Most of my residential tile work centers on the kitchen or bathroom, but some homeowners also like the look and feel of tile in other parts of the house. One of the most extensive jobs we've done lately involved tiling every floor but the staircase in a two-story, 2,500-square-foot house, including an ornamental rug-pattern area in the great room. This was an interesting project for us because the homeowners — who happened to own a chain of upscale tile stores — were unusually well informed about the latest tile installation products and techniques.

Nothing spoils a ceramic tile floor installation like a large stress crack running across the field. To prevent this kind of expensive disaster, I always do a little pre-installation detective work to make sure the floor is structurally sound. Substrate deflection is by far the biggest contributor to tile failure. If the span is too long for the...

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