Misery Loves Company - DIY Not going as expected

Teresa D
by Teresa D
Someone go get the cheese to go with my whine! So, I've got my new granite countertops in and new appliances. I just need my backsplash redone. After weeks of indecision on the design and material and quotes from a few contractors, Then being stood up or calls not returned by contractors, I decided upon a design (2 rows of stone mosaic with glass accents along bottom and 6x6 porcelain tile set diagonally with occasional accents worked in) and to do it myself. I've done lots of DIY projects, so this shouldn't be too difficult.
I got all my materials and rented equipment and got going, then things began to go wrong ... adhesive was super messy, tiles were slipping, struggling to keep things level and grout lines straight. Spacers kept popping out and after 5 hours and only about 9 tiles placed, I lost confidence. I contacted another contractor to help bail me out. This one actually showed up but some of his cuts looked worse than mine and a scratch "magically" appeared on my new countertops! I stopped everything.
I'm embarrassed and so disappointed and now, I'm not so sure I even like the design! So now, I have about 1/5 of the area tiled and I don't feel I have it in me to try it DIY again. For the money I've spent so far, I could have paid someone to do it and be done with it. *pout* I'm sharing this story for therapy (I guess) until my pity party is over and I get things moving again. In the meantime, has anyone else had a DIY project that just didn't go as planned? What happened and what did you do?
  46 answers
  • Leslie D Leslie D on Jun 18, 2012
    We were changing out ball valves for a bath while we were replacing the cabinet in our old house in Colorado, which we affectionately referred to as "water world". The main shut off to the house didn't work (as did none of the valves), so we turned water off at the street. We had just sweated on a new valve and my husband went outside to turn on the water. He asked me to lean over and make sure the valve didn't leak at the back, so there I was, head against the wall, directly over the top of it, so I had a good view, intently watching the valve when he turned the water back on. Unfortunately, he had not closed the valve and I got the equivalent of "Old Faithful" in my face. I was so shocked, that I didn't think to turn the valve off and water was spraying the ceiling and raining back down, soaking me to the bone while I screamed at him to turn it back off, before I realized all I had to do was turn the valve off myself. He and my daughter were laughing so hard at me, and he still tells people to ask me about how I check for a leak....LOL

  • Teresa D Teresa D on Jun 18, 2012
    Wow, Leslie! Thanks for sharing. My spirits are lifting! I'm sure I'm going to look back on this one day and laugh.

  • Miriam Illions Miriam Illions on Jun 18, 2012
    Teresa, I just want to say good for you that you tried. You were trying to do the absolute best you could - huge kudos for that. Sometimes things don't work out as planned, but you were brave and you wanted to try it and you did! For that I admire you! Leslie, LOL.

  • Leslie D Leslie D on Jun 18, 2012
    I could also tell you about the time I stepped down backwards from a ladder into a bucket of water, fell backwards with the bucket still stuck on my foot and dumped the entire bucket of water on myself. Yes, I'm a clutz...LOL

  • Susan S Susan S on Jun 18, 2012
    Awwww - Teresa, sure wish I had something more to offer you but all I got is sympathy!! You're more than welcome to all of it. No magic solution but I do feel your pain!! ;~)

  • Leslie D Leslie D on Jun 18, 2012
    Just curious...did you try to use a pre-mixed mastic or did you mix your own thinset for the install? Thinset is better...mastic is slower drying and can hold moisture more easily, and typically has higher mold problems, and can make a wall tile install a nightmare. The mosaics should stick fairly easily with the right consistency of thinset, and you can let that row dry and set to help "hold" the larger tiles above. Depending upon the gap you want, pennies make great spacers...they are uniform, easier to handle and seem to stay in place better than spacers. You said you have a glass accent tile, so make sure you use white thinset to avoid the color showing through the glass. You can do this!

  • Jan C Jan C on Jun 18, 2012
    I say, sit back, sip some wine and give it a week, be sure that is the design you want, and try again. Don't set a time limit on yourself, play some soothing music, take a deep breath, and just do it!! If you got 9 done, you know how, you just need to relax, focus and do it!!!! You can!!!

