December 22, 2014

Business Tip – August 2014

What you can learn from my summer vacation

By Wally Adamchik, president, 
FireStarter Speaking and Consulting

Remember the standard, return-to-school “What I Did on My Summer Vacation,” essay from our youth?

wally_adamchikThis summer has given me several lessons that have value for you today.

The story begins with a local police officer knocking on my door at 9:00 one night, asking me about my brother, Billy. Of course, you know what happens next – I find out that Billy died in a motorcycle accident a few hours earlier. He was 57, divorced, with no children. He was a floor layer. Just like you and your team.

First lesson: We are in a business of relationships. Don’t let corporate purchasing and hard-bid tactics make you forget this. While price is part of the purchase consideration, the quality of your work and the relationships you foster with your clients, customers, and co-workers are paramount.

I first realized this as word about Billy spread through the grapevine and I received numerous calls, emails, and cards of condolences from across the country. These were unexpected and much appreciated.

I saw it again at his wake. Having worked his trade in the New York area for over 30 years, my brother was well known. On that Memorial Day weekend, we were visited by many of his associates. Not just tile guys, but the foreman from the laborers, and a superintendent from a general contractor, to name a few. There were guys who had worked with our father in the business – and some even remembered when I had helped out on a few jobs, way back when! Connections between people – that’s what it’s about.

Next lesson: How is your health? Construction is hard work, yeah. But it isn’t a substitute for quality exercise and eating. Billy wasn’t in bad shape, but he wasn’t in good shape, either. He loved to eat; cooking was his hobby. He didn’t exercise. And he had coronary artery disease. In fact, he may have had a health crisis that triggered the crash. We don’t know for sure. But we do know that he was not taking care of himself, and now, he’s gone. Are you taking care of yourself? (If not for yourself, then for those who love you.)

Last lesson: Get your affairs in order. “Divorced with no kids” sounds like an easy estate to deal with, right? Well, it would be if:

  1. There had been a will (there wasn’t);
  2. There had been up-to-date beneficiaries on his life insurance policy (his ex-wife is still listed, although that wasn’t his wish; he just “never got around to” changing beneficiaries even though they’d been divorced for several years), and
  3. All his records had been kept in one place (not even close).

Looking through files and folders is never easy, but having to weed through pay stubs from 1986 makes the process even harder.

I realized that my finances and directives are in a similar state of disorganization. I am currently creating what I call the Red Envelope, where all of that information is being placed to make the process easier for whoever needs to deal with it. We need to do this for the benefit of those around us. If you are a business owner or the head of a household, this becomes even more important.

By now, you may be fed up with my personal ramblings. But remember what my brother did for a living. He was a floor layer. He was just like you and those who work for you. I am hoping you can learn from him so your team is better off.

Ask the Experts – August 2014


I have an Absolute Black Granite triangle shape 20” x 20” – 1-1/4” thick that I would like to mount as a corner seat in my shower. Can this seat be mounted in the wall to handle the weight of a 230- lb. person ? No support under the seat. If that is possible, what is the best way to mount the seat in the wall?


Our tile installation company installed hundreds of these. Of course, we were also a fabrication company, and we usually installed slab seats that matched the slab vanity/tub deck in the bath that we also provided.

The installation of these seats was very simple, but there was a trick – we would just cut the tile on both walls to accommodate the thickness of the stone and the length of each leg, but in order to get the end cuts tight enough to look good, the triangle of stone had to be installed at the same time as the tile on the walls (we would also be sure there was good mortar contact between the stone and the wall substrate). This required good, solid spacers in the installation for the joints under the seat.  The soft rubber ones didn’t work well. Once the mortar was cured, we would grout the wall tile, but use sealant (a.k.a. caulking) where the stone met the tile, the same as the inside corners in the shower.

Michael K. Whistler, Presenter/Technical Consultant, NTCA


We understand that curing compounds on a concrete substrate can impact the bond or adhesion of the mortar and cause installation failure. We are familiar with the recommendation to scarify or shot blast the floor to remove these inhibiting substances as well. But we would like to know if there is a manufacturer that offers or recommends a specific curing compound or primer/bonding agent to be used with a specific thinset, with proven results? We have a large customer we do work for and this issue continues to occur so we are looking for information we can provide for them.


