Are You Paying Attention? – January 3, 2016

Back in August of last year the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) handed down a new standard that “rewrites U.S. Labor law and upends thousands of business relationships”. Their reasoning is that the old standard was “increasingly out of step with changing economic circumstances”. Reaction was swift with several calling it “alarming” and “fundamentally unrealistic”. The new rule stems from the board’s watershed Browning-Ferris decision which dealt with joint-employer relationships. While the rule will have far reaching effects on industries from staffing companies to franchises, it will also have great effect on the construction industry in terms of how our labor is classified. And yes you should at the very least be aware and even concerned.

The focus of this ruling for our industry concerns the classification of labor into the camps of employees and sub-contractors. While the NLRB, the governmental agency that implements the National Labor Relations Act, has found it within their jurisdiction and infinite wisdom to reverse several decades of practice in labor relationships, they are of the opinion that the line between the two to be blurred to the point that action separating them must be taken. The dissenters on the board who voted against this decision said it “reverses several prior decisions that established clear standards…all of which had been approved by powerful federal courts of appeal”. This is specifically addressing the use of 1099-based labor in the construction industry.

I’m sure many are aware of the IRS’s 20 Point Checklist for Determining an Independent Contractor ( which has been used in the past to make the distinction between an employee and a subcontractor. It now appears that the NLRB wishes to go beyond this already stringent test to make it even more so as the Obama administration chases “perceived worker rights abuses” as a main target as increased funding to both the NLRB and the IRS has increased in the last few years. The rule seems to actively seek to “restrict and tighten the use of independent contractors “ in the construction industry. This matter is especially poignant to the homebuilding industry since the NAHB states that a typical builder “relies on an average of 22 subcontractors to build a typical single family home.” Much of this stems from the toughening stance put forth from the Department of Labor and an administrator’s opinion that stated that the DOL “is putting more weight on a subcontractor’s economic independence when it decides whether that sub really ought to be regarded as an independent enterprise”. No longer is the IRS’s checklist enough. Now subcontractors must show “the managerial and business skills that are part of being and independent contractor, not just providing skilled labor”.

At stake is misclassification of your labor, if you use subcontractors, and the perception that they should have been W-2 based employees. The money it could cost you if they deem you have breached their new rules “can be ruinous”. It has been said that “reclassification attacks are very expensive to defend” and the resulting actions trigger a “domino-like effect” that if you lose your case can have you paying beloved fees such as past due overtime, past due health insurance, past due retirement benefits, past due employee benefits, past due worker’s compensation insurance, past due state and federal withholding taxes plus penalties and interest and enormous legal fees to the other side.

I doubt any installation contractors in our industry want to incur such onerous penalties that could potentially put them out of business, so each must understand the risks and rewards of this issue. This issue is currently being researched and information is being disseminated by the installation industry. There has even been a period of time after this ruling for associations such as ours to comment to the NLRB our opinion of the rule and how it will affect our members.

There has been legislation proposed in Congress to undo the rule by representatives whose constituents have shown an “immense backlash” to it. I urge you to consider the ramifications of the NLRB’s new rule on your business and our industry. Do some research into how the rule will be applied in your state. I also urge you to contact your legislators to support, as one congressman put it, “commonsense proposals that would restore policies in place long before the NLRB’s radical decision, the very same policies that served workers, employers, and consumers well for decades.”

A program on this very subject will be presented at the Surfaces show in Las Vegas and is just one of the educational opportunities available there January 19.



Latest grout developments offer contractors more choices than ever

Innovations include color explosion, and improvements in crack and stain resistance

By Louis Iannaco

As evidenced by some very well-received product launches at the Total Solution Plus (TSP) 2015 conference in Savannah, Ga., last October, as well as several recent industry-wide developments, when it comes to grout, tile contractors now have more selections and offerings to choose from than ever before.

1-groutWhether it’s increased color choices, improved shrink, crack or stain resistance, today’s state-of-the-art technology has created better-performing products flooring professionals are excited about. They are especially jazzed about their ability to do things they’ve never been able to previously, with the promise of even more developments in the future.

“The new technology we’re seeing in grout is great,” said John Mourelatos, owner, Mourelatos Tile Pro, a National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA) member based in Tucson, Ariz. “Things are moving in the right direction, offering superior quality grout to our clients based on their needs. There’s room for improvement, and I believe we’re in a transition period in defining what type of grout works best for the majority of tile installed.”

According to Ricky Cox, owner of NTCA Five Star Contractor Memphis Tile & Marble, Memphis, Tenn., the industry has struggled with grout for decades. “Sanded grout has come a long way, but still has a way to go. Even with additives, sand and cement aren’t perfect. The most exciting thing is manufacturers are at least trying to improve their products.”

