North American “Three-PD”: An Industry First!

Unpacking the importance of EPDs for tile, mortar and grout

bill_grieseBy Bill Griese, LEED AP BD+C, director of Standards Development and Sustainability Initiatives, Tile Council of North America

Big news: two additional EPDs round-out the EPD trifecta

At Coverings 2016, Tile Council of North America (TCNA) announced an industry first: the completion of two industry-wide Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) for tile mortar and tile grout made in North America, which when used along with the existing EPD for North American-made ceramic tile, provide the environmental impact of the full installed system.

The EPD for North American-made ceramic tile, which was released in 2014, is a 23-page report containing a comprehensive disclosure of the environmental impact of over 95% of the ceramic tile produced in North America. Representing approximately 2.5 billion sq. ft. of tile, the following manufacturers contributed data to the study: Arto, Crossville, Dal-Tile Corporation, Florida Tile, Florim USA, Interceramic, Ironrock, Porcelanite Lamosa, Quarry Tile Company, StonePeak Ceramics and Vitromex de Norteamérica.

Similarly, the two new EPDs for North American-made mortar and grout provide lifecycle-based data on the vast majority of the main materials used to set tile, representing over 2.25 billion kg. of products produced annually in North America. The following mortar and grout companies contributed data to the study: Ardex, Bexel, Bostik, Crest, Custom Building Products, HB Fuller/TEC, Interceramic, LATICRETE, MAPEI and Cemix/Texrite.

What are EPDs, and why are they important?

Product selection is a major component in green building. Products can impact the environment in different ways, and it is important to understand the variety of contributions by all products. The sustainability of a product involves much more than recycled material content, energy efficiency, or any other single attribute. Conformance to multi-attribute sustainability performance thresholds and whether environmental information is transparently reported should be considered when evaluating a product’s true sustainability. Additionally, how products combine into installed product systems is important.

green-01Product conformance to the North American tile industry’s standard for sustainability, Green Squared®, is a good indicator of sustainability performance. With regard to transparency, EPDs are the most common vehicle for appropriately communicating environmental information.

An EPD provides a comprehensive overview of how a product impacts the environment – specifically, global warming, abiotic resource depletion, acidification, smog formation, eutrophication, and ozone depletion. The primary intent of an EPD is transparency, and while developed within a standardized reporting framework, the EPD itself does not indicate conformance to any particular environmental performance threshold(s). Just as nutrition labels inform with respect to food choices, an EPD informs with respect to sustainability.

The industry-wide EPDs for North American-made tile, mortar and grout are based principally on lifecycle assessments that address myriad aspects: sourcing and extraction of raw materials; manufacturing processes; health, safety and environmental aspects of production and installation; production waste; product delivery considerations; use and maintenance of the flooring; and end of product life options such as reuse, repurposing, and disposal. Each of these three EPDs provides 60-year environmental impacts, per square meter of installed product, based on “cradle-to-grave” LCA (life cycle assessment) data submitted by participating companies. Additionally, product-specific (proprietary) EPDs may be available from each of the participating companies.

All three industry-wide EPDs are based on a comprehensive analysis by thinkstep, Inc. (formerly PE International) and have been independently certified by UL Environment. Both thinkstep and UL Environment are well-established leaders in the field of sustainability assessment and validation. This means there is no “greenwashing” and that a formal account of the true environmental impact of tile, mortar and grout is provided and has been critically reviewed and verified by independent third-party experts.

EPDs for tile, mortar and grout provide specifiers and green building professionals with the information they need to understand the environmental impact of the fully-installed system. For more information and to download copies of all three North American industry-wide EPDs in their entirety, visit

EPDs for tile, mortar and grout provide specifiers and green building professionals with the information they need to understand the environmental impact of the fully-installed system. For more information and to download copies of all three North American industry-wide EPDs in their entirety, visit

Relevance of EPDs for tile, mortar and grout

The tile industry’s three EPDs are valuable resources for many reasons. EPDs provide manufacturers opportunities to see where they stand relative to the industry average, and allow a means to assess progress toward continuous improvement. Also, LCA data from the EPDs can be extracted to populate product information databases. Such databases are being used increasingly today by A&D and building life cycle experts for Building Information Modeling (BIM) and to make informed product decisions.