  • If you need help drinking the wine, just call. Do not give up hope. Us contractors also make all sorts of goofs, its just we learn how to make excuses for them. lol. There are other methods to secure your tiles to the wall. They now make a double sided tile adhesive that you simply push the tiles onto. No more messy thinset, or icky mastic. What you never see on those TV shows is really how messy this job can really be. So take a break, remove what you can and clean up. Then regroup yourself and start again. Her is a link for that adhesive I was speaking about. http://www.bonderatilematset.com/

  • 3po3 3po3 on Jun 18, 2012
    Jan and Woodbridge have great advice. My wife mocks me as the typical guy. I try to do everything myself before we call in the pros. I have made slow drains and other seemingly simple DIY plumbing jobs far worse before calling in the pros, and probably having to pay more than I would have if I had never messed with it. But you don't need the backsplash to use the kitchen, so take a week to settle and come up with a new plan, and get back on that tiling horse.

  • Marg C Marg C on Jun 19, 2012
    I can't offer any more than all the others except my sympathy as well. You can do this! you already have 9 done so you're getting some experience on what works and what doesn't. The first thing that came to mind when I read your post was, are you putting the thinset on too thick? Do you think that's what is making the tiles slip? Keep in mind I have never done tiling before but I wondering if this might be the problem. ok then....pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get it done! You can do this!

  • Brandon K Brandon K on Jun 19, 2012
    Teresa, your failure is actually one step on the way to success. As a wise man once told me: "Good judgement comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgement." Cheer up and get back at it - one day you will look back at this project and smile! :)

  • I have a water story also Leslie....well, uckie water. My husband was thrifty enough to try & unstop a pipe, by going in the basement & climbing a ladder to get to the plumbing on the above floor. He opened the trap & collected the water (filthy, sewage water). All was going well until the bucket fell, splish splash, walls, carpet, everything. Oh & did I mention it was a finished basement!!! LOL

  • JP S JP S on Jun 19, 2012
    Teresa,we have all "been there,done that"it is called experence. I admire you for trying.Hang in there!

  • Jeanette S Jeanette S on Jun 19, 2012
    Teresa, there is not a single person who does home projects or repairs who at one time or another has felt like they just fell into a hole! When you find yourself in the spot you are in now, the very best thing you can do is stop! Take a few breaths and have a glass of wine with your whine! (HA!) Just let go of the project for a few days but do not take any action. Do some thinking about what look you are going for and investigate different alternatives. Sometimes when you act when you are upset, you wind up with a finished product that looks good but somehow just does not fit the idea of what you were going for! Good luck to you! (PS...if it's any consulation, I am on of those that wants it finished yesterday so I know this is a tough spot to find yourself in...but it will work out better for you if you let the problem settle down before you proceed!)

  • Excellent advice Jeanette. My grandmother taught me that about sewing. She said when it starts to go wrong, just put it down for a while. When I first learned to sew, I put the zipper in backwards (seam locked & all) I wanted to quit & never sew again, but I put it down & came back later, removed the zipper & installed it correctly. Result, I can sew!!!

  • Teresa D Teresa D on Jun 19, 2012
    I love this site! I felt like no one else would understand my frustration so I spilled my guts here. You guys are the greatest! I'm feeling much better. I should have had wine with my whine but instead, I chose chocolate raspberry truffle ice cream! Maybe I'll do the wine as I figure out my new design. Thanks so much for the encouragement and for sharing your stories as well!

  • Marg C Marg C on Jun 19, 2012
    You've come to the right place Teresa. So many here have so much experience because we love to work with our hands. good and bad outcomes and how to fix it! Lots of ingenuity here! glad you're feeling better about the whole thing :)

  • Leslie D Leslie D on Jun 20, 2012
    I didn't want to share my husband's mishap until he told me it was OK. He did this to both ankles when the scaffolding we were using in the living room fell over with him on it(due to our own stupidity in getting too comfortable and careless and not locking the wheels). He fell 10' onto concrete. At least you didn't miss a week of work because you couldn't walk! He also put two holes in the "just retextured and painted" walls, which we then had to patch.