Sam Bruce, president of NTCA Five Star Contractor Visalia Ceramic Tile, Visalia, Calif., agreed with Cox, and noted how manufacturers are working on the two biggest complaints customers have about grout: color consistency and stain resistance. “Historically, these have been the main issues contractors have had to face when servicing their customers.”

Logistical benefits; design advantages

Led by companies such as LATICRETE, MAPEI, TEC, Custom Building Products, Tex-Rite and others, improvements in grout are growing. Launched during TSP 2015 where it created quite a buzz was LATICRETE’S AnyColor™ grout, which features a partnership with Sherwin Williams and Benjamin Moore to coordinate the company’s PermaColor® Select grout technology to any paint color, with a two-week turnaround.

2-groutNew or fairly new grout developments of interest to contractors include MAPEI’s Flexcolor™ CQ, Texrite’s flexible system, TEC’s InColor™ and Prism® from Custom Building Products.

“I really like PermaColor Select,” said Christopher Dalene, senior project manager of NTCA Five Star Contractor Dalene Flooring Carpet One, Hartford, Conn. “The idea that you have a grout priced competitively with the market, is shrink/crack resistant, fast setting (for those fast-paced construction projects), and has StoneTech® sealer technology built in, is huge.”

Dalene, who handles mainly commercial projects, added, the client benefits in the sealer and enhanced stain resistance, and “we benefit by saving the additional trip to the job, and moving to the next one. From a warehousing perspective, I like the idea of stocking pallets of base material and a cabinet of colorant. Your exposure to spoilage is reduced, and the footprint required is significantly smaller.”

While at TSP 2015, Dalene was very impressed with LATICRETE’S AnyColor launch. “To my knowledge, it’s an industry first,” he said. “I can see our brick-and-mortar store interior design team utilizing this to solve those sometimes-challenging grout color selection issues that arise from time to time. It also opens up a unique opportunity for the commercial design firms to further customize the selections they are making.”

For Tom Cravillion, owner, Cravillion Tile & Stone, a NTCA member in Plymouth, Wis., his go-to grout for most jobs is LATICRETE’S PermaColor premium. “Since switching to it, we’ve had no call backs for shading, cracking or color loss. I still like to use pre-mixed urethane for glass tile, LATICRETE SpectraLOCK® epoxy for porcelain.”

Martin Brookes, owner of NTCA Five Star Contractor Heritage Marble & Tile, Mill Valley, Calif., is a big fan of LATICRETE’S PermaColor. “It’s our go-to grout. It performs well and color stays true.”

Bruce is also impressed with PermaColor Select. While Visalia hasn’t used the product to know how it compares to other grouts from an installer’s view, from a logistics view, “It’s unmatched. When stocking, which we do, it would save lots of racking space, is easier to manage and organize and easier to stock and keep clean.

“Also,” he explained, “to have the ability to get a color that runs out of stock shipped next day or second day would be worth the price to complete a job on time because an 8-oz. packet is being shipped, not a 25-lb. bag.”


Easy cleaning, flexibility for the customer

With that said, Bruce admitted that Custom Building Products’ Prism is Visalia’s favorite grout to work with because of its color consistency. “Its application is like traditional sanded grout, easy to clean and wash without streaking, and it’s a great final product. Its hardness and density is something customers are happy with.”

For 2014 NTCA Tile Person of the Year and NTCA Five Star Contractor, Jan Hohn, co-owner, Hohn & Hohn Tile, Inc., St. Paul, Minn., the urethane/polymer resin grouts hitting the market from most of the setting materials manufacturers add value to grout. “Because of the characteristics and function of these products, one has much more flexibility in selecting one that will meet the needs of a particular project or client.”

Hohn’s favorites include basic grouts from TEC, Custom Building Products, MAPEI, and Ardex. “They are all good to work with. As far as TEC’s InColor, I like it because it’s easy to use and cleans up the best of all the single bucket grouts. As far as Custom’s Prism– for this type of a grout – it’s easy to use, easy to clean and can be tooled nicely in a reasonable amount of time.”

Hopes for the future

When it comes to what contractors would like to see in the future, as Hohn noted, it would be great if all the manufacturers would have all the colors of their grouts available in all the different types of grout they offer.

“Some do and some don’t,” she said. “That would provide more flexibility when choosing a grout. My clients and I choose grout based on color, not the manufacturer, so it would be great to have all the options of grout type available from all producers.”

According to Cravillion, it would be “brilliant” if manufacturers could make color in a bag to mix into thin set mortar to match whatever color grout you’re about to use. “Because we set mostly stone tile that needs to be sealed anyway, I don’t think we need sealer in the grout as an added expense.”

And while Mourelatos likes the direction premixed grout is headed, he’d just like to see a product that is “installer-friendly when it comes time to clean up, as well a product that is durable with some flexibility.”

