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Question DetailsAsked on 12/29/2011

Why is the tile in my 3 month old shower cracking?

My building was built in 84. They used floating cement instead of cement board. Its pretty standard 3x6 subway tile. It looks like where the cracks are is above where the floating cement ends and is where they used thinset. The grout was also cracking in the corners, and around a couple tiles. Is this a minor repair or a major redo? How do I make sure the contractors repair will be adequate?

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4 Answers


Without seeing it first hand it's hard to say for sure but it sounds like the contractor cut corners and didn't prepare the surface correctly to install the new tile. I have rarely seen tiles not crack if the base (cement in your case) is not consistent. Also, did the contractor put some sort of mesh in it for reinforcement. If not it'll all let go eventually sorry to say. Walls flex and heave. It's just a natural expectation. Without proper reinforcement in the base material your tile wall will crack up and eventually tiles could even begin falling. The best practice on the part of the contractor would have been to remove all materials from the old wall all the way to the bare stud. Sadly, many don't do this so they can save time and the customer is stuck with the results. Often a customer picks that contractor because he says he can get it done faster than another but it comes at a cost they just don't realize.

As for the corners cracking it's a common issue. The corners should not have been grouted. Instead they should have been caulked with a matching sanded caulk made by the grout manufacturer and available at any supply store selling tile and grout. Then it wouldn't have been an issue. That's an easy fix. Just go buy the matching caulk and apply. The cracking substructure, on the other hand, may require a complete redo so it's done right and lasts beyond any contractor's warranty period.

Answered 8 years ago by Todd's Home Services


They did go down to the studs and used what looked like chicken wire.

Answered 8 years ago by Dangofett


Some contractors are stuck in the old ways when there are much better products (i.e. cement backer board instead of mud base). It would have been more work for him to use this older method so I'm surprised he hasn't kept with the times in that regard. If the cracking is primarily at the function between the morter base and the drywall transition it may be because of different rates of expansion between the two materials. Is this on an outside wall? If so, was it reinsulated with better insulation while exposed? Just trying to get a better idea of the scenario as a whole.

My suggestion at this point would be to get 2 or 3 contractors (see Angie's List recommendations) to look at it and give their opinion. Some may charge a consultation fee if you aren't looking to have them do the work but this should generally be low in cost for a much needed diagnosis.

,Todd Shell
Todd's Home Services
San Antonio, TX

Answered 8 years ago by Todd's Home Services


The other comments sound right on about the corner cracking - because the walls move differently from thermal and moisture, corners crack - so they should be grouted half-depth, then caulked the rest of the corner and rounded out.

When you say "floating cement" I presume you mean a concrete mud coat behind the thinset ? Should have used a semi-rigid coated metal tile mesh (some use plastic or fiberglass - I don't like it, too flexible) - comes in flat pieces which will bend, but far stiffer then chicken wire - looks like this -

and like this close up

nailed, NOT stapled, every 4 inches each way to wood lathe or cement board, then mud coated with sanded portland cement grout, then the tile applied with thinset. If they used chicken wire they cheated, as that makes for a much more flexible backing which does cause cracks. I would also hazard they probably stapled rather than nailed it on, which is nowhere strong enough. Worst case - they applied it to the studs directly without intermediate support, in which case it shoudl ALL be redone because one good lean on it will crack it.

Also, you say the cracks are above where they used "floating cement" and they used thinset - one should never change backing method on any given surface because the two areas will move differently and cause cracking at the seam, which sounds like what you have. (Nothing wrong with mud coat on floor and thinset over cement board on walls, however).

As for repair, sounds like they need to take off the thinset applied tiles to below where the cracking is occurring, andredo that area with the same method used for the rest of the surface, at a minimum. That does not get past having used chicken wire though - and you did not say what is behind the chickenwire - if not a solid surface like cement board, then the tile surface will be WAY too flexible anyway.

Unfortunately, you are stuckk in a common hard place - to get it fixed for free, without a lawsuit, means goingwith the original contractor, who does not sound like one I would want to use again. If you get a contractor with better preactices, you will be paying for it yourself, and he may well say (as I would) that the chickenwire backed tile should come out entireley and be redone from scratch the right way.

Answered 6 years ago by LCD

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