NTCA contractors sound off on Coronavirus and their businesses

We’ve been reading a lot about legislation being rushed through to address the Coronavirus pandemic and related economic crisis, amidst rumors of work slowdowns and layoffs. But how are our members dealing with the new normal? How are their businesses being affected, how are they keeping safe and healthy and if there is downtime, how are they using it to their best advantage?

The weekend of March 28, TileLetter.com contacted a number of NTCA member contractors to take their pulse on the state of business in the time of Corona.

Working status: green light

All of the NTCA contractors contacted are still working, to various degrees, with residential and construction projects deemed essential. But some areas are cutting back such as Michigan, where Dan Welch of NTCA Five-Star Contractor Welch Tile & Marble admitted that they have ceased in-state operations, except for food plants, and hospitals that are only employing a third of his team.

Dan Welch, Welch Tile & Marble

Chris Walker of NTCA Five-Star Contractor David Allen Company said that DAC was told that “as long as there are successful efforts to follow all protocols, construction is considered an essential activity — even in shelter-in-place states – and work will continue.”

Chris Walker, David Allen Company

For Martin Brookes, of NTCA Five-Star Contractor Heritage Marble &  Tile located in Mill Valley, Calif., right outside San Francisco, his area was one of the first hit by shelter-in-place (SIP) orders, which were vague on which industries could continue operation. Brookes swung into action.

“I immediately stocked jobs with tile and setting materials to the best of my ability,” he said. “I was able to implement an infectious disease mitigation strategy with my employees and general contractors. We started to have morning tailgate safety meetings practicing social distancing measures. The conditions we put on our GC’s was that only ourselves (limit 2 man crew) be in the workspace and have access to clean water and hand soap. They all agreed to these conditions and to date it’s worked out well.

Martin Brookes, Heritage Marble & Tile

“I also created a letter with the current SIP order referenced and check with each county and city to see if it differs from the state,” he added. “The information clearly states the order and has my information on the letter for them to contact. This will hopefully resolve any issues if law enforcement enter a job site. They are also told to have the infectious disease mitigation strategy document with them on the job site and practice good personal hygiene throughout the day.”

John Cox, Cox Tile

Though contractors are working, for many, phones have virtually stopped ringing and no new work is coming in. “People are in fear of what’s happening,” said John Cox, of NTCA Five-Star Contractor Cox Tile in San Antonio. “They are no different than us, and not spending money unless it is a necessity.”

Gianna Vallefuoco, Vallefuoco Contractors, LLC

For others, things are still percolating. “Some jobs are delayed indefinitely due to social distancing concerns by clients, especially in buildings where there are bylaws restricting work,” said Gianna Vallefuoco, of Maryland-based NTCA Five-Star Contractor Vallefuoco Contractors, LLC. “We are definitely slowing down, but some jobs are still being pushed to finish. Our trade clients, like builders and remodelers, are trying to stay busy. We are still bidding many new jobs. We’re staying positive, but realistic.”

Protecting workers

Contractors say their worker safety is top priority. Brookes added, “The most important thing is the health and safety of my employees. They are asked if they feel safe and well protected, and if they are in any doubt about their health and safety they are welcome to stay home. The talk every morning is repetitive but is important to understand how the virus is spread and how to protect against it. It is so far working, but we are in the early stages and we hope through social distancing and isolation measures that the risk will be reduced.”

John Mourelatos, Mourelatos Tile Pro

In Tucson, John Mourelatos of Mourelatos Tile Pro said, “We are only working on remodeling projects where we can isolate our work area from the main part of the house. For example, we are working in a master bathroom project and we can access the area through a master bedroom door. We don’t have to access the main part of the house at all, using a separate bathroom from the homeowners. We are wearing gloves and washing our hands and tools frequently.” 

Walker said that for DC area work, DAC is eliminating crew vans and paying for parking or gas/mileage for out-of-town crews. “Construction  by its nature, is typically in social-distancing mode,” he said. “Superintendent’s offices are essentially their trucks, so those are controlled environments.” He also said that high-touch surfaces are wiped down several times a day, limited unannounced visitors and asked delivery services to leave and pick up packages without signature.

Bradford Denny, Nichols Tile & Terrazzo

Bradford Denny, of NTCA Five-Star Contractor Nichols Tile & Terrazzo Co., Inc., in Joelton, Tenn., said “We have asked everyone to check their temperature daily and stay home at the first signs of not feeling well. To further separate ourselves from one of our clients, we created a negative air space with HEPA filtration unit in our working area and have been sanitizing areas outside of the working area we travel. After finishing for the day, we’ve encouraged employees to return home and remain as isolated as possible.”

At Vallefuoco Contractors,  installers are using gloves and masks, though they are in short supply, and disinfectant. “We are implementing a 6 foot social distance protocol. We are moving toward single man crews for many jobs, especially small jobs,” Vallefuoco said. In the office, desks are separated and workers are at their own work stations. In addition, new technology will allow office staff to address tasks remotely from home. Health is number one, and we are taking this seriously. We need to respect social distancing protocol vehemently. None of us wants to put ourselves, employees, clients, vendors, fellow tradesmen/women, nor their families at risk. We are truly in this together.”  

Dealing with layoffs

New laws designed to provide support for workers and small businesses are creating some hope, confusion and prompting a learning curve as to how to navigate the details.

“This is definitely new territory,” Vallefuoco said. “Our future financial needs and our eligibility for benefits are still unclear, and we are always looking for guidance and insight from those who understand the options. Our goal is to keep employees on payroll for as long as possible, with the hope of riding out this storm with minimal financial consequences to employees.

“As a small business, this is of course a big concern,” she added. “Our main goal is to protect employees from becoming ill. We have specifically instituted measures to keep our employees safe and well, and home if needed. Fortunately, we’re able to provide excellent health insurance. For installers who are subcontractors, we are doing our best to keep them as busy as they desire. By implementing one man crews, we hope to keep people working safely, while respecting social distancing measures.”

Welch said, “The new law that requires people to be laid off and gives them a bonus to be laid off is creating issues. Some workers don’t want to work because they would rather be unemployed and make more money. When the government offers this, it cuts our hands off to be able to handle these essential projects.

“We’re trying to see if overhead can be cut,” he said. “A lot of people are working, but how to do that at a lesser cost? If we are going to lay them off, do we go part time or PTO; we’re not sure yet. We have until Thursday to make that decision.”

Denny said, “The uncertainty of their income and livelihood, as well as the pandemic, has given some of our employees justifiable concerns. We have been forced to sit down as a collective (employees and owners) family and consider our responsibilities to the company, our families, our community, our country, our economy, etc. These challenges have seemed to  knot us tighter together.”