Regarding TSP 2015, what had Cravillion most excited was the interaction and response from all in the tile industry – from installers to manufacturing and distribution personnel and shop owners. “Everyone has a focused view of what needs to be done to advance our industry – getting younger people engaged and excited about working with this product and what is to come in the future.”

Qualified Labor – January 2016








CTI exam tests and teaches Hawthorne Tile’s project manager Shon Parker learns from the Certified Tile Installer evaluation

By Terryn Rutford, Social Structure Marketing


Shon Parker

In 2014, when Shon Parker of Hawthorne Tile walked into his local Portland, Ore., Daltile, he glanced at the modules for the hands-on portion of the Certified Tile Installer (CTI) Test and thought it would take only a few hours to complete. He was surprised that it took six hours, and that the written part of the test was so thorough. “The hands-on [test] looks deceptively easy, and just like the written test, was broad in what was being tested…given the small space it was in.”

Parker started in the tile industry in 1987 and has been a journeyman for 20 years. He describes the hands-on portion as “not too bad,” but admits the written portion “took a bit of studying.” He explains, “I felt I had a good understanding of specifications in our industry before the test, but going through some of the questions made me realize how much is really out there.”

Parker learned about the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF) certifications at a Schluter training event for NTCA contractors. After talking to NTCA assistant executive director Jim Olson about the CTEF, Parker and two other installers from Hawthorne Tile signed up for the certification.

“When I heard about the opportunity,” Parker said, “I thought it would be an asset for our company and something to set us apart from our local competition.” Since becoming certified, Parker said the installers at Hawthorne Tile “educate our clients and builders prior to starting any project. We also spend more time at our vendors and chatting with our reps to make sure we are always moving forward to produce a better product.”

Parker feels like he has a better understanding about his industry than a lot of his competition. “Hawthorne Tile has always been about giving our clients the best-looking project we can. Now we know we can give them a well-functioning and technically correct one as well.”

The benefits of becoming certified are obvious to Parker. “Why wouldn’t you [become certified]?” Parker asked. “As more people understand the value of what [certification] means, it will increase your worth to employers and clients,” Parker said. “It’s really one of the best ways to bring up wages in our industry.” He likens it to someone who goes to college for computer programming and obtains a degree – that person will get “a better salary than a guy playing around on his laptop and reading some books in his spare time,” he said.

Parker pointed out that the trade now relies both on hands-on skills as well as an important base of knowledge. “To be successful, you need to be equally skilled at both,” he said. “There are so many new materials out and designers asking to put tile in new locations, plus all the new things tile is being made out of, from new types and sizes of glass to the relatively new thin porcelain type of material like Laminam. Education is key to keeping your liability as low as possible.”

Going through the certification process winds up being educational even though it’s a testing program. During his CTI testing, Parker learned about thin-set coverage and the differences between thin-set mortars. “I always knew that more coverage was better,” Parker said, “but there are differences between wet vs. dry locations.”

Hawthorne Tile now has a page on its website dedicated to education. Parker himself has been through his local union apprenticeship program and training from Nuheat and wedi. He enjoys attending classes that manufacturers host because they allow him to learn new things and keep up on current trends in the industry. Next, Parker is planning on taking the Ceramic Tile Inspection course also offered by CTEF.

Thin Tile


SponsoredbyMAPEIThin tile project combines on-site training and expert installation

Laminam by Crossville, MAPEI, and Schluter products make detailed bank project a success

By Lesley Goddin

When the Commerce Bank in Garden City, Kan., sought to build a new facility, they wanted a clean, easy-to-maintain material on all its bank teller walls.


The Fox Ceramic Tile team uses prescribed tools and equipment to safely move large thin porcelain tile (TPT) on the Commerce Bank job.

Howard & Helmer Architecture of Wichita, Kan., turned to Laminam by Crossville, a large thin porcelain tile to get the job done. The 1m x 3m Urban Influence Filo 3+ offered a subtle metallic chain mail-like texture in the dark grey Ghisa hue.

“We chose to use the Laminam porcelain product at the Commerce Bank teller stations not only because of the aesthetic quality, but also the exceptional durability that it offers at high traffic areas,” said David White, AIA, president of Howard & Helmer Architecture.

This was to be a challenging installation, said Kevin Fox, owner of NTCA Five Star Contractor Fox Ceramic Tile from St. Marys, Kan., who was charged with the project. “It was a very difficult one because of the detail of the cuts and all the corners using Schluter metals that was required,” Fox said.


The crew back butters the Laminam by Crossville large thin porcelain tile to achieve complete coverage.

The first step was being sure all the installers on the project were trained on how to handle, work with and install the Laminam panels, which are only 3 mm thick.

