Qualified Labor – August 2014

NTCA Five Star Contractors: “Integrity, Professionalism, Craftsmanship”

By Lesley Goddin

NTCA5starcontractorWhen it comes to “qualified labor,” there are few contracting firms or installers more qualified than the NTCA Five Star Contractor. These contractors are the cream of the crop, adhering to a mission statement, code of ethics and number of criteria that ensure their customers that they are not only qualified contractors, but that they excel in their field.

The newly-minted Five Star Mission statement reads:

“A working group of recognized elite tile contractor professionals/experts in various market segments assembled to identify tile contractor challenges and issues, provide best practices and consensus processes to elevate the members of the group. Long term goals of group efforts include tangible benefits such as awarded projects, higher profits, recognition by peers, customers and suppliers, discounted pricing or rebates, and extended warranties. The group will be responsible for developing training initiatives for leaders and key employees of the members, establishing award recognition, and best practices in both business and in the field.”

The Five Star Contractor program is open to all contractors – residential, commercial, union, non-union, large or small.

“In my first year, 2008, the program had nine members,” said Jim Olson, NTCA assistant executive director in charge of the program. “As of July 2014, we have 38 Five Star Contractors. The program has not only grown in size, but the application process has become more stringent as we grow.”

NTCA is reviewing applications from three contractors with hopes to add them to the program in the near future, bringing the total to 41 Five Star Contractors. The program goal is to have 50 Five Star Contractors by the end of 2015.

Distinguishing between “low” or “qualified” bid

“Our industry does not have a national licensing program and the end user has a difficult time distinguishing between lowest bid and lowest qualified bid,” Olson added. “The NTCA hopes that the Five Star Contractor program is one of the vehicles that will help bring qualified labor to the masses.”

Five Star Contractors make a monetary commitment to the program and are required to complete a rigorous peer-approval process, demonstrating their commitment to training, service, quality, safety, fiscal responsibility and superior job performance. They also agree to attend two industry events, board meetings or Five Star conferences per year. Additional qualifications for applicants in 2014/15 include:

A minimum of 10% of installers must be CTEF certified (CTI – Certified Tile Installers) or have completed a three-year apprenticeship program approved by the Department of Labor upon submission of the Five Star Contractor application

Must commit to Advanced Certifications for Tile Installers (ACT) certifications within 12 months of acceptance in Five Star Program

A “Large Project” (LP) section has been added to the application for those Five Star applicants who wish to be referred for large commercial and unique projects.

Code of Ethics for NTCA Five Star Contractors

Each applicant is asked to read, sign and date the Five Star Code of Ethics before their application is accepted. The NTCA Five Star Code of Ethics is derived and adapted from the Model Code of Ethics by the American Subcontractors Association. It states:

Competition. NTCA Five Star Contractors compete fairly for contracts, avoiding any practice that might be construed to be in violation of the letter or spirit of the antitrust laws. Firms avoid any activity that could be construed as bid shopping or peddling. Firms do not knowingly violate any law or regulation governing the competitive process.

Qualifications. NTCA Five Star Contractors seek to perform contracts only for projects for which the firm has technical competence and experience. Firms do not accept contracts for which they are not qualified. Firms assign staff to projects in accordance with their qualifications and commensurate with the demands of the services to be provided under the contract.

Standards of Practice. NTCA Five Star Contractors provide materials and services in a manner consistent with the established and accepted standards of the construction industry and with the laws and regulations that govern it. Firms perform their contracts with competence, reasonable care and diligence. Firms establish prices that are commensurate with their services. They serve their customers with honesty and integrity.

Conflicts of Interest. NTCA Five Star Contractors endeavor to avoid conflicts of interest, both corporate and individual. Where a corporate conflict exists, NTCA Five Star Contractors will disclose such conflicts to their customers or prospective customers. NTCA Five Star Contractors regularly educate their staffs about personal conflicts of interest and have established a procedure for internal disclosure.

Public Safety. NTCA Five Star Contractors assure that the safety of their employees, the employees of others on the job site, and the general public are protected during the provision of their services.

Service Providers and Suppliers. NTCA Five Star Contractors treat their service providers and suppliers in an equitable manner, assuring that they are provided clear direction and prompt payment for service provided. Firms do not knowingly violate any law or regulation governing such relationships.