Furthermore, the three EPDs showcase the industry’s minimal environmental impact. For example, the industry-wide tile EPD, though it does not itself draw conclusions or report on ceramic tile’s environmental performance relevant to competitive surface materials, tells an interesting story when reviewed side by side with publicly available EPDs of other flooring products. When compared to other product EPDs, ceramic tile has the lowest 60-year environmental impact per square meter. Similarly, the industry-wide EPDs for mortar and grout report very low 60-year environmental impacts per installed square meter.

With regard to green building, the industry-wide EPDs for North American-made tile, mortar and grout are important tools for architects and specifiers who wish to use tile to satisfy green building project requirements. A product manufactured by any of the manufacturers who contributed data to these EPDs can contribute toward points and/or satisfy the criteria of virtually every North American green building standard and rating system: LEED, Green Globes, NAHB National Green Building Standard, ASHRAE 189.1, International Green Construction Code, CalGreen, CHPS and GSA Facilities Standards for Public Buildings.

green-03Also, having submitted data for the industry-wide EPDs, many participating manufacturers have already or will soon start to develop and release product-specific EPDs, which could potentially qualify those products to additionally contribute toward points and compliance in green building.

But, the most exciting aspect of the tile industry’s EPD trifecta? As most green building standards, codes, and rating systems provide incremental credit for each product that is addressed by an EPD, joint use of EPDs for tile, mortar, and grout means that a single tile installation could potentially contribute “triple!”

Moving Forward

Publicly-available North American industry-wide EPDs for tile, mortar, and grout, when used together, can provide in-depth environmental data and paint a clearer picture of the life cycle environmental impact of a tile installation. With the transparency provided by EPDs for the main materials used to install tile, along with the multi-attribute performance thresholds of Green Squared® which have been established for several years, specifiers are fully equipped with the information they need to specify green tile industry products in 2016 and beyond.

Tech Talk – August 2016

TEC-sponsorExterior porcelain rainscreen wall systems

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

(Editor note: This is the third in a series of three articles by Rich Goldberg about exterior ventilated façades. This installment examines a case study project incorporating a ventilated porcelain rainscreen exterior wall system.)



The first article in this series appeared in April 2016 TileLetter, and provided an overview of exterior ventilated porcelain rainscreen wall technology, including exciting new developments in porcelain panel sizes, thicknesses, and systems for precise engineering and mechanical attachment of porcelain panels to building façades. The concept of “ventilated rainscreen” walls was explained, including the benefits of ventilated wall cavities and continuous insulation to meet strict energy code requirements.

The second article appeared in June 2016 TileLetter, and explored the challenges facing the tile industry with rapid changes in tile technology and consumer demand.  To survive, we must adjust to some rather uncomfortable changes. The ancient proverb “Live by the sword, die by the sword” is certainly in vogue today as all industries are struggling to survive by making drastic changes to adjust to entire new technologies. Our design and consulting firm is no different, as we are in the process of making a challenging and complex transition to designing and engineering ventilated porcelain facades.

In this installment, we will explore a case study of the design and construction of a cutting-edge school building project. I will share with you some of the behind-the-scenes design and engineering of a typical ventilated porcelain rainscreen wall system, as well as a pictorial sequence of the project under construction.

CREC Museum Academy
Bloomfied, Conn.

The case study project is the CREC Museum Academy in Bloomfield, Conn., currently under construction. The Capital Region Education Council (CREC) Museum Academy offers education outside the traditional learning environment for 522 students in grades PreK – 5. By opening up the worlds of history, visual arts, living museums, performances and exhibition, students have a forum to develop their own curiosity about the world in which they live.

