I like the deep blue ceramic tiles that come in sizes of 2ftx3ft. Is this a good size regarding wastage, joints, among other things? How do I know if these Chinese tiles are of good quality?

--Priya Wadhwa

The bigger, thicker and heavier the tiles, the more difficult these are to handle and cut with a motorized hand-held cutting machine (when required). Some vendors offer a tile-cutting service. However, this doesn’t help, especially when the actual size of the tile is derived from a site where work is still going on. You need to confirm the workability of the tile from the vendor before investing money. The track record of a vendor is also important.

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The size of the tile versus wastage is dependent entirely on the shape and size of the given space, and the pattern in which you choose to use the tile. These large-sized tiles (irrespective of the source of origin) are also prone to warping and distortion.

Floor plan: Check tiles carefully before buying. The track record of a vendor is also important.

All tile manufacturers state minute variations in size on the packaging. You need to make sure these variations are not very pronounced. A typical good-quality tile should not have a variation greater than one-300th of its length (that is, for every 300mm length, the tile should not be longer or shorter than expected by more than 1mm). This variation is also easy to spot. Place three-six tiles from a single box on a level surface. Join four tiles edge to edge. See if you can spot one or more tile edges that are longer than others. Note down this difference of measurement. Now, turn the tiles around and replace a few tiles with fresh ones, and check again. You should also get an idea of frequency (as well as degree) of such variations by repeating this check through a small crate of tiles.

I have a couple of leftover cement bags from the last renovation at least a year back. Is it all right to use that cement to repair the terrace parapet wall that has developed cracks?

--Yamini Bandha

Even though there is no expiry date printed on cement bags, the strength of cement diminishes (very slowly) over a period of time owing to exposure to atmospheric moisture. This is especially true when the bags have been placed directly on the floor without a vapour barrier (such as a plastic sheet) below, or worse, left exposed on a porch or veranda. In this case, the cement would have partially or completely solidified, making it useless.

This phenomenon of atmospheric-induced hydration is faster in “quick-setting cement" (it solidifies faster) and slower in “modified pozzolanic cement". Pozzolanic or pozzolana cement comes in various brands and grades (represented by numbers such as 33, 43, 53, among others). It’s the presence of pozzolanic materials (which reduce the speed of hydration as they don’t react with water), such as fly ash, that prevents cement from hardening before you are ready for it to set. It’s only when fly ash is exposed to free lime or calcium hydrate that it starts to set. Modified pozzolanic cement has a greater resistance to atmospheric moisture.

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