Employees. NTCA Five Star Contractors comply with the letter and spirit of laws relating to working conditions, equal employment opportunities, and pay practices. Firms do not knowingly violate any law or regulation dealing with public information. NTCA Five Star Contractors assure that all public statements and disclosures they make are truthful. Firms also protect the proprietary interests of their customers.

Compliance with Laws. NTCA Five Star Contractors do not knowingly violate any law or regulation.

Image of the Construction Industry. NTCA Five Star Contractors avoid actions that promote their own self-interest at the expense of the construction industry and upholds the standards of the construction industry with honor and dignity.

Internal Procedures. NTCA Five Star Contractors have established internal procedures under which their failure to conform to the above practices will be handled. Each year, the NTCA reviews this code of ethics and its internal procedures with each of its Five Star Contractors. If an employee, customer or other individual becomes aware of a circumstance in which NTCA Five Star Contractor or an employee of that firm fails to conform to the above standards, he/she should immediately report such circumstances to Jim Olson, NTCA assistant executive director.

Benefits to the industry benefits to the contractor

Being a Five Star Contractor not only benefits customers, it benefits the contractor as well, with quarterly cash rebates from Crossville and Florim (1% each) as well as MAPEI and Schluter (2% each); and product vouchers to use towards all products from Daltile, MAPEI, LATICRETE, Custom Building Products, TEC (including Grout Boost); select products from Schluter; and all products from TexRite in Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma.

In addition to product discounts and benefits, Five Star Contractors have a unique ability to market their companies; network with other Five Star Contractors, receive business and technical training and be referenced in qualified labor language in the MasterSpec by ArCom.

For more information on the Five Star Contractor program, contact Jim Olson at [email protected] or phone 601-939-2071.

August Feature – LATICRETE International Inc.


There are always challenges to renovating existing tile structures, but when the project is also constricted by a small window of opportunity, being able to source high-performing building materials from a single supplier can be critical. That was the task presented to Andrew Games, vice president of Premier Tile and Marble, from Gardena, Calif., when he began work on the Glendale Galleria Mall renovation project, in Glendale, Calif., in 2013. The job called for the tiling of 270,000 sq. ft. (27,871 m2) of the mall’s interior flooring and wall spaces which included corridors, restrooms and food court. In addition, an 8,000-sq.-ft. (743.22 m2) exterior living wall was tiled along with areas of exterior paving.

glendale_galleria_1“During renovation, the mall remained open for business,” Games explained. “All work performed during each shift had to be finished, clean and ready prior to the mall opening. Since the mall’s tenants must be ready for business by 9 a.m., we only had a very small window of time to perform our work. That window was from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. Based on the schedule, we needed to install around 3,000 sq. ft. of tile per night, finished.”

With this challenge in hand, Games set out to line up his team of suppliers. The majority of the tile was supplied by Daltile.

glendale_galleria_2“We worked with John Christy of Daltile from start to finish in regard to getting the proper tile specified,” Games said. “We also worked closely with the VCC Construction team and General Growth Properties, the owner of the mall, to make sure we were all on the same page, working toward getting a high-quality finished product within the time constraints that were required.”

Once the 12” x 24” porcelain tiles were ordered, it was time to find a single supplier that could not only deliver the necessary ancillaries, but also exceptional service, especially under the job’s tight time constraints. Games chose LATICRETE.

He explained, “We are very familiar with LATICRETE® products and they have always performed very well under stringent conditions. Just as important was the excellent support we received from LATICRETE sales representative Eddie Obymako. Any time we had a question or an issue that came up, he was on site within hours, day or night.”

LATICRETE system products provide performance and protection

glendale_galleria_3LATICRETE is committed to creating solutions today that help preserve a better tomorrow by providing tile and stone installation materials certified by GREENGUARD, based on criteria used by the U.S. EPA, OSHA and the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED-CI program. The GREENGUARD certification on LATICRETE products assures that the specified LATICRETE Systems meet appropriate indoor air quality standards for volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

The mall’s intricate stairs were manufactured by Wausau. Crossville/Longust supplied porcelain stainless steel brushed tile for the elevator walls. LATICRETE 254 Platinum, a high-performance, polymer-fortified thin-set mortar, was utilized to adhere to the stainless steel tile on the elevator walls, which was subject to constant movement from the elevator usage. LATICRETE 254 Platinum has been certified to meet the chemical emissions requirements for UL GREENGUARD Gold certification.