Many manufacturers are coming out with primers that are mainly designed for tile-over-tile installations, but can also be used for many other problematic substrates. We keep hoping that a primer will be introduced that will have the capability of being applied to a concrete substrate with curing compounds that would not have to be removed. Unfortunately, we continue to be told by the manufacturers that these primers should not be used for this purpose. At this point in time we know of no primer, mortar or adhesive that is approved for use over a curing compound. What is really needed is for specifiers to understand this situation, so they can clearly point out in the design phase that areas that are to receive ceramic tile should be treated differently by the concrete contractor. Concrete substrates where tile is specified should receive a broom finish and have no curing compounds used that in area. That would make a significant difference and save everyone time and money.

Michael K. Whistler, Presenter/Technical Consultant, NTCA

Ask the Experts – July 2014


I’m interested in using mosaic tile on an upcoming project. Do you have any recommendations to ensure a successful job?


There are quite a few very important criteria to ensure long-term success for this project.

Use a mosaic that is rated for exterior use. Porcelain is excellent because it is considered impervious. But almost more important is the mounting method for the mosaic sheets. No paper-mesh, back-mounting should be used. Your course of least risk would be to specify a mosaic that could be used in a submerged application as well as for exteriors.

Work with a mortar manufacturer to come up with the best system to suit your project needs, including possible waterproofing and a mortar suited to your climate’s exterior rigors.

Application of mortar and mosaic sheets must be well done. Mortar should be flat-troweled into substrate, additional mortar applied and notch-troweled in one direction, then notches flattened with flat side of trowel. Apply mosaic sheets to fresh mortar and beat in with beating block. This method gives best coverage, minimizes mortar squeeze-up between tiles and gives a flat, uniform installation.

Expansion joints are vital and must be specified into the project according to EJ-171 in the TCNA Handbook.

– Michael Whistler, NTCA technical consultant


Recently an installer removed tile and installed new tile over the existing mortar/thinset. He said it’s a normal practice, and any tiles that are uneven (in terms of height), are within the industry standard of 1/16”. Does that make sense to you?


I think he is only telling part of the story. There’s no problem installing over old mortar, tile, or thinset as long as it is well-bonded and crack free. That does not change the tolerance which is 1/4” in 10’ with no greater than a 1/16” variation in 12” for tile under 18” and an 1/8” in 10’ with no more than 1/16” in 24”. The 1/16” he is referring to is a lippage allowance. Lippage allowance for installation is the height minus (or plus) the actual warpage. That allowance is 1/16” for grout joints 1/4” or greater and 1/32” for less than 1/4”.

David M. Gobis CTC CSI, fee-based consultant responding on behalf of TCNA.


Natural stone was installed as part of a renovation at our home. However, now there are muddy spots that appear to be staining the stone. Can you determine what would be discoloring our beautiful new stone and how it can be fixed or eliminated?


Without making a site visit and undergoing extensive testing (some of which would be destructive to the areas that are stained), I will not be able to give you a definitive answer to what is causing these “muddy spots.”

All natural stone has some risk of minerals leaching and or metal oxidation. Metal oxidation occurs most often with softer stones such as travertine. It is caused by iron oxide that is found naturally in these softer stones and reacts to the oxygen in the air or from exposure to water (which also contains oxygen). When the oxidation occurs, usually a reddish / brown color is produced – sometimes orange colors may appear when there are free minerals mixed with the oxide metals and water is introduced. These colors are looked upon as desirable by many that choose natural stone but sometimes they are not wanted. In those cases, a manmade porcelain tile may be a better choice, especially when installed in a wet area.

For more information, check with the consultants listed on our website, since these professional do make site visits and can determine causes and possible prevention measures. Visit to view a list of consultants.

Gerald Sloan, NTCA technical consultant

Business Tip – July 2014

mapei_sponsorThree common business screw ups

GoldmanBy Jon Goldman, CEO Brand Launcher

From TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes to America’s Funniest Videos, everybody seems to enjoy laughing at people’s screw ups. And at baseball games, all eyes are glued to the giant screens to watch the funny mistakes the players make. But it isn’t so funny when it happens in our businesses, where the mistakes are both embarrassing and costly. But many of tomorrow’s mistakes have been made before. You can learn from the past and avoid making these Big Three business mistakes.

