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A “standard” tiling job

Craig Powell of Kelmore discusses the increasing expectations placed on tilers over time

There’s no doubt that tiling, like most professions, can be stressful at times. It could be argued the levels of stress have increased in line with the expectations of what tilers are asked to undertake. I wouldn’t have to look too far in the past to remember when tilers only fixed tiles, and ceramic tiles at that. There were no porcelain tiles, and stone tiling, rare as it was, was undertaken by a specialist stone mason – and tile formats were tiny in comparison!

Fast forward to today, where a tiler is seen as so much more than a ceramic tiler. They are expected to be able to prepare walls and floors ready for tiling, which now includes, to name but a few, waterproofing sensitive areas and fitting electric underfloor heating systems. And let’s not forget being expected to fix all types and formats of tiles.

The point I’m making here is that a tiler must have a well-rounded skill set and a high level of knowledge to undertake their profession. I also feel that having these capabilities has increased expectations. Being in regular contact with tilers, what I’m hearing is that we have moved on from generally saying: “A good tiler would sort that,” in response to some other trade’s poor prep. Now, tilers are seen as awkward or pedantic to suggest things aren’t right and need sorting before tiling. Taking a builder as an example: I suppose seeing a tiler regularly overcome obstacles to produce the quality of work they do, it must be hard to understand how cold temperatures could be an issue. After all, they now appear to lay bricks in all weathers, armed only with a sheet for covering at night.

This has led to boundaries being pushed, most likely to please other people, like builders, plumbers, kitchen and bathroom companies or designers and architects. We all know that maintaining good relationships with people that provide regular work is crucial, but not at the expense of cutting corners or undertaking work and using methods that you aren’t comfortable doing. Tiling a painted, skimmed wall because the decorator mist coated the entire room, or tiling when the temperatures are too cold may seem like the path of least resistance at the time. If a problem arises because of this decision, however, it’s unlikely fingers will point anywhere else other than the tiler.

This is where British Standard BS 5385 can help. Now, I would be a complete hypocrite writing here that all tiling should only be undertaken as per British Standards, when for years I didn’t do so myself. I understand that as a professional I sometimes had to make decisions that veered away from the quoted standard. However, I made these calculated decisions based on previous experience and professional knowledge, not just on hope and in contemplation of having to change my work number in the future.

When being asked to do something you know is wrong, however, I would advise using British Standards, rather than your own opinion, as the reason you are unable to carry out a request.
These standards have been written by some very experienced and knowledgeable people and are based on facts. Background weight limits have been determined based on testing, the methods of fixing tiles are written to provide secure, long-lasting installations, and stated temperatures are quoted because these people have a background and know-how in chemistry. These a just a few examples of the many guidelines you will find in BS 5385 that have been published for a reason and could help you explain your reasoning when out on site.

One tiler, who I have become very good friends with over the years, springs to mind here. Despite him and his team being very well known and respected throughout the industry, when we talk, he is quick to remind me that they don’t know it all because they don’t need to. At times, he’s grateful that other people – experts in their field – have put in the hours, and that he can then rely on their guidance to get the job right. He accepts that for him and his team to do the work they do, he is reliant on many other people undertaking their roles to the same exacting standards long before he fixes a tile.

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