April 23, 2014

Coverings 2014 – Installation Track Seminars


Here’s a first peek at the Coverings conference program offerings that are targeted specifically to installers and contractors, with several sessions presented pre-show on Monday, April 28. For full course descriptions and room assignments, visit www.coverings.com.

This year’s Coverings will take place from April 29-May 2 at the Las Vegas Convention Center, Las Vegas, Nevada.

Monday, April 28
1-2 pm
Sealing Tile, Grout and Natural Stone: True or False
– Joe Salvo, Miracle Sealants & Abrasives

2:15-4:15 pm

NTCA Presents Live Hands-On Demonstration to Today’s Installation Challenges
– Gerald Sloan, Michael Whistler, NTCA


Tuesday, April 29
12:30-2 pm

Thin Tile and Trends in Design and Processes
– Eric Astrachan, TCNA

1:45-2:45 pm

Barrier Free Shower Installation – Art Mintie, Maria Oliveira, LATICRETE International, Inc.

Budgeting for Tile Contractors 101: Forecasting and Budgeting for Success
– Dan Welch, Bob Woodward, Welch Tile & Marble

3-4 pm

Concrete and Wood Substrates: Considerations for Specification, Product Selection and Installation
– Richard P. Goldberg AIA, CSI, NCARB, Professional Consultants International

Low Hanging Fruit: The Five Easiest Ways to Supercharge Your Digital Marketing Strategy – Ken Tarwood, LATICRETE International, Inc.

4:15 -5:15 pm

Shower Installations:
Best Practices
– Gerald Sloan, Michael Whistler, NTCA


Wednesday, April 30
8 -10 am

The New Rules of Relationship Marketing
– Jon Goldman,
Brand Launcher

8:30-10 am

Case study of Development of National Food Chain Specification for Material Selection, Design Methodologies and Construction Techniques
– Scott Conwell, International Masonry Institute

2:45-3:45 pm

Large Porcelain Panel Installations for Floors and Walls – Tom Plaskota, TEC/H.B. Fuller Construction Products

The Not So Secret Sauce: Nine Key Steps for Business Success – Wally Adamchik, Firestarter Speaking and Consulting


Thursday, May 1
8 – 9 am

Rules of the Game: How Contractors Can Use ANSI, TCNA Handbook and NTCA Reference Manual to Improve their Business and Their Profit
– Chris Walker, David Allen Company; James Woelfel, Artcraft Granite, Marble & Tile Co.; Nyle Wadford, Neuse Tile Service

9:15-10:15 am

Business Training Strategies
on the Internet
– Wally Adamchik, Firestarter Speaking and Consulting

1:30-2:30 pm

Estimating for Advantage
– Mike Clancy, Fails Management Institute

Understanding Thin Tile Installation
– Dr. Neil McMurdie, MAPEI Corporation

2:45-3:45 pm

How to Maximize the Manufacturer Relationship
– Elton Mayfield, ER Marketing

Utilizing Technology in the Field to Improve Performance for Contractors
– Martin Howard, David Allen Company


Friday, May 2
8 -10 am

Restorative Cleaning and Maintenance of Natural Stone and Tile & Grout
– Bryan Thompson, Sapphire Scientific

Natural Stone Council issues position statement on OSHA’s Silica PEL Proposal


Last November, the Natural Stone Council MSHA/OSHA Committee issued a position statement about OSHA’S recently released proposed silica rule. What follows is the Natural Stone Council’s (NSC) position statement in its entirety, with the caveat that the position paper is a working document and will be updated and revised as needed.

stonecouncilPosition statement on OSHA’S Silica PEL Proposal

The following position paper is written on the behalf of The Natural Stone Council (NSC), which is comprised of 12 organizations representing all types of dimensional stone businesses that quarry and fabricate in the United States. The members include Allied Stone Industries, Building Stone Institute, Elberton Granite Association, Indiana Limestone Institute, Marble Institute of America, Mason Contractors Association of America, National Building Granite Quarries Association, National Slate Association, Natural Stone Alliance, New York State Bluestone Association, Northwest Granite Manufacturers Association, and Pennsylvania Bluestone Association. Collectively, all agree that employee safety is the first priority of the dimension stone industry.


On August 23, 2013, the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) released a proposal (Docket ID# OSHA-2010-0034) to reduce the permissible exposure level (PEL) for silica by 50%. The new level would be 50 micrograms of respirable silica per cubic meter of air over an eight-hour period. The U.S. Mine Safety & Health Administration (MSHA) has stated its intent to issue a similar proposal for the mining industry. OSHA’s proposal has been published in the Federal Register and the public has until January 25, 2014 to submit written comments.

