Looking with hopeful anticipation to turning the page and welcoming 2021

“An optimist stays up until midnight to see the new year in. A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves.” 

– William E. Vaughan

It is October 30, and I am taking a breather between the Virtual Exhibits on the final day of the Total Solutions Plus (TSP) Virtual Conference, and the closing keynote by Peter Zeihan to write my Editor’s Letter. It’s been an interesting week. In many ways, the virtual conference has been useful, allowing me to type notes and story ideas during discussions and presentations, and finish up work on the December issue in between sessions. It’s been fun to see company reps during the Exhibit Hour or request info, albeit not “in person.” The Virtual Happy Hour led to some really connecting discussion in the Coverings room, and it almost felt like we were there live. Industry peeps who I talked to expressed the unsurprising desire to want to be around people: hug, handshake, meet in person away from virtual conferencing fatigue that many are experiencing. Yet there was also a widespread acknowledgment of the health challenges that we are all facing and the need – and maybe even gratitude – for this technology that still allows us to learn, be exposed to new ideas (even yoga!), engage in discussion and have face-to-face interactions of a sort.

The big take away is that whether in person or virtually, this is an industry that does what it takes to work together and move forward despite the challenges. And we already do that in many ways – the first Certified Tile Installer testing event for 2021 was announced this week (go to ceramictilefoundation.org for details), and companies are angling to carefully institute in-person trainings as early as spring 2021. The venue for TSP 2021 was announced this week – Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront, Jacksonville, Fla., from October 24-27, 2021. People are hopeful. 

In the meantime, we adapt to survive – we stay connected the ways we can, via webinars, online training, discussion, videos on the NTCA YouTube Channel, or NTCA TileTV. There’s a robust schedule of NTCA Roundtables Live! at tile-assn.com under the Education & Certification tab that allows for animated discussion: visit the site to find out more about roundtables scheduled this month. There are virtual trainings offered by individual manufacturers. There’s nothing like getting your hands dirty learning new methods and working with new products, but these virtual events can lay the groundwork so that when in-person opens up again, you can hit the ground running.

And of course, there is always the TileLetter resource that brings information, and hopefully inspiration monthly and also online daily at tileletter.com, now with a new more accessible format across platforms and devices. This December issue has a wealth of information that can enhance your business operations and up your technical game. 

This issue also contains news of an entrance and an exit. Martin Brookes has penned his first President’s Letter for TileLetter and you can read about his vision for NTCA and the industry in this issue. Also, it is our sad duty to report the passing of Dan Hecox, of Hecox Construction, Inc., in York, Neb. He left a giant hole in the fabric of the industry, where he was known for his enthusiasm, positive outlook, generous attitude and constant willingness to help out and to share information with others. Read more about our late friend in this issue.

Since it’s December, and the month of many holidays, please do take some time to value and uphold each other, especially during a time that is unlike any other most of us have lived through. There are still safe ways to celebrate and express love for each other that don’t put health in danger – don’t let the challenge of doing so prevent you from doing so. We are a creative lot! We can do this. And let’s look with hopeful anticipation to turning the page on this calendar year and welcoming in 2021, and the many opportunities it brings. Happy, merry, blessed to all!

God bless,
[email protected]

NTCA Roundtable Live! Artisan Edition – Session 2 set for Tuesday, November 17, 2020 at 6:00 pm Central

NTCA Roundtable Live Artist Edition

On October 20, NTCA hosted its first ever NTCA Roundtable Live! Artisan Edition.  The goal of this and future artisan roundtables is to infect tile industry professionals with the joy of bringing their finely honed skills to another rewarding level.

Now, NTCA has scheduled a second artist roundtable. The upcoming one-hour NTCA Roundtable Live! Artisan Edition-Session 2 on Tuesday, November 17 at 6:00 p.m. CST, promises to be informational and engaging, with plenty of time for attendee discussion and questions.

Twenty six people attended the initial gathering, and artisan tile setters extraordinaire Joshua Nordstrom of Tierra Tile, Lee Callewaert of Dragonfly Tile & Stoneworks, and Angie Halford Ré of Unique Mosaics LLC gave background on themselves, discussed how tile is used as a medium in the world of the tile artisan creating one of a kind works of art for all types of discrimination clients.  They fielded questions from participants and NTCA’s  Mark Heinlein, Robb Roderick and Randy Fleming.

