May 28, 2015

NTCA contractor member and former board member debuts Lippage & Grout Tool at Coverings 

Just hours after filing with the U.S. Patent Office, NTCA contractor member Davis Holland Leichsenring unveiled his Lippage & Grout Tool to an audience of tile contractors and related professionals on the opening day of Coverings.

lippagetoolMade of soft PVC plastic, the multi-function tool helps tile professionals and the general public to instantly evaluate if a tile installation meets industry standards at the level of ‘flatness,’ – otherwise known as “lippage” – between adjacent tiles. It also helps measure and demonstrate grout widths and grout color, and has a handy ruler to help measure thickness of tile substrates and other on-the-job measuring needs. The small tool fits a wallet and is fully customizable to double as a business card.

NTCA has teamed up with Leichsenring to offer the Lippage & Grout Tool to members at a special discounted rate, featuring the NTCA logo. The “NTCA Lippage & Grout Tool” is available on the association’s website, and at

The card can be purchased as the “Lippage & Grout Tool” by the general public, or the “I’m a Proud Member of the NTCA” version exclusive to NTCA members. The customized version can be created by downloading an easy step-by-step template file. Visit for details.

The entire Holland Bath & Spa team worked around the clock to produce the tool by Coverings. Erkel Associates ( finalized the branding and launch of, an online store selling the Lippage & Grout Tool, Eras Noel prepared the patent application, and Allen Irwin created a short video featuring NTCA’s Maryland State Director, Mike Corona, of Corona Marble & Tile (, presenting the tool.

“The tool is expected to increase the quality and standards by which tile is selected and installed,” said Leichsenring. For more information, visit, or contact Leichsenring directly at / 240-372-0513.

NTCA Five Star Contractor Awards Announced at Coverings

NTCA also presented its Five Star Contractor Grand Prize awards for outstanding installations in both Commercial and Residential projects.

An independent panel of judges evaluated numerous submissions and awarded the winners based on Scope (size of project), Complexity (challenges), Technical Soundness (resolution of challenges) and Design and Presentation (Overall appearance, layout and artistic value). Special recognition was given to those projects exemplifying stunning tile and stone in both commercial and residential tile installations.

The Five Star winners received $2,500 each in prize money, sponsored by Daltile Corporation.

GP-commWelch Tile & Marble of Kent City, Michigan, received the Five Star Grand Prize for Commercial Tile Installation. The firm’s installation of 45,000 sq. ft. of floor tile, 1,500 sq. ft. of Ledge Stone and 6,500 sq. ft. of wall tile at the Ferris State University, Rankin Student Center, was a glowing example of the company’s technical expertise when confronted by a multitude of challenges. A major task from the start, this renovation project’s obstacles included weather, time constraints, multiple product lines and the advancing age of the existing building.

GP-resCollins Tile and Stone of Ashburn, Va., was the recipient of the Five Star Grand Prize for Residential Tile Installation. The firm’s project, Modern Tranquility, started off with a complete demolition of the master bathroom including elimination of two picture windows. The most innate challenge of this project was the construction of a steam shower. The project included a decorative mural inset comprised of hand-made, fused glass mosaic. Collins Tile and Stone adhered to every industry standard, not only enhancing the beauty of the bathroom, but ensuring longevity of the tile work.


Best Practice Awards – Kerber & Slutzah

kerberJoe Kerber of Kerber Tile, Marble & Stone of Shakopee, Minnesota, received the first of two Best Practice Awards for his instrumental role in developing and having the Barrier Free Shower Method accepted by the Methods & Standards Commit-tee at Coverings 2014. This method was approved for inclusion in the 2015 TCNA Handbook. A member of the NTCA since 2003, Kerber has served as a State Director and now as a Regional Director. He also flourishes as a voting member on the NTCA Technical Committee and Methods & Standards Committee.