NSC position:

All NSC member organizations agree that airborne crystalline silica is dangerous and proven measures are necessary to protect exposed employees, but also believe that OSHA’s current silica PEL standard provides protection when best practices are applied in the workplace. If adopted into the Code of Federal Regulations, this new proposal will impact all dimension stone industry businesses that mine and process natural stone containing silica by increasing compliance costs and likely jeopardizing jobs.

In an effort to join with other industries affected by this proposal and to respond to OSHA with one voice, the NSC joined the Construction Industry Safety Coalition (CISC). The CISC is comprised of several industry trade associations whose members represent thousands of employers and hundreds of thousands of working men and women.

one2Arguments against the proposal:

1. Data on silicosis cases does not show a need to modify the present PEL. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) stated that the incidence of silica-related deaths declined by 93% from 1968 to 2007 under the current silica PEL. OSHA says a reduced PEL is needed and estimates that the change will save 700 lives per year and reduce the number of silicosis cases by 1600 per year. It is estimated that over 50% of businesses with airborne silica exposure have never been tested. How can the current PEL be deemed inadequate if it is not known whether or not the majority of the regulated businesses are in compliance?

2. OSHA has underestimated the compliance costs for affected businesses. Figures presented by OSHA estimate the rule will cost industry approximately $640 million to implement (an estimated cost of $550.00 per year for a business with fewer than 20 employees), and provide $3-5 billion in benefits. The American Chemistry Council estimates an implementation cost of $5.5 billion with $1.1 billion in lost revenue, and the Construction Industry Safety Coalition estimates the cost to implement at $1-2 billion with $700 million in benefits. Given the requirements of the new PEL, it appears that the Department of Labor has underestimated the cost to implement the change. If these figures are incorrect, the credibility of the entire OSHA report and proposal comes into question. The need for any federal rule change needs to be based on accurate data.

In addition to the cost of compliance, new regulations take away capital essential for expansion and/or improvement. While safety is vital, regulations that are not correlated to specifically-quantified diseases and/or injuries make U.S. companies less competitive in the global market.

3. There are serious questions about whether or not available sampling equipment and analytical methods can produce accurate results for the proposed limits. Evironomics, Inc. and the URS Corporation advised the American Chemistry Council (ACC) that measuring exposure to a 50 microgram PEL would be “impossible.” The testing methods for measuring silica concentrations below 100 micrograms per cubic meter of air are not accurate, and the margin of error is almost equal to the proposed PEL. How can compliance be determined if the technology does not exist to accurately determine the exposure level?

Proposed solutions:

1. OSHA should indefinitely extend the comment period until their extensive report can be fully studied to determine the accuracy of the data. 135 days is not enough time to do this and address all questions.

2. To determine the true cost of the proposed PEL, and whether or not it is actually needed, we recommend these steps.

  • First – perform an industry-wide analysis and investigation as to the actual number of businesses that present a silica exposure to their employees. Ascertain how many of these businesses have been inspected, and how many have silica-dust containment and controls in place for their workers. Quantify the number of businesses that potentially do not have controls in place or have never been inspected to establish the real effectiveness of the current PEL.
  • Second – the Department of Labor should publish detailed information on actual diagnosed silicosis cases in OSHA-regulated businesses that were using proven engineering controls and NIOSH-recommended respirators.
  • Third – OSHA should work with the stone industry to determine accurate costs of implementing the proposal.

3. Conduct independently-verified, risk-assessment studies to determine the true risks of silicosis in a compliant workplace. OSHA is obligated to provide the “best available evidence” on any new proposal, and this guideline must be followed. Sound decisions must be based on accurate information.

4. The NSC offers to work with OSHA (and MSHA) for practical and cost-effective crystalline silica regulation based on sound and proven data that will improve the safety and health protection of workers.

The dimension stone industry is a major part of the nation’s economy. According to recent Department of Labor figures, 4,380 stone quarries directly employed 35,248 workers, and 2,125 fabrication facilities directly employed 23,666 workers. Additional indirect employment is estimated to be greater than 100,000 people with a total estimated payroll for the industry approaching $4 billion annually. It is the Natural Stone Council’s belief that our government should be responsive to the needs and concerns of this industry.