Here are just a few of the topics that were discussed during this engaging evening:·      

  • How do you get into the artisan tile market?
  • How much creative freedom do you have with your designs?      
  • What materials do you use?      
  • What kind of tools do you need?      
  • How do you develop estimates for such custom work?      
  • How do you interest your clients in custom designs?      
  • How much of your work is traditional tile setting and how much is custom?      
  • How do you develop your renderings and sketches?      
  • How do you manage the different thicknesses of your materials?
The upcoming one-hour NTCA Roundtable Live! Artisan Edition-Session 2 on Tuesday, November 17 at 6:00 p.m. CST, promises to be informational and engaging, with plenty of time for attendee discussion and questions.

TileLetter editor Lesley Goddin also gave a brief overview of a brand new magazine geared towards custom tile work. TileLetter ARTISAN will publish in the spring and fall next year and will focus on the beauty and precision of artisan tile setting in stunning traditional and custom residential  and commercial projects.

The upcoming one-hour NTCA Roundtable Live! Artisan Edition-Session 2 will feature a blend of education and discussion. The session wraps up with the “Ask the REF game,” developed with Custom Building Products and sponsored by the setting materials supplier.  This feature poses questions that are derived from the NTCA Reference Manual. In a fun interactive format,participants who answer correctly have a chance to pick swag of their choice from CUSTOM.

Prior to the program, register and receive the link to the Zoom meeting on the NTCA website by going to this link:  https://www.tile-assn.com/events/EventDetails.aspx?id=1442083&group=

Directly join the Zoom meeting here:   https://zoom.us/j/97750161638?pwd=N0NkVk9KczFMcDBkQklpeFcrMU1wUT09.

Looking forward to seeing you on November 17 at 6:00 p.m., CST!

NTCA Roundtable Live! “Who is NTCA? with President Chris Walker” set for Wednesday, November 11, 1 p.m. CST

Chris Walker, NTCA President

NTCA has set its next NTCA Roundtable Live! for Wednesday, November 11. This session is the first in a series to feature the  NTCA President and Vice Presidents as guest moderators.

The one-hour November 11 event will take place at 1:00 p.m. CST, with NTCA President Chris Walker of David Allen Company, as guest host. Join the discussion to get to know NTCA officers, discover the people behind NTCA, what the association offers you, and why you belong!

Coming months will feature First Vice President Martin Brookes of Heritage Marble & Tile, Second Vice President Sam Bruce of Visalia Ceramic Tile and Third Vice President Rod Owen of C.C. Owen Tile.

In addition to the dialog inherent to the NTCA Roundtable Live!, each session wraps up with the “Ask the REF game,” developed with Custom Building Products and sponsored by the setting materials supplier.  This feature poses questions that are derived from the NTCA Reference Manual. In a fun interactive format,participants who answer correctly have a chance to pick swag of their choice from CUSTOM.

Prior to the program, register and receive the link to the Zoom meeting on the NTCA website by going to this link:  https://www.tile-assn.com/events/EventDetails.aspx?id=1412654. Or directly join the Zoom meeting using this link:  https://zoom.us/j/98679635237?pwd=Rm9yNGY4bkVoM1E3ZW1udXpCTHhSZz09

Looking forward to seeing you on November 11 at 1:00 p.m., CST!

NTCA – giving you a voice and a presence

“When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.” 
– Malala Yousafzai

November is a watershed time for our country. Unless you are living under a rock (and even then!), it will have been nearly impossible to avoid the political cacophony that precedes a general election. It’s my personal hope that you made your voice heard by casting your vote on November 3, by early voting, mail or absentee ballot. You may feel that only one vote doesn’t matter, but scores and hundreds and thousands and millions of “one votes” help dictate the course of history. It’s our privilege, right and responsibility as Americans to vote – so hoping you haven’t let your chance to have a voice slip by.

Speaking of having a voice, NTCA is a way you can have a voice in your industry. Though we still are not meeting in person for the most part, NTCA has a number of opportunities for learning and sharing input, ideas, suggestions – and even gripes – with the industry as a whole. Head over to the Education & Certification tab at www.tile-assn.com and see the lineup of virtual training opportunities, especially the NTCA Roundtable Live. These roundtables give the industry an opportunity to converse in a relaxed setting, sometimes with a topic in mind and sometimes in an open forum. Check it out, read our Training and Education feature this month, which focuses on CUSTOM’s sponsorship of the roundtables, and join us in the coming months.

Another way to have a voice – and a presence – is by being profiled in our monthly NTCA Member Spotlight. This is one of the most read features of TileLetter because it shows beautiful member work, provides insight into what members are doing, and illustrates how they are achieving success. We’re lining up spotlights for 2021 so, if you’re interested in being profiled, reach out to me at [email protected].