For the main concourse area, Games chose LATICRETE NXT™ Level Plus underlayment, a cement-based, free-flowing self-leveling underlayment for use in leveling interior substrates. NXT Level Plus is designed with a superior compressive-strength, rapid-setting that produces a flat, smooth and hard surface for the installation of finished flooring. NXT Level Plus can be placed from 1/8 – 1-1/4” (3 – 32 mm) in a single lift. Its inorganic formula will not contribute to mold/mildew growth. It can be applied directly over concrete testing at RH of 95% or less per ASTM F2170.

glendale_galleria_4To ensure the tile installation would be waterproofed and protected from potential cracking, Games selected HYDRO BAN®, a thin, load-bearing waterproofing and anti-fracture membrane that does not require the use of fabric in the field, coves or corners. HYDRO BAN is a single-component, self-curing liquid-rubber polymer that forms a flexible, seamless waterproofing membrane that bonds to a wide variety of substrates including copper, steel, stainless steel and PVC plumbing fixtures. HYDRO BAN is also GREENGUARD Gold certified for low VOC content, far below the required levels as stated by SCAQMD Rule #1168.

Fast and flexible is the name of the game

To set the tile, Games chose LATICRETE’s 253R Gold Rapid, a flexible, fast-setting, polymer-fortified thin-set mortar for installing ceramic tile, pavers, brick and stone. The advantages of 253R Gold Rapid includes readiness for grouting in 2 to 4 hours at 70°F (21°C). The mortar has a tenacious bond to concrete and masonry and mixes with water. It also meets ANSI A118.4 and ANSI A118.11 standards.

“The 253R Gold Rapid from LATICRETE worked really well for us,” Games said. “The workability of the 253R Gold Rapid lets you have the time needed to get the tile set and at proper elevations. It’s ready to work and the grout sets within a matter of hours.”

glendale_galleria_5PERMACOLOR® Grout was selected for its high performance, fast-setting properties that provide a dense, hard grout joint. It sets up more quickly than traditional portland cement-based grouts, which creates better color accuracy and consistency. PERMACOLOR Grout offers the maximum performance available in a cement-based grout, providing consistent color and Microban® to resist stain-causing mold and mildew. It also conforms to ISO 13007 and EN 12888 (CG2WA) certifications and meets ANSI A118.7 requirements. This product has been certified for Low Chemical Emissions (ULCOM/GG UL2818) by UL Environment, under the UL GREENGUARD Certification Program for Chemical Emissions for Building Materials, Finishes and Furnishings (UL 2818 Standard).

Finally, LATASIL™ sealant was used to treat the movement joints. LATASIL is a high-performance, one-component, neutral-cure, 100% silicone sealant designed for ceramic tile and stone applications. It is designed for exterior and interior use, including wet area applications. It conforms to the following properties under ASTM C–920: Type S, Grade NS, Class 25, Use NT, Use I, Use M, Use G. LATASIL is excellent for masonry construction and features excellent movement capacity – 25% extension and compression.

The ability to source all the products needed to install the tile from a single manufacturer was key to the project’s success, since it saved time and money, while ensuring that all the components of the installation would work flawlessly together and the structure would maintain its beauty and integrity for many years to come.

“Having a single source company such as LATICRETE that offers a complete line of installation products from start to finish, along with an excellent warranty, is always key for any general contractor and installer,” said Games. “We’ve been a long time LATICRETE user and with the job this size, we were comfortable with products and service that we always receive from LATICRETE.”

President’s Letter – July 2014

dan welch imageToday I am in the heat of battle, as many of you are each day. But let’s slow down and talk about documentation. Documentation is the single biggest killer of tile contractors today. It seems that tile work is guilty until proven innocent. We are all trying to provide a service the best way we know how.Documentation is just one more item on the list of things you need to do to insure you keep the profit that is rightfully yours.

