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 centerforhealthstudies.org.
(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 www.kentoconnor.com 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 www.tile-assn.com 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

Tall and slim tile is de rigueur at Coverings in Chicago

By Lesley Goddin

Chicago, Ill. – Exhibitor booths at last month’s Coverings 2016 global tile experience were packed with the possibilities of large, thin, “gauged” porcelain tile (read the sidebar at page bottom for the new “gauged tile” definition!) – even as the industry works towards finalizing and adopting standards for product and installation of these tiles and slabs. What follows is a sampling of product on display at the show, often in marble, travertine or Crema Marfil aesthetics.

Crossville's Bianco Statuario from Laminam's I Naturali line.

Crossville’s Bianco Statuario from Laminam’s I Naturali line.

Crossville – 1 M x 1 M and 1 M x 3 M Laminam panels in 3+ mm and 5.6 mm thicknesses come in a range of finishes, like the Oxide collection of authentic metallic aesthetics, the new Satori finish that offers textured, plaster-like wabi-sabi looks, and the I Naturali collection of stone finishes including Bianco Statuario (stone on counter and desk front), and Calacatta d’Oro, a very popular marble trend at the show. www.crossvilleinc.com

Florim Magnum

Florim Magnum

Florim – Magnum is the name of Florim’s mammoth thin porcelain tile slab program, with 5’ x 10’ formats that are only 6 mm thin. This book-matched marble shower is only one of the finishes available. www.florimusa.com

Inalco Ker

Inalco Ker

Inalco – Tile of Spain producer Inalco showed Ker in a Calacatta Statuario, installed as a heat-resistant, stain-resistant counter, flowing into a sink. Made in 1/2” counter thickness, Ker is also offered in 6 mm for walls and 12 mm for floors in 40” x 8’ lengths, designed to be easier to fit into small spaces. www.inalco.es/en

Iris US

Iris US

Iris – Iris Ceramica in Italy is the mother company of Iris USA, StonePeak and Graniti Fiandre, with manufacturing facilities in Tennessee. Iris has a tradition of large, thin porcelain, available now in Maxfine 5’ x 10’ 6 mm porcelain slab sizes, Plane large thin slabs at StonePeak and Maximum Tiles by Fiandre. www.irisus.com



Levantina – Techlam is a thin tile that doesn’t require epoxy mortar for installation. Thicknesses start at 3 mm up to 5 mm (included 3+3 and 5+5 for specific applications) for walls and floors. It comes a range of aesthetics, including stone, wood, steel, and other effects. Also new at Coverings was Levantina’s unique 36” x 24” x 1/2” and 36” x 18” x 1/2” formats of Crema Marfil Coto® tiles and its black Canfranc marble – a Levantina exclusive – now also available as a tile, in polished and vintage finishes. These new formats also include a microbevel in the stone, designed to reduce chipping; and the 36” x 18” format is especially easy and lightweight to handle. www.levantina.com

Cotot D'Este Kerlite

Cotto D’Este Kerlite

Florida Tile – This company celebrated its 10th anniversary of Panariagroup ownership during Coverings. One of the announcements was that the Cotto D’Este brand – also owned by Panariagroup – is now being added to the Florida Tile operations. That means in addition to Florida’s Thinner lightweight thin porcelain panels, the company will also distribute Kerlite with a dedicated customer service center. Luca Setti will oversee Cotto D’Este USA, Sean Cilona is the director of marketing and product development and Doug Hayes is sales director. Florida Tile is preparing an updated web presence to reflect the line addition, all new U.S. merchandising and CEUs specially for the Cotto D’Este brand. Kerlite is offered in a range of thicknesses: Kerlite’s original 3 mm thickness; Kerlite Plus with 3 mm and a fiberglass mesh backing; Kerlite twin, that sandwiches a fiberglass mesh layer between two 3 mm slabs for heavy floor traffic applications; and Kerlite 5 Plus, which is a 5 mm slab with a fiberglass mesh backing. www.floridatile.com