Enter Brent Stoller, installation specialist and training manager with ISC Surfaces with locations in Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma. Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF) training director Scott Carothers said, “ISC Surfaces is the only Laminam training facility in the U.S. outside of Crossville itself.” Stoller is a very supportive board member of CTEF. He received CTEF’s CTI Host of the Year award in 2014, and is on record for hosting the largest number of Certified Tile Installer tests at one site. So Stoller “desires to see installations done correctly and is always willing to offer assistance when needed,” Carothers added.


Schluter Rondec and outside corners gave an elegant finish to the walls.

To that end, Stoller came from Kansas City to the Garden City jobsite to train Fox’s crew before they began the project. “[He helped] train our tile setters on the latest techniques using the most up-to-date installation tools,” Fox said.

“The ISC Surfaces location in Kansas City, Kan., has been doing Crossville/Laminam Training since December of 2012, training 27 installation companies with 81 installers through December 2015,” Stoller explained.

“Our trainings are done in our Kansas City location based on tool requirements; full panel installations, floor and wall, and the transportation issues inherent with those requirements,” he continued. The company offers its customers job-site starts and first-day supervision especially on a first-job scenario based on job-start timing and Stoller’s availability.

ISC Surfaces arose from a blend of several companies over the years: Interstate Supply, Case Supply and AMC Tile, said Stoller. Case supply was the Crossville distributor in the Kansas City territory. Over the past 23 years, Stoller’s relationship with Crossville’s Tim Bolby and ISC’s proactive approach to training


Installing the Laminam by Crossville TPT.

and industry commitment through training opened the door to partner with Crossville. In December 2012, ISC was invited on board by Crossville to grow the segment of thin porcelain tile. Active in all levels of the industry, ISC Surfaces is also a host site for both the CTEF CTI and ACT programs with six locations in Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma and service to Southern Illinois.

Once trained at the job site, Fox’s team of Certified Tile Installers had additional obstacles to overcome. “We had to work around the countertops,” Fox said.

All installation materials were from MAPEI, starting with the primer for the exterior-grade plywood substrate: MAPEI ECO Prim Grip, with MAPEI Ultralite S2 mortar for the Laminam sheets, grouted with MAPEI Ultracolor Plus. MAPEI sales rep Brett Robben worked with Fox to develop a package of products that offered single-source benefits and a system warranty.

The project took a tremendous amount of care and precision. “Although only 20 sheets of Laminam were used, the installation consumed 60 pieces of Schluter Rondec and 50 outside corners,” Fox said.

The completed project offers sleek, easy-to-maintain work stations for tellers, expertly installed.


A lippage control system keeps both pieces of TPT per wall side flush. Walls were installed, and counters assembled.

Tech Talk – January 2016


TEC-sponsorSelecting the right grout for the job

By Tom Domenici, TEC Western Technical Manager, H.B. Fuller Construction Products

It’s easy for contractors to get lost in the sea of grout product offerings. While grout color is crucial to design, grout type is integral to tile installation performance and longevity. Using the proper grout for a job helps ensure a successful tile installation – it’s only a matter of learning what grouts work best for specific applications.


Whether it’s cement, ready-to-use, or epoxy grout, taking the time to properly select a grout suitable for a specific job is critical to a successful installation.

Cement grouts: sanded or unsanded? 

Cement grout, which is made of cementitious powder, is easy to work with and is traditionally valued by contractors. Cement grout is mixed with water, and is then slaked and remixed before application. This allows the water, portland cement and other ingredients to react properly for a successful installation. Cement grout can be either sanded or unsanded.

Unsanded cement grout is designed specifically for grouting small joints up to 1/8” wide. Unsanded grout is often used on walls, tub enclosures and countertops. It also can be used for grouting marble and other natural stone floor, where sanded grouts could scratch delicate tile surfaces. Unsanded cement grout should not be used on grout joints greater than 1/8” in width as it may shrink or crack.

Sanded cement grout can be used for grout joints 1/8” wide and larger. Sanded grout is primarily used for floor tile applications or for walls and countertops with wider joints. Sanded grout should not be used on certain tile surfaces, including sensitive glazed ceramic tile, glass, marble, stone and agglomerate tile as it can scratch, stain or damage the tile surface. Follow tile manufacturer recommendations or test a small area prior to use to determine its suitability.

Ready-to-use grouts 

Ready-to- use grouts can provide a crack/shrink/stain-resistant grout solution for time-sensitive installations. Premixed grouts are often used in both interior and exterior environments. Unlike cement grout, ready-to-use grout doesn’t require mixing with water. The pail can be simply opened and the grout applied – saving mixing time. In addition to time-saving benefits, another advantage of ready-to-use grout is that unused portion of the product can be sealed in the container and can be reused later for touchups or other jobs.

Epoxy grouts

Made of epoxy resins, epoxy grout is extremely durable and virtually stain proof. It is ideal for environments that are exposed to harsh conditions or chemicals – such as commercial kitchens and restaurants. However, epoxy grout may be difficult to work with during installation.
Whether it’s cement, ready-to-use, or epoxy grout, taking the time to properly select a grout suitable for a specific job is critical to a successful installation.

