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9 Hard Questions to Ask When Shopping for Stone

Article by: Anne Higuera CGR, CAPS

Deciding to use stone and choosing the kind to use are more complicated than just picking a finish you like. Because stone is a natural material, its appearance, durability and production can vary from one quarry to another, and from one batch to another, causing problems (or in some cases, providing benefits) you might not have anticipated. 

Here are nine questions you should consider before buying stone.

How thick does it need to be? Floor and wall tiles for interiors are usually ⅜ inch thick, while countertop slabs are typically 2 centimeters (¾ inch) or 3 centimeters (1¼ inches) thick.Exterior stone pavers could be 1½ inches or thicker.

Differences in counter and paver thicknesses can usually be accommodated if planned for in advance. It’s also not unusual to add a laminated edge to the front of a 2-centimeter counter to make it appear thicker.Tile for floors, however, can be tricky, particularly if you want your floor to flow to adjacent rooms without a transition. The best practice is to select floor tile early in the process and choose a material with consistent thickness.

We opened a box of specified slate tile on a project and discovered that each piece was a different thickness, with some well over ½ inch, making them higher than the adjacent wood floors even without thinset below. The clients opted to send it all back and ended up selecting a ceramic tile with similar colors but very consistent thickness.

Are there fissures?This is a question not just for countertop slabs but for tiles, as well.A fissure is a natural weak point in the stone, usually visible as a hairline crack. A fissure’s location can prevent you from using the stone if cuts will result in the weakest point’s being located where the stone needs to be strong, like around a sink or on an overhang. It can also result in the slab’s breaking during fabrication.

Fragile stone tile can also break during cutting, which means tile setters have to anticipate more waste. Instead of ordering the usual 5 to 10 percent extra for waste, they might add 15 to 20 percent more. The best practice is to select a slab and have the fabricator review it for flaws and fissures, so that you’ll have time to select something else if it won’t work.

What’s your finish? The most common finishes for stone are polished and honed.Both have a sheen, although honed has a fine texture that minimizes reflection.A heavier texture can be achieved with acids, buffing and heat, resulting in “antiqued,” “tumbled”and “flamed” finishes. Which one you choose depends upon personal taste, except when it comes to matters of safety. The larger the tile and the more polished the finish, the more likely it will be slippery under wet feet or shoes.

An easy way around slipperiness is to install the material in a smaller size — 4 inches square or less — or to select a material with more texture.

How well will samples match what arrives at your home?Because stone is a natural material, it can vary in color and in many other ways.If you can, get a large sampling of what’s in stock — five to 10 pieces of 12- by 12-inch tiles, for example — so you can see what you’re likely to get in a typical box.If there’s a huge variation in color or quality, you may want to look at something else.

This backsplash (far end) is a mix of onyx and glass mosaic tile. The onyx tile arrived at the jobsite with some bright red streaks across the face, which weren’t visible in the sample. The clients opted to buy additional tile and piece in nonred stone to make the results more consistent. 

Is it strong enough to span?Countertops are sometimes designed to span significant distances — over dishwashers, breakfast bars and desks, for example. Manufactured materials like quartz have specific maximum spans, but the fabricator may recommend a variety of solutions with stone, depending upon how large the unsupported portion is: a decorative corbel or other support; a concealed steel brace; or even a routed area under the stone for a steel or fiberglass rod. Your fabricator will help you determine how much support your counter needs.

How porous is it? All stone is not created equal. Some stones, such as limestone and marble, are more porous than others, and are more likely to absorb stains from substances like red wine and coffee. Acidic substances like lemons can etch surfaces, and even hair dye can stain a shower. Some stones, such as soapstone, are softer than others and can be scratched. 

Before committing to a stone, think carefully about how you plan to use it, and how much contact it’ll have with potentially damaging substances.

Will it hold up? The answer to this question depends on your lifestyle, how much you plan to use the stone surface and how careful you are with cleaning. (Cleaning products can etch limestone, marble and other materials.)

