Thin Tile – July 2016

mapei_sponsorUpdate on ANSI product installation standards; recent projects featuring gauged porcelain tile panels/slabs

by Lesley Goddin

In our continuing quest to bring you useful information about the surging use of large thin porcelain tile, we bring you some news from the ANSI meeting concerning proposals for ANSI A137.3 (product standards) and ANSI A108.19 (installation standards) that was held during Coverings in Chicago this past April. In addition, we have a collection of projects below that show some of the ways large thin porcelain tile is being used on a range of projects.

The meeting

To start, a very productive ANSI meeting took place during Coverings in Chicago. The proposed draft standard under discussion for ANSI A137.3 has tables providing properties for three tile types: Nominal Thickness 5.0 mm to 6.5 mm (Table 4), Back-Layered with Nominal Thickness 5.0 mm to 6.5 mm (Table 5), and Back-Layered with Nominal Thickness 3.5 mm to 4.9 mm (Table 6). The Committee discussed the properties developed through lab testing and real world applications, but consensus was not reached. The proposed standard also allows for future tables to be included for additional tile types such as thicker tiles for raised flooring (and other) applications.

A proposed draft installation standard was also presented for tiles with properties in Table 4, with further work on the standard in progress.

Discussion turned to how to label, name and describe these tiles in the standard, depending on their thickness, size, and various marketing terms. TCNA explained that the name in a standard should not be conflated or merged with how tiles are labeled, but how the tiles are described should be sufficiently neutral to allow companies to market and label them however they choose to brand their products. Any effort to mix individual company marketing needs with the labels in a standard would be unlikely to achieve true consensus.

To this end, the proposed standard was labeled, “American National Standard Specifications for Gauged Porcelain Tiles and Gauged Porcelain Tile Panels/Slabs.” The standard is so named because the properties in Tables 4 – 6 are based on a narrow (i.e. gauged) range of thicknesses. Further, it allows manufacturers to choose how to label their products depending on their marketing, i.e. either as panels or slabs.

The next ANSI A108 Committee meeting will be held at Total Solutions Plus, Hyatt Indian Wells Resort near Palm Springs on Friday, October 21, 2016. In the meantime, many groups of stakeholders and interested parties are meeting separately, and with TCNA, to work towards further understanding and consensus.

The projects

Following are a number of recent projects that use gauged porcelain tile panels for interior and exterior application. As was described in the Laminam by Crossville entry, installers trained in the handling and installation of these products were employed on the job. NTCA recommends working with only contractors who have experience, certification or training in installing these products, for the smoothest installation process and best ongoing performance of the tiles themselves.

thin-01Laminam tile was supplied by Stone Tile International for the Sherway Gardens Expansion in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, which is presently underway and due to finish in fall of 2016. This high-end mall has a total expansion of 100,000 sq. ft. One of the highlights of this project is the installation of some very large 1 m x 3 m porcelain veneer in an exterior setting. Maple Group of Toronto installed 3,000 sq. ft. of large, thin tiles with MAPEI’s Granirapid with Ultracolor Plus grout after MAPEI’s Mapelastic 315 was used to waterproof over concrete. The gauged porcelain panels were installed around the large entryway and two smaller entrances. The tile was also cut into pie-shaped wedges to form large tile circles on the ceiling of the mall’s interior.

Inalco Slimmker – 1,800 sq. ft. of Inalco Slimmker, a Tile of Spain brand, was installed in October 2014 by Belcor Builders of Plainview, N.Y., in a high-end Spanish furniture showroom in Midtown Manhattan. The 6mm Slimmker Foster Blanco Plus Natural tile measures 40” x 40”.

thin-03 thin-02

Laminam by Crossville – LaFayette Junior/Senior High School in LaFayette, N.Y., was renovated by Ashley McGraw Architects in October 2015 with materials engineered to perform long and hard to accommodate the wear and tear of the space, keep maintenance simple, and provide a look that fits with the grander scale of the renovated space. The school auditorium called for wainscoting along the walls, with a monolithic appearance and minimal grout joints. Enter Crossville’s Laminam Travertino Avorio 3+, supplied by Vestal Tile Distributors and installed by Integrated Industrial Services of Syracuse, N.Y., in a vertical orientation above the handrail. The installation team at Integrated Industrial Services had learned the techniques for proper installation of Laminam by Crossville porcelain tile panels by attending an in-house seminar held by distributor Vestal Tile in January 2016 that included representatives from adhesives manufacturer ARDEX Americas, European Tile Masters, and Vestal Tile.

thin-04 thin-05

Lea Ceramiche – Shinberg.Levinas Architects recently won a Ceramics of Italy Competition Residential Award for the Turnberry Residence in Rosslyn (Arlington), Va. The project features 5,000 sq. ft. of Slimtech Basaltina Stone in Sabbiata and Naturale colors by Confindustria Ceramica manufacturer Lea Ceramiche. Jud Tile from Vienna, Va., installed the 3’ x 9’ tile in a complete interior renovation of the bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and exterior balcony in 2013. Flooring and walls for all living spaces were also covered with the Slimtech Basaltina tiles, which are available in 3mm and 3.5 mm, and created a smooth continuous flow from interior to exterior, with minimal joints that almost disappear, reinforcing the idea of an open loft space.

thin-06 thin-07

Florida Tile – On St. Patrick’s Day 2015, the DLR Group’s Chicago office was scheduled for a lunch-and-learn session with Mid-America Tile, who was introducing Florida Tile’s new Thinner large-format thin porcelain tile. As it turned out DLR Group showed a lot of interest in the product, not for a client, but for its own use for the lobby floor, which had suffered a previous failure due to the original tile and gypsum-based underlayment used. DLR Group principals liked how Florida Tile’s Thinner Aventis 19.5” x 39” tile made a seamless transition with existing finishes, and the 3.5mm thickness posed no problem with the minimal clearance of already-installed entry doors. MAPEI technical services and Krez Group came in to review the substrate, which they subsequently shotblasted and leveled with MAPEI M20. Architectural Contracting installed 1,200 sq. ft. of tile with MAPEI Ultraflex LFT mortar, creating full coverage and MAPEI’s stain-resistant, premixed Flexcolor CQ grout. The MLT System was also used to create a flat, lippage-free surface, finished with Blanke stainless steel transition strips. The project won a 2015 Crain’s Coolest Office award.