Steve Slutzah of Westside Tile & Stone in Canoga Park, Calif., also received a NTCA Best Practice award. His strong belief in the slutzahimportance of NTCA contractors has been the driving force for increased membership in the state of California. A member since 2007 as a distributor and soon thereafter as a State Director, Slutzah and his company have sponsored numerous NTCA workshops and signed up over 25 new members, even going as far as to pay for their first year membership.


Joe A. Tarver Lifetime Achievement Award – Eric Astrachan

Eric Astrachan, executive director of the Tile Council of North America, received the prestigious Joe A Tarver Lifetime Achievement Award, offered to a leader in the tile and stone industry who dedicates his/her career to advancing our trade. Astrachan has made significant contributions to the industry including incorporating both Canada and Mexico into the Association, the development of the Green Squared program and the expansion of the TCNA Handbook and ANSI Standards. An example of his passion for creating unity is exemplified by the Tile Council becoming an even stronger partner in the NTCA, CTDA, TCAA, CTEF and the Tile Heritage Foundation. Astrachan is an integral part of Total Solutions Plus, which brings together all industry associations for their respective meetings, creating unique industry networking events and leadership conferences. Joe Tarver himself was in attendance to participate in Astrachan’s recognition.


NTCA Tile Person of the Year – Jan Hohn

hohn-awardThis year, the NTCA’s Tile Person of the Year Award was presented to Jan Hohn of Hohn & Hohn, Inc., of St. Paul, Minnesota. Hohn is only the third woman to receive this award during the six decades it has been presented. For over 20 years, Hohn has worked tirelessly as a one person, high-end residential tile and stone installation company. She has dedicated herself to the trade, serving as president of CASTA (Twin Cities Local Tile Contractors Association), NTCA board member, NTCA Technical and Methods and Standards Committee member and most recently, as chairperson of the NTCA’s Training and Education Committee. Hohn also became the first woman to become a Certified Tile Installer by the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation in 2009. Hohn’s attention to detail, artisanship, knowledge and commitment to the industry have also earned her the prestigious NTCA Five Star Contractor certificate.

NTCA Benefits Box – May 2015

NTCA_logo_100pixelsNTCA expands its role in education with CEFGA, Career Quest

By Lesley Goddin

It’s no surprise that NTCA is involved in education at every level, but this year the association and its members have expanded their involvement in reaching young students with information about tile contracting and apprenticeship programs. The eventual goal? Promoting online education and hands-on training as a NTCA initiative.


The first outreach was NTCA’s ongoing involvement in the 2015 Construction Education Foundation of Georgia (CEFGA) CareerExpo and SkillsUSA State Championsips, held March 26-27 at the Georgia International Convention Center. The event drew in record numbers: 7,307 total attendees; 5,179 students; 920 influencers (teachers, counselors, parents, school administrators) and 1,208 industry volunteers, exhibitors and guests all assembled in a space that was as large as six football fields.

NTCA and co-sponsors Rick Payne with Specialty Tile Products, Tod Canfield with Custom Building Products, and Craig Hoffman with Daltile participated in a 40’ x 40’ booth. NTCA was represented by Rod Owen of NTCA Five Star Contractor C.C. Owen Tile Co. of Jonesboro, Ga., and NTCA past president Dan Welch, along with NTCA trainer/presenter Gerald Sloan.

2-BB-0515The perimeter of the space displayed a range of tile-related exhibits: tile types, safety equipment, tile cutting tools, plan table and specs, job titles and descriptions and a PowerPoint of finished installations, said Owen. The center of the space featured opportunities for students to install small tile designs on a 12” square Durock® board they could take with them.

Dan Welch of Welch Tile & Marble in Kent City, Mich., is chairman of the NTCA Apprenticeship Development Subcommittee. He was on hand to show and explain his Career Path Matrix. “The Career Matrix worked great because we were able to show the students how the knowledge and skills acquired within the tile industry equate in compensation over time. It was a road map to success as a tile mechanic,” Owen observed.

