Ecomonics of mud vs. cement backer? [Archive] - Ceramic Tile Advice Forums - John Bridge Ceramic Tile


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05-22-2001, 09:15 AM
John, I have a question concerning appropriate compensation for mixing/installing mud vs. "attaching" cement backer units. I'm not sure how appropiate the question is for this forum, but I'm approaching "critical mass" over this issue locally. Since you operate in "the same neck-of-the-woods" I am hoping you'll be able to offer some perspective on the issue.

A substantial part of my business still comes via flooring retailers and some builders. In my area, compensation for applying CBU's to a subfloor, ranges between $.50 - $1.00 per square foot. I don't operate on the low end of this price range because this represents stores/builders that don't believe its necessary to apply a leveling bed of thinset between the CBU and the subfloor. Occasionally, a builder will provide a construction adhesive to use randomly on the subfloor between the CBU.
At he "high" end of the price range, I'm expected to supply thinset leveling mortar, joint tape, and fasteners. Attaching CBU's to walls is generally compensated at $.40 - $.75 per square foot. (The high end of wall compensation represents those that actually understand the need to waterproof the CBU as well. Yes, I must generally provide that as well)

I realize that competition and local ecomonics are the principal factors determining what the market will pay and in my market "cheap" competition plays a major role.

Now that the "stage is set" I'll get to the point. WHAT ABOUT MUD FLOORS? I won't even discuss walls because in this area, greenboard, and to a lesser extent CBU`s rule.
(I do not set tile on greenboard in wet areas...period!!! I will not repair other "installers" greenboard jobs!)
Oh yeah, the point.

I'm expected to prepare a subfloor with 15lb felt, metal lath, mix, place, compact, screed, and level a mud floor for $.80 - $1.20 per square foot. (All materials provided by me) As much as I enjoy setting tile on a beautifully level mud floor, the work far exceeds the compensation. Have I lost my perspective? Does this seem reasonable? Or, am I being asked to bend over, close my eyes, and ignore the express train approaching my "south pole"!

With the limitations of cement backer units to level a wavy wood subfloor and the high material costs of self leveling compounds, I believe "mud floors" over both wood and concrete, still have a place in our world. But, at what price? And I mean that literally. I want to "be fair" and still be able to pay my federal tax, social security, medicaid, truck insurance, liability insurance, etc. HELP!

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John Bridge
05-22-2001, 05:22 PM
Hi Latney,

Numero Uno. There are virtually no topics that are inappropriate to this board. (My God, we talk about making illegal licquor!)

No. 2. I quit working for builders and so-called general contractors years ago, because the bulk of them want to make money off the labor of the subs. And they'll use YOUR money to float their operation. This policy has been in effect since St. Joseph was an apprentice. It's not likely to change.

No. 3. I don't do anything for a buck a foot anymore. We usually charge $2 in labor to float a floor (we use lath even over concrete floors). The material is extra. But if you're working as a "piece worker," and not a contractor, you could do it for $1.20 labor -- no material.

I can't help you with the rates on installing CBU (cement backer board) because I don't do it. But the other guys will help you there. Of course, Bri is in Canada, and the money's different up there. Besides that, he's about to go on a fishing trip. Rob knows a lot about it.

As far as effort expended is concerned, I think I can float floors or walls more economically than I could prepare them PROPERLY with CBU. But then again, I've never tried the CBU method.

C'mon you guys. Help Latney out here. (Help ME out!)

Oh, on the question as to whether you are being asked to "bend over, close my eyes, and ignore the express train approaching my "south pole"!

You are not being asked to "ignore" it; you're being asked to LIKE it!

Rob Z
05-22-2001, 05:49 PM
Hi John and Latney

I've never attempted to do builder work and the few times I have done work for GC's I ended up pissed off/irritated/hatin' life/aggravated/any other negative emotion I can think of. The tract guys around here do up to 2 tubs surrounds per hour (two man crew)-mastic on greenboard. My Laticrete rep swears he saw a two man crew down south somewhere do 23 tub hops in one day(!!!).

Latney-mud work is quality work, and should be priced accordingly. I charge more to mud a floor than to put down cement board, and the finished product and the warranty is superior. About 90 plus percent of the floors I do are mud-the subfloors around here are almost never flat and level enough to suit me. I like to fix them and feel even better when the plumber or carpenter says "Man, that floor was so flat I didn't have to shim the toilet/vanity".

But I recently had someone who wanted me to do all the quality, high end work for the same price as the corner cutting installers. It was a big job, and I wanted it, but said NO. Fortunately, within a few days I had many more calls (and jobs) to make up for it.

