May 22, 2015

Qualified Labor – May 2015

1_CTI_20x20Ricky Cox
Memphis Tile and Marble Co., Inc.
Memphis, Tenn.

By Terryn Rutford, Social Structure Marketing


Memphis Tile and Marble Co. Inc., specializes in high-end, high-quality residential and light commercial work, offering expert craftsmanship in a range of tile installation, including Mexican, porcelain and brick pavers, as well as bathroom vanities, cultured marble tops and natural stone products. It provides skilled installation of whirlpool tubs and radiant floor systems for the Memphis and Midsouth areas, as well as full-scale kitchen and bathroom remodels. Founded in 1968 by Thomas Cox, the company now employs 12 full-time employees and in addition to installing tile, fabricates counter tops.

ricky_coxFive years ago, Thomas’s son Ricky Cox took the CTI certification at BPI in Memphis in order to separate himself from the competition. “The written test was not difficult for me,” Cox said. “The hands-on test was a different story. I took the test with four of my employees and needless to say, I was the last one done. The most challenging part of the hands-on work was the layout.”

Having been involved with NTCA before the certification, Cox was well schooled in the proper methods to install tile. He pointed out, “This certification is not for the do-it-yourself homeowner or the novice installer. It is a challenge.” But Cox encourages installers to take the certification. “It will definitely set you apart from your competition.”

Obtaining CTI certification is also one step towards becoming a NTCA Five Star Contractor, a mark of installation excellence that Memphis Tile and Marble Co. boasts.

Memphis Tile and Marble Co. posts the CTI logo in its office, on letterhead, and on their website. Having the CTI certification, “reassures our customers that we know what we are doing.” Going through the written and hands-on tests can raise awareness not only of installation skills, but also of all-around job operations, as it did for Memphis Tile and Marble Co. After numerous employees took the CTI certification, Cox said, “We started taking safety more seriously.”

CTI and ACT certification is good for the tile industry. Cox said, “I also took the test with some of my competitors. I would rather bid a job against those guys than someone that is not certified because I know that [the certified competitors] are not cutting corners.”

Business Tip – May 2015


The Affordable Care Act at the five-year mark

By Patrick C. O’Connor, Kent & O’Connor, Washington, DC

The Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare, as it is referred to by both friend and foe alike) just celebrated its fifth anniversary. It survived an embattled beginning, an embarrassingly inept launch and so many House votes to repeal that we have lost count. Still, it survives. Nearly 10 million people have signed up for insurance on a state or federal exchange. And some analysts even say the ACA has created the possibility of real competition in the individual insurance market for the first time.

Yet, while Obamacare seems to have found its footing, the health law remains in peril. The latest threat is a second Supreme Court decision – with the ruling due in June. King v. Burwell presents a deceptively simple case of statutory construction, centering on language in the ACA that allows subsidies for those enrolled in an exchange established by the State. Challengers say that, under the clear words of the statute, the subsidies only apply in states that have established their own exchange. Therefore, the plaintiffs contend, the law does not authorize subsidies for individuals who live in states that did not set up an exchange (and who, as a result, participate in a federally facilitated exchange). Since there are 36 states without their own exchange, the outcome of this case has potentially huge consequences.

A ruling against the government would not repeal Obamacare, but the law would quickly unravel. The ACA has sometimes been compared to a three-legged stool:

1) Individual mandates/penalties to encourage broad participation, particularly among younger, healthier people, in the marketplace;

2) Subsidies on a sliding scale for low- and lower-middle income individuals who purchase policies on the exchange so health insurance is affordable, with penalties on companies who don’t offer affordable coverage and who have one or more employees receiving a subsidy;

3) Insurance companies must provide health coverage to everyone, regardless of pre-existing conditions or poor health, and cannot charge higher premiums based on health status.

All three legs are necessary or the stool begins to tip over. If the government loses in King v. Burwell, one leg of the Obamacare stool is removed and the others are weakened.

Be careful what you wish for

Many employers in the 36 states without an exchange are rooting for the challengers. Who could blame them? It is, after all, the subsidies that trigger employer penalties – if no employee can receive a subsidy in the 36 states, there can be no penalty on the employer for not providing coverage.

Beyond this clear advantage, however, there are other consequences to consider:

The insurance markets in those 36 states will be in turmoil. The health insurance companies will still be required to offer coverage to everyone, no matter the state of their health, and will continue to be limited in how much more they can charge an unhealthy person. Yet, with the healthiest participants likely to drop their coverage when it is unaffordable (absent the subsidy), a classic “death spiral” is likely to occur: with the deteriorating health status of their customer base, premiums increase across the board, more healthy people leave, premiums increase and so on until the market is unsustainable.

