Tips for Successful Floor & Wall Tile Installation With No Lippage

Many contractors contact NTCA technical advisers regarding acceptable tolerances for floor tile installations, but our trainers also tell us that with the increased use of large format tile being specified for walls, it is becoming increasingly challenging for tile contractors to successfully install these products without lippage. Contractors should be aware that the tolerances for both floors and walls are the same, and that this issue should be addressed before installing the tile.  Many applications in dry areas are to be installed directly over gypsum board or drywall, and there is little opportunity with the adhesive to make up for imperfections in the surface. Lighting can also wreak havoc on a tile installation on a wall, making the edges appear to be even more uneven and imperfect. Industry tolerances for both floor and wall tile applications state that the substrate should have a maximum variation of /14” in 10’ from the required plane, nor more than 1/16” in 12” when measured from the high points in the surface.  If a builder wants a tile installation to be flush with no or minimal lippage, they need to make sure the framing and drywall contractors are delivering a surface that meets tile industry tolerances.  If the tile contractor doesn’t check for this, and accepts the substrate as is, they run the risk of having a serious issue take place that can cost everyone money and time.  

For more information on this subject, you can order the TCNA Handbook or ANSI A108 Book for tile installation on the NTCA website at

Product Spotlight: NXT™ SKIM by LATICRETE

New and improved, LATICRETE® NXT™ SKIM is a premium quality, fast-drying, cement-based underlayment designed for skim-coating, smoothing and leveling prior to the application of floor coverings. The improved formula can now hold more water, resulting in a creamier consistency for a smoother application and sleeker finish, as well as an extended pot life and easier troweling. In a first amongst skim-coating products, the NXT SKIM packaging has also been redesigned with a tin tie resealable feature that allows the product to be saved for additional uses, minimizing product waste and increasing cost savings for the installer. NXT SKIM can be applied from skim depth to 1″ (0 – 25 mm) and the finished flooring can be installed as soon as 20 minutes after application. Designed to meet UL GREENGUARD® certification standards for low chemical emissions, the new NXT SKIM can be utilized at high profile jobsites, including hospitals and schools.

F For more information, visit

Tech Tip: Ask NTCA Technical Trainer Robb Roderick

Q: Are there any standards or situations where it is acceptable to install ceramic tile over gypsum wall board and not a tile backerboard?   

A: There are two methods in the Tile Council of North America handbook for installation of tile over gypsum board. Method  W242 which employs organic adhesive for a setting material. And Method W243 which employs the use of thinset mortars that meet ANSI 118.1 or 118.4 or better.

In W242 (organic adhesive method) in the section preparation by other trades it states ” The maximum allowable variation in the tile substrate is 1/16 of an inch in 3′ with no abrupt irregularities greater than 1/32″. Both methods specify the gypsum board is to be installed according to GA216.  ” Treated with tape and joint compound with bedding tape only( no finish coat) Nail heads, receive only one coat.

In Method W243 (thinset method) it states ” Maximum allowable variation in tile substrate for tile with edges shorter than 15″ the maximum allowable variations is 1/4″ in 10′ from required plane with no more than 1/16″ variations in 12″ when measured from the high point of the surface. For tiles with at least one edge 15″ in length, maximum allowable variation is 1/8″ in 10′ from the required plane, with no more than 1/16″ variation in 24″.

So there are many standards depending on the type of tile and adhesive you are using.

OSHA to delay enforcing crystalline silica standard in the construction industry

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration today announced a delay in enforcement of the crystalline silica standard that applies to the construction industry to conduct additional outreach and provide educational materials and guidance for employers.
The agency has determined that additional guidance is necessary due to the unique nature of the requirements in the construction standard. Originally scheduled to begin June 23, 2017, enforcement will now begin Sept. 23, 2017.
OSHA expects employers in the construction industry to continue to take steps either to come into compliance with the new permissible exposure limit, or to implement specific dust controls for certain operations as provided in Table 1 of the standard. Construction employers should also continue to prepare to implement the standard’s other requirements, including exposure assessment, medical surveillance and employee training.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit

TileLetter and NTCA will keep you informed on developments regarding the standard.