Chris Walker of David Allen Company has had a prominent voice in NTCA, TileLetter, and the industry for the past two years as NTCA President; this month marks his last President’s Letter as he turns the NTCA reins over to Martin Brookes of Heritage Marble and Tile. Chris has offered experienced, thoughtful, insightful guidance in his letters each month and to the association as a whole. We welcome future guest columns from him in TileLetter and his continued dedication to the industry as NTCA Chairman of the Board and his involvement with essential industry committees.

Member Jim Upton of Tiger Mountain Tile voiced his opinion over a recent technical article by fellow member Joseph Mattice, On the Level, in our Letter to the Editor this month. Got an opinion you want to share? Send me a letter!

Enjoy perusing the other features in this issue and the information they bring, from understanding how behavior style impacts construction culture in our Business feature, to learning how using templates can make your job easier in our Technical feature by NTCA Trainer Robb Roderick, to a synopsis of the Coverings Connected session on using pedestal systems and pavers, to a unique take on our One-to-One feature, in which NTCA Executive Director /TileLetter Publisher Bart Bettiga tackles five topics related to the direction the NTCA is taking to remain relevant as a leading trade association in the flooring industry.  

And remember to visit tileletter.com to read the monthly TileLetter Digital magazine in a new interactive, mobile responsive format. Whether you read TileLetter in print or online, we hope you find something that makes your business run more smoothly and more profitably!

God bless,
[email protected]

Pairing pedestals and pavers in exterior settings

Martin Brookes, Woody Sanders discuss use of pedestal systems in Coverings Connected program

Back in April, when we all thought we would be in New Orleans for Coverings, show management presented a series of highly-informative sessions and webinars in its virtual Coverings Connected Program. 

One such program was Application and Specification of Tile for Outdoor Use, presented by Martin Brookes of Heritage Marble & Tile, Inc., Mill Valley, Calif., and Woody Sanders of DW Sanders Tile & Stone Contracting, Inc., Marietta, Ga. This AIA/CES-accredited session focused primarily on the use of pedestal systems in exterior paving applications. 

This article will touch on many of the salient points of that talk, and provides insight into the advantages and challenges of this technology.

Why use pedestals?

Brookes and Sanders explained that pedestal systems are used primarily in outdoor living systems, when there is a high degree of urban density, and there’s a desire to expand the living space, such as the roof. They provide a Green Squared® certified, lightweight and affordable assembly. They can also be used in government and hotel applications since they provide easy accessibility to under floor wiring or irrigation systems and they are low maintenance – they also make it easier to fine tune tile to eliminate rocking tile or other issues. Plus, pedestal systems can provide a deck that is a little softer to walk on than a hard bonded deck. 

Pedestals can help with drainage, freeze-thaw issues, movement accommodation and pitched air-entrained concrete, providing some control over these issues. In addition, you can reuse tile and pedestals, even if you need to replace the membrane beneath. 

Pedestals and pavers – perfect together?

Sanders got involved with pedestal systems a few years back when he was looking for a better way of doing exterior decks.“This is a great product group, and falls well into what tile and stone installers do,” he said. 

Porcelain pavers with 2 cm and 3 cm thickness are relatively new for U.S. applications, Sanders said, but there are some – from Daltile and Del Conca – that are specifically designed for pedestal systems. These are 24”x24”, 24”x48” and even 8”x48” modules. Other materials can also be used: Indiana limestone, concrete pavers, ipe wood, and even rolls of turf. “We install a lot of ipe wood even though it isn’t tile,” Sanders said. “Fibergrate composite structures allow for some creativity, for bridging, to support turf.”

One factor to consider with pavers on decks is the solar reflectance rating (SRI) – will a light-colored surface in a sunny area be uncomfortably bright; will a dark paver get too hot to walk on?

Working with pedestal systems

Pedestal systems offer a lot of advantages, not the least of which being that pedestals themselves can be made out of post-consumer PVC and offer an environmental advantage. Pedestals can be ordered in a fixed height (a common height is 1/8”) or can range as high as 36” and be adjustable from the base or shim. They offer the ability to handle a 7% change in elevation, though most provide a 2-3% slope. It’s advised to work with the pedestal manufacturer to find the combination of components and features that address the specifics of your project. 

