Plank shower with marble benchI get quite a few questions here concerning cracking grout on a shower bench. In some form or another people are mostly asking whether they should caulk or grout the outside corner, where the bench top meets the vertical tile on the face. The reason for asking me this, however, is what I will address in this post.

Most people begin with something like ‘my grout has cracked and now water is getting behind my tile and my bench is starting to swell, there was an eclipse, my dog has burst into flames…it’s a whole thing. Should I grout or caulk that?’

Unfortunately this happens a lot (the bench, not the eclipse or k-9 flames…), and everyone thinks about it backwards. It is not the grout (or missing grout) that caused water to leak into your bench and swell the framing, it was the swelling of the framing that caused your grout to crack. Tile and grout are not waterproof. The reason you have this issue is because your bench was not properly waterproofed before tile was installed.

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Proper Expectations and Applications

Not seal -Sealer - Seal-E-R!

Not seal -Sealer – Seal-E-R!

In Tile and Stone Sealers Part 1 I explained how sealers work. If you haven’t yet read that please do so. It will give you a base understanding of how they get into your tile and what they protect against. It will help you understand what you’re looking for and also help decode some of the terms you may find here.

When choosing a sealer the first decision you should make is what you are trying to protect against. Silicone-based sealers protect against water-based stains – coffee, tea, beer Pepsi, stuff like that. Fluoropolymer-based sealers protect against oil-based stains – cooking oil, body oil, shampoo, stuff like that.

Easy enough so far?

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In the first part of this tutorial I showed you how to frame up your access panel and get the magnetic latches on it and all lined up. So right now you should have an access panel in the side of your fancy-pants tub and a box of tile just sitting there and laughing at you. If you don’t have that check out the link above. I’ll wait. :whistle:

That post is the meat and potatoes of building your access panel. This one simply describes the basics of installing your tile as well as placing an insert, if need be, into the access panel.

The biggest thing you’ll need to pay attention to as you install your tile is the perimeter of your access panel. You don’t want to get thinset into it or otherwise block it. If you do – it simply becomes a wall with a lot of pieces.

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Spectralock Pro PremiumAnyone who reads my blog (and lets be honest – who doesn’t?) knows that I am a diehard SpectraLOCK junkie. For those who don’t know what that is, SpectraLOCK is an epoxy grout made by Laticrete. It is stain-proof, pet-proof, and bullet-proof! (Don’t try that, it’ll really piss off the wife…) If you don’t know any of that – you need to read my blog more! :guedo: So just like everything I love – it changed.

Laticrete has recently come out with SpectraLOCK Pro Premium grout. A little birdie told me that this will replace the SpectraLOCK pro grout in the near future. Given that, I need to figure out how to use it – because it works differently than the stuff I’m used to. The difference in the workability may very well be due to the temperature, humidity, hangover flu bug, or any number of factors on the particular days I was working with it.

But it just doesn’t feel ‘normal’ to me – you know? It seems like it tightens up (gets stiff) and starts to roll out of the grout joints more quickly than the other stuff did. So, as with any installation product, if it begins to cure faster than you can use it you should just mix up smaller batches. And being the awesome DIY crowd you are – it’s probably a good idea for you to know how to do that anyway. So this is the best way I’ve found to do it.

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I get a LOT of questions from my readers about basic shower construction. I understand that my readers don’t consider this stuff basic and there’s no problem with that. The problem is that I end up answering the same questions over and over and over… So, to save what very little is left of my sanity (which is a number roughly equivalent to absolute zero) I will cover some basic things here so I can simply reply ‘read this’.

If you’ve been channeled to this page by one of my smart-ass comments please take no offense to it, I’m here to help. Please understand that I currently have over 12,000 comments (questions) on this site (seriously) which I’ve answered – every one of them. I’m just trying to make your life (mine) easier.  I will continue to answer every question I’m asked, I’m just super cool like that. 8) If, after reading through this, you still have questions feel free to ask them in the comments below.

You can also download my shower waterproofing manual which should answer a lot of questions and cover basic techniques and methods you may be confused about. Go ahead, it’s free.  So without further ado (doesn’t even look like a word, does it?) let’s get on with it. (For all my readers who feel the need to correct me: I KNOW it’s actually ‘adieu’ – I was being facetious. Thanks. :D )

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Another request from one of my readers, this time concerning weep holes. As you may know I answer every question I’m asked here on my site when I sober up get home from work. I have tried to explain in the comments section several times where to create weep holes in a tub or shower (acrylic base) tile installation and now realize it’s a difficult thing to do with words.

So when Kurt asked me to clarify exactly where they go a stroke of genius hit me! (Yeah, I’m slow sometimes) I have pictures. Well, not exactly pictures of the weep holes themselves, but I can at least let you know where they are.

When you have a tub which does not have specific spaces for a weep hole you need to ‘create’ them in your caulk line. Let me back up here a second and explain what weep holes are and why you need them.

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Line for the control joint

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In my previous post I beat you to death with the reasons why you absolutely need a soft joint (control joint) in certain tile installations. Sorry about that, I have a hard time expressing how important they are without being a dick. They”re important – really. So now that I’ve properly reprimanded you it’s time to show you how to do it. :D

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Your grout is cracking for one reason and one reason only: your tile is moving. That’s it. Okay, that’s not it – Unless your grout is non-sanded and was installed in the last 28 days – your tile is moving. That’s it. Yes, 28 days has significance, it is the amount of time it took my teenage son to clean his room. It is also the amount of time it takes for grout to fully cure.

So let’s figure out why your grout is cracking:

Your grout is newly installed – incorrectly

If you do have grout that was installed within the last 28 days then your grout is not actually cracking – it is shrinking. Either your grout lines are too large for non-sanded grout (smaller than 1/8″)  or it was incorrectly mixed. NO! You cannot simply mix up more and fill it in. Read this post about adding more grout to your grout lines.