It is estimated that 8 million people will lose health insurance because they can no longer afford the policy without a subsidy. Others are likely to see steep increases in the cost of their health insurance as the pool of exchange participants in these 36 states shrinks, when the healthiest drop their coverage.

The health insurance systems in these states – the hospitals and doctors – will experience similar disruptions as the number of insured patients abruptly declines.

Politically, even Republicans in Congress who detest the law may be chagrined at the prospect of an estimated 8 million people becoming uninsured virtually overnight (in mostly Red states) while chaos roils the health insurance and provider markets – not the kind of headlines you want in an election year.

(Editor note: It’s also been widely reported that Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell announced that in 2014 hospitals saved $7.4 billion in uncompensated care costs due to patient enrollment through ACA health insurance exchanges and Medicaid. In 2013, before ACA, hospitals provided more than $50 billion in uncompensated care.)

Of course, Congress could always take action to fix the problem or devise an alternative approach – but either would involve some degree of bipartisan cooperation and compromise, both of which are in short supply on Capitol Hill these days.

And so, we watch and wait for the Supreme Court to rule.

What’s next for employers?

Even if the Supreme Court sides with the challengers in King v. Burwell, important new reporting requirements will soon apply to all employers (with 50 or more employees), whether or not the company is located in one of the 36 states impacted by the court decision.

The reporting is meant to provide the IRS with information on who is providing coverage, what kind, to whom and at what cost. Fines and penalties apply for non-reporting. The reports must be filed whether or not the company offers health insurance coverage.

The statement of coverage for 2015 must be provided to each employee by January 31, 2016 on a Form 1095-C and sent to the IRS by February 28, 2016. The information includes:

Certification as to whether the company offered full-time employees (and dependents) the opportunity to enroll in Minimum Essential Coverage by calendar month;

The months during which coverage was available;

Each employee’s share of the lowest cost monthly premium for an individual policy (regardless of whether the employee opted for a higher cost plan or declined coverage), by calendar month;

Number of full-time employees for each month during the calendar year;

Name, address, SSN of each full-time employee during the calendar year and the months, if any, during which the employee was covered.

The take-away for employers: even if the Supreme strikes a blow to the health law in June, that’s not the end of Obamacare.

States without a state-based Health Exchange:

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 – May 2015


My husband and I are at a loss. I was hoping you might be able to recommend a local recognized tile consultant (in Houston, Texas). We moved into a brand new home approximately 15 months ago. We have had a number of stone/tile issues that we have been trying to get resolved.

The one at hand at the moment is that we have an exterior archway that leads to our front door. It stands approximately 15’-18’ tall. It is covered with stacked stone. Individual pieces have been falling off for at least the past 10 months.

We have discussed this issue with the builder and he is insistent that this is normal. We have a 5- and 8-year old at home who are constantly running through these archways to get to the yard/basketball hoop on the driveway. I am fearful that they will get hurt one of these days. “It’s completely normal” is not an excuse I am willing to accept and anyone that offers that as an excuse makes me uncomfortable with being able to remediate such an issue. I would appreciate any professional advice you may be able to offer.


Of course this is not “completely normal.” If even one piece falls off it is considered a failure.

Unfortunately, much manufactured veneer is incorrectly installed. Exterior installations generally require the most care and planning, as well as following the industry standards, since they require the highest performance due to extreme conditions.

Prompt action is advised, as you are correct about danger of possible injury. Since you are already aware of this problem, your liability is increased. Perhaps retaining an attorney to send a letter to your general contractor could help as a first step, since he is being unreasonable. It is entirely possible that in your GC’s experience this IS a normal occurrence, but this would be due to using the same mason or tile setter that repeatedly uses a faulty installation method. This project needs to be repaired, which should probably include tapping each piece firmly with a rubber mallet to ensure it is bonded.

If you receive no satisfaction through a lawyer, it would be time to contact a forensic consultant, but be warned, their fees are usually quite high. Then you go to court. It would be much preferable to get the GC to pony up and fix an obvious failure in your home.

Michael K. Whistler,
NTCA presenter/technical consultant

As a follow-up to this inquiry, the NTCA webmaster responded to the homeowner, connecting her to a local NTCA Recognized Industry Consultant who is working with her on a resolution with her builder. In addition, advice was offered to look into the possibility of a warranty on her home or a “waiting period” where grievances can be filed after the purchase of a home.

For information and technical advice, email

Stone – April 2015

mapei_sponsorTo fill or not to fill, that is the question

The pros and cons of using natural
travertine on floors and walls

By Lesley Goddin

Our stone story originates from a dilemma from a homeowner who purchased high-end, travertine stone flooring with a “very natural, pitted surface.” The vendor provided a list of suggested installers, one of which the homeowner selected. The installer set the travertine tile and grouted the pits in the travertine floor as well as the joints between tiles, filling in all the natural holes with grout.