Owen continued, saying “convincing the students of the opportunities in tile is just part of the challenge. The students, peers, parents and counselors are the second part of the hurdle. With the Career Matrix we have a better chance of legitimizing ourselves. The tile industry has been so fragmented for many years with everybody training and doing their own thing. The matrix helps ‘defragment,’ or give the industry a unified standard to visibly see, gauge, and execute proper career development for a tile mechanic. It’s going to be an exciting time to be in the tile industry.”

A wide-eyed 11th grader who was attending his first CEFGA CareerExpo and SkillsUSA State Championships exclaimed, “I’m speechless. I thought it would be something where you could look at a lot of things, but there are a lot of opportunities where you can actually work the equipment and really have a hands-on experience. It’s mind-blowing.”

The next 2016 CEFGA CareerExpo and SkillsUSA State Championships will be held March 17-18, 2016, at the Georgia International Convention Center, College Park, Ga.

Career Quest

The following month, on April 28, Welch Tile & Marble partnered with Daltile, Virginia Tile and Genesee Tile at the Grand Rapids, Mich., Career Quest at DeVos Place, an initiative of Michigan Works! Kent, Allegan and Barry counties. The one-day event provided 5,400 students from 6th through 12th grades the opportunity to learn about four industry sectors: construction, health science, advanced manufacturing and information technology. Tile industry participation in Career Quest was sponsored by Welch Tile & Marble, TEC/H.B. Fuller and The Noble Company.

The tile sector had a 30’ x 30’ booth that showcased a range of important areas: career path and apprenticeship opportunities, safety, showroom design, industry-sanctioned Handbook and certifications, and thin tile. Actual modules used in Advanced Certifications for Tile Installers (ACT) were on display for students to observe.

“Career Quest offers a look into the different industries for middle and high school students,” said Dan Welch, of Welch Tile & Marble. “Our focus was to show [students] that this trade can offer a path to success, both educationally and financially. Apprenticeship today needs a fresh look involving technology, and the work force is in need of a clear career path. As young people move into the work force, education needs to be factual, visual, competency-based and rewarded. Those days of ‘just do it because I told you so’ are long gone,” he said.

Michigan governor Rick Snyder sent a message via video to Career Quest, saying the event fostered a real synergy between educators and industry, and predicted that it will result in increased resources for career counseling in the schools.

A follow-up meeting about the flagship event resulted in a majority of educators saying Career Quest was “valuable, helpful, needed and engaging;” and a majority of students responding that employers were “prepared, interesting and engaging,” and that they “learned about education opportunities that will help them in high school classes and plan for after high school. “

There was another bonus that Welch discovered – an opportunity to market to general contractors and other contractors about what the tile industry is doing and the emphasis on certifications and qualified labor, Welch said. In addition, other industry segments such as glaziers, plumbers, etc., got to learn about tile apprenticeship programs and new technologies like thin tile, he said.

Full speed ahead

Events like these are just the tip of the iceberg, confirmed Bart Bettiga, NTCA executive director. “Our goal is to develop an apprenticeship program, offer it to our members, and submit it for consideration for community colleges, vocational schools, colleges and online curricula,” he said. “The program will be promoted at local career days and job fairs like these, and will be supported by contracting companies who can either use it themselves through NTCA staff support, or who will partner with a trade school to offer the curriculum and self-source the needed hands- on training component.”

For more information, visit, or


NTCA Member Spotlight – May 2015

custom-sponsorCape Cod Tileworks

Harwich, Mass.

Working with Cape Cod Tileworks is like working with several businesses in one. Maybe it’s skilled tile installation you’re after; or perhaps you are looking for unique, beach-motif handmade tile. Perhaps you are interested in the expertise of magazine and book authors on design and installation, or would like to consult with a graduate of Rhode Island School of Design or Sophia in Japan.

If so, you’ve come to the right place, where Tom and Lane Meehan and staff wait to serve you. The family business in a historic, old, three-story building in Harwich, Mass., owned by the Meehans, gives you access to all of these services, including a love for the art of making and installing tile.

1sptlt-0515Westport Tile and Design owners Tom and Lane Meehan moved from Westport, Conn. in 1994 to Harwich, Mass., establishing Cape Cod Tileworks.

