Frederick M. Hueston, PhD

I was just admitted to the hospital for some heart issues and ended up spending a few days in intensive care. Luckily, they were able to stabilize me and moved me to the heart floor for a few days.

 I was glad to get out of the ICU, but wasn’t very happy when they didn’t give me a private room. 

They wheeled me into a room with someone else in another bed.  Hope this guy is going to be quiet. I thought to myself.  After all, the last time I was in a semi-private room, all the guy in the next bed did was complain. Little did I know that this was going to lead to a huge project for me.  

Unfortunately, we had to share a bathroom and, wouldn’t you know it, we both had to go at the same time. We got out of bed and met at the door. I looked at this gentleman who seemed to be middle-aged, in decent shape, and said “I’m sorry, go ahead,” as I pointed to the bathroom. He said, “No – you go first. ”

Well, who was I to argue? I really had to go.  

I finished and headed back to bed while my neighbor was next. I was laying there, flipping channels on the TV, when all of sudden, around the corner of the privacy curtain this gentleman came up to me and introduced himself.  

He seemed friendly enough, and hopefully was not too friendly. All I needed right now was someone talking my ear off. We spoke for several minutes, and he asked what I did for a living. I told him I was a stone expert specializing in installation failures and similar issues. He started asking me all kinds of questions about what I did. These questions were intelligent questions, too, not your run-of-the-mill, OH, that must be interesting response.

After the 20-question treatment I asked him what he did. He mumbled something about property management or real estate. He then asked for my card and went back to his bed. The next day he left the hospital. Unfortunately, I would be there for a few more days.

It was actually four days more before I finally got released from the hospital. Thank goodness, too. The food was awful. I think my dog’s kibble would have tasted better. But thankfully, all I needed was several weeks to recover and I would be fit enough get back to work.  

It turned out to be about four weeks of recovery before I started taking phone calls, again. It’s amazing how much work I turned away in the past few months! The good news is, the phone was still ringing.  

My first call was from a gentleman who had a building that he said had some issues with the marble flooring, kitchen counters and walls. He asked if I could take a look at it ASAP. Fortunately, it was right here in Florida and only a few hours’ drive away. I scheduled an appointment and headed south.

I pulled up to a luxury condo tower that was built right on the beach. It had to be at least 35 stories tall.  

I was greeted by the gentleman I spoke to on the phone, who introduced himself as Jose. He asked me if I had a few hours. A few hours I thought, just to look at one condo?

 Well, lo and behold, he wanted me to inspect each and every unit in the building!

We entered the first condo and I immediately discovered one of the issues. All the marble was etched around the perimeter. It was well polished in the center of each unit, but etched around the perimeter, near the walls.  Someone must have used some type of an acid on it. I asked if the installer was available, and it just so happened they were working in a unit on the 34th floor. 

“Let’s go talk to them,” I said.  

I walked into the unit they were working on and noticed one of the workers was applying some type of chemical to the grout lines.  I asked what they were using, and he just handed me the bottle.

It was an off-brand product I have never seen before, and to top it off the entire bottle was in a foreign language! The installer told me it was a grout remover and that they had used it on all their tile to clean up the excess grout.  

I was dumbfounded, but had to ask so, I just yelled out, “Have you EVER used it on MARBLE before?”

He shook his head no, and said–  and I kid you not, “Tile is tile.”  

I reached in my bag, pulled out my pH test paper, and inserted it into the bottle. Yep, you guessed it – the product contained an acid with a pH around five. It was definitely harsh enough to etch the stone, and something anyone who worked with marble should have known, and avoided! 

What I just did not understand is why they were continuing to use it, even after seeing what it was doing the stone! All I could think of was a quote from Forest Gump… “Stupid is as stupid does.” 

I must have inspected over 20 units, all with the same problem. When we were done, Jose took me to the main office to talk to his boss.

We walked into this plush office decorated with stone (unetched) everywhere. We entered though big wooden double-doors, and the gentleman sitting at the desk looked at me and asked me, “How’s the ole ticker?”  

Yep, it was my neighbor from the hospital.  

He shook my hand and said it must have been kismet that he meet me, due to the fact they discovered this problem the day he returned to work.  

I told him the fix was easy, but here is the icing on the cake: he told me that he wanted me to bill each condo owner my individual fee! Holy crap, I thought. That was like doing 20 inspections in one day, and getting paid separately for each one. Maybe I should spend more time in the hospital… NOT! 

Just in case you’re wondering, the marble just needed to be re-polished. It could have been so much worse  – just like my heart surgery.

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. You can send your email comments to him at