The homeowner was livid. “I spent the extra money to buy the natural pitted stone and this installer has altered the product, making a unilateral decision to grout the entire surface, doing away with the pitting effect,” he said. “I understand that it is simpler to grout the entire surface than to only grout the seams. But, this was not my expectation at all. Can you help me understand if there is a way to remove the grouted pits without damaging the original character of the stone floor? Or, do you have any other suggestions or opinions about these unexpected actions?”

This question came through the NTCA technical department, and the answer was not what the homeowner expected.

1-STONE-0415Michael Whistler, NTCA presenter and trainer responded that he had encountered this situation many times during his years as a tile contractor. And though he agreed the tile contractor should have consulted with the homeowner before grouting the entire floor, he took the contractor’s part in the wise decision to fill the holes with grout.

He explained, “My company was asked many times to leave the faces of unfilled travertine ungrouted, and in all but one case we were able to convince the client that this was a very unwise decision.

“Most travertine comes filled (with a cementitious or epoxy filler) from the factory for a good reason,” he added. “Except in very unusual situations, tile receives traffic or use of some sort that requires cleaning. When trying to clean unfilled travertine, all those voids become contaminated and eventually filled with dirt or other unsanitary (and unsavory) stuff.

“In the case of our very insistent client, we bagged the joints masonry style and left the faces unfilled,” Whistler continued. “This project was very high-end and included over 4,000 sq. ft. of unfilled travertine flooring. Within three months of owner occupation, we received a call that there was a problem. Cleaning of the floors had begun with standard mopping practices, and then been stepped up to mopping followed by a wet-vacuum. The pits in the travertine were unable to be cleaned, and were quickly filling up with soap residue, which unfortunately attracted the dirt more quickly. Since we were at this point unable to grout over the contaminated stone (because grout won’t bond to soap or dirt), we had to move all the furnishings, protect all the other finishes (walls, baseboard, etc.) and steam clean and wet-vacuum all the floors before re-grouting.

2-stone-0415“As you can probably imagine, going back and properly cleaning and filling the faces of the tiles with grout matching that in the joints added up to quite a sum,” he said. “I think you actually got lucky that your installer was smart, and couldn’t imagine that you would want your tile any other way.”

To further investigate this situation, TileLetter requested the expert opinion of Rod Sigmon, CTC, CCTS business development manager, Technical Installation and Care Systems for Custom Building Products.

He explained that most clients are looking for easy-care floors, and a travertine floor that is left unfilled “is not a great choice for most customers, as maintaining it is very impractical,” he said, echoing Whistler’s perspective. “Dirt and other common contaminants will fill the voids once placed into use and will become unsightly and virtually impossible to clean short of a pressure washer and truck mounted system that large cleaning and maintenance companies use.”

Sigmon suggested using care to fill the pits in travertine. “In essence the grout ties in the joints with the fill and it looks more consistent,” he said. “I have literally seen pinkish/red fill used on cream-colored travertine many times for whatever reason.” Because of this, he said, “unfilled travertine sometimes is installed to avoid this type of potential issue.”

3-stone-0415There is another option to unfilled travertine, and that is having the pits filled with a clear epoxy or resin material, then sealing the stone. But Whistler reiterates, “In my experience, all filled travertine tiles I’ve seen were filled with a colored material, mostly well-matched to the stone, others quite poorly. The only times I have encountered travertine filled with a clear epoxy was in 2cm or 3cm slabs. This was only occasional though, as most of the travertine slabs we bought were filled using the same material as tiles. On one project, we actually special-ordered the slabs and tiles cut from the same blocks and specified that the same batch of filler be used on all material since the client was VERY picky.”

In the case of walls, Whistler said, “Walls do not receive the extensive traffic that floors are subject to, but walls do become soiled and require cleaning.”

One thing is clear from this discussion – talk to the client about the maintenance and installation particulars of unfilled travertine, ideally before purchase, but certainly before installation. Communicating with your client will eliminate shocking surprises and lead to exceeded expectations.

NTCA Reference Manual: exploring underlayments (April 2015)

NTCA_RMThe NTCA Reference Manual, an essential industry document, explores the subject of underlayments in Chapter 3. This publication is free as part of NTCA membership or can be obtained through the NTCA website at

The NTCA Reference Manual gives an overview of the types of underlayments one is likely to need or encounter on a tile or stone setting project, as follows:

Factory-prepared powdered underlayments usually fall into one of three categories:

1. Gypsum based
2. Cement-based latex underlayments
3. Cement-based self-leveling underlayments

1-underlayment_article1. Gypsum-based underlayments are predominantly composed of various grades of gypsum, chemicals to control set time, and may be sanded or unsanded. They may be mixed with water or a latex admixture, but are to be used only in dry areas, since gypsum-based materials are highly sensitive to moisture. These materials are normally used by the resilient flooring mechanic for patching small holes, cracks or for correction of thickness variations of adjacent flooring materials. However, larger areas may be leveled with products that require 3/4” minimum thickness over wood and 1/2” over concrete substrates. Gypsum-based underlayments are not recommended for use under ceramic tile or stone.

