Why is my tile floor and making crunchy and popping sounds and why is the grout coming out?


I had my kitchen remodeled with the floor tiled first on a wooden subfloor and cabinets installed the following day. This was in 2011.The grout has come off in different places and I can hear a crunchy noise when I step on a tile at one location. At another location I can hear a popping sound. What is causing this problem and how should I get it fixed. Two years ago, the grout came off at another location in the kitchen and two tiles were replaced by the same contractor. This problem seems to be continuing.


ANSWER - I am assuming that the ceramic tile was bonded directly to the wood subfloor.  There are acceptable methods for installing ceramic tile over wood substrates in interior dry applications.  It is always considered better to install over a mortar bed or over one of the approved tile backer boards.

To install over a wood substrate the floor needs to be structurally sound and not have any deflection greater than L/360.  That configuration can be done with joists placed 24" on center although 16" on center is better.  The subfloor must be a plywood exterior-glue tongue and grooved with a minimum thickness of 23/32" and with 1/8" gap between sheets.  Then on top of that you have to install a plywood underlayment with a minimum thickness of 19/32" and with 1/8" gap between sheets.  Then you can bond the tile to the plywood underlayment with an ANSI A118.11 motified thin-set mortar adhesive. 

I suspect that if your floor is making noises when you walk over it that the wood substrates were not properly fastened.   The noises could be an indication that you have too much deflection in the floor and that the tile bond coat is not bonded as well as it should be.

The grout coming out is an indication that the floor is not structurally stable enough and has excessive deflection.   Chances are the substrate configuration and installation wasn't done correctly.

The only way to verify what the problems are and to determine how to fix them is to remove various tiles with various conditions to determine what materials were used and how they were installed.

12 thoughts on “Why is my tile floor and making crunchy and popping sounds and why is the grout coming out?

  1. Christopher Campbell says:

    I, also have a newly laid ceramic tile floor in my second floor bathroom. The tile makes scrunching noises in over half of the floor and the grout is crumbling in many of the joints. I also think the double wax ring on the toilet has failed as evidenced by the blistering paint in the ceiling board and recessed light, below. Please give me your thoughts.

    • Donato Pompo says:

      Sounds are subjective that can be perceived differently by different people. So it is hard to say if a crunching sound is a squeaking sound or what.

      As stated above, if the floor is installed over a wood substrate and not placed in a staggered pattern with gaps and not fastened properly floors with ceramic tile installed over them can squeak. If the floor has too much deflection that grout can crack among other things.

      On the other hand, if tiles are not bonded well, then tiles and grout can crack and make a noise as they crack.

      If the paint is blistering then that could be a symptom of a water leak. The question to determine is where is the water coming from. It could be from the toilet flange leaking under the tiles and migrating to the wall. Or it could be water on the surface of the tile for one reason or another that migrates into the wall. Or it could be water coming from somewhere else within the wall cavity and migrating to that portion of the wall. You have to investigate and look for evidence that will lead you to the water source. Stop the water source and you have fixed the problem.

  2. Carl says:

    This morning around 5am I heard a sound like stones been thrown on my first floor living room. Its a concrete slab laid with 2″x2″ tiles. At one point I thought the conctete slab was giving away. I walked in that area and further sounds like stones being thrown n felt vibration. This eas on the first 3 rows of tiles from the window. Went n checked ground floor no damages. As I eas not aware, I observed a slight lift between the 1st row n 2nd row of tiles n slight dust between. What is the solution pls.

    • Donato Pompo says:

      I’m assuming you mean 2 foot x 2 foot tiles and not 2 inch x 2 inch tiles based on your description of the situation.

      Chances are that they tile installation doesn’t have any movement joints (expansion joints) at the perimeters and within the field of tile. When the tile expands from the temperature going up or from being subject to moisture it will expand. If there are not resilient movement joints t mitigate the stress the tiles can debond. The noise is the tile releasing. If that is the case then I would expect those tiles to be loose or move or sound hollow.

      To fix it you would need to cut out the grout and remove those tiles as they should come up easy. Clean the concrete slab and re-install the tiles. Take a grout joint adjacent to the area in both directions and remove the grout and then fill the joint with an ASTM C920 silicone or urethane traffic grade sealant. This doesn’t mean it will fully fix the problem depending on the extent of the damages, but it might work or buy you some time.

  3. Erika Pernecky says:

    We redid our bathroom on a slab with tile and the floor is making a crunching sound. What can we do to stop it?