Ricky Cox, Memphis Tile & Marble

And Ricky Cox of NTCA Five-Star Contractor Memphis Tile & Marble added, “I have been keeping up with this last stimulus package and will be applying for the small business loan.  It will cover payroll, rent, and utilities for 8 weeks and won’t have to be repaid.”

Lack of PPE

Early on, masks were one of the elements of personal protective equipment (PPE) in huge demand by the public at large as well as for health care workers who are face-to-face with Coronavirus on a daily basis. This has left the construction industry wanting for dust masks, and respirators that protect against respirable silica. Welch said he hasn’t been able to procure masks for months, though gloves are plentiful.  Mourelatos said that in addition to limited PPE, cleaning supplies are scarce. Cox, at Memphis Tile & Marble, said. “Masks are VERY hard to come by,” he added. “We were low on stock when all this started and had to order online.  Shipment of masks was two weeks out.”

Technology  helps keep business alive

One of the unintended positive consequences of COVID-19 upsetting the apple cart is the blossoming of the use of technology like Facetime, Zoom and more that will surely open up additional opportunities once the crisis has abated. Vallefuoco said, “I’ve been doing tile design and selection meetings with clients and vendors using Zoom platform. Our vendors have been offering great virtual showroom services.” Welch Tile is using the Boom Boom video software to create videos and talk directly to staff “with words of affirmation that we are all in this together.”

Helpful resources

In addition to the news and CDC recommendations, contractors are turning to a range of resources to keep abreast of changes in legislation that may affect their businesses and workers, and their health. Welch taps into the .gov websites, and is grateful for webinars on insurance developments his attorney offers. Mourelatos mentioned a COVID-19 Facebook group that LATICRETE’s vice president of sales and marketing Ron Nash established, as well as the NTCA website (www.tile-assn.com) that “has a wealth of resources and links that have been helpful.”

Using your time

For some, since work is not bustling, there is opportunity to channel downtime into useful activities.

Vallefuoco is working from home, and has used the time to get “back on track with things formerly put on the back burner. I’ve been writing our INTENTIONAL SPACES blog , and addressing life during the COVID-19 era as part of it.”

At Welch Tile, work is afoot on a new logo and sales and marketing projects, as well as refining company purpose and values statements.

Finally, some contractors are evaluating priorities and making time to spend with the special people in their lives.  “We, and our team, are spending much more time home with our families,” Vallefuoco said. “This has truly been an unforeseen gift. We are all concerned for our health and our livelihoods, but we continue to look forward and find the positive.”

Senate passes relief bill for workers, small business, healthcare system to fight COVID-19 Public Health Crisis

The Senate last night unanimously passed a bipartisan $2 trillion bill to immediately bolster the U.S. health care response and economy, with special provisions for workers and small businesses, a Marshall Plan for hospitals, as well as oversight for the $500 billion provision to assist corporations.

The bill also includes student loan relief and $400 million in election assistance for the states to help prepare for the 2020 election cycle, including to increase the ability to vote by mail, expand early voting and online registration, and increase the safety of voting in-person by providing additional voting facilities and more poll- workers. 

A breakdown of the provisions of the bill, obtained from the office of U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, includes:

Unemployment Insurance: ($260 billion) 

The bill includes a massive investment in the Unemployment Insurance (UI) program as well as critical reforms to make the program more effective for workers. The legislation boosts the UI program in all states and creates a new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program. This new program also expands UI eligibility to part-time, self-employed, and gig economy workers.

Full Paycheck Replacement: $600 increase for every American, which equates to 100% of wages for the average American without a paycheck struggling through the crisis for up to four months. This is in addition to ordinary unemployment benefits a person can receive.

Waiving Waiting Weeks: Gets money in people’s pockets sooner by providing federal incentives for states to eliminate waiting weeks. 

Extension of Benefits: An additional 13 weeks of federally-funded unemployment insurance benefits are immediately be made available. 

Expanding Access: Allow part-time, self-employed, and gig economy workers to access UI benefits. 

Marshall Plan for Our Health System ($150 billion) 

This unprecedented and historic investment for our health care system in its fight against the COVID-19 pandemic creates a new $150 billion fund that is widely available to all types of hospitals and providers most affected by COVID-19. It will be available to fund whatever is needed to defeat this virus. This includes: 

Equipment and Infrastructure: Personal and protective equipment for health care workers, testing supplies, increased workforce and training, new construction to house patients, emergency operation centers and more. 

Enhanced Health Investments: Additional funding is also dedicated to delivering Medicare payment increases to all hospitals and providers to ensure that they receive the funding they need during this crisis, and new investments in our country’s Strategic National Stockpile, surge capacity and medical research into COVID-19. 

Robust Worker and Transparency Protections on Government Loans 

Tough new requirements have been added to government loans lent to companies. 

• No stock buybacks or dividends for the length of any loan provided by the Treasury plus 1 year. 

• Restrictions on any increases to executive compensation. 

• Protection for collective bargaining agreements. 

• Real-time public reporting of Treasury transactions under the Act, including terms of loans, investments or other assistance to corporations. 

•Prohibition on businesses controlled by the President, Vice President, Members of Congress, and heads of Executive Departments getting loans or investments from Treasury programs. 

• Creation of Treasury Department Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery to provide oversight of Treasury loans and investments and a Pandemic Response Accountability Committee to protect taxpayer dollars. 

• Creation of a Congressional Oversight Commission to enhance legislative oversight of pandemic response. 

Small Business Rescue Plan ($377 billion) 

• $350 billion in loan forgiveness grants to small businesses and non-profits to maintain existing workforce and help pay for other expenses like rent, mortgage, and utilities. 

• $10 billion for SBA emergency grants of up to $10,000 to provide immediate relief for small business operating costs. 

• $17 billion for SBA to cover 6 months of payments for small businesses with existing SBA loans. 

Protection for over 2 Million Aviation Industry Jobs 

• Direct payroll payments will keep millions of airline workers on the job and receiving paychecks. 

• Airline companies will be prohibited from stock buybacks and dividends for the entire life of the grant plus one year. 

• Collective bargaining agreements negotiated by workers will be protected. 

Increased Direct Payments to Working Americans 

• Cash payments to the working class Americans were doubled from $600 to $1,200 

• An additional $500 cash payment is available per child. 

• The full payment is available for individuals making up to $75,000 (individual) and $150,000 (married, filing jointly). 

• The value begins decreasing and then phases out completely for those making over the full payment income cap ($99,000 individual/$198,000 married). 

State and Local Coronavirus Expenditures Fund ($150 billion) 

To assist States, Tribes, and local governments that must pay for new expenses related to COVID-19 response. 

• $150 billion, with a small-state minimum of $1.25 billion 

• Tribal set-aside of $8 billion 

Emergency Appropriations ($330 billion, including $100 billion for hospitals and providers mentioned above) 

• $16 billion to replenish the Strategic National Stockpile supplies of pharmaceuticals, personal protective equipment, and other medical supplies, which are distributed to State and local health agencies, hospitals and other healthcare entities facing shortages during emergencies. 