Tech Talk – April 2017

A tour through NTCA’s “Innovative Tools” Coverings 2017 presentation

An array of tools that make tiling easier, safer and more efficient will be on display

By Lesley Goddin

This year, at Coverings ’17 (taking place as this book is going to press), NTCA technical trainers/presenters Mark Heinlein and Robb Roderick are conducting a Coverings Conference session called “Innovative Tools in the Tile Industry.” In addition, the session will be presented in Spanish by NTCA technical trainer Luis Bautista, and David Allen Company’s Marcos Castillo. NTCA training and education coordinator Becky Serbin will also be on hand at the session.

The session explores a number of tools available in the industry right now and their benefits. For our Tech Talk section this issue, we are presenting a synopsis of the tools that will be presented in this session, along with photos and the URL, so you can research them on their own and see how they might enhance your installation experience or efficiency.

Several of the products selected for the session offer tremendous innovation in the ability to remove dust, especially in light of OSHA’s new requirements for limiting the amount of crystalline silica in the workplace. These new safety standards are to go in to place this summer. These include the iQTS244 dry-saw, and Alpha Tool’s HEPA Dry Vacuum and Ecoguard series of dust collection devices.
The iQTS244 10″ tile saw from iQ Power Tools is a dry-cut saw with a vacuum attached on the bottom. This saw makes precise cuts in a dust-free environment without the use of water. NTCA technical trainer/presenter Robb Roderick said, “Traditional wet saws have a tendency to spray water around the jobsite, which is why they are normally set up outside or in a garage. This saw works great in freezing temperatures where wet saws would have difficulty.”


Alpha Professional Tools offers the Alpha® Hepa Dry Vacuum, with an extra-large capacity HEPA filter system and a power 2-hp motor. The drop-in HEPA filter is individually certified to have a minimum efficiency of 99.97% at .3 microns. Alpha is updating this vacuum, and a new model will be available in the near future.


In addition, Alpha offers the Ecoguard series of dust collection devices (pictured is the Ecoguard EG, an Economy Grinding Dust Collection Cover for larger grinders, fitting most 6” to 8” grinders). When connected to an industrial vacuum the Ecoguard EG moves easily and creates a virtually dust-free grinding experience. Roderick said, “Cutting and grinding creates a lot of dust which can have adverse effects in the user, and require extensive amounts of efforts cleaning up the mess. These products help eliminate those issues.”


When it comes to mixers, the RUBITOOLS’ Rubimix -9 electric mixer offers a configuration that is more comfortable to the user for mixing thin-set and grout than that offered by traditional  drills, Roderick said. It also has adjustable speed setting allowing you to use it to mix multiple types of products with one mixer. The versatile mixer allows mixing adhesives, resins, paints and other materials by changing the mixing paddle. Its double grip with bi-material handles has improved ergonomics and greater user comfort.

RUBI also has developed a rubber graduated RUBI-KANGURO “ITALIANO” bucket, which is easily cleaned and has greater longevity. Roderick noted that traditionally tile installers have used plastic buckets to mix thinset or grout. “To be used again, the buckets must be cleaned daily,” he said. “Because of the rigidity of the plastic after thin-set or grout hardened, the dried materials are nearly impossible to removewithout damaging the bucket. These buckets are rubber and much more easily cleaned when setting materials have dried in them.” The buckets have reinforcing ribs and a base and mouth which are designed to make the bucket very structurally robust.

Gundlach is distributing a new Montolit Masterpiuma P3 cutter– and it’s Montolit’s #1 bestselling cutter. “This cutter has gotten rave review on several tile-related Facebook sites, because  of its ease of use and its ability to cut virtually every type of tile available,” Roderick said. “Many of our members are amazed at how well it works.”