I do put cement board on a lot of walls, usually waterproofed with a membrane on the surface, because the framing is usually pretty good in the walls. Sometimes, I'll have to add a few studs or plane one to get a flat wall. So, CBU's work pretty well for me most of the time.

Most of the tile I install ddoesn't have mud cap available, any way.

Dinner is calling. I'll check back in....


Bud Cline
05-22-2001, 06:41 PM
In Nebraska, mud beds are rarely done anymore. Everyone swears by CBU's and all the imperfections that carry thru when using it. It's not unusual to patch-float for corrections. (Mapei Plani-Patch) Sometimes thinset can be used but thinset shrinks too bad to fill deeper dishes.

Goin rate for CBU's on floors $1.00 to $1.10 labor only.

I charge $1.25 and furnish only the fasteners. (I staple it.) That also includes running the joints with fiberglas tape and thinset. (I provide the tape.)

Walls are a totally different story. Retailers want walls to go for the same price. To that I say, "nonsense". There are always structural modifications necessary to get the CBU's in flat and solid. I always seem to fight the damned things for one reason or another.

Most wall jobs are showers, naturally (small areas). So I won't do walls by the sq. ft., "time only" is the only way to go. Just for fun I'll also tell you I won't put CBU's on cheap metal studs period, and I won't install tile over CBU's that have been installed by someone else. Too many soft edges with no stud back, too many shiners, too many stripped screws. It's me or nothin' baby!

I've become really hard to work with sometimes!

05-22-2001, 08:02 PM
John, you are right, I am being told to LIKE it with respect to the train. You mentioned using lath over concrete. This has my curiosity peaked. The first question is why, and the second is how? Is this basically a floating mud bed? (I'd love some "How-To" and why details)

Rob, I can relate to your "pissed off etc." emotional state all to often. I've only been operating in this area for 2 1/2 years and still rely on people whose business philosophy differs dramatically from mine, to keep the bills paid.
But, there are limits to what I will do. Sounds like your Laticrete rep was down around here. Mastic and greenboard is temporarily positioning alot tile tub surrounds around here.
I was installing a laminate floor in a new house here. A "store" installer was in the master bath installing 13 x 13" floor tiles on greenboard with mastic in the shower. When a standard wall tile comes loose and falls off its irritating. When one of these 13" square floor tiles falls, I hope someone is wearing a hardhat in the shower.
My reputation is slowly becoming established. Maybe I can eliminate some of these contacts from my "bill paying" list before too much longer.

Bud, mud beds are becoming rare here as well. Sounds like your price for CBU floor installation is around my ballpark. I haven't had any experience with metal studs in this area and hope I don't. I agree with your philosophy with respect to CBU wall installations. Unfortunately, the fact some of my "sources" are opting for CBU instead of greenboard keeps them on my "bill paying" list. At least I can say the installation will last, even if the compensation is lacking.

Thanks to everyone for the feedback. Tomorrow is another day!

Rob Z
05-22-2001, 08:24 PM
Hey guys,

I'm back, after dinner with the family and reading Dr. Seuss and The Sesame Street Dictionary to my 5 year old. That's what REALLY counts, even more than quality tilework.

Mud is more and more scarce around here as well, though there are a few companies that still float mud regularly.

Latney, it's easy to say this to you, and harder to live with it (I fight the problem every day). There has always been a market for "craftsmen" doing cheap work, and there has always been a market for real craftsmen doing quality work. People have been wanting "great" work at a cheap price for centuries, and the answer remains the same-it can't be done. Stick to your standards, and slowly, incrementally, your reputation and client base will grow to suit your terms for doing things.

I'm with you on this one, especially on those bids where my competitor's price (labor and materials) is less than materials alone in my bid. Someone is cutting corners, and it's not going to be me.

Talk to you later,


Sonnie Layne
05-22-2001, 09:05 PM
Haven't ever broken it down except to say that typically my jobs labour runs 2/3 of the cost. So... the CBU cost is $11 plus tax and delivery, call it $14, total cost of installation is $42. (per 15 sf sheet) Relates roughly to $130/100sf. If I have to screw with the elevation, etc as a result of previous tradesmen, the penalty is simply $60/hour. My time sheets are set up such that I can keep track of who spends time doing what for whom. For the literacy, I spend more for labour.

Mud jobs entire? I've only done a few at cost plus, but I'll say that tho' the difference was substantial, I could install rounded corners at floor/wall junctures, wall/ceiling junctures and inside and outside corners of vertical treatments with no sweat, just a few brain neurons had to work harder. And for that I got mas dinero.