• $1 billion for the Defense Production Act to bolster domestic supply chains, enabling industry to quickly ramp up production of personal protective equipment, ventilators, and other urgently needed medical supplies, and billions dollars more for federal, state, and local health agencies to purchase such equipment. 

• $4.3 billion to support federal, state, and local public health agencies to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the coronavirus, including:  for the purchase of personal protective equipment; laboratory testing to detect positive cases; infection control and mitigation at the local level to prevent the spread of the virus; and other public health preparedness and response activities. 

• $45 billion for FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund, more than doubling the available funding, to provide for the immediate needs of state, local, tribal, and territorial governments, as well as private non-profits performing critical and essential services, to protect citizens and help them recover from the overwhelming effects of COVID-19. Reimbursable activities may include medical response, personal protective equipment, National Guard deployment, coordination of logistics, safety measures, and community services nationwide. 

• $30.75 billion for grants to provide emergency support to local school systems and higher education institutions to continue to provide educational services to their students and support the on-going functionality of school districts and institutions. 

• $25 billion in aid to our nation’s transit systems to help protect public health and safety while ensuring access to jobs, medical treatment, food, and other essential services. 

• $10 billion in grants to help our nation’s airports as the aviation sector grapples with the most steep and potentially sustained decline in air travel in history. 

• $3.5 billion in additional funding for the Child Care Development Block Grant to provide child care assistance to health care sector employees, emergency responders, sanitation workers, and other workers deemed essential during the response to the coronavirus. 

• More than $7 billion for affordable housing and homelessness assistance programs. This funding will help low-income and working class Americans avoid evictions and minimize any impacts caused by loss of employment, and child care, or other unforeseen circumstances related to COVID-19, and support additional assistance to prevent eviction and for people experiencing homelessness 

• More than $6.5 billion in Federal funding for CDBG, the Economic Development Administration, and the Manufacturing Extension Partnership to help mitigate the local economic crisis and rebuild impacted industries such as tourism or manufacturing supply chains. 

• $400 million in election assistance for the states to help prepare for the 2020 election cycle, including to increase the ability to vote by mail, expand early voting and online registration, and increase the safety of voting in-person by providing additional voting facilities and more poll- workers. 

• $2 billion in funding to strengthen response capacity and support tribal governments: 

o $1.03 billion to the Indian Health Service to support tribal health care system response efforts;

o $100 million more for the USDA Food Distribution Program for Indian Reservations;

o $453 million to assist tribes through the Bureau of Indian Affairs;

o $69 million to help tribal schools, colleges and universities through for the Bureau of Indian Education; and

o $300 million more to the HUD Indian Tribal Block Grant program. 

• $1 billion to recapitalize Amtrak after steep ridership declines related to the outbreak. This will keep thousands of Amtrak employees employed, and ensure America’s intercity passenger rail stays on track, continuing service in the Northeast and nationwide. 

Student Loan Relief 

• To alleviate the pressure of student loan costs during this crisis, the bill includes tax relief encouraging employers to implement student loan repayment programs. This provision will exclude up to $5,250 in qualifying student loan repayments paid by the employer on behalf of the employee from income for income tax purposes. 

Word is expected on how soon these funds will be available to workers and businesses and where they can turn to access them. Sen. Heinrich’s office noted that contractors affected by business closures or loss of work will likely need to seek aid on a state-by-state basis. In New Mexico, for instance, out of work contractors would need to contact the N.M Department of Workforce Solutions to file for unemployment.

That said, the eligibility/infrastructure for these guidelines won’t be finalized until the House passage and signature from the president. At that point the administration will be tasked with developing guidelines and regulations to administer the program.

White House and Congress reach agreement on $2 trillion Coronavirus relief package

An agreement was reached early Wednesday morning by White House and Senate leaders on a $2 trillion stimulus package to provide relief to a flagging economy impacted by the Coronavirus. The  Speaker of the House issued a statement with the following particulars of the deal:

  • A large investment in hospitals, health system and state and local governments to give them the resources they desperately need during this emergency.
  • A massive increase in Unemployment Insurance benefits to match the average paycheck of laid-off or furloughed workers.
  • Expansion of fast relief for small businesses, while rent, mortgage and utility costs were made eligible for SBA loan forgiveness. 
  • Billions in emergency education funding, while income tax on student loan repayment assistance by an employer was eliminated.
  • Prevention of secret bailouts and the addition of special oversight requirements.

News outlets report that although full details of the agreement have yet to be hammered out, some specifics have emerged such as

  • $250 billion for direct payments to individuals and families,
  • $350 billion for small business assistance
  • $250 billion in unemployment insurance including extending benefits to those who traditionally were not covered such as gig workers, furloughed workers and freelancers, and bolstering benefits by increases payouts for four months
  • $500 billion in loans for distressed companies, subject to decisions by an oversight board.
  • Individuals  who earn $75,000 in adjusted gross income or less would receive direct payments of $1,200 each, with married couples earning up to $150,000 getting $2,400, and an additional $500 per child. Payments will decrease for individuals making over $75,000, and an income cap was instituted at $99,000 per individual and $198,000 for couples.
  • $130 billion for struggling hospitals
  • $150 billion for state and local governments under pressure from fighting coronavirus

On two key points of particular importance to tile and stone contractors, Senator Chuck Schumer is assuring American workers that help is imminent. In terms of small businesses, he said in floor remarks today, “They will be getting loans. Their employees will be paid by the federal government while they’re closed because they don’t have customers or services.”

For unemployed workers, he calls this agreement, “unemployment compensation on steroids. Every American worker who is laid off will have their salary remunerated by the federal government so they can pay their bills. And because so many of them will be furloughed rather than fired, if they have benefits, they can continue, and—extremely important—they can stay with the company or small business. And that means that company or small business can reassemble once this awful plague is over and our economy can get going quickly.”

Passion for excellence, knack for creativity drive Utah tile setter

Tarkus Tile brings award-winning true craftsmanship to Salt Lake City area

Mark Christensen, owner/craftsman of Tarkus Tile in Lehi, Utah

You never know where your path will lead. Such was the case for Mark Christensen, owner of Tarkus Tile, whose passion for tile work was ignited on a road trip from Utah to Arizona. In 1998, as a 21-year-old college student with dreams of visiting Mexico and beyond – but little cash in his pocket – he worked a few days with a tile setter friend to make a few bucks. 

“I was immediately intrigued with the work, and ended up staying for six months,” Christensen said. His boss “threw him into the fire immediately,” setting tile straightaway, and Christensen loved it. When his boss decided to relocate, he passed on his Target tile saw to Christensen. 