Challenges of pedestal systems

Wind uplift or equalization. Because pedestal systems in effect are a free-floating system, wind can lift pavers and other surfacing material right off decks. Manufacturers have different ways to address this, such as clips or grommets, but sometimes – especially on tall buildings, an engineer is needed. In addition, there are few standards for roof deck systems, and even fewer for pedestal roof deck systems. Another important question to answer on a rooftop install is, “How does the roofer want me to protect roof membrane?” Brookes asked. 

Point loads. A 24”x24” paver weighs 30 lbs. It’s advised that you consult with the tile manufacturer for what the point loads are and their recommended configurations – trays on corners or a five-spot configuration with an extra pedestal in the center? The goal is to ensure the tile makes 100% contact on the pedestal system for full support. It’s also key to be sure that the roof type is compatible with pedestal systems and can support them. Brookes cautioned exercising special care with closed cell foam roofs. “Some do not meet 40 psi criteria to support pedestals,” he said. “Make sure yours does. Be careful with less expensive ones.” 

Roof decks. It’s advisable to partner with a roofing company to do the waterproofing and pitch when working on roof install. Sanders said, “You don’t want to DO waterproofing for roof projects. It’s a very complex and different world. And Brookes added, “In California, I can’t do roofing work, due to state licensing. I have partners who are very well versed in waterproofing and waterproofing systems.”

Sanders related his experience on the roof deck for the CNN project, which presented a challenge in learning the takeoff since isometric drawings weren’t provided to the contractor. “We field verified it and found all the architectural drawings were wrong,” he said. “Falls were wrong, and it was more complex. We wound up with another document with drawing of which pedestals go where and used it with laser level and heights.” Sanders and his crew then had to determine the starting height, with egress specified at the bottom left. They utilized a series of pedestals that ranged in heights/couplers as they grew higher, and created a hand-drawn plan. During the installation process – which entailed two weeks of just assembling pedestals – they used every single component. The process also required two types of layouts – one for pattern and one that established elevation. 

Retainment in this job was also paramount. There was a small parapet already in place, which was absolutely necessary to keep the assembly from falling off the roof. And DW Sanders Tile & Stone did a 100’ mockup to establish how the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing would run through beneath the tile. 


Pedestal systems provide a highly effective, efficient and well-performing system for decking in outdoor spaces, offering several advantages over bonded systems. When should you recommend this system over a bonded tile or stone deck? “We almost ALWAYS recommend this,” Sanders said. And Brookes added, “Almost every deck in high end residential is now a pedestal system.”

Questions about pedestal systems? Contact Sanders at [email protected] and Brookes at [email protected]

Simply Intricate Designs LLC

The artists of installation in Baton Rouge, La.

Anthony Moses, owner of Simply Intricate Designs (simplyintricatedesigns.com), LLC in Baton Rouge, La., may have been a member of NTCA for only about six months, but already he is finding great value in being part of the association.

The company, which specializes in residential renovations – particularly bathrooms – joined NTCA to tap into the Apprenticeship Program that was just approved by the Department of Labor in 2019. 

“It is difficult to find quality help that understands the mission of your company and knows how to properly install tile, so when I found out about the program I instantly joined,” Moses said. 

NTCA held additional appeal for Moses. “I wanted to get some of those vouchers I was seeing other people talking about. I knew that I would make connections with some great tile setters that had much more knowledge and experience than I have and being able to call on those people when you need them is priceless.

“The knowledge and resources that the NTCA offers is the greatest value,” he added. “The tile industry is constantly changing because of the many different products there are, and being able to access the proper techniques and requirements for those changes through the NTCA makes being a member worth every penny. After joining the NTCA, I am extremely cautious of making sure I follow all of the guidelines when I’m installing tile. Before joining the NTCA there were things that I was doing that I was unaware were wrong.”

Doing things right is essential to Moses and his company, which prides itself on residential custom shower designs and creative layouts – and seeks to connect with a custom home builder who “wants to push the envelope on custom shower designs/layouts,” he said.

Excellence is the name of the game for the company, which consists of Moses, his wife Eboné and helper Dremmel Adams. “Simply Intricate is all about striving for perfection, having fun, and being creative,” he explained. “I believe our dedication to being the best we possibly can be sets us apart. We invest a lot of time into our brand, our customer service, and our knowledge.”

Moses was hoping to certify his knowledge this year, through the CTEF’s Certified Tile Installer (CTI) program. “I started the process of becoming a Certified Tile Installer then COVID happened,” he said. “I passed the written portion of the test and I was looking for the right date and location to take the hands-on test but everything was shut down. I’m patiently waiting to take the hands-on portion so I can be the only current CTI in Louisiana.”