Formed in 2003, the NSC unites a diverse industry of natural stone producers by bringing together the various natural stone associations to actively promote the attributes of natural stone. The NSC is funded entirely through donations. To learn about the NSC, its initiatives, and to pledge support, visit www.naturalstonecouncil.org. Duke Pointer, executive director, can be contacted at [email protected].

Five Star Spotlight – Wirtz Quality Installations, Inc.


San Diego, Calif.
Since: 1972
Specialty: Providing impeccable quality and service for commercial and high-end residential installations, predicated on long-term relationships with clients; exceeding expectations through accountability to project schedules; and upholding the highest technical standards.
Employees: 60
Website: www.wirtzquality.com


The Wirtz family has been a solid fixture in the tile industry in San Diego for three generations. It all started with John Q. Wirtz, who would bring his two-year old son John David along with him to work. Years later, the father and son team – along with spouses Wanda and Cookie, respectively – officially started their family business, a two-bucket company, in 1972.

After growing up in the family business, John and Cookie’s daughter Amber Fox decided to officially join the company in 1997. As she made her way up through the company, she became a Ceramic Tile Consultant, and she is currently serving her second term on the NTCA Board of Directors. Her current position at Wirtz is vice president. Fox aspires to run the company one day.

Under her tutelage, Wirtz Quality Installation, Inc., (WQI) won the Coverings Installation Awards First Prize Tile for a Commercial project for the Palomar Medical Center West in April 2012, and a 2010 TileLetter Awards Commercial Installation Award of Merit for the Se Hotel in San Diego.

wirtz-employeesThis family story does not end here. The 60 employees of WQI have been with the Wirtz family for an average of 14 years, ranging from over 30 years to those who joined just last year. This company has always taken pride in its goal of treating each person as a member of this family and not just an employee. These employees – along with their depth of experience and the culture of teamwork – give WQI the confidence to take on so many diverse and intricate projects. All of the company’s key positions are filled with long-term employees. The Wirtz family knows that these employees are what make the company stand out.

WQI strongly believes in not becoming complacent, and holds its employees to this same standard. WQI not only stays involved in adapting to industry changes, it also makes sure that employees have the necessary training that will better them as individuals. For example, WQI sent nine installers through the CTEF Certified Installer Program, all of whom passed with excellent workmanship.

One employee who Wirtz considers the heart of the company is Steve McMurphy. He joined the WQI team back in 1982 and has been moving the company forward ever since. As field supervisor he is in charge of all the installers and the scheduling.

wirtz-restroomAs Steve is the heart of the company, Frank Echols – who has been with the company for 25 years – is the backbone. Echols is WQI’s senior estimator.

“You will not find a more thorough and detail-oriented person,” explained Amber Fox. “When we turn in a bid, we have every confidence that it is correct and complete. Anyone who has done commercial work knows how important estimating is to having a successful project.”

Project manager Justin Kylstad is amazing at keeping WQI jobs organized, running smoothly and coming in on budget – not an easy task in this unpredictable monster called construction.

Warehouse manager, Pablo Murillo, Jr. has had the challenge of handling Wirtz orders shipments and deliveries for the past 27 years.

“While he takes his work very seriously, his personality has everyone laughing at the same time,” Fox said.

wirtz-bathroomOffice manager Bernadette Reyes is the sunshine in the company, keeping all of the office on track, and keeping staff and employees all in line. She has the pleasure of processing contracts and their insurance needs as well as accounts payable.

Ryan Wilson is the latest addition to WQI office. “We are thankful every day for Ryan,” Fox said. “He goes above and beyond for this company. He makes sure that our projects are not only paid on time so this company can continue in this economy, but he is a wizard at all of the billing requirements for the different general contractors.”


WQI foremen, Phil Reyes, Albert De La Vega, Dan Gilstrap, Joel Martinez, Victor Fox and Sal Contreras have seen and done it all. They have led numerous tile projects throughout San Diego, including – but not limited to – hospitals, office buildings, condo high-rises, hotels, restaurants, and casinos. And these are just examples from WQI’s commercial division; the foremen feel just as at home in high-end custom homes as they do in a large commercial project. They are the foundation for the company and the excellent relationships and repeat business that Wirtz has with its general contractors today.


What the family of employees brings to the mix are core components of holding to WQI’s mission statement: “We create long-term relationships with our clients, exceeding their expectations through our accountability to project schedules, upholding the highest technical standards, and providing impeccable quality and service.”