It can cut all types of tile quickly and accurately, ranging from thicknesses of 0-22mm. It even makes cutting on a diagonal safe and simple. It features an accurate, powerful and effective ergonomic push scrib handle, a self-adjustable patented scoring system and easy, fast set-up, transport and storage due to the patented foldable design. Adaptable for large-format tiles as well.

Not every tile line offers bullnose pieces for finished edges. But the Raimondi Bull Dog™ bullnose machines, made by Raimondi and distributed by Donnelly Distribution LLC, allows installers to make custom bullnose pieces of porcelain or stone easy. The pump-cooled machine bullnoses and bevels, offering rough, finished and polished levels of finishing.


Another product from Raimondi is the Raimondi Maxititina Multi-Functional Floor Machine with Grouting Paddle. While this is not a NEW machine, it is innovative in that it allows contractors to grout a floor without kneeling, clean a floor, or grind/scarify or prepare subfloors to improve the bond. It allows installers to level out high spots on concrete, and power grout a job at 55 rpm, spreading the grout and packing the joints full. It also can seal floors in a jiffy, and polish them to a desired level of shine, at 110 rpm.


Also useful is the Berta by Raimondi which has a large replaceable sponge drum which rotates to clean freshly-grouted floors, which is a major time saver on large floor installations.

Finally, with dimensions of tile growing larger and larger, the ETM Grip by European Tile Masters facilitates handling and back-buttering of gauged porcelain panels. It has 12 fully-adjustable suction cups and four adjustable handles, can be configured to multiple lengths (up to 10’) and multiple shapes (including U and Z shapes), and can be tilted from 90 to 15-degree angles. The ETM Grip allows two people to move and manage today’s larger format tiles with ease.

Tech Talk – March 2017

Using the NTCA Reference Manual to prevent or solve radiant heat issues

By Lesley Goddin 

Radiant heat and electric floor warming is one of the fastest growing sectors in the tile industry. In fact, in our TECH and TRENDS issues, it’s one of the biggest section – with more products being introduced that take advantage of NEST or smart phone technology to monitor and operate automated temperature controls, or new mat-and-cable configurations that speed installation while offering a more custom layout and guarding against cracking at the same time.

Electric floor warming systems seem to get simple to install all the time – a far cry from the days of cumbersome hydronic pipe systems. These simple, easy mat-and-cable systems make installation fast and relatively easy.

That being said, there are cautions when installing radiant heat systems that are best heeded to ensure a flawless project. The 2016/2017 NTCA Reference Manual examines Radiant Heat Issue for Tile & Stone Installations in chapter 6: Specialized Installation Procedures, page 134. Presented in a Problem/Cause/Cure format and compiled from decades of field experience, the recommendations in the NTCA Reference Manual help installers prevent problems in the field and give guidelines on managing them if they do occur.

For instance, a few of the scenarios include:

Problem: Excessive tile lippage

Cause: Lack of mortar of self leveling underlayment cement used to encapsulate the radiant heat system

Cure: Securely attach the radiant heat system so it stays flat on floor and cover the system with sufficient mortar or self leveling underlayment cement. 3/4” of dry pack of 3/8” SLU over the system.

Problem: Grout or mortar system is very powdery or weak.

Cause: Provided the grout and mortar system was properly mixed and installed, the main cause would be running the radiant heat system before the cement based products are allowed to cure: a minimum of seven days.  Excessive moisture exposure from below or above may impact mortars or SLUs.

Cure: Make sure all parties involved with the radiant heat system know the system cannot be put in service until the installation products are allowed to cure.

Problem: The thermostat overheats or even melts when the radiant heat system is turned on.

Cause: Damage of this type generally is caused by overloading the circuit, trying to heat too much floor area on one thermostat or running a 120v thermostat on a 240v circuit.

Cure: Make sure the radiant heat system is matched in terms of voltage and sized correctly to the circuit capacity and thermostat. It also could indicate the wire nuts are not sufficiently tightened. Make

sure a licensed electrician makes the final connection.

Problem: The radiant heat system doesn’t warm up.

Cause: The main reason for this is a broken or severed heating element.

