January 29, 2015

Tech Talk – January 2015

TEC-sponsorFollow directions, not intuition, for best results with today’s mortars

Lesley beach picBy Lesley Goddin

“Mortar products today are so much better than they were years ago,” said new NTCA president and NTCA Technical Committee chairman James Woelfel, of Artcraft Granite, Marble and Tile Co., from Mesa, Ariz. “That’s why you don’t see as many failures as you ‘should’ see, if you were using mortars from 30 years ago.

“Mortars today are so fantastic,” Woelfel added. “Today, we have flowable/thixotropic and non-sag mortars. They are phenomenal – but they are a double-edged sword,” he said, stressing that if they aren’t used properly, the installation will fail spectacularly.

Woelfel – together with several technical representatives from manufacturers who have collaborated on authoring and editing the mortar section of the NTCA Reference Manual- have some important recommendations for getting the best results from today’s mortars.

Use the right material for the job

An obvious – but oft-ignored recommendation – is to use the proper mortar for the proper tile, Woelfel said. “The more expensive mortar doesn’t cost you more than $.05-$.07 a foot or maybe all the way up to $.15 more a foot,” he explained. “By using the right mortar, you are really buying yourself insurance. Since mortar is the least expensive part of a tile installation, if you are depending on the savings on that mortar to make you a profit, you are going down the wrong road. And if you are improperly using an inexpensive mortar, and building it up, are you really saving money in both material and time?”

Water ratio – follow directions, not intuition!

Second, be sure to mix the mortar the way the manufacturer recommends.

“The mortars being built today are very complex formulations and a lot of ingredients in these formulas require the proper amount of water,” said Leigh Hightower, technical services manager for MAPEI. “Contractors are used to mixing mortars to feel, but today’s mortars have a lot of materials in them that don’t wet out very quickly. If the mortar looks too thick as it is being mixed, and more water is added when it is mixed up, when it does go into solution, it is too thin. Mortars today need to be mixed with a measured amount of water according to instruction and not feel,” he said.

Tom Plaskota, with TEC/H.B. Fuller Construction Products, added, “job site conditions can affect installation and temperature-range limitations are pushed to the limit with the pace of fast track construction these days. This occurs on both the low and high ends of the temperature range, depending on what part of the country you are in and what time of year it is.”

Woelfel cited some of his experiences setting tile in the desert climate of Arizona. He said it’s easy to “overwater thinset in dry climates; there’s more chance to shrink here as it dries. Thin-set mortar sets up faster in Arizona and New Mexico – in fact, in Arizona this June, we set a record for 2% humidity.”

Woelfel said this is a problem because even if one is following strict manufacturer recommendations, those recommendations generally aren’t based on use in extreme conditions. “[Mortar is] tested at 75 degrees and 55% humidity,” Woelfel said. The tendency for mortars to skin over too fast in low-humidity settings is especially crucial when working with large-format, or large thin porcelain tile. Once that happens, there’s no bond.

Woelfel favors the development of more mortars that accommodate the particular conditions contractors encounter around the country – high humidity, or super-low humidity – so contractors have a reasonable amount of open time to set the tile.

“Most people in my area are subcontractors,” Woelfel said. “They are putting tile in as fast as humanly possible, which means they will trowel out 40’ to 50’ of thinset and just drop the tile. They don’t key it in, and it stays on top of the trowel marks. When it’s pulled up, it’s almost clean. There are a lot of failures in Phoenix due to mortar skinning over,” Woelfel said.

Bubbles weaken bonds

Woelfel also cautions contractors to take time with mortars and let them slake. “You need to mix with a low rpm mixer at the proper speed that the manufacturer recommends,” he said. “Otherwise, you can get air bubbles, which makes the mortar set up faster and become weaker. You have to let it rest and coalesce.”

A new name and clearer definition

Large and heavy tile (LHT) mortar, has gone through a transformation – and not just in name only – from the previous “medium-bed” mortar moniker. “Medium-bed” mortar was coined to refer to a MATERIAL – a type of mortar, not a METHOD of tile setting, according to MAPEI’s Hightower. But over time, it became misunderstood and mis-specified in the A&D community as a method of smoothing out imperfections in the substrate in lieu of the proper practice of using a self-leveling underlayment. Contractors got caught in the middle, Hightower said, when they started to be expected to smooth out substrate irregularities with medium-bed mortar, used up to 3/4” in thickness instead of going the proper route of using a self-leveling underlayment. The industry responded to this conundrum by changing the confusing name and limiting the thickness recommended to 1/2” to avoid misuse of this important material. For more information, check out this month’s “By the Book” section in which ProSpec’s Beverly Andrews talks about new parameters for use of LHT mortars or what we formerly called “medium-bed” mortar.

