President’s Letter – Tech 2016

JWoelfel_headshotNew tile technology may resurrect old installation methods

Qualified installers are key to large thin porcelain tile and plank success

As many of you know, I wear two hats for the NTCA: President, and Chairman of the NTCA Technical Committee. As a tile contractor it is the technical aspect of our business that will determine the success or failure of that installation.

The NTCA is blessed with some very intelligent contractor members who are actively involved in both the NTCA Reference Manual and national industry installation standards committees. Our association was very successful at the recent TCNA Handbook meeting this past June. New inspection standards and nominal sizing criteria in regards to multi-size tile patterns will help alleviate a lot of headaches for our members. I would like to shine a light and give credit to the following members for their hard work in helping our members save time and money when it comes to all of our tile installations:

  • Methods and Standards Committee Chairman Kevin Fox
  • Education Chairman and NTCA Technical Committee member Jan Hohn
  • ANSI Chairman, TCNA Committee and NTCA Technical Committee member Chris Walker
  • ANSI Vice-Chairman, NTCA Technical Committee Vice-Chairman and TCNA Committee member Nyle Wadford
  • Technical Committee and ANSI Committee members John Cox and Martin Howard
  • Technical Committee, and Methods and Standards Committee members Joe Kerber and Martin Brookes
  • TCNA Handbook and NTCA Technical Committee members Brad Trostrud and Rich Galliani
    Technical Committee member and Apprenticeship Guru Dan Welch

These hard-working tile contractors have gone above and beyond when it comes to fighting for both union and non-union tile contractors, both NTCA members and non-members.

I want to commend all of these people for volunteering their valuable time and energy to make our industry better. We at NTCA have committed to our members that their thoughts and concerns are heard and disseminated in front of national industry installation standards committees. Please know that there are a lot of NTCA tile contractors that I failed to mention who work very hard and volunteer their time as well, and I want to say thank you to all of them too.

As you can see, there are a lot of NTCA members who give their time and effort to make sure the entire tile installation community can be more successful. If you have a chance at the next meeting, go ahead and tell them great job or nice work – it will mean a lot.

James Woelfel, President NTCA
Chairman NTCA Technical Committee

President’s Letter – TRENDS 2016

James Woelfel

New tile technology may resurrect old installation methods

Qualified installers are key to large thin porcelain tile and plank success

As many of you reading this know, it is clear that larger, linear tiles and thin porcelain tiles are here. Wood-looking plank tiles are everywhere and very popular. I have seen these plank tiles as large as 8” x 72” and they are beautiful and more realistic than ever. Thin porcelain panels are gaining steam; we are fielding at least one call per week asking about the installation of these panels.

More than ever, finding a quality, qualified contractor to install these tiles is paramount. Tile contractors need to stay up to date on the latest technologies when installing tiles this large. Knowing industry standards for substrates is the key for successful installation. The flatter the substrate the better, and knowing the latest technologies in leveling materials and mortars will help the tile installer with a successful installation.

Distributors need to direct their customers to good tile contractors. These tiles are, in my opinion, specialty installations. The issues with warpage in the plank tiles could lead to lippage issues and hollow tiles. We in the industry need to make sure these installations are successful so the market will continue to grow. I believe that distributors are key in educating their customers that the low price is not the best price.

Manufacturers of large thin porcelain tiles (LTPT) need to update their distributors and end users on the latest installation guidelines and the proper specifications of where these tiles can and cannot be used. LTPT is an exciting technology, and more square footage is being made and shipped at lower costs. These panels can be used in tile-over-tile applications that can update bathrooms, showers and other areas of homes, hotels and other residential and commercial settings.

This technology is also being used for thicker tile panels as well, meaning that slabs of 3/4” porcelain can and are being used for walls, floors and counter tops. Just think: these slabs of porcelain are stain and scratch resistant. This means that long-term maintenance costs can go down. It also means that “old” installation techniques like plastering walls and mud-set floors could be making a comeback; something old is new again.

It is a very exciting time for the ceramic tile industry with these and other new tile products. Designers have more products from which to choose. If manufacturers, distributors, designers and contractors work together, it means that installations can last longer, maintenance costs can go down and the customer wins in the end.

James Woelfel, President NTCA

President’s Letter – TECH 2015

JWoelfel_headshotKnowledge + experience forms the wisdom at the heart of the NTCA Reference Manual

By James Woelfel, NTCA president and Technical Committee chairperson

NTCA members are receiving this TECH issue of TileLetter packaged with the new 2015-2016 Reference Manual, a critical industry publication that supports the TCNA Handbook of Ceramic, Glass and Stone Tile Installation and ANSI standards with real-world experience to help muscle through or prevent problems encountered on the job. 