In the past we have engaged the general contractor and problem-solved a situation until the team agreed with the final decision about a situation on a project. For example: At a jobsite planning meeting, the need for a control joint to be placed directly over the expansion joint in a floor is discussed.All parties agree with the plan to eliminate potential risks. You move forward and complete the project using the correct specifications for the project. Two months later the control joint decision is questioned and placed on a punch list. You discuss this decision with the parties again, but many have forgotten the original debate and its importance. They focus on the esthetically-displeasing result and they form a different opinion.

It’s a no-win situation for the tile setter. You can offer your reasoning for the decision but the person second guessing is the person writing the check. The end result is an unhappy client and your time and resources tied up on the issue instead of on other profitable work. You, as a tile contractor, are hired for your ability to perform a task in the best way possible and your decisions are now “wrong” to someone with little or no experience. You are holding the bag until a resolution is made.

What are you doing to prevent this from happening to you? I have always used the statement that we would install per industry standards. This does little to help your customer’s vision on how they want their tile to look. The contractor and architect are in charge of this expectation. I believe it is imperative to get all post-bid documents to state “all work to be installed per industry standards in the TCNA Handbook and ANSI A-108. The document may add the following, “in the event an owner expectation is not clearly identified in the tile drawing or scope, a change directive will be issued to meet this expectation.”

Another example to consider: You are working with a construction team with a compressed schedule and the contractor hiring you asks you to perform a task outside of your scope of work to speed up completion. You have no responsibility to perform this task as part of your contract. You perform this task in the heat of battle, using an additional work order to track the job on a time and material basis. Years later the work you performed fails and you are stuck paying for it with little knowledge of the work or why the decision was made to implement this work. The work was not clearly specified in any documentation and the people that made the decision are not standing beside you to help. They can blame it on the schedule and expect you to take one for the team.

Tile contractors are constantly placed in bad situations that can get much worse without documenting or setting expectations prior to starting the work. The heat of battle compounds the issues and the end is always clear when you write the check.

I, for one, am not willing to keep doing this for our customers. We are asked to perform a task within a specification and using manufacturer’s instructions. NEVER perform work outside of these two guidelines. If you are asked to step outside of these very important guidelines, RUN! This is a slippery slope and you will fall down.

I have assembled these questions for your staff to ask when bidding or accepting work.

1. Are drawings and specifications clear enough to order all materials without requesting information?

2. Is the scope of work clearly identified without requesting information?

3. Are the materials selected suitable for the application? Do they meet the specification?

4. Have you provided ALL of the submittals for review and acceptance? Are they accepted?

5. Are all verbal conversations, or changes to scope, spec, or drawings documented and communicated?

This new construction environment is tough to work within when you are always asked to specify or give recommendations with little knowledge of the use or owner expectations. Good luck with your battle – I hope my battle offers you some relief!

Dan Welch
President NTCA
[email protected]

Editor’s Letter – July 2014

Lesley psf head shot“In my eyes, every day is a celebration. Our love, business, and family are not a result but a constant reminder why we must celebrate this success we’ve built out of passion.“ – Jermaine, quotevila.com

In business, we often talk about cultivating relationships with customers and vendors, colleagues and coworkers. There is value in being amiably connected to people with whom you repeatedly do business. Friendliness and affability can grease the wheels of commerce and contribute to everyone’s success.

I’d like to posit that there is another reason why cultivating relationships with those you work with is important – because, in a very real way, they are your family. You probably see coworkers, crews and teams at least as often as your blood family members, maybe more. You work on problems together to come to solutions, press on toward common goals, assist and support each other, and then take time to kick back and enjoy what you’ve accomplished. Much of that is what’s done at home with loved ones, even if the goals differ.

Even those of us who do business in home offices have daily or frequent connection with our coworkers and staffs and regular communication with those in the industry we serve. In my case, with parents who live in New Jersey while I live in New Mexico (here’s a shout out to you, Mom and Dad!), I may see my work “family” more often than my blood family due to the network of meetings, events, conferences and trade shows that tie the tile industry all together.

And some of the businesses in our industry are built on actual familial partnerships – spouses, siblings, fathers, mothers, daughters and sons all working together on a business that’s been passed down through the generations.

How would your business change if you started seriously thinking of those in your business as treasured members of your family? When NTCA president Dan Welch was presented with the NTCA Tile Person of the Year award at Coverings in April, he commented that he considered NTCA family, and said “without the NTCA, we wouldn’t be here; we would be out of business.”