Wirtz Quality Installations, Inc., is very fortunate to have the next generation in place in all the key positions. This group is all in their late 30s and already has over a decade of experience. With their enthusiasm and interest for the industry, it looks like Wirtz Quality Installations, Inc., will have a bright future.

Wirtz Quality Installations, Inc., lives and breathes its motto every day: “Work hard but laugh harder.” Having a treasured family of employees makes living that dream a reality.


Feature Story – February 2014 – Sparkling, glass-filled grout helps bring Crayola mascot mural to life – Bostik Inc.


Glass mosaic tiles debuted over 2,000 years ago, when talented Byzantine artists created opaque “smalti” glass tiles for adorning the walls and ceilings of churches and public buildings. Throughout the world, this continued to be a very expensive material for centuries. In the mid-1800s, new mass production techniques resulted in less costly glass tile, opening the doors for using it within private residences. During the 1920s, glass tile was specified for walls on retail storefronts, train stations and more, offering a commercial “deco look.” Then, roughly three decades ago, even more advances in production were introduced, eliciting an even-greater awareness concerning glass tile just about everywhere.

1-crayola-muralBy now, professional tile installation contractors all know why glass mosaics are in demand. The color palette is brilliant, limitless – and the glass body of each tile reflects light, further enhancing these colors, adding bright energy to any interior. Glass tile has zero porosity, making it ideal for a myriad of applications including kitchen backsplashes, commercial signage, shower tile, pool tile, outdoor fountains et al.

These and many more reasons are why Miami-based Surfaces, Inc., one of America’s foremost manufacturers and marketers of glass tile material, decided to bring the Crayola Glass Tile Collection to market, introducing it at Coverings 2012. “The name ‘Crayola’ is synonymous with bright, cheerful colors,” stated Albert Claramonte, president of Surfaces, Inc. “It has 99% name recognition in U.S. consumer households.”

crayola_sidebarA decision was made to create a glass mosaic mural to be installed at Crayola’s national headquarters in Easton, Pa. After a number of ideas were submitted, a whimsical illustration of a dancing crayon was approved. This image was then scanned via a special software program that elicited a gigantic pixelated grid, indicating the placement of various colors of tiny mosaic tile to make this glass mural a visual reality.

“The actual size of the mural was 8.5’ x 8.5,’” stated Nauro Rezende, marketing manager of Surfaces, Inc. “Thousands of half-inch glass mosaics were mounted via hand on square-foot mesh sheets by our artisans. They followed the computer-generated grid perfectly.”

glass_tile_closeupSeeking transparency in the installation

There were questions relative to which grout material should be used. Rezende stated that a number of products were considered, “all very good materials.” The final decision was to utilize Bostik’s Dimension™ Reflective, Pre-Mixed Urethane Grout, a patented, glass-filled, ready-to-use, water-based product, in particular, because Dimension contains micro glass beads and a translucent, urethane binder that both reflect light as well as allow it to pass through. This creates a totally unique reflective, three-dimensional effect within glass tile installations.

“We took this grout for a test drive at our facilities before it was finally selected, seeing how it worked with many of our glass mosaic tiles,” added Rezende. “It was really easy to use and was extremely hard once cured. It was also easy to clean up. Because of its glass properties, it worked in subtle harmony with the glass tiles rather than overpowering them. We were and are very impressed with this product!”glass_crayola_closeup_2

“Designers are referring to Dimension as ‘upscale,’ ‘artsy’ and even ‘breathtaking’… which is absolutely unheard of in the grout world,” exclaimed Scott Banda, director of marketing for Bostik’s Consumer and Construction Unit. “Equally important, contractors love it. Dimension gives them an opportunity to up-sell, while cutting their grouting time by one-third to one-half and ultimately delivering true works of tile art to their clientele.”

It was important to all involved that a local contractor handle the installation of this glass mural. As a result, Art Belfi from Philadelphia-based Belfi Brothers was selected to install the mural. His work was by all accounts, flawless.

crayola_plaqueJust how good is this larger-than-life mural upon completion? According to Claramonte, “It was absolutely outstanding! Glass mosaic tiles reflect both natural and man-made light, resulting in a visual experience not unlike when one watches beams of sunlight glistening on streaming water. By combining these color-drenched, exquisite products with Bostik’s Dimension grout material – which from an aesthetic standpoint performs similarly to glass tile – the result couldn’t be better!”

Business Tip – February 2014


mapei_sponsorLeadership and Management:
working together for your good

By Wally Adamchik, president, FireStarter Speaking and Consulting

wally_adamchikYou remember the commercial, “Tastes great, less filling?” The one about the beer that tasted great and didn’t fill you up – combining two fine qualities into one beer.

