The story of a tile guy's life is getting material from the supplier that is below standard and we wonder how it ever got to market. Half of our job is baby sitting material and making sure it is right. I don't care how great of a tile guy you have, if you give him junk tile, you will have a junk finished product. So, that's why we encourage our customers to go through our purchasing process and pay us to make sure they get quality material. Tile is NOT 'all the same'. Some of it is good, some of it is bad...and again....We can not produce high end work without high end, quality tile.
One example that we've been seeing time and time again being sent to us from over seas is tile sheets with double backed mesh. Tile mosaics with mesh backing is very common. It's okay to have mesh backed tile, you set the sheets in thin set and the thin set forces itself through the mesh when you push the sheet down. Some of the thin set hits the back of the tile. That's fine. As you can see below this is a properly made mesh backed tile.
We can work with this. When the tile is DOUBLE MESHED though, none of the thin set forces through to the tile and the only thing holding the tile to the floor is glue. The manufacturer will put one layer of mesh and glue, and then ANOTHER layer of mesh and glue and none of the thin set gets to the tile. The thin set is only mechanically bonded to the glue. It's a disaster. For some reason manufacturers think that's okay, and we send it back whenever we see it! If you hire laborers, the basic builder grade guy, he will install that tile and you'll potentially have to have it replaced in a few years.
There is a popular video I saw online of an installer confronting a tile supplier representative at a trade show about the lack of quality control in the industry. My heart swelled with envy and I'm sure every other tile guy who cares about his work felt the same way!
Another popular thing, for some reason, that tile manufacturers do now is put PAPER backing with the mesh. Logically, would you say it's good to have paper in a wet area? What is that paper going to do? ROT, MOLD, GROSS! Below is an example. Don't buy this.
Another thing to look for is, how are the tile put together on the sheets? Do they have consistent grout line sizes? Are they consistent sizing? Very rarely is a tile guy going to take the individual small tiles off and adjust them individually. That should be done from the factory and that is the whole point of the sheets. Often times the manufacturer will send sheets that are all cattywampus and the installer will have a heck of a time to try to get all the grout lines lined up....Below is a perfect example:
Buy tile sheets that are put together with dots. You can (surprisingly) find some of the best porcelain mosaics at Home Depot. These mosaic put together with the dots allow for thin set to attach to the actual tile and work in between the tiles and you will have an excellent mechanical bond. This is what to look for, just flip over the tile sheets and check for this:
Natural stone mosaics are a whole different ball game and a discussion for another time, but let me mention that they require the most technical installer who is conscientious and very scrupulous in order to avoid a failure. It's a very complicated subject so I've posted an article from Laticrete below explaining a bit more.