  • Marg C Marg C on Jun 20, 2012
    oh no! this is awful! walking must be so painful for him...so sorry to hear about this mishap. get well soon Leslie's hubby!

  • So Leslie, Glad he is ok. I do not want to scold you or your hubby, but this could have been a lot worse. A bakers scaffold which is what the photo is of, should never be used two tiers high without out riggers. And NEVER use a ladder on top of any scaffold,

  • Sharron W Sharron W on Jun 20, 2012
    Oh no @ Leslie! Glad hubby is ok! @Teresa there are tricks to almost every aspect of construction and tile is no exception, one of things that caught my attention is your wide variety of materials. Not that its a problem, BUT one of my favorite guys on DIY, Josh Templeton, said Stone tiles are heavier than most every other type and as such, pull off the wall and sag more readily, so proper installation is important, and knowing that you can only put up a single row at a time without some waiting in between for the morter to set up before trying to add any more weight on top is critical....are you for example (1) attempting to do a space by stacking all the items vertically and finish that before moving on....or are you trying to (2) putting all your tile of one type, ie "the glass tiles" mounting full rows horizontally before going back and adding the next element in the row above.. Did that make sense? you need to remember that you have to prepare the space on the wall with morter and then back butter the tile and press into the wall. Don't give up, it'll be that much more enjoyable to say, I did it myself....BUT maybe you have a friend or coworker that has done this once or twice? Or a Contractor that will come and supervise/advise for a much smaller fee that if he had to install...we all have to start somewhere...Including the contractors...LOL Good Luck PS. I'm currently "dis-Assembling" a "pond" that I built and made much more difficult than it had to be...and although I still want one....I sure won't build another one without a clearer idea of the necessary steps....Which MANY of my hometalk friends have already helped me out with advice.

  • Leslie D Leslie D on Jun 20, 2012
    This happened back in April, so he's healed and better now, although still some residual pain when he bends them certain ways. Woodbridge, you have every right to scold us...we both know better and have scolded ourselves many times. He's embarassed about it, which is why I wanted to make sure it was OK with him to post. He "rode" it down as it tipped, then jumped and rolled, saving him from more serious injury, although I wasn't sure which one of us would end up in the ER...him with the ankles or me with a heart attack!

  • Bernice H Bernice H on Jun 21, 2012
    @Leslie..yikes, so sorry, but happy all is somewhat better now. My hubs does some scary things, he has an old weather beaten ladder laying out on the roof of our little storage shed, and HE STILL USES IT! Freaks me out! @Teresa..i know the feeling, I and just about everyone else has had this experience. I am so happy Hometalk is here for us to whine to, then get some direction! ie, More info! Keep us tuned in on your progress.

  • Teresa D Teresa D on Jun 21, 2012
    Well, I'm tearing it out and starting again tonight. I've got another contractor. I feel pretty good about this one. (fingers crossed) I'm just going to let him bring my design to fruition and get it over with. @Woodbridge, I meant to tell you that using Bondera was my first plan but it is so expensive! ~$40 for 10x12 ft. I would have needed about 3 boxes. I'll post the before and after pics once it is done. @Leslie, glad you guys are fine. Live and learn, right? @Sharron, I was using porcelain tiles with a stone look. They were pretty heavy too though. I started in the center and there was a phone jack and outlet I had to deal with. So my first 3-4 tiles had difficult cuts. I took my time and the cuts came out great. I laid the tiles (3) all around the outlets and then placed the ones below those. So it wasn't vertical or horizontal, it was kind of circular, the way I laid them. The slipping was very subtle. I didn't notice until I placed the next tile or the spacer fell out. I used the round spacers with the cross in the middle thinking they would be better.

  • Glad you saw the product Teresa, When you see what a pain using thinset or mastic to hold the tile up, you can see why the stuff is so expensive. Think about all the time spent putting the tile on the wall vs just peeling and sticking. As a contractor time is really about money. So even if we spent another $100 more for the materials. The Job could be done in less then a day, saving the owner several hundred dollars in the process. But as a DIY your labor is sort of free, unless your taking off from work to do it. So it make sense to use the mastic instead of the plastic. Glad you go someone to help you out.

