I’ve installed a fair bit of tile in my day. At my parents’ house in New York, we inherited a giant 10-person jacuzzi that was installed on a plywood base over an unconditioned crawlspace. Heavy usage by the previous owners and basic science disintegrated the plywood holding it up, and my parents had to have it all ripped out and replaced with concrete. They kept the jacuzzi though, and the decision was made to re-tile the floor. I took it on as a project and laid out several hundred square feet of the stuff, then grouting and sealing it by myself. I was proud of this job and I look back on it with a sense of satisfaction.
Later, in college, I was hired to gut and remodel a bathroom, something I was only barely qualified to accomplish. Given my pitiable day rate at that time, the homeowners got a bargain and a half by betting on my ability to deliver on what I promised. I took the floor down to the studs, rebuilt it, and then installed period-correct hexagonal tile on the floor and square tile on the walls. It came out looking very good, if you don’t mind me being modest.
Here in the downstairs bathroom I put in a hundred or so square feet of tile on the floor myself, and after grouting it both Jen and I were horrified to see inconsistency in the spacing. It bugs her so much she can’t look down at the floor, which makes me feel awful. So we hired a professional to tile the floor in the new bathroom, looking for more precision. What we got, however, was disappointment. As soon as he left, Jen texted me and told me it was uneven in places, and my heart sank. When I got home I looked it over and at first didn’t think it was too bad, but on closer inspection it’s bothering me more and more. There are visible rivers where sheets didn’t go together with the same spacing as the layout on the sheets, and in one area there’s a visible line from the doorway where the a row of tile seems to be higher than its neighbor.
Upset, I called the installer, who deflected blame and pointed at the tile itself, without offering me any solutions or apologies. We traded some texts and phone calls, each getting irate with the situation. Jen and I called our friend Mr. Scout for some professional advice, and he immediately went into problem-solving mode, suggesting white grout to hide the sins. Because it’s a over a heated underlayment, pulling up tiles to fix problems could mean nicking the wire and breaking the system completely. Friday morning I told the installer we wanted white grout and he told me it would be $340 extra, at which time I lost it and went full asshole on him.
I don’t like being a jerk to people. It’s not natural to me, but my reticence has come to bite me in the ass with contractors, who sometimes try to get away with substandard work. For some reason I feel weird about pushing for the work to be correct, afraid that they won’t come back, or worse, when they do, they’ll fuck it up even more. Really, I just don’t want to be a dick. But this was not OK, and I wanted it fixed. I went to the tile store I trusted and asked them their opinion after showing them pictures, and they did confirm the tile sheets are inconsistent but said that white grout will hide most of the issues.
I’m texting him back today to tell him we’re going ahead with the white grout, and will finish out this part of the contract with him, but I’m going to find someone else to put in the shower tile and finish out the rest of the job.
In my line of work, I’m asked to make changes every day. I deal with people who don’t like the results of something I’ve done, and I find a way to make things work, by offering solutions and problem solving. The first part of this process is acknowledging something is wrong; it’s not that hard. If I’d gotten that as a first response I’d be a lot more likely to work with the guy. But he dug his heels in and deflected completely without trying to work with me, and that’s not acceptable.