Up-and-coming products for LTPT

LHT mortar segues into mortars many manufacturers are developing specifically for large-unit thin porcelain tiles. These mortars are tied in closely with the standards discussions about large thin porcelain tile (LTPT). As these mortars are in development, contractors are offering feedback on realistic performance criteria. Some manufacturers required 1/64” lippage tolerance, Woelfel said – something unattainable with bigger thin tile. This is where the NTCA Technical Committee, TCNA and other industry entities are putting their heads together to formulate products and methods that will meet the needs of the contractor with excellent performance while the large thin porcelain tile itself is under close scrutiny in terms of performance characteristics and installation recommendations. Stay tuned to TileLetter for ongoing news about LHT mortars for LTPT throughout the year!

Ask the Experts – January 2015

SponsoredbyLaticreteThis month’s conversation is between a knowledgeable female do-it-yourself tile setter and Dave Gobis, CTC CSI Ceramic Tile Consultant. It illustrates the vast amount of misinformation that’s passing as expertise at point-of-sale. It’s a classic tale of buyer beware, and know-your-stuff.


My shower is almost complete, having installed my cement boards over a wood structure covered with plastic sheeting. I have used 100% silicone to seal all joints including those between the cement boards and my mortar bed. I am also going to waterproof all the cement boards with a waterproofing membrane. I know I’m supposed to use latex thinset for the floor. What kind of mortar do I use to install the tiles on the walls of my shower? As per the TCNA, I’m supposed to use latex thinset for the walls as well but a tile dealer I work with has told me that I can’t use latex-modified thinset for my walls because it will take three months to cure on account of the plastic I put on my wood structure. I would be much obliged for your help. Thank you.


Your tile dealer is misinformed. Your waterproofing membrane would be even less permeable than the plastic which has holes in it from fastening the board. There is truth that a longer drying period is required when installing tile with latex over a waterproof membrane. The thinset will use about a third of the water for mixing the thinset in growing a cement matrix, the rest will have to evaporate through the grout joints. Leave the joints open a few days before grouting and you will be fine. Cement grout is porous and will allow any residual moisture to pass if needed.

– David M. Gobis CTC CSI
Ceramic Tile Consultant


Thank you for your reply on the latex thinset; I just didn’t know who else to turn to and was getting exhausted with the different input I was getting from my tile suppliers.

In the same vein, should I wait three months to install glass doors on my curb tiles? Not that I mind; if I have to wait, I will. Furthermore, if I have to wait weeks to grout, I won’t mind either. At this point, being so close to finishing, I don’t want to mess up anything.


What was the reason for waiting three months on the shower door? Have never heard anything remotely close to that. Biggest thing is to not puncture the waterproofing. If you could let the tile set up for a week to 10 days that would be good enough.

– David M. Gobis CTC CSI
Ceramic Tile Consultant


You’ve just answered all my questions. The three-month cure time was told to me by one of the two tile stores I bought my tiles from. Based on that information, I started asking myself about the glass shower doors on the curb. Such is the nightmare of having no experience! Thank you so much for your prompt answers. Have a great one.


The misinformation out there is abundant. It’s sad that people know so little about their chosen line of work. It certainly keeps me busy, but it’s a hard way to make a living when all you sell is what you know. The tile setter I was with when I got your three-month email chuckled and said something about a knucklehead.

– Good Luck, Dave


I’ve been doing my own tile work for 20 years, but had never undertaken a shower from drain pipe to shower head. It became clear to me as well that misinformation was rampant, even amongst the professionals showing how to do it on YouTube. I could not get proper instructions on the internet or YouTube until I got hold of the ANSI code and the TCNA instructions. Even if you do decide to follow the code, as I decided to do, most stores don’t know the code and/or don’t follow it which has made my project that much more difficult as products are not always available. I feel like I’m speaking a foreign language to these people. You should’ve seen the hardware store reps when I asked for wet sand. Not to mention that some of these reps have tried to sell me gypsum or thin cement boards (3/8”) for my shower walls. One of these reps at a big box store actually told me – with Oatey pan liner package in hand – that I didn’t have to do a mortar bed after putting my PVC pan liner on my pre-pitch; I could put the tiles directly on my PVC pan liner and save myself the trouble of doing a mortar bed (!?!?). He even said, with certainty, that this was up to code (after I told him it wasn’t).