2. Cement-based latex underlayments are composed of cement, aggregate and are mixed with a latex additive. Most instructions recommend the application of a slurry coat to the substrate made from the powder and the latex additive. This slurry is only allowed to dry to a tacky condition before application of the normal mix. It normally requires sanding after curing to remove trowel marks and for further leveling.

3. Self-leveling underlayments are composed of cement, aggregate and chemical modifiers that increase flowability and strength. Substrates are normally primed with a latex material that serves as a bonding agent and a sealer. Most self-leveling materials may be mixed with water or with latex admixtures.

The NTCA Reference Manual also presents a table of Problem- Cause-Cure parameters for some common problems that arise when using underlayments. Following are the categories of underlayment woes and the problems that contribute to the difficulty.

unapproved_latexesLoss of Underlayment
Bond To Substrate

  • Improper preparation of substrate. Applications of material over dust, dirt, curing compounds, old adhesives, spalled or soft concrete, etc.
  • Deflection of substrate.
  • Failure to prime the substrate according to directions on the product.
  • Diluting latex additives with water.


  • Mixing product with too much water or latex.
  • Bridging expansion joints, control joints, or slab cracks.
  • Application of material exceeding thickness restrictions.
  • Over-troweling/overworking surface.
  • Exposure to excessive wind or direct sunlight during initial curing stage.

powdery_underlaymentSoft or Powdery

  • Mixing underlayments with too much water or latex.
  • Mixing with high-speed drill.
  • Diluting latex additives with water.
  • Using gypsum-based materials in areas subject to moisture.
  • Using cememt-based underlayment over gypsum underlayment.
  • Mixing with foreign products or substituting one product for another
  • Moisture penetration followed by freeze/thaw cycles

Poured gypsum underlayments

Also included in the NTCA Reference Manual exploration of underlayments is a section on poured gypsum underlayments. They have distinctive properties, characteristics, and capabilities that are presented as follows:

poured_underlaymentPoured gypsum underlayments can provide a satisfactory surface to receive ceramic tile installation systems. These floors are available in compressive strengths of 1,000 to over 8,000 PSI. It is recommended that the tile installer verify that the poured floors meet a minimum compressive strength of 2,000 PSI and a minimum density of 115 lbs. per cu. ft. when tested in accordance with ASTM

C472. Poured gypsum underlayments are suitable for interior substrates only, above grade, and in areas not subject to constant water exposure or immersion.

There are currently four approved methods the TCNA Handbook uses for poured gypsum underlayments in tile installations.

F200 – Poured Gypsum over Concrete

F180 – Poured Gypsum Underlayment over Plywood

RH111 – Poured Gypsum over Concrete with Hydronic Heat

RH122 – Poured Gypsum over Wood with Hydronic Heat

Drying of the gypsum underlayment

Poured gypsum floors are made with a job site mixture of powder and water and require time to dry before they can be primed/sealed and tiled. Verification that the gypsum underlayment is dry can be determined in accordance with ASTM D4263: Plastic Sheet Method. This test process shall be performed by the gypsum installer, prior to the application of any primers/sealers. Do not proceed with the tile installation until the poured gypsum is deemed dry and has been primed/sealed.

As a general guideline, the following drying times should be observed prior to testing the surface for dryness.

Thickness of poured gypsum and dry time before testing:

1/4”      48 hours

1/2”      72 hours

3/4”      5 days

1”      7 days

2”      2 weeks

Preparation of the poured gypsum surface

In general, ceramic tile is not bonded directly to gypsum underlayments. While each manufacturer of these materials has their own specific requirements, the use of a primer/sealer or a primer and membrane is required. Any exceptions to this recommendation are proprietary in nature and suitability rests solely with the gypsum manufacturer.


Some gypsum manufacturers recommend the use of a primer/sealer over the surface of the dry gypsum before installing any membrane or setting material directly. Also referred to by some as a “sealer” or “overspray,” the use of these primers is intended to prevent the gypsum from absorbing water from the setting material, which can result in poor adhesion. Please note that while you may not have installed the poured gypsum, you must verify that the primer/sealer was applied in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations, after the gypsum floor was deemed dry.


The Tile Council of North America and some gypsum manufacturers recommend the use of membranes in addition to the primer prior to installing the tile over their poured underlayments. For the purposes of these applications, membrane is as defined by ANSI A118.12 for crack isolation or ANSI A118.10. Check with the manufacturer for their individual requirements.

