Flooring and Carpeting/Tile Subfloor Issue


QUESTION: Hi Perry, I hired a contractor to help refinish a bathroom.  He installed a custom tile shower with an acrylic shower basin.  No problem with that installation. He also installed a tile floor where there was 2 layers of existing vinyl flooring. He glued and screwed a subfloor over the vinyl flooring. The floor tile is 2" porcelain tiles. The problem is that there's some give in the subfloor near the shower basin.  The floor up to about a foot from the shower is solid.  When you walk on the floor near the shower, you can hear the grout crunching a little and the grout line between the shower basin and the tile floor is cracked.  I emailed him and this is his response:

"There was some movement under the tub and I screwed it down before setting the shower base and that seemed to have taken care of it. Iím guessing that the movement in that sheet transferred further over after screwing the section down under the shower, which happens sometimes. That sheet started at the wall so about a foot out from the shower would be the edge of that sheet so that would make sense that the movement ends about a foot out. I should be able to run some screws down through the grout lines in front of the shower and get the movement to stop. The crack along the shower is typical; I always caulk that joint with color matched grout caulk which I was going to do when we came back down. I didnít have any with me when we first put that together and didnít want to make a special trip just for that since we were going to be back again."

What are your thoughts? Does this make sense, and is his approach to fixing this acceptable?

I was going to do the work myself but had a serious back injury after I had already ripped out the existing vanity and tub, and I couldn't do the tiling.  Personally, I would have pulled the vinyl before I installed subfloor, which is what I assumed he would do. I know, assume nothing!

The floor isn't big, 5' x 6'. My back is getting better and I can rip the tile out & subfloor and redo everything if I need to.  Hate to do that to a new floor...

Thank you!

ANSWER: Thank you for your question Mike.....

     The explanation provided by the sub-contractor perhaps sounds reasonable to some but....did you ask him about removing the two layers of vinyl? To simply install over a "single" layer is a suspect installation method and to do it over "two" layers is ill advisable in my experience especially in light of installing a completely new plastic shower pan. I completely understand the difficulty in removing a base layer of vinyl (the surface layer would be easy pickin's to remove) and I do not see anything mentioned about whether there is a layer of underlayment for the original layer of vinyl as is common. So getting beneath all of it seems to me a straightforward process getting to the bottom of things visually for what sounds like a needed visual inspection before committing your hard earned money. It is not unusual for there to be undetected rot right where the suspect breakdown is happening. Also you can't tell if the sub-floor may be missing bridging or bracing between the joists that could easily be determined had it been totally cleared, sometimes a plank wood sub-floor and certainly a plywood sub-floor can get fatigued in one area over time as materials break down. Of course I have the benefit of hindsight sitting here at my computer but for your guy to just assume that all is well and just go for it not thinking about the "what if" when it happens...I am simply not trusting enough when presented with a scenario like this Mike. Perhaps you may encourage your contractor to address "the specific suspect area" of concern by culling back the necessary tile and material beneath and inspect what is really happening there with the goal of preserving the balance of the install. I'm not a total fan of that scenario but it would serve to help you get what you should have received in the first place and teach a timely lesson to a perhaps less experienced Tile Mechanic. I do not like to critique the work  of installers but sometimes it's unavoidable when the process/method that was taken does not marry up to time tested practice. If you need a bit of leverage you may inquire for a copy of both his License and copy of his current Insurance certificate. This usually is enough pressure to encourage additional participation to satisfy the customer. Ok Mike, that's it. I hope this helps you with your problem, feel free to return anytime...

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

QUESTION: Thanks Perry!  Your recommendation to remove the tile over the section with the "give" sounds like a good approach to me.  I've contacted the contractor and am waiting for a response. I'm considering just doing the work myself as I've had some other issues with his work and not sure if I can trust him to do the job right. I doubt if I can be here when he's doing the work and won't be able to monitor what he's doing.  His approach sounded pretty questionable to me and you confirmed my suspicions. Thanks for your helpful advice!

