Editor’s Letter – February 2016

Lesley psf head shot“We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” 
– Albert Einstein

A couple of topics for this letter.

First, I want to post this photo, taken in December 2015 at association headquarters in Jackson, Miss., of the brand new, updated NTCA logo and most of the NTCA staff and distinguished guests. The porcelain logo was created for the association by Tom Ade and Filling Marble & Tile in Egg Harbor City, N.J. It just so happened that the installation of the logo coincided with a visit of most of the staff to headquarters for year-end meetings, planning, and a holiday dinner. Shown are (l. to r.): Sandy Bettiga, Bart Bettiga, Lesley Goddin, Mark Heinlein, Mary Shaw-Olson, Jim Olson, Becky Serbin, Scott Carothers, Michael Whistler, Jill Whistler, Tricia Moss and Michelle Chapman. Missing is Lisa Murphy, NTCA accountant, and Joe Tarver, NTCA executive director emeritus.

NTCA-staffSecond, I want to further the discussion, started in the December Editor Letter, about solutions to the labor shortage in the U.S.

Just this second week in January, we received a report from the Associated General Contractors of America that showed in December, construction firms added 45,000 workers, as construction unemployment continued its decline from 8.3% a year ago to the current 7.5%.

One of the telling aspects of the report, however, was this statement: “Association officials noted that most contractors remain concerned about shortages of available construction workers, noting that 70% of contractors report having a hard time finding workers. They urged federal, state and local officials to act on measures outlined in the association’s Workforce Development Plan to support new career and technical education programs. In particular, they called on Congress to enact needed reforms and increase funding for the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act.”

SEVENTY percent. That’s huge. I don’t currently have a figure for the tile industry, but I suspect it would be in a similar ballpark. Which brings us back to the December letter.

We received a lot of feedback to this letter – phone calls to Bart in the office and emails to me – thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts! Some respondents were very favorable to the idea of exploring the possibility of importing labor in the form of skilled, certified Mexican workers on a temporary basis to help alleviate some of the immediate labor shortages that are plaguing our industry; some also cited personal experience with excellent work of Mexican laborers they had worked alongside.

Others misunderstood the intent of the letter, fearing an influx of unskilled, undocumented workers, which was never part of the original discussion. But the point was made numerous times about the importance of developing U.S. resources, whether in trade schools, recruiting ex-military – goals NTCA is involved in at various levels, including our online apprentice program in development. And in fact, NTCA president James Woelfel added this comment:

“Young African-American males between the ages of 16-19 are unemployed at the rate of over 20% according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, young women are in the same range. Here in Arizona young Navajo males are at around 70% unemployment, these numbers are staggering.

“Have we as an industry done our best to reach out to these diverse groups? I don’t think so. Are we selling our own citizens short? We need to do better in outreach to the younger people in our country, no matter the ethnicity (Ed. note – And, I would add, the gender). We have plenty of opportunity in our industry to employ young Americans.”

Well said, and great points. And yet I can’t help thinking that while all the plans to develop U.S. resources are good ones that should definitely be pursued, this issue is that educating, training, enticing and convincing U.S. citizens to enter the field, obtain necessary training and certification and make tile setting their life’s work takes a long time. Certainly, a great goal to shoot for and to attract more U.S. workers into the field from trade school paths, ex-military, inner city populations.

Yet we have an immediate need  – a NOW need – for workers. SEVENTY percent of construction contractors report a shortage. Would a program to certify skilled Mexican workers to help alleviate this situation be able to be implemented more quickly? That is anyone’s guess. But it might make sense to initiate efforts on both fronts. Once any obstacles are overcome in getting these trained workers here legally, we would be working with a population that has the desire to work in this field vs. starting from square one when it comes to plans to recruit U.S. workers.

I invite continuing discussion on this topic, and let’s see what arises!


