Will Rogers once said, "It takes a lifetime to build a good reputation, but you can lose it in a minute." That’s so true when a ceramic or stone installation fails. Thankfully it doesn’t occur frequently, but when it does everyone involved loses. It doesn't matter whose fault it is, everyone pays one way or the other in money, time or reputation. As an industry, it's in everyone's best interest to do whatever we can to avoid failures and perpetuate quality installations.
The best way to ensure quality installations is through a Project Quality Control Plan. A Plan sets expectations and standards for a successful outcome. Not only can this help avoid a failure by ensuring the products are being installed correctly, but during the installation even untrained laborers are exposed to and learn proper methods and industry standards.
The majority of ceramic tile and stone failures are due to labor errors and occur because installation standards and product directions are not followed. Ceramic tile and stone installers don't go to college or trade schools to learn their trade. Typically they learn on the job from more experienced installers that may have been installing tile the same way for 20 years. These “old-timers” may not be aware that the new generation of materials require new methods. They just figure the old way is the right way and teach the next generation of installers the same.
Architectural specifications contain standard sections with quality assurance and quality control specifications for products and installers and methods for each application. This section calls out the process necessary to verify the products are being used and installed correctly. Unfortunately, instead of thoroughly customizing these sections each time for each project, architects often “cut and paste” this information from one project to another. The result is that quality assurance gets value engineered out of the job, and the quality control is left up to the installer to provide internal quality control; both of these scenarios contribute to failures due to the lack of information and controls.
A good architectural specification will require that ceramic tile and stone products be tested to verify they meet the industry standards for the intended use and that the installer has experience at performing similar type of work for the intended application. It will require mock-ups to be constructed in advanced, per the specification, to be used as a quality control during the project. Then it will provide a detailed quality control plan to be implemented by a qualified third party inspector on behalf of the owner of the project.
At our company, Ceramic Tile and Stone Consultants (CTaSC), our quality control inspectors are seasoned journeymen or licensed installers who verify that the ceramic tile and stone products are being installed correctly and they teach installation methods and techniques to those who often have limited experience and limited supervision at their company. The result is that the installers are taught how to install correctly and supervised to make sure they follow the proper installations methods. By the time an installer completes a project he has practiced and used the proper installation methods for so long and he is likely to use those techniques on future projects.
In short, a good quality control and quality assurance program is a win-win situation. It perpetuates quality work and avoids failures. The customer gains a beautiful installation that will last for many years without problems as intended. The installers, distributors and manufacturers get referrals based on a well executed job. Everyone avoids the costly inconvenience of a failure that will cost each of them money, time and reputation!
How do you plan and control your installations? Are your expectations clearly spelled out, and your installers trained in the latest methods and materials?
Donato Pompo is founder of two well-known flooring industry companies focused on improving everything about ceramic tile and stone flooring and the businesses that produce and sell them. They are Ceramic Tile and Stone Consultants (CTaSC) and the University of Ceramic Tile and Stone (UofCTS).