The business is a true partnership between Tom and Lane. Lane crafts beautiful, beach-inspired, one-of-a-kind handmade sea life tiles with motifs like crabs, mermaids, flip-flop feet, shells, and starfish, to name a few. Tom works with a crew of two installers to install commercial tile, glass, metal, stone, pebble tile, and handmade decorative tiles in mostly residential settings and upscale homes. Their four boys often lend a hand installing when schoolwork allows.

“We are a very hands-on business where everyone wears different hats and are part of a total team,” Tom said. A dedicated and knowledgeable staff helps customers create the space of their dreams.

2sptlt-0515“Being a second-generation installer has taught me the old-world way of installing tile, combined with all of the new methods that I have been introduced to, allowing me to train my employees well.” He endorses courses offered at the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation for anyone who is interested in pursuing tile setting.

Lane has a degree in design from Rhode Island School of Design, as well as one from Sophia in Japan. She is also a contributor to Tauton Press’ Fine Homebuilding Magazine as well as Hanley Wood’s Journal of Light Construction. Tom is a longtime writer for a number of different magazines such as Fine Homebuilding. And both Tom and Lane are published book authors with Working with Tile in the Taunton’s “Build Like a Pro” book series, which combines both design and installation techniques.

Handmade tiles; custom installation

3sptlt-0515“What separates us from other tile businesses is the incredible handcrafted sea life tiles that Lane makes,” Tom said. “They are unlike any other tiles in the country (I believe). The tiles are very original. Every tile is individually made and none are exactly the same.”

Another point of distinction is how the crew installs the “critter tiles,” he said. “We create decorative scenes by cutting these tiles into regular field tiles or putting them in a scene with stone pebbles and creating a pool cutout in a floor or a decorative backsplash. Many times, it is not just a tile job, but a piece of artwork. That’s what makes it fun,” he said. You can see installation examples that incorporate these handmade tiles as well as bottle glass, beer bottle caps and other items that make the project truly custom at

4sptlt-0515Cape Cod is also home to many upscale residences that call for very detailed yet extensive tile work. “The nice part is, for every high-end home on the water that we work on, we do an equal amount of work for everyday homeowners like ourselves. We live in a wonderful community,” Tom said.

Joining NTCA

After being a member of the Marble Institute of America for about five years, Tom’s interest about NTCA was piqued when visiting the association’s then-modest booth at a Coverings show about 15 years ago.

“What impressed me was the people I was talking to knew as much – and even more – about tile than I did but they wanted to hear what I had to say,” Tom explained. “They were genuinely interested. I joined because I wanted to become a member of a group of my peers where as a team we could make a difference. It was investing in the future of the tile industry.

5sptlt-0515“The greatest value of being a member is that you always know you are not alone,” he added. “Even if you don’t take advantage of all of the information made available to you, you know that if you are in a jam and need professional advice, the NTCA is there by your side.”

Tom considers the TileLetter a benefit as well, having gleaned information from articles as well as new products and tips from ads. “I know that the manufacturers advertising are legit and their products have been proven and in many cases, are state of the art,” he said.

Other educational opportunities he values are Coverings seminars and industry education whenever it is offered.

What’s hot in Cape Cod

Tom often uses uncoupling membranes as the substrate in floor installations, unless he’s installing over concrete slabs. “If the floors are really in bad shape and very off-level, I will do the old-fashioned mud job,” he said. Electric radiant heating is also popular on the Cape, as are linear drains and curbless showers.

Popular styles include limestone tiles in many different forms from 12” x 12” honed to an array of different-size tumbled stone. Porcelain tiles that simulate stone are a huge percentage of the company’s installations, with sizes up to 12” x 24.” The classic 3” x 6” white subway tile with decorative border at eye height is the leader in shower and tub walls; enhanced, of course, by the company’s own handmade decorative pieces cut into floors, borders and field tile.