We once had clients whose old limestone counters were covered in coffee stains and had to be removed. They replaced them with Caesarstone, which remains in great shape many years later. My own granite counters are pristine almost a decade after installation, with no resealing.

To seal or not to seal?Sealants are frequently used on grout and sometimes on natural stone.Some sealants darken or even give a shiny look to otherwise honed or textured surfaces.If you’re considering a sealant for your stone, request a sample showing you different options, so you’ll know how the finished surface will look.

What’s the source?Stone comes from quarries across the globe, including the United States. Part of selecting a material involves thinking about where it comes from, how it is produced, the environmental impact of transporting it to your locality, and whether it is a sustainable, sensible and long-lasting material.

If you still have questions, ask your local supplier, fabricator, contractor or designer about the specifics for your project.

Bathroom Floor Tile: Glass Mosaic for a Luxurious Look

Article by:

Glass mosaic tile flooring can certainly add beauty to a bathroom, but it’s still a hotly debated material choice for flooring. No one can deny how great it looks, but some people question its durability and safety in a wet environment. Here you’ll learn all about the pros, cons and costs to help you decide if glass mosaic tile is a good fit for your bathroom. Could this luxurious material work for you? 

The basics. Glass mosaic tile, made up of many small tiles in different colors or the same color, can dramatically change a space. You will want to find an experienced installer and use proper setting materials and grout.


Cost. Glass mosaic tile is considered a high-end material, so it’s more expensive than average bathroom flooring. However, there’s a wide price range: High-quality, beautiful glass tile in sheets is typically $25 to $40 per square foot; custom murals can be $70 to $150 per square foot; and standard solid colors can start as low as $4 per square foot.

 

Advantages. Glass mosaic tile is one of the most lavish and luxurious bathroom flooring materials on the market. With its gorgeous reflective surface, it will add value and appeal. It also has a nonporous surface that’s resistant to stains, mold, mildew and chemical damage. 

Disadvantages. Make sure your glass tile has been approved by the American Society for Testing and Materials for flooring use. Confirm all the ins and outs of the warranty with the manufacturer. 

Hire an experienced professional to install your glass tile bathroom floor, since installation can prove tricky due to transparency. You can’t rush glass tile installation or treat it like larger-format tiles. 

Also, while glass mosaic tile is surprisingly strong, its surface is susceptible to scratching and etching and can also become slippery when wet.

 

 

 

 

 

Sustainability. Many glass tile manufacturers have become environmentally aware and have created ecofriendly lines using recycled glass.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maintenance. Glass mosaic is quite easy to clean, and it is important to maintain your floor to lengthen its life span and boost its reflectivity. One of the most important things you can do to help keep your glass tile floor in tip-top shape is to keep it free of dirt and grit that can scratch its surface. You’ll also want to wash away soap scum and mineral deposits with a standard bathroom cleanser and a soft bristle brush.


“Look at what is indicated on the grout bag. Glass tile is not going to be influenced by many things, but the grout often is affected by what is used,” says Christina White, general manager of Hakatai Enterprises.“This may in turn change the appearance of the tile, when actually it is the grout that has changed.”

 




Why Bathroom Floors Need to Move

Article By: John Whipple

“Tenting” is a terrible word to a tile professional. When a bathroom floor has been installed incorrectly, tiles can press against one another and pop up off the floor, creating a tent shape. It’s not just tile that does this — almost every material in a home expands and contracts with time, including the plywood subfloor, which can develop popped tiles or cracked grout joints. 

These professional pointers for preparation and installation techniques can help keep your bathroom floor from tenting. 

Avoid large-format tile. More grout joints allow for minor movement and spreading out. 

If you have a large bathroom — like this beautiful space — with loads of natural sunlight, a smaller and lighter tile is definitely a safer option. Darker tile absorbs heat and expands and contracts more than lighter tile. 

All of a home’s building materials expand and contract; the hardwood floor, the tile and even the countertops all move over time. Any good pro should know how to account for these size changes and prevent expansion from wreaking havoc in a home. 

Tip: Make sure your tongue and groove subfloor does not get filled with dust, debris or adhesive mortar (thinset). This subfloor needs the ability to move, and the joints should not be too tight. 