Tell your tile setter that he is right; knucklehead it is. Now, all I have to do is go back to the knucklehead and put in a special order for my latex thinset because they don’t carry these products in their stock room.

Again, Dave, much obliged.  I will sleep better tonight knowing that I now have the proper information.

Business Tip – January 2015

mapei_sponsorConstruction employment swells in 228 metro areas

In reports from the Associated General Contractors of America, good news continues for construction employment, with construction employment growing in 228 metro areas. The report also emphasizes the need for qualified workers to answer the demand as construction grows. In addition, a new bill passed by the House will allow employers and employees to protect retirement benefits. Details follow.

Construction employment expanded in 228 metro areas, declined in 64 and was stagnant in 47 between October 2013 and October 2014, according to a new analysis of federal employment data released in December 2014 by the Associated General Contractors of America. Association officials said the construction job gains come as new federal figures show year-over-year growth in construction spending and many firms report impacts from growing shortages of qualified workers.

“Even as a number of markets continue to struggle with declining construction demand and employment, most metro areas are adding construction jobs as the industry slowly recovers,” said Ken Simonson, chief economist for the association. “As spending on construction continues to climb, more and more firms will struggle with the impacts of a labor market that is not keeping pace with demand.”

Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, Texas, added the largest number of construction jobs in the past year (12,900 jobs, 7%), followed by Dallas-Plano-Irving, Texas (11,000 jobs, 9%), Chicago-Joliet-Naperville, Ill. (9,200 jobs, 7 %) and Seattle-Bellevue-Everett, Wash. (8,300 jobs, 11%). The largest percentage gains occurred in Pascagoula, Miss. (28%, 1,800 jobs), Terre Haute, Ind. (24%, 1,000 jobs), Cleveland-Elyria-Mentor, Ohio (21%, 7,800 jobs), Cleveland, Tenn. (19%, 300 jobs) and Fargo, N.D.-Minn. (19%, 1,700 jobs).

The largest job losses from October 2013 to October 2014 were in Bethesda-Rockville-Frederick, Md. (-4,500 jobs, -14%), followed by Edison-New Brunswick, N.J. (-3,000 jobs, -7%), Gary, Ind. (-2,800 jobs, -15%) and Putnam-Rockland-Westchester, N.Y. (-2,200 jobs, -7%). The largest percentage decline for the past year was in Steubenville-Weirton, Ohio-W.V. (-36%, -800 jobs), followed by Fond du Lac, Wis. (-15%, -400 jobs), Gary, Ind. and Bethesda-Rockville-Frederick, Md.

Association officials noted that newly-released federal figures show construction spending increased by 3.3 % between October 2013 and October 2014 as demand for residential construction and other private-sector segments slowly expands. Even public-sector construction spending experienced an all-too-rare increase between September and October. At the same time, 83 % of firms report trouble finding qualified workers, which is limiting competition and forcing many firms to change the way they operate.

“Instead of capitalizing on the emerging recovery, many firms instead are struggling to find qualified workers to fill their construction crews,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, the association’s chief executive officer. “It is time to rethink our educational priorities when we have too many unemployed men and women who lack the skills to earn the kind of above-average wages construction work affords.”


House-passed spending bill

protects retirement benefits

In addition, Sandherr recently released the following statement regarding passage in the House of Representative of a Omnibus Spending bill that included a series of association-backed reforms designed to allow employers and employees to protect and improve multi-employer retirement programs:

“The House’s wise decision to include a series of multi-employer pension reforms in the broader spending bill will protect retiree benefits, help keep thousands of employers competitive and ensure that the broader economy continues to benefit from the billions of dollars that pension funds invest each year. The most important aspect of these new reform measures is that they finally provide employers and employees with the flexibility to voluntarily act to shore up multi-employer retirement plans. Without these new measures, thousands of retirees would likely have been forced to accept the savage cuts to their retirement benefits that come when the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation is forced to step in. This is the culmination of three years of joint labor and management cooperation to shore up troubled plans.

“The Senate and President Obama must move quickly to enact these needed reform measures so that thousands of employees and their employers can have the tools needed to protect their hard-earned investments and benefits,” Sandherr concluded.

