Grout line spacing? Did I royally screw up? [Archive] - Ceramic Tile Advice Forums - John Bridge Ceramic Tile


View Full Version : Grout line spacing? Did I royally screw up?

12-24-2006, 02:48 PM
I'm so miserable right now. I just finished a tile job and the client is NOT HAPPY.

Job was a shower enclosure using 4"x4" ceramic tiles, the home depot cheapos. I was to provide a stock list & he would get the materials.

I asked for spacers, because I didn't know what kind of grout line he wanted, he didn't get them, so I supplied 3/16", thinking that he probably just forgot, and that this was pretty standard.

He also forgot transition strips, enough mortar, enough grout, and enough floor tile.

Anyway, shame on me for assuming I knew. He's incredibly pissed because he says that I should have known that wall tiles have spacer tips so you don't need other spacers.
As far as I ever knew, grout lines in a shower should not be overly close together, because if they are too narrow they could crack & leak more easily. I also can't imagine how maddening it would be to set such small tiles with basically no grout line.

What is considered standard grout lines on wall tile of this size? :shrug:

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12-24-2006, 02:55 PM
Your customer is right. You should have known that these tile have self spacing lugs and that would be the way a customer would expect them to be set if other sizeing wasn't discussed. Narrow grout lines with unsanded grout (3/16th will need sanded grout) Narrow, unsanded grout space between the tile is the desired results.
Sorry :(

12-24-2006, 02:55 PM
Man, sounds like you should not be doing tile tile you get more education. 4 x 4 tile does have it's own spacing lugs on it and they should have been used. This will be an expensive education for you, the customer may ask you to tear it out and redo it and you supply the tile.

Before you hire out any more tile jobs (or any other jobs), make sure you know what you are doing. You definately need more, lots more education on tile before you do any more jobs. This is the type of install that gives tile, handymen (women), contractors a bad name. :bonk:

12-24-2006, 03:02 PM
I'm pretty upset & embarrassed about it.

I've done several tile jobs at this point, and everyone's been very satisfied with my work, but I will confess that I hadn't done this particular type of tile before...I've been doing larger tiles, different patterns, and a lot of slate.

The thing that gets me is that the guy also looked at the whole thing when all the tiles were set and I was grouting it. He said it looked great, and left while I was cleaning up . I got the unhappy email from him the next day.

12-24-2006, 03:23 PM
As far as I ever knew, grout lines in a shower should not be overly close together, because if they are too narrow they could crack & leak more easily. I also can't imagine how maddening it would be to set such small tiles with basically no grout line.

I think this might be a bigger problem. Tile isn't waterproof. A properly constructed shower (or shower surround) can be used with no tile at all. The waterproofing is done before a tile is even set, and will direct and manage that water regardless of the tile installation over it.

What type of waterproofing did you use and what was your substrate?

Sorry to hear about the job, but if you have to redo it, you'll in essence be "paying for your education." If anything, I'd turn this into a learning experience, and since you've found this site, this is a great place to start learning more. I'd also suggest buying John's book. (And no, I don't get a commission :cry: )

12-24-2006, 03:53 PM
I am not 100% in agreement. I tiled my first tile surround with 4x4 cheapos from Home Depot. I did not use an additional spacer, but I totally could have. You don't HAVE to use them like that. However, if I had a question about it with the client, I definitely would not have tiled the shower without getting the specifications in writing it. I am not a professional tiler or contractor, but one thing a professional should do is to specify all these details in the contract. A lot of people I get estimates from are very sloppy about this. When I was looking for a professional contractor to install my tub and hardibacker, etc., I emailed the guy the details of how I wanted the job done. He emailed back and made suggestions and added other important details. By the time he was to do the job, we were both 100% on the same page on how the job was to be done. I think that all professionals should specify these things up front so there is no confusion. At the very least, email the person and ask a question if you don't know the answer. That would have saved you a lot of time and frustration.
However, I am surprised that the customer saw the shower ungrouted and approved it. I am not the kind of customer that waits until the end of the project to say something. However, 3/16" grout lines are pretty darn big for 4x4 wall tile. I would carefully smash all the tiles and start again. Luckily the 4x4 are like $.14 each. Shouldn't be too expensive a repair. next time, ask all your questions up front and get the customer to sign off on it before doing the work.

pitterpat - actually, most customers can totally forgive people for making mistakes. What gives professionals a bad name is if they don't apologize and make it right. I don't blame him for choosing 3/16th over using the self-spacers. The man is not a psychic. I blame him for not confirming the specifications with the owner.

Scottish Tile and Stone
12-24-2006, 04:08 PM
Deborah, good point on the last paragraph. Everyone makes mistakes. Its a part of life. The good contractors will step up and fix whatever needs fixin. The contractors that run and hide are the ones giving us a bad name.

Props to the OP for coming here and trying to get answers.

I always lay out the tiles and get the homeowners approval of the grout lines. I also tell them, that if they get el cheapo tiles or stone, their grout lines will be larger due to the poor quality of what the choose.

12-24-2006, 05:17 PM
Deborah, I do agree with you, but, if he is getting paid for tile jobs he should know that 4 x 4 are usually laid using the self spacing lugs unless specified by the customer. If a customer told me they wanted it spaced more than the lugs allow I would usually try to talk them out of it unless they had a specific look or patten in mind. I would then show them a picture of 4 x 4 w/ the larger spacing. It also looks different once you get it grouted.....the customer may have another shower w/ 4 x 4's or somebody may have told him after it was grouted that it should have had smaller grout lines.

If he doesn't make it right that will definately leave a bad taste in the customer's mouth.

12-24-2006, 05:33 PM
Most important: Communication.

