Frederick M. Hueston, PhD

Honey is my mascot for the inspection class.

Honey is my mascot for the inspection class.

I inspected the shower and found a classic case of grout failure. Corner seams or direction transitions need a “soft joint,” with a more flexible material.

I inspected the shower and found a classic case of grout failure. Corner seams or direction transitions need a “soft joint,” with a more flexible material.

I was on my second day of vacation, motorcycling down the Pacific Coast highway, when I had to pull over to answer my phone. Usually, I’ll let it go to voice mail, but I could see at a glance on my caller ID that it was from my dog sitter.  

I pulled off the road at the next rest stop and called my dog sitter. She told me that she thought my dog was having separation anxiety because she wasn’t eating. I told her not to worry, she usually doesn’t eat for a few days when I leave on vacation or a business trip. Note to self: she is small enough, the next time I’ll just bring her with me. I did eventually bring her to Las Vegas for one of my stone inspection classes (see pic). Is the world full of coincidences, or is everything connected? Little did I expect that the first case I had when I returned from vacation had to do with separation.

My trip lasted a week and yes, my little dog finally ate on the third day. I was sleeping in late, trying to adjust back to the East Coast time zone, when my ringing phone woke me up. The gravelly voice on the other end was hard to understand – or maybe I was still asleep. He announced he was an attorney (who sounded like a heavy smoker) and he was mumbling something about a client who had an issue with her new marble shower. He rambled on about her complaint and I eventually figured out that the grout in her shower was cracking. I told him I could take a look and try to determine what was going on. 

When I asked him where it was located he told me it was a mansion in the middle of an island off the west coast of Florida.  Well, I sold my boat a number of years ago, so I asked how I was going to get there. He told me that the owner would pick me up with his boat and sail me over there. I was thinking, would it be rude if I brought my fishing pole with me? LOL! The coast was only a few hours away, so I set it up for the next day.

I arrived at the marina a few minutes early, and told the dock master that I was waiting on a ride. I was expecting a small fishing boat, a pleasure cruiser or maybe even a pontoon boat, but within minutes a large, loud cigarette boat pulled up and docked. Yup, this was my ride. 

The owner looked familiar, and my mind wandered back to my crazy hydroplane racing days. I could have sworn I knew him. Later on, I would find out that he was a famous boat racer. 

He introduced himself and handed me a life vest and a helmet. Yes, a helmet. I guess I was in for one heck of a ride!  I climbed in the boat and we started out of the marina. The engines were roaring, and I could hardly hear him talking to me. Once we got out in the open water, he yelled at me to hold on. Wow! I had never gone this fast in a boat. We were skipping across the water, and at times I thought we were flying above the water. Later, he told me we were doing over 70 MPH, or about 61 knots. That’s fast for a boat* (see You Think That’s Fast?).

We arrived at his mansion, the only home on the island. All I could say was WOW. The place was huge! We entered the house, and he led me to the master bath. We walked into a palatial bathroom suite, in which you could probably fit a small house. 

He walked over to the shower and pointed to the corner, where the floor meets the walls. I took one look and knew right way what the problem was (see photo). This was a classic mistake made by installers. I have seen it a million times. I told him the installer used the same grout in the corners instead of a soft joint. Anytime you have a change in plane (like a corner) a soft joint is required, otherwise it will crack. The walls and corners will move due to expansion and contraction. This will cause the grout to separate. I told him he needed to call the installer back and have him saw out the joints and replace them with silicone. Another case solved – and I got another awesome boat ride!

The Stone Detective is a fictional character created by Dr. Frederick M. Hueston, PhD, written to be entertaining and educational. Dr. Fred has written over 33 books on stone and tile installations, fabrication and restoration and also serves as an expert for many legal cases across the world. Send your email comments to him at fhueston@stone