Tech Talk – December 2014

TEC-sponsorCold weather tiling

By Lesley Goddin the NTCA Reference Manual

December means cold weather for most of our 50 states, so this month’s Tech Talk literally takes a page out of the NTCA Reference Manual to discuss the particulars and cautions that surround setting tile in cold weather.

The NTCA Reference Manual is an essential industry guide that references real-world, in-the-field situations, in most cases with a cause-cure-prevention format. It also contains letters that can be customized to various parties in the project to legally communicate problems to keep tile contractors harmless in a dispute. This indispensable publication is now available to the entire industry. Visit https://store.tile-assn.com/p-63-20142015-ntca-reference-manual-non-member.aspx or click on the “store” link at NTCA’s website www.tile-assn.com, and select books and periodicals to get your copy today.

Following are the recommendations for successful cold weather tiling:


The professional installation of tile in cold weather presents a number of problems. The best results will be obtained when the environment and the products are about room temperature. Each bonding material will require specific precautions.

Tile bonding and grouting materials must not be applied to surfaces that contain frost. Tile must not be installed in areas where the substrate is not maintained above 50° F (10 C) or where the substrate is above 100° F (38 C). Temperature of the substrate shall be 60° F (16 C) and rising for application of epoxy and furan unless otherwise specifically authorized by its manufacturer. Maintain epoxy and furan at a stable temperature between 60° F (16 C) and 90° F (32 C) during the curing period.

Industry specifications do not recommend setting tile below 50° F. If work below that temperature is unavoidable, common sense procedures and precautions should be observed. Be aware that it is the temperature of the tile products, bonding materials and substrate which count – not just the air temperature of the room.

Cold weather slows cement hydration (curing)

It is recognized that cold weather slows the strengthening of cement mortars and grouts and allowances must be made for the resulting risks.

As the temperature drops from 50° F to 35° F, the strengthening of cement slows concurrently, until at 35° F it almost ceases. When these conditions occur, additional time must be allowed for the cement bonding materials to sufficiently harden before traffic is allowed. If the water in fresh cement is allowed to freeze solid, particularly near the surface, the small ice crystals expand, separate the sand and cement, and destroy the strength of the mortar, resulting in a bond failure.

2-TT-1214In cold temperatures, grouting done before the bonding material is strong enough to accept traffic, will cause movement of the tile resulting in irreparable bond failure. When the temperature is below 50° F, grouting should be done immediately after the tile is set or wait at least two to three days. No traffic should be allowed during this period. When continuing a job, special precautions must be taken to keep all traffic off the tile that was set the previous day.

When using blower heaters to protect tile from freezing, caution must be taken to avoid rapidly drying out the tiled area directly in front of the heaters. There is a risk of drying out the air in heated areas preventing proper curing of mortar and grout. It is advisable to damp cure under these conditions.

The use of electric heat is preferable to oil or gas-fired temporary heaters that can cause chalking carbonation and weakening of fresh mortar or grout.

Cover ungrouted surfaces during the initial setting period for protection against drafts and freezing temperatures. Fast-setting mortars, although susceptible to freeze damage, may reduce curing time if the manufacturer’s recommendations are followed.

Epoxies and urethanes

Epoxies require special cold weather precautions. The most likely conditions to occur because of cold temperatures are:

1. A thick stiff mix.

2. Difficult application.

3. A very slow cure and strength gain.

For these reasons, most epoxy products are recommended for use between 70° F and 80° F. Low temperatures can cause epoxies to become so stiff they are unworkable and curing time is extended beyond practical limits. Epoxies should be stored at room temperatures at least 48 hours before mixing. Most epoxy problems result from improper and insufficient mixing.

3-TT-1214Cold weather tiling tips

Nadine Edelstein, winner of a 2010 TileLetter Tile Design Award for the slate strip mosaic in the Maury Island residence outdoor entryway and a 2013 Coverings Installation Design Residential Stone Design Award for the Dragonflower Vine raised-bed garden pathway in Seattle, Wash. Edelstein installed both winning projects during the during the cold northwest winter.

Conditions for the Maury Island project included temperatures in the 30s and wind whipping through the space. The crew bundled up to stay warm and took measures to keep the concrete substrate and curing mortar above 40 degrees. Edelstein said she “used electric blankets over the set tiles layered over with insulating blankets and tarps to keep the heat in. The next day we used the blankets to preheat the areas we intended to set.”

