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What’s behind your tile?

Part of a bathroom remodel always involves doing tile work, and most homeowners don’t know there 

Are two general methods to install tile, this is most likely why if you get two estimates for the same tile work, one will be high compared to another one. 

You may wonder why there would be such a big cost difference for the same work? The reality is that you are probably not comparing apples for apples. Let me explain. 

For the person who has a clinical eye, like myself; tile work has to be done in the traditional method of what’s called “Floating Concrete” this method is by far the better method that ensures a plumb installation versus relying on how level the studs may be to hope that no one notices deficiencies in the rough framing work. 

To expand on this information, let me explain exactly what “Floating Concrete” entails. 

Once the demolition has taken place in your bathroom, and you can see the bare walls, You will notice that the studs are simply uneven pieces of wood, after all you’re looking at rough framing. The tile professional will begin by covering the studs with black tar paper, or roofing paper, to provide the water proofing, then a wire mesh gets stapled to the walls with the tar paper, that phase is called the scratch coat. And must be inspected to make sure it’s been done properly. The inspection is called “Lathe” it’s actually the same method used to put stucco on the exterior walls. Once the lathe has been inspected, and passed. The tile installer will proceed to put a rough coat of concrete, and let it dry completely. Then another layer of concrete which is leveled with long metal edges gets done. At this phase the walls will still look rough but leveled, having this leveled substrate is what can ensure you that the corners in the shower will all line up, and that when you get the glass enclosure company come out to measure for your new shower door, they will tell you they usually don’t see this caliber of tile work anymore. 

Now compare this method to slapping on the rough framing, a cement like board; formerly called wonder board, or cement board. Please be aware that even using the green board, which is supposed to be OK with some water exposure, only using this to install the tile right above it, won’t be enough to create a water proof seal between the tile and the studs. Which is why if your bathroom had this poor type of tile installation done, you may have had one or two or a few tiles fall out, and you may have noticed there is black mold behind it. Yes this is the “Other” less expensive method of installation. Which is why this is a lot less compared to the first method. I will however say there are new products out there, that will create a sealant between the substrate and your tile installation, one of these products is called “Red Guard” it goes on like a paint, and drys off to be like a latex cover. This will create a water proof seal, as long as it is not broken into by cuts, nails or screws. The drawback is that even with the water tight seal like Red Guard or a similar product, You will still see the unevenness of tile on the corners because this will do nothing to level the substrate. 

The saying “You get what you pay for” does come to mind when we review these two very different methods of tile installation. But now that you know what is happening behind the tile, and why two bids for the same thing would be so different, which would you choose? For all my clients in my 20 years plus careers, we have used and continue to use the floating concrete methods. You will be happy, and you won’t drive yourself crazy looking at the corner of your shower going sideways. The cost to install tile with floating concrete, can easily be double the cost of installing it with a backer board, but if you need to cut back on cost; I would say get a less expensive tile, or fixtures, but don’t cut back on getting your tile work done right.