You are here:

Flooring and Carpeting/Thinset not removed within grout joints.


QUESTION: My tile installer argued with me that it is "normal" to let the thinset HARDEN within the tile joints and later come in with a razor blade to take it out!!!

I personally have ten years of tiling experience with WALL tiles, backslashes, and would NEVER allow the thinset to dry if it was above the tile, but would clean it out as I go, or at least the next day while it is still soft enough to get out.

NOW... it is hard as a rock... and even a sharp blade cannot get it out!!!

During the week long installation, I kept calling the head of the tiling company,
insisting that this was NOT acceptable. They refused to clean it as they installed.
I worked until 3 am one night doing it myself before it hardened, then got too tired but
kept insisting it was not correct.

I do not believe grout will adhere properly inside a grout line where thinset is nearly at the top of the tile. My grout is a different color than the thinset and the thinset will show through the grout. I see that all the time in sloppy tile installation.

They tried to correct the problem, using a razor blade.... with muscle...
but it lowered the thinset only jut below the tile. And in some places it is several inches
long and looks like grout.

it may very likely that the strong arm approach will chip the edges of the tile.
It is EXPENSIVE 18" Marco Corona rectified tile.

I am so very disappointed.

So, I just met with "Fernando".

I paid him $7,000 withholding $1000 until he replace three "hollow" tile locations and continued to lower the thinset lines within the grout lines.

I brought this to his attention DAY ONE... but was ignored.

I provided the thinset.
None of the installers spoke English.
They ignored my complaints about the thinset hardening between the tiles.

Was I wrong to pay him so much?
~~ Betty

ANSWER: Thank you for your question Betty,

   Where did you make your connection with this "Fernando"? Was he recommended from a Tile Supplier to you? Did you ask for and receive a copy of his Liability Insurance certificate?...perhaps a copy of a current Business License? Perhaps now you may ask him to show proof that all of his men are currently covered by "Workman's Compensation Insurance" because an $8K Stone install is not small potatoes and if he is operating "outside" of those costs then he is not only a crook sidestepping the legal system he additionally is not very customer satisfaction oriented either. It is a rookie or a careless thing to do by leaving thinset to harden in place only to attempt to cut out at a later time. I always carried a "strike stick" that was smaller than the joint spacing I would be installing and it was easy to pull it through the joints as I installed keeping the depth low and consistent throughout the install. It just made sense and was easy. One of the most common issues that arise after an install is the "mottling" of the grout once complete whereby there are dark shades and lighter shades throughout the install which always seems to mystify those standing there looking at it...the installer and the customer. Well the most common "cause" for this said mottling is due to varying depth of grout within the joint itself because the joint, that is to receive the grout, is sometimes only half way deep enough or even less defeating the needed and consistent total amount of the required grout to fill the space. Less grout in the joint because there is thinset there in the way can make the color either darker or lighter depending upon how deep it is.
   Now before this guy begins the "removal" process be sure to take multiple and careful pictures of the condition of these floor tiles prior to "cutting" out the now rock hard thinset. Anything unacceptable to you either comes out of his check or must be corrected to your satisfaction or "that" will also be removed from the balance of the check. On any job I would do I would typically only receive enough funds on the front end to pay for my materials and other related costs...typically about 50% with the balance of the funds paid upon a "satisfied completion"....once you as a customer was completely happy and the job completed then I would then receive the rest of the money. It was always a positive ending and promoted goodwill with the customer who often would retain me again for future projects or to other new customers.

   I can't fully recommend what happens to the last 1K$ so long as there are no damaged tiles and there is no mottling in the grout joints then pay the last out to Fernando and commit the experience to memory as a pathway to never go down again in the future. Ok?....I hope this helps you with your problem and educates you for future ones should they arise. Feel free to return anytime...