[email protected]

Are You Paying Attention? – January 3, 2016

Back in August of last year the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) handed down a new standard that “rewrites U.S. Labor law and upends thousands of business relationships”. Their reasoning is that the old standard was “increasingly out of step with changing economic circumstances”. Reaction was swift with several calling it “alarming” and “fundamentally unrealistic”. The new rule stems from the board’s watershed Browning-Ferris decision which dealt with joint-employer relationships. While the rule will have far reaching effects on industries from staffing companies to franchises, it will also have great effect on the construction industry in terms of how our labor is classified. And yes you should at the very least be aware and even concerned.

The focus of this ruling for our industry concerns the classification of labor into the camps of employees and sub-contractors. While the NLRB, the governmental agency that implements the National Labor Relations Act, has found it within their jurisdiction and infinite wisdom to reverse several decades of practice in labor relationships, they are of the opinion that the line between the two to be blurred to the point that action separating them must be taken. The dissenters on the board who voted against this decision said it “reverses several prior decisions that established clear standards…all of which had been approved by powerful federal courts of appeal”. This is specifically addressing the use of 1099-based labor in the construction industry.

I’m sure many are aware of the IRS’s 20 Point Checklist for Determining an Independent Contractor (http://art.mt.gov/artists/IRS_20pt_Checklist_%20Independent_Contractor.pdf) which has been used in the past to make the distinction between an employee and a subcontractor. It now appears that the NLRB wishes to go beyond this already stringent test to make it even more so as the Obama administration chases “perceived worker rights abuses” as a main target as increased funding to both the NLRB and the IRS has increased in the last few years. The rule seems to actively seek to “restrict and tighten the use of independent contractors “ in the construction industry. This matter is especially poignant to the homebuilding industry since the NAHB states that a typical builder “relies on an average of 22 subcontractors to build a typical single family home.” Much of this stems from the toughening stance put forth from the Department of Labor and an administrator’s opinion that stated that the DOL “is putting more weight on a subcontractor’s economic independence when it decides whether that sub really ought to be regarded as an independent enterprise”. No longer is the IRS’s checklist enough. Now subcontractors must show “the managerial and business skills that are part of being and independent contractor, not just providing skilled labor”.

At stake is misclassification of your labor, if you use subcontractors, and the perception that they should have been W-2 based employees. The money it could cost you if they deem you have breached their new rules “can be ruinous”. It has been said that “reclassification attacks are very expensive to defend” and the resulting actions trigger a “domino-like effect” that if you lose your case can have you paying beloved fees such as past due overtime, past due health insurance, past due retirement benefits, past due employee benefits, past due worker’s compensation insurance, past due state and federal withholding taxes plus penalties and interest and enormous legal fees to the other side.

I doubt any installation contractors in our industry want to incur such onerous penalties that could potentially put them out of business, so each must understand the risks and rewards of this issue. This issue is currently being researched and information is being disseminated by the installation industry. There has even been a period of time after this ruling for associations such as ours to comment to the NLRB our opinion of the rule and how it will affect our members.

There has been legislation proposed in Congress to undo the rule by representatives whose constituents have shown an “immense backlash” to it. I urge you to consider the ramifications of the NLRB’s new rule on your business and our industry. Do some research into how the rule will be applied in your state. I also urge you to contact your legislators to support, as one congressman put it, “commonsense proposals that would restore policies in place long before the NLRB’s radical decision, the very same policies that served workers, employers, and consumers well for decades.”

A program on this very subject will be presented at the Surfaces show in Las Vegas and is just one of the educational opportunities available there January 19.

Tile helps communicate strength and beauty at CenturyLink Technology Center of Excellence in Monroe, La.


Starting out as Oak Ridge (Louisiana) Telephone Company, with 75 paid subscribers in 1930, CenturyLink today serves millions of customers in 37 states through five regional locations, and is the

CenturyLink Technology Center of Excellence – Monroe, La.