“Simply Intricate is all about striving for perfection, having fun, and being creative,” owner Anthony Moses explained.

Simply Intricate Designs takes education and sharing information up a notch, not only for its own edification, but for its customers. “We noticed that there are a lot of customers that don’t fully understand the flooring industry and what is required to make a project successful, so we started a podcast called The Floor Masters Podcast,” Moses said. “We wanted to share our knowledge – as well as the industry knowledge – to as many people as possible so customers could make informed decisions when hiring or dealing with a contractor.”

Simply Intricate Designs extends this excellence into every area of its operations, and how it reaches out to potential customers. “I believe our creative design aspect separates us from other companies. We have an in-house media team that can produce high-quality commercials and social media content that allows us to market ourselves across the world.”

COVID not only derailed Moses’ plans to take the hands-on portion of the CTI exam, it also has posed a challenge in “keeping up with all the work that is coming through the pipeline,” Moses said. “There has definitely been an increase in inquiries about home renovations since COVID started. It has taught us patience and how important project planning is. It is extremely important to make sure there is enough material for the job because delivery times have slowed down. The pandemic has helped increase our awareness of potential hangups on a project and to consider all of the possibilities in the beginning so the customer is well taken care of.”

Moses experiences his greatest joy as a contractor “learning the versatility of the trade and applying that to the crazy designs I have in my head,” he said. “I refer to myself and the rest of my crew as the artists of installation because I want us to be known as the guys to go to when you need a true custom project.”

CUSTOM supports training with sponsorship, virtual and in-person options

So, pandemics can have silver linings. 

While the training and education aspect of our industry has taken a hit with the suspension of in-person events, workshops and classes, necessity has been the mother of invention when it comes to virtual, on-line classes and events. 

Will White

In September, we reported on the NTCA Roundtables Live that are led by our trainers and aim to keep people in the industry connected, impart information on tile-related challenges and methods, and provide a format that is conducive to civil and productive discussion. From the beginning, Custom Building Products was on board as an NTCA Roundtables Live sponsor. According to Will White CTC/CMT, Director of Technical Communications & Training, Custom Building Products, White brainstormed some ideas with NTCA Training Director Mark Heinlein, then developed a “fun program of answering questions and directing people to the NTCA Reference Manual,” he said. The point was “to make that human connection and provide support and appreciation.”

Thus the Ask the REF (short for “Reference Manual”) was born. This feature of the NTCA Roundtables Live is to “point out the value to the contractors – of not just best methods – but also how to protect themselves in their businesses and set expectations for stakeholders on the job by using letters in the NTCA Reference Manual,” White said. 

The format is more interactive than a Q&A, White said – kind of a combination between Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and Cash Cab, with a group share where everyone can chime in and an “ask a friend” feature to get answer options. 

Ask the REF is also useful to “break up the sequencing of conversation pieces,” White said. “When NTCA Roundtables Live started, everything revolved about COVID: the ups and downs, challenges, safety protocols, do customers want you in their home, etc. Putting in a game piece was important for a brain break, levity and balance. It also offered a ‘people piece.’ It helped direct attention away from COVID into installation and business practices.” And of course CUSTOM supplied swag too for winners – buckets and grout floats and tools that tile installers use every day!

CUSTOM training: live and virtual

In addition to its support of NTCA Roundtables Live and the Ask the REF program, CUSTOM has been running its own training events, which employ a hybrid format at present. “We’ve invested a lot of effort to produce and deliver virtual content,” said White. This is tailored to each segment of the market – architectural, tile contractors, distributors, general contractors. The company has even conducted virtual porcelain tile panel training, he said. The format involves a technical consultant who is giving the virtual instruction and a local rep on-site to assist with hands-on one-on-one trainings with a dozen or so attendees for special projects. There have been three virtual trainings and two of the hybrid trainings so far with plans for more. And reps are also available through a range of platforms – Facetime, Zoom, Webx, Teams, or GoToMeeting to meet customer needs.

Looking ahead, CUSTOM is eager to get Custom Technical University (CTU) up and running again full time in 2021. The facility, located in Seal Beach, Calif., has been closed since March 2020. But White foresees trainings resuming next year, albeit with some adjustments – “Using COVID precautions, working more closely with smaller, focused groups for in-person support where allowable and where makes sense,” White said. “We have to wait until the right time, and be respectful of clients, and their families and our employees’ protection – as early as April all the way out to a June start.” 

