Today we finally made resolution to a tile problem we have been trying to resolve for months.

The back story: We have been working on a large plaza renovation which includes a couple large landscape fountains. Our scope of work is to remove the failing stone pavers in the plaza and replace the tile in the fountains. The tile that was selected for the fountains had quite a bit of discussions, centered around size, color and installation. The existing product is a 4×4 ceramic tile, in an aqua color that from a distance adds to the iconic look. We proposed replacing the tile with a aqua glass tile that would uphold the iconic look, but add a more reflective quality and refine the look. After selecting the color much time and thought was put into creating the installation plans, all the while following the TCNA standards, which are often discounted to ultimate flaws and/or failure of tile installations.

Once these drawings were completed and the work was sent out to bid to select a GC, we started working with the awarded contractor to review installation drawings and the different product submittals that require out approval.

The glass tile came in as a submittal and was approved per matching the product to our control samples and a specification labeling sticker on the back of the tile. Once this occurred, the contractor had license to purchase the product.

As the project proceeded, and we were following up on Owner changes to the installation of the tile, we were notified of an industry standard change to how mosaic tiles are prepared for installation. No longer is mosaic tile backed with a mesh backing.


This mesh would stay on the tile as it is set in the mortar. They were finding the mesh deteriorating and causing the tile installations to fail. And with us installing the tile under water, the concern was greater. Mosaic tiles are now prepared with a sticky sheet that is adhered on the front of the tile, so it can be removed once the tile is set in the mortar, before grouting.


We immediately started to see if we could make changes to our purchased tile and get it refunded, now that we knew the product could fail. Fortunately, when we spoke with the tile manufacturer they whole heatedly jumped on board and said they would take all the tile purchased back for replacement. Unfortunately, they called back to say that they couldn’t find any order for the product in any of their data bases.

What the?!

After weeks of investigating and many discussions with the contractor, their sub contractor, the Owner and other specialists, it was discovered that the tile sub contractor skipped the tile supplier and went directly to the China tile manufacturer source. Meaning they bought the tile directly from its maker in China, not the distributor. This meant there was no middle man for the product. Yes, it saved money, but that cost isn’t representative of the cost the Owner paid. With no representative for the tile that means there was no company to provide warranty for the product and, in our case, no one to take back the – now faulty – tile.

I have known of this type of thing happening in the past – meaning, contractors finding a less expensive product as a substitute for a specified material to lower their overall costs, but never have I seen the product recalled.

As we quickly rushed to find another product to be approved and shipped to site, a… “heated” discussion began on how to resolve the situation: The tile contractor held to the statement that the tile was the product we specified. The GC supported his sub contractor. We maintained that they had misrepresented the tile to us and the Owner by adding the intended tile Manufacturer’s labeling sticker to the back of the tile submittal. And lastly the Owner did not want to turn this to a legal battle.

So what did we resolve this week? Payment. All parties split the cost of the faulty tile, and the tile sub took back control of the product. Though we felt we didn’t have a portion of blame in the incident, we have the responsibility to the Owner when we take on projects. By sharing the burden of the mistake, we all learn great lessons and the client walks away happy – or at least content with the outcome. And hopefully we will retain the client for more future work.

designshadow.org aqua tile

Can you see the mesh on the front tile? The back tile is the final product installed.

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