Progress on product and installation standards; new terminology for “thin tile” develops

At the Tile Council of North America (TCNA) press conference, executive director Eric Astrachan discussed the ongoing development of ANSI A137.3: draft product standard for “gauged porcelain tiles and gauged porcelain tiles/slabs” and ANSI A108.19 draft installation standard for “gauged porcelain tiles and gauged porcelain tiles/slabs.” Inherent in these standards development is an evolution of language from “thin” to “gauged” porcelain tiles (up to 1 square meter or approx 10 sq. ft.) and “gauged” porcelain slabs (larger than 1 square meter). The term “gauged” emphasizes the precision required to manufacture tiles to a particular thickness. The first draft of ANSI A108.19 was released to the committee on April 17, for collaborative development that combines best practices recommended by manufacturers with experience gained by the installation community including tile and installation materials manufacturers; contractors/installers, and associations.

Next steps include continued efforts toward consensus, with the balloting of both standards (product and installation) by year-end likely. TCNA is leading the effort to review all related ASTM tile testing methods and how they apply to gauged tiles and tile panels/slabs.

Bill Baptista: “Don’t be left behind; get certified”

By Terryn Rutford, Social Structure Marketing

may-baptista-01One day, shortly after achieving Certified Tile Installer (CTI) status, Bill Baptista, owner of J&B Tile, in Westport, Mass., walked into a high-end tile shop in Portsmouth. He handed the owner a pamphlet explaining industry-recognized  tile installer certification – and that was it. “I’ve been doing all her work ever since then,” Baptista said. He went on to explain that she works with architects who are building multi-million dollar homes. “Because she has high-end clientele, she wanted a Certified Tile Installer. And that opened up the door for me. [The architects] want someone who knows what they’re doing and doesn’t look like they rolled out of the back of a pick-up truck. You have to kind of look the part.”

Baptista’s father was in the tile industry before he was old enough to lift a trowel. In 1988, Baptista opened J&B Tile and since then it has a few incarnations. He started out small and eventually grew to a 15-person shop. But, Baptista said, “Now, I’m small, but people are very happy with what gets done.” And what gets done? Baptista does tile work of all kinds, but specializes in high-end, custom showers.

Baptista credited certification with his success. “When I go in and see a customer,” he said, “I have a little binder that I bring in and show them all of these certifications that I’ve been to. And then I always ask them at the end, because they’re usually getting more than one price, has anybody else shown you anything like this? And they say no. And I definitely get 90% of anything I go and look at. And I think it has a lot to do with [certification].”

Baptista has been in the tile industry for almost 30 years. About the CTI test, Baptista said, “Being in the business that long, I knew most of my stuff, but it’s kind of nice getting it reinforced. I definitely learned some things. Of course, I do things a certain way. When you go to the class you see things done another way. Not that I was doing anything wrong, but I could’ve been doing things a little bit different; more efficient, like I do now.”

Certification has proved especially lucrative for Baptista, who is one of only two CTEF Certified Tile Installers in his area, “and I make sure the customers know that,” he said. “The Ceramic Tile Education Foundation has a download at www.tilecareer.com, under the Consumer Help tab. It’s actually for customers: ‘Contractor Questionnaire.’ I print that out and I give it to my potential customers. And I explain to them, ‘Tile is expensive. It’s expensive to install. Here’s a pamphlet with what you should be looking for in an installer.’ People thank me for it and I usually always get the call.”

Baptista emphasized that the certification is no joke. “There are a lot of hacks in this business,” he said. “And it’s not like, you know, an electrician or a plumber, they have to be licensed. You don’t necessarily have to be licensed in the tile business.”

Baptista praised CTEF training director, Scott Carothers. “He doesn’t just take your money and give you a certification,” Baptista said. “That guy makes sure you know what you’re doing before he gives you that certification. In fact, when I was there, there were two other guys that had been there before and didn’t pass the certification. They were there doing kind of a make-up before he gave them a certification. It’s not just a money grab; [Carothers] is dead serious.”