If your grout is not fresh, well, you need to repair the reason your tile is moving. And stop using your pogo stick in the house. Diagnosing the reason your tile is moving is extremely varied. It could be anything from inadequate deflection in your flooring for the type of tile all the way up to and including the aforementioned pogo stick.

The most likely reasons your tile is moving:

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When there is a significant amount of movement on the substrate of a tiled floor or wall it may lead to grout cracking. When this happens it will leave what looks like a crack in the grout where it has come away from the tile. Unless your grout was installed very recently this is always due to movement in the tile. If your grout is new it may be caused by incorrectly mixed grout. With grout that has been doing this for a while it may lead to whole chunks of grout coming loose and leaving large voids in your grout lines.

While it may be tempting to simply mix up some more grout and fill these voids you need to know that it will not last. If you do this it will fill the grout lines just like new but over time will lead to the same problem. Grout over grout is not a permanent solution.

Why it won’t last

The first reason is that when you go over the top of grout that is already cured with new grout, there is no adhesion to the old grout. It will instead simply create a layer of grout on top of the old grout. These layers have no way of  sticking to each other. When you grout tile the grout actually sticks to the sides of the tile rather than whatever substrate is beneath it. While it will stick to the substrate at the bottom of the grout lines to an extent, it is not a permanent bond. Attempting to grout over the top of old grout is simply stacking two seperate layers of grout. It will always remain two seperate layers.

The second reason is no matter how much of the old grout you may take out to install new, if you do not fix the actual reason the grout failed in the first place, eventually the same thing will happen again. As with any problem you may encounter with a tile installation, you must figure out the initial cause and fix it to prevent repeated problems. This is an involved process which I will cover in a different article. For now I’ll stick with the solution for the grout problem. [click to continue…]

The size of grout lines for tile is something that comes up on almost every tile installation. The secret no professional will tell you is there is really no set or absolute proper size for your grout lines. There are some guidelines that need to be followed but the actual size is more of a personal choice than it is a set width.

Grout line guidelines

Since grout line widths are generally a personal preference I’ll let you know what mine are. I separate most tiles into three different categories:

  • Small format tile – Tiles up to and including 8 X 8 inches square.
  • Regular – 12 X 12 up to 16 X 16 inches square.
  • Large format tile – 18 X 18 inches and larger.

These are not technically official category names for tile sizes – it’s just what I call them. I’m weird like that.

Small format tile

A lot of smaller format tiles are self-spacing. That means that on either two or four sides of each tile there are what are called “lugs”. Lugged tile have small bumps or protrusions on the sides which are set directly against the tile next to it. Most of these tiles are made specifically for vertical applications, those are shower walls, backsplashes, etc., rather than floors.

The lugs on the tiles allow them to be stacked atop one another and keep the grout lines consistent throughout the installation. For tiles with lugs on only two sides of each tile you must make sure they are all stacked in the same direction, that the lugs are not butted against each other. Normally the lugs will create grout lines that are 1/32 to 1/16 of an inch.

For small format tiles that do not have lugs I will usually use 1/16″ spacers. Depending upon the texture and consistency of the tiles I may use 1/8″ spacers on occasion. For instance 8 inch slate tiles will usually look better with a slightly larger grout line.

If you prefer larger grout lines but have lugged tiles – don’t panic. You can still use spacers with the lugs. To ensure consistency you need to make sure that you either put the spacers between all the lugs or between the spaces the lugs are not. In other words do not put a spacer between the lugs on one tile and between spaces where there are not lugs on another. To figure out the size of your grout lines you also need to add the size of the lugs to the size of the spacer if you use the spacers between them. [click to continue…]

This is a question I get asked from time to time. The short answer is no, you should not. Although grout does not add to the stability of the tile installation (unless it is epoxy grout), you still need to grout it.

Why you need grout

A lot of natural stones, namely granites and marbles, are manufactured to be consistently sized. For the most part all the tiles are identical.  This makes a lot of people want to install them without grout lines. Although in some people’s opinion butting the tiles against one another looks better than having even the smallest grout lines, it is not a recommended installation procedure.

Even if all the tiles look like they are the same size I can nearly guarantee they are not. Unless they are “rectified” they will differ, even if only a tiny amount, from tile to tile. Attempting to butt the tiles will result in a “jog” of the lines between them. The larger the area, the more those lines will run off. By leaving even 1/32 of an inch grout line you will be able to compensate for the difference in tile widths. [click to continue…]

There are three basic types of grout available for your tile installation. They are:

  • Non-Sanded (also known as Unsanded)
  • Sanded
  • Epoxy

Choosing the correct grout for your particular installation will not only complete the job correctly, it will also cut down on maintenance. Properly installed and sealed grout will last for the life of your tile. So which to use and when?

Non-Sanded (or Unsanded) Grout

Unsanded grout is made specifically for grout lines smaller than 1/8 inch wide.  This is a general rule. I use unsanded grout only in tile with grout lines smaller than 1/16″. Unsanded grout (all grout to different degrees) will shrink as it cures. The reason for only using it in smaller grout lines is the wider the grout lines, the more grout must be used to fill them. The more grout you have, the more it will shrink. If you try to fill grout lines that are too large the grout will shrink enough to pull away from the sides of the tile.

Unsanded grout is easier to work with, especially on vertical surfaces such as a shower wall, because  it is “stickier” than the sanded variety. You can spread it onto the wall and it will stick there while you force it into the grout lines. It is also much easier on the hands than sanded.  Although it is easier to work with, you need to make sure that the application for which you are using it is correct. [click to continue…]