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

Business Tip – January 2016



Harpooning the whale, part I: a profit improvement report for distributors


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 one of this report, which he has titled “Harpooning the Whale.” In this section, Bates examines the Economics of Customers. In part two, which will appear in the April TileLetter, Bates will discuss Changing the Profit Relationship. 

One of the most widely-discussed topics in distribution today is the fact that a lot of customers and a lot of items lose money for the company. That is, the cost of servicing a large component of the customer set or handling many of the items is larger than the gross margin dollars generated by those customers or items.

While the economics of the situation are fairly straightforward, the implications for action are not. One widely suggested option is to eliminate items and customers that don’t cover their costs. It is a quick and easy solution.

Another option is to work on enhancing margins or lowering costs to overcome the profit deficit. This approach is both time-consuming and difficult.

Because the observations regarding customer profitability are largely mirrored by item profitability, this report will focus exclusively on the profit realities of customers for CTDA members. The report will examine customer profitability from two perspectives:

  • The Economics of Customers – An analysis of how customers break out into widely varying profitability groupings.
  • Changing the Profit Relationship – A discussion of how profitability can be enhanced by working with customers.

The Economics of Customers

Within every line of trade in distribution, including CTDA, there are wide variations in customer purchasing patterns. Some customers buy a lot of merchandise, others buy very little. Some customers are aggressive price negotiators while others are more service oriented. Finally, some customers are the proverbial “squeaky wheel” while others are easier to work with.

These factors come together to produce widely-varying levels of profitability across the distributor’s customer set. At one extreme, customers who purchase a lot of products, are service oriented (rather than price oriented) and don’t “have issues” tend to be highly profitable for the distributor. At the other extreme, some customers who are high maintenance actually result in a loss for the distributor.

Unfortunately, there are only a few of the highly-profitable customers and a fairly large number of the unprofitable ones. This relationship between customers and the profitability they produce for the distributor is often referred to as the “whale curve.” It is shown graphically in Exhibit 1.

Customers are ranked from most profitable to least profitable along the horizontal axis. The percent of total profit generated is presented on the vertical axis. The graph looks something like a whale, albeit a rather anemic one.

As can be seen, the most profitable customers cause total firm profit to rise quickly. Somewhere along the way the slope changes as additional customers generate profit at a lower rate. Finally, the curve starts back down as some customers cause the firm to lose money. Eventually the curve ends up at the 100% of total profit level.

BT-graphThe 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:


The 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.

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.


CTDA is always looking for ways to improve the benefits of membership. CTDA offers many benefits to members including:

• Education via a variety of programs that focus on training new employees, educating customers on tile shade variation, webinars on industry issues and more.

• Connecting with the industry through annual events like Total Solutions Plus and Coverings, and networking op-portunities through CTDA committee in-volvement. 

• National exposure for products and services for distributors, manufacturers and allied members.

• Controlling costs through discounts on a wide range of services from shipping to collection services, telephone charges, auto rentals and more.

• Staying informed on association and industry news and issues through a variety of communication vehicles and social media outreach.

• Managing opportunity through “snapshots” of the association and industry gleaned through regular surveys of vital business activities. 

For more information, contact CTDA at [email protected] or by calling 630-545-9415.

Ask the Experts – January 2016




I have a small tile job at the TIA (Tampa International Airport). The general contractor (GC) is directing us to start the work with temporary lighting that is not very good. We have asked that they place either the permanent lighting or temporary light “representative” of the permanent lighting so that we can see exactly the conditions for the installation.

I could have sworn that I read something at some point with regard to tile being installed in the lighting in which it is to be used.Can you help me with some type of literature on this item?



Thank you for contacting the National Tile Contractors Association. I am happy to provide you with some information to help you respond to your GC regarding the installation of tile under poor temporary lighting conditions that are likely not representative of the permanent lighting.

We are not aware of a requirement for the GC to install the permanent lighting before tile work commences. However, you are correct to be concerned about the location of permanent lighting and its potential effect on viewing the finished surface of the tile installation. The angle of natural or manufactured light on finished tile work may cause an acceptable installation to have an unacceptable appearance.

While there is no specific method that addresses installation of lighting, the 2015 edition of the TCNA Handbook includes a statement about various types of lighting and their effect on wall and floor tile installations. When proper backing surfaces, installation materials, installation methods, location of light sources and certain lighting techniques are not carefully coordinated, shadows and undesirable effects may be apparent on finished ceramic tile installations.

The 2015/2016 edition of the NTCA Reference Manual includes an extensive discussion of critical lighting effects on tile installations. This discussion is found in Chapter 5, “Special Installation Procedures,” and addresses many problems along with tips and preventive measures tile contractors can take or recommend before the installation begins. Also included is a series of photographs that boldly illustrate the effect lighting can sometimes have on a tile installation.