In your business, you also need to demonstrate multiple abilities. Whether you are just getting started or have been in business for decades, to be successful in business today, a combination of both leadership and management skills is required.

That sounds easy, but there is one problem: leadership and management are two separate skills. I once had a speaker before me at a convention assert that they are arch enemies. I took the stage after him and totally disagreed. I contend that they are intimate allies.

To understand the difference, we first need to change them. Leadership is about change for better results; it challenges the status quo and looks at the long term. It is about people. Management is about consistency for better results; it maintains the status quo, focusing on short-term results; it maintains the status quo, focusing on short-term results. It is about structures and procedures. Leadership and management seem to contradict each other but they don’t.

Skills can be learned

Usually, when we think of leaders, we consider larger-than-life historical figures and we don’t include ourselves. Give yourself some credit. You can lead too. Take a look at the things leaders do. Ultimately, these things revolve around “soft skills.” These intangibles do not come naturally to many people in construction. It is not how you are wired. The critical few things that leaders do are set direction, align resources, and motivate and inspire people. These are skills that can be learned.

Management, on the other hand, is about “hard skills.” Management focuses on the business of the business, the black and white, not the gray. It involves planning and budgeting, organizing and staffing, and controlling and measuring. There are far more managers than leaders. Even though these skills are essential to the success of any business, they are not instinctive either.

One of the best tools at your disposal for leading and managing in the field is the daily huddle. Done well, this short but important investment of time insures high production for the day. Done poorly, it is a waste of time that simply puts the crew farther behind. Ideally, the huddle is a conversation about production targets and techniques, safety issues and overall opportunities for improvement from the day before. The huddle sets the direction for the day, gets the crew working together and gives a goal to shoot for.

Research shows, and experience confirms, that the higher you go in the organization the more you must lead. In fact, depending on the size of the firm you might be leading 50% of the time if you are the president. Very large firms will see that number move to 80%. Conversely, at the crew level we expect to see 80% management and 20% leadership. The sad fact is that we don’t see much leading at the crew level. We see orders being given and plenty of controlling and problem-solving but precious little motivating and aligning.

Rather than being mutually exclusive, these two skills are, in fact, interdependent. The successful tile business person of the future must respond to the new reality. The labor situation is not getting any better. Just because you were good once doesn’t mean you will continue to be successful today. Customers are more demanding, there is no labor waiting on the bench, and margins are thin. However, the person who can blend the seemingly contradictory skills of management and leadership is poised to bring their company into a more competitive and profitable position.

NTCA has partnered with Wally Adamchik to bring his interactive virtual training system at www.firestartervt.com to NTCA members. Contact him at [email protected] to learn more about how the NTCA/FirestarterVT partnership can save you training dollars while improving your leaders at all levels.

Ask the Experts – February 2014

SponsoredbyLaticreteIf you are seeking technical help on a project, expert members and staff at NTCA are at the ready to provide you with the information you need to create a successful, enduring and beautiful install for your clients. Residential or commercial, interior or exterior, feel free to email
[email protected] to get your questions answered and gain valuable professional support for your project.

Here’s an example of a NTCA member reaching out to the network at NTCA for clarification on installing tile over stucco.


0214_AtE_stuccohouseI would like some feedback on a project for one of my designers.

We have an exterior stucco home on which the designers want to install a chiseled-edge, travertine stone accent in three front areas where the windows are. We plan on doing a modular pattern with 8”x8,” 8”x16,” 16”x16” and 16”x24” pieces, 3/8” thick.

The stucco is in great shape – it’s just been pressure washed. My only reservation is that I am not sure if the stucco is painted or if the color is in the finish. There’s no way to find out from builder, as they are no longer in business!

Any ideas would be welcome.


Many manufacturers allow installation over sound stucco, and yes, the caveat is that it must NOT be painted. Since you will be tiling over areas, choose one (or all) that will receive tile and do a small demo of the existing stucco. You don’t need a very large piece (maybe 1”x1”x1/4” thick) that will allow you to determine if the stucco is solid color throughout. Pulverize a portion of your piece to see. Generally, a solid color throughout indicates unpainted stucco, but check for a skin of paint on your sample piece.

Michael WhistlerNTCA technical consultant and presenter

My advice is to reach out to your local installation material manufacturer rep and have him specify the means of setting the stone. I often use my manufacturer reps in the same capacity and have them write the specification. This should protect you in the event of a failure. The tricky part with this is determining whether the color is mixed into the stucco or is it painted. I’m sure there are ways to determine such. Good luck and hope all is well!

