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Covering Installation Guide / Defects and malfunctions in wall and floor tilings
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Defects and Malfunctions in Wall and Floor Tilings

Defects and malfunctions in wall and floor tilings

Bad news travels slowly and gets lost on the way...... undoubtedly learns from mistakes, particularly if they’re not your own......

PETER HARTOG, Qualicer 2000 Proceedings

Piecework is incompatible with thorough control of the surface to be tiled, of the tiles themselves, and of the final good result of a wall or floor tiling…

...The tile fixer has evolved from being master of a trade to being a pieceworker, while ceramic tiles have followed the opposite course, from simplicity in size and arrangement to sophisticated environments.

...Prevention must be based on the adoption of materials and a tile installation technique that establishes safety margins in relation to the uncertainty of the performance of tile-fixing substrates and surfaces.

...A ceramic floor tile deserves a specific technical project, reference documentation, and a building work direction that controls the process.

...The grouting operation deserves a careful and ‘kind’ execution, far removed from an action carried out by hasty, unskilled hands. The final appearance of a wall or floor tiling depends, in considerable measure, on that operation.

... many defects and malfunctions originate in the hand-over conditions of the levelling layers and tile fixing surfaces, and in incorrect professional practices in the application of the adhesives.


The problems associated with the deficient quality of ceramic tiling finishes and tiling performance in time stem from divergences between adhesive materials and tile fixing techniques and ceramic tiles and/or the building construction process. These divergences became quite pronounced in the two last decades of the 20th century, and have led to numerous defects and malfunctions in ceramic floor and wall tiles.

Such divergences were embodied in the inadequacy or mismatch of tile installation technology and professional practice in relation to tiles and the underlying substrates:

  • A wide-ranging offer of ceramic tiles, with a progressive increase in size, and a growing presence of products with very low porosity. The extensive range and diversity of an offer that has not been accompanied by the necessary technical framework in relation to the intended tile use and fixing approach.

  • A building construction process that has drastically shortened execution and hand-over times to the finishes phase, with the ensuing instability owing to inadequate curing of the underlying substrates on which the rigid covering is to be installed. In addition, a process that seeks to be fully industrialised but without the instruments that assure process quality. Productivity has been the driver and, in this context, professional practices have proliferated that were inappropriate for achievement of the necessary quality.

The counterpoint to that divergent evolution has been the considerable innovative effort of the industrial sectors supplying materials and equipment for tile installation, which have partly addressed the aforementioned maladjustment, with constructive and adhesive solutions capable of assuring ceramic tiling durability.

The updating of the standards on materials and new documents on technical instructions also help clarify the causes of defects and malfunctions in ceramic flooring and wall cladding.

This documentary block seeks to be a clarifying instrument of the causes of defects and malfunctions in ceramic finishes, focusing on prevention rather than on diagnosis and the assignment of damage.

The contents have been structured based on the visual appearance or perception one has of the defect or malfunction, when it is attempted to analyse its causes. On the basis of that visual impression, different variants are broken down as a function of other factors: location of the covering, appearance of the rear of the tile, of the bonding material or fixing surface, information regarding the constructive elements on which the ceramic tiling was installed, or on intermediate layers (insulation, waterproofing, …), etc.

The causes of each visual aspect and the measures for preventing it are described, followed by a brief reference to the historical evolution of the defect or malfunction in the context of ceramic tile manufacture and/or installation.
The assignment of responsibility is usually shared, in most defects and malfunctions, between design/specification, control of the execution, and the tile fixers.

Only in dimensional and surface defects can the defects originate in the manufacturing or commercialisation process, though not always owing to lack of tile quality, but rather to the absence of a particular selection criterion based on the intended use and service requirements of the covering. The following chart approximates that assignment of responsibility.

The information may be accessed according to the following menu:


Orientation Concerning the Assignment of Responsibility
Defects and Malfunctions
Manufacturer Designer /
Tile Fixer
■    Non-uniform joint pattern
■    Deficient planarity
■    Irregularities in the pattern
Surface Defects
■    Non-uniform appearance
■    Spalling
■    Cracks in glazed tiles [except immediate crazing]
■    Stains (as impairment of surface appearance)
■    Unsafeness in walking
Detachments in Wall Tilings
■    Individualised or in small areas
■    Widespread or in large areas
Debonding and Arching in Floor Tilings
■    Isolated or in small areas
■    Widespread or in large areas
Cracking in Wall and Floor Tilings
■    In wall tilings
■    In floor tilings
      ►   Longitudinal and isolated
      ►   Widespread with a polygonal development
Defects in Tile-To-Tile Joints
Crazing and cracking, joints with little filling, pinholes and craters, soft or powdery surface, rough or granular texture, non-uniform colour, low stain resistance, efflorescences, mould growth, longitudinal debonding

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