The success of your particular installation will depend on a variety of factors such as: flatness of the substrate (which will have a profound effect on the flatness of the finished tile surface); the type of tile being installed; the pattern the tile will be installed in; the inherent warpage of the tile; the grout joint width; any out-of-tolerance lippage of the finished tile installation, etc.

As required by ANSI, we encourage you to construct a mockup of the area to be tiled and illuminate it with an accurate representation of the permanent lighting installation. Have the GC or architect review the mockup and accept it in writing before beginning the tile installation.

If you are a member of the NTCA, please review pages 139 – 144 of the NTCA Reference Manual. There you should find all the information you need, including a sample letter you will be able to reformat as your own company’s formal communication to the GC and/or the owner.

If you are not a member of the NTCA, please visit our website at or contact me and I will be happy to assist with your application.

Mark Heinlein, NTCA Technical Trainer

Ask the Experts – October 2015



I’m writing you from the Tamp aarea. I’m a current NTCA member and have followed your writings for quite sometime. I’m a 30-plus year tiler and remodeler. I’ve run into a bit of a problem and I’m stumped, and wondering if you can help me out.

Recently I tiled a shower with 6” x 12” glass over waterproofing membrane. I’m getting some cracked tile on the field walls. First it was one but now I’m up to three. I used a 1/32” grout line and grouted with unsanded. Of course my setting material was unmodified. So please chime in as to why I might be having trouble. I would like to find a resolution before I make my repairs.

This glass product is some of the hardest glass I’ve ever worked with. Difficult to snap cut and wet saw cut with glass blade – it kept cracking in various places. I’m not sure if the quality of the glass poses a problem. Thanks for your help, thoughts and opinion.


Based on your description, it is likely surface tension or lack of flexural value in the glass and shrinkage of the thinset. Installing impervious glass over an impervious membrane causes a very long cure cycle. I have seen glass crack months after it was installed. Cracks when you cut say surface tension and shrinkage to me. It would be pretty expensive to prove that out but pretty sure it could be proven.

David M. Gobis CTC, LLC, Ceramic Tile Consultant


A condo complex called me to look at their elevators. Currently, they have five elevators with 1” x 1” mosaic that is crumbling after 10 years of use. They want to know what my suggestion is to replace it.

What have you seen normally go into an elevator? These are on the Gulf Coast and see lots of exposure to water. I see problems with the type of underlayment I would choose as well as the ability to adhere it to a metal floor. There is 3/4” between the elevator floor and the bottom of the door. I need material and installation recommendations.


I get this question fairly often or slightly different versions of it. Most often the cause of cracking tiles and grout joints can be attributed to excessive substrate deflection.

The elevator cabs chosen for these construction projects are not designed for tile or stone floor finishes. The manufacturer of these elevator cabs will list acceptable floor finishes that usually only include soft goods such as vinyl, carpet, and wood products. In order to be considered for tile or stone the substructure should be constructed in such a way as to not to deflect or “bend” more than a small amount under a concentrated heavy load. There are elevator cabs that are designed to meet these minimum requirements but they are usually much more expensive so they are not chosen in most construction

As for installing tile in these most common elevator cabs that are not designed for such, it is risky and not recommended.

There are products available that may reduce the risk of cracking tile and grout joints such as epoxies, but no warranties from these manufacturers are available. I hope this information helps.

Gerald Sloan, NTCA Trainer


I’m a San Diego handyman. I hired a licensed tile contractor to tile some shower enclosures standard 32” x 60.” I have 15 years experience and installed floors and showers myself.

ATE-1015The installer basically put large +/- 2”x 2” by 2-1/2” high blobs of thinset on the back corners and center of the tile (5) and pushed it onto the wall, leveling the tile with the adjacent pieces as he went. It does not stick out proud from the finished wall because he used 1/4” backer board on the studs. I have only seen 1/2” used but the manufacturer’s website does “approve” 1/4” for walls. Nowhere in the code could I find mention of substrate thickness.

I am concerned about the structure and more importantly the grout. It’s expected to just rely on the thin edges of the tile to hold it. I won’t be using him again but the union guy backing this installation method has me confused. Is this an approved type of installation?


You are correct to be concerned about this issue.

Industry and manufacturer standards recommend 80% coverage at dry areas and 95% coverage in wet areas and exteriors (both with all edges and corners supported). It is almost impossible to achieve these high coverage percentages using the “five spot”

Unfortunately “five spot” usage has become more prevalent in the tile industry in recent years due in part to the choice of large-format tile for the project, as well as the installer trying to install these large-format tiles over substrates that are not within proper flatness tolerances.