NOTE: The tile contractor shall obtain written documentation verifying that the poured gypsum floors have met or exceeded the minimum compressive strength of 2,000 psi and minimum density requirements of 115 lbs. per cu. ft. per ASTM C472, has been tested per ASTM D4263 and deemed to be dry, and has been primed/sealed in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendation. This information shall be provided to the tile contractor by the general contractor, owner, builder or certified poured gypsum installer.

NOTE: The requirements of this document exclude patching compounds.

Tech Talk – April 2015

TEC-sponsorMoisture matters: how substrate moisture affects tile installations

By Tom Plaskota, Technical Support Manager, H.B. Fuller Construction Products

tom_plaskota_webSubsurface moisture has always been a potential plague of floor-covering installations. However, for a variety of reasons, the consequences of subsurface moisture problems have only recently spread to tile installations. Learn about the effects of subsurface moisture on tile installations and how you can address it in the following article.

What happens

1-techtalk-0415In the past, tile installations were relatively safe from the effects of excessive moisture vapor emission rates (MVER). Moisture vapor emission occurs when water migrates from an area of high vapor pressure – such as damp concrete or wet soil – to an area of low vapor pressure – like a dry building interior. Once the moisture reaches an impermeable material, like vinyl, coatings and certain tile types, it may collect and condense, causing potential moisture damage. Excessive MVER can even discolor natural stone or tile and reduce the functionality of adhesives, grouts and membranes. It may also lead to unsightly efflorescence.

Why now

Today’s tile and installation practices have many benefits – including increased durability and efficiency. However, a combination of factors have made tiles more vulnerable to damage from excessive MVER.

2-techtalk-0415Historically, tile installations involved tile that was more porous, and in many cases the installer used unbonded cleavage membranes in conjunction with wire-reinforced mortar beds. These factors buffered the tile installations from moisture.

Tiles are now often bonded directly to concrete, which has been covered with a waterproof and anti-fracture membrane, making installations more convenient and successful, but less breathable.

Finally, and even more common in today’s fast-paced construction industry, schedules are more ambitious than ever, which means installations may take place before concrete moisture levels are completely stabilized.

3-techtalk-0415When to worry

Fortunately, with proper testing procedures, you can identify whether or not your installation will be affected by excessive MVER. The following are common tests that are used to check moisture content:

Test: ASTM F1869 – Calcium Chloride Test (Moisture Vapor Emission Rate)

Reading: Gives reading in pounds/1000 square feet/24 hours.

Test: ASTM F2170 – Relative Humidity Test

Reading: Gives reading in percentage of relative humidity (%RH) of the concrete slab.

4-techtalk-0415Interpreting test results and selecting products

With readings of < 3 pounds/1000 square feet/24 hours or < 75% RH, use any TEC® adhesives or mortars appropriate for your tile.

With readings of < 10 pounds/1000 square feet/24 hours or < 88% RH, use a TEC® latex-modified thin set to install tile.

With readings of up to 12 pounds/1000 square feet or 90% RH, use TEC® HydraFlex™ as a waterproofing or anti-fracture membrane or TEC® Roll-On Crack Isolation Membrane prior to installing tile and stone.

With readings up to 25 pounds/1000 square feet or < 100% RH use TEC® The LiquiDAM™ to reduce the floor to acceptable levels of < 3 pounds/1000 square feet. Then, prime with TEC® Multipurpose Primer and install with a TEC® latex-modified thin set.

Note that the moisture test results indicate the moisture condition of the slab only at the time of the test. Although concrete often absorbs water from the ground, it can also absorb water vapor from the air in humid conditions. Moreover, concrete releases more vapor when the air humidity is low. These fluctuations in environmental conditions can affect relative humidity levels, and tests should be repeated over time.

Another moisture problem is hydrostatic pressure. Hydrostatic pressure occurs from liquid water from a source – such as a high water table, broken pipe or sprinklers – that may create a negative hydrostatic pressure issue. This condition should be addressed prior to installing tile or any other flooring.

Both efficiency and frugality are valued during stonework and tile installations. Although addressing moisture – from a variety of sources – requires an initial expenditure of time and money, doing so can ultimately save you and your client from frustrating and costly callbacks.

For more information about TEC® visit

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® and others – are available through an extensive network of distributors and dealers, as well as home improvement retailers. For more information, visit

TEC®, Hydraflex™ and The LiquiDAM® are trademarks of H.B. Fuller Construction Products Inc. 

Qualified Labor – April 2015

1_CTI_20x20Scott Carron, Canto Tile & Stone: trying to do what’s best for the industry

By Terryn Rutford, Social Structure Marketing

Scott Carron, a tile installer since 1990, was among the first installers to take the Certified Tile Installer certification exam in the Tampa area in 2011. He now works in the area for Canto Tile & Stone of Riverview, leading a team of certified tile installers in both residential and commercial tile work.

