabinetry, etc.? How will the trash and debris be handled? The answers to these questions will give you a clear picture what type of contractor you are dealing with. 

Contracts

Is their contract simple and straight-forward? Simple doesn't mean it is right, and complicated doesn't mean it is wrong, but the bottom line is: if you can't understand it, or it is too complicated, make sure to get a clear understanding ― in writing! 

Don't hesitate to trust your gut feeling ― are you comfortable with the installer? This is much more important than you might think!