OSHA in the News – New Silica Rule

OSHA’s new silica rule aims to keep dust down but raises many questions

Respirable crystalline silica rule effective June 23, 2016

By Chris Woelfel, TileLetter contributor

oshaThe new federal rules limiting the amount of allowable silica dust exposure for workers is raising questions about how particle amounts will be measured, the efficacy of recommended methods to reduce exposure, and the financial impact of the ruling on small businesses. For tile and stone installers, OSHA’s new rules are presenting mandates for planning, measuring, and reporting that many are calling impractical and an undue burden on workers and their employers.

No one disputes the need and desire to keep workers safe. The construction trades and dozens of lawmakers, however, are questioning why OSHA didn’t simply enforce existing rules rather than issue a new set of complicated and unattainable regulations.

Fearing that the new rules will put companies out of business while resulting in no increase in worker safety, 23 national construction industry trade associations are challenging OSHA’s final respirable crystalline silica rule in the U.S. Court of Appeals. Jim Hieb, the Marble Institute of America’s (MIA) CEO, says the rule is simply flawed. “We have significant concerns about whether OSHA’s rule is even technically feasible, particularly OSHA’s final permissible exposure limit.” The new rules cut the exposure limit from 100ug/m3 to 50ug/m3 and create an “actionable” limit of 25ug/m3 that then kicks in a number of medical screening provisions. “We question whether OSHA truly understands the unique challenges facing the construction industry with respect to controlling silica exposure,” he explained. “We also believe that OSHA’s final cost estimates for the rule are still significantly underestimated.”

Measuring airborne silica is a foundational requirement under part of the new rules. The National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA) supported OSHA’s previous silica rules, but executive director Bart Bettiga told the agency that dust control, especially at the low exposure levels that OSHA is recommending, is complex and challenging. “It is universally recognized that the current methods for sampling and analyzing respirable crystalline silica are not exact, and are subject to variation and error that can cause false positives and negatives,” Bettiga said.

Mortar and grout mixing: silica exposure risk for tile installers

The American Lung Association describes silicosis as “a lung disease caused by breathing in tiny bits of silica, a mineral that is part of sand, rock, and mineral ores such as quartz. It mostly affects workers in mining, glass manufacturing, and foundry work. Over time, exposure to silica particles causes scarring in the lungs, which can harm your ability to breathe.”

Mixing mortars and grouts can expose tile and stone installers to silica since both the cement and sand aggregate – two of the three key ingredients – have long been raw silica.

Mixing mortars and grouts can expose tile and stone installers to silica since both the cement and sand aggregate – two of the three key ingredients – have long been raw silica.

One of the “dustiest” jobs in tile installation is mixing setting materials – both mortars and grouts. Mortars are predominantly comprised of silica since both the cement and sand aggregate – two of the three key ingredients – have long been raw silica.

Manufacturer Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) typically explain how to protect installers from potentially harmful effects of working with construction products. Some manufacturers are working to prepare guidelines and expertise on the new rules, exposure limits and best practices. “We definitely want to get out ahead of the curve and make installers aware of the new requirements,” explained Mark Pennine, technical manager for Tile and Stone Installation Systems at ARDEX. “The changes to the rule will stress air quality monitoring and record keeping.”

Manufacturers are also working to make contractors aware of alternative products. “LATICRETE is exploring additional options to provide more solutions to the contractor,” explained Art Mintie, senior director of Technical Services. Immediately, he said, “there are non-cement-based installation products currently available in our line of products that can be used as potential substitutes if so desired and specified.”

Manufacturers are focused on rule compliance at facilities as well as contractor in-field use. “MAPEI’s Environmental Health and Safety Department is presently developing a program to meet the requirements of OSHA’s new respirable crystalline silica regulations,” said Jim Whitfield, MAPEI’s Technical Services manager. “The program will include guidelines to support our contractor customers and meet compliance in our manufacturing facilities.”

Cutting/grinding dangers

Porcelain and ceramic tile also contains silica, and cutting it dry or grinding edges can send microscopic crystalline silica particles flying. The Tile Council of North America (TCNA) – which represents tile and mortar manufacturers – has been studying the silica issue for some time. TCNA’s Dr. Joytha Rangineni testified before an OSHA panel that in tile and brick, the molecular surface of silica is modified by the clay around it, and therefore, it is less available than pure silica to react with lung tissue.

In the new rule, OSHA provides “Specified Exposure Control Methods” for minimizing airborne silica particles. The good news is that for tile, wet-saws and ventilation appear to be sufficient protocols. “We were glad to see that wet-cutting ceramic tile was recognized by OSHA as being safe, so much so that monitoring for respirable silica when engaged in such activity was not considered necessary by OSHA,” explained TCNA executive director Eric Astrachan.

OSHA cites the use of wet saws and ventilation as dust control measures that, in most cases, can be used to limit workers’ exposure to silica.

OSHA cites the use of wet saws and ventilation as dust control measures that, in most cases, can be used to limit workers’ exposure to silica.

Cutting backer board, drilling into or grinding concrete, fabricating stone and artificial stone surfaces, and housekeeping chores such as sweeping debris are also work activities that OSHA is scrutinizing under its new regulation. “Since we frequently stress the importance of substrate prep, it will be important to help installers understand that certain aspects of demolition/preparation may also release airborne dust,” ARDEX’s Pennine explained. “Educating installers about this will help to reinforce that we offer total solutions, rather than simply manufacturing bags of powder.”