For her 2013 Dragonflower Vine project, elaborate measures included a framed enclosure built over the entire 500+-sq.-ft. garden. “This was covered with heavy-duty tarps that were secured with full five-gallon buckets hanging off the sides!” Edelstein said. “This kept us dry and provided enough ventilation so that we could use a 100,000 BTU propane heater, which kept the chill off of us while we worked. We then employed the same electric blanket technique to help our mortar cure.”

A note of caution from industry expert and ceramic consultant Dave Gobis, CTC – be sure to provide plenty of ventilation – as Edelstein did – when tenting a project. “A tented installation or the cement could kill you from either carbon monoxide or dioxide. Be sure you have plenty of air moving through the enclosure.”

Business Tip – December 2014

mapei_sponsorLook ‘em in the eye

wally_adamchikBy Wally Adamchik, president,
FireStarter Speaking and Consulting

I learned a lot in the Marines. One of the things I learned was the importance of people. I also learned how important it is to pause from time to time and thank people for their contribution. And then there are the times when we need to do more than pause; we need to stop.

Gene Duncan (“Dunc”) is a former Marine who wrote several books about his time in the Corps. His books are a collection of funny, sad, and poignant “letters” relating the experiences of two professional Marines, truthfully telling it like it was in the fifties, sixties, and seventies. As a young officer of Marines, I learned from reading Dunc. Like you, I continue to learn from reading. Consider that you are reading this issue of TileLetter.

Dunc wrote about the importance of letting people know you cared. In fact, taking care of people is a chapter in my first book, No Yelling: The Nine Secrets of Marine Corps Leadership You Must Know To Win In Business. He cited Thanksgiving and Christmas as two times that deserved special attention. His advice was to form up your platoon and put the Marines “at ease.” Then walk through the ranks, talking to each Marine, asking about their holiday plans, making sure they were taken care of. Finally, he advised, look them square in the eye while shaking their hand, and say, “Thank you for your valuable contribution.” The first time I did this, it felt a little awkward – but it felt good also. It felt good because I could feel the connection with my Marines and I knew they appreciated my action. This appreciation leads to higher performance and deeper loyalty. The kinds of things that differentiate your business and make it succeed.

I realize you’re not going to put your people into platoon formation, but I do know that you can visit them in their workspaces or on the jobsite and extend the same courtesy and respect that I did when I talked to my Marines. You’ll be amazed at the impact this will have. You may decide, Christmas being so close to Thanksgiving, that you’d prefer to “spread out” your thanks. That’s fine; choose another important holiday when people traditionally take time away from work, celebrating with family and friends. The day you select should be special to the members of your team. In our multi-cultural society there are other options. Your recognition on this occasion will make a positive impact on them.

A word of caution: don’t do this if you don’t believe it. If you are the type of leader who really does value your people and views them as important peers in the process of creating your product or service, then this will be well received. If you view people as expendable production assets, and use this advice as a technique to motivate them, forget it – they will see right through you. Last year a client of mine did this for Christmas and he could not stop talking to me later about what a positive experience it was.

In closing, I want to look you in the eye and thank you for reading. I can’t set you up in platoon formation, but please accept my gratitude for your trust and confidence in me. Best wishes for a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2015.

NTCA has partnered with Wally Adamchik to bring his interactive virtual training system at www.firestartervt.com to NTCA members. Contact him at wally@beafirestarter.com to learn more about how the NTCA/FireStarterVT partnership can save you training dollars while improving your leaders at all levels.

Qualified Labor – December 2014

1-QL-1214CTEF, Schluter conduct first open-shop ACT testing

Schluter hosts testing at Plattsburgh, N.Y. headquarters

The Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF) working in conjunction with Schluter Systems, LP recently hosted and conducted the first hands-on testing of the Advanced Certifications for Tile Installers (ACT) program entirely for open-shop tile contractors at the Schluter headquarters in Plattsburgh, N.Y. The installers taking the ACT tests first had to have successfully completed the CTEF Certified Tile Installer (CTI) testing of their skills and knowledge. Previous tests at The International Surface Event and Coverings included equal numbers of open-shop and IUBAC union installers.

2-QL-1214During the two-day testing – September 15 and 16 – the pre-qualified CTEF Certified Tile Installers demonstrated their hands-on abilities in the following skill sets: Large Format Tile and Substrate Preparation, Membranes (both sheet and liquid), Mortar Bed (Mud) Floors and Shower Receptors. Prior to taking the hands-on portion of the ACT exam, each installer was required to successfully complete the online knowledge test proving their command of the test subject. Installers sought certification in select skills, not necessarily certification of every skill for every installer – the four installers yielded nine certifications.