It makes sense that this exposure to tile could ignite Christensen’s passion. “From the time I could walk, I was working alongside my dad, installing carpet in his business and building stuff around the house,” he said.  “I was very fortunate to learn construction skills and common sense from him, which helped me so much.”

Once he returned to Utah to complete college, he did jobs for friends and family. Happy with the level of income tile work afforded him, at 22, he started Tarkus Tile in Lehi City, Utah, near Salt Lake City, and got his contractor license a year later. 

“The first years were hard,” he said. “I was self taught for the most part, having to figure a lot of things out on my own, making a lot of mistakes, but I stuck with it, learning and growing with every job. Twenty years later, I have managed to build a decent reputation and client base in my area. I work mainly solo with the assistance of my three teenage sons on occasion.” Tarkus specializes in mainly high-end residential work, both new construction and remodeling, with an emphasis on luxury bathrooms.

Christensen discovered the John Bridge Forum online in 2008 and eventually the NTCA. 

When his sons were little, Christensen read to them from the TCNA Handbook. From the look of it, it paid off!

“I remember being literally sick to my stomach when I saw the caliber of work that was being done out there,” he admitted. “I thought I was good. Turns out I had so much to learn. And I was intrigued that there were actual standards for our trade, and guidebooks to follow to do things the right way. I was so excited to have found a group of like-minded people, passionate about the tile craft and committed to doing things the right way and to a higher standard.”

Around 2010, he joined NTCA, reading the TCNA Handbook from cover to cover within the first few weeks. “I would even read it aloud to my young sons to put them to sleep at night,” he said. “I love that there is a wealth of knowledge at my fingertips and an answer to any problem I may have on the technical spectrum. And if there isn’t a specific solution in the Handbook, there’s another member who has experienced it and will share their knowledge.”

He credits his membership with getting in the door on some projects, and having the confidence to approach clients and projects with standards-based knowledge and techniques. “This newfound confidence helped me take my work and business to the next level, always progressing,” he said.

Christensen considers this juncture a huge turning point in his career. “The bar was raised and I grew immensely over the following years, pushing my limits and taking on more challenging projects, trying my best to do things the right way,” he said, even serving as the NTCA Utah State Ambassador for a time. 

“In 2014 I had the honor of receiving a Coverings Installation & Design award,” Christensen said. “This was such an awesome and a surreal experience to have my work recognized and celebrated on that level. What an honor. This was definitely the pinnacle of my career up until that point.”

This Residential Stone Installation Award was presented at the 2014 CID Awards. It took Christensen more than 350 hours working solo on this master bath, reframing the steam shower and removing and re-engineering the subfloor and joists. He created a 5’ wide sloped-back bench, and arranged for two-pound spray foam insulation  throughout the shower. He installed a linear drain, two niches, and electric underfloor cable heating. 

It shouldn’t be a surprise that Christensen should be an award-winner: his company is dedicated to breathtaking custom installs that are technically challenging. In fact, early on, he upped the ante on his expertise by immersing himself in the craft of setting with mud, inspired by the John Bridge Forum and some online tile friends.

On his CID-award winning project, Christensen assisted with the selection of Calacatta Gold honed marble and Honed Piana Limestone. He developed the design by sorting stone piece by piece to get a pleasing layout that featured book-matched pieces, and he hand-cut and installed the herringbone accent band. He wrapped all corners with the same piece of marble to create a continuous flow of veining throughout. Then it was time to tackle the bathroom floor.

In 2010, the John Bridge Forum held a two-day mud event in Dallas. “I went and soaked it all in from some good teachers like Dave Gobis, Gerald Sloan, John Cox and John Bridge,” he said. “When I got back home I made a commitment to myself to learn it and go all in. For the next six years, I floated every chance I got. I was doing a lot of work for an up-and-coming custom home builder, back-to-back high-end homes with four to eight bathrooms each. I floated them all, learning and getting better with each one. It was an extremely challenging and humbling experience full of long days and learning the hard way, but to this day I still believe it to be the single best thing I ever did for myself as a craftsman.  It sharpened my skills across the board and gave me a new excitement about the craft. And while I don’t always use mud, it helped me to approach everything with a new perspective of flat, plumb and square, and built to last.”

This emphasis on custom craftsmanship sets his creativity and enthusiasm on fire, bringing versatility and custom attention to every job. “I feel like this has gotten me in the door on some very unique projects, and left a trail of happy clients. I treat every job as if it’s the most important one I’ve ever done.”

The bathroom floor was out of square, so care and precision were used to position an inset limestone border to lay out exactly 4 inches from the cabinet toe kicks. Christensen worked with the cabinet maker to get dimensions and adjusted accordingly for a perfect fit.

The act of creating energizes Christensen and is the joyful core of his work as a tile contractor. And his attitude towards his craft is positively inspiring.

“It’s my outlet, my place of solace,” he said. “I pour every bit of my heart and soul into my work. I see so much beautiful craft and art every day from around the globe, and I know that it all comes from a passion deep inside its creator. It’s so much more than just a job; it’s part of us. Our work is an extension of our very being, and we want nothing more than for it to be enjoyed. This is the highest compliment, to have someone smile and feel emotion when they see my creation.”

Be prepared for a burst of color to inspire and uplift you with TRENDS 2020

Fashion is what you’re offered four times a year by designers.  And style is what you choose.”  — Lauren Hutton

In a few days I will fly out to Las Vegas for TISE, but I’ve just finished compiling content for the TRENDS issue that encapsulates what you’ll see at the Coverings show. And wow, you are in for a treat. Be prepared for a burst of color to inspire and uplift you. Yes, color is becoming more of a “thing” in tile again – along with the beautiful, classic creaminess of natural Cararra and Calacatta marble and the multitude of porcelain marble mimicry you will find as you go into 2020. And color is also celebrated in our A&D story about Allison Eden, owner of Allison Eden studios, a high-end glass mosaic designer in Brooklyn, N.Y. Her story – and her whole being – exudes energy and enthusiasm and her tile designs reflect that as well. 

Joe Lundgren brings a broad overview of what’s shaking in tile style, as well as an exploration of the arc in the life of a trend and how that affects what’s available. In our Sales Pulse story, select distributors give you insight into what’s happening in their regions across the country. And Donato Pompo of CTaSC talks about the timelessness that natural stone brings to the table.

Amidst the fashions from Italy and Spain in this issue, Industry Ambassador Alena Capra’s mini trend report in her welcome letter, and two product sections packed with the newest tile and stone trends on the market, we took some time to visit with NTCA contractors to determine what essential tools help them create flawless installations that stand the test of time. 

And what home trends are impacting the use of ceramic and porcelain tile? Check out details from the Houzz 2020 Kitchen Study for some insight into tile applications in the coming year. 