The rule was broken into two separate standards: A. General Industry and Maritime and B. Construction. The complete final rule, regulatory text with tables, appendices and OSHA fact sheets can be found at:

Next steps

The compliance date for the Construction Guidelines is June 23, 2017, one year after the effective date. The compliance date for General Industry and Maritime is June 23, 2018 or two years after the effective date.

Meantime, the NTCA will continue to examine the new OSHA silica rules and their impact on its members. Part of that effort is developing a safety plan template in partnership with the MIA, which will help installers write the workplace specific plans cited in the OSHA rule.

NTCA will also work with its industry partners to determine how the association can support common safety goals with OSHA while protecting the livelihood of its members. TileLetter will continue to follow this developing story.

Tech Talk – July 2016

TEC-sponsorSuccessful glass tile installation for pools

By Tom Domenici, area technical manager, H.B. Fuller Construction Products

tech-01Once you’ve seen a swimming pool finished with glass mosaic tiles, their popularity for both residential and commercial installations is immediately appreciated. Because they reflect natural light, glass mosaic tiles can give swimming pools a lustrous, shimmering appearance. They’re available in almost any color, size and pattern imaginable.

Here are the seven main components of a beautiful and long-lasting glass tile pool installation.

Porcelain or glass tile is the right choice for saline pools. Use a premium mortar that can withstand salt exposure and a chemical-resistant grout.

Porcelain or glass tile is the right choice for saline pools. Use a premium mortar that can withstand salt exposure and a chemical-resistant grout.

1. Choosing tile

Today, mosaic glass tile manufacturers often create sheets of tile by bonding the individual tiles to a paper or plastic facing or by adhering the backs of the tile to an open-weave mesh that allows the mortar to come into contact with the tile backs. Using this type of tile can help save time. However, if a water-soluble adhesive was used to bond the mosaic tiles to the mesh backing, that adhesive could re-emulsify once submerged. To avoid this, confirm with the tile manufacturer that the mosaic glass tile itself, and the sheet mounting method used, are suitable for pool installations in their environment, whether interior or exterior. Or use paper-faced tiles, which provide an unimpeded surface on the tile back for bonding.

2. Cutting tile

If the tile layout requires partial sheets, simply score the plastic sheeting, mesh or paper holding the tiles together with a utility knife as needed. If you need to cut the tiles themselves, use specialized glass mosaic tile cutting tools, as other cutters may shatter the small tiles.

The Robert D. Love Downtown YMCA in Wichita, Kan., contains more than 50,000 sq. ft. of mosaic and large-format tile.

The Robert D. Love Downtown YMCA in Wichita, Kan., contains more than 50,000 sq. ft. of mosaic and large-format tile.

3. Waterproofing pools

Over the primary waterproof membrane on the shell of the pool (per TCNA P602-16), you must provide a secondary waterproofing and crack isolation membrane.

Before applying the secondary membrane, smooth the substrate with a deep patch and patch additive that’s fast-setting, or a bonded mortar bed. Then clean the substrate of all contaminants, residues and dirt. Pre-fill all concrete cracks up to 1/8” wide. Treat all control joints, substrate joints, field seams and corners; anywhere vertical surfaces meet horizontal surfaces, such as curbs, bench seats and columns; anywhere dissimilar materials meet, such as drains and expansion/control joints.

Then, apply the waterproofing membrane. Install it just below the tile to help prevent water from leaking into the mortar bed and to help prevent problems associated with saturation and moisture expansion. For an efficient installation, use a membrane that allows for the direct bonding of tile. After the membrane is properly cured, test for leaks.


NTCA Five Star Contractor Fox Ceramic Tile of St. Marys, Kan., turned to TEC® products to aid with fast-paced tile installation in a variety of challenging environments.

NTCA Five Star Contractor Fox Ceramic Tile of St. Marys, Kan., turned to TEC® products to aid with fast-paced tile installation in a variety of challenging environments.

4. Setting tiles


Glass mosaic pool tile applications require polymer-modified mortars that are suitable for submerged installations. Keep in mind the mortar’s color can affect the appearance of clear or translucent glass mosaics. White mortars typically produce the most pleasing and consistent appearance – allowing glass tile to maintain its natural luminosity. Similarly, mortar ridges may be visible through clear or translucent tiles. Therefore, after troweling the mortar, use the flat side of the trowel to flatten mortar ridges before setting tile. Back-butter the tile to achieve a uniform appearance and proper coverage.

5. Grouting tile

Only certain grouts are appropriate for submerged areas. Consider a high-performance, ready-to-use grout or an advanced-performance cementitious grout, that can be used in submerged areas for glass tile installation. Saltwater pools require a grout that can be fully submersible and has chemical resistance, such as an epoxy grout. Proper pool water chemistry is essential for the future condition of the tile and grout. Use an appropriate flexible caulk joint, in place of grout, for predetermined movement joints in the tile installation.

The 110,000 sq. ft. LEED®-Certified facility features large -format porcelain tile on its lobby floor, ceramic and porcelain tiles throughout the building, and porcelain mosaics in its pools, whirlpool and steam room. 

The 110,000 sq. ft. LEED®-Certified facility features large -format porcelain tile on its lobby floor, ceramic and porcelain tiles throughout the building, and porcelain mosaics in its pools, whirlpool and steam room.

6. Wait time

Advise your customer to refer to the grout and mortar manufacturer wait time before filling the pool with water to allow the tile grout and mortar to fully cure before use in submerged areas.

7. Maintaining tile

In general, glass mosaic tile is very low maintenance. It is naturally stain resistant, and the use of a high-quality grout will help the installation maintain its appearance. However, tile in even the cleanest pools will eventually accumulate calcium deposits and other residue.

Cleaning techniques will vary depending on the tile system and condition, but always do a small sample test area to determine the best procedure.