Buck Collins, Collins Tile & Stone, Aldie, Va., NTCA Five Star Contractor

Can you use a grinder with a diamond blade and scarify the face? If you can, this is a good bet no matter what the coating is. There are also wire wheels that can be attached to a grinder that are not as invasive as a diamond blade. Buck is right: get a system from a manufacturer that will stand behind their product. Hope this helps.

John Cox, Cox Tile, San Antonio, Texas, NTCA Five Star Contractor

President’s Letter – February 2014

dan welch imageHave you ever wanted to unplug your computer, lock the shop door, and drop the computer in the dumpster on the way out? Today was one of those days. After a long week of teleconferencing with a new construction manager on an out-of-town project, I was convinced the construction trade had lost its mind. Daily progress meetings lasting hours, schedule compression, material delivery delays, and unrealistic contractor expectations can kill your profit margins, and chip away at your sanity.

Earlier in the week, I was sitting through “one of those meetings” watching the twenty-something project manager talk, and talk, and talk… while I feared my team was aimlessly installing tile without my direction. Mentally, I was screaming, “What are we doing here? We’ve got tile to install!”

General contractors are under the same strain we are. They want the project to be safe, meet schedule, and generate profit for their company. However, to keep business, and to entice new project owners, prime contractors have become experts at reducing future liabilities by making subcontractors take the bulk of the risk. This allows them to work with much thinner profit margins by transferring this liability to us subcontractors. So, are you accounting for this risk? Are you charging for it? Are you even aware of the risk you take on each given project?

Daily progress meetings cost time and money. Contractor’s safety protocols cost time and money. Schedule compressions create overtime costs. Unacceptable jobsite conditions cost money. Unclear specifications can cost you if the general contractor plays the “you’re the expert – you should have known better” card. If you only review the drawings and section 09300, you’re bound to get burned by unexpected risk transfer. You must price for it, or fight back with exclusionary language in your proposal.

So, do you know what is expected? Did you review every page of the specifications, work scope, general conditions? Did you see the alternates, field change directives, post-bid addendums, submittals, jobsite conditions? Have you read the contractor’s safety program? Are you prepared to talk knowledgeably in a meeting to defend your company as liability is forced into your contract? Tile subcontractors are at the mercy of the contractor pinched between designer’s material selections, manufacturer’s lead times and the owner’s expectations. We must push back collectively as an industry. If the prime contractor wants to defer risk to us, then we all must charge for that risk. Without accounting for it, we’re willingly taking less profit for the same work. Personally, I’m no longer willing to take it.

I suggest we start the process of handing back liability by line item charges for these jobsite expectations. Are you staffed to provide onsite managers who do not install tile? Are you prepared to place that manager in daily meetings filling out progress and safety reports while much of the work you perform on site is installed unsupervised? All of this when the growing economy is stretching your experienced craftsmen and you train new staff? Remember, general contractors are asking for this documentation, not to solve problems, but to build an arsenal of evidence transferring risk from their wallet to yours. If you miss it on bid day, shame on you. If you take time to exclude these expectations, or charge for them, you’ll be money ahead at the end of the year.

Dan Welch
President, Welch Tile and Marble
President, NTCA

Editor’s Letter – February 2014

Lesley psf head shotWell, we’ve done it, folks. We’ve made it through another year and the holidays and the start (and perhaps the failure already) of New Year’s resolutions.

And now we are squarely into 2014, which in the Chinese calendar is the Year of the Horse. To be exact, it’s the Year of the Green Horse, or the Year of the Wooden Horse.

Just to get a little woo – woo for a minute (hey, I live in New Mexico), the Year of the Horse is all about ACTION. The last two years have been “water” years – years steeped in contemplation and introspection, caution and planning. All together, we have completed five years of a degenerative cycle (how has THAT shown up in your personal life and your business?) and now we are primed towards intuitively-guided action, freedom, optimism and extroverted energy. The “green” of the Green Horse corresponds to the element associated with 2014 in the Chinese tradition – wood. Wood represents new budding and branching out of life we are now embarking upon – symbolized by green.

So, what has this got to do with tile and stone contracting?

This time of year kicks off the trade shows, which for me means Surfaces, and its new Tile Expo, which trumpets the importance of this surfacing material and its installation. Each year while I am at Surfaces, hotels and casinos in Las Vegas are decked out for the Chinese New Year. That got me interested in researching a little about what is in store this year.