Perry V.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Wow Perry... this is exactly what I needed to hear! Thank you so much. I KNEW it was sloppy but they kept telling me that it was "normal" and "not to worry".
THUS I will CONTINUE TO DISAGREE with him that ... having the thinset just a tiny millimeter below the tile is enough to be paid in full.
My second question is that I got on my hands and knees and "knocked" the tiles with my fist until my fist was raw. I found a number of places that had a "hollow" sound and I understand that this means that there is no thinset underneath and the porcelain will crack easily. This already happened during the week they were there where the porcelain cracked along the side. He replaced it.
When Fernando came to the house and I was on my hands and knees trying to find hollow tiles, I said, "Should I  have to do this?!!? Aren't YOU the supervisor and since we have already found two hollow sounds, shouldn't you do this?" So he took a piece of wood flooring (the piece that goes between the wood floor and the tile) and used that to touch the tiles. He said he could not find anymore hollow sounds.
Later I used that piece of wood and quickly recognized that it is NOT a tool for finding hollow tiles! It makes a strange sound and cannot be relied upon.

Isn't there a professional tool for finding hollow spots other than one's knuckles?

Again I got on my knees and found more hollow tiles using my knuckles. There are three very bad hollow places and several smaller hollow places. He said he would come back and replace the tiles. However the porcelain is Marco Corona Italian tile. VERY EXPENSIVE. I do have enough leftover, but had planned on doing the wood floor room in the future plus still have to tile the side of the bath tub and the walls, so I could use it there.

I'm too easy I guess... I only retained $1000. No I did not get a copy of his license and liability as he was HIGHLY recommended by the tile company who said he'd done thousands of jobs for them with no complaints. Maybe this was a different "crew".

This is not me... arguing and withholding money. I would have loved to have given each of the guys a $100 bill at the end of the job and said thank you. I should not be placed in this position. Now I have to be a bad ass which is uncomfortable but I believe necessary.

I told him if he came up here (hour drive) and fixed the problems (the thinset cannot be fixed now) that I would give him the balance. My feeling now is to let him come replace the hollow tiles but NOT pay him the last $1000. because the thinset level CANNOT be repaired. I think I overpaid anyway because with the measurements I was given I still have 25 boxes (!) of porcelain remaining which is 100 square feet more than I needed!! I told him that I did not want the same guys to come back since they were the ones who caused the problem and REFUSED to change even though I was emphatic that it was wrong on the very first day.

There are small pieces of plastic just above the tile from the spacers and even with a sharp blade I cannot cut them as they are locked in the thinset which is nearly at the surface.
(This is our retirement dream house. I love this porcelain and it was so important to me. Now I have bad memories that will always be associated with this.)

ANSWER: Welcome back Betty....

    So sorry that you have to wrestle with an unsatisfactory outcome on your new floor. I will give you my best secret to discovering "hollow" tiles, it involves a simple set of the keys on a ring for your car. Just take them and drag them across the top of any of your tiles and the hollow ones will jump out at you. The tiles that have a secure bond will have a much higher pitch whereas the hollow ones will have a much lower register to the ear...very easy to detect. Now this is providing the install is over a solid surface like a cement slab and not if an uncoupling membrane was employed like Ditra which is a plastic underlayment that is bonded to the sub-strate first then tile installed over that...ok?
   Next.....I am dumbfounded that there remains evidence of spacers poking through the grout surface, this is amateur installation practice. I never use spacers for any floor installation ever, if you can't install floor tile without them then don't bother coming to install. I mean really unless the tiles are all perfect which they never are then the "perfect" spacers will push the tiles out of line every time. Good grief...make him remove any and all evidence of their being there because down the line the grout will crack out above the spacer because of it's lack of holding strength and being too thin. Be sure that you get the manufacture's name and color of grout to have in your records just in case you may need to purchase some down the line.
   Next....25 boxes of tile left over? That has to be a lot more than 100 sq ft. as each single tile is 2.25 sq ft. each at 18" a piece and typically there is 5-7 pieces per box. How many are in each box Betty? the math say there are just 4 pieces in each box, that is 9 sq.ft. per box and with there being 25 will give you 225 sq. ft total. Who gave you the take-off estimate? I would keep maybe 3 boxes just for "in case" changes down the road and return the balance back to the vendor.
   If your guy came recommended by another then it's time they hear that their guy is not performing and you can invite them to inspect his quality. The supposed suspicion is that your guy is a sub contractor who is working for "another" sub contractor which makes him a 2nd tier sub contractor. Many times the 1st tier sub will not do their due diligence to make sure that those contractors working for them are all "legal" and I mean that just as it sounds. If they are not in the Country legally and are working a big problem is being perpetrated on unsuspecting home owners who are trusting that those being hired are qualified and legal. That is why I mentioned the proof of "workmans comp insurance" be checked as this guy may be taking advantage of his own people. You can always hire a third party inspector to physically evaluate the install you are dealing with, I hate to critique other installers work but unless those who are shady are weeded out then issues like your will continue.
   Sorry Betty that you have this condition in your dream home. Somehow please set it aside on this Christmas day and celebrate with those close to you. Tomorrow will take care of itself....