This photo shows some great tile work. The beautiful tile is nicely lined up, but I especially appreciate how there’s no mortar or thinset where the tile meets the wall. Using mortar here can lead to tenting issues, since it prevents the tile floor from moving and expanding. This clean finish is exactly what you want to see in your bathroom. Make sure your tile contractor understands that you don’t want your installation done with thinset on the edges that meet the wall. 

If you drive over bridges frequently — like I do every day — you’ll notice that bridges have expansion strips. During the summer the bridge is quiet, since summer’s heat has expanded the bridge’s concrete and the expansion strips are pressed tight. But in the winter, driving over the same bridge sounds quite different; the expansion strips are wider, and they click-clack as your tires hit them. 

Designing tile floors to expand and contract follows some of these same principles. Uncoupling membranes underneath floor tile can improve your floor’s flexibility. This photo shows a professional installing a Strata Matuncoupling membrane to account for minor floor movement.

 

Hearing a hollow noise when you’re walking across newly tiled floors could be the early signs of tile bond failure. This sound results from poor thinset coverage.

In this photo the floor tile goes underneath the tub skirt. This is a solid design that allows for movement on the floor tile. 

Tip: Gently tapping set tiles with the wooden handle of a rubber mallet can help you find the hollow noise where poor thinset coverage has occurred. 

All steam showers have a modified thinset to account for quick thermal expansion. The powerful steam and heat in steam showers require a thinset that can accommodate immediate expansion and contraction. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Glass expands more than many other building materials. Large panels like these let in lots of sunshine and quickly heat up the bathroom, increasing thermal expansion. 

For an installation like this, I’d make sure that the corners of the shower stall had two layers of a waterproofing membrane. Products like NobleSeal TShave a thicker membrane that can take some compression in the corners.

 

With extremely large bathrooms, expansion strips inlayed into the tile assembly are a must. In my opinion, any room larger than 15 feet in one direction should be using some kind of expansion strip and speciality thinsets and grouts to increase expansion and combat mortar fatigue.

An Angie’s List Guide: House Cleaning

House Cleaning

Keeping your house clean is an increasingly challenging task for families in which everyone is busy. Here are tips on how to get the chores done efficiently yourself, or how to hire a good house cleaning service to do the heavy lifting for you.

Room-by-room tips

American families have less free time than ever to tend to housecleaning, but it becomes an overwhelming task if you don’t keep up with it. Here are some tips from professional house cleaners on how often to clean the most frequently used living areas of a home:

Kitchen & Eating Areas

If you do nothing else daily, make sure you wash the dishes and clean the sink and countertops. Wipe up messes on the stove and inside the microwave. Floors are a constant cleaning job depending on what’s been dropped, but if you’ve managed to keep it reasonably clean, mop weekly. Every few weeks, run a cleaning agent through the dishwasher to prevent buildup and ensure sparkling dishes.

It’s also a good idea to clear out the refrigerator before your weekly shopping trip. This way, you’re removing what’s spoiled and making room for fresh groceries. Every six months or so remove all the items from your cabinets and wipe down the shelving. This also is a good time to go through your canned and other packaged goods and throw away items that have expired.

If you use a table cloth, shake it out and wash it regularly. On a weekly basis, dust all surfaces and mop or vacuum the floor. 

Living Room and Family Room

The main problem here is clutter. Make it the responsibility of every member of the family to put away items they left out.

Dusting should be done weekly, or at least every other week. If you can write your name in the dust, you’ve waited too long. Wipe down often-used surfaces like table tops, mop floors and vacuum carpets. Some people like to move their furniture around a couple of times a year so they can reach areas they don’t routinely clean, such as under the sofa or chairs or behind book cases. 

Bathroom

This room can be the dirtiest and cleanest in any house, so weekly cleanings are important. Start with the bathtub. Wipe all surfaces to prevent mildew and soap scum. Clean the sink to remove any build-up from toothpaste or other toiletries.