1. No sense of urgency

I grew up sending letters in the mail and waiting a week for a response. But Gen Y grew up with instant chat and texting. They get annoyed sitting in an airplane going 500 mph, and their broadband connection is too slow. This means the bar has been raised for all of us, and you and your team had better respond to prospects fast.

I know of one business that lost $120,000 worth of revenue because it made a potential customer wait a few weeks to get a price quote. In today’s environment, if you don’t respond quickly, other companies will eat you for lunch.

2. Lack of transparency

Do you hold your cards too close to the vest? One business owner I know was so reticent about sharing information that he lost the trust of his key personnel. We’re living in a transparent world, and by holding back, you create a veil of secrecy. This works well at magic shows, but not in the business world.

I want to share a radical idea with you. It’s called “Open-Book Management.”

“What? Open up our financials so our employees can see how much we’re making? If they see how much profit we make, they’ll demand more money.”

I have yet to find a company that was harmed by taking the bold move to open up their books. No, you don’t have to divulge everything, but you should let your key players in on your overall financial situation and your vision for the company. You want them to feel a sense of ownership within your business.

3. Hiring too quickly

Growing companies need to hire new personnel. But often they choose the easiest people to find, rather than the best people for the job. Ultimately, they have to fire them or they remain stuck with staff who doesn’t get the job done.

Sure, you want to build quickly. Perhaps you feel you can’t afford to hire the best people. But you can’t afford not to. If you hire wrong, you’ll end up spending time and money training, only to have to hire and train again.

Screw-ups: we all make them

In some of the businesses that I have owned, we made these mistakes. I wish I had learned from someone else’s mistakes then, so I didn’t have to spend much time straightening them out. Now when someone tells me about having a sense of urgency, being transparent, or hiring the right people, I pay attention. I hope you will, too.

Jon is the author of two works on business and marketing topics, including one that has been translated into Japanese. He is a powerful speaker who was a popular presenter at the 2014 Coverings show in April. Get a FREE copy of his latest e-book, Vendor-to-Expert, at

Business Tip – June 2014

mapei_sponsorThe daily huddle

One of the most effective leadership and management tools at your disposal

wally_adamchik By Wally Adamchik, president FireStarter Speaking and Consulting

It works for (insert your favorite quarterback here) and it can work for you, too. It is, perhaps, one of the most effective leadership and management tools at your disposal, and takes just a few minutes to execute. But it is rarely used effectively. What is it? A daily huddle.

You need to tell your people things they need to know to do their job. They want to hear those things. Contrary to popular belief, there are employees at all levels and all ages who want to do a good job. Many of those who are disengaged feel that way because the boss is not communicating with them. The daily huddle is a fine solution. And it can work in any industry. It works especially well in construction.

The concept is simple. Before the workday starts, you gather your team to deliver key information to align them for the day. Are there any special events/visitors/promotions? How about a key training or safety tip? On the jobsite you should talk about production targets for the day. All this information gives your team direction and helps them to be more productive. You also might toss in some feedback about how things went yesterday. (While this is not a time to single out poor performers, you may highlight some wins from the day before.)

Make sure to ask for input and questions. If the huddle is a new concept for your team, people will be reluctant to share anything initially. But, over time they will see you are serious about the huddle and will work with you to make it better. I have seen – and participated in – huddles that were also a stretch-and-flex period to increase safety awareness and to warm up cool muscles before starting physical labor. It sends a strong message that the company is serious about safety when the boss joins in the huddle and the flex when he is visiting. I have also seen CEOs blow off that part – and that sends a message, too!

Communication is one of the keys to success in just about any endeavor. I have never conducted an employee satisfaction survey for a client in which the results indicated there was too much communication. In fact, over 85% of my surveys have indicated that communication from management is in need of drastic improvement. The huddle is a quick, easy and inexpensive way to fix a major problem.

Let’s look at why it works. First, it is personal. No texting or email is involved. This is direct, eye-to-eye contact – still the most compelling form of communication we have. When we look someone in the eye we know we have their attention and we can see them understand our message.

Also, engaging in eye contact shows people they are important, that you want to communicate with them. It conveys the message that you trust them enough to share this information with them. When you ask for their input, you are literally saying, “I want to hear what you have to say. I am interested in you and the value you contribute to our team.”

