Aquatic Technology Pool & Spa, "Creating Water as Art."™

Aquatic Technology Pool & Spa, "Creating Water as Art."™
Pools as an art form - the way it should be!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Glass Tile Mosaic Pools, Spas & Waterfeatures - ONLY Use Quality Glass Mosaics

Having a glass tile mosaic infinity, vanishing, horizon, disappearing, knife edge pool, spa, watershape or fountain is all the rage... But Aquatic Consultant Paolo Benedetti of Aquatic Technology warns that buyers need to beware, as the marketplace is awash in shoddy materials and poor workmanship.

Cheap is not Good
When it comes to glass tile mosaics, there is no such thing as an inexpensive high quality tile. I have inspected over 40 projects that had some type of glass failure. I am personally aware of at least another 50 - people who, for whatever reason, chose not to hire me to evaluate their issue(s). They were kind enough to forward pictures, samples and installation images.

In every case, the defects were attributable to a combination of poor quality glass tiles. If questionable installation practices were employed, the problems only compounded themselves.

Glass tile mosaics from the home improvement warehouse stores, internet, close-outs or cut-rate tile contractors that sell for under $10 per square foot, are almost always to blame. A recent $20+ million dollar estate that I visited, had thousands of square feet of $2 per square foot glass tiles installed. Where's the mentality in that?

There are literally thousands of companies on the internet hawking glass tile mosaics. "Quality glass tile $4.99 / sq ft" reads a leading search results. Of course they're not going to say, "Cheap prices, Cheaper Quality Glass Tiles from $4.99 / sq ft," but they should!

Some of these vendors are actual manufacturers, while others are merely middlemen or distributors. Most people look at samples, and because it looks like a name brand tile, they automatically assumes that it is of the same quality. This assumption could not be further from the truth!

While we'd all love to have our surrounding done in the most lavish materials possible, the simple fact is that quality glass tile and it's proper installation is EXPENSIVE - VERY EXPENSIVE! I'm in the trades, and I don't even have a swimming pool lined in glass tile (though my spa is!).

Quality glass tile mosaics start around $15 per square foot and go upwards from there! A simple blend of Italian glass tiles mosaics can easily cost $20-40 per square foot. And, these blends are their standard blends, ones that they do routinely, already have the graphics computed and maintain in inventory.

Select a custom blend of tiles from their color palette and the cost can run $40-60 per square foot, depending on the colors & complexity of the blend. Choose ORO (24K gold leaf sandwiched between layers of glass) and the cost rises exponentially - upwards of $750 per square foot (depending on the current market price of gold).

Inferior Manufacturing Procedures
I've previously discussed the methods used by various glass tile manufacturers employ to reduce their production costs: firing temperatures, annealing, blending, raw materials, recycled materials, double firings and contaminates. So, I'm not going to discuss those again here.

Besides the shortcuts employed during the actual making of the glass, there are other means of reducing their costs. The lack of initial quality control, ongoing random quality control inspections & testing and the tracking production lots are the most prevalent. Many do not even possess testing facilities or employ outside laboratories.

There are a couple of methods of coloring glass tiles. The most common is the use of chemicals and oxides to actually change the color of the glass. Because the color is throughout the material, any chip or scratch will not change the perceived coloration. This is the oldest and most proven method of coloring glass and dates back to before the ancient Romans. The leaders in this field are Lightstreams, Bisazza and Sicis (,,

Applying a colored coating to the reverse of a layer of clear glass is the second most common method of coloring tiles. The best method of achieving this is to actually melt 2 layers of glass together, a clear layer atop a colored layer. The colored layer does not need to be thick. These tiles have a very contemporary look and a great sense of depth, as there is a layer of clear glass on top of the actual color. The layer of clear glass can vary in thickness, depending on the manufacturer. However, the thicker the tile, the greater the potential that each tile will contain inherent stress, that will cause the tile to crack in the future.

Another method of back coloring clear tiles is to melt a coating onto the glass. There are a few companies that have refined this process and manufacture a high quality product. Interstyle ( of Canada is one such company.

But, there are a lot of knock-offs that try to emulate the appearance of these products from these quality manufacturers. The most common is the of recycled glass and the lack of quality control Refer to my prior articles about the dangers of utilizing recycled glass - while it is "green" it poses a serious financial risk to the installer & purchaser!

An attempt to back color clear glass has been attempted through the use of hand painted, silk screened, or sprayed on paint type of coatings. Anyone with a brain can surmise out that these coatings are not going to stay bonded to the smooth glass surface for long.

Another inferior process is a glued on backing. Because none of these companies ever bothered to perform accelerated failure testing of their materials, they have no idea if the backing will stay attached to the glass tile. Many don't even know if the adhesives they use are even waterproof! Place these tiles into a submerged application such as a swimming pool and in a few years you'll have a delaminated mess. Sometimes the colored backing itself is water soluble. Okay for a back splash, but in a shower, bathtub, fountain, swimming pool or spa you quickly have tiles popping off or letting loose - sometimes in big sheets.

(Color backing on the left has separated, darker ones on right are still bonded. Dark thinset highlighted mesh backing.)

Spacing Mesh (aka: mesh backing)
Oftentimes as the backing begin to fail, the mesh backing on the tiles starts to become visible. This is most evident on clear or translucent tiles, since you can actually see through the entire tile. This exactly why quality manufacturers of clear or translucent tiles do not use mesh backings - they can show through the tiles - even without any type of failure.

The mesh backings are merely designed to maintain the spacing between the tiles during installation. They are not designed to adhere the tiles to the substrate. But a poor quality backing can cause bonding issues. Backings that are too large, do not allow for the 90% contact with the thinset that is required by the standards. Plastic dot backings are the worst of these offenders.

(Mesh covers a large percentage of surface, improper use of dark thinset highlights the mesh. Note: poor alignment of the grout lines).

Personally, I prefer paper faced or plastic film faced tiles. Once set into place, the facing paper of plastic film is removed - there is absolutely nothing to interfere with the tile's contact with the thinset. Over the years, I have seen countless ceramic, stone and glass tiles delaminating from projects because the mesh backing was glued on with a soluble glue. As the glue dissolves and releases, it also causes the thinset to lose it's bond - and the tiles begin to fall off.

The Solution ? Replace the Tiles
Chipping glass tiles from a swimming pool shell is one of the messiest and potentially dangerous jobs in our industry. Shards of glass fly everywhere. Though protective gear is worn, vacuums and pressure washers are employed, small invisible shards seem to spread everywhere. Inevitably barefoot people seem to locate every glass shard around the pool for months following a projects reconstruction.

Installation Costs
Proper preparation, waterproofing and installation for a swimming pool is presently running around $80 per square foot (retail). Contractors who do the installation themselves with trained crews can expect their labor and material costs to be around $55-60 per square foot.

If the project has a lot of details that require a lot of trimming of tiles around jets, fittings, stairs, or circular vessels (e.g. round spas or fountains), then expect to pay on upwards of $100-125 per square foot. Meticulous details take time. And time is money!

You should expect and receive quality... compare some installations below. You can easily spot the quality VS the hacks!

( Click on an image to enlarge it)


Paolo Benedetti - Aquatic Artist
"Creating water as art."™
Aquatic Technology Pool & Spa©