---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Perry... gosh, I want to thank you so very very much for your terrific comments.
You brought up some very interesting points! I will definitely find out about the insurance. I so appreciate your candor in regard to this situation so that I will be able to speak with confidence.

(I was wrong, the Marco Corona porcelain  is 20 x 20. Three pieces per box. 25 boxes left over.)

TWO LAST QUESTIONS (promise)......
To get the previous ugly tile off the floor, I rented a piece of equipment at Home Depot and had a strong man do it for me. He got up the tiles... but not the previous thinnest. So while In the living room and family room the cement was flat since carpet was removed, the kitchen and hallways was very very uneven with leftover grout. The head guy that I'd spoken to on the phone, said he would "float" the floor and had me buy a lot more thinnest, however, when they installed the porcelain they just laid it on top of the old thinset. .... I questioned this and was told it was "fine". 1) Was it correct to leave the old thinnest down?

I am now worried about him "correcting" the hollow tiles... I guess they will break the tile... but then they have to
get the OLD THINSET OFF THE FLOOR ... and when they took up a broken tile before it had not hardened completely and they just used a chisel. 2) What should I expect them to use now that it is rock hard?

I love the keys idea and will be up there on Monday to try it. I knew there had to be a "secret" to doing this.
I have found a number of small hollow places... and so far three really big ones. approx. (6" x 9")

By the way, not only did the installer want to use spacers, but he wanted to charge me an additional $400 for using them! (On top of $3.65 per square foot.) I argued that point with him, but was told that the customer always pays for the spacers. So I did not get my "credit card" grout line on rectified porcelain that had originally been promised. It is  wider. (2 credit cards wide) I told him I'd split the cost with him ($200) but at the end when I saw the plastic and high thinset in the grout lines could not be removed I told him he should eat the cost and he agreed to. And I took $600 off for not grouting. I don't want grout lower than the tile and that is the way they do it.

I will be doing the grout myself. (I always mix unsanded with the sanded.)

I may try to find a tiny thin drimmel bit to take out the high thinnest and attempt to remove the plastic pieces that are still sticking up above the tile.

I will definitely tell the tile company that recommended them to me.
I think these installer just count on people not knowing and not caring.


Dang Betty...