The myth of rugged individualism in our country is being exposed as just that – a myth. We all need each other to survive, and to thrive. Education and training is about people helping each other and sharing their wisdom to help others do better – witness this in the Large Thin Porcelain Tile Update story, part 1 in this issue. Contractors are sharing their experience and knowledge with others to help ensure success with this new product category – even before standards are established. In fact, the whole goal of our association is to educate, support, recognize, celebrate, nurture and negotiate what is best for the industry as a whole – the large family of which we are all a part.

I, for one, am very grateful for this tile industry family that I work with and enjoy – from the NTCA staff that I hold in highest esteem and appreciate for their integrity, energy; skill, vision and commitment to excellence; to fellow trade journalists and publicists that form the media and press corps that populate each event – several of whom have become dear and trusted friends – to the contractors, suppliers, distributors and individuals who all contribute in their own way to this industry we call home.

Did you know we have a family reunion planned? It’s called Total Solutions Plus and it brings the industry together for a chance to learn and visit with each other. Mark it on your calendar October 25-28, at the Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort & Spa in San Antonio, and read more about it in this issue. Be sure to attend. It just wouldn’t be the same without you!

God bless,
[email protected]

Ask the Experts – July 2014


I’m interested in using mosaic tile on an upcoming project. Do you have any recommendations to ensure a successful job?


There are quite a few very important criteria to ensure long-term success for this project.

Use a mosaic that is rated for exterior use. Porcelain is excellent because it is considered impervious. But almost more important is the mounting method for the mosaic sheets. No paper-mesh, back-mounting should be used. Your course of least risk would be to specify a mosaic that could be used in a submerged application as well as for exteriors.

Work with a mortar manufacturer to come up with the best system to suit your project needs, including possible waterproofing and a mortar suited to your climate’s exterior rigors.

Application of mortar and mosaic sheets must be well done. Mortar should be flat-troweled into substrate, additional mortar applied and notch-troweled in one direction, then notches flattened with flat side of trowel. Apply mosaic sheets to fresh mortar and beat in with beating block. This method gives best coverage, minimizes mortar squeeze-up between tiles and gives a flat, uniform installation.

Expansion joints are vital and must be specified into the project according to EJ-171 in the TCNA Handbook.

– Michael Whistler, NTCA technical consultant


Recently an installer removed tile and installed new tile over the existing mortar/thinset. He said it’s a normal practice, and any tiles that are uneven (in terms of height), are within the industry standard of 1/16”. Does that make sense to you?


I think he is only telling part of the story. There’s no problem installing over old mortar, tile, or thinset as long as it is well-bonded and crack free. That does not change the tolerance which is 1/4” in 10’ with no greater than a 1/16” variation in 12” for tile under 18” and an 1/8” in 10’ with no more than 1/16” in 24”. The 1/16” he is referring to is a lippage allowance. Lippage allowance for installation is the height minus (or plus) the actual warpage. That allowance is 1/16” for grout joints 1/4” or greater and 1/32” for less than 1/4”.

David M. Gobis CTC CSI, fee-based consultant responding on behalf of TCNA.


Natural stone was installed as part of a renovation at our home. However, now there are muddy spots that appear to be staining the stone. Can you determine what would be discoloring our beautiful new stone and how it can be fixed or eliminated?


Without making a site visit and undergoing extensive testing (some of which would be destructive to the areas that are stained), I will not be able to give you a definitive answer to what is causing these “muddy spots.”

All natural stone has some risk of minerals leaching and or metal oxidation. Metal oxidation occurs most often with softer stones such as travertine. It is caused by iron oxide that is found naturally in these softer stones and reacts to the oxygen in the air or from exposure to water (which also contains oxygen). When the oxidation occurs, usually a reddish / brown color is produced – sometimes orange colors may appear when there are free minerals mixed with the oxide metals and water is introduced. These colors are looked upon as desirable by many that choose natural stone but sometimes they are not wanted. In those cases, a manmade porcelain tile may be a better choice, especially when installed in a wet area.

For more information, check with the consultants listed on our website, since these professional do make site visits and can determine causes and possible prevention measures