Our contractor is arguing with me about tile choice; is he right?
February 5, 2019 4:07 PM   Subscribe

I've picked out a glass tile for our bathroom that I'm pretty in love with. The contractor at first complained because it was more difficult to install, and now is claiming that because our house is built on unstable soil that we can expect a catastrophic failure at some point. Does he have a point?

So my partner and I live in an area with a lot of limestone and clay in the soil. The houses in our neighborhood often experience wall cracks due to foundations shifting on the soil. Our house has a couple of cracks, but they are in doorframe corners - none are on the walls themselves or in either of the bathrooms.

We are having our bathrooms redone, and I have fallen in love with a very reasonably-priced mesh-backed glass tile for the bathtub walls in our hall bathroom. The contractor hemmed a little when he first saw it and said glass was more difficult to install, and is now giving us a lot of pushback on installing it at all due to the nature of the soil in our area. He says the house is slipping off its foundation, which he discovered when they broke through the master bath floor to reseat the shower drain, and we will have big problems with the tile in the future.

I believe this, but I am dubious about the glass being a problem, especially as we haven't had any issue with cracking in the bathroom. I suspect that he is not that thrilled about installing the glass. I am completely willing to admit that I am wrong though. Any one else have this problem?
posted by kittyloop to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I can't say anything about the looming potential catastrophe. I can say that contractors will often charge more for doing glass tile, and prefer not doing it at all.
posted by cacao at 4:14 PM on February 5 [5 favorites]

I've done a bathroom in mesh-backed glass mosaic tile, from floor to ceiling. It looked great when it was done, but it was a lot of work. Cutting glass tiles is much harder than cutting ceramic tiles, and if the individual tiles on the mesh are quite small, the grouting takes that much longer.

Having said that, I really wouldn't expect the choice of tiles to be impacted by the local geology. If the problem is bad enough to wreck your tiled walls, it's probably doing serious damage elsewhere too. There are flexible adhesives and grouts which would probably mitigate any slight movement, anyway.
posted by pipeski at 4:22 PM on February 5 [2 favorites]

The contractor probably doesn't want to do it if he thinks you're going to come back and complain and ask for a re-do. Ask him if there's a way that you'll put in writing that any cracks discovered after job completion are not covered by any warranty, either real or implied.

He says the house is slipping off its foundation

That's kind of like saying, I don't want to give you a haircut, because you have cancer.

Ask him if it's real enough for you to call in a home inspector to evaluate the foundation, or is he just kind of guessing. Wrap that into the conversation about the tile and if you can sign something.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:25 PM on February 5 [20 favorites]

I mean, house "settling" is a thing, as you mention. I lived in a house where the bedroom ceiling had a crack across it and the driveway had split in half because the house was built on an artificially created hill. My current house has cracks like you describe in yours, and my neighbors had to fill the area under their house with concrete due to the ground shifting. One house I looked at when searching had an entire sinkhole under it as shown to us by an engineering survey. There was considerable concern about sinkholes and settling in our house search, as we (Hubris family) did not want a house that would crack in half or collapse into a hole with us inside of it. We looked at foundations, talked to people, read reports.

Not once, though the bathroom wall styles were varied and sundry, did I see cracks or missing tiles in them, ceramic or otherwise, and not once did anyone ever mention tiles popping off the walls. Anecdata, FWIW, etc.

I'd say do your research to be sure, but it sounds like in the absence of hard evidence that glass tiles pop out when the structure shifts, they are trying to avoid the work. Insist on the technical reason, if there is one, and don't let them brush you off.
posted by Armed Only With Hubris at 4:45 PM on February 5 [1 favorite]

I don’t think I’d want to force a contractor into something they don’t want to do. How well do you perform at work when you are told to do X and your concerns don’t matter at all?

Likewise. I wonder how much consideration you would give to a builder who hired you to do whatever you do, but ignored all of your professional advice on the issue.

Food for thought, I’ve known a lot of people in the building trades but I profess no expertise on this specific issue.
posted by SaltySalticid at 4:52 PM on February 5 [16 favorites]

If the contractor has reservations about the life of the glass tile, I'd believe him. Whether he does not want to do it is his choice. Were I him I'd definitely write in a clause that anything that happens to the tile AFTER installation is on you. Maybe his experience justifies it for him.
posted by JayRwv at 4:54 PM on February 5 [2 favorites]

Glass has conchoidal fractures, that is, it won't fracture in a straight line like porcelain tile, and it's harder to cut, etc. due to this. Think flint arrowheads, etc. that is how glass fractures, so imagine trying to cut that.

I'm not sure how this translates to mesh-backed tile tho'. But I don't doubt that it's harder to install than regular porcelain tile, which can be cut into clean straight lines with a tile cutter.

Whether your house settling will affect your bathroom tile, that I don't know, and you should maybe get a second opinion? Go into a Home Depot or other big box store and ask those guys and see what they say.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 5:06 PM on February 5 [1 favorite]

Agreeing both that it's a contractor issue and that he should be trusted for what his team cannot do. Consider subcontracting that out. We've had glass tile in our shower for more than 10 yrs. The subcontractor had to re-do it to get the plaster (?) on the back of the tiles smooth enough to not show through and they commented numerous times about how this was such a learning experience for them. But it has survived without a crack through re-leveling of our foundation as well as ground swells due to hurricanes. We're looking to redo the shower to make it curbless but wanted to keep the look---I'm sad to hear glass tiles are still problematic.
posted by beaning at 5:09 PM on February 5 [4 favorites]

I'd be concerned about working with someone who appears to be using scare tactics to get what they want. If it's hard to install, charge more for the installation. I'd rather an honest, 'I hate the stuff and won't work with it' over a manipulative and false 'your house is about to crack in half so you shouldn't use that'. The above suggestion that you call him on it by asking if the danger to your house warrants bringing in an inspector is solid and your contractor's response will probably answer your question about whether it's the tile or his willingness to install it that is faulty.
posted by AliceBlue at 5:11 PM on February 5 [16 favorites]

i think if a contractor doesn't want to use or
doesn't recommend a particular material, at the very least you are outside their comfort zone. don't make them do it is my advice.
posted by zippy at 5:55 PM on February 5 [4 favorites]

Hello, longtime tile worker here.

Is your contractor doing the work or does he have a qualified tile setter doing it? You don't want a jack of all trades installing most tile, but definitely not a glass mosaic tile.

Marie Mon Dieu is correct that glass tile is A PAIN to cut. Installers charge a lot extra for it. Mesh-backed glass tiles need to be marked, taped, slowly run through a cutter with a special blade that needs to be replaced more often, and still will cut funky/unpredictably sometimes. It's honestly not fun.

But glass tile is often beautiful, and thus worth the effort and extra cost, for the consumer.

If you do want this tile installed, I would find a good tile layer to do it (you can look on the John Bridge ceramic tile forum for recommended locals). Whoever does it should use a special white thinset made for glass, and they should backbutter the tile so you don't get those streaks that beaning mentioned. You should also choose the grout color carefully, as it affects glass tile more/in different ways than an opaque tile

If you have anything else I can help with, feel free to memail me.
posted by rachaelfaith at 6:22 PM on February 5 [34 favorites]

Thanks, everyone! There are some differing answers here for sure. We meet with him tomorrow so I'll try and figure out where he's coming from. He does have a tile guy but I've never met him, so I don't know how experienced he is - maybe he didn't quote us for the extra work involved, and he didn't specify a particular type of tile so he may be feeling put out - we will see!
posted by kittyloop at 9:23 PM on February 5

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