The 50,000 sq. ft. CTU is designed to work with groups of about 40 people at a time, and to facilitate classroom and hands-on application with a six-person training team. Courses address surface prep, industry standards, guidelines, best practices, troubleshooting. Though, “We talk about how our products fit into those standards and let you apply those products,” White said, it’s not an “infomercial. Everything is keyed around product and installation standards, designed to be a visual, audio and kinesthetic learning experience for those who attend.” Essential industry manuals and handbooks are given to attendees to support the learning.

IMI/BAC 2019 Western Sates Apprenticeship contest and Cleveland BAC event

In addition, prior to COVID, the CTU was on the road, bringing that experience to local areas, offering road shows in large convention rooms in local venues and working with the local sales team to bring week-long trainings in waterproofing, surface prep or even gauged porcelain panel installations. “It’s like a mini trade show,” White said. “CUSTOM recognizes the value to invest the time and effort into these trainings.”

When the live CTU trainings resume, virtual training won’t disappear – in fact, White said, CUSTOM will soon push out a teaser for a new e-learning platform, called CTUOA – Custom Technical University Online Anytime – that will launch in first quarter 2021. 

“It’s part of our plan to offer various experiences of engagement,” White said. “If you are in an office and can’t get out to an in-person program, we can set up in e-learning in bite-size pieces. New standards are coming, and those will be added to the menu. Most of us have been inundated with virtual world since that’s all we have. Going forward, we will get back to new norm, but I think the virtual experience will be as important.” 

TECH – keeping you on top of technological trends

“Our future success is directly proportional to our ability to understand, adopt and integrate new technology into our work.” 
– Sukant Ratnakar, author

For my letter for this TECH issue, I want to lean heavily on some thoughts penned about the tile industry by Gianna Vallefuoco of NTCA Five-Star Contractor Vallefuoco Contractors, LLC of Rockville, Md. 

Vallefuoco notes, “As one of few fields still heavily reliant on a human skill set, the tile industry is renowned for its indelible hands-on craftsmanship. This has proven to be a huge asset for us as a tile contractor during the pandemic. Being among the scarce industries deemed ‘essential,’ we’ve managed to work throughout the darkest days of this year’s struggling economy. Much of our capacity to stay employed has hinged on the incredible effort and innovation of our supply chain. Our manufacturers and vendors have not only kept us stocked with staple setting materials, but they’ve pivoted to create new and adaptive products to address our changing needs.”

She adds, “Social distancing requirements have prohibited us from working side by side with other trades as we did before. This has greatly prolonged overall project length for the client. Any means of reducing our installation time has become essential. Another priority has been to help clients choose tile accessories without having to leave their homes. Tile industry technology – as well as targeted marketing campaigns – have readily accommodated our need for two categories of products in 2020; those that reduce installation time and those that satisfy our clients’ needs.”

These thoughts set the stage for the TECH 2020 issue, that explores emerging and popular technologies in use in the industry, provides an overview of those advances, and presents thoughts by contractors in select categories about the need and positive contribution these technologies offer to the trade of tile setting. Some of these technologies in this issue also do double duty, which saves time and money as you plan your timeline and budget.

Also in this issue, we present a number of feature stories, including insights on installing encaustic, cement or hydraulic tile, authored by John Cox, with support from some industry experts, an overview of what the virtual Total Solutions Plus (TSP) will offer you later this month, and an announcement of the NTCA Five-Star Project of the Year winners. On the latter, check TileLetter.com for expanded information and supporting videos of these outstanding projects by expert contractors. 

It’s our hope that this issue helps you to get on top of the technological trends and harness the advantages they offer to make your projects more efficient, well-performing, and beautiful. We hope you find a nugget of information that helps your encaustic installs, become inspired by the award winners, or find a session to support your business on the virtual TSP agenda. If you walk away with one insight that benefits your work flow, or one new product that makes your life easier, our job is done! 

God bless, 
[email protected]

NTCA Five-Star Contractor Projects of the Year shine brightly

Every year, the NTCA selects its NTCA Five-Star Projects of the Year. The announcement of these awards is a bit different this year – as are most things in 2020 – but the projects and contractors are being awarded all the same!

Judges included Consultant Dave Gobis; Richard Goldberg, Professional Consultants International; and Kent Klaser, Tile and Stone Consultants. The criteria included scope, complexity, technical soundness, online voting (People’s Choice award), and presentation. Judges delivered a roster of one Grand Prize Residential, Commercial, and Commercial Elite winners, as well as one Achievement of Excellence Award in each category. A People’s Choice Award was also selected by popular vote from the industry. Winners will receive a trophy or a plaque to honor their achievement plus a celebration of their accomplishment in social media, as well as expanded coverage on TileLetter.com.

