Tiling Q&A

by Kristina Domitrovich // photos by Lindsay Pace

Tracey Marshall has been with Adair Carpet & Flooring since 1993; but she’s been in the flooring business basically her whole life. Her father started selling carpets out of their garage when she was just 3 years old. Eventually, he opened a store front, and Marshall joined the team. Since her father’s passing in 2007, she, her husband and her stepmother have been running shop. We sat down with Marshall to ask her some questions about flooring, specifically tiling.

The first steps

Marshall recommends having a rough square footage of the area. “That’ll give you an idea of the cost,” she said. The installer will go out and professionally measure everything before the homeowner places an order to get an accurate read, along with making a materials list to determine installation and labor costs.

Once a customer is in the store, the first thing is to send them home with a few samples.

“They can take it home and see it in a different light,” she said. “(It) looks different in our fluorescent light, and you need to see what it’s going to look like.”
At the end of the day, whether a customer is looking at carpet, tile, hardwood, or laminate, it’s important to keep in mind that there are going to be different quality grades for each type of flooring. Marshall recommends customers keep in mind that while hardwood may cost more, the installation labor is less; while the tiling materials may cost less, the installation labor will be more.

Most importantly, Marshall tells customers that until an installation crew goes out and removes the current flooring, it’s hard to predict any unplanned costs.

“Once we get in there, we take that floor up, you don’t know what’s under that floor,” she said. “We won’t know until we get that floor up, if there’s going to have to be any kind of floor preparation, materials, labor for it.”

Common corrections include fixing any weak spots, and ensuring the subfloor is “really smooth, no lumps or bumps.”

Tile 411

One thing Marshall’s customers can count on, tile is going to last a long while.

“It’s very durable,” she said, “it’ll last forever.”
Thanks to its durability, it can be used in many different ways: From kitchen and backsplashes, to bathrooms and showers or even patios. For each type of tile job, there are different types of tiles: What’s used on a backsplash isn’t as strong as what’s used on the floor. Usually shower tiles are on a mesh, so they can “slope for the drain.” For outdoor tiles, Marshall says to go with a porcelain or natural stone, “because regular clay tile, the frost will make it crack.”

Marshall says she’s seen an uptick in “fun” retro-styled tiles in laundry rooms.

If you’re worried about cold feet, Marshall recommends opting for heated (it’s all digital now, and can be controlled with a thermostat).

No matter what tile you go for, be sure to buy an extra box or two. That way, if a tile somehow breaks (which, it shouldn’t), or if you knock down a wall later on and need to extend your tile, you don’t have to worry about the manufacturer no longer carrying your tile.

“You just never know when they’re going to drop a pattern,” she said.

The nitty gritty: Grout & mortar

Thinset mortar is the bonding agent that adheres the tile down to the floor, whereas grout is usually a sand, paste-like substance that seals between the tiles. Mortar is pretty straight forward, though there have been a few modifications. One modification Marshall recommends has “a latex additive in it,” and creates a “stronger bond and it’s a little more flexible.” Most likely, there will be standard color options here: gray or white. Most of the time, the mortar won’t be visible once the tiling is finished, but for lighter-colored tiles or if you’re using a lighter grout, they will recommend opting for the white thinset, just to make sure it won’t bleed through the finished product.

On the other hand, “grout has come a long way.” Grout used to be pretty standard: A sand-based grout that wasn’t stain resistant. Now, there are multiple types of grout and most will have a stain-resistant element; some with very fine sand options, some urethane options, and now even some grouts with finely crushed glass (made for glass tiles) – both the urethane and glass options provide a little more flexibility. Grout comes in almost any color, but Marshall said most of Adair’s customers stick to gray, white or taupe options, but has been surprised to see that soft greens and blues are making a comeback in the flooring world. Grouts also have stains now, so if a homeowner changes their mind on the grout color later on, it’s a fairly easy fix. 

Cleaning dos and don’ts

Marshall has tile in her home, and she opts to clean hers with water and vinegar. She’ll run a dry Swiffer cloth over it to “get dust and hair, and then I’ll use my spray cleaner.” She said products like a Swiffer WetJet will leave behind a soapy residue, so that’s why she opts for vinegar and water instead. Of course, there are specific tile cleaners too, and each manufacturer may recommend something different for their tile. 

For bathrooms and showers, places prone to mold and soap scum, Marshall still stands by the water-vinegar combo. She also warns to make sure if you’re working with natural stone, then you choose a shower cleaner that’s compatible with natural stones. She said she’s known a few too many people with marble showers who used KABOOM! cleaner, and stripped the marble of its polish, leaving the finish slightly eroded. 

Marshall followed up with some specific things to look out for: “Regular, basic cleaning with warm water and mild soap is sufficient to keep floors looking good. You can also use a gentle, everyday multipurpose spray cleaner to remove soap scum, hard water deposits, and mildew. Do not use cleaning products that contain acids or ammonia (and other harsh chemicals) as these can damage grout and glazed surfaces of the tile. Choose products that are compatible with your grout to avoid damage or discoloration of the grout. Always dry your porcelain thoroughly after cleaning. Unglazed tile should be cleaned routinely with concentrated tile cleaners that have a neutral pH. These cleaners are better suited for removing grease, oils and normal spills from unglazed products.”

Despite popular belief:

A high-gloss finish does not play a role in how slippery the floor is. 

Marshall’s biggest tip:

Make sure your installer is worth their salt. She recommends asking for references on jobs they’ve already done, and “make sure they’re going to stand behind it.”

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