In this letter, NTCA president James Woelfel explains a bit about how the NTCA Reference Manual topics are developed and researched, resulting in a publication that benefits the entire industry.

Not yet a member and would like to benefit from using the NTCA Reference Manual? Visit the NTCA Store at and purchase one there. Or, join NTCA and receive this publication – and many other benefits – with your membership. 

– Lesley Goddin

When you look through your NTCA Reference Manual, what is the first thing that goes through your mind? Standards? Knowledge? Wow, really?

To me, the first word I think of is wisdom. Wisdom? Where do I get that idea? Simple: wisdom is knowledge combined with experience. This wisdom comes from tile contractors. The NTCA Reference Manual is edited by the NTCA Technical Committee, a committee whose majority members are tile contractors. The contractors’ experience (which I would say is over a thousand years of combined experience in the history of this committee) is the basis for the creation of this manual and also provides ideas for new documents and perfecting the documents that are already in the manual.

Let me share a couple of examples of how this works. About seven to eight years ago a tile contractor brought to the Technical Committee’s attention a problem of how epoxy grout on a couple of his kitchen jobs was getting “eaten away” out of the grout joints. He thought it was because of the “no rinse” cleaners that had been introduced to clean the kitchen floor. What in fact was happening was these cleaners were combining with the residual oils used for cooking and creating a substance that had the capabilities of breaking down epoxy grout. Over the next couple of meetings the Technical Committee developed a letter that is on page 42 of the 2014-15 NTCA Reference Manual. This letter explains that the cleaners being used to clean the floor tile and the grout must be compatible with both, with the intention of circumventing this problem in future installations.

Let’s fast forward to today. A subcommittee is hard at work right now developing a checklist of what to be aware of when installing stone tiles with various backings like resin and fiberglass. These stones have exploded in today’s marketplace, but there have been failures with the adhesion to the backing materials of some of these stone tiles. NTCA vice-president Martin Howard and Josh Levinson of Artistic Tile(a distributor of stone tile) are spearheading this extremely important endeavor.

I would be remiss if I did not recognize the hard work of the various manufacturers and suppliers on the committee, whose knowledge we depend on to help bring these issues to light. Without these members, our job in developing the NTCA Reference Manual would be infinitely more difficult.

So when you crack open your NTCA Reference Manual the next time, hopefully the first thing that comes to mind is the word wisdom.

– James Woelfel, NTCA president


President’s Letter – TRENDS 2015


Tile is the most exciting design element from my perspective, for there is nothing else that has such a powerful impact in transforming a space.

The first issue of TileLetter TRENDS as part of the TileLetter family of publications supports my belief. This year there’s just about everything designers and architects could hope for in the tile marketplace. What I’ve seen is big emphasis on geometrics like the hexagon; size and scale like thin porcelain tile; texture and pattern like we see in three-dimensional, uniquely-shaped and wood-look tile; and bling and shimmer like we find in the new metallic and glass products.

As a professional tile contractor, my job is to make sure the vision of the designer and architect come to life through a beautiful and technically-sound installation. When a client invests in a designer and/or architect they place a lot of trust in that individual’s team. Having qualified installers on the team means a designer or architect is placing their reputation in the hands of the most knowledgeable people in the industry. Hoping to cut job costs by choosing non-certified installers indicates “quality-cutting” is acceptable, but such a decision often results in problem installations.

1-presQualified installers are CTEF- and ACT-certified. That means they are experienced. They stay on top of industry standards and methods. They know setting technology is an ever-changing part of their profession. They understand the nuances of working with contemporary tile products that have new handling and setting requirements because products are manufactured differently than they were in the past. Attitude is critical, too, because it means a professional contractor is committed to customer service and getting a job done right.

A highly qualified installer is a knowledgeable resource to designers and architects because he/she can, among other things: answer questions about where specific materials can and can’t be installed; explain why certain products shouldn’t be used in a wet area or high traffic area; and present what grouting options are available such as a simple sanded grout to a single-component grout with sparkles.

2-presSo it could be said that while designers and architects predominantly focus on the trends that deal with form, qualified installers focus on staying on the trends in function. It is through mutual respect and teamwork that the trends from each area meld to bring creative design concepts to life and transform spaces with installations that stay beautiful for many years to come.


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