Regardless of the type of tile used, fun in the swimming pool begins with a successful tile installation. If you follow these simple steps and manufacturer instructions, your tile glass project will make a splash for a long time after your work is completed.


For this job, installer Fox Ceramic Tile used TEC® products to address each space’s unique demands, including time constraints and exposure to heat and harsh chemicals.

For this job, installer Fox Ceramic Tile used TEC® products to address each space’s unique demands, including time constraints and exposure to heat and harsh chemicals.

The TEC® brand is offered by H.B. Fuller Construction Products Inc. – a leading provider of technologically advanced construction materials and solutions to the commercial, industrial and residential construction industry. Headquartered in Aurora, Illinois, the company’s recognized and trusted brands – TEC®, CHAPCO®, Grout Boost®, Foster®, ProSpec® and others – are available through an extensive network of distributors and dealers, as well as home improvement retailers. For more information, visit


Qualified Labor – July 2016

ql-01Mike McLawhorn: CTI credentials are confirmation of tile setter knowledge that money can’t buy

By Terryn Rutford, Social Structure Marketing

In 2009, during Mike McLawhorn’s 12 years as a self-employed tile setter, he became a Certified Tile Installer (CTI) in Charleston, SC. “I wanted to do everything I could to set myself apart from the thundering herd of setters,” McLawhorn said. And “I wanted to support our industry’s efforts to legitimize the tile setters that truly care about doing things right. I saw it as an opportunity to market my company as a company that was trustworthy and to possibly increase my profitability.”

1_CTI_20x20McLawhorn was certified as number 188 in the early days of the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF) CTI program. “In my opinion, [the test] must have been designed to fail the student that didn’t have time in the field and to reward the student that was experienced,” McLawhorn said. “If one didn’t think ahead, the hands-on tasks would lead to a dead end, and then there was no time to finish it, which would lead to failure.” The most valuable part of being a CTI, McLawhorn said, “is that no one can buy into [it]. Money or the absence thereof, simply is not a factor. Certification is a confirmation of a tile setter’s industry knowledge, hands-on expertise, and more importantly, time in the field with a trowel in one’s hand.”

McLawhorn described why certification is so important. “Decades ago, technology changes in the tile trade happened more slowly,” he said. “In today’s tile world, there are multiple tile companies and multiple setting material companies pumping out new technology nearly every quarter! In order to be considered a knowledgeable service provider, we must maintain a familiarity with the new technologies as they become available.”
Every year certification is becoming more valuable, he continued. Twenty years ago project specifications were generic and tile installers used techniques passed down over the years. Now, McLawhorn said, “officials are clearly stating techniques and methods to accommodate the newer tile trends, which call for more sophisticated installation systems. And finally, they are mandating/specifying the use of CTI tile crews to provide a better chance of a successful installation of their project.”

Certification has proved invaluable for McLawhorn. “I’ve been given the opportunity to utilize my CTI certification on multiple fronts,” McLawhorn said. “Obviously, I used the certification to promote my own business in the past. And, I continue to use my CTI certification in the corporate world for HB Fuller as a professional rep of TEC tile setting products. Nearly every day, my discussions with customers and other tile contractors are supported and validated by my certification.”

In addition to these opportunities, McLawhorn was also given the opportunity to help CTEF. “After my certification and due to my prior corporate experience, I was asked by Scott Carothers of CTEF to proctor a few examinations when he was unable to do so. It was an incredible opportunity to proctor an industry-accepted exam. Through the different fronts I’ve utilized my CTI, the certification has been the common denominator and continues to pay dividends for me, both tangible and intangible.”

Now, in his role at HB Fuller, McLawhorn said he still uses his certification. “There is no doubt that my CTI certification is an integral part of my reputation as a source of knowledge to my customer base. There is absolutely no level of corporate savvy that can replace the credibility that the certification gives me in the market place. The certification absolutely trumps any brand or corporate influence regarding my abilities as a rep.”

Certification is paramount to the industry. “We live in a world that allows mediocrity to self-destruct those who accept mediocrity,” McLawhorn said. But beyond the personal benefits of certification, McLawhorn said, “Our industry is changing annually and only the professional, progressive-minded applicators will benefit and grow.”

Business Tip – July 2016

al_batesHarpooning the Whale, Part II: Changing the Profit Relationship by Working Customers Systematically

by Dr. Albert D. Bates, Profit Planning Group


Each year, Dr. Albert D. Bates, the president of the Profit Planning Group, prepares a Profit Improvement Report for CTDA.

What follows is part two of this report, which Bates has entitled “Harpooning the Whale.” In this section, Bates examines Changing the Profit Relationship – a discussion of how profitability can be enhanced by working with customers. Part one, which focused on Economics of Customers – an analysis of how customers break out into widely-varying profitability groupings – appeared in the January 2016 TileLetter Business Tip section. This installment picks up with the first chart, which illustrates the profit profile of tile distributors. The two-part series is provided by CTDA.

The typical CTDA member generates $500,000 in profit. For that firm, the customers fall into four categories based upon the profit they generate for the distributor. The A customers are the most profitable and the D customers are the least profitable – the money losers.

The relationship for customers and profit tends to be a little more dramatic when put into tabular form:

bus-01The fact that the typical firm loses $225,000 on slightly more than one-third of their customers is not an inconsequential issue. Potentially, dollar profit could be increased by 45% through concerted effort.

The immediate, knee-jerk, reaction is to just fire the D customers. In point of fact, this is an approach that some analysts support. It is an approach that should be avoided. Instead, it is essential to break the customer base into three target groups and work with them systematically.

Group One – A Customers: In the rush to focus on the money losers, there is a tendency to overlook the most profitable customers in the mix. It is actually more important to support the A accounts than it is to worry about the D ones.

No customer set buys all of their needs from one supplier. Anything that can be done to encourage A customers to purchase more has a direct and immediate impact on profitability. It is also a positive set of actions that everybody supports.