All in all, we have some exciting things percolating in the world of tile and stone in 2020. We hope this TRENDS issue whets your appetite for sampling tasty new tile treats and savory stone offerings amidst the culinary wonder that is New Orleans, home of Coverings 2020. See you at the show!

God bless,
Lesley
[email protected]

Mosaic artist Allison Eden builds a fashion empire from a chance encounter with colored glass

Eden says her work is all about color. “People want different!” she said.

 Life is really, really hard. You need to find a positive outlet.

– Allison Eden

There is an ebullient, vibrant force afoot in the world of glass mosaics. To say she is creative would be an understatement. It might be more accurate to say she is the Lady Gaga of the tile world, bringing to bear a plucky, energetic mix of inventiveness, innovation, cheerfulness, enthusiasm, openness, tenacity, excellence – and fun – to the art and craft of glass mosaics. 

Eden got started in glass mosaic making when she was captivated by colorful sheet glass in a Greenwich Village store window. 

To talk with Allison Eden is to get swept up in how much she is in love with what she does – creating custom designs for a wide range of applications, from residences to retail, hotels to hospitals, to community centers to restaurants and everything in between. Her custom designs have been featured in Architectural Digest, Interior Design Magazine, Architectural Record, Metropolitan Home, New York Cottages and Gardens, and Elle Décor and grace the homes of such celebrities as Elton John and Kris Kardashian. Her passion is palpable, and by the time you’re done conversing with her, you are sold on how her colorful designs help make the world a better place. 

Case in point: Eden was commissioned to bring a pop of color to a hospital in Barrow, Alaska, to fight the high suicide rate. Barrow – the subject of the 2012 movie “Big Miracle” – is the northernmost city in the United States, and has 67 days of darkness in the winter. After the hospital, her work enlivened a hotel, community center and school. Her dedication to her work is such that she wound up flying for 72 hours on five flights to lend some direction to the initial hospital installation after the tile contractor was mauled by a polar bear. 


Captivated by color

All of Eden’s designs are hand-cut, using nippers and pencil cutters: no waterjet or power tools.

Eden got her start at the Fashion Institute of Technology in the 1990s, graduated with a BFA and went to work designing a women’s line for Nautica in New York City. Captivated by some colorful sheet glass displayed in the window of a store in Greenwich Village one day, she bought some, took it home and experimented with it on a wall. Then she broke it with a hammer, glued it with Elmer’s to a piece of cardboard, and brought it to the tile store that was just opening up across the street from her apartment. They loved it.

She opened up a studio, and started growing a business, putting ads in the Yellow Pages in every single category into which she thought she might fit: architect, interior designer, fashion, designer, contractor. It worked: she got a call in 1995 to tile a Burger King floor in three weeks. 

“No problem!” she said. “You’ve come to the right place.” She bought a video on how to tile a floor, then showed up in the middle of winter at the job site to create a Brazilian Wave mosaic on the floor, in 20-degree weather, while it was raining and snowing inside. She hired installation help, got it done on time, and invoiced her client with a form she bought at Staples. 

She continued pounding the pavement, carrying Polaroid photos of her “fabulous new product” to companies in the Garment Center she knew, asking if anyone was looking to renovate or redecorate.

“I got one job after another,” she said. “I learned a lot on every project.” Eventually she moved to a studio across from Macy’s until the rent skyrocketed from $6,000/month to $30,000/month. Eden and her husband, who manages her studio, were able to get help from the city as artists and manufacturers who were keeping jobs in New York, and moved their operation to Brooklyn, employing 14 people to cut and assemble the pieces. 

Speaking of which, all of Eden’s designs are hand-cut, using nippers and pencil cutters: no waterjet or power tools. She crafts painterly details of shadows and highlights, all hand-cut and then assembled with plastic front mounting. “I need to see everything!” she said. “You peel the plastic off like tape. It lets you be sure the joints match up perfectly.”


Shoes at Bloomies

Bloomingdale’s department store sought Eden out to create permanent glass mosaic sculptures for the store: a perfume bottle that towers nine to ten feet tall in the entryway and a “monster shoe” for the shoe department. “My shoe gets more hits on Instagram than anything else in the store,” she said. While she was there, she was approached by LebaTex to develop a line of Pop Art fabrics based on her tile designs. 

Eden’s permanent sculptural mosaics at Bloomingdale’s Manhattan flagship store.

She asked the Bloomie’s CEO to take a meeting to discuss her textile ideas. “I went in with the fabric pillows and clothing and decorated the entire room with how I wanted the Allison Eden Department to look,” she explained. “We had a huge pop-up event and sold out of everything. Then they asked me to make a shoe and handbag to match the mosaic shoe. If you don’t ask, you don’t receive. Maybe someone will believe and see your vision!” Bloomies has continued to support Eden, featuring her designs in their famed windows. “Mosaics speak for themselves,” she said. “They are bright, happy and different. I love being in the tile business!”


Inspiration is everywhere

Eden’s tile and interior designs have inspired a line of fabrics by LebaTex. 

How does Eden come up with her designs? Partly she is influenced by her interior designer mom, the glitter and glamour of the 70s and 80s and all the over-the-top styles of that age. “It’s shaped how I design – big, bold,” she said.

Other inspirations come from her travels or simply from walking about the “very vital city” that New York is. “You find the beauty of other places and the beauty of your home,” she said, recording her inspirations in a book she carries with her everywhere. She also grooves on fashion and textiles, spending time in fabric stores and attending shows during fashion week. 

Her very first collection was filled with things she loves: lips, palm trees, unicorns, rainbows and lip gloss. “My husband Gary said, ‘Why can’t you make anything saleable?’” she said. “I will sell more of this than anything. Your home needs to be positive. People want to live in a place that is happy.”

Eden says her work is all about color, talking about the popularity of the Moroccan tile and all the color it embodies. “People want different!” she said. “People may tell me that’s not true, but we have never been busier with custom projects.”

The trend to social media is a key driver for her business too. “People want a feature wall so they can take pictures in their home with their fabulous lifestyles and their fabulous walls,” she said. “And restaurants are doing that now – creating something unique and wild so their clients can be wowed. It sets them apart from others.”

Eden’s first tile collection was filled with things she loves, including unicorns and rainbows. “People want to live in a place that’s happy,” she said. 

Quality products, quality installation

Eden is keen on U.S. – made materials for her designs, often from family-run glassmaking businesses. “I collect a lot of old glass and use that in my designs,” she said. “When a factory closes, I try to buy all the glass.” She lamented about the cheapening of products and the growing propensity to buy cheap, low-quality products, often shipped from China.

“If we could be like we used to, we could be an industry that is self-sufficient,” she said. “I keep a really high-end business. I take such pride in every single piece I make; it has to be perfect.” 

Although she observed that the Art Tile Village at Coverings has gotten smaller over the years, she makes it a point to be there to see her clients and stores (she’s represented in over 400 outlets around the world), and you can find her in New Orleans this year at booth 4107. “We get wonderful support from our tile stores,” she said. 