QL_Carron-0415When Carron took the test three years ago, it was a three-day affair that required completing both the written and hands-on test on site.

“I learned a few things from the written test,” Carron said. “There was a lot of new material and method standards. The instructor went over some of the material and [explained] some different angles of approaching things that made them easier.”

Carron had already been in the business for over 10 years when he took the test, so he felt like the hands-on portion of the test was pretty standard. “We were all just on eggshells making sure we did everything right…We made sure every step was as good as possible so that the next step took a little less time.”

Carron is passionate about the necessity of making certification a standard for the industry. Canto Tile & Stone is “trying to do what’s best for the industry,” he explained. “We’re seeing a problem in the industry. A lot of people don’t know what they’re doing and people are paying pennies on the dollar for unskilled labor. The people who really care about the industry in Central Florida are trying to make it so the consumer can get the proper installation.”

Carron believes in the mission of the Certified Tile Education Foundation (CTEF). “A certified installer knows how to deal with all installations. That’s why it’s important for the CTEF to keep pushing what they’re doing. It’s critical for the consumer who is paying their hard-earned money to get the best installation they can get.”

Canto Tile & Stone includes the CTEF logo on its business cards, website, and letterhead. Carron said that the CTI credential “does sell jobs. A lot of the jobs we do, we do because we are Certified Tile Installers. It has made an impact.”

But the best reason for taking the CTI certification is “just to have [the credential] in your hands. If someone ever asks you if you know what you’re doing, you have it. If you’re looking for employment and someone hands me a CTEF card, I’m going to hire them.”

The Certified Tile Installer certification program run by CTEF is the only third-party, industry-recognized assessment of basic installer skill and knowledge. The certification is a significant way of letting “the consumer know that we know what we’re doing, so that one day people will wise up and make sure everyone has the certification [and knowledge] for everything from the easiest repair to the most complicated installation,” Carron concluded.

Business Tip – April 2015

mapei_sponsorWho would think that snails, insect pests, weeds and seeds would threaten the ceramic tile business? But they do! Unwanted passengers in the form of bugs or agricultural pests – such as seeds and weeds – often hitch a ride amongst large quantities of ceramic tile and quarry products exported to the United States from Mediterranean countries – particularly Italy and Spain, as well as from China.

GPP_0415How does that happen? Before shipment to the U.S., tiles are boxed and then stacked onto pallets where they are held for shipment. Often those pallets of tile and stone are stored outside uncovered. Sometimes pallets are stored in areas where vegetation becomes overgrown. Snails and insect pests may be attracted to the warmth and moisture in pallets. These pests, among other import issues, often cost distributors large sums of money and time during the import process.

To assist its members in overcoming these challenges, CTDA has been working with U.S. Customs and USDA for several years. Last year, CTDA and Confindustria Ceramica (The Italian tile manufacturers association) announced the creation of The Good Phytosanitary Practices certification program for tile manufacturers and shippers. The program is quite extensive and prescribes the processes manufacturers and shippers must implement in order to significantly reduce or eliminate pest issues in their shipments. To date, 93 manufacturers have achieved the certification. A list of all certified manufacturers is available at this link:

CTDA has also created an Import Form Submission System that helps track and manage issues with customs when importing ceramic tile from around the world. CTDA members can log into the system through the members-only section of CTDA’s website (or by placing an icon for the system on their desktop) and report problems using a drop down menu format. Members can enter the factory name, port of entry, receiving terminal, freight forwarder company, shipping line and other pertinent information. Members can also upload pictures of the problems found with the shipment. The information is then available to CTDA staff in a database. Accessing this data and sharing it with U.S. Customs will help CTDA demonstrate to U.S. Customs that it is no longer necessary to check EVERY tile shipment from Italy.

This state-of-the-art program is only available to CTDA members. To learn more about the benefits of membership, please contact CTDA at

The Ceramic Tile Distributors Association (CTDA) is a nearly 40-year-old trade association representing distributors as well as manufacturers in the ceramic tile, stone and related products industry. CTDA’s mission is to connect, educate and strengthen tile and stone distributors. CTDA’s members receive tangible value from participation in CTDA through educational events such as webinars and online training programs, valuable business tools such as benchmarking reports, certification of ceramic tile salespeople, planning of Total Solutions Plus, the annual conference for the industry, and industry issues coordination such as the Good Phytosanitary Practices program. For more information about CTDA or to become a member, visit the website at or call 1-630-545-9415.