Cure: Take care to protect the heating system during installation. This problem will require splicing/repairing the heating element.

Problem: The radiant heat system doesn’t provide evenly spread or consistent warmth.

Cause: The main reason for this is varying or wrong spacing of cables or tubes. Follow manufacturer’s recommendations. Lack of insulation under the heat system may also cause heat-loss or heat-sink in areas of the subfloor. Proper insulation underlayment should be designed by the architect.

Cure: Re-design floor and heat system installation including insulating tile underlayment. This cure will require splicing/repairing the heating element. In case of heat loss due to lack of insulation under the heat system, the application must be redesigned.

The NTCA Reference Manual provides more recommendations for successful radiant heat installations – and successful installations for a range of situations and products. To obtain your copy, visit the Industry Technical Manuals section under the NTCA Store link on the NTCA website,, or enter into your browser.

The SunTouch SunStat® Connect Programmable Touch Screen w/ Wi-Fi / Model# 500875  lets you control floor heating remotely, using a mobile app or via the web. Adjust floor heating settings any time from anywhere. Additional features let the system compensate for weather changes to save on energy

The OJ Microline® touchscreen thermostats can be used with any electric floor heating system to provide intelligent, intuitive, programmable and adaptive control. WLAN connectivity allows homeowners to remote control their heating system via an app from anywhere at all.


















Schluter’s DITRA-HEAT-TB, now DITRA-HEAT-DUO, reduces sound transmission in multi-story residential buildings, while warming the floor and supporting the covering to ensure a lasting installation.  It also offers faster warm-up times.

Nuheat electric radiant floor heating systems offers a variety of solutions from pre-built custom mats, off-the-shelf standard sizes, cable for on-site modifications fitting perfectly into uncoupling membrane. The Nuheat line of Next Generation Thermostats includes the industry’s first WiFi-enabled thermostat that Works with Nest, taking comfort and energy savings to the next level by working together to automatically adjust to your schedule, sensing and reacting to your ever changing lifestyle.



















RPM Mats, “the original” heat wire installation mat system, can be used to replace anti-fracture membranes and are designed to ease the installation process for all brands of electric in-floor heat wire with wire spacing at any 1/2″ increments. Made in the USA of recycled materials.

The Warmup 4iE® thermostat finds the smart way to heat your home more efficiently. Two options are offered, with and without WiFi. The 4iE can be installed like a traditional underfloor heating thermostat or 3-wire thermostat for central heating. The WiFi is simple and intuitive to set up. Free installer training classes, and a selection of decorator faceplates available.






Providing consistent comfort and control for many years, the Warm Tiles® New FGS (programmable) & FG (non-programmable) model thermostats offer state-of-the-art temperature control, and easy programming functionality.A sensor embedded in the mortar below the finished floors monitors the actual floor temperature to obtain optimal comfort levels.

The WarmlyYours TempZone™ Heating Cable (Twin) warms any room with an ultra-low EMF. The twin conductor has a 15’ cold lead and is available in two voltage options and a range of lengths. It can also be paired with the Prodeso Cable Installation Membrane, an uncoupling and crack isolation membrane with rounded square-shaped reliefs,  that offers versatile layout options and waterproofing.



NTCA Technical Trainer Robb Roderick on Tile Installation in Elevators

There is no method for installation of tile on an elevator floor in our industry guidelines.

The elevator cabs chosen for some 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 budgets.








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 the warranties come strictly from the manufacturers.

Tech Tip: Q&A with NTCA Training Director Mark Heinlein

NTCA Training Director Mark Heinlein was recently asked the following question regarding the use of marble thresholds and the options available to installers who need to transition tile or stone to another flooring product.

I have a school cafeteria with Marble thresholds all are broken. Is there something more stable that I can use to replace them with. There are several 3′, 4′ and up to 8″ lengths. Before the 3/4 marble only came in 3′ so there are many joints.