The design concept for the 75,000-sq.-ft. building follows the philosophy about fundamental changes in elementary level education. The exterior façade was designed around the ventilated rainscreen concept not only for functional reasons (ventilated cavity for ideal thermal and moisture control, energy efficiency of continuous insulation and air/moisture/vapor barrier, ease of access for maintenance), but also for conceptual reasons (expression of embracing new building technologies, curiosity of “how buildings work”).

Figure 1

Figure 1

The exterior façade contains approximately 35,000 sq. ft. of porcelain panels in addition to insulated glass windows and curtain walls. The porcelain panels are mechanically attached to an aluminum sub-frame, both of which were precisely engineered by PROCON and prefabricated by manufacturer Crossville-Shackerley. The system, commercially known as the “Sureclad® System,” was selected not only because of the ventilated rainscreen capabilities, but also because of the design attributes unique to this system: 1) access to remove and replace any porcelain panel, 2) flexibility for adjustment in all dimensions, and 3) properly designed components to allow for coastal wind loads, differential thermal movement and seismic activity.


Design and engineering

The fact that this wall system is completely pre-fabricated eliminates many of the typical field fabrication challenges for tile contractors. However, the trade-off is the challenge associated with complex coordination and understanding of dimensional tolerances and as-built field conditions – you simply cannot make any significant cuts to fit in the field, and the proper handling to prevent breakage due to lead times for prefabrication is critical. Another attribute of the Crossville-Shackerley Sureclad system was quick turn-around fabrication at their U.S. facility.


Figure 2

Figure 2

Figure 1 is an example of the precise design and engineering of the aluminum sub-frame for a full-scale mock-up of this project. The elevation of the framing indicates the placement and precise dimension of each component. Despite our precise design, the construction of the back-up wall (metal studs and gypsum sheathing) was out of plumb as is all too common with most field-constructed rough wall systems.


Figure 3

Figure 3

Construction sequence

Figure 2 shows the application of the air/moisture/vapor (AMV) barrier to the back-up wall sheathing. The AMV is a critical component of the continuous thermal and moisture-control function of a ventilated rainscreen wall. Even the penetrations for the aluminum support brackets fasteners through the AMV must be considered, as well as thermal breaks (green plastic isolation pads) between the aluminum brackets and the structural back-up wall. Air/moisture/vapor control is now highly regulated by building codes as well as by fire codes (NFPA 285).

Figure 3 is a view of the support bracket installation. The ease of installation of the porcelain panels is critically dependent on the layout and precision alignment of these supports.

Figure 4

Figure 4

Figure 4 shows how the windows have a sub-frame which envelope the ventilated cavity and allows the window to be flush with the porcelain panel surface. The sub-frame contains continuous flashing and waterproofing to tie in with the AMV. Windows can also be recessed using a similar metal frame or porcelain panel returns.

Figure 5 illustrates the installation of vertical T-shaped structural supports. These vertical supports serve several functions: 1) to allow attachment of the horizontal channels to which the porcelain panels are attached; 2) to transfer wind and gravity loads to the underlying structure, and most important 3) to provide adjustment of plumb and flatness alignment to underlying walls, which often exceed acceptable tolerances.

Figure 5

Figure 5

Figure 6 is a view of the installation of continuous insulation. Our firm always recommends that architects use mineral wool insulation in ventilated rainscreen wall systems. This is first and foremost because this material is completely fire safe, unlike foam insulation, despite dubious manufacturer claims for open-jointed ventilated-cavity wall systems. This material is also available with a black painted facing, so that no yellow, pink or other shiny material is exposed to view through open joints between the porcelain panels. The insulation is continuous, with the exception of thickness of the brackets and vertical T-shaped supports, which is allowed under strict energy codes.