These choices by many installers are causing an inordinately high percentage of job failures. As far as using 1/4” backer directly over studs 16” o.c., I am uncertain whether that is an allowable practice according to the manufacturer.

Michael Whistler, NTCA Trainer

Thin Tile – September 2015


SponsoredbyMAPEIThin tile makes maximum impact on Florida homeowner’s accent wall

By Cris Bierschank, MAPEI Technical Services consultant

When a resident of South Florida recently purchased a townhouse, one of the key features he was excited about was vaulted ceilings, which gave his home a more spacious feel. However, this meant that he had a 29’ long wall that met the peak of the roof at 17’ with a diminishing slope down to 10’. His dilemma? What to do with this large, blank canvas.

He wanted a finished covering that would really make an impact on this 400 sq. ft. of wall. The capability of the new, thin-bodied porcelain tiles to deliver a bold statement was just what he was after. The variety of patterns are nearly limitless with new printing and finishing techniques that mimic virtually any surface found in nature – even metallic looks.


Since his décor would include a lot of copper, metal and wood pieces, he decided on a more industrial look and chose Crossville’s Laminam porcelain Oxide series (Nero) in 3’ x 10’ thin slabs, to be set in a horizontal brick pattern.

0915-thin2The installation crew from Bryant Tile and Marble, Inc., West Palm Beach, Fla., did a superior, professional job. The homeowner chose them because they had been trained by Crossville for large thin porcelain tile (LTPT) installations. Since these thin-body large format tiles are relatively new to the marketplace, many consumers are not aware of all of the steps required to ensure that a tile of that size is flat and aligned with the adjoining tiles.

A 24” x 24” tile used to be considered to be a huge tile, but it would take approximately 100 of these tiles to set a 400-sq. ft. wall compared to only 13 or 14 3’ x 10’ pieces.

There’s very little room for making adjustments for a wall with many high or low spots when working with tiles of this size and thinness. Depending on the type of substrate the installer is working with – in this case painted drywall with patching compound residue left on the surface – it is vital to provide a surface that the mortar can bond and grab to both chemically and mechanically. MAPEI’s ECO Prim Grip, a synthetic resin-based primer with bond-promoting silica aggregates suspended in a dispersion, was the perfect primer for the wall.

When tile installation began, it was apparent how important the ledger board row of tiles is in ensuring a true reference point for installing the rest of the tiles. It gives an aesthetically pleasing finish to the entire project. It was also important that the MAPEI Ultralite S2 Mortar was troweled on the entire surface, both the wall and tile, to maximize the contact from the back of the tile to the substrate without any voids under these large tiles.

Even something that might seem simple, such as cutting in an electrical outlet or fitting each tile to a sloped ceiling that started at 17’ high and ended at 10’, takes great expertise when working with LTPT. All accommodations had to be figured into the overall 50% offset brick pattern, while maintaining consistent grout joint lines and ensuring no lippage from tile to tile while setting.

Since a major feature of these tiles is a more seamless look, the installers created a minimal joint size (1/16”). Filling the grout joints with MAPEI’s Flexcolor CQ (in Cocoa) gave the project a polished look, tying all of the tiles together.

The homeowner has received many compliments from friends about his “bold design choice,” and he feels that he has increased the appeal and potential resale value of his home. “But I don’t plan to move anytime soon!” he said.

Key factors for LTPT installation

Innovations in lightweight, large thin porcelain tile technology have changed the face of the construction industry—significantly reducing the overall dead load weight of a building without compromising strength and durability. It is important to remember that LTPT is relatively new to the marketplace, being markedly different than standard body tiles due both to the larger format – up to 3’ x 10’ (1M x 3M) – and decreased thicknesses of 1/8” to 1/4” (3mm to 6mm). This has required all key players in the installation process to re-think how to install these tiles – from the surface preparation to mortar selection, tools and application method.

0915-thin3Due to reduced tile thickness and increased size, it is critical to establish a baseline when installing these tiles on the floor. Using the TCNA service rating (based on the ASTM C627; Robinson test method), a series of baselines, referred to as “service requirements,” have been established and published in the most current TCNA Handbook for Ceramic, Glass and Stone Tile Installation. The categories are: Extra Heavy; Heavy; Moderate; Light; and Residential. Always consult the LTPT manufacturer for the service rating, specific area of use and limitations prior to installation.

In addition to establishing the proper tile to be used according to the service requirement, there are four key areas to address during installation:

1. Surface preparation

The substrate should have a permissible variation of no more than 1/8” in 10’ (3 mm in 3,05 m) from the required plane; nor more than 1/16” in 24” (2 mm in 60 cm) measured from high points on the surface with a straight edge. Floor flatness is best achieved using a self-leveling underlayment and primer prior to tile placement.