Mark’s Answer:
While marble is among the softer natural stones, if the substrate is sound with no deflection and if the marble is properly bedded, it should hold up well.
As an alternative, I would suggest contacting a stone fabrication shop.  They often have remnant pieces of harder stone or composite materials that they can mill to your specifications for length and width.  They can also put beveled or bullnose edges on them for you.  I have found that 2cm thick material works well for this sort of thing.

TCNA Handbook Method TR611-16 is your reference for more information and a schematic detail for proper installation of a threshold.

Any material you install will still require proper preparation of the substrate and proper bedding with appropriate mortar.

NTCA issues position statement in reference to method EJ 171

One of the most consistent installation replacement or repair claims made in the tile industry centers around problems associated with the lack of accounting for movement of a building and how it affects the tile assembly.  The National Tile Contractors Association felt the issue is so signifiant to tile contractors that it issued a position statement that will be published in its 2017 edition of the NTCA Reference Manual.  At the heart of the concern is who bears the responsibility for designing, specifying or locating movement joints in a tile installation.  It points out that special attention to method EJ 171, located in the Tile Council of North America Handbook for the Installation of Ceramic and Stone tile, should be considered.
The position statement will be made available to all NTCA contractor members to include in documentation and correspondence.  Its intent is to point out that it is beyond the scope and ability of a tile contractor to properly design and specify movement accommodation, for either commercial or residential tile construction projects.

Lack of Movement Joints in a tile assembly can lead to installation failure

Tile Contractors and their installers should be aware of EJ 171 and its requirements, and should use the position statement to request in writing where the movement joints should be located.  They should use this method to point out to the building owner or design professional that the tile industry recommends that movement joints be installed every 20 to 25 feet in each direction in interior applications,and every 8 to 12 feet in each direction on exterior projects.  If interior jobs are exposed to direct sunlight or moisture, it should be treated as an exterior project and have movement joints located every 8 to 12 feet in each direction.

The NTCA recommends that the tile contractor take the responsibility to point out the requirements of EJ 171 before they begin the tile work and to not take on unnecessary liability by proceeding with work until movement accommodation is addressed.

To order your copy of the NTCA Reference Manual, go to and visit the NTCA store.

Tech Talk – October 2016

TEC-sponsorSealers, maintenance and more

Contractors offer value-added service, keep connected with customers

By Lesley Goddin

The tile or stone is installed, the area cleaned up, and you step back and admire your work, then go on to your next job, right?


Contractors say cleaners, sealers and maintenance packages can add protection to the project and its long-term beauty and performance, and keep contractors connected to their customers so they are top of mind for that next tile or stone job or referral to a friend or business.

Not a one-size fits-all proposition

Martin Brookes, of NTCA Five Star Contractor Heritage Tile and Marble, Mill Valley, Calif., said that manufacturers have mispromoted sealers over the years, giving the impression that “the installer applies a magic substance to a surface that allows them to abuse the tile and grout, when in fact it’s more of a protectant that gives added amount of time to remove a substance, over a non-protected surface.”

Brookes said that not all tile or grouts require a sealer, and sealers exposed to UV light may need regular reapplication. “It’s not a one-shoe size fits all scenario.”

Sealer applied and allowed to flash on the surface, possibly on stone that was too hot or sealer applied in direct sunlight.

Sealer applied and allowed to flash on the surface, possibly on stone that was too hot or sealer applied in direct sunlight.

Heritage highly recommends a maintenance package when stone is installed. “We recommend StoneTech® Revitalizer as maintenance cleaner, and always warn of not using harmful toxic cleaners around natural stone and metallic tile,” he said. “We have however noticed over the years that ‘green’ cleaning products don’t have the cleaning power of the more toxic, harmful ones so there is a compromise.”

Brookes also said that the combination of green cleaning products, shower gels, shampoo, body oils and the humid environment of a shower is contributing to frequent growth of the bacterium Serratia Marcescens. This gram-bacterium, which creates a pinkish-reddish-orange slimy bloom on surfaces, is a culprit in urinary tract and respiratory infections, especially in hospital settings and where instrumentation is involved for the patient.