President’s Letter – May 2015

JWoelfel_headshotSince the second day of Coverings I have been planning what I wanted to share in this month’s President’s Letter – the questions from the contractor forum, the discussions on large thin tile, the innovations I witnessed at manufacturers’ booths and the installation challenges being shared among installers. But those many thoughts and ideas became insignificant as I began outlining my message on April 24, 2015.

It was then that a phone call informed me that my sister-in-law, Debby Woelfel, had suddenly passed. Justin’s wife was only 44 years-old. She left behind three beautiful children; Lyndsay 9, Trevor 7, and Jake, who just turned 4, as well as my brother who must face the realities of losing the most important person in his life. My heart just sank as I began to offer prayers for all of them, as well as Debby’s parents and family.

Justin and Debby met through the tile business when he worked for the NTCA and she worked for Custom Building Products. As they grew their family, their plans included continued work in the industry and a full life together. The abrupt and tragic loss of Debby was not what anyone had planned.

No one is really prepared for this kind of loss. For most of us, we’re caught up in the day-to-day ups and downs of business and our tile world. As president of the NTCA, I’m always looking to the future – making decisions while considering what’s best for our association, and our industry, “down the road.” Each day we work hard to support our families, which allows us to plan for future life events at home. Yet now, I’m more aware than ever of the uncertainty of tomorrow and the fact that there are no guarantees to any of our plans. This is why I find myself holding those dear to me closer than ever. Each day I am stopping to prioritize what is truly important to me – not just for the future – but for the day I’ve been given before me.

It’s now Mother’s Day and as I write this letter, I acknowledge I’m fortunate to have my wife, Chris, and my mother, Mary, nearby. Chris is my best friend. She is strong and caring and has always been there for me and Preston. My mom raised our family and instilled the principles that made us kids who we are today.

I pray that Justin and his children will find strength in Debby’s memory and each other as they work to heal. The rest of us are here for them to provide love and support. Our extended family – the people of this industry who support each other in good times and challenging times – have also been there, and I thank each and every one of you for that.

Throughout our lives we are continually making plans – and we must – for our business, for our families and for “the future.” We do it not knowing what the future really holds. Yet I hope you too, will take inventory of what’s important and take the time every single day to let them know. For me, that’s the one plan that is for certain.


James Woelfel
NTCA President


Editor’s Letter – May 2015

Lesley psf head shotSome of the articles in this issue come roaring out of the Coverings show: honors presented at the NTCA Awards Night, the uber-useful Lippage & Grout Tool introduced by NTCA member Davis Leichsenring, and a spate of shiny new products. There was so much that took place at Coverings, that these stories are just a taste of further awards, events and impressions from the show to come in June.

One of the key pieces of information shared at Coverings came during the TCNA press conference on Wednesday morning, where executive director Eric Astrachan shared state-of-the-industry numbers with the assembled group of journalists. Here are the findings in a nutshell:

  • 2014 U.S. ceramic tile consumption was up 2.49 billion sq. ft., with a 0.5% increase over 2013’s 2.48 billion sq. ft. – the fifth consecutive year-over-year increase in U.S. ceramic tile consumption.
  • The value of U.S. ceramic tile consumption in 2014 was $2.97 billion, up 6.1% from 2013.
  • 2014 showed a 0.7% decrease in imports over 2013, down to 1.71 billion sq. ft. over 1.72 billion sq. ft. Imports in 2014 comprised 68.7% of U.S. tile consumption in volume, down from 69.6% in 2013.
  • Mexico regained its status in 2014 as top exporter to the U.S. with a 29.5% share of imports, slightly edging out China’s 29.4% of exports; in 2013, China held the top title. In 2014, Italy was the second top importer, with 18.4% of volume exports to the U.S.
  • In terms of value, Italy was the top 2014 exporter to the U.S., comprising 34.8% of import value. China came next in terms of value, with 25.7%, followed by Mexico at 16.5%. The dollar value per square foot of tile imports (including freight, insurance and duty)rose from $1.00 in 2013 to $1.06 in 2014.
  • Looking at domestic shipments, there was a 3.3% increase from 2013 in terms of volume, up to 779.1 million sq. ft. In dollar value, U.S. F.O.B. factory sales for 2014 were $1.15 billion, up 6.8% over 2013, and the dollar value/square foot of domestically-produced tile rose from $1.43 in 2013 to $1.48 in 2014.
  • 2014 U.S. exports were up 7.7% from 2013, to 42.5 million sq. ft., with most exports going to Canada (66.5%) and Mexico (15.3%).