Residential Grand Prize: 
Heritage Marble & Tile, Mill Valley, Calif.
The Ultimate Grotto 
Completed December 2019

This project – which also won the 2020 Coverings Installation & Design (CID) Award for Residential Tile Installation – was recently featured in the September 2020 issue of TileLetter. 

In brief, Heritage Marble and Tile installed intricate custom glass mosaic tile by Sicis, and handmade ceramic Pratt and Larson Tile onto a Moroccan style gunite grotto shell, which arched gracefully over the pool. The contractor had to float the walls with mud to meet the tolerances that would accept the glass mosaic. It then turned out that the niches were poured 2-3 inches off center, which did not match the careful calculations by the landscape architect that Sicis used to create the custom mosaic. In addition, the diameter of the bottom of the grotto was 2˝ larger than at top. Heritage Marble and Tile was faced with re-ordering all the glass mosaic from Italy – thus delaying the project – but chose instead to piece the niches  by hand and rework the circles in the mosaic pattern to stay on schedule. This was a technically challenging installation that tested the focus, detail, and stamina of the installer. The end result was a stunning pool grotto that exceeded everyone’s expectations. 

Commercial Achievement of Excellence: 
Artcraft Granite Marble and Tile Company, Mesa, Ariz. 
Mission Improbable: Elevate 24
Completed March 2019

This massive business complex required exterior installation of 52,000 sq. ft. of 12”x24” porcelain floor tile. This was installed with nine different percentages within three uninterrupted 6’ x 8’ patterns specific to atriums, walking paths, common areas. It flowed though all levels of one building, through walkways and through the four levels of another building. Artcraft used a surveyor’s transit and lasers to find square lines and gridded the entire installation. 

Twenty thousand square feet of loose, unbonded tile and mud bed had to be removed, then re-mudded, waterproofed and reset per TCNA method F101-19 with an additional waterproof membrane, pushing original plans for the remaining 32,000 sq. ft. beyond budget. Using TCNA 2019 Handbook method TR711-19, Artcraft installed tile over tile, removing areas that didn’t have the proper bond, cleaning tile and re-installing. 

Wet soggy weather required tarping freshly mudded areas to protect from rain and snow and let the mud cure. Thanks to the gridded, proper layout, crews could work in exterior areas not exposed to rain; also Artcraft could reinstall mis-calibrated tiles that varied up to 1/8” between tiles. 

Movement joints were installed to accommodate expansion and contraction of tile over 165 degrees of temperature change. Foam backer rod and 100% silicone formed joints at six- and eight-foot intervals, at changes of plane, and at different materials to conform with TCNA EJ171. 

Artcraft’s two ACT-certified and seven CTI- certified tile installers were vital to this project’s success, ensuring all materials were installed per all national industry standards. 

Commercial Elite Grand Prize: 
David Allen Company, Raleigh, N.C. 
Hotel Bennett, Charleston, S.C.
Completed December 2018

Hotel Bennett was the subject of TileLetter’s cover story in July 2018. The many different patterns required strategic planning weeks in advance, including shop drawings for fabrication. Field measurements were double checked, and dry layouts were done to ensure pleasing pattern placements. The porcelain tile and stone border in the grand lobby were hand-cut in the field to be flush with the radial corners that wrap the room. Cut-to-size stone treads and risers were fabricated for both monumental staircases and mirror each other. The stair wells were designed at a radius requiring the top risers to be fabricated out of
5cm material, laminated together and waterjet-cut for a seamless finish. 

On the exterior, 12”x12”, 12”x24” and 24”x24” porcelain tile covered over 8,000 sq. ft. of balconies and decks on multiple levels, some with individual adjoining guestroom balconies or a common gathering balcony. Each location created a different issue of how to slope tile to drains without creating out-of-tolerance lippage. Plus, the rooftop pool deck was in direct sunlight and scheduled for a summer install, requiring crews to work in cool morning hours, and tent the work areas in the afternoons. They also had to keep materials cool to maintain a reasonable pot life in the heat. The 100,000 sq. ft. project required planning, finesse and superior craftsmanship over the 47-month timeline. 