“We educate the end user on the limitations of a sealer and inform them it’s not a one-time application; regular maintenance and reapplication will safeguard their investment,” he said.

An attempt to remove a stain with a poultice only made the situation worse.

An attempt to remove a stain with a poultice only made the situation worse.

Products used:

Becoming the local go-to maintenance experts

For NTCA State Ambassador Dirk Sullivan of Portland, Oregon’s Hawthorne Tile, requests for repairs and recaulking or regrouting have been frequent since he started his business in 2000. This kind of work “helped pay the bills” during the 2008-10 economic downturn, he said. But once the business of larger, custom jobs picked up again, there wasn’t much time to pursue this type of work.

Until Sullivan had a revelation: “If we had a team to manage this specific line, we could become the go-to experts,” he said. “Not only that, but we could have a team ready to set up maintenance programs as we completed our high-end custom jobs.” Longtime employee Jason Ballard (CTI, ACT) was eager to take on this new role, applying his “eye for detail, understanding of TCNA standards and excellent customer service.”

Hawthorne Tile has evolved its selection of products, choosing Dry Treat, a relatively exclusive product in the region. It added in LATICRETE and AquaMix products to fill some holes in local representation.

After meeting Fila’s Jeff Moen at Coverings early this year, Sullivan was super impressed with the line of cleaners and the “top-notch customer service” offered by this company, which includes educating Hawthorne staff – and by the fact that Hawthorne would be the exclusive distributor of the line.

“As we complete our projects, we give our customers a gift bag with sample cleaning products and instructions as well as a refrigerator magnet with our restoration team contact number and info for re-ordering cleaning products as they need it,” Sullivan said.

“We have found that this type of full service means we have a loyal customer for life. Not just when they need tile installed – which as it turns out… is not often enough!”

Products used:

  • Dry Treat
  • AquaMix
  • Fila

J&R Tile crews applying sealer on different types of surfaces.

Pre-construction discussion,  free maintenance education ends headaches

How do you combat lack of care in commercial kitchens, lack of sanitary cove base in restroom facilities and the darkening and residue buildup consequences of using dirty mop heads with regular detergent soap?

If you are Five Star Contractor J&R Tile, Inc. of San Antonio, Texas, you offer custom maintenance packages free for the property owner of a new construction or remodel to pass on to the custodial staff, along with complimentary product samples with demonstrations to help staff members use proper procedures to maintain their warranty and keep the project looking great.

Free? Yep, that’s what NTCA State Ambassador Erin Albrecht of J&R Tile said. The company trains and educates maintenance/facilities personnel on application, leaving the door open for calls or questions. “Most don’t know – or don’t know where – to purchase professional strength tile and stone cleaners,” she said. “We offer services, but we leave the stickers on the bottles on where the customer can reorder and our cards to contact us to order and ship to them.”

4-techFila products are the company’s go-to, due to its outstanding customer support, and a useful iPhone app for staff and customers that displays a flowchart of the proper product for each application. Lori Coates, StoneTech rep out of Houston, also provides unbeatable customer service.

“If we had more partnerships like this in the industry commercially, our installations as contractors would be longer-lasting and more aesthetically-pleasing. That relationship would build customer loyalty with the contractor, and brand loyalty with the product. The staff always knows they can trust you because you care about your installation, long after the project is complete.”

In addition to the free maintenance service, J&R dialogs in pre-construction about cove base and other options like metal trims. “We believe when cove bases are deleted because trim pieces can be pricey with budgetary constraints, it is our due diligence to offer solutions for the life of the installation with the end user in mind,” she said.

And J&R has found in problematic commercial kitchens where they are called in to “regrout,” management has been inaccurately or incompletely informed about how to maintain their floors. “Most of these facilities have gotten to the point where standing water is in the kitchen and it is a health/safety hazard.”

Providing a custom maintenance package, with proper instructions from the get-go, eliminates these problems, and contributes to satisfied customers and repeat business.

Products used: 

  • Fila
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