Group Two – The Down and Dirty Two Percent: Anecdotal evidence suggests that somewhere around 2% of all customers are not just unprofitable for the distributor, they are highly unprofitable. Even worse, they probably enjoy being unprofitable. These customers really should be fired.

Care must be exercised in the firing. Today’s fired customer may become tomorrow’s acquirer of one of the best A customers. The simplest approach is to simply let them fire themselves. This involves systematically moving them to a different, higher, category on the pricing schedule.

Group Three – The Mass of D Accounts: After the members of Group Two have been eliminated, there remains a massive number of accounts that still produce a gross margin that does not cover the cost to serve them. It is a lot of customers and requires a lot of work to correct the situation.

There may be some opportunity on the pricing side with these accounts. However, most of the effort must be devoted to the issue of the cost to serve. This inevitably gets back to the reality of too many small orders, too many emergency orders and too many returns.
The key is to get customers to plan ahead and ultimately place fewer orders. Alas, customers place the number of orders they want to place. Time and effort must be spent to educate customers about the cost savings on their side of the profitability equation if they were to order less frequently. It requires both an analytical effort and a sales effort. The profit impact, though, justifies the effort.

Moving Forward

A lot of firms are aware that some customers are unprofitable to them. What is needed is a more precise analysis of the nature of the challenge. Once the analysis is conducted that analysis must lead to action.

Dr. Albert D. Bates is founder and president of Profit Planning Group. His recent book, Breaking Down the Profit Barriers in Distribution is the basis for this report. It is a book every manager and key operating employee should read. It is available in trade-paper format from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

© 2015 Profit Planning Group. CTDA has unlimited duplication rights for this manuscript. Further, members may duplicate this report for their internal use in any way desired. Duplication by any other organization in any manner is strictly prohibited.

Ask the Experts – July 2016


I am trying to find out if tile can be installed over tile. I have a ranch house in Florida built in the late ’70s with an original slab floor and terrazzo. Ten or so years ago the then-owner installed 12” x 12” tiles over the terrazzo. We want a new tile floor but do not want to remove the current tile. I know it’s “all about that base,” and our current tile floors are solid as a ROCK, level, not a single hollow or loose spot anywhere. As a matter of fact, it is almost impossible to get this tile off! No contractor will lay tile over tile, but I have read many, many articles online – from contractors – that say it can be done. What do you say? Thank you!!!


Thank you for contacting the National Tile Contractors Association.

Cementitious terrazzo is really just a type of mortar bed that has been ground very smooth. The only problem with going over it is the terrazzo is usually highly finished or waxed, with multiple layers. This finish must be completely removed and the terrazzo re-ground to open up its pores before tile installation. When properly prepared with the right materials, it becomes an excellent substrate for a new tile surface.

A qualified tile contractor is the best person to determine whether your existing tile installation is well bonded to the terrazzo.


Twin City Tile Co. Ltd., of Kitchener, Ontario, was responsible for restoring the Registry Office of the Waterloo Region, which was constructed in 1938 and designated as a Heritage Landmark by the Historical Society. This included the original terrazzo floors, many of which consisted of nine cement colors and eight different colors of terrazzo chips of various sizes, with intricate geometric patterns and three different thicknesses of zinc and solid brass strips. Although you wouldn’t want to tile over a terrazzo floor of this quality and beauty, terrazzo CAN be an excellent substrate for tile, given the proper preparation by a qualified tile contractor.

Tile-over-tile is a method in the Tile Council of North America’s TCNA Handbook for Ceramic, Glass and Stone Tile Installation, providing the bottom layer of tile is well bonded and properly prepared to accept the bonding materials for the new layer of tile. This can be done by scarifying or grinding the surface of the existing tile and/or by applying an appropriate primer that will allow the new setting material to achieve a proper bond. Grinding the surface of existing tile can create a lot of dust and may release potentially hazardous particles into the air from the materials used in the glaze. It is best to have this work performed by a certified, experienced professional installer. Such an installer will also be familiar with the primers and setting materials that will work best for this type of installation.

A well-experienced, qualified, certified tile installer/contractor will know and understand the methods detailed in the TCNA Handbook and will be able to examine your existing installation and determine the best approach for the new tile. Look for a contractor who is a CTEF Certified Tile Installer and a member of the National Tile Contractors Association. I have included links below to help you find one near you. A contractor who is a member of the NTCA has a direct connection to us for any technical advice and support if needed.

If this is an above-ground construction or on a wood frame subfloor, consideration must be made to support the weight of the new tile installation. A qualified tile contractor can assist with this, but an additional contractor or engineering assessment may be required. Floor-height transitions to other areas must also be considered. The contractor you eventually hire should discuss this with you.

To locate an NTCA member contractor:

To locate a Certified Tile Installer:

I hope this helps!

Mark Heinlein
NTCA Technical Trainer/Presenter

Exterior porcelain rainscreen wall systems

june-tech-01By Rich Goldberg AIA, CSI, NCARB
Professional Consultants International, LLC and PROCON Consulting Architects, Inc.

In the first article on this subject, I provided an update on large-format porcelain tile panel technology, and its emerging use as a mechanically attached cladding panel in exterior rainscreen building façade construction. The overall technical concepts of rainscreen wall systems were also summarized. In this installment, I will focus on the detailed technical issues associated with this new technology, and the challenges to tile contractors who choose to grow their business with this emerging porcelain tile technology.

Training and re-tooling for tile contractors

The challenges for education, training and re-tooling are best examined by breaking down the three major components of porcelain panel rainscreen wall systems:

  • Porcelain panel
  • Structural support framework
  • Structural back-up wall and ancillary components
Fig. 1 Details of prefabricated porcelain panels.

Fig. 1 Details of prefabricated porcelain panels.