  • Teresa D Teresa D on Jun 25, 2012
    I'll be SO glad when this is over. Grrrr! Tile is up and all that is left to do is to grout. Not 100% happy. Just want it over now. *sigh In the meantime, I have a question ... what is the best way to get mortar off granite? (should I post this as a seperate question?) Contractor did not clean well between sessions. I have mortar on some of the tiles and discovered a glob of mortar that seeped under the paper laid out to protect the countertop. He is coming this evening to grout and I expect he will clean up everything but how should he get the mortar off the granite? He mentioned using a razor blade. Is this safe? I already had one contractor scratch the countertop. I would imagine this has happened before. As always, I'd appreciate any feedback.

  • Razor blade may remove some of the adhesive, but ideally a sharp knife or scraper should be used. The adhesive is still pretty soft even though its dry, but he or she needs to spend a fair amount of time going between every tile and digging out enough of the offending cement so the grout when placed will go deep enough to grab and hold. This will take several hours to accomplish. Of course this would have been much faster if he or she cleaned up behind themselves as they worked. A true pro would have done this knowing how much work its going to take to do it later on. But the thinset should come off pretty easy on the tile surface as its shiny and the cement has nothing to bite into and hold. What color cement did they use? White or gray? The white is a bit more expensive and is hidden much easier then the gray stuff. But in any case then need to scrape between the tiles and on the surface to assure that there is nothing left to be seen once the grout is properly placed. Just remember NOT to pay him or her if any cement still shows once the wall is grouted. Not even part of what you owe. Job done, Job paid. Unless you have a contract that spells out the payment differently.

  • Teresa D Teresa D on Jun 25, 2012
    Thanks Woodbridge. Contract spells it out a little differently but this job has been stretched out to 3 days and I've paid a little bit each time unfortunately the balance is only $50. The mortar is white. I purchased it from Lowe's (MAPEI Ultraflex 2 white powder polymer-modified mortar). I have a feeling, he won't be scraping between the tiles. I think he is concerned about the time it is taking. I've already had to adjust my original design to get a decent outside corner. (He mitered the tiles so that the grout line on the outside corner isn't huge. Because this took more time, I had to go without tile in an area I had originally planned to have him tile or pay more.) It is located between the backsplash and my cooktop, which is a very narrow space. So you're saying it is possible to get it off by scraping without damaging the granite?

  • Yes if done carefully with a sharp razor blade it should be able to be removed fairly quick. Even if the job took longer then expected, He did give you a price to do it one way. Or were you paying by the hour? He should do the job correctly regardless of how much more work it was in the end. Its not like he opened a wall up and found something that is was not aware of. That I can understand. But with tile on a blank wall, there is little surprise on what its going to take to do this job properly. In any case, careful cleaning should do the trick. You can even use a real stiff scrubbing brush to remove the cement. Its not really that hard. Just takes some time to do.

  • Teresa D Teresa D on Jun 26, 2012
    "Aaaaaaaaaah!" (that's the sound of angels singing) I've got my kitchen back to myself and the backsplash is finally up. I just have to caulk, replace the outlet covers and seal the grout. So much stress for such a small space! Woodbridge, he was able to get the mortar off the countertop without any noticeable damage. Thanks again for the support, encouragement and not making me feel bad for whining. :-)

  • Leslie D Leslie D on Jun 26, 2012
    Looks great, Teresa! Folks who have never tried don't realize how difficult it is to do a backsplash when you're leaning over between cabinets and countertop to do the work. It ties in with your granite very well!

  • Yeah Teresa!!! You got it done & it looks great!!!

  • Marg C Marg C on Jun 26, 2012
    it looks beautiful Teresa :} I like the random tiles too. glad you have your kitchen back and the ordeal is over. :)

  • Brandon K Brandon K on Jun 27, 2012
    Awesome! We knew you could do it!

  • Sharron W Sharron W on Jun 27, 2012
    AWESOME! So happy that YOU're happy with the final result! I really like the mix of materials you chose, and the pattern is a nice play on the pattern in your granite!