Certification is important to the industry as a whole. “I’ll tell you,” Baptista said, “At least once a week, a potential customer calls me to come and look at a job that had been done by somebody else. And I mean horror shows. I don’t think they know what a chalk line is, a straight line. They’re not using the right notch trowels. They’re not using the right mortar. They really have no idea what they’re doing. They’re kind of giving the tile industry a bad name.” To all tile installers, Baptista said, “If you’re serious about this business and want to stay in it for the long haul, then you have to go distance yourself from all those ‘ham and eggers’ out there that have no certifications. You have to do something different. And that’s what I do. I go to [manufacturer] classes and when the National Tile Contractors Association comes around and puts on their demonstrations, [I go]. Anything new on the market, I read up on it, look into it. You have to stay on top of things in this industry or you’re going to be left behind.”

Tech Talk – May 2016

New product technology for trendy bathroom remodels


Sponsored By TEC

Bathroom remodels are sound investments for your customers. The rate of return tends to be 75% or more of the initial investment, which is significantly higher than many other home renovations. The 2016 Kitchen & Bath Design Trends Report predicts that “transitional” style will dominate this year’s bathrooms. Transitional style blends the traditional with the contemporary – balancing comfort with sophisticated, clean lines. You can provide your customers with transitional style by incorporating the following three types of products.

Preformed components

One way the 2016 Kitchen & Bath Trends Report suggests that transitional style can be achieved is with open storage and built-in shelving.

may-tech-01Preformed components – like niches – can provide unique open storage options for residential bathrooms. Preformed components are consistent and easy to install – great for fast multi-unit residential and hospitality installations. Look for products like TEC® Preformed Components that integrate seamlessly with existing surface prep solutions, mortar, tile and grout. For protection against mold and mildew, choose a product that comes coated with an IAPMO-approved, waterproof membrane that meets ANSI A118.10.

Preformed components are a great way for tile installers to add a design element that fits with today’s building trends.

In-floor heat innovations

In-floor heating systems also align with the transitional aesthetic. They serve as an “updated classic” for stone and tile floors. Moreover, they are a great selling point when listing a home. They may reduce heating costs, so they are a true investment – not simply a design trend.

Beyond adding value to the home, features like in-floor heat bring a feeling of luxury and warmth (literally) to bathrooms, to make getting up in the morning and getting home in the evening more relaxing. Although they are considered luxury items, improvements in efficiency have made them a more viable option for both building owners and contractors.
The right products can also cut down on the special ordering and lag time associated with radiant heat installations. For example, TEC™ In-Floor Heat is customizable on-site to fit any space – eliminating the lag time of special orders.

may-tech-02Advances in technology have made installations more efficient as well. In the past, in-floor heating installations had many cumbersome steps: the system had to be installed, anchored and encapsulated in a self-leveling underlayment. Today, some products – including TEC In-Floor Heat – can simply be embedded in mortar. Then, tile and stone can be installed directly over them.

Despite many advances, the wiring of installation systems can still present a challenge. Look for products that offer the simplest wiring available to avoid frustrating installations. The new TEC In-Floor Heat mat does not have coils or wires that require patterning—saving installation time. For all systems, be sure to use an electrical source with the correct voltage. If you hook up to a power source with the wrong voltage, it could damage the system.

Before adding radiant heat installation to your repertoire, check your local building codes. Some areas of the country require a licensed electrician to complete the installation, while others allow a tile contractor to do so. Almost all manufacturers recommend that a licensed electrician complete all electrical work.

may-tech-04In-floor heat systems are available à la carte or in kits. Since they are luxury items, look for products with touchscreen or programmable thermostats to provide the utmost convenience for your clients. Most thermostats can be set for either ambient room temperature or floor temperature.

