Cracked floor tiles and cracked grout


Old 09-01-09, 08:18 AM
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Cracked floor tiles and cracked grout

We moved into a new home in March and are having major problems with the tiles and grout in all of our upper level areas. In our mudroom, which is a large room, we used 18" ceramic tiles. The grout is a glass-based grout - sanded but with glass particles instead of sand particles (?) - this was recommended by the flooring salesman - we were hestitant, but he said it installed easier and was easier to clean up as well as it wouldn't soak up stains and would be easier to clean later (i.e. routine cleaning).

We first noticed that the grout was cracking and now we have a line of cracked tiles right inside the entry door, I'm guessing above a joint in the floor.

In our master bathroom the tiles are also 18", but they are a very thick tile so not sure if those will crack. The grout is cracking here as well.

Both the mudroom and master bathroom are on the main floor.

In our boys' bathrooms on the second floor, the grout is cracking and there are several cracked tiles. These cracks seem to be mainly on tiles that were cut - for example where there is an outside corner on the wall, the tile is cracked diagonally from the wall corner to the edge of the tile (not sure if this makes sense). I guess what I'm getting at is those tiles do not have cracks in straight lines, but seem to be cracked perhaps because the tiles were weakened by cutting. These are 12" ceramic tiles.

So, here's the problem. My husband installed all of the tile (to save money). He has tiled in two other houses and we have never had any problems. He installed hardibacker and followed all of the installation directions so as to not void the warranty (our builder attests to this - he saw the installation my husband did). Before putting the hardibacker down he also did a thorough job of cleaning the wood subfloor to get all of the dust/dirt off so he could get proper adhesion. We (husband and I) installed the grout in the mudroom (which is cracking). Our builder's tile guy installed the grout in the rest of the rooms, which is also cracking. We also installed the grout and tile in our basement (same kind of tile and grout). We have no cracked grout down there but some cracked tiles. This is because my husband didn't properly treat the existing cracks in the concrete before laying the tiles (so we know we have to fix that ourselves).

Our builder's tile guy says it's likely that my husband didn't use enough mortar under the tiles and that possibly too much water was used when wiping down the grout. I guess that would mean that the tile guy had the same problem since the grout he installed also cracked. Everything I have read about cracking tiles mentions subfloor issues as the culprit. Of course our builder says that the floor was sturdy and there was no bounce.

Our problem now is that we have to determine who is going to pay to fix this. We are not trying to avoid paying if it was our installation error, but also feel like we could get the runaround. Our builder wants to bring in his tile guy and the sales rep from the place where we got the tile and grout to have them take a look and see what the problem is. I'm hesitant because they all have a stake in the potential problem.

We could have any or all of the following issues:

1. Subfloor issues (movement, joists not properly spaced, uneven seams???)
2. Not enough mortar under the tiles.
3. Poor quality tiles (when we got the tiles there were SEVERAL broken - in fact about 1/4 of each box of tiles were broken and had to be returned.
4. Poor quality grout.
5. Use of too much water in the grout mixture or in the application/cleaning process.

Would any of the grout/tile cracking be occuring if there were no movement in the subfloor? If the subfloor IS the culprit, what has to be done to determine that??

As you can see, I need help. I think I need to get a third party opinion because I'm concerned the builder and his guys will do anything they can to put the blame on my husband's installation. To make matters more difficult, my husband is on military duty until November and so I'm dealing with this on my own. Kind of like taking my car to the shop - I feel like they will try and take advantage of the fact that I'm a woman and "don't know anything". Could be wrong, but want to be armed with some good info before I get into the discussion.

Thanks for any advice you can offer.
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Old 09-01-09, 12:50 PM
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Cracking tile and grout is caused by movement, and most times the issue is a structure that cannot support a ceramic tile installation. It can also be installer error or material isues. Lets start by getting some basic info.

What is the size of your floor joists, what is there unsupported span, and what is there on center spacing? Are the floor joists i-joists, trusses, or regular 2x lumber. Describe the subfloor, is it plywood, osb, etc., is it tung and groove, how thick is it? Is there more than one layer, if so, describe each? Was the subfloor properly attached to the joists with construction adhesive and screws/nails? Did the subfloor panels show any signs of being raised at the edge/seams between panels? If more than one layer, were the seams staggered so that the top panel seams did not line up over the bottom panels? If more than one layer, how was the second layer attached, construction adhesive, screws, nails?

Was the cement board properly installed, was thinset applied to the floor with a ¼” notch trowel, then the cement board set in the fresh bed, then screwed to the floor according to manufacturer’s instructions? Was the cement board properly gaped, taped and mudded according to manufacturer’s instructions? What kind of cement board was used? Did somewhat check to see if the floor was flat enough for tile, as to dips and high spots. Acceptable tolerance is out 1/4" in 10', but with big tile like that, you'd actually want it better than that.

As to the installation of the tile, what size trowel was used? What kind of mortar was used, manufacturer and product name on the bag? Was the mortar mixed according to the instructions on the bag? Was it the right consistency, did you let it slake for 10 minutes and then remix it? 18” tile is pretty big tile, and generally would require a dead flat and very stiff floor. The tile should have been installed with a pretty big trowel at least ½” and probably ¾”. It likely also needed a medium bed mortar. What kind of grout was used?

You mention that 1/4 of the tile was cracked in the boxes and had to be returned. That is an unusually high percentage. Did the tile retailer have any comments or explantions as to why so many tiles were cracked? Was this tile priced at such a low price that it was too good to be true?

Can you determine if the cracks appear over a subfloor (plywood, osb) seam or a cement board seam?

Get as many answers to the questions as you can, I know it's a lot?
Old 09-01-09, 03:33 PM
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Thanks - I'll try to get as much info as I can from my husband and post the answers.

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