The four installers who took the exam at Schluter in September were: Juan “Santos” Sauceda, Neuse Tile Service, Youngsville, N.C.; Mark Iosue, Mi Terra Custom Tile Interiors, Philadelphia, Pa.; Scott Heron, Precision Tile Company, West Columbia, S.C. and Josh Pair, OTP Tile, Marble, & Granite, Fayetteville, Ark.

3-QL-1214To date, there are 169 ACT-certified installers, said Scott Carothers, CTEF director of certification and training: 43 open-shop installers and 126 IUBAC installers.

Schluter territory manager Phil Woodruff devised the concept of ACT testing at Plattsburgh. He has also set up a Certified Tile Installer testing in Acme, Mich. (Traverse City area) in conjunction with a Schluter Innovation Workshop on December 11. “Phil has already registered the maximum number of 20 installers to take the CTI hands-on test, which is still a month away,” Carothers said. “Awesome work!”

Successful ACT installers are listed on the CTEF website, which also links to the ACT website, providing potential clients with a pool of talented and qualified tile installers. These installers now meet the specification requirement calling for qualified labor as shown in the Tile Council of America (TCNA) Handbook 

4-QL-1214and many architectural specifications, including the Arcom MasterSpec®. The call for the use of qualified labor on jobsites under section 9300 Ceramic Tile specifications is growing. The ACT Certification Program provides the residential and commercial consumer with the confidence that their project will be completed correctly, the first time.

For more information, please view the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation website at www.tilecareer.com.



Ask the Experts – December 2014


Dave, I came across your article The Importance of Using Expansion Joints this morning. I’m tiling (porcelain) a good size interior room (~15’ x 44’) with staggered, plank-style tile in the long direction. According to the TCNA Handbook, I should have at least one movement joint. However, with this layout I would need to terminate the tile runs somewhere in the middle to lay in a straight movement joint across the width of the room, breaking up the flow of the tile.

I have not come across any solutions to this aesthetic problem. With perimeter spacing, limited temperature variation, and no direct sunlight, I’m tempted to skip the movement joint.

Any suggestions?


Expansion joints have always been a battle; nobody wants them and installers don’t want the extra work that they know will result in complaints about appearance if they do put them in. Early in my career I ignored them and felt they were not necessary. Having a fixed place of business for over 20 years and hourly employees, that came back to haunt me. Anyone could find me whenever they so desired, and when they had problems they did.

The lesson learned was we either put movement joints in or have someone sign a form letter saying they chose to ignore our advice and not to have them installed. Some were offended, and others chose to sign. It was never a good feeling either way when we encountered resistance.

The value of expansion joints – also known as movement accommodation joints – is not realized for years after the installation. It doesn’t matter what part of the country you live in, including Hawaii. Tile expands and contracts with changes in temperature. Tile expands on a limited long-term basis and does not contract with exposure to moisture, be it water or vapor.

2-ATE_1214Concrete experiences endless shrinkage and wants to curl, in addition to the tile properties. Keep in mind the tile is getting bigger while the slab is getting smaller. Concrete slabs without effective vapor barriers experience a high degree of vapor transmission. We commonly receive calls about tile tenting after big storms. Wood structures experience endless dimensional changes due to moisture changes. Above-grade installations experience deflection, be they wood or concrete. If it is your turn to have Christmas for the family (yes, we get those calls), it will experience increased deflection it is not accustomed to.

All structures move, all tile moves. If you chose to roll the dice because you feel yours is different, that is your decision. Based on personal experience, having done thousands of installations over three decades, I would say 80% of the time you will be OK for 10, 20, maybe 30 years or more. The installation will likely fail due to lack of movement accommodation at some point. The question is – will you be there when it happens? Tough call to make when your desired ambiance will be destroyed by their inclusion. The cost to replace the floor will be double what it was going in. The risk management decision is yours.

Yes, I have had this conversation many times. By the way, stair-step joints are better than no joints and include a 1/4” at the perimeter if you do put them in. Keep both free of thinset. Believe me, it makes a difference.

ATE_1214David M. Gobis CTC CSI, Ceramic Tile Consultant

Qualified Labor – November 2014

1-QL-1114By Terryn Rutford

In 2009, Steve Barrow, owner of Cody Flooring & Tile, Inc., (www.codyflooring.com) located in Golden, Colo., decided that his tile installers should be certified. In April 2009, Dan Eielson was one of the tile installers who took the Certified Tile Installer exam at Rio Grande Supply Company in Denver, Colo.