Porcelain panels – Most quality porcelain rainscreen systems utilize panels that are completely pre-fabricated and delivered ready to install (Figure 1). In our design practice, we avoid any manufacturer’s system that allows field fabrication of such precision wall systems. The cutting of each panel, many with unique and precise dimensions, and the precision required for drilling and setting mechanical anchors (Figure 2) dictates that the majority of porcelain panels be pre-fabricated under controlled factory conditions to deliver a high-quality, durable wall system.

Fig. 2 Precision attachment detail for lower portion of panel, allowing for expansion, contraction and structural movement.

Fig. 2 Precision attachment detail for lower portion of panel, allowing for expansion, contraction and structural movement.

Many tile contractors are already familiar with large-format thin tile (a.k.a. LTPT or “gauged large format porcelain tile”), and understand the specialty equipment and training necessary for proper delivery, handling and installation of such panels for interior walls and flooring. Depending on the size of porcelain panels used in exterior rainscreen walls, such equipment may also be necessary in addition to specialty hoisting sub-frames and lift equipment. Safe handling is especially critical, not only due to the expense of each panel, but in many cases due to the unique dimensions of each panel (you can’t just take another tile from the box!).

Structural support framework – as with the porcelain panels, the majority of the aluminum framework used to support the porcelain panels is typically proprietary and provided pre-fabricated by the manufacturer; we likewise avoid manufacturer’s systems that rely on stock framing components and allow contractors to construct solutions in the field that have not been engineered or vetted by performance testing in the laboratory.

Fig. 3 Tile contractor training session for aluminum framework and porcelain panel installation procedures.

Fig. 3 Tile contractor training session for aluminum framework and porcelain panel installation procedures.

The proper installation and alignment of the supporting framework is the most crucial aspect in the construction of porcelain panel rainscreen wall systems. This is a significant departure from the “brick (tile) and mortar” skills typical of the tile trades, and requires skill and training in metal framing procedures (Figure 3). Again, based on experience, I only recommend considering manufacturer’s systems that provide fully pre-engineered and pre-fabricated proprietary supporting framework.

Similar to the porcelain panels, capabilities to understand and manage both the engineered shop drawings and the architect’s detail drawings are critical, especially due to the interfaces with other building systems such as the alignment with windows and attachment to the underlying structural wall components.

Structural back-up wall and ancillary components – this is the most complex and project-specific aspect of porcelain panel rainscreen wall systems, but the least problematic sub-system for the tile contractor. Tile contractors need to focus education and training efforts on the following:

  • Types of structural back-up wall systems – metal stud/sheathing (most common), concrete masonry units, or concrete
  • Waterproofing – continuous AMV (air, moisture, vapor) membranes
  • Insulation – continuous rigid insulation (outboard of back-up wall)
  • Flashings and accessories – metal and sheet-membrane flashings, primarily at interfaces with other building systems (window sills, heads, roof copings, etc.)
Figures 4 and 5 - Installation of porcelain rainscreen panels in progress, revealing ventilated air cavity and air, moisture and vapor (AMV) barrier installed by others.  Note this project did not require any outboard continuous insulation.

Figures 4 and 5 – Installation of porcelain rainscreen panels in progress, revealing ventilated air cavity and air, moisture and vapor (AMV) barrier installed by others.  Note this project did not require any outboard continuous insulation.

june-tech-06On many projects, the manufacturer’s engineer would coordinate efforts to evaluate the architect’s details and provide engineering requirements for attachment of the supporting framework to the back-up wall. Similarly, on many projects, the installation of the AMV would be performed by a waterproofing contractor in advance of the rainscreen wall system (Figures 4 and 5), and the project may or may not require external continuous rigid insulation (Figure 5). However, the manufacturer of the wall system is not responsible for providing those materials. In some cases, though, general contractors prefer the sub-contractor responsible for the installation of the porcelain panel rainscreen wall system to also coordinate and install the AMV, insulation, and all flashings (Figure 6) for single source responsibility.

Fig. 6 Coordination of installation with base of wall flashing and interface with cast stone base specified to avoid snow removal damage at base of columns.

Fig. 6 Coordination of installation with base of wall flashing and interface with cast stone base specified to avoid snow removal damage at base of columns.

Shop fabrication and erection drawings – In our design practice, we find that the biggest challenge for tile contractors, aside from specialized equipment and training required for handling and installation of these systems, is developing the resources and capabilities to understand and manage the crucial role of shop fabrication and erection drawings. Most quality porcelain rainscreen system manufacturers provide for and supply engineered shop drawings in the cost of their system, so tile contractors only need to concentrate training / human resources required to effectively manage the process. This not only includes technical capabilities for interaction with the manufacturer, their engineers, and the building architects, but also the logistics required for panel delivery, marking and sequencing logistics. The allocation of human resource time alone is probably the most underestimated task required for successful porcelain panel rainscreen wall systems.

Needless to say, the above considerations are not only important to construction, but also to bidding these types of projects. In the last installment of this series, I will review a case study of both completed and in-progress projects to provide more insight into actual construction.

Richard P. Goldberg, AIA, CSI, NCARB is an architect and president of Professional Consultants International, LLC – Connecticut, and PROCON Consulting Architects, Inc. – Florida, both building design and construction consulting companies. Goldberg specializes in exterior building envelope systems, with sub-specialties in concrete, porcelain tile, natural & engineered stone, brick & concrete masonry, terrazzo, glass and waterproofing material applications.

Goldberg holds National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) certification, and is a registered architect in the U.S. in multiple states, including Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and Florida. He is a professional member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI). Goldberg participates in numerous tile industry standards committees, is a National Tile Contractor’s Association (NTCA) Recognized Industry Consultant, and received the prestigious NTCA Ring of Honor Award in 2014.