Grout color trends

This year’s trends also include neutral colors – like greys, whites and beiges. Look for grouts that fit this description. Although beautiful, these light colors can also be more subject to unsightly staining than darker grouts. With that in mind, you should recommend stain-proof and mold- and mildew-resistant grouts, like TEC’s DesignFX® grout, shown below. These durable characteristics offer convenience to your customers and help preserve the aesthetic of their spaces.

may-tech-05New product innovations have made installing high-end bathrooms easier. By carefully selecting the most efficient products, you can make stylish bathroom remodels more convenient for your customers and more profitable for your business.

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 www.hbfuller-cp.com.

Business Tip – May 2016

SponsoredbyMAPEINTCA forms new bond with Spanish labor group Proalso

With the goal of sharing installation challenges as well as successful methods and standards, the NTCA has opened a dialogue with Proalso, the Association of Professional Tile Installers in Spain. NTCA president and Technical Committee chairman James Woelfel met with Proalso’s secretary general, Matias Martinez Trilles, recently during Qualicer, the world congress on tile quality, and Cevisama, Spain’s international tile show.

“With new technologies in tile and setting materials production, it’s more important than ever for labor groups to work together to ensure successful installations,” explained Woelfel. “We can learn from each other because of, and in spite of, differences in the way our countries handle construction projects because different perspectives and experiences will ultimately strengthen our work and our industry.”

Proalso is working with ASCER, Spain’s association of tile manufacturers, in developing their country’s tile installation standards.

ASCER’s Industrial Affairs director, Alejandra Miralles, said while most manufacturers provide brief guidelines for the installation of specific products, there’s an understanding among members of the Spanish Standardization Committee for ceramic tile and adhesives (AEN CTN 138), that cohesive installation standards are needed.

“We have tried to involve all parties, including installers, in the development of this work, since their input is vital to harmonize best practices and guarantee the quality of the tiling,” said Miralles. “ASCER also supports and highly respects the activity been carried out by Proalso in relation to certification and qualified tile installers.”

Proalso certifies installers through a program using two comprehensive training manuals. Yet Martinez Trilles believes much learning can be done regarding the development of installation standards. “Product standards are especially important, and the professional tile installer needs to know them in depth,” he said. “Nonetheless, we consider product standards are not sufficient to improve installation processes and to prevent defects or pathologies. It is most important that we are able to work together in the development of specific standards on installation that allow unifying global criteria on tile installation systems. In this sense, we find most interesting the work being carried out in ISO/TC 189 in relation to Thin Ceramic Tiles and Panels and on tile installation recommendations.”

To help Proalso understand the work the NTCA does, Woelfel gave Martinez Trilles a copy of the NTCA Reference Manual, which the labor leader found extremely practical and useful.

The meetings were facilitated by Javier Rodriguez Ejerique, Qualicer’s technical secretary, who invited Woelfel to speak about the development of industry standards in the United States at the world congress on tile quality in Castellon, Spain.

“It is important for manufacturers and distributors to understand that there are highly skilled installers available and willing to take on the challenges involved in the installation of new products,” said Rodriguez Ejerique. “For example, the difficulties of thin panel tile installation should prompt them to seek out qualified installers to recommend to architects to ensure job success, rather than allowing the project to forego technologically advanced products out of fear of job failure.”

Looking forward, Woelfel said he hopes Martinez Trilles will be able to accept his invitation to Total Solutions Plus this October in Palm Springs. “We need to continually find ways of getting manufacturers, architects, designers, distributors and qualified installers to the table for discussion on quality installation. This is in the industry’s best interest now and in the future.”

Ask the Experts – May 2016


Is there any TCNA or industry information that indicates that rounded-top porcelain cove base is not meant for situations where tile is installed on the walls above the base (since it has a rounded top)? I’d also like to know how the cove base is to be installed in conjunction with floor tile. I stated in my RFP to “install metal trim strips when coordinating porcelain tile pieces are not available.” Given that the cove base option for a selected tile series has a rounded top and foot, this causes a potential for an unclean install. The options that the contractor has given us are:

  • Using the wall base and filling in the rounded top with an enlarged grout joint,
  • Cutting the wall tile and butting it to the floor tile with either a grout or caulk joint at the connection, or
  • Field-cutting the rounded tip of the wall base off

These are not preferred options for the government, as these lead to maintenance issues down the road for the facility.