  • Jaye L Jaye L on Jul 02, 2012
    Theresa it looks awesome! I'm so with you though about how easy it is to be sidetracked when things don't go as planned! Following one of my favortite blogger's que (CentsationalGirl.com) I decided to pull of the ugly carpet off my stairs and redo them with wood. So far: I have fallen down said stairs and now need about $1000 worth of dental work, spilled almost an entire can of dark, dark, dark stain all over everything - walls, floors, new stair treads,etc, and ruined a table nearby when a screwdriver fell on it! I'm ready to give up. I am not new to DIY so I'm not sure why these things are happening! I feel like the project has been jinxed from the get go and now I can't even stand to look at this less than halfway finished project!!! Just trying to refresh, regroup and refocus at this point! Glad you got your project finished though. Tiling the entire first floor is my project after this one! At this rate, I'll probably cut a finger off on my tile saw!

  • Marg C Marg C on Jul 02, 2012
    omg Jaye...that is awful :( I sure hope you can get it together soon and complete that miserable project :S. I said that because I'm sure that's what you call it , lol. And for goodness sake, be careful with that saw!!!!

  • Teresa D Teresa D on Jul 02, 2012
    Jaye. Thanks for the compliment and sharing your mishap. Hang in there. I didn't physically injure myself but I can imagine the frustration, embarrassment and fear you're going through. Sometimes I just wanted to cry - because I expected more from myself, because it was proving more difficult than I had anticipated, because others had done it themselves, surely I could do it, and because I had people close to me doubting I could do it and no one helped. I wound up having someone do it for me and although I'm not 100% happy with what I ended up with, I'm glad it's over. I can live with it. And frankly, kudos to me for actually trying to do something I've never tried before. I learned from it. So, I say to you, KUDOS for being brave enough to go for it! Despite your setback, whether you decide to finish it yourself or hire someone to just get it done so you can move on to the next thing, don't feel bad. Consider the old saying, "you can't win them all" and think about all the other things you've done yourself and how great they turned out. Keep that confidence! You won't lose any fingers. Take your time and regroup. You'll do great!

  • Sharron W Sharron W on Jul 03, 2012
    @Jaye L. How old is your house? Perhaps the trouble has more to do with a previous owners attachment to the carpeting and/or the way it looked previously than with your inepness...I'm not really superstitious, but I've seen some strange things occur in really old homes and frankly in not so old homes as well...I could tell you a story about revamping my inlaws house after my FIL passed away... and the broom whapping me on the head when I made a not so kind, (it was supposed to be funny) comment. So consider asking permission from the powers that be...As I have been told many times; there are things on heaven and earth that we may never understand... But I do try to respect the memories of previous occupants and so far so good...Do try again and don't let the negativity hold you back. Look at the spill as an opportunity to change some of your other decor as well and that may help you release some of your fear and trepidation about trying again.Good Luck and good thoughts to you!

  • Jaye L Jaye L on Jul 03, 2012
    Thanks Marg C. I got back on the horse yesterday and actually got alot done - well, that is after REPAINTING everything that the stain splashed all over! And Teresa - you hit the nail on the head! It is frustration at myself over not being able to do this! This is NOT heart surgery, for goodness sakes! Sharron W, my house isn't that old - maybe about 8 years but I have actually thought the same thing! I'm trying to remember if I gave any bad karma out and it's coming 'round to bite me in the butt! I don't think so - I try really hard not to send negative karma out. You know what's interesting is that my wonderful sister, Nancy Jo passed away right at the beginning of this fiasco - I wonder if it's her pranking me!

  • Sharron W Sharron W on Jul 04, 2012
    @Jaye or perhaps trying to get your attention....Talk to her while you work and you'll know soon enough...

  • Jaye L Jaye L on Jul 04, 2012
    Well, my first conversation would be "Damn Nancy Jo, don't just stand there - pick up a hammer! :-)

  • Marg C Marg C on Jul 04, 2012

  • Jaye L Jaye L on Jul 05, 2012
    This is me and Nancy Jo at Gettysburg. Not the best pic but the last one we have together. She's on the left.

  • Sharron W Sharron W on Jul 06, 2012
    HaHaHa....now that's funny!