Though Eden once did her own installation, she lets the pros handle that now. “You need a good installer to do tile,” she said. “[NTCA member] Rod Katwyk did one of my installations years ago and visits me at Coverings. And LATICRETE has been very good to us.” 

Elizabeth Lambert of Lambert Tile & Stone, an NTCA Five-Star Contractor in Colorado, installed Eden’s mosaics years ago, and found them very easy to work with. “We follow the instructions,” she said. “You give her the exact dimensions of the space and she numbers all the pieces so they interlock the way she designed it. She sends a bunch of extra pieces, and whenever we call she is on the phone in seconds. She is very accessible. And she understands the need for qualified labor to install. The last thing she wants is a failure with her name on it.

“She is a total artist,” Lambert continued. “There are not that many vendors in the U.S. that do work like that. It’s unique and delicate. She can create anything – send her images and she’ll find a way to make it happen.”

From pop art to classic figures to celebrities and abstract designs, “She can create anything,” said NTCA Five-Star Contractor Elizabeth Lambert. 

Homing in on Coverings 2020

In this March issue, we start homing in on Coverings. What a dynamic event this is going to be! Back in New Orleans for the first time in nearly 20 years, Coverings promises to bring all its standard business-boosting features, set among outstanding food, culture, and music in a city that continues to rebuild itself after the major destruction of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. A testament to the city’s ebullient spirit, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival begins April 23 – just as Coverings is coming to a close – so plan to stay for the weekend to enjoy what the city has to offer. For a preview of what Coverings has on tap, read the story in this issue – some favorite features will return with some new events, activities and elements planned. 

Seafood gumbo by Carol Bracey

You read in our February issue about how the NTCA/CTEF partnership is kicking certification into high gear. This month in our Training & Education section, hear from some Industry Evaluators who have gone through the Boot Camp training about their commitment and their outlook for this industry program.

In this month’s One-to-One, Bart Bettiga speaks with two stellar artisans of our industry – Lee Callewaert of Dragonfly Tile & Stone Works and Joshua Nordstrom of Tierra Tile. Gain some insight into their particular approaches to craftsmanship, artistry and the tile industry. 

In our Tile & Stone section, we talk with Becky Serbin about an essential new workshop that NTCA is offering in 2020: The Ins and Outs of Layout. This workshop evolved from observations during the Certified Tile Installer tests – that not all contractors had a working knowledge of accurate layout principles, which created time management issues during the exam. Clearly, this situation would ALSO slow down a day-to-day job, so NTCA decided to address it with the new workshop focus on layout.

Floor warming systems have come a long way since hydronic heating was the only option for creating a cozy floor. And fortunately ceramic and porcelain tiles are excellent finishing materials to use in conjunction with these systems. In our Technical section, read what floor warming manufacturers say contribute to successful electric floor warming system installation. 

Enjoy this issue, the coming of spring – officially arriving on March 19 – and your plans to attend the pre-eminent tile and stone event in North America, complete with Cajun and Creole flair in The Big Easy.

God bless, 

Lesley 
[email protected]

Coverings comes to The Big Easy, April 20-23

Making a return to the Ernest N. Morial Center for the first time in nearly 20 years, Coverings attracts visitors from every facet of the tile and stone industry. Incomparable educational events, networking opportunities, and a chance to see nine miles of the best in new tile and stone product are paired with fabulous food (both in NOLA itself and at many booths of international exhibitors at the show), culture and the 51st New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival running April 23 through May 3. You have every reason to travel to NOLA for bettering your business and packing in a little fun at the same time.

Every year Coverings gets bigger and better and offers more inspiration, education and opportunity for those in the tile and stone industry. The educational program is completely free, and offers a massive number of sessions (find a schedule of speakers and sessions here: https://bit.ly/2sP1043). There are also products, installation demonstrations, and events to attend. 

Here’s a brief rundown of the event that will take place at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center – visit www.coverings.com or stay tuned for the Coverings issue of TileLetter coming to your mailbox in March for more information.

Live Installation Demonstration Stage – These live “how-to” classes offer attendees an up-close look at how top contracting pros handle a variety of challenging tile installations, using a wide variety of new products and techniques to make tile and stone installation more successful. Sponsored by TCNA and NTCA.

Installation & Design Experience (IDE) – Among the aspects of this show feature is a showcase of best practices across a range of tile installations, demonstration of why tile is a great product choice compared to other materials, and information on how to become and find Certified Tile Installers. CTEF will showcase the features and benefits of the Certified Tile Installer (CTI) program and its importance to qualified labor as found in the TCNA Handbook and also contained in the Avitru (formerly ARCOM) MasterSpec for construction specifications. The IDE Lounge will be home to lunch, happy hour, giveaways and a game show in the late afternoon as well as other activities, such as the Brand + Business Building Zone.  

Brand + Business Building Zone – A new complimentary attendee feature for Coverings 2020. Come have a professional headshot taken, create a video pitch for your social media channels and website, and get tips and tricks to amplify your presence and profile across the web and social media for promotion. This is located in the Installation & Design Experience. 

IDE Booth Tours – Make the most of your time with an IDE Booth Tour! Embark on a super-efficient, super-informative guided tour of NTCA sponsor booths – see over 10 booths in one hour. Sign up in the IDE Lounge. 

Tiler EventBot – Another new feature, Tiler, Coverings’ very own EventBot, will be available via attendees’ smartphones to answer any questions about Coverings. 

Educational sessions – Coverings will home in on three key tracks relevant to today’s industry professional: Installation & Fabrication, Workforce & Profits, and Materials & Trends. Coverings’ robust educational offerings span all industry segments, many offering CEUs. And, Coverings provides all learning benefits at no cost. For a full schedule of sessions, visit
https://bit.ly/2sP1043. 

SFA Cage – The Stone Fabricators Alliance will once again be presenting “The Cage,” a dynamic, wet fabrication area contained within the exhibition floor. Sponsors of the SFA will showcase new products that you can try yourself, and members of the SFA will have ongoing “Mini-workshops” where fabricators can get hands-on demonstrations on various fabrication techniques like top polishing, mitering, etc.

Cafe du Monde by Paul Broussard

Coverings Installation & Design (CID) Awards – celebrate outstanding achievements in the design and installation of tile and stone in both residential and commercial projects. Awards will be presented at the annual reception, Monday, April 20, 5:30 – 6:30 p.m. All are welcome!

Coverings Rock Stars, An  Emerging Leaders Program – This program recognizes and engages the best and brightest young talent in the tile and stone industry.

New Product Showcase: Don’t miss the New Product Showcase available on the Coverings website and mobile app. Discover the new products and trends exhibitors are bringing to Coverings 2020. Mark your favorites and visit those booths on the show floor.