CenturyLink Technology Center of Excellence – Monroe, La.

third largest telecommunications company in the United States. The headquarters building in Monroe, La., originally sat alone on 77 acres in the midst of a pecan grove just outside Monroe. Today, that building has been joined by a new Technology Center of Excellence (TCE), a 300,000-sq.-ft., three-story facility with a five-story parking structure.

The TCE was planned by Moody Nolan, an entrepreneurial architectural group that designs structures to respond to the needs of its clients. On this project, Moody Nolan brought CenturyLink a striking curved design that sits amidst a


CraftCroswell installers work on the tiles on the landings to align them with the tiles on the lobby floor. They are set with Ultraflex LFT and grouted with Ultracolor Plus.

2.2-acre parklike courtyard, which connects employees with their environment.


According to Moody Nolan’s portfolio on the project, “The building was strategically located and shaped to save as many of the pecan trees as possible. Those that were removed were harvested for use in the design. From this supply of material, the design team worked with a local mill to produce veneer paneling and flooring, as well as solid material for coffee bar countertops throughout the facility. The building also incorporates a substantial quantity of electro chromic glass primarily along the south-facing atrium wall. This innovative product increases or decreases its opacity based on input from an array of photocells

The tiles on the landings flow in the same direction as those on the lobby floor.

The tiles on the landings flow in the same direction as those on the lobby floor.

mounted on the roof parapet, and reduces lighting, heating, and cooling loads by up to 20%. The full length of [the structure] is capped by a vegetated roof1.”

The focal point of the new building’s interior is a three-story atrium with floor-to-ceiling glass windows and a monumental stair structure that carries the tile design in the lobby to the upper floors. Glass tiles on vertical surfaces throughout the TCE reflect the desire of CenturyLink to combine beauty and durability in a sustainable setting.

Craig Miller, the CraftCroswell project manager for the CenturyLink project, led multiple crews in the horizontal and vertical placement of nearly 72,000 sq. ft. of tile. “Everyone was working together to maintain the very tight schedule,” Miller said. “When working on projects like this, safety is a number one priority. Our corporate Safety Plan was strictly followed, including the use of hard hats, safety glasses and high-visibility safety vests at all times. A Tool Box safety talk was given each day, at which time tools were checked to insure proper working order so that no injuries would occur as a result of use.” CraftCroswell is headquartered in Ridgeland, Ms., and is a NTCA member.

MAPEI products at work on the jobsite

The tiles for the pie-wedge-shaped treads on the stairwell were all handcut.

Surface preparation began with the application of 47,300 sq. ft. of Mapelastic AquaDefense waterproofing and crack isolation membrane on floors and in the bathrooms. MAPEI’s Fiberglass Mesh was used to reinforce and enhance the performance of the Mapelastic AquaDefense when applied over cracks, coves and corners and around drains.

Over 40,000 sq. ft. of imported large-format Picasso Travertine from Hamilton Parker Company (18’ x 36”x 1/2”) was installed on the floors in the curved atrium, lobby, cafeteria and serving areas, using Ultraflex LFT medium-bed and thin-set mortar for large-format and heavy tile and stone. This mortar is formulated with MAPEI’s Easy Glide Technology™ for ease of application. The stone was laid out off of the center line of the main entry and flowed throughout the spaces uninterrupted. The joints of the stone were grouted with Ultracolor Plus.

Ultracolor Plus with DropEffect™ technology is a fast-setting, polymer-modified, color-consistent, non-shrinking, efflorescence-free grout for joint widths from 1/16” to 1” (1,5 mm to 2,5 cm). DropEffect technology reduces surface absorption to help repel water, dirt and grime from penetrating grout joints. Ultracolor Plus is specially formulated with MAPEI’s High-Hydrated Cement Technology (HCT™) to eliminate the common problems related to portland-cement grout, such as color consistency and efflorescence.


NTCA member CraftCroswell set the glass, metal, and stone mosaic wall tiles in the bathrooms with Adesilex P10, while the Daltile porcelain floor tiles were set with Ultraflex LFT. Both were grouted with Ultracolor Grout.