Figure 6

Figure 6

Figure 7 is a leading edge view showing the installation of the horizontal supports for the porcelain panels. You will note that these aluminum supports are provided in a black anodized coating so that no shiny aluminum is exposed to view through open joints between the panels; this is the only exposed metal along horizontal joints. The Sureclad system design is unique in that there is only one horizontal support rail per tile panel course, compared to all other systems which 1) require two horizontal rails for each panel, and 2) once a panel is in place on a two-horizontal rail system, there is no room to lift up and remove a panel once the panel above is installed. The one-horizontal rail profile allows panels to be secured by engagement into a channel contained in the top of the horizontal rail profile, then tilted up into place and secured with a stainless steel fastener through the open joints between the panels into the lower portion of the horizontal profile to receive the panel above.

Figure 7

Figure 7

Figure 8 shows how once all of the underlying components are in place and properly aligned, the installation of the porcelain panels is incredibly simple, with very high production rates – the façade literally looks substantially complete in a matter of days! As discussed in the April 2016 article, the porcelain panel technology is advancing at a rapid pace, and we are already developing design and engineering requirements as well as handling and installation details for mechanically attached large-format porcelain tile panels similar in size (3 x 10 feet / 1 x 3 m and greater) to those currently available in large-format thin porcelain tile panels (LTPT). Anticipate the inevitable changes to the tile industry and seize the opportunities!

Figure 8

Figure 8

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

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

Qualified Labor – August 2016

1_CTI_20x20Jeremy Waldorf: owner/operator Legacy Floors

Certification offers customer extra value, bolstered by education and experience

By Terryn Rutford, Social Structure Marketing

Jeremy Waldorf, owner/operator of Legacy Floors in Howell, Mich., recalled setting wall tile with a slice of pizza in one hand during his Certified Tile Installer (CTI) exam at the end of 2015. “There was absolutely no room for breaks, at least in my case,” Waldorf said. “[The hands-on test] was pretty stressful, and much more challenging than I thought it would be.”

ql-02The context of the CTI hands-on test might be intimidating as described by Waldorf, “In a room with seven other guys, with seven other tool setups, methods, and approaches…I was tempted to peek over and see what kinds of things other guys were doing.” But now that he’s certified, Waldorf has more confidence that he will make the right choices. “With the manuals, resources, and most importantly, the industry connections I now have, I am always able to get answers from more experienced and more skilled tile setters and industry representatives,” Waldorf said.



In fact, becoming a CTI gave Waldorf an unexpected gift. Since getting certified, Waldorf said, “I am a lot more active in networking with other professionals, and attending clinics and workshops to stay educated about the tile industry. [And] I am plugged into the TileGeeks Facebook group, where I am regularly inspired by absolutely amazing craftsmen, and also get to laugh at the things we all come across in our work days.”

Although Waldorf was certified only six months ago, he was raised in the industry and has been a hard-surface specialist for 18 years. Early on in his career Waldorf committed himself to education. “My company philosophy has been to educate myself in my trade whenever possible, and to deliver the absolute best job I can give them,” Waldorf said.

ql-03According to Waldorf, certification is an opportunity “to really understand how much you have to learn. If you’re willing to take correction and listen to others so that you can brand yourself better, offering your clients advantages that most of your competition won’t, then certification will be an amazing step for you to take.” In addition to humbling you, Waldorf emphasizes that “certification will give you confidence in your abilities and help you make connections with others that can make you a better tile setter.”

Since becoming a CTI, Waldorf completes every tile installation under the assumption that it will be subject to inspection just like when he took the hands-on exam. “I naturally consider what it would be like to have someone take apart my finished work, examining every aspect of it,” Waldorf said. And as a result, Waldorf believes every project he completes is the absolute best he can give. According to Waldorf, certification allows you to “offer your customers more value because you’re not just hands that use tools. You are selling them your education and experience, and that is more important than anything else in this business. That’s how you will build your reputation.”

Ask the Experts – August 2016

SponsoredbyLaticreteThe following conversation took place between a contractor and NTCA technical trainer/presenter Mark Heinlein.