Cody Flooring & Tile, Inc. specializes in commercial and high-end residential tile installation. The company worked on the Recreational Center at CSU in Fort Collins, installing over 32,000 sq. ft. of tile.


When Eielson took the written and hands-on test in Denver, he was surprised that there was not more mud work in the test. Eielson said, “I’ve been doing [tile installation] 38 years, so I didn’t think [the test] was quite difficult. The test includes all the basic stuff that any good tile guy should know about centering walls and stuff,” he said.

(Editor’s note: Advanced Certification for Tile Installers –ACT – DOES offer a certification for mud beds. Visit www.tilecertifications.com for more information.)

Eielson admits he did learn a few things from studying up for the test. “I did learn about anti-fracture and different membranes. There were a number of things that I did pick up like crack isolations that I was not aware of [before the test].”

3-QL-1114Certification has helped Eielson’s business. He said, “I have mentioned a number of times to different superintendents at meetings – before we start a job – that a number of our guys are certified, just to give them a little bit of a heads-up that we know what we’re doing.”

Eielson commented that the tile trade has changed. “With the big box stores, everyone has become a tile installer. They think, ‘I can read a book and I can do this.’ When I first started, you could only find tile tools and materials at a tile distributor.”

To Eielson, this is a good reason for tile installers to take the test and become certified – it’s a way to raise oneself above the competition. Eielson said, “The written test and the hands-on test is a lot of good basic stuff that a lot of guys in the trade don’t have nowadays.”

4-QL-1114About the certification, Eielson remarked, “It’s a good thing for me to have. I wish this had been going on when I was doing my own houses years ago.”

Stone Section – November 2014

mapei_sponsorStacking the deck: manufactured/natural stone veneers pros and cons

By Lesley Goddin

A couple of years ago, at a local Albuquerque NTCA Tile & Stone Workshop, NTCA presenter Michael Whistler told the assembled group of tile contractors about a great opportunity just waiting to be grasped. That opportunity was installing masonry or manufactured stone (concrete) veneers over backer board using a tile-setting method. Traditionally, these products – as well as stacked natural stone veneers – have been installed with a masonry lath-and-mortar method. But the masonry method has been subject to bond failures, so using a cement backer board, liquid waterproofing membrane and thin-set mortar so familiar to tile installers – has proved to be a superior method and profit opportunity for some tile contractors.

Manufactured stone is “great stuff,” said Whistler. “Tile setters should have embraced it wholeheartedly, but they gave it to the masons. A few smart guys are installing it – it’s easy to do.”

1-stone-1114Whistler said that the masonry method involves paper and wire lath, then it’s covered with type S standard masonry mortar, which has very little bond strength. “This is made for stacked block or bricks on top of each other; it’s not made for gluing one thing to something else. “

In contrast, he pointed out that “thin-set mortar is made to glue an object to a substrate. The tile guys put up cement backer board and waterproof it completely with a completely waterproof membrane – not just a vapor barrier or retarder, like tar paper or Visqueen that may be nailed to the substrate, creating a breach in the waterproofing. Then the veneer is installed with thin-set mortar on top of that, which actually makes the veneer stick to the wall.”

2-stone-1114Whistler noted that all major tile setting manufacturers produce a system of products that are geared towards installing manufactured stone veneers.

“LATICRETE and Custom Building Products have modified some packaging for products to address this installation specifically,” said Brian Pistulka, business manager, Tile & Stone Installation Systems, MAPEI. “At this time Mapei hasn’t pursued this approach.”

But MAPEI has supported this market category with specifications and two reference guides – one created in conjunction with Daltile and its now-discontinued line of masonry stone veneer, and the second for the wholesale distribution market. “Both guides featured existing branded products MAPEI tested and recommended as systems for this category,” Pistulka said. “The guide contained installation systems for various substrates and conditions.”

3-stone-1114Working with a single-source system like those offered by setting material manufacturers affords these installations with a warranty, another benefit of the tile-setting approach, he said.

The problem is, this profit center hasn’t fully caught on with tile contractors yet, and for several reasons.

Masons’ purview

Dan Welch, NTCA president and a NTCA Five Star Contractor said, his company, Welch Tile & Marble, out of Kent City, Mich., doesn’t do much manufactured stone veneer installation since it’s not in its bid category.