The teams worked to a tough schedule, because all the other work around them was running behind and was not finished when the tile installation began. “The travertine stone tiles were not too heavy,” Miller commented. “All the guys are getting used to the larger-format tiles. The biggest challenge with these tiles is that we have to get enough mortar under each one, or it takes two people to pull it out so that the tile doesn’t break in half. We addressed this problem by using large-notched trowels and back-buttering each tile.” The non-sag, non-slump properties of Ultraflex LFT also contributed to a sound installation.

The landings of the threestory travertine monumental staircase followed the same layout as the atrium floor. The upper story landings were laid out in the exact same direction as the lobby floor, creating something of an optical illusion when looking down from the third floor to the atrium.

Each tread was pie-shaped, circling up the stairwell. The treads were cut by hand to fit, and then trimmed out with stainless steel Schluter nosings. Once the CraftCroswell team developed a pattern, the setting became easier. The stairwell and landings were treated with Mapelastic AquaDefense for crack isolation; then the tiles were set with Ultraflex LFT and grouted with Ultracolor Plus.

The restrooms have floors of Daltile Cortona Porcelain that mimic the travertine in the cafeteria and lobby. After waterproofing and crack isolation with Mapelastic AquaDefense, these tiles were set with Ultraflex LFT and grouted with Ultracolor Plus. A total of 3,500 sq. ft. of Daltile mosaics, featuring a blend of stone, glass and metal tile, were set on the bathroom walls with Adesilex P10 mortar. Adesilex P10 is a

Slate mosaics coat the pizza oven (l.), using Adesilex P10.The quarry tile in the kitchen was set with Ultraflex 2 and grouted with Kerapoxy IEG CQ.

Slate mosaics coat the pizza oven (l.), using Adesilex P10.The quarry tile in the kitchen was set with Ultraflex 2 and grouted with Kerapoxy IEG CQ.

premium-grade, bright white thin-set mortar designed for glass tile, glass mosaic and marble mosaic, and is ideal for light translucent natural stone. The CraftCroswell teams liked the Adesilex P10 because of its non-sag properties and brilliant white color, which helps highlight the tiles’ qualities and color. The mosaic tiles in the restrooms were grouted with Ultracolor Plus.

The 8” x 8” quarry tile used in the kitchen flowed from the kitchen out to the serving line. This tile was set with Ultraflex2, while Kerapoxy 410 was used to install the quarry tile in the kitchen coolers. Both areas were grouted with Kerapoxy IEG CQ.

Kerapoxy IEG CQ is a water-cleanable, 100%-solids epoxy grout with high chemical and stain resistance. In addition, it has high temperature resistance and can be steam cleaned. Color-coated quartz dramatically improves its cleanability, so that Kerapoxy IEG CQ leaves very little film residue during cleanup of excess grout with a grout float. The color-coated quartz also eliminates pigment bleed, so tiles are not stained during installation.

This close up shows the beauty of Serenade glass mosaic tiles used for the backsplash in one of the coffee bars.

This close up shows the beauty of Serenade glass mosaic tiles used for the backsplash in one of the coffee bars.

The pizza oven was wrapped in Daltile’s Olympus Slate mosaic tile in random lengths. The 10′ high vertical installation of the tile was set with white Ultraflex LFT and grouted with Ultracolor Plus.

Porcelain, glass and stone mosaic tile was used to line the walls to a height of 10′ in the serving area around the kitchen. This tile from Vine Street Studios was set with Adesilex P10 and grouted with Ultracolor Plus. The multiple coffee bar backsplashes were also installed with Adesilex P10 and Ultracolor Plus, and featured Serenade and Tiger Eye glass mosaics from Daltile as well as American Olean’s Visionaire glass mosaics.


This view of the lobby shows the structure curving in a different direction.

Miller summed up the project by saying, “The challenges with this project came from a combination of the different makeup and texture of the materials – glass, porcelain, metal and stone – and the various surface sizes. There could have been so many problems, but we met all challenges with the right materials being used by experienced installers.”