ANSWER: You are welcome Mike...you hadn't mentioned some of the other work your guy had performed that you found suspect but your gut instinct is usually a good determiner of what you want to see when things are complete. Once you have recovered from your back injury you may consider settling those things you are most comfortable doing, but I would still want you to have this guy feel some pain of his own doing by having to deal with less than stellar work of his own hands in making the customer feel like they got the quality that they are paying for. In the end you are making him either consider getting out of the business all together or making him turn into a better contractor which benefits his future customers and you get what you wanted without dirtying your own hands. Come again anytime Mike, glad we could help..


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

Removed area
Removed area  

Subfloor damage
Subfloor damage  
QUESTION: Hi Perry, point taken, I will follow up with him.  This will be my last set of questions.  I did pull up one foot of tiling along the shower basin because I wanted to know what the real problem is.  The tile underlayment backer board he installed is 1/2" cement board using 3/4" backer board screws, no thinset under the backer board. This was installed over the 2 layers of vinyl with 1/4 " plywood subfloor beneath, which means the backer screws are sunk less than 1/4" into the subfloor.  Due to visible water damage to the subfloor where the tub edge was and now the shower basin is, the screws didn't hold. In addition, I noticed that the entire floor is bowed in the center approx. 1/8" lower than at the walls.  Again, the floor area tiled is 5'x6'.

My question is, whether the entire installation is compromised by the use of 3/4" screws? The underlayment is barely screwed in. And what is your recommendation with the bowing?  Thanks again, Mike

Wow Mike....

    This is a situation that this unthinking contractor has thrust upon you. If you want my "entire" opinion here it is...it's all crap it needs to come out. Without foresight in developing a plan of action to follow when a contractor is about to set into motion an installation, all contingency's must be addressed. If you are looking at a short cut by ignoring a portion of demolition you damn well better account for the single most obvious element to the process. Proper anchoring of the sub-strate...good grief Mike. Vinyl that is encapuslated or simply left to its own demise over time will degrade and fail. So whether it is "covered" over or not it will deteriorate and leave space between it's sub-strate and itself. So your floor would have lasted a couple years maybe more depending upon usage. I'm sorry Mike but this must go back to square one the original sub-floor however deep you have to go. Lets give the rookie the opportunity to make it right by humbling himself and return to pull it "all" up now. He owes you that and also the cost of the replacement materials as well. Once you have those two things completed then you can decide to do it yourself or let him redeem himself. I understand your dilemma as you can pretty much at this point only trust yourself and if you hadn't been layed up in pain you and I would not be having this conversation I'm betting. As an added hit to the head I'm guessing that the vinyl underlayment is stapled as is standard with only a few passing screws. The size of the floor for "your" benefit is small but imagine what this guy has "possibly" done to other unsuspecting customers with his opportunistic strategy. I do not know how you come to be introduced to this contractor but I would let whomever told you know about how this has gone for you. You deserve better Mike, too bad I suspect that it will end up being you doing it in order to have it. Let me know how this goes will you as I hate this kind of thing.


Follow up:

Mike....I understand your feeling a bit disenchanted about how things are going but let me add a bit more to this scenario. If I do the math based upon his "now declared" methodology I find this joker on no more solid ground than when you and I first began. He says he used screws that are 1 1/4" which is a mere 1/2" more than what you were thinking he used. Two layers of vinyl and a 1/4" additional sub-strate equals 1/2", so he is only in to the bottom of the failure layer which is the 1/4" material. He is not yet even reached the original sub-strate and just because this guy says that is an acceptable method of install is foolish and unprofessional as the Industry considers a "single" layer the maximum amount to even consider covering not two layers. Even employing 2" screws you would barely be reaching the floor joists which is where you need to be getting to in order to have a successful and secured install. Prep is everything Mike pretty much anyone can drop in some tile in the manner this installer did and stand up and walk out taking your money with him. He has now proven my theory. Did he give you an explanation for the large dip in the floor? Or is he now running scared saying you voided a warranty he had no intention of fulfilling? Is there any wording on any paperwork promising a warranty from him? Do you have a copy of his Occ License or insurance? Sorry Mike that you are mired in a situation like this. In these tough times there will arise many more installers just like this one who only know enough to leave in their wake unhappy customers. Let me know if you need any help moving forward, I'll be here.


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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...

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