Not everything in this issue centers on Coverings, however. Pat O’Connor gives us an update about the Affordable Care Act and what it means to you and your business. And our NTCA Benefits Box story demonstrates ways NTCA and its members are reaching out to inform middle- and high-school aged students about tile apprenticeship programs and career paths. Among some of our regular features, we also spotlight Tom and Lane Meehan’s business at Cape Cod Tileworks, review the value the Certified Tile Installer program has for Ricky Cox of Memphis Tile and Marble Co., and take an in-depth look into the TCNA Handbook and what new language about crack-isolation membrane installation can mean for contractors, from NTCA Five Star Contractor Kevin Fox’s perspective.

Happy reading! God bless,


Member Spotlight – Mourelatos Tile Pro LLC – April 2015

custom-sponsorMourelatos Tile Pro LLC

Tucson, AZ

NTCA_logo_100pixelsMourelatos Tile Pro, LLC is owned by John Mourelatos, a first-generation tile setter. “I started my company in 2004 after working for several installation companies here in Tucson and learning the trade,” Mourelatos said.

The company primarily provides tile installation services for residential remodeling. “We work with a few select designers and contractors who value the effort and craftsmanship we put into every project,” Mourelatos added. “I am the owner/installer and employ one full-time installer with whom I have worked for almost 15 years. We enjoy working with homeowners and contractors/designers to assist in the development and implementation of their installations, whether they be a small kitchen backsplash or an entire house of tiled flooring and showers.”

john_mourelatosSince his business’s inception, Mourelatos has been an avid attendee at industry events — aiming to attend at least one event a year to fuel his passion for providing “excellence and technically sound installations,” he said. What he’s learned at these events paid off, as his company was able to successfully weather the recession of 2008.

10-year NTCA member

Mourelatos Tile Pro jumped on the NTCA bandwagon early on. “I attended my first trade show – Coverings in Orlando – within the first year of starting my business and it was there that I was introduced to the NTCA,” said Mourelatos, who in addition to being a NTCA member is a NTCA State Director. “I would say that the technical education I have received from everyone I met in the NTCA as well as the industry trade shows that I have attended is what enables us to provide excellence in our installations, building confidence within our clients.“

A member for 10 years, Mourelatos said that “after starting my business in 2004, and getting overwhelmed by all the associations available to a small business, I found the NTCA to be most beneficial for what I was looking for. Educational opportunities were plentiful once I looked outside of our community, and it was refreshing to find other installers nationwide that shared the same passion and drive to succeed in an industry that lacked formal education.

2-mourelatos 1-mourelatos“The educational aspect of what the NTCA does is what gained my interest in membership, and I would say over the years that is still what I value the most out of being a member,” he continued. “I have spent a lot of time attending industry events locally, as well as nationally, and I always leave with a renewed energy and passion that I bring back to my community. I have the NTCA and its inspiring members to thank for that.”

Mourelatos highly values the industry-recognized certification afforded by the CTEF Certified Tile Installer (CTI) program and the Advanced Certifications for Installers (ACT) programs. Obtaining certification for himself and his staff installer is on the agenda for Mourelatos as he awaits a local opportunity to take the hands-on CTI test.

NTCA membership continues to be an integral part of Mourelatos Tile Pro’s ongoing success. “Sometimes it’s the details, the small things, that can make our tile installations shine, and equally important are the detailed technical aspects of the installation that our client may not ‘see’ but appreciates in knowing they have an installation that will stand the test of time,” he explained.

“We are looking forward to growing our company this year to better serve our clients,” he added. “I have spoken with many members of the NTCA and I value their guidance and experience as we continue with this expansion.”