When cleaning the toilet, spray or add cleaning solution to the bowl then go clean other areas of the bathroom. This allows the toilet cleaning agent to activate for several minutes before scrubbing the bowl clean. Mop the floor last so you leave a clean floor drying in a clean room.

If you have a cabinet or linen closet, remove all contents every six months and wipe down the shelves. This gives you time to sort make-up and other toiletries and throw away items that are expired or empty.

Bedrooms

Even if you don’t feel like making the bed first thing in the morning, doing it every day will help you achieve the feeling of a clean room in just a few minutes. Wash the linens weekly to help reduce allergens and dust mites.

Make sure you put dirty clothes in a hamper and take the time to fold and put away clothing. Regular dusting of furniture and vacuuming carpet or dusting floors and baseboards can also help to reduce allergies.

What You Missed

If you’re not a professional house cleaner there are probably some things you’re overlooking – even if you clean regularly.

Ceiling Cobwebs and Baseboard Dust

Look up. Cobwebs collect along the top edge of the wall where it meets the ceiling — and especially in corners. Use a long-handled dusting tool on these at least monthly. Wipe down your baseboards and trim, which tend to collect dust. This can be done with a furniture polish or with a rag dampened with water. 

Doorknobs and Telephones

Why clean doorknobs? Because lots of hands touch them every day and leave germs behind. Telephones and other frequently touched surfaces should get the same treatment. Use an antibacterial wipe or a rag dampened with any household cleaner to wipe these surfaces clean. Remember, some of the most contaminated surfaces in the home involve places touched by multiple hands. Be sure to include them in your weekly cleaning routine.

Novice cleaners should read the labels of cleaning products before tackling a home cleaning. Knowing what you can and can’t use on each surface in the house will save time, money and a potential disaster in the long run. Using the wrong product can do severe and sometimes irreparable damage. Also, some products can be harmful to children or pets if used too aggressively.

Hard-to-Reach Areas

Whether you’re hiring help or tackling the cleaning on your own, think about the last time you cleaned these hard to reach areas:

Behing and Under Major appliances

We often take for granted that nothing is going on under and behind the stove, refrigerator, washer or dryer. But the kitchen appliances attract grease, which provides a perfect surface for dust to stick. Other appliances collect dust and lint from laundry and daily living. 

You may need help moving your major appliances a couple of times a year to ensure the area where you cook is as sanitary as it can be. In addition to cleaning the area around and under your washer and dryer, you will want to clean out the dryer vent to prevent a fire hazard. 

Behind the Toilet: The toilet itself is pretty obvious, but the walls and floors behind and around the toilet, as well as the pedestal of the toilet should be cleaned thoroughly. A wet rag or mop will help pick up and remove dust and lint rather than sweeping it to another area in the bathroom. 

Ceiling Fans: As the blades spin they likely are throwing dust across the room. You may be able to reach the blades with your vacuum cleaner attachment or a special long-handled ceiling fan brush. However, the best thing may be to get on a ladder and wipe down the blades with a little soapy water. Vacuuming might be required if you were unable to catch all the dust yourself. 

Ceiling Corners: Depending on the height of your ceilings you may be able to reach the corners with one of your vacuum cleaner attachments. Rooms with high ceilings may require you to climb a ladder to get at the cobwebs.

Tops of Cabinets: Whether you have space between your kitchen cabinets and the ceiling or an armoire in a living room or bedroom, it’s probably time to get out a ladder. 

Remember, whichever room you clean, it’s best to start high and work your way down because dust and dirt will become dislodged as you clean and make their way downward.

Don’t forget to clean your cleaning tools! Though we’ll drop dishcloths and dish towels into the washing machine, we often leave the dust in the broom and forget to wipe out the bucket and clean the mop. 

Tools and Supplies

Before you begin tackling the challenge of cleaning the house, you will want to make sure you have all the necessary items on hand.

From tools of the trade, such as vacuums and rags, to cleaning products like Windex and baking soda, this list can serve as a comprehensive guide to assist you with house cleaning.