It comes down to trust and respect. And it educates and aligns people on key business issues. They feel like they are part of the team and they operate from a “we,” not a “they,” perspective. When I interview an employee who speaks of his or her firm in terms of “they do… they say,” it makes me cringe. It is as if the employee does not actually consider himself part of the company, but rather some visitor who has little stake and even less affiliation and sense of camaraderie.

Keeping people informed is your job. Setting direction is one of the primary roles of a leader. In the case of the huddle, the direction is short term. We are not communicating the strategic plan of the company; we’re merely stating the goals of the day.

What’s the payoff? You get employees who are more motivated and educated to do the job. Does it always work? No, not every single employee may respond to the huddle – but most will. I can guarantee though that starting the day without a huddle ensures a workforce that is uninformed and de-motivated. And not even the worst quarterback in the league would attempt that.

NTCA has partnered with Wally Adamchik to bring his interactive virtual training system at to NTCA members. Contact him at to learn more about how the NTCA/FireStarterVT partnership can shave your training dollars while improving your leaders at all levels.

Ask the Experts – June 2014


What is the normal direction to lay herringbone tile (which way do the “arrows” point) in a secondary room with only one entrance? I would think they point in the direction from the door to the back of the room but I have seen them “sideways” which seems strange. The rest of the floors are strip hardwood laid in a normal front-of-house-to-back-of-house pattern. The room to get herringbone tile is a small, step-down wine room off to the side of the dining room.


It is common to use a herringbone pattern “square-to-the-room,” or in other words in a “front-to-back” layout, but a diagonal herringbone is also popular. It really depends on the end user or design professional to determine the directional layout of the tile pattern.

The tile contractor will often create a dry layout of tile in a small area and have it approved by the responsible party before beginning permanent installation.

The only reference to layout in the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) A-108 is Center and Balance: no cut tiles smaller than half-tile where possible.

This is a matter of preference. No written documents are available pertaining to what direction to install herringbone patterns.

Gerald Sloan, technical consultant
NTCA presenter


I would appreciate your assistance in letting me know if there are conditions under which it would be proper to use spot bonding for a 6” x 24” porcelain tile to be installed on a concrete floor? That is, if proper adherents and materials are used and coverage space is adequate (80% for residential tile) is it appropriate to use spot bonding?

I ask because the little information I could find online indicates spot bonding is never appropriate for floors under any circumstances.


You are correct in your search for suitability of spot-bonding installation methods. It is never acceptable to use spot-bonding for floors. Spot bonding is exactly what it implies, placing spots or dabs of mortar on the back of the tile or substrate, then pushing the tile down hoping the spots will expand enough to get proper coverage. This “spot expansion” really never occurs, giving sub-standard coverage. It is difficult enough to get proper coverage using a notch trowel correctly.

There is usually a reason installers want to use spot bonding, and it is that the substrate is out of plane and they need to build the tile up to avoid lippage issues. This actually causes two bad results: one – poor coverage; two – mortar applied too thickly, exceeding manufacturer’s maximum allowable thickness that leads to shrinkage and possible de-bonding. Substrates need to be prepared to proper flatness before proceeding with tile installation. Having a flat substrate allows faster installation and a better end product.

There IS one allowable method for spot bonding, and it is for walls only. There are manufacturer’s proprietary epoxies available that allow you to spot-bond tile to walls by using their products and following their written installation instructions.

– Michael Whistler, technical consultant
NTCA presenter

Qualified Labor – June 2014

QLLATICRETE MVP points fund CTI/ACT registration fees

As we’ve been reporting for a while, the industry is moving toward an industry-wide recognized standard of competence and skill, known as the Certified Tile Installer/CTI (for basic skills validation) and the advanced knowledge and know-how of the ACT installer (for Advanced Certified Tile Installer).

Though there is a modest cost for these programs, money can be tight sometimes.

Now LATICRETE – which has been a supporter of the certification programs since their inception – is taking another step to support industry-wide excellence by permitting its MVP program members to use earned points for CTI and ACT registrations.

LATICRETE’s MVP program operates like this: for every dollar spent on LATICRETE products, points are awarded, depending on status level. Typically points are used for trips to places like Italy, Napa Valley, and Ireland, where LATICRETE personnel and MVP customers can enjoy travel adventures and build camaraderie.