1Source: Moody Nolan website – project portfolio, http://moody



Latest grout developments offer contractors more choices than ever

Innovations include color explosion, and improvements in crack and stain resistance

By Louis Iannaco

As evidenced by some very well-received product launches at the Total Solution Plus (TSP) 2015 conference in Savannah, Ga., last October, as well as several recent industry-wide developments, when it comes to grout, tile contractors now have more selections and offerings to choose from than ever before.

1-groutWhether it’s increased color choices, improved shrink, crack or stain resistance, today’s state-of-the-art technology has created better-performing products flooring professionals are excited about. They are especially jazzed about their ability to do things they’ve never been able to previously, with the promise of even more developments in the future.

“The new technology we’re seeing in grout is great,” said John Mourelatos, owner, Mourelatos Tile Pro, a National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA) member based in Tucson, Ariz. “Things are moving in the right direction, offering superior quality grout to our clients based on their needs. There’s room for improvement, and I believe we’re in a transition period in defining what type of grout works best for the majority of tile installed.”

According to Ricky Cox, owner of NTCA Five Star Contractor Memphis Tile & Marble, Memphis, Tenn., the industry has struggled with grout for decades. “Sanded grout has come a long way, but still has a way to go. Even with additives, sand and cement aren’t perfect. The most exciting thing is manufacturers are at least trying to improve their products.”

Sam Bruce, president of NTCA Five Star Contractor Visalia Ceramic Tile, Visalia, Calif., agreed with Cox, and noted how manufacturers are working on the two biggest complaints customers have about grout: color consistency and stain resistance. “Historically, these have been the main issues contractors have had to face when servicing their customers.”

Logistical benefits; design advantages

Led by companies such as LATICRETE, MAPEI, TEC, Custom Building Products, Tex-Rite and others, improvements in grout are growing. Launched during TSP 2015 where it created quite a buzz was LATICRETE’S AnyColor™ grout, which features a partnership with Sherwin Williams and Benjamin Moore to coordinate the company’s PermaColor® Select grout technology to any paint color, with a two-week turnaround.

2-groutNew or fairly new grout developments of interest to contractors include MAPEI’s Flexcolor™ CQ, Texrite’s flexible system, TEC’s InColor™ and Prism® from Custom Building Products.

“I really like PermaColor Select,” said Christopher Dalene, senior project manager of NTCA Five Star Contractor Dalene Flooring Carpet One, Hartford, Conn. “The idea that you have a grout priced competitively with the market, is shrink/crack resistant, fast setting (for those fast-paced construction projects), and has StoneTech® sealer technology built in, is huge.”

Dalene, who handles mainly commercial projects, added, the client benefits in the sealer and enhanced stain resistance, and “we benefit by saving the additional trip to the job, and moving to the next one. From a warehousing perspective, I like the idea of stocking pallets of base material and a cabinet of colorant. Your exposure to spoilage is reduced, and the footprint required is significantly smaller.”

While at TSP 2015, Dalene was very impressed with LATICRETE’S AnyColor launch. “To my knowledge, it’s an industry first,” he said. “I can see our brick-and-mortar store interior design team utilizing this to solve those sometimes-challenging grout color selection issues that arise from time to time. It also opens up a unique opportunity for the commercial design firms to further customize the selections they are making.”

For Tom Cravillion, owner, Cravillion Tile & Stone, a NTCA member in Plymouth, Wis., his go-to grout for most jobs is LATICRETE’S PermaColor premium. “Since switching to it, we’ve had no call backs for shading, cracking or color loss. I still like to use pre-mixed urethane for glass tile, LATICRETE SpectraLOCK® epoxy for porcelain.”

Martin Brookes, owner of NTCA Five Star Contractor Heritage Marble & Tile, Mill Valley, Calif., is a big fan of LATICRETE’S PermaColor. “It’s our go-to grout. It performs well and color stays true.”