I agree with the former respondent. Dont' sell yourself short, don't do the work short, and the client list will be long. I know it's tough to reckon in the beginning, but if it is the beginning of your professional career, now is the time to consider that everything you do will affect the rest of your life. How would you like to live? What kind of folks would you like to work for? Would you like to overhear your clients referring you because you're cheap or because you're good and reasonable.?

blah blah blah, ran out of soap box, I'm too tired, and I'm determined to make use of tomorrow's cool front to install two attic stairways.

All my best,

John Bridge
05-23-2001, 06:32 AM
Using Lath over Concrete Slabs

The only mud floors we do anymore are for the one builder I still sub to. He builds what I call "castles," and everything is top drawer. When the slab is built, the entire thing is depressed two inches below finish grade. Every floor layer then commences to build up to the same grade. I shoot grade marks about 6 feet apart on the walls and on both sides of each doorway. At several points I scribble the distance down to the finish floor. I like to scribble -- keeps everyone on their toes. I have to keep an eye on the wood floor guys to make sure we're on the same wave length -- make sure we all meet up at the transitions. These are BIG houses.

We lay either tar paper or poly on the concrete and then lay lath over that, dump the mud on it, and we're off and running. Nothing is attached, and yes, it's called a floating floor. For this portion of the work I charge $2. Depending on whether it's ceramic or stone, I charge $3.50 to $5 to install, grout and clean. Someone else comes in and covers the floors.

Latney, I want you to know that I didn't just start out charging these rates when I went into business. I'm going on twenty years in the same spot. Nearly everybody in the business around here knows me or has at least heard my name. I'm the guy who wrote the book. (Oh well, there's that other guy who wrote the other book, too, but he's out in Cal. Hi MB)

As the others have said, keep to your convictions and you'll get there. Maybe.

05-23-2001, 06:46 PM
John, thanks for the clarification concerning your use of lath with mud over concrete. Now I "get-it".

I've read through the additional postings and truly appreciate everyones feedback and "hang in there" support.
Its great to have a forum of like minds and interest to bounce ideas and frustrations off.

I have been in floor covering about 10 1/2 years now. Ten years prior to that I was in pharmaceutical sales with CIBA-Geigy. How I went from that to this is a drawn-out tale best told over a bottle of Gold Tequila and some ice cold beer. (Lubricates my thought process and allows me to suffer through the boredom of hearing myself tell the story yet another time) I'm a native Texan, but started my venture into floor covering installation in Northwest Florida. (Panama City/Destin area) Finally got a chance to "return home" in late 98'.

The price of coming home has been a "bummer". Compensation for setting tile is 50-60% less than what I was able to get in the Destin area before I left. On the "upside" I am getting about 10-30% more for installing prefinished wood and floating laminate floors. But, tile is my favorite and I'll just have to keep plugging along.

I think I'm done bitching for now. (Kinda comes and goes depending on the day, week, month I'm having) Again, thanks to all for your input and happy hunting!

06-18-2001, 09:27 PM
Hi Guys,

I must admit I've become addicted to the discussions. It it all started with a "seemingly simple" question to John about shower pans....well that project has yet to start.

On a different but related topic, I hear a lot of talk about the use of a waterproofing product on CBUs ( hardiboard, durock, permabase, wonderboard, etc). What's this all about? For a standard tub/shower tile job, is this really necessary ? Is this req't limited for the use of CBUs on shower floors?

I'll get to my question on the "floating mud base" over a recessed concrete shower in another thread.

Help me out here guys...


06-18-2001, 10:08 PM
What the concern is, is the moisture vapor penetrating the concrete board. When it does so it can begin a mold and mildew scenario that is compounded with each shower.

It can also affect the dry wall on the wall backing up to the shower wall. If that wall is a exterior wall you can get a build up of condensation that will wet your insulation and affect your energy bills as well as cause damage to the structure.

A simple layer of visqueen over the studs will alleviate this.

Rob Z
06-18-2001, 11:22 PM
Hi Jason

I do use waterproofing membranes on CBU's on walls in showers for an extra layer of protection. On an economy job, roofing paper or poly on the studs behind the CBU will help stop moisture from penetrating into the stud cavity.

CBU's are not meant to be used on shower floors. (Notwithstanding what I saw a tile setter do on Bob Vila's show)


What is "Visqueen"?

06-19-2001, 04:10 AM
Visqueen, is what we always called the rolls of poly.

Do you treat the shower wall CBU's with 9235?


Bud Cline
06-19-2001, 09:09 AM
In my experience in the "for what it's worth department" poly is poly and visqueen (sp.) is visqueen.