Do you have any idea how I can respond to this or help with any industry or TCNA info? Thanks so much!


There is no such language in the TCNA Handbook or in any of the ANSI manuals.

I believe that the #3 solution is the proper method, and how my contracting company usually accomplished this detail if round top cove was the only cove available (if cove was required). Be sure to stone the cut, and although it will have a slightly different appearance than a factory edge, it will not be a maintenance issue. Since the tile cove is round footed, it is designed to be top-set.

There is another option that is very effective, if somewhat more expensive. Profile and edge manufacturers make stainless steel coves (with corner trims available) with different sizes available to match the thickness of your tile. Very beautiful, easy to install, and cool, too!

If cove is not required by code, then just use the field tile at all inside corners with a joint filled with foam backer rod and ASTM C920 sealant (100% silicone or single part urethane). Be sure that the tile is not set tight and that the joint is completely free of mortar and grout.

– Michael Whistler,
NTCA technical trainer


We are currently working on a project that includes 30,000 sq. ft. of penny round tiles that were manufactured in Japan. It’s our understanding that penny rounds are classified as a specialty tile and therefore, very little criteria has been set regarding the mounting of them. We are having some issues with the specified product and need a third party to evaluate the mounting of the tile. Can you offer some assistance or point us in a direction regarding mounting issues with mosaics, in particular penny rounds?

experts-01 Attached are pictures of some of the mounting problems, including inconsistent spacing, sheets not being square and excessive mesh where the sheets meet up with one another. Another problem is that the individual tiles release from the mesh backing as soon as they get wet (from thinset).

may-experts-02Two manufacturers’ reps were here last week to review the problems. Their solution is to either send us a video or one of their Japanese installers to show us how to install the tile. As you may imagine we took exception to their suggestion. We have plenty of experience with the installation of penny round tile and have processed through many issues regarding sheeting and wall-washing concerns. What we are in search of, is some guideline or criteria that we can show ownership so they can assess their expectations more in line with industry standards. Any assistance you can share with us would be greatly appreciated.


You certainly seem to understand all of the issues and have the experience to install penny round mosaics, which are difficult at best. The tiles you have been provided appear to have an especially flimsy mesh backing, and the inconsistent spacing and water-soluble adhesive is not going to help matters.

Obviously, a proper substrate that meets minimum deflection and flatness requirements and using the correct mortar and troweling method to achieve a minimum of 80% coverage on each tile with no squeeze-through will be critical.

I’m almost thinking that to have the manufacturer send their installer to show you how it’s done (for the duration of the project) might be a way to bring the manufacturer on board with some liability for the installation.

Has all of the tile been manufactured and delivered? Have you discussed the matter with the owner and architect?

Other than what Katelyn has provided below and the general workmanship requirements found in the TCNA Handbook and ANSI standards, I am not immediately coming up with anything that I can send you. I will check with my colleagues and get back to you.

Perhaps the best approach will be to hire a recognized consultant to come in and serve as a third party to view the tiles and installation area and scope of work and provide you with a written opinion.

– Mark Heinlein,
NTCA technical trainer


From a third party testing lab’s perspective, there is no way to measure mounting variation of penny round, mounted ceramic mosaic tiles. The mounting variation test methods for mounted tile are only performed on square mosaic tiles. I’ve included an excerpt from ANSI A137.1 Specification for Ceramic Tile below:
9.5 Test Method for Mounting Variations
9.5.1 This method is only valid for mosaic tiles with the following characteristics:

  • Nominally square
  • Nominal sizes of 1 inch x 1 inch (25.4 mm x 25.4 mm) to 3 inches x 3 inches (76.2 mm x 76.2 mm)
  • With straight edges

Our lab does not provide reports based on expert opinion so you may need to hire an independent consultant if that is something you are looking for. Please let me know if you are interested in an independent consultant and I’d be happy to send you the contact information for one.