I don't feel that the job I did is outrageously horrible, but the guy is unhappy, and that's all that matters. The only other job I can remember doing with 4x4 tiles did use spacers, and came out great, had happy homeowners.

I'd go back & fix it, but I don't think he wants me back there. He gave me a deposit at the start of the job, I haven't cashed the check, I won't, and I will send it back. I did put some of my own $$ into the job, because he didn't get enough materials to begin with. I still had to buy more tile & mortar, about 100$ worth.

I still have something of a hard time with the whole thing though, for some other reasons. Aside from the fact that he SAW it and said "looks great!" , I asked several times about the transition strips between the tile & carpet (2 doorways) he said he'd probably use marble, but gave me no dimensions, no idea what exactly he was going to use, and therefore no idea of the space to leave. he also complained that the grout lines didn't match in the corners, and that I left no hole for the shower regulator handle, which is 100% inaccurate, and I've got the pix to prove it. I had put spacers on my materials list, and just assumed he'd forgotten them, which is definately my fault.

So, anyway, sucks to be me....but thanks guys :(

12-24-2006, 07:51 PM
I've never asked a customer of mine to buy any spacers, or mortar or anything other than the tile if they want something from Lowes, HD or Menards. I supply all materials most of the time, that way I can make sure of the quality and it is material that I use and is the "right stuff.

Your best bet is to stay on this forum (ck out the Pro's Hangout) and learn some more b/4 you take on other tile jobs. It will allow you to have more of a professional apperance and you'll learn a lot.

12-24-2006, 08:35 PM
I don't see how he won't allow you to fix it. I think that is unfair. Maybe you can post the pictures. I think you should offer at least. Let him turn you down. Unless he was just trying to get the job for free. Definitely take more control of the product selection and ask questions if the homeowner is vague. I would send back the check with certified mail and tell him that in the future you will be more careful to double check but he should also have given you feedback before you grouted and let you fix a mistake. It is your reputation on the line. If this person complains to the Better Business Bureau, you will have it on record that you tried to make it right. Lesson: Always cover your 'hind quarters'.

12-24-2006, 09:34 PM
I agree that you need to gain more experience, work with a setter for a while and work your way up.

Your lack of experience shows right from your first post. Like EEEO said, the size of the joint has nothing to do with the shower leaking and small joints won't cause the tiles to crack. Also, stacking tile with lugs isn't "maddening" at all and actually is alot faster than using spacers.

If I'm going to set a tile that has lugs, I will stack them on the lugs with tight joints unless the customer or decorator says to open them up, not the opposite. Joint size is important to folks, as you are finding out.

I do agree with your point about the owner saying "looks good" until you got finished. He should have let you know that he wasn't happy with the joint size before you were finished. Just because of that, I wouldn't want to do any more work for the guy.

Just from the little info you provided here, I'd keep the first check (if it was for half or less) and walk away. You screwed up on the joints but that doesn't mean the owner should get a free shower.

Answer EEEO's questions about the waterproofing and substrate. If that wasn't done right, I'd change my mine about keeping the check. :)

12-24-2006, 10:01 PM
Welcome, mapachin2006. Please give us a first name to use. :)

What Davy said.

12-24-2006, 10:39 PM
You may well find that given some time to calm down, the customer may be more receptive to you offer to make things right. Contact him on Tuesday or Wednesday and you may just be able to come up with a plan that works for both of you.

Tool Guy - Kg
12-24-2006, 11:00 PM
Welcome to the site, mapachin2006.

What CX said.


12-25-2006, 03:15 PM
I still have something of a hard time with the whole thing though, for some other reasons. Aside from the fact that he SAW it and said "looks great!"

I'll bet it looked great to him, but not to his wife!

12-25-2006, 03:41 PM
Terri, I was going to say the same thing. :nod:

12-25-2006, 05:19 PM
If he saw the tile before it was grouted you may have an arguement in court. He should not of allowed you to go any farther.
In my area people are always warned to do there homework before they hire someone and it's pretty much you accept what you get.

12-25-2006, 05:37 PM
From what I understood, the owner seen the tile as it was being grouted and said it was looking good. Maybe true about the wife not liking it. :)

12-25-2006, 10:24 PM
And that totally brings up a really important thing to consider- always hammer out the details of the project with all of the decision makers, typically a husband and wife. Even if you're protected financially from a sudden change in design, meaning you redo your work at their expense ( i.e. husband says "looks good" and then wife sees it and tells husband "looks like dookie" and you end up redoing it but it's not really your fault it needs to be redone), it's never fun to redo work and, even though not your fault, won't lead to the all-valuable referrals. Always get both of them to agree on a design and then put the details in the contract and get both sigs and a check!

12-26-2006, 10:48 AM
I also disagree about 4x4 always having self spacers. I just tiled my floor and niches with 4x4 agora noce from Lowes. No self-spacers. And many of the showers and backsplashes in my home decorating magazines show 4x4 with enormous grout lines. not my taste, but obviously someone's.

Scottish Tile and Stone
12-26-2006, 04:54 PM
Deborah, I agree with ya, BUT if you can SEE the self lugs on them, its a good indication you should be using them.

12-26-2006, 06:24 PM
As I read this, I'm thinking this homeowner is looking for a free tile job. Sorry, that's my opinion. Regardless of the whys and the hows, the fact the owner is not allowing the guy an opportunity to fix his error is certainly suspect. I agree with Davey, keep the 1st check. If it goes to court (which I doubt), you will have taken the higher moral road by offering to make the job right. In MY book, that's the sign of a true trades professional.

12-26-2006, 09:11 PM
The only way to make it right is to tear out all the tile and re-tile using the self spacer lugs. At the point the customer said it looked OK it was too late too to make it right w/o total tear-out. As it is now the thinset is not all set 100% so the tear out won't be too bad.