Poly and visqueen are available in many sizes and generally poly is simply a 4 mil-6 mil sheet.

Visqueen is the same product basically except visqueen is laced with a nylon or fiberglass reinforcement thread.

That was always my understanding of the two products.

I have never seen a need to routinely treat the CBU's with a waterproofing material, (though I have) it just runs the cost up. CBU's are used on walls only (showers) and with the watershed effect moisture penetration shouldn't be a problem. With the exception of some wicking that can take place near the bottom of the walls. I also believe in sloping shower floors a little more radically than some installers do. The faster you can egress the water the longer the shower will live.

I also don't install vapor barrier on the studs before installing the wall materials. An exterior wall would be the exception for reasons stated above. The wall material I think needs to breath at every opportunity and to have vapor barrier behind the wall goods only delays this process and promotes mold and mildew. I also glue the CBU's to the studs, this wouldn't be possible when a vapor barrier is attached.

As far as drywall products backing-up CBU's I think allowing any drywall products to remain in place is a mistake.

John Bridge
06-19-2001, 01:41 PM
Hey Bud,

Now you got me goin'.

I think it is good policy to use a light moisture barrier behind ANY wall material, especially CBU. I think there IS a problem with wicking down toward the bottom, and I think this vulnerable area reaches up above the shower pan. Seems to me you're asking for dry rot by omitting the barrier.

I also get chewed out for this all the time, but I don't see why it's not a good idea to back up CBU with drywall and a moisture barrier. Some of the CBU stuff is pretty flexible. And, bumping the CBU out allows you to use radius trims (A-4200). Kind of makes it look like a mud job. It also solves your problem with the CBU/drywall transition.

06-19-2001, 02:21 PM
I was reffering to the dry wall backing from the adjacent room. The back of the dry wall nailed to the other sides of the studs as the backer board.

John, I know the look, it is a fake mud job. But dry wall?
Green board, maybe.

John Bridge
06-19-2001, 02:46 PM

"Green board" is drywall with green paper on it instead of white. Green board holds up just about as well as the white stuff -- turns to mush the same way, too. That's the reason for the vapor barrier.

Bud Cline
06-19-2001, 03:36 PM

I really can't argue with what you say. To have a little wicking in the wall board and no means of circulating any air is the problem especially when no matter what you do you have a wall void to deal with in most cases.

Just seems to me that whatever air is available in that wall void is better used when the whole area (92-1/2" X 3-1/2" X 14-1/4") can be made available for evaporation. When vapor barrier is installed it robs the wallboard backside of that air availability. An ideal nominal wall void will offer about 2.5 cubic feet of available air where the vapor barrier offers nothing.

Bud Cline
06-19-2001, 03:40 PM
Never had much confidence in "greenboard" also known as MR (moisture resistant). The color is a little more gray and I assumed maybe greenboard contain a little cement or something mixed with the gypsum.

John Bridge
06-19-2001, 05:35 PM
Hey Bud,

At least you didn't agree with me. Geez, it bugs me when somebody does that :-)

I'm thinking of preventing the moisture from getting in from the shower side. It can still "breathe" on the other side of the wall, can't it?

Bud Cline
06-19-2001, 05:51 PM
Air movement from the shower side of the wall is usually at best "poor" as we all know. But at least the opportunity is there. In the wall there is no opportunity and even less if a vapor barrier is present.

I have always wondered why some enterprising creative person hasn't devised a shower fan, not to exhaust steam and vapor, but one that would come on automatically when one has completed his shower. This fan would circulate free-air within the confines of the shower for about thirty minutes to an hour then automatically turn off until the showers next use. Or periodically turn on and off throughout the day.

06-19-2001, 07:30 PM
The name "vapor barrier" pretty much says it all. It's there to stop vapor from penetrating the wall cavity.

What's all this concern about the air exchange in the wall?


But, supposedly the green board is moisture resistant. Maybe just maybe a little more than the dry wall.

Of course if it was up to the rest of these guys, they'd just ditra, it. (boy there quiet tonight)

I'll bet that perks them up a bit.


06-19-2001, 07:41 PM
Actually, I'd use Kerdi......

06-19-2001, 08:48 PM
Just smear......T E C.......on it!!!

Seriously,"greenboard" wicks moisture just like regular drywall, especially on top of a tub where the water has a chance to sit and soak in.I've seen greenboard totally destroyed by water 6" above the tub.

Sonnie Layne
06-19-2001, 08:53 PM
actually I'm just taking notes, but have you noticed that the last few seconds of roasting popcotn are the most critical to the flavour of the final product?