John Trent: Certification – fighting the good fight against sub-par installations

By Terryn Rutford, Social Structure Marketing

“Every man owes a part of his time and money to the business or industry in which he is engaged. No man has a moral right to withhold his support from an organization that is striving to improve conditions within his sphere.”
– Theodore Roosevelt

june-qual-01When John Trent became a territory manager for Schluter Systems in 2012, the importance of certification in the industry was solidified for him. “As a territory manager, a lot of my time is spent training installers. In these workshops, we train on average 40 attendees, on both Schluter products and industry standards,” Trent said. “While I have encountered many ‘cream of the crop’ installers within the industry, I also see men and women who are just entering the trade and have little to no exposure outside what they have picked up through trial and error, watching others, DIY shows, or spending an hour at a big box store. Almost always, these paths have promoted installation methods that do not reflect what is accepted by the industry.”

Trent has been touting the benefits of certification through the Certified Tile Education Foundation (CTEF) for years, starting when he was the owner/operator of John Trent Tile & Stone. Certification was so important to him as an owner that after becoming a Certified Tile Installer (CTI) in 2009, he helped his competition get certified. Trent helped his competitors, because “it helped us all justify keeping our price on par with each other,” he said. “No one likes to lose business, but it makes it easier to lose it to someone who you are comfortable with, knowing the customer chose someone with the proven credentials to provide a lasting tile job.”

Trent first became interested in certification because of his own rocky start in the tile industry. Trent admitted, “I first got into the industry on my own, through trial and error. I was exactly the type of guy we see entering the trade today – with no experience, no apprenticeship, nothing but the eagerness to create.” After learning about the National Tile Contractor’s Association (NTCA) and the many opportunities it offers, Trent said, “I became a sponge, soaking up everything I could… John Cox and James Woelfel became friends, as well as mentors… Knowing that the two men I’d come to admire as mentors and friends supported certification, it became a must-have achievement for me.”

Now as a 15-year industry veteran, Trent could talk for an hour about the benefits of certification. When asked why he would encourage others to become certified, Trent waxed philosophical. “I believe we all owe it to ourselves and our industry to improve conditions within our control when we are able to do so,” he said. “Certification is one of the paths we can travel to fulfill this obligation.”

Trent pointed out that the tile industry is harmed by sub-par tile installations. “If an end user receives a job that may be beautiful the day it is installed, but only becomes a maintenance headache or fails prematurely, they are less likely to use tile again,” he said. “This, in part, is the reason for an increased number of alternatives to tile, which are perceived to be less of a maintenance headache or have less of a chance of failure.”

As both an individual business owner and a territory manager for Schluter, Trent has been a strong proponent of certification. “I discuss certification at the beginning of every class I host, as well as with everyone I come in contact with, whether they are in the industry – installers, designers, sales, code enforcement, architects – or simply project owners,” Trent said. Certification is an important step to showing customers your value as a tile installer. Being a CTI sets you apart from your competition and shows a willingness to go above and beyond. “At the time of my certification, I was CTI #277; meaning, there were only 277 of us nationwide. This made it difficult for it to mean something to the broader audience,” Trent said. “That has changed and we are now seeing projects that either recommend or require certified [tile] installers…Ultimately, through certification, the industry is providing end users a better product and increasing consumption of tile.” And this can only mean good things for the tile industry.

Business Tip – June 2016

mapei_sponsorThe Affordable Care Act: is this the calm before the storm?

By Pat O’Connor, Kent & O’Connor, Washington, D.C.

There is a lull of sorts in Obamacare angst these days. No momentous Supreme Court decisions in the offing. No serious repeal efforts in Congress. It even seems to have faded on the campaign trail.

And, so far, businesses have weathered the initial stages of The Affordable Care Act (ACA) fairly well. Six years after passage, the predicted exodus from employer-provided coverage has not materialized. In fact, according to the RAND Corporation, of the 16.9 million newly-insured people between September 2013 and February 2015, the largest source of new coverage was employer-sponsored plans! (1) And, among companies with 50 to 499 employees, some surveys show 99% offer health insurance to employees. (2) Even the smallest employers (those with fewer than 50 employees) reported an increase in the number of companies offering health insurance (from 51% in 2013 to 61% in 2015). (3)

Does this mean the fear and loathing of the ACA/Obamacare were overblown?

No, probably not. These numbers may simply reflect the fact that health insurance continues to be a valued benefit to attract and retain talented employees. Companies still want to maintain coverage despite the costs and complexities added by the ACA.

These numbers also do not look at the extent to which the ACA has skewed business decision-making. Some companies have refrained from hiring additional people to stay below the 50-employee threshold or cut worker hours to lower the number of full-time employees. Keeping the headcount low through outsourcing is a prevalent and often necessary small business strategy that can be expected to continue. The impact on individual companies or the economy as a whole is difficult to measure, but unquestionably this has added to the anxiety over Obamacare among small businesses.

Yet, on the whole, has the business community simply adapted? Are we now on a smooth path after a bumpy start?

Not likely. For one thing, the government has not actually assessed employer penalties, but they will begin doing so very soon. Even though the vast majority of subject companies do provide health coverage, we have yet to see how the penalty process will play out for companies with insufficient or unaffordable coverage. For implementation of the penalties, we are relying on the IRS to reconcile the millions of reporting forms that were only recently submitted by employers, insurers and exchanges. No doubt, more rough patches can be expected when penalty notices hit the streets.

Nor are the ACA marketplaces anywhere close to being stable. Conversations about sizeable increases in 2017 insurance premiums are already starting. Many small businesses rely on the individual exchanges as a means for ensuring their employees have access to affordable coverage. Other small businesses would like to see the SHOP (Small Business Health Options Program) exchanges live up to their intended promise as a source for affordable employee coverage for small companies. This is unlikely, however, without greater stability in the individual ACA exchanges.

Last year, we saw half of the non-profit health co-ops on the individual health exchanges fail. This spring, the nation’s largest health insurer, United Healthcare, announced they will leave all but a handful of the nation’s exchanges in 2017 due to expected losses of more than $650 million on its 2016 ACA plans.