But LATICRETE is expanding the use of points toward rewards that are more oriented towards philanthropy and industry support, said Ron Nash, vice president of sales and marketing – North America at LATICRETE International.

qualified_labor-1“We’re involved in the Wounded Warrior Project, golf tournaments to benefit those living with multiple sclerosis – causes that are consistent with the Rothberg philosophy. Part of our corporate mission is giving back, since we are blessed people – and those things tend to come back around to us.

“This program is a portal to find cream of the crop – the best of the best installers,” he said. “We want those installers to help out the industry as well,” Nash added. “Certifications and trainings, NTCA, TCAA membership, etc. – this is all geared toward making the industry better. None of it will really thrive unless contractors participate.

“We want to say: ‘Don’t let money stop you’,” he added. “As a professional, you’d have organizations you’d support or be part of, like a doctor or architect. Construction is changing so fast that if you are not staying up to date on training and don’t know the best practice, you’ll be leapfrogged by people you haven’t met yet.”

Scott Carothers, training director of the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF), commented about the first tile contractor to make use of this new MVP reward-points option.

“The first tile contracting company to utilize the LATICRETE MVP certification option was the David Allen Company (DAC) at its branch location in Bristow, Va., on March 25, 2014. The David Allen Company has been a long-time supporter of the CTI program and now with the assistance of LATICRETE, that support is growing.”

Christopher Walker, vice president of David Allen Company, said, “LATICRETE made it extremely easy to use MVP points for CTI training in our warehouse for NTCA contractors.” DAC sponsored CTI training for installers from DAC, as well as nearby contractors Collins Tile and Stone and FBT Tile and Marble, and used MVP points to fund the registration fees for the DAC installers.

“We plan to do the same thing with ACT certification later this year,” Walker said.

MVP points will have an even farther reach later this summer – LATICRETE is developing a system where points can be used for association dues in addition to the CTI/ACT registration fees.

“We will target those advancements in July,” Nash added. “MVP members will be able to use MVP points to pay for NTCA dues and TCAA dues, and purchase industry manuals as well, like the TCNA Handbook for Ceramic, Glass and Stone Tile Installation, the ANSI manuals and specifications. We are developing a rewards site that allows members to order all those things.“

In addition, Nash mentioned that “companies like Crossville are looking to put together additional trainings. MVP members will be first to hear about those trainings as well.”

Carothers concluded by stating, “LATICRETE has raised the bar by adding the certification option into its MVP program.”




The NTCA, along with other leading tile installation trade associations, has released a position statement on thin porcelain tile. For more information on this statement, contact Bart Bettiga, NTCA executive director. ACT_Position_Statement_Thin_Tile

What’s new in the 2014 Handbook?


ANSI A118.15 Mortar (thin-set) added

The 2014 TCNA Handbook for Ceramic, Glass, and Stone Tile Installation has been released, and this year’s edition includes the newest performance designation for tile bonding mortar within the ANSI system: ANSI A118.15 American National Standard Specifications for Improved Modified Dry-Set Cement Mortar. The new mortar standard is important because it enables contractors’ project bids to be compared more evenly – particularly when a higher-performing mortar is needed – because it provides a means for requiring or specifying use of a higher-performing mortar. Previously, many mortars that are now classified as an “A118.15 mortar” would have been categorized under ANSI A118.4, which still exists, but with a slight name change (now the American National Standard Specifications for Modified Dry-Set Cement Mortar).

How does this affect tile contractors?

Specifications that called for an ANSI A118.4 mortar allowed a wide range of mortars in terms of performance. When estimating, contractors would have to decide whether or not to factor in a higher-performing (likely more expensive) mortar. Given the competitiveness of bids, doing so could jeopardize the chance of getting a job by adding cost to a bid that others are not including because it is not required. At the same time, experienced contractors and estimators know that some installations and applications need – or would at least benefit from – a higher-performance mortar, even if the job spec doesn’t require it. With the new A118.15 standard in place, there is a more level playing field. Plus, it could be argued that the consumer and end user will benefit because, when a higher-performing mortar is needed, the job specifications can call for it, and the project is likely awarded to a contractor that included it.