I see some echoes of truth in the Chinese predictions in our industry. These last few years have been cautious ones, slowly emerging from the struggling economy of the recession into more palpably optimistic times. There has been a lot of loss and chaos, pruning away and planning as we hung in the balance between a crashed economy and one poised to bloom. Those who took this time to get prepared are smart, because the Chinese astrologers say this is about to change – and hang onto your hats when it does, because it will be a wild ride.

And oh – because my mind works this way – wood is a huge style trend in the tile world right now. As I mentioned in a previous issue’s report on CERSAIE – you couldn’t turn around at that Italian show without seeing wood represented in some way in ceramic or porcelain. I expect that to continue at all the shows I attend this year as well. And I’ll take it as a good sign, symbolizing growth and the blossoming of opportunity, action, energy and prosperity for us all!



PartnerShip® Freight Program: save on every shipment

As you may have read in our December issue, the #1 objective for NTCA this year is “To save our members money and to find them work.”

To that end, we draw your attention to a prominent benefit of membership – the PartnerShip® Freight Program. To date, the 32 members (including six members who joined the PartnerShip program in third quarter 2013) currently enrolled in the program have saved a total of $60,845 – $1,962 on FedEx shipments; $23,757 on LTL shipments;  and $35,126 on service shipments.

PartnerShip helps you save on every shipment you send and receive. It is open to all NTCA members with no obligations or minimum shipping requirements.

These significant savings go directly to your bottom line:
• Save up to 26%* on select FedEx Express® services
• Save up to 15% on select FedEx Ground® services
• Save up to 10% on select FedEx Home Delivery® services

NTCA members also save at least 70% on less-than-truckload (LTL) freight shipments arranged through PartnerShip with leading national and regional carriers.
Intrigued? Interested? Visit https://www.partnership.com/micro_site/index/74ntca for complete program information and to enroll. Questions? Call PartnerShip at 800-599-2902, or email [email protected].


Tech Talk – January 2014

TEC-sponsorInstalling ceramic tile, glass tile and stone in interior wet areas

Slope, weeps, and flashing are key to managing water and avoiding failures

Donato PBy Donato Pompo, CTC, CSI, CDT, MBA,
Ceramic Tile and Stone Consultants (CTaSC),
University of Ceramic Tile and Stone (UofCTS).  

Exterior decks and balconies, and interior showers and bathrooms have historically been problematic areas for the installation of ceramic tile, glass tile, stone tile and other stone products. Typically problems are due to installer error, such as not using appropriate materials for those applications, or not having clear enough specifications. In each case it is the result of not following industry standards. Exploration into the intricacies of exterior decks and balconies can be an entire article in itself, but for this story, we will focus on interior showers and bathrooms.

Industry standards are created by industry consensus groups consisting of installers, producers, and industry experts through organizations such as ANSI (American National Standards Institute), TCNA (Tile Council of North America), ASTM (America Society for Testing and Materials) or ICC (International Code Council).  These consensus group members combine their many years of experience with science to establish standards so problems and failures can be avoided and not repeated.  Thus if standards are not followed then known potential problems can’t be avoided.

As a forensic investigator for over 11 years, I have investigated many failed interior showers and bathrooms. I have found that the common denominators to tile and stone failures in these applications were the lack of proper slope, plugged weep holes, and inadequate flashing to contain or manage the water that resulted in various types of damages.

Managing water volume


First, consider the volume of water that showers are subjected to on a daily basis. Since these areas are likely to be subjected to more water than a typical roof is subjected to annually, it is imperative that extra care and attention are spent on specifying and constructing them. This is accomplished by properly managing the water so it is controlled and safely evacuated from those areas.

Lack of adequate slope is a common problem in interior wet horizontal applications such as shower floors, shelves and seats. It is very clear in the tile and stone industry standards, as well as in the Uniform Plumbing Code (UPC), and in the IRC (International Residential Code) or IBC (International Building Code) building codes, that the slope to drain, or away from the building, should be a minimum 2% slope. That calculates to 1/4” per foot (6 mm per 305 mm). UPC says the slope to drain in a shower must be a minimum of 1/4” per foot (6 mm per 305 mm), but not more than 1/2” per foot (13 mm per 305 mm).