4-stone-1114“Masons would have manufactured stone veneer on their contract,” Welch said. “We would have to go into their category and subcontract to the mason.” Similarly, Welch said, in Michigan, granite countertops are in the cabinetmaker’s scope. “We would have to bid through the countertop guy,” he said.

Tommy Conner, CEO of NTCA Five Star Contractor Superior Tile & Stone of Oakland, Calif., agreed. “From a union perspective, masonry veneer stone is mason’s work,” he said.

In addition, licensing statutes may preclude tile setters from setting manufactured stone veneer, Conner said. License parameters vary from state to state, and often the licensing board is focusing on the composition of the material. Since manufactured stone veneer is generally concrete, many licensing boards consider this the mason’s territory. Tile contractors like Superior are more focused on the “tile-like unit” being installed and HOW it is installed, regardless of composition.

5-stone-1114Elizabeth and Dan Lambert, of Lambert Tile & Stone in Eagle, Colo., another NTCA Five Star Contractor, prefer to invest their energy into the tile portion of the project. “We have done maybe one or two stone veneer jobs in the past five years,” Elizabeth Lambert said. “Since the homes in our market area are so big, we feel all our focus should be on the tile installation. We don’t feel a need to branch out to stone veneers, as there aren’t enough tile installers to keep up with the demand in our area.”

Occasionally, Lambert will install PetraSlate’s natural stacked ledgestone veneer on fireplaces and wainscots in 6” x 24” formats or veneer from Robinson Brick.

6-stone-1114In addition to setting material manufacturers supplying product to install these materials, they are keeping their eyes on the possible evolution of this market. “Most of the business is still serviced by the masonry contractor, but it is evolving to premium systems and products to address failures with original methods,” Pistulka said.

Thin brick and veneer installs

This being said, Conner commented that his company has done “tons” of thin brick and cut-stone veneer and even developed a proprietary method of installing these products that “reduced failures to nothing,” he said. This “Lombard Method” reduces the thickness of back-buttered mortar and mortared substrate so it doesn’t glaze over in warm weather and thus lose bond and create sagging. Superior installed thin brick using this method throughout the Embarcadero in San Francisco and also in many thin stone applications in Las Vegas projects. Conner said his company considers thin brick, stacked stone, and stone veneer bonded to a substrate to be “tilework.”

At Welch Tile, when it is within the scope of their work, the company installs a lot of stacked stone – typically interior work, such as veneers around a fireplace, in universities, casinos, and some bigger residential jobs and colleges, Welch said. It is installed using a tile setting method. We “stack them up like tile and thinset to a backer board,” he said.

Tech Talk – November 2014

TEC-sponsorA quick thought on labor and large-format tile

hunterBy Lewis Hunter, estimator

I can’t tell you how many times I have been in a conversation with the estimator or project manager of a general contractor (GC) who has wanted me to give them a revised price for 12” × 24” tiles in lieu of 12” × 12” tiles. And when I return the requested price, without fail, they are shocked to see that the price has dramatically increased.  They often argue that the prices of both tiles are relatively the same.  And what’s even more astounding to them, is that I agree.

1-TT-1114It then has to be explained that the increase in cost was due to the labor, increased floor prep, and setting materials. The GC’s estimator further argues that the 12” × 24” piece (2 sq. ft.) of tile is two times the size of the 12” × 12” (1 sq. ft.). This is where it needs to be further explained that with the installation of large-body tiles (typically anything larger than a 12” × 12”) the issue of lippage is more pronounced. Also, the tolerance associated with any sloping in the floor has to be offset. Basically, you have to make the subfloor flatter. The hard-tile estimator now has to account for a thicker mortar. Medium-bed mortar will have to be substituted for thin-set mortar. Consequently medium-bed mortar is more expensive, and the coverage is less than that of thinset. Likewise, labor is increased because the installer now has to massage each piece of tile to make sure it’s level with each adjoining piece. This affects the productivity, which can be reduced by half in some instances. All of these components combined increases the overall price.

2-TT-1114Now, as tile estimators, wouldn’t our lives be so much easier if the end user’s expectations included the above information?


Lewis M. Hunter Jr. was a commercial hard tile estimator for several years in Raleigh, NC. He now serves as the estimating manager for the top residential flooring company in Northern Virginia. Visit http://commercialtileestimating.wordpress.com or contact him at hunting1780@yahoo.com for more information.