2. Proper mortar selection

Once a flat surface has been achieved, it is important to choose a mortar that will give maximum coverage to both the back of the tile and the substrate, thus ensuring a strong bond that can perform to the service rating that has been designated for the installation, e.g., residential.

MAPEI supplies a number of mortars that achieve the level of coverage performance necessary for LTPT, including the Granirapid® System, the Kerabond/Keralastic™ System, the Kerabond T/Keralastic™ System, Ultraflex ™ LFT™ Rapid, Ultraflex LFT, Ultraflex RS, Ultralite™ Mortar.

The company’s newest offering, Ultralite S2 Thin Tile Mortar (ISO 13007 classification C2ES2P2) is the first mortar specifically designed to install thin tile, solving many of the challenges associated with large-format thin porcelain tile. Ultralite S2 takes this installation technology to the next level through its superior transfer properties, extended open time and wet-out characteristics – optimizing coverage.

3. Proper trowel selection

It is important to use a trowel configuration that maximizes mortar coverage between the substrate and the tile, minimizing air pockets and voids. Often, this means using a non-traditional Euro Notch or slant notch trowel to achieve maximum coverage.

4. Use of a lippage control system

Using a mechanical system, with either straps or wedges, enables the installer to apply equal pressure on the tile, pulling it down into the mortar and locking the entire system together. Once the mortar has dried sufficiently – typically 24 hours – the lippage control system can be removed. This installation system provides improved contact between the tile and substrate while reducing the chances of lippage.


Tech Talk – September 2015



NTCA Reference Manual:
General statements on mold, moisture emissions

Pools, showers, wet areas and tubs, by their very nature, are at high risk for both mold and moisture emissions. The NTCA Reference Manual addresses these issues in Chapter 7 with General Statements on both Mold and Moisture Emissions. If you are working in bathrooms, pools, steam showers or wet areas, familiarize yourself with these recommendations. For more helpful information, obtain a copy of the NTCA Reference Manual. Not a member? Visit the NTCA Store at and purchase one today.

General Statement on Mold

Mold is one of the biggest enemies in our homes today. Molds are simple microscopic organisms called “Fungi” that are found in the environment. The majority of molds live in plant or animal matter and are necessary for life on earth. Mold is, in fact, the method by which nature cleans up unwanted matter on earth. Mold has existed since the earth was formed. It is only now, due to our improved tighter construction methods, that moisture is being trapped in our homes, causing mold growth problems. It is not necessary to spend time or money to identify the specific type of mold present; most customers consider all molds bad.

There are 3 basic categories of mold that are of interest to the ceramic tile industry:

1. Superficial, which is a maintenance issue.

2. Chronic existing mold, which requires professional mold remediation help, and

3. Potential mold, which is the main area of our concern. Preventing moisture intrusion will prohibit mold growth in the area of the tile installation. Mold requires 4 elements to grow: Mold Spores, temperature, food source, and moisture. The only requirement in the tile installation that can be controlled is moisture availability. Moisture control is, in fact, mold control.


When you discover existing mold in an installation you must:

1. STOP. DO NOT proceed. Stop all work immediately.

2. Notify all appropriate contractors/owners involved with the job. A mold remediation expert should be hired. The liability of mold or its remediation is not the responsibility of the tile installer.

3. Do not proceed with the job until ALL parties have signed off that the mold situation is addressed properly and that all concerns were satisfied.

4. To prevent mold from reoccurring, all tile assemblies should be installed carefully and correctly, including but not limited to using mold resistant materials. Moisture control products can be utilized to prevent any moisture from penetrating the tile work and possibly re-activating the mold.

tt-mold2General Statement on Moisture Emissions

PURPOSE: The intention of this general statement is to bring to the attention of the tile contractor the problems of moisture emission in certain installations.

Many conventional tile installations have few problems with moisture emission. Ceramic tile typically does not have the same type of problems as wood, carpet, and vinyl when it comes to moisture emissions in as much as the moisture typically does not affect tile installations; however, some other flooring materials either do not allow moisture to pass through them or may be sensitive to moisture and therefore may be adversely affected by moisture. A tile contractor should be careful when installing the following materials over concrete slabs:

• Agglomerate tiles – (cement or resin based)

• Stone tiles

• Setting with epoxy

• Grouting with epoxy

• Non-vitreous tiles with epoxy grout

• Terrazzo tiles

• Efflorescence (cement grouts)

• Organic adhesives

• Concrete tiles

• Crack isolation or waterproof membranes

In these installations, the membrane, setting material and tile or stone manufacturer should be contacted for further instructions and for moisture emission protection requirement.

The tile contractor should bring any issues of the substrate to the general contractor’s attention (or owner, if there is no general contractor). The general contractor, builder, or owner should pay for random Calcium Chloride tests (ASTM F1869-04). The tile contractor/general contractor or tile contractor/owner should agree on who will perform the tests, and what kind of moisture test should be done.

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