Ask the Experts – April 2015


I hope you can help me solve this problem. I have a very polished black granite bathroom vanity top. I placed a cleaning bottle on top and now have unsightly white spots. The finish is completely smooth and undamaged. The white area looks like it is under it somehow. I tried baking soda paste for 24 hours and nothing changed. I also tried white distilled vinegar. I am at a loss. I would appreciate it so much if you could suggest something.


Stone is actually quite easily stained and is highly susceptible to changes due to contact with various chemicals. It is possible you have stained the stone, but also possible you have changed the character of the stone.

ATE-0415Always assume staining first, which you have already done. Try your baking soda paste again, but this time cover with plastic wrap and tape the edges with 3M ScotchBlue™ Painter’s Tape and allow the poultice more time to work. Diatomaceous earth can also be used as an effective poultice.

Some chemical stains can be removed with modeling clay, but the oil in the clay will soak into the stone requiring a secondary poultice of baking soda to remove the oil stain.

There are many other remedies available for stains, and a better association for answers about stone is the Marble Institute of America (MIA). Be it known, MIA does charge for technical assistance to non-members. Visit the website for information:

If you have indeed changed the character of the stone, you can usually get a satisfactory fix by actually re-staining or dyeing the stone in the affected areas. Since you have a black stone, judicious use of permanent marker (like a Sharpie) can achieve amazing results.

Michael Whistler NTCA

Who is responsible for the floor?

In our February Ask The Experts, we offered this “bonus question” for your consideration and response:

If an installer installs a tile floor and a second installer grouts the floor but then a third installer removes that grout and re-grouts the floor who is responsible for the floor? The original floor was installed (no grout) by a licensed contractor, grout was done by an unlicensed individual hired by the homeowner, and then a third individual was hired by homeowner to remove the grout and re-grout. The individuals doing the grouting were independent and not working for the original company.

We’ve gotten a couple of answers we’re sharing here. If you have any other responses, please send your comments to me at Thank you for continuing the discussion!

The stupid homeowner who doesn’t want to pay for a qualified contractor.
– Kurt von Koss

As a tile installer, I would have to say that the answer to the question is this: the last person hired by the homeowner, who “re-grouted” the job, is responsible.
– Jean M. Marino

Tech Talk – March 2015

TEC-sponsorCustomers warm to electric-heated floors; WiFi thermostats allow remote-control energy efficiency via smartphone or web

By Lesley Goddin

Years ago, if your customer wanted a heated floor, they needed to invest in a complex hydronic system, with copper water-bearing tubes running beneath the floor and a boiler to heat the water and thus the floor.

Over the last few decades, ELECTRIC floor warming systems have been developed by a number of manufacturers. These systems – which utilize heated electrical wire or cable in a loose configuration, a mesh mat, wire snapped into a lightweight backer or uncoupling mat, or even carbon strips embedded in extremely thin PET film – all provide floor warming under tile and stone that is quick, relatively easy to install, and affordable.

1-tech-nuheatSmartphone control via WiFi thermostats

The latest innovation in electric floor warming (or in some cases, full-house heating) systems is WiFi controls, which enable users to control their heating systems, temperature, schedule and energy consumption remotely through their smart phones or other electronic device. Nuheat ( debuted this technology with its Nuheat Signature Programmable WiFi Thermostat. And this January at KBIS during Design & Construction Week, Warmup ( unveiled a WiFi system as well – the 4iE Smart WiFi Thermostat.

Peter Thomson, vice president of sales for Nuheat was at TISE West. He noted that the Signature WiFi app can control up to 16 thermostats on one app, and it’s very zonable. “People are reclaiming their basements with supplemental heat sources,” he said.

Martin Brookes, of NTCA Five Star Contractor Heritage Marble & Tile in Mill Valley, Calif., installs radiant heat in about 60% of Bay Area homes, using the Nuheat system. “We really like the WiFi -enabled programmable thermostat. Living in the Bay Area, the clients are tech savvy and want things they can control with an app from their smart phone.”

2-TECH-warmupAt Warmup, Regis Verliefde, CEO, said the 4iE Smart WiFi Thermostat offers multi-zone and multi-room management as well, in line with Warmup’s goal to provide heating for the whole house. In addition to monitoring the energy consumption, Warmup’s device makes active recommendations to optimize energy use. All this can be directly managed from smartphones and tablets on the MyWarmup portal. (

“We are excited to attend KBIS to show off our latest innovation,” said Verliefde. “Warmup is so much more than luxury in the bathroom. It is a heating solution on par with any other one today, but healthier, more silent and maintenance free.”

3-tech-cmxHeating film; multi-function mats hold cables

Other interesting developments in electric floor warming have taken place over the years. Geo Dream ( encapsulates carbon strips in an extremely thin PET heat film for a system that is zonable, affordable and durable, and heats the house with far infrared waves.