What methods are affected?

In the just-released 2014 Handbook, A118.15 mortar has replaced A118.4 mortar as the minimum requirement for tiling above-ground balconies and decks, pools, and steam showers. For interior above-ground floor installation methods (for example F113A), the mortar requirement depends on whether or not a membrane is being used. If there is no membrane, A118.15 mortar is required – the concept being that having a flexible component in such systems is helpful. If a membrane is used however, an ANSI A118.4 mortar may be used. Similarly, A118.15 mortar is required when a membrane will not be included when using the radiant-heat floor-installation methods and the exterior-wall methods.

Manufacturers of A118.15 mortars are already educating design professionals on when higher-performing mortar is needed and how to specify it. Be on the lookout for updated specs and be sure to bid accordingly.

Schluter-Systems hosts training and educational seminar for NTCA members

bart_0114By Bart Bettiga

Schluter-Systems’ new LEED Gold certified building is located just outside Reno, Nevada, and offers a picturesque view of mountain ranges on the horizon surrounded by terrain adjacent to the property with running streams and wild horses roaming freely on the land. In addition to the state-of-the-art facility, Schluter’s 97,500-sq.-ft. building is strategically located to offer increased service and faster delivery of products for their west coast distributors, dealers and contractors. It is also an ideal location for training and educational programs. The facility features a multitude of sensible and sustainable technologies to maximize energy efficiency, water usage and air quality.


The Schluter Reno building used thousands of square feet of tile in both interior and exterior applications, and acted as a virtual hands-on research and development project.

Schluter recently hosted over 75 NTCA members for a training and educational seminar and tour of the facility. This was also an excellent opportunity for NTCA staff to update the attendees on association direction and strategic planning. The program included a complete presentation and tour of the building, which was in essence a hands-on research and development project for Schluter. Many of their products are showcased throughout the facility, offering a great example of how conventional building methods continue to evolve, and how tile and stone can be key elements in the successful implementation of sustainable systems that maximize energy efficiency.

schluter-sidebarAndy Acker, a leading trainer and presenter for Schluter-Systems, was the lead speaker and facilitator of the program, which consisted of two complete days of highly-engaged interaction. Former NTCA regional director and contractor John Trent, who is currently employed with Schluter, was instrumental in putting the program together and assisting in its development and promotion.

Topics discussed in the first day of the training seminar included lengthy interaction on the principle of uncoupling, covering details from the TCNA Handbook and thin-set installations. New product introductions included a preview of the new Ditra-Heat system, which was recently introduced to the trade. NTCA and Schluter leaders then held an open-forum discussion on installation practices and business strategies before heading out to a fabulous dinner.


Dee DeGoyer of Schluter-Systems was the tour presenter and explained the detailed planning that went into the state-of-the-art facility.

Day Two consisted of the NTCA strategic planning update and a Schluter presentation on moisture management, including a lengthy discussion of waterproofing and examining details of both the TCNA and Schluter installation handbooks. Presentations on Schluter Kerdi Board and their innovative profiles as solutions to challenging installations completed the morning sessions. After lunch, all of the attendees broke into groups and moved into the training center locations, where several territory managers were ready with demonstrations of products in carefully-constructed modules. All of the groups had time to see the hands-on training demonstrations, ask questions and make comments, and move on to the next module.


One of the highlights of the seminar included round -robin presentations in small groups of Schluter pw2ju22XZ(922fgroducts and systems.

The educational portion of the event concluded with presentations by Schluter leaders offering a glimpse into the future, sharing some strategies of products currently being considered for development. Schluter also shared their position on supporting Certification through the CTEF programs, and pledged to support the ACT Certifications currently being offered.

Many of the attendees stayed an additional day to go skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling in the beautiful mountains located near Lake Tahoe. By all accounts, those that stayed the extra day were treated to a memorable experience. Schluter-Systems and NTCA leaders agreed that future meetings of this nature would continue to provide value to our members.


New products demonstrated at the seminar included the Ditra-Heat system, which will be on display at Coverings.






Several attendees took the extra day offered by Schluter to enjoy the winter climate with skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling adventures.


Over 75 NTCA members attended the training seminar at the recently completed Schluter-Systems LEED Gold Certified building in Reno, Nevada.