    • Donato Pompo says:

      As described in the previous answers to comments, you need to remove the tile to determine whether it is the tile that is loose causing the crunching sound or is it a membrane under the tile on the concrete slab that has delaminated. Either way you need to remove and replace the tile.

      That doesn’t explain what caused the problem Chances are you don’t have movement joints (open or filled caulked joints) at the perimeters of the tile installation where it abuts are restraining surface. You might also be missing having movement joints within the field of tile every 20 to 25 feet in each direct or 8 to 12 feet when exposed to direct sunlight.

      Or it might be that the tile was never adequately installed. So first step is remove the tile and see what are the underlying conditions.

  4. Marlene says:

    Tonite,, about 25 yrs after having a 6”cement slab poured over a pre existing slab into what was an old garage and 12” square tiles laid, we noticed a crunchy sound under the tiles- the grout appears fine- of note, is that there is a fridge in the corner of the room where the crunchiness is felt. The area is approximately 5 x 8 ft. The remainder of the tiled room and hall appear fine. There are no known pipes running beneath or in the cement slabs. Might there be a leak we are not aware of from the fridge? Can this spread?

    • Donato Pompo says:

      A crunchy sound can be caused by many conditions. What is important is if there is any visual evidence of a problem. You can tap on the tile with a hard object to see if the tile sounds different from other adjacent tiles.

      Normally if you have a crunchy sound something breaks so I would expect to see the tile cracked. A tile can crack if the adhesive holding it down has voids and that spot gets subjected to a heavy load. Although perhaps there is a wood substrate beneath the tile and maybe the plywood has internally collapsed causing the sound. Or maybe there is some other kind of underlayment or membrane that has collapse in some way. Of course if it collapsed I would expect the tile to sink down to some degree. The only way to know for sure is to remove the tile and look for evidence to determine what caused the noise and what you need to do to remediate the problem.

  5. sherry says:

    good morning…years ago our tile floor in the laundry room several tiles were making crunching sounds in front of the washing machine which is elevated on a platform. we let it thinking not much about it. our house is 20 years old and on a cement slab. thursday night we heard 3 very loud popping sounds like gun shots from the laundry room, thinking it was from our electrical box. as we walked into the laundry room the crunching sounds on the whole laundry room floor. no cracking or grouting issues just the crunching. now we are concerned that this problem may advance to the rest of the kitchen area. this issue is only in the laundry room so far. please give us some direction of what to do. thank you very much

    • Donato Pompo says:

      Generally speaking when there is a failure it is never due to a single deficiency, but rather due to multiple compounding deficiencies.

      Considering the laundry room has a raised floor that would indicate that the tiles are installed over a wood subfloor either bonded to it or there is a mortar bed or backer board installed between them. The plywood subfloor could be degraded or not attached well that could be causing the sound.

      Depending on how the tile was adhered to its substrate that bond coat could be deficient that could be causing the crunching sound.

      The loud noise is likely due to not having movement joints at the perimeters of the tile installation and that the tiles are constrained. Tiles that are constrained and then expand from heat or moisture can cause them to debond. If in fact the tiles have debonded, I would expect that eventually the grout around those tiles will crack.

      The only way to determine how to fix the problem is to determine what is the deficiency and what caused it, and only then can you determine how to fix the problem.

  6. Joseph Mezyk says:

    We have the same issue in one of three bathrooms with 1′ square ceramic tile, but only in the warm months with air conditioning cooling the home. Never when the AC has not run for several days or in the winter with heat and low humidity. It’s only one of three bathrooms that have this issue. No broken grout or cracks in tile, just the crackling noise on certain tiles. I did the tile job myself. Started with removing carpet and ensuring base plywood floor was firm and no movement. Applied 1/2″ backer board and liberally screwed in place. Am thinking maybe cement was bad or it dried prematurely while laying the tile. Again, followed same procedure and no problems in the other rooms.

    • Donato Pompo says:

      As temperatures cool then materials tend to contract and they tend to expand when the temperature increases. So perhaps the contraction of materials is a contributing factor.

      The crackling noise is a symptom of the problem and not the problem itself. Generally speaking when tile floors make noise as you walk on them it is because either the plywood substrate might internally be unstable or the backer board has gaps between it and the wood subfloor.

      Sometimes the plywood may look ok on the surface but within the layers of wood below the surface it may not be stable so when you screw into it the screw doesn’t adequately attach allowing the floor to slightly move.

      When you install the backer board you are suppose to apply a thinset mortar between the backer board and the wood subfloor. Not for added bonding strength, but to adjust for any inconsistencies in the wood subfloor so the backer board is fully supported without gaps.

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