In the last few years, flexible backers to configure wires or cables have emerged, such as RPM mats, which sprang onto the scene in 2006. These mats are studded to accept floor warming cables in any configuration. A new RPM-V1 design has vented studs, that accelerate the drying of the adhesive beneath the mat.

4-tech-schluterLaunched a few years ago is Schluter’s DITRA-HEAT, designed to snap heating cables into a studded uncoupling mat. This mat/membrane provides crack suppression, waterproofing, vapor management and helps to distribute loads as well.

“We just did our first DITRA-HEAT project and liked the flexibility of the system,” said Brookes. “Rather than having to wait for a custom mat, we were able to get the radiant heat we needed off the shelf. “

Italian-made PRODESO HEAT from Progress Profiles features a patented blue studded mat that can be installed as an uncoupling, crack isolating membrane. The heating cables are installed according to the needs of the project. Tiling can begin immediately. The entire Prodeso Heat system is less than 1/4” thick.

5-tech-prodesoCautions and considerations

When working with radiant heating systems, technical service is as important as technology to John Cox, NTCA past president and owner of NTCA Five Star Contactor Cox Tile in San Antonio, Texas.

“The most critical item in my book is customer service. When I call Nuheat, I get answers. They have a staff that has been well trained and educated.

“Selling radiant heating has added additional income to our bottom line and added to the distinction of Cox Tile not being your average tile contractor,” he said. “We have developed a niche as being the expert in our area in Radiant Heating. When architects’ specs say Cox Radiant Heating, we know we have made an impact.”

6-tech-suntouchRicky Cox, of NTCA Five Star Contractors Memphis Tile in Memphis, Tenn., said, “We use Nuheat for the ease of installation, superb customer service, and a long working relationship that has kept us going back for more.  I have installed every system out there and Nuheat blows them all away. The wires are embedded between two layers of fabric that are easily thinset to the substrate.  Other systems are hard to ‘flip and roll’ and hard to figure out.”

Contractors and consultants offer a range of warnings and recommendations when working with electric floor warming.

“Always have the system inspected by a state inspector,” said Joe Kerber, owner of NTCA Five Star Contractor Kerber Tile, Marble & Stone in Shakopee, Minn.

“Always test the cable and sensor for resistance and continuity, before, during and after the installation,” he said.” Be careful when walking on and troweling over the cable so not to crush it or nick it with a trowel. A nick could cause the GFCI to trip when heated. Remember the wires are very fine. The sensor is very fragile so do not step on it.

“There are two types of cable,” Kerber continued. “Most are the double-wire cable that goes out from the box and ends at the end of the cable in the floor area. SunTouch Warm Wire and Nuheat cables are example of these. The other is the single wire that has to return to the original box. The Nuheat mat and Flextherm cables are examples of these. The double-wire cables are easier to install because you don’t have to get the other end back to the box. However, the single wire cables are much easier to repair.”

Jan Hohn of NTCA Five Star Contractor Hohn & Hohn, Inc., in neighboring St. Paul, Minn., added, “I usually prefer to do wires or cables instead of a mat. With the wires, you can really customize the space that you are heating because you can run the wires where you want them, putting them closer together for more heat in a specific area and/or farther apart where there is less foot traffic. Another reason I like the wires is because I float my floors with mud so the wires are buried in the mud bed, which allows for a more consistent floor heat (more mass to heat up, but once it is heated it holds the heat longer and more evenly).”

Hohn cautioned against placing wires or mats under any cabinetry, toilets, or other plumbing fixtures.  “Some systems can be used in showers, but not all, so it is important to determine if the system you want to use can be used in the shower,” she said.

“Recently, it has been recommended to install two floor sensors with one system,” she added. “If the first sensor stops functioning, you can hook up the second sensor without tearing the floor up. It is cheap insurance.”

Rich Goldberg of Avon, Conn.-based Professional Consultants International, LLC (PROCON), noted that “Radiant heat naturally increases cycles of expansion and contraction of a tile assembly, making proper installation of movement joints critical. Butted grout joints with no movement joints in high-end residential stone installations are also a common problem, causing chipping and crushing along stone edges at butted joints.”

Often radiant heat is used to “accelerate” the curing, he said, but this can create problems with premature drying, and expansion stress on the thinset before the bond strengthens. Rapid drying of underlying wood framing in new construction and cement backers can telegraph movement to the tile assembly and result in cracking.

He also warns that cable trays can create dividers in mortar beds that encapsulate the system and crack the mortar, and eventually the tile. They can also prevent mortar adhesion, so PROCON favors systems that “employ the heating cables within a reinforcing mesh so that the system can be properly encapsulated by mortar top and bottom, and the reinforcing distributes any heating/drying/expansion/contraction stress evenly in the mortar bed.