– Katelyn Simpson,
TCNA laboratory manager

Business Tip – April 2016

mapei_sponsorSocial media: the new networking

(Editor’s note: Clearly, social media is a powerful tool to put you in touch with key people and audiences in your industry. In our Coverings issue, we had a story dedicated to social media, and this CTDA contribution continues the theme. The message is clear: get online, and get sharing, posting, liking, pinning and tweeting!)

Networking is crucial to the success of any organization. An especially important benefit of associations is the networking opportunities members enjoy. Networking used to occur mainly through social events, meetings, and small groups. However with advances in technology and the advent of social media, there are many more opportunities for networking and a multitude of possibilities for expanding your business’s network.

To ensure your business is taking full advantage of social media, your business should have a social media strategy, measurable goals and specific tactics.

Your company’s social media strategy ought to have the same organization as any other corporate strategy your company follows. Make your strategy #Specific. Set a clear image of what success looks like. Set #Measurable objectives to evaluate your progress such as “Increase our followers on Facebook by 50 this year.” Ensure your strategy is #Attainable and realistic to achieve within the time specified. Of course anything you do must be #Relevant meaning it should align with your company’s mission. Finally, your strategies must be #Timely – that is, you should assign a timeline for each .

One of the first tasks you will want to undertake is to understand the variety of social media platforms available to you and, of course, those that your desired audience is using.  Some of the current platforms to consider include: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Houzz, YouTube, Yelp, and Google+.

Important social media measurements could include: follower (or participation) numbers and growth over time; increasing total impressions (views of your company’s profile by day); increasing engagements (messages, comments or check-ins from your audience); and increasing link clicks from your company’s posts. A great way to track your company’s success is through a content manager such as Sprout Social, Shareist, or Hootsuite. Also, Facebook offers its own free insights section on your company’s page.

When starting off small, you may want to consider setting a portion of time every day to spend managing your company’s social media. Start with responding to your engagements (good or bad) within 24 hours. Then focus on promoting something new every day, whether it be #MarbleMonday #TileTuesday, #WebinarWednesday, etc.

On those days when you are short on content and to refrain from being repetitive, have some days focus on others. Retweet on Twitter, comment, like or share on Facebook or repin on Pinterest.

The value of #hashtags

ALWAYS #hashtag. #hashtag – ing is an effective way to ensure your company’s post is viewed by the most people. The more views, the more followers and the more followers, the more FREE marketing your company receives. Strategically select a trending or common #hashtag to accompany your post. Also, pick one #hashtag that your company will use in all of its posts on all social media platforms; the more posts with that #hashtag, the better off your company is. Within the social media platform #hashtags are searchable, so if you use a hashtag like #CTDAmember with your Facebook post, anytime anyone searches for #CTDAmember, your posts will come up.

You’re not taking full advantage of #networking, if @yourcompany isn’t active on #socialmedia. Social media has evolved into so much more than reconnecting with your long-lost high school friends. It has become a way professionals connect with each other. Your business must not miss out on this unique #marketingtool which is mostly FREE.

To learn more about social media, join CTDA for our #CTDAWebinar on Social Media on May 19th with Shannon Vogel, director of social media, Creating your Space. Learn how to leverage your business and expand your networking opportunities. If you’re online, follow this link to learn more about CTDA Webinars; otherwise, enter https://www.ctdahome.org/content/education/webinars-list.asp into your browser. Webinars are free for members or a small fee per non-member company.

To learn more about membership, please contact [email protected] or to join CTDA, please visit our website at www.ctdahome.org. And don’t forget to like us on Facebook and Twitter @Ceramic Tile Distributors Association (CTDA).

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