The United Healthcare announcement is revealing. Unlike the failed nonprofit co-ops last year, many of whom charged unrealistically low premiums and failed to apply prudent business practices, United Healthcare approached the exchanges with great caution. The for-profit insurer mostly sat out the first year to gain a better understanding of the risk profile of exchange enrollees so they could more accurately price their policies. With shareholders to answer to, United took careful measure to avoid any losses.

What they discovered, however, was lower-than-hoped-for-enrollees and sicker-than-expected customers. Plus, loopholes in the exchanges allowed people to enter and leave the system only when they needed healthcare. United attributed their massive losses to the smaller overall market size and the “shorter-term, higher-risk profile” of enrollees. In a conference call last November, United’s CEO told shareholders: “We cannot sustain these losses. We can’t really subsidize a marketplace that doesn’t appear at the moment to be sustaining itself.”

Some see the United Healthcare departure as the canary in the coal mine, a harbinger of more troubles ahead for Obamacare. Others downplay the significance. At the very least, we know competition will be severely limited in about 10 states, mostly in the South and the Midwest. Most notably, unless a new entrant appears, Oklahoma and Kansas will have only one insurer selling plans on their exchanges.

Other factors will impact premium costs on the ACA exchanges in 2017. The ACA established temporary risk-sharing and risk corridors to assist insurers offering ACA-compliant plans so the insurance companies could charge lower premiums and attract more enrollees. These subsidies to the insurance companies will end January 1, 2017, placing even more upward pressure on premiums.

All of this has some pundits warning that 2017 may be the year of reckoning for the Obamacare exchanges – the year when high premiums push the healthiest participants out, leaving insurers with the costliest enrollees, causing still higher premiums in the following year, the so-called “death spiral.” While that may be an overly dire prediction, Larry Levitt of the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation says there will likely be “a significant market correction over the next year.”

Fortunately, employer-provided insurance markets experience much greater stability than the ACA marketplace. Nevertheless, upheaval in the ACA markets can spill over to the broader marketplace, causing uncertainty and higher costs.

We will know soon enough whether 2017 is indeed the cliff that sends Obamacare tumbling or just another painful step in the evolving drama of health care reform.

(1) Trends in Health Insurance Enrollment, 2013-2015, published in Health Affairs, v. 34, no. 6, June 2015, p. 1044-1048.
(2) Transamerica Center for Health Studies, Survey: Companies Navigate the Health Coverage Mandate, December 2015, www.transamerica
(3) Ibid.

Pat O’Connor is a principal in Kent & O’Connor, Incorporated, a Washington, D.C.-based government affairs firm. A veteran of Capitol Hill with particular expertise in health, transportation and the environment, O’Connor works with trade associations and companies to find workable solutions to the most pressing regulatory and legislative issues. For more information, visit or call 202-223-6222.

Ask The Experts – June 2016

I have a bathroom that was just retiled: floor, tub and shower walls, using ceramic tile, and a polymer-modified, cement-based, sanded grout with a stain-resistant additive. There are a few areas where the grout has set up like powder and can be rubbed out. I’m looking for some reasons that could cause the grout to set up like powder and fall out.

Selection, mixing, installation, curing, cleaning and environmental conditions at the time of grouting all play a critical role in the success of the installation. There are many potential reasons for this to have occurred.

Most are related to improper preparation, mixing, proportioning of powder and liquid, slaking, re-tempering or curing of the grout. Environmental conditions at the time of grouting and curing such as exposure to hot air flow, direct sunlight, a very dry atmosphere or freezing could also cause this condition to occur.

Over-washing of the grout immediately after packing the joints or cleaning cured grout with acidic cleaners may contribute to this problem.

In some instances, a very highly-absorptive tile or foreign material in the joints may cause rapid dehydration of the grout that may lead to this happening.

Without knowing the particulars at the time of your grout installation it is not possible to narrow it down further to a specific cause or group of causes.

– Mark Heinlein,
NTCA Technical Trainer

That is very helpful. What would the needed fix be regarding the powdery grout? Does it have to be removed and re-grouted?

It may be possible to slowly rehydrate the grout by misting with water and covering with kraft paper for several days and re-misting as needed. However, since an additive other than water was used to mix the grout, I would contact the grout manufacturer and ask their opinion regarding rehydration. Otherwise, it will likely be necessary to remove the grout. When removing the grout, take care to not chip the edges of the tiles or damage the waterproofing system under the tiles. – M.H.

This is actually a tool question. I am looking to purchase a snap cutter and wet saw capable of handling larger format tile (up to 48”). Any suggestions?

It certainly is important to have the right tools for the task at hand and to invest in quality tools that will perform well for a long time.

There are many manufacturers that produce the type of equipment you are looking for. While I can’t provide a recommendation for a particular make or model, I can give you a listing of some of the tool and equipment manufacturers that currently sponsor Partnering for Success and are Workshop/Educational Program Trailer sponsors. Some of them make the type of equipment you are looking for.

I recommend you take a look at what these manufacturers have to offer and talk to other craft persons that may have experience with similar tools.

Here is a list, but it may not be all inclusive:

  • Alpha Professional Tools
  • Corona Bellota
  • Dewalt
  • European Tile Masters
  • Husqvarna
  • Mark E Industries
  • Marshalltown
  • Miracle
  • MLT
  • Progress Profiles
  • QEP
  • Rubi Tools
  • Russo Trading Company
  • SGM
  • Tuscan Leveling

It doesn’t appear that you are a member of the NTCA. As a professional tile contractor you will find membership to be extremely rewarding and can get in on the effort to achieve Qualified Labor status and grow your professional potential. There is more information at or you can contact me for information how to join this amazing group.

Thanks for the contact and good luck with your research!

– Mark Heinlein,
NTCA Technical Trainer

1 2 3 22