Bud Cline
06-19-2001, 09:06 PM
If the sheetrock isn't allowed to touch the tub it won't wick.

I just plain ruin my popcorn with lots of salt and butter. What's critical to me is waiting until everyone goes to bed so I don't have to share my damned popcorn with anyone.

Sonnie Layne
06-19-2001, 09:11 PM
ditto, bud, ... I'm the only one awake.
Try romano/parmesian cheese, garlic, and just a dab of tabasco. It'll make you the most popular guy in the neighborhood, goodbye to boring old salt/butter., Give it a whirl, I promise... sounds weird I know.

06-19-2001, 09:23 PM
Hey Sonnie

I do the popcorn treatment too..but I've never tried the hot sauce...sounds great!..what beer goes with that?


Bud Cline
06-19-2001, 09:33 PM
OK Sonny, you get an attaboy for that recipe.


Sonnie Layne
06-20-2001, 08:21 PM
Thanks Bud, I really appreciate the pat on the back but could you make it a rub??? hehehe

Bitburger goes well, but being it has an Italian flair try Perroni or even a fat Cabernet!!

Next batch you'll have to try some garlic tamari with chicken stock. Good with Dixie. Or another US pilsner.

Bud Cline
06-20-2001, 09:40 PM
Sonny I can see your spending tooooo much time watching Emeril.

Sonnie Layne
06-20-2001, 10:21 PM
hahaha, Bud, you're nearly right.

My old friend Paul G, went to culinary school with Emerill. Biggest dif was Paul WAS a coonass, Emerill still as it is gathers his home cookin stuff from ummm is it Portugal? a bit of french but not enough. I will toast his recipes. And I use them as a base jump-off point, but ahhh, Paul that grand fat cajun, the emperor of the kitchens at the Gran Royal Orleans Hotel, who bought his produce every morning at 5am when I was just coming home from playing guitar.

hehehe, I was the guinea pig for many a happy moment in the top floor suites. Can't even describe to you how eggs and chocolate blend with shrimp or soft shell crab to delight the senses amidst the aroma of chicory and powdered sugar. It's a wonder I don't weigh more than I do. It's a wonder I can work like I do. It's a wonder you haven't asked me to prepare your sunday bruch!!! $150 per head and you got it (plus travel and per diem of course.) Oh darned, what do I do? Build a roof-top slate shower or cook brekkie for Bud and his better half? Just kidding, Bud. You know I'd opt out for the chef thingy. (sorry, there's that word again)

hahaha, your kindred spirit, like it or not,
let me know about your next batch of popcorn.

06-21-2001, 05:37 AM
I'm just a little (ya! right) midwestern boy, transplanted voluntarily in the south.

In all of your eloquence, please elaborate on that "coonass" thingy.

We used to say "coons age" as in, I haven't heard that in a coons age. But describing someone as a "coonass". I have an idea, but I wait with baited breath for your response.

By the way, I was surprised I didn't get and questions about Euchre, from a post in another thread. Do all of know what it is?

Sonnie Layne
06-21-2001, 07:27 AM
Art, Coonass be da word what tol' bout us dat from come da bayou Bonfourche or roun' bout dere. It's not really derogetory when used in the presence of a cajun if it's said with a smile on the face.
While I've played baseball, never softball. While I've played a few card games (very few), never Euchre. Once used the term euchristic in a poem to define the eyes of an unfaithful woman, does that count??? hehehe.

I'm here and gone again, slingin' more drywall mud today. These ceilings are starting to get to me.

Bud Cline
06-21-2001, 09:22 AM

Somewhere in these threads not too long ago I asked if you were from Louisiana but the question was ignored. I had you pegged for Cajun or even better Coonass. I have known plenty of guys from the Bayou and I gotta tell ya they are the greatest. I have always loved the Delta area and the bayous, it stinks really bad sometimes there but hay, have you ever lived near a cattle or hog feedlot in Nebraska? Now that's the chitz.

Later you said something about hailing from Oklahoma and really threw me a curve, to that I could only say "Gee, I'm sorry". (That's a joke Okies) I remember when I first moved to Texas, the big joke then was about the reason Texas would never one day break off and fall into the Gulf of Mexico is because Oklahoma sucks so bad. I thought that was pretty funny but to tell you the truth southeast Oklahoma is a beautiful fantastic place to visit if your into the great outdoors. In fact most of eastern Oklahoma is worth the trip. I was going to go on to say Oklahoma City just blows me away but that may be construed as being in bad tatse. So much for todays geography lesson.

Sonny, something tells me you probably knew a singer by the name of Bill Terry?