Vacuum Cleaner: The best way to begin cleaning a room is to eliminate dust, dirt and visible debris. Go over all carpeted and bare floors with an upright or handheld vacuum cleaner. Regular vacuuming will also significantly improve the appearance and life of your carpets!

Mop: Once the floors in your home are vacuumed, a mop is vital for getting rid of stains and eliminating bacteria from the floor. Choose a mop with a longer handle so that you are comfortable using it, and pair it with a bucket full of warm water and a cleaning solution.

Windex: This cleaning product is designed to remove smudges and stains on your glass items, such as tables, windows or mirrors. Spray it directly on the glass surface and wipe it off with a clean rag or wipe it down with a squeegee. 

All-purpose Cleaner: If you have only one cleaning product in your home, it should be a spray bottle of all-purpose cleaner. It can be sprayed on most household surfaces and wiped off to easily remove bacteria, germs, smudges and stains. 

Baking Soda: This inexpensive item is a staple for cleaning the home. Not only does it have cleaning properties, but it is also a great way to remove unpleasant odors. Use it as a paste with water on spills to clean the carpet and eliminate smells. 

Rags: A supply of rags is vital when cleaning a home. Use them for cleaning bathrooms, windows, kitchen countertops and more. 

Gloves: If you are using lots of chemical cleaners, washing dishes or scrubbing toilets, you will need a pair of gloves to protect your hands from harsh chemicals. Choose a rubber pair that extends up to your elbows for the best protection.

Polish: While your all-purpose cleaner will work to clean many surfaces in the home, invest in a few specialty polishes for surfaces like stainless steel or wooden tables.

Be Green As You Clean

If you’re concerned about climate change, resource depletion and recycling, consider these environmentally-friendly tips for cleaning your home.

Reuse Instead of Throw Away

Whenever you consider throwing something away, make it a practice to try and find another use for it. Instead of using paper towels try rags that can easily be laundered and used again. Instead of throwing away floor cleaning pads consider using equipment that make use of steam and pads. 

Since steaming tools use water to help with the cleaning process, they tend to be healthier for the environment than many toxic-laced commercial products. Also, weigh whether the use of recycled products may be more environmentally friendly than taking up the resources you would use for laundering. 

Make Your Own Brew

Rather than purchasing products with hazardous ingredients, try making natural cleaning solutions.

  • Use a lemon juice and water mix to clean glass and mirrors. An old tee shirt torn to make rags can work well to clean those messy glass table tops without leaving streaks.

  • Mix lemon juice and olive oil to make a great smelling furniture polish.

  • Make a paste of salt, vinegar and flour to polish metal surfaces.

  • Throwing a handful of salt into a wood burning fireplace can help loosen up the soot buildup.

  • Use vinegar and water on bare floors to leave them fresh.

  • Use vinegar and baking soda to clean out clogged pipes and drains, or to deodorize your kitchen sink.

  • Use lemon juice and hot water to remove foul smells from your garbage disposal.

If you prefer not to do the cleaning work yourself, there are many professional house cleaning services that use green cleaning products. 

Hiring a House Cleaning Service

You don’t have to be wealthy to hire a cleaning service. Many busy families arrange for a service to come in once a week, once a month or something in between. Professional house cleaners can take care of tasks like vacuuming, dusting, mopping floors and so on while family members focus on keeping control of clutter and light cleaning of the bathrooms and kitchens. 

When hiring, ask questions:

  • Are you insured?

  • Do you hire all your employees or are independent workers used?

  • How many workers do you use?

Have the prospective cleaner meet you at your home so you can walk from room to room asking what type of cleaning they will do and with what products. Most cleaning companies provide their own products, but if there are special products you prefer that they use this may cost extra. 

Most experts recommend keeping consistency in cleaning. It’s preferable to use the same person every time if the experience is satisfactory as different cleaners are likely to clean in different ways. 

Finally, trust is extremely important. Unlike most other service providers, house cleaners typically come to your home while you’re at work so you need to feel comfortable allowing them access to your home. If you are a member of Angie’s List you will be able to search for house cleaners in your geographic area and pick someone who has consistently received high grades from other customers.