As the popularity and sales of glass tile increase, a
group of professionals have begun gathering to discuss
problems associated with some of the products.
The issues include product-quality questions, the
unwillingness of some manufacturers to stand behind their
merchandise and a voluntary installation standard.
“We’re afraid that because of bad
installers or bad glass, people will shy away from the use
of glass in these environments,” said Steve
Slutzah, president of Westside Tile & Stone in Los
“And some of these people have been doing pools
for 15 or 20 years [without] having a
Slutzah and others attribute the issues, in part, to a
recent influx of manufacturers entering the glass-tile
market, some with inferior quality products.
For instance, some of the tile aren’t suitable
for pool applications but aren’t labeled as such.
This tile can be subject to a phenomenon called thermal
shock, a cracking in the glass caused by drastic
temperature fluctuations. In pool settings, this can occur
when the tile bakes in the sun for a long period of time,
then has water spilled on it, as on vanishing-edge walls
“If you’ve ever taken a glass out of
the freezer and then put hot water over it, you’ll
see it just shatter,” Slutzah says.
“I’ve had experiences with that, where,
before the tile was even grouted, it shattered just from
Slutzah said his customers are seeing these and similar
instances more often than before and questions are arising
as to whether the tiles are tested consistently for the
Another issue lies in the way the tile is mounted. In
the past, glass tile was manufactured using a paper front
rather than mesh backing, so installation took much longer.
But more mesh-mounted glass tiles are entering the market
as producers try to make the product easier to install.
Problems have been reported with some of the glues
bonding the tile to the mesh. Some are water-soluble,
Slutzah hears, causing tiles to come off when immersed in a
pool or spa. Other times, professionals said, mold will
grow behind the mesh due to the lack of an anti-microbial
agent — something they hope will be required
“The grid can be a food source for mold to grow
underneath the tiles and [in] the grout joints,”
said Greg Andrews, owner of Andrews Tile in Agoura Hills,
Calif. “If you’re dealing with a clear or
translucent glass, you start seeing weird stuff underneath.
Because of this, Andrews has turned down jobs if he
doesn’t trust the mesh mounting. But somebody else
usually will take on the project.
In response, the tile industry has begun to acknowledge
these problems and move toward reducing them. Until
recently, no industry standards existed for glass tile, but
earlier this year, ANSI A137.2 was released to address
issues such as thermal shock.
“When [a product becomes popular], a lot of
people want to capitalize on it,” said Stephanie
Samulski, project manager for The Tile Council of North
America in Anderson, S.C. “All of a sudden people
jump on board, and they’re paying attention to
selling material and not quality control. So it sort of
exacerbates the problem of not having a
But installers claim that when a problem does occur,
some manufacturers are hiding behind another industry
standard — this one pertaining to installation.
Detail EJ171 of the Tile Council of North
America’s handbook states that, on exterior
applications or those exposed to moisture, movement joints
should be placed every 8 to 10 linear feet, regardless of
the type of tile. This allows the material to shift. The
standard includes other provisions for interior, dry
“We’ve all faced the manufacturer that
says, ‘Well, you didn’t use movement
joints, so you own the failure,’” Andrews
said. “In some of these cases, they’ll
blame the failure on the contractor’s installation
method when, in fact, it’s a problem with the
At least in Southern California, some professionals
report seeing few, if any, glass-tile projects that
actually have the joints, which they call unattractive and
perhaps unnecessary. “I understand where it snows
and they have freeze/thaw issues that [the joints] may be
critical,” said Scott Cohen, president of The
Green Scene Design & Construction in Los Angeles.
“But the reality is that those aren’t
being installed in temperate climates.”
But the TCNA and the National Tile Contractors
Association say the standard should be followed despite
pressure that sometimes comes from designers and customers
to forgo the joints. Glass expands and contracts more than
ceramic or porcelain, they said, so movement is inevitable,
even if the shell stays completely still.
“We’re encouraging people in glass to go
on the conservative side,” said Samulski of the
The joints actually allow designers to have more control
over the final product because they create a controlled
location where movement is addressed and consistent, said
Johnny Marckx, executive vice president of Oceanside
Glasstile in Carlsbad, Calif.
“I think there are creative ways to fulfill the
technical specification and still come out with an
absolutely beautiful installation,” he added.
Samulski added that the problem can cut both ways, with
installers blaming the product for errors made in the
field. “If somebody calls somebody out because
there’s cracked tile, thermal shock is sort of an
easy thing to point to,” she said. “But
we don’t necessarily think that all the reports
that have alleged that thermal shock is the failure mode
necessarily [reflect] really what’s happening
All parties agree that the root cause of failures can be
hard to pinpoint, and there may be multiple culprits. With
that in mind, it’s important for builders and tile
installers to protect themselves as much as possible.
Too often, concerned professionals say, manufacturers
fail to provide installation instructions or clarify
whether their products are suitable for water environments.
This is more common among tiles that are private labeled,
purchased online or otherwise of unclear origin. Experts
advise that if no instructions and specifications are
available, the product should be avoided.
“Because of the nature of glass ...
we’re adamant that our members request in writing
warranty and product recommendations from the
manufacturer,” said Bart Bettiga, executive
director of the National Tile Contractors Association in
Jackson, Miss. “If a distributor is selling that
product, we want that distributor to provide specific
recommendations that [the] glass can be used in submerged
applications or in different climatic conditions, in wet
areas or showers. And then we specifically ask for
For example, Oceanside will specify the exact products
that should be used for setting and sealing its tile.
Company officials stand firmly behind the movement joints,
but they recommend collaboration between designers, tile
setters and even the manufacturer to decide on the number
Said Marckx: “We believe that you [should] have
a team that’s working together toward the same end
— not someone who picks a beautiful color mosaic
and then an installer who’s left to their own
devices to reconcile well-documented best practices for
installation vs. an architect who doesn’t like to
see that visual break.” After his company has seen
the specifics of a project, he said, it sometimes will
allow a deviation from the standard.
As for Slutzah’s group, it plans to meet
periodically and, in the meantime, help each other resolve
specific problems and disputes.