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Product and installation standards: carrot or stick?

On August 22 on the NTCA Members Only Facebook page, NTCA Member Steve Rausch posted a question about the use and perspective on product and installation standards. A lively conversation among installers, manufacturers and consultants ensued. Here’s a summary of these comments. What’s YOUR opinion? Send it to [email protected], and we can continue the discussion. 


Steve Rausch, Professional Business and Technical Consultant for the Ceramic Tile and Flooring Industry, Atlanta, Ga Product and Installation standards of ANSI, ASTM, & ISO – are they “carrots” to encourage improvement or, “sticks” to beat you with about failures? Are they too difficult to understand? Are they too “open” to various interpretations? I’d like to hear your thoughts.


Jake Swoboda, Swoboda Construction LLC, Lincoln, Neb. – I like to view them as carrots, as something to work towards, to hopefully achieve installations that can last forever. I can totally see them being used as sticks though if I ever have a failure. I think some of the standards could be a little more specific.

Ron Nash, LATICRETE Intl. – They are simply efforts to clarify complex product categories.

Are they perfect? No. Are they better than nothing? Heck yes.

We make products for industries with little/no standards. Believe me there are some snake oil salesmen in the world. Standards are good.

Dave Gobis, Independent Tile Consultant, Racine, Wis. – To me, they serve as an expectation of performance. If the end user is not offered an expectation, then your project becomes a roll of the dice. Thus far, in every legal instance I have participated in, they have prevailed. Have had a few court cases where they used a local customs and practices; haven’t seen a win using that defense so far. Only speaking of my own experiences. Have a case going right now that will be another test of the “that’s just the way we do it, sorry it didn’t work out” versus standards.

Ashley Andrews, Andrews Quality Construction, Macon, Ga. – Coming from an installer’s standpoint I see these standards as methods that are proven to perform to an expectation that I can guarantee nationwide. If I follow all guidelines and instructions then I am assured that my project will succeed for the long term anywhere in North America. This assurance gives me confidence that I can then pass on to the customer.

With all that being said, I recently installed some subway tile manufactured in America with the “meets ANSI standards” mark and it was some of the worst tile I’ve worked with in a long while so I guess these standards are not foolproof or perfect. Still much better than nothing.

Dave Gobis That is a good example of how you could have put them to work. You have recourse if they say it meets a standard and it doesn’t. Going to look at one of those Friday.

Tim Christopher, Tiles and Tiling Association of Australia; Modern Aspect Tiling and Stone – The U.S. appears to have some of the best standards in the world and is a level to aspire to for other countries. Here in Australia, our standards are very outdated. This makes things difficult as there are little or no guidelines on some products and situations. Having no overriding guidelines doesn’t serve the installer or the consumer.

Craig Harimon, Craig Harimon Tilesetters, Omaha, Neb. – The fact that we have a set of industry-wide recognized standards is one of the necessary elements to our future growth as a “professional” trade.

Like the standards, the above sentence says exactly what I wanted it to exactly the way I wanted it said.

They are written in a specialized format that pose a barrier to many trying to understand.

It has just occurred to me that a truly beneficial course that the NTCA could add to its NTCA University would be one that covers, “history and intent,” “submitting and approval processes” and finally, “how to read and understand a TCNA subsection.” Use B 415 as the class example. A second course on covering the same topics on ANSI (I would pick A118.1) would be equally beneficial. As an added bonus people would learn about traditional shower assemblies and dryset cement mortar.

Dave Gobis I have never thought or considered it a specialized format. I used to do in-depth explanations at CTEF and was constantly requested to lighten it up. For it to make the greatest amount of sense requires a history lesson along with the explanation. There is a reason for all of it.

Dan Marvin, MAPEI – When we write standards, we shoot for clarity but often end up with “Standards Speak” because they are a group effort. If you’ve ever tried to write a book by sitting down to write it while 75 people stand over your shoulder and loudly criticize every word, you have a feel for what standards development is like. With that said, the tile industry has an awesome leg up on other industries because of the dedication of people like Dave Gobis and Steve Rausch over the years who have taken standards development to heart and put together some great resources. Whenever MAPEI does a training, we start with “What does ANSI say?” or “What does the Handbook say?” and work from there.

Dave Gobis To that I add that ANSI has specific language that has to be used from both a format and legal perspective. I remember years ago spending hours on discussion of using the word should or shall. The document is always going to sound stiff.

Christopher Walker, David Allen Company, Northeast Region, Bristow, Va. We are starting down the path to update the language in ANSI. I think both Dave G & Dan M would agree, even with all the experience and well-intended input, sometimes the most well-meaning and thoroughly-vetted changes have widespread unintended consequences. Usually not for the better. “Standards Speak” kicks in when you are attempting to be specific, while not handing a noose to the next lawyer with marginal case, or language/requirements that no installation can meet in practical application. Not just in the lab. That is a tough road to navigate.

Dan Marvin For those of you not familiar with Chris Walker, you all owe him a debt of gratitude. As the head of ANSI A108, he’s a tireless advocate of writing clear standards that work for the industry and not against it. It’s been my privilege to work alongside him for many years now. His point is a good one, standards aren’t just a written set of instructions, they are also a legal document. When things go wrong, every word is hotly debated and can have very real consequences.

Steve Rausch I posted this EXACT post on multiple social media sites, the diversity of comments are amazing. The folks who have been trained and educated about our industry most all made positive comments about standards and their need in our DAILY business. The comments from folks who aren’t formally trained are overwhelmingly negative about the only purpose of standards are to “beat down” workers. This has been a very interesting experience and experiment to convince me we still need a HUGE OUTREACH in our industry to train more folks. I’m planning to pose the question soon, on these same outlets, as to what will incentivize folks to become better trained.

Editor for TileLetter, TileLetter Coverings, TREND and TECH publications.

Lesley Goddin has been writing and journaling since her first diary at age 11, and drawing and sketching since she could hold a pencil. Her penchant for observation led to her becoming a paid professional as a trade journalist, publicist and is editor for TileLetter. She has also written for Guideposts, Walls, Windows and Floors, Floor Covering Weekly, and Low Carb Energy.