I would like some feedback on a recurring issue with a shower pan that was installed about a year ago (see attached pictures). The curbless shower pan is staying damp and not drying out even after days with electric heat set at 85 degrees.

The installation procedure used was as follows:

  • Prepan liner
  • Membrane over prepan
  • Mud sloped to drain
  • Liquid-applied waterproofing over pan and up inside and outside walls
  • Heated floor (skimcoated)
  • Liquid-applied waterproofing over that

I am looking for a way to rectify this issue and to prevent it from occurring in the future with light colored stone.



I have reviewed the photos you sent and read the description of your installation and have a couple of questions.

Did you install a pre-slope and liner with a clamping ring drain?  Or did you use a bonding flange-type drain, or a divot method?

Are the fixed glass panels mounted with fasteners (i.e. screws) to the floor/pan?

Please let me know.

I suspect that water may have pooled in low spots beneath the tiles that has caused the minerals in the soft marble to stain.

– Mark Heinlein,
NTCA technical trainer/presenter


Yes, there was a pre-slope drain with a clamping ring drain.  Workers installing the shower door said they drilled only through the tile for the shower door. There is really no area for water to pool due to the mosaic tile being installed with a small notched trowel.

If they penetrated through our waterproofing and mud bed, do you think that could have created the issue by the shower door?


Yes. Very likely the screws were longer than the thickness of the tile. If the liquid-applied waterproofing applied to the surface of mud bed / heat mat installation was penetrated, water can seep into the screw holes and wick into the bond coat and up into the stones. By what I can see in the photos, it appears this is the area where the staining has occurred.

Required mortar-bond coat coverage in a wet area, especially for natural stone, is 95% minimum. It is even more critical to have full-coverage bonding of soft stone on a shower floor. Were you able to get full coverage with a small notched trowel? There may be voids in the bond coat that are filing with water and staining the tile from beneath.

I also have some concerns about encapsulating the mud bed and heat system with a liner at the bottom and one or two layers of liquid applied membrane on top. How is the topical liquid membrane making a waterproof connection to the clamping ring drain?

Please take a look at TCNA Handbook Methods B421-15 and 422-15 for details regarding bonded waterproofing membranes on a sloped mortar bed shower receptor.

If you find there is no water entering through the screw holes, and if you have a good connection of the liquid waterproofing to the clamping ring drain, and if you have full-mortar bond coat coverage under the tile, this may be an example of when water stains soft stone tiles in shower pans in many types of installations. This phenomenon is currently being researched by an NTCA Technical Sub-Committee.

– Mark Heinlein,
NTCA technical trainer/presenter

Thin Tile – July 2016

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

by Lesley Goddin

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

The meeting

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

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

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

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

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

The projects

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

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

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

thin-03 thin-02

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

thin-04 thin-05

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

thin-06 thin-07

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


OSHA in the News – New Silica Rule

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

Respirable crystalline silica rule effective June 23, 2016

By Chris Woelfel, TileLetter contributor

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

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

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

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

Mortar and grout mixing: silica exposure risk for tile installers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cutting/grinding dangers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next steps

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

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

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

Tech Talk – July 2016

TEC-sponsorSuccessful glass tile installation for pools

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

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

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

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

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

1. Choosing tile

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

2. Cutting tile

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

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

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

3. Waterproofing pools

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

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

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


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

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

4. Setting tiles


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

5. Grouting tile

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

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

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

6. Wait time

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

7. Maintaining tile

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

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

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


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

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

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


Qualified Labor – July 2016

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

By Terryn Rutford, Social Structure Marketing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Business Tip – July 2016

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

by Dr. Albert D. Bates, Profit Planning Group


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moving Forward

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

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

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

Ask the Experts – July 2016


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


Thank you for contacting the National Tile Contractors Association.

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

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


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

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

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

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

To locate an NTCA member contractor:

To locate a Certified Tile Installer:

I hope this helps!

Mark Heinlein
NTCA Technical Trainer/Presenter

1 2 3 22