Not only is it important for that slope to drain to be at the surface of the tile or stone, but it is critical that the minimum 1/4” per foot (6 mm per 305 mm) slope to drain is at the surface of the waterproof membrane or drain plane. Drains come in two sections. Where the drain clamps down on the waterproof membrane below the surface of the tile assembly, there are weep holes in the drain assembly, so that any water that migrates to the waterproof membrane can then evacuate into the drain through the weep holes.

Problem #1: Improper slope to the drain


There are  three common problems that we run into. First, the waterproof membrane is not properly sloped to the drain. In a shower this can result in the tile mortar bed staying constantly damp, which creates a musky odor in the room, or it may cause a stone or tile floor to look wet. Excessive moisture might result in the stone spalling (deteriorating) and/or staining.   Sometimes we find that the waterproof membrane is flat or even negatively sloped away from the drain, or that there are low spots on the membrane surface where water collects.

Problem #2: Plugged weep holes


The second common problem is drains with plugged weep holes.  Industry standards state that the weep holes are to be covered with pea gravel or with a plastic weep hole protector to make sure the weep holes stay open. Often this weep hole protection is left out, and mortar is placed over the weep holes, plugging them. Thus, if the waterproof membrane is properly sloped to drain, the water cannot escape into the drain. Again, this can result in the tile mortar bed staying constantly damp, which results in the musky odor in the room, a wet-looking floor or stone spalling or staining.

The term “spalling” refers to the deterioration of the surface of a stone. It is the symptom of a stone being subjected to excessive moisture over time. Spalling is typically caused by moisture migrating from the stone’s underlying substrate up through the stone to its surface where the moisture evaporates. As the moisture travels from under the stone through the cementitious materials, and through the stone itself, the moisture picks up various minerals (salts) which dissolve in the moisture. When the moisture reaches the surface of the stone it evaporates and the minerals precipitate into a solid again.  This expansion or crystallization of the mineral, referred to as efflorescence, causes the surface of stones to deteriorate to some degree.

Whether it is a shower or an exterior deck or balcony, the waterproof membrane surface must be sloped to drain or away from the building. Shower pans or receptors are supposed to have a pre-sloped mortar bed installed over the base substrate before installing the waterproof membrane. The pre-slope needs to have a minimum slope of 1/4” per foot (6 mm per 305 mm).

Problem #3: Membrane breaches3-techtalk

That brings up the third common problem that we find in showers: waterproofing or vapor retarders that are not complete or continuous. They tend to lack flashing at transition areas. Considering the potential collateral damages a defective balcony can develop, it is important to construct it like a big shower pan. Assuming that the deck has been properly pre-sloped, the waterproof membrane must continue, or be flashed, up the wall at least 3″ (76 mm) above any thresholds to prevent water from causing any potential collateral damages. All seams, penetrations and transitions must be properly waterproofed, flashed and sealed with a sealant. These are the areas that are most vulnerable to having problems, so they need to be given the extra attention to ensure they are installed correctly. The waterproof membrane should never be penetrated, unless it is unavoidable, and then the penetration has to be properly flashed and sealed with the appropriate sealants to ensure it will never leak.

Often we find that decks are sloped to their outer edge without any type of gutter or drain. The water drains over the side of the balcony and eventually results in staining along the siding, or staining and spalling the stone if there is stone siding. The latest trend is to use trench or linear drains that work very well and can be installed at the perimeters of decks or showers.


So how can a tile installer make sure that showers are given the attention they need to avoid failures? It is the same old answer.  Follow industry standards and manufacturers’ directions. It doesn’t matter who is at fault when there is a problem; everyone ends up paying – either in time to defend themselves, money to fix the problem or with their reputation. So it is in everyone’s best interest to make sure that tile and stone installations are done properly. (Editor note: please visit www.tileletter.com for the full text of this story, which also addresses exterior installations).

Ceramic Tile Consultant, Donato Pompo, CTC, CSI, CDT, MBA, is the founder of Ceramic Tile and Stone Consultants (CTaSC), and of the University of Ceramic Tile and Stone (UofCTS). Donato has over 35 years of varied experience in the ceramic tile and stone industry. CTaSC provides services in Forensic Investigations, Quality Control Services for products and installation methods to include writing specifications, training programs, testing, and on-site quality control inspection services. CTaSC is a professional consulting business comprised of accomplished ceramic tile consultants, stone consultants, ceramic tile and stone installers, architects, engineers, general contractors, construction scientists and other industry specialists and experts conveniently located throughout the US and Canada. You can reach Donato by visiting the company website at www.CTaSC.com, emailing [email protected] or calling 866-669-1550.