Commercial Elite Achievement of Excellence: 
DeAnza Tile, Fremont, Calif.
Oakland T-12 City Center, Oakland, Calif. 
Completed: November 2019

The main level public areas of the 23-floor Oakland T12 Office Building, designed by KSH Architects, feature Ariostea 24”x48”x3/4” and 24”x24”x3/4” porcelain pavers for interior and exterior. The interior elevator lobby and main corridor walls of the LEED Gold building feature Granitifiandre Maximum 9’x5’x6mm porcelain panels. To accomplish seamless alignment of porcelain paver grout joints from interior lobby to exterior and onto the concrete sidewalk, two different installation systems were utilized. The interior was installed per TCNA F-121-19 with a full Custom Building Product system. Exterior was a pedestal system engineered by Buzon with its screwjack pedestal system . 

The marble veining on the porcelain wall panels was designed to align through four different panel varieties. They were installed per TCNA W 244-19, via scissor lifts and rolling scaffolds 25 feet high. The illusion of continuous veining was aided by perfectly mitered tile corners, all fabricated onsite. Absolute precision was required for reception desk veining to come together at three different angles to form a monolithic cubic appearance.

The overall project installed 8,000 sq. ft. on the interior and 10,000 sq. ft. at the exterior – 200 9’x5’ porcelain panels at the interior corridor walls and reception desk.

People’s Choice: 
Premier Tile & Marble, Gardena, Calif.
Academy Museum of Motion Pictures – The Saban Building
Los Angeles, Calif.
Completed November 2019

This project was the restoration of an iconic 1939, Streamline Moderne Building. It involved the preservation, rehabilitation and replacement that spanned six stories of 350,000 of its 500,000, 24 karat gold 1”x1” tile. Working hand in hand with preservationists and conservators, each of the 500,000 tiles were inspected, graded, marked and accepted or deemed unfit for rehabilitation, using technology employed by NASA on the Rover. 

Damaged mosaics were removed with small 1”  rotary power tools and low-impact pneumatic chisels. New mosaic installation had to fit flush and align with preserved existing tiles, one piece at a time. Special substrate preparation included hydraulic injection of ultra-low shrinkage, flowable, self- consolidating fine grout for structural bonding of delaminating mass, fortified mortar bed installation for delaminated areas and anti-fracture membrane over existing concrete cracks.

Crews had to replace their usual high-production pacing with slow, meticulous attention to detail and care of the original installation, focusing on preservation and a spotless installation; the reflective nature of the material made any deviation immediately apparent. 

Premier Tile & Marble received the California Preservation Foundation award for outstanding achievement in the field of Historic Preservation and received an invitation to speak at The Surface Effects Symposium and Workshop.

Day 4 TSP: Contract negotiation, distributor forum, happy hour – and TSP 2021 reveal!

Today’s TSP offered an in-depth look at Contract Negotiation – Understanding Scope & Liabilities Relating to COVID 19. Superior Tile & Stone’s Tommy Conner talked about force majeure, and the importance of giving notice to lay the groundwork for filing a claim. Concurrently, Rick Church from CTDA, Rudy Llerena, D&B Tile Distributors, Heidi Martin of United Tile and Steve Vogel of Conestoga Tile led a distributor forum that addressed pressing industry issues.

Immediately afterwards, attendees had a chance to hobnob during a Virtual Happy Hour. LATICRETE, Coverings, and Rubi each hosted a Zoom breakout room where folks could gather and network. Before attendees dispersed to these rooms, CTDA’s Rick Church showed a video that introduced the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront in Jacksonville, Fla., as the site of the 2021 Total Solutions Plus, from October 24-27,2021.

Scenes from Jacksonville, Fla., the site of the 2021 Total Solutions Plus, October 24-27

The 5th and Final day of TSP starts tomorrow at 10 a.m. CDT with a Joint Panel on Industry Standards, featuring Scott Conwell of IMI, Bill Griese and Katelyn Simpson of TCNA, James Woelfel of Artcraft Granite Marble & Tile Co., Frank Donahue of Best Tile of NC, Barbara Larson, AIA, CDT, LEED AP of Deltek and John Trendell of Trendell Consulting LLC. From 11:15 a.m. CDT to 1:30 p.m. the virtual booths will be open and at 2 p.m. CDT, Peter Zeihan will deliver the closing keynote: At the Edge of Disorder.

peter zeihan
Peter Zeihan

CTDA, NTCA, TCAA and TCNA are Partners in Progress for this joint VIRTUAL Conference in 2020. Total Solutions Plus provides educational sessions, networking opportunities and an Virtual Exhibit Hall! The Virtual Conference takes place Monday, October 26th through October 30th. Want to attend? Visit https://totalsolutionsplus2020.pathable.co/ to sign up and join these stellar educational opportunities!

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