Bruce is also impressed with PermaColor Select. While Visalia hasn’t used the product to know how it compares to other grouts from an installer’s view, from a logistics view, “It’s unmatched. When stocking, which we do, it would save lots of racking space, is easier to manage and organize and easier to stock and keep clean.

“Also,” he explained, “to have the ability to get a color that runs out of stock shipped next day or second day would be worth the price to complete a job on time because an 8-oz. packet is being shipped, not a 25-lb. bag.”


Easy cleaning, flexibility for the customer

With that said, Bruce admitted that Custom Building Products’ Prism is Visalia’s favorite grout to work with because of its color consistency. “Its application is like traditional sanded grout, easy to clean and wash without streaking, and it’s a great final product. Its hardness and density is something customers are happy with.”

For 2014 NTCA Tile Person of the Year and NTCA Five Star Contractor, Jan Hohn, co-owner, Hohn & Hohn Tile, Inc., St. Paul, Minn., the urethane/polymer resin grouts hitting the market from most of the setting materials manufacturers add value to grout. “Because of the characteristics and function of these products, one has much more flexibility in selecting one that will meet the needs of a particular project or client.”

Hohn’s favorites include basic grouts from TEC, Custom Building Products, MAPEI, and Ardex. “They are all good to work with. As far as TEC’s InColor, I like it because it’s easy to use and cleans up the best of all the single bucket grouts. As far as Custom’s Prism– for this type of a grout – it’s easy to use, easy to clean and can be tooled nicely in a reasonable amount of time.”

Hopes for the future

When it comes to what contractors would like to see in the future, as Hohn noted, it would be great if all the manufacturers would have all the colors of their grouts available in all the different types of grout they offer.

“Some do and some don’t,” she said. “That would provide more flexibility when choosing a grout. My clients and I choose grout based on color, not the manufacturer, so it would be great to have all the options of grout type available from all producers.”

According to Cravillion, it would be “brilliant” if manufacturers could make color in a bag to mix into thin set mortar to match whatever color grout you’re about to use. “Because we set mostly stone tile that needs to be sealed anyway, I don’t think we need sealer in the grout as an added expense.”

And while Mourelatos likes the direction premixed grout is headed, he’d just like to see a product that is “installer-friendly when it comes time to clean up, as well a product that is durable with some flexibility.”

Regarding TSP 2015, what had Cravillion most excited was the interaction and response from all in the tile industry – from installers to manufacturing and distribution personnel and shop owners. “Everyone has a focused view of what needs to be done to advance our industry – getting younger people engaged and excited about working with this product and what is to come in the future.”




NTCA proudly presents TileTV, an association-partnered internet broadcast that is distributed twice monthly to association members across the country. Our internet broadcasts provide practical news and technical information for today’s professional installer.

In addition to tackling industry issues in each twice-monthly issue, TileTV is often on the floor at industry events, including Surfaces/TISE, Coverings and Total Solutions Plus. TileTV will bring you information about the Installation Design Showcase and pertinent information and events unfolding at Coverings.

More recently – and as a support to this issue’s print story about Total Solutions Plus 2015 – you can visit the site to see scenes from the industry conference that took place in October in the historic city of Savannah, Ga. Tune in to Tile-TV now as we to take a look back at some of the highlights of the event and showcase the 2015 Ring of Honor recipient John Cox. Information about a very important contractors’ forum discussion that took place at TSP is also presented on TileTV. This forum addressed the disparity between concrete flatness tolerances and tile-industry recommendations for large-format tile. There’s a bonus update on the spot-bonding issue NTCA has been addressing in TileTV since July. This is a TileTV episode you don’t want to miss!

As a member, you’ll be notified twice a month and given a quick-click link to the latest TileTV episode, keeping you up-to-date on industry developments in less than five minutes! Visit
www.tile-assn.com and enter TileTV in the search bar to view the latest TileTV episode or choose from archived programs as well.

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