    After having read your additional information I have to take pause before replying. I have been doing this a very long's truly been a career that continues after 37 years and I marvel at things that can happen when a trusting, unsuspecting customer takes the word of someone who supposedly is in business to earn a living and at the same time benefit those to whom he pledges a service. In my estimation you were given a bill of goods that has yet to be delivered as promised. I truly believe that one of two things (perhaps both) are at work here. One is "unskilled" workmen trying to pass off their lack of expertise by bluffing their way through to additional work by giving only a mediocre level of competence...and two is just pure laziness, in the case of your initial "workman" who removed only the tile and not the old adhesive that remained. How patently lazy to perform only "1/2" of what was required. This is just like a Auto parts house that sells you a single part only to discover that the bolt/nut that is required to hold it in place costs extra...dreadful business practice to stiff a customer who has innocently no idea of the process that they are "wanting" to pay for and still can not get.
    Ok...time to lend to you a couple concerns that linger. Removing old thinset is a  dirty/dusty/difficult process but every installer of any reputation knows that it should at least be "attempted". The thinset can be ground down if it's too hard to hammer up and my main concern when hammering up the tile "only" is that with the forceful impact of the hammer may cause portions of the old adhesive to lose it's bond. That can also contribute to the hollow sound beneath some of the tiles. If small areas of the old thinset is not bonded to the floor then in effect you have some areas of your floor that are little more than a "Porcelain rug" if you know what I mean. I have in years past floated over old thinset after being careful to check every sq ft. of the old adhesive for bond and that over only what I simply could not get up after a significant effort to remove as much as is possible. So I have been there in the past but I learned along the way that sometimes you have to do better to give better. Removing the suspect tiles will certainly result in at least the initial tile being broken. Sometimes Porcelain can be loosened with controlled impacts from the side and because Porcelain has a .05 absorption percentage (meaning that its basically waterproof and stainproof) also prevents the tile from having as tight a bond as a standard Ceramic tile would. It's not an easy route to take no matter what so a hammer and chisel will still be employed if I were on my knees doing the removal.
    Just so you know I can buy a box of spacers for about $15.00 and wanting to charge $400.00 to "use" them??? Wow where can I sign up for that....amazing outrageous rip-off. Especially in light of the minimal skill level required to use them. I do use them when I do vertical work installing wall tile for non-lug tile but no other time, perhaps it's just pride.
    Lastly....dusting off your hands from the likes of this particular contractor though leaving a bitter taste in you mouth allows you to move on with things as they are. There is a standard of bond that I want to convey to you that if the single tile where a hollow sound is detected as long as roughly 80-85% of the single piece of tile is bonded is within Industry standards, meaning that it will still perform as expected and with the material being Porcelain the actual strength factor is sufficient to keep the tile together...follow me? So don't be too dismayed at the sound of small spots of a hollow sound your floor tile will still out live you and me. As for the outfit that provided you this less than stellar contractor should feel your wrath and dissatisfaction at the outlay of your hard earned capital for a product that I doubt they would accept in their own homes. Now....about the left over tile. With the adjusted tile count per box and adjusted format (size) you have just under 10 sq ft. per box times 25 boxes?? Yeh more than my last estimate, the least the vendor can do for your dissatisfaction is to take back all but 3-4 boxes that you should keep put away. Ok Betty this exchange of information between us is my Christmas gift to you. Don't be discouraged, enjoy as best you can. I hope this helps ease your frustration a little, feel free to return anytime Betty I'll be here


Flooring and Carpeting

All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Perry Vellenga


Ceramic Tile/Marble. I can answer questions about floor preparation, tile selection, layout questions, performance of products, expectations of finish, compatabilities, questions about grout and epoxies, evaluating an installer, asking the right questions to check competence...more? 33 years this August 2012/ many years in commercial application from exterior finishes to Mall store fronts/ interior finishes like floor packages in stores inside Malls examples: The Limited, Lerner/NY, Lane Bryants, Bombay Co., Now involved in Residential new construction covering all types of interior finishes and designs.


I worked in an exclusive field of floorcovering called "Tenant Development" which is by invitational bid only, by way of a National bid list. These are large floor packages usually over 3500 sq. ft. of 18" x 18" Marble and Granite and many other types of Marble and sizes. They are specialty stores where the floor package can cost upwards of $50,000 for one store. I have also done "Structure" stores and J. Riggins stores, Lane Bryant,Express and Body Shop stores where wood flooring is used. Presently work for a National Flooring Company in the Residential new construction arena that covers most interior design elements..Granite Slab tops/wood flooring both job finished and prefinished ect..

My response's are published all across the Internet and picked up by multiple Interior Design sites and Industry related web sites where people have questions...

too many most of which don't count...

©2016 All rights reserved.