Your knees are shot. Or, perhaps, you’re one of the lucky ones whose knees are just mostly shot.
Either way, at some point, you’re going to have to figure out what the next step in your career is going to be after setting tile.
Your options are:
- Grow your contracting business so you’re the big boss
- Become a manufacturer’s rep
- That Walmart greeter job is looking better every day
But, there’s one additional option which is becoming a tile consultant. In fact, I’ve interviewed three experts that have given me a glimpse into this world. And I’m going to share what I’ve learned. Specifically,
- What tile consultants do
- How much they charge
- How to break into this field
- More importantly, how to rise to the top of this industry
Let’s dive in. First things first:
What in the world do these consultants do?
Firstly, consultants have a variety of tasks that they perform. While they are mostly known for examining tile failures that’s not the only thing they do. Below is a breakdown of the many services they perform.
Examining a failure
Probably the number one task they perform is to look at a tile failure and try to discern the cause. For example:
- Tiles are hollow sounding and popping loose at a shopping mall
- The showers leak on an entire floor of a new hotel
- The grout is disintegrating at a restaurant
Consultants get hired to come in and try to determine why it’s failing. Improper installation? Faulty product? Perhaps a good product was installed in the wrong place.
Once they come up with a diagnosis they need to write up a detailed report.
“The very worst thing,” Dave Gobis of Ceramic Tile Consultant in Wisconsin says, “is the writing. You’ve got to write.”
Going to court
Being an expert witness in a court of law is another possible duty of the consultant. Although Stone Forensics Fred Hueston, Florida, mentioned that “they don’t always go to court. Very few of them go to court.”
“Most of the time they get settled out of court.”
So, if court isn’t your thing then you don’t have to get involved in that aspect of this field. But expert witnesses do make a lot of money. 
Spec and reviewing systems
Additionally, consultants may be hired to write up proper specifications for a specific project.
“Not only writing specifications but reviewing specifications,” Hueston clarifies
“Why wait for things to fail? There are consultants that are hired ahead of time to prevent failures and I’d like to see a lot more of that take place,” Bart Bettiga, Executive Director of the National Tile Contractors Association, adds.
Finally, there is working for an insurance company and making assessments. For example, a house floods and insurance companies will call a consultant in to assess “does this need to be replaced or can it be fixed,” says Fred Hueston
Ok. Time to talk dough. How much do tile consultants make?
“You’re looking at a range of anywhere from $150 to $350 dollars per hour,” Hueston states, “and you charge like an attorney does.”
Gobis added that he charges $275 hour unless it’s for expert witnessing “which is $350 an hour with an eight hour minimum.”
How you bill
Dave mentioned that when he was first starting out he had a tough time cracking $100,000 per year. A few years later he was closer to $200,000 but was traveling every week “and sometimes, I’d go to two cities a week.”
Much like the construction industry, this consulting industry is in need of new, qualified faces.
In the niche of tile consulting work, there isn’t a certain credential that you are required to obtain or a class that you have to take. You’re not going to achieve any special letters that go after your name like MD, RN, or PhD.
Nonetheless, there are some courses that you can enroll in to help pick up some experience in the consulting world.
While there are a good number of general or floor covering courses that you can take there are very few tile-specific courses at your disposal. Two that I learned about are:
This is an annual one week course that is taught by Fred Hueston of Stone Forensics.
Hueston touches on all aspects of tile consulting. From how to go about assessing a failure to acquiring job leads, and it includes support as you start landing your own consultant work.
There is a test at the conclusion and, if successful, you will obtain a certification from this program.
Ceramic Tile Education Foundation offers this 3-day course which takes a close look at industry standards, test methods, and evaluation techniques.
There is a test at the conclusion and, if successful, you will obtain a certificate of completion.
Because there is currently no accreditation program, you’re going off of the reputation of the program.
Further, even though you may get a certificate at the end of your training there is no guarantee that certification will be recognized, or have any merit, with someone looking to hire you.
As Fred mentions, it’s ultimately up to the individual and what they do with their education. “A doctor can go to medical school and end up a good doctor or a bad doctor. The degree doesn’t make him good or bad.”
Nonetheless, taking a course could very well be beneficial to someone looking to gain additional training.
Much like being a tile contractor, the licensing requirements can vary in different areas. However, there is a specific kind of insurance that is available to consultants.
Errors and Omissions insurance
Having an E&O policy can protect you if you give bad advice or make a faulty diagnosis. You aren’t necessarily required to carry it if you are just starting out.
However, if you’re going to be serious about tile consulting as a career then you will need to get E&O insurance, at a minimum, and perhaps separate this aspect of your business as its own corporation.
Experience, as a consultant, can be one of the most important factors in getting hired and being able to command a higher rate.
So, you can see that it’s a bit of a catch-22. The main way to gain experience is to get hired.
However, I was surprised to learn that none of the three men that I talked to said that installation experience was a necessity.
They all agreed that it was an asset but a lack of installation experience could be overcome with other training and skills.
Finally, learning industry standards is another important tool to obtain. It’s one of the most important factors in becoming a consultant.
This includes being in attendance at the NTCA technical meetings, the ANSI meetings, and the TCNA Handbook meetings.
To be accepted into the NTCA’s Recognized Consultant Program, Bettiga says “we are absolutely looking for active participation in the NTCA meetings and especially at the [TCNA] Handbook and ANSI meetings”
Gobis concurs. “I have never, ever been in a court case, and I’ve been in a hundred and seventy-odd court cases, and I’ve never seen standards not win. Ever.”
That being said, it’s not enough to simply learn the standards. You have to be a part of them and know how they come about.
Putting it together
Let’s put together a path to become a top tile consultant. From what I gather, it looks like this:
- Learn industry standards
- Start attending every technical and/or standards meetings available
- Perhaps take a course, or two, that specializes specifically in tile consulting
- Perhaps team up with a mentor and network with other industry consultants
- Start while you’re contracting and take on some local work
- Keep growing your business and gaining experience and clientele
- Apply to be an NTCA recognized consultant
- Help the next guy/gal
Yes, you and the rest of the trades are getting older but, hopefully, this post and video were helpful if you’re one of the ones that’s thinking about evolving into the tile consultant field.
Many thanks to the following people. Without their generosity, this article and accompanying video would not have come about.
Fred Hueston; Stone Forensics
Dave Gobis; Ceramic Tile Consultant
Bart Bettiga; Executive Director, National Tile Contractors Association