Show Floor Happy Hours – Relax and network on the show floor from 3:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m., Monday through Wednesday. 

Art Tile Courtyard – Visit the TCNA Art Tile Courtyard located in the heart of the Art Tile Village at Coverings 2020 and enjoy beautifully tiled doghouses provided by TCNA members. These decorated doghouses are wonderful displays of creativity using tile. After Coverings, the doghouses will be donated to a local New Orleans pet charity that will be onsite during the show with canine companions.

Quickfire sessions – Experience short, 20-minute single focused presentations on the latest in tile and stone trends and installation. 

Engage Interviews – Learn from one-on-one interviews with trend-setting industry leaders in design and installation
innovation.  

NTCA Awards Night – Join NTCA for its annual Awards Night on Wednesday, April 22 from 5:30 – 7 p.m. Immediately after the awards event, NTCA will host a sponsored party till 10 p.m., featuring musical entertainment from NTCA members! 

Evaluator boot camp focuses on making CTI exams more accessible

If you read our Training & Education feature by CTEF’s Scott Carothers on page 66 of our February issue, you learned about the efforts afoot by the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF), supported by The National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA), to bring more Certified Tile Installer (CTI) exams to contractors across the country. 

Carothers explained the beginning of the program in 2008 has led to the current stable of 1,600 CTIs. CTEF has been churning out about 150 CTIs a year but there’s an outcry from the industry for more opportunities to be tested, and for more contractors to have the opportunity to become CTIs. 

In 2020, there’s a goal of reaching 2,000 CTIs by year’s end. Yet with the current number of evaluators at 11, that has been impossible. Until now.

Starting in the middle of 2019, the CTEF board approved an intense week-long training of evaluators – an Evaluator Training Boot Camp, of sorts. Four intense trainings have been held, each with 14 evaluators-in-training: a mixture of Contractor Evaluators (CEs) and evaluators who hail from manufacturer technical departments; most were once tile installers themselves (Industry Evaluators or IEs). The goal is to have 56 evaluators by spring 2020.

Existing CEs go through an update, to learn the new grading system. They had already taken the CTI exam themselves to become evaluators. But the new recruits go through a rigorous curriculum that includes taking the CTI test themselves. 

Many manufacturers are supporting this program. “CUSTOM decided to participate in this value-add program because it aligns with our commitment to industry support through quality installation by our industries,” said Will White, of Custom Building Products. David LaFleur of wedi, added, “I agreed to become an evaluator as I saw it as a great opportunity to promote qualified labor in the tile industry. I was honored when wedi chose me as their representative to this program. The trade is suffering as a whole right now due to the lack of qualified labor. The CTEF and NTCA are doing a great job at working to improve this situation, and I feel this is a great way for me to help.”

Even though many of the IEs are technical representatives, the Boot Camp was no walk in the park. Ed Cortopassi of MAPEI said he was surprised by the “intricate difficulty of the task” especially time management when taking the CTI exam. CUSTOM’s White added, “With over 240 cuts in the certification test, you better have a plan that factors in the time allotted to complete.” 

For LaFleur, “The toughest part of Boot Camp was actually taking the CTI test,” he said. “I grew a new-found respect for those who completed it and passed. It is easy to assume, given the small quantity of tile installed, that the test may not fully test someone’s abilities. I was hugely mistaken in this thought process. After being away from tile setting for about one year, it was not only difficult to finish, but certainly tested all my abilities fully. I am grateful that I was able to finish and receive a passing grade.”

LaFleur praised the enthusiasm and dedication shown by Mark Heinlein and Scott Carothers in designing and implementing the training, and for making sure IEs were well prepared to administer and evaluate the CTI exam. “I learned how important it was to be accurate and precise when evaluating a test, in order to keep the test fair to all participants,” he said. “This will keep the integrity of the test in place, helping to assure consumers can trust they are hiring someone with the skills required to complete their projects.” Similarly, Daniel Grant of Ardex Americas said he was “happy to learn that the scoring was very clear, and mostly not subjective to the evaluator’s opinion or viewpoint.”

One thing White discovered  during the training was that installation technique and ability are perishable assets. “I have not installed tile on a production scale for 20 years – this camp showed me how an everyday task is not like riding a bike – you must practice this often to remain relevant and capable,” he said.

Ardex’s Grant said that in addition to the extended days in a hot warehouse, one of the tough aspects of the test was “Having to intentionally install several aspects of the module incorrectly for the evaluators to try to catch.” 

After completing the Boot Camp and the CTI exam, IEs had some words of wisdom for those planning to take the CTI exam. 

“My piece of advice is simple,” wedi’s LaFleur said. “Do not get worked up on the task at hand. All the information you need to pass is given to you in the study material. Treat the test like any other day at work. Devise a plan as to how you will complete the test in the time given and then execute it. The world is not perfect, so do not get hung up on any one detail.”

MAPEI’s Cortopassi added, “Make sure to attend the orientation the night before and pay attention to the many little details.”

And CUSTOM’s White said, “This is a certification test for those who earn it – not a guarantee you will pass. Study, plan and learn. May the Tile Force be with you always!”

One of the highlights of the Boot Camp was the “camaraderie from some of the other attendees,” said Ardex’s Grant, an opinion echoed by White. “What a great experience to understand we are in this together and quality can be achieved,” he said.

Heating up the house

Manufacturers offer advice for successful floor warming installations

Electric underfloor heating systems have come a long way since the old days. They offer comfort underfoot, ease of installation, and smart controls that can be programmed or can learn a consumer’s pattern of use, delivering toasty warm floors when users arrive home.

An example of today’s electric floor warming options: ARDEX FLEXBONE® HEAT In-Floor Heating Systems

And fortunately, ceramic and porcelain tile are excellent choices for radiant heated flooring, said Thomas Utley, Technical Specialist FLEXBONE HEAT/ARDEX Tile and Stone Installation Systems. “They have high thermal conductivity and retain heat better than other flooring choices. The thickness of the tile has little impact on the heat output but the heating time is increased with thicker tiles.”

But like any product, there are things to keep in mind for a successful electric floor warming installation. We surveyed a few of the top electric floor warming manufacturers to get their recommendations for foolproof installations.

Top tips for contractors

What are the top things contractors should keep in mind when working with electric floor warming systems? First of all, “Contractors should be mindful that the desired flooring finish must be compatible and tolerant of the thermal fluctuations these systems can exert, in order to ensure there is no damage to the flooring,” LATICRETE’s International’s Art Mintie, Senior Director of Technical Services, said. 

The Warmly Yours system uses the low-profile Prodeso Heat mat with 3.7 watt electric TempZone heating cables, ensuring proper spacing throughout the project. 

He also cautioned contractors to choose the best type of underfloor heating system that suits their specific needs. “Hydronic (liquid) systems are a popular alternative that rival electric radiant floor heating systems by pumping heated water from a boiler through tubing laid in a pattern under the floor,” he explained. “These systems are also often more expensive and are recommended to be installed at the time of construction, whereas electric radiant floor heating systems are a great retrofitting project that can be done at any time.”

Since these ARE electric systems, Regis Verliefde, Territory Director, NAM of Warmup said, “It’s important for the tile installer to double/triple check coverage and spacing to provide the desired solution for the consumer. While most systems install in a similar way, some are for comfort heat and some are built to heat the whole room. Installers should get familiar with which systems do what and what spacing or insulation to provide on a cold basement slab, for example.” 

Respect Ohm’s Law

The Warmup Alligator tester clips straight to the heating cables and monitors them during installation. 

It’s a good idea to recognize that cutting electric heating elements to make it fit your project is a bad idea, said Julia Billen, owner and president of Warmly Yours. “Because of Ohm’s Law, if floor heating cables are shortened, the resistance of the cables will be correspondingly lowered, which in turn drives up the voltage and wattage,” she said. “This can cause the heat output of the system to go over the limits set by national or local code or, in some cases, even cause the heating system to fail. It’s important to work with a floor heating distributor to ensure you have the right amount of heating elements for your project.”

She also recommends testing the heating elements often with a digital ohmmeter – before, during and after installation. “In between ohmmeter tests, we recommend that you use a continuity alarm that is connected to the heating cables that will sound an alarm if the cable is damaged,” she added. She also advised taking measures to avoid damaging the floor heating cables during installation. 

“One way to avoid this is to install the floor heating mats (if that’s the system-type being used) upside down so that the mat material can protect the cables from damage by trowels or other tools,” she recommended. “Another way is to avoid using metal trowels or floats to apply the thinset on top of the heating system, as these can occasionally damage the floor heating cables.”  

Plan ahead

Carefully calculate the length of heating cable required based on the floor space, minimum clearance from fixed building elements and other objects.

Sean Gerolimatos, Director of Research and Development with Schluter Systems, emphasized preplanning before you start. “It is important to read and understand all product/system and code requirements, create a detailed plan, and execute it diligently,” he said. 

Gerolimatos also suggested, “Carefully calculate the length of heating cable required based on the floor space, minimum clearance from fixed building elements and other objects, and coverage of the heating cable at the manufacturer recommended spacing.” Another great suggestion he offered was to be sure “the owner and any other trades on the project know where heating cable is installed (photos are helpful) to avoid damage during subsequent work.”

Be sure to order the proper amount of heating wire for the job. Shown is the Prodeso Heat system by Progress Profiles.

Domenico Borelli, Vice President and CEO of Progress Profiles America echoed other suggestions, adding that it’s crucial that the “subfloor is suitable for tile installation and electrical radiant heat.” One may think that goes without saying, but establishing a suitable subfloor is essential in any tile installation, especially one that uses electrical mats and cables to provide floor warming. He also emphasized exact, accurate measurements and ordering the proper amount of heating wire for the job. 

ARDEX’s Utley also advised contractors to “Plan to include a second sensor wire in your layout. Only one will get connected initially. The back-up sensor can then easily be connected to the thermostat in the wall without disturbing the flooring installation.”

Even heat distribution is a must

Underfloor heating can develop cold spots when the warmth cannot be evenly distributed. LATICRETE’s STRATA_HEAT™Thermal Pack – used  in conjunction with the STRATA_HEAT electric radiant floor heating system – employs Thermal Diffusion Technology™ to distribute heat uniformly throughout the adhesive. 

In addition, heat sink and heat loss are two primary issues that can arise when installing electric radiant floor heating, LATICRETE’s Mintie offered. “Generally, a backer board with insulation properties can be placed over the concrete slab in order to assist and prevent these from happening. For plywood substrates, installers should conform to TCNA Handbook for Ceramic, Glass and Stone Tile Installation requirements when installing ceramic, porcelain or dimension stone tile finishes over heated flooring systems.

The new Mapeheat system from MAPEI includes membrane, cable, and three kinds of thermostats to choose from. 

Sonya Moste, Product Manager, MAPEI Crack Isolation and Sound Control Membranes also advised contractors to plan for even distribution of heat. “Hot spots and cold spots detract from the experience of a heated floor so consistent watt density is critical,” she said. “Things that make this task easier are pre-built custom mats designed specifically for the individual floor shape or a floor heating membrane with heating cable that has flexible layout requirements (i.e. no restrictions on run length and no requirement for tension loops).” She also suggested “future-proofing the installation with WiFi thermostats featuring connectivity with multiple connected home systems (such as Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, IFTTT, Nest, Control4, etc.) and also offering an Open API for custom smart home integrations.” 

Don’t underestimate manufacturer support, she advised. “Choose manufacturers that will back their products and the completed installation for 25 years, or more, and make sure the warranty is not pro-rated (in other words, make sure the coverage isn’t for half the value after half of the warranty period has passed),” she said. And a knowledgeable technical support team that offers on-site and telephone consultation is worth its weight in gold.

Working with electricians

To follow code, you will need to work with an electrician to complete this project. It’s essential to coordinate your services for ultimate success. Progress Profiles’ Borelli said, “A 10 minute conversation at the job site will save time and money and aggravation later.” And MAPEI’s Moste pointed out that it’s a good idea to “work with manufacturers that have experience dealing with both trades. The best certification programs will cater to tile contractors and electricians.”

Tile contractors and electricians should test the heating cables at every stage of the installation.

A good suggestion from Warmup’s Verliefde is to leave the product tag with wattage and voltage attached to the lead wire or inside the roughed-in electrical box, ensuring the right voltage breaker is provided for the job. He also recommended that contractors locate where the electrician has roughed-in the thermostat box and start the system at the base of that point on the wall. “And if your system is over 250 sq. ft., have a quick chat with the electrical contractor to discuss power supply and the best location for the power connections,” he added. 

Warmly Yours’ Billen insisted that tile contractors and electricians test the heating cables at every stage of the installation, and record and communicate those readings to each other to ensure the system remains functional at every stage of the process. 

At Schluter, Gerolimatos noted that different floor systems may have different orders of installation, so as he suggested earlier in this story – plan and acquaint yourself with the quirks of the particular system you are working with. 

“It’s also important to establish where the responsibility of each trade begins and ends,” he said. “For example, some jurisdictions allow tile setters to layout the heating cables, where others require the electrician do so.” 

And finally he mentioned that connecting a 120V heating cable to a 240V power source is one of the most common mistakes when installing electric floor warming systems. “This can be easily avoided with a little bit of planning ahead of time,” he explained. “Check the available power source and make sure to order the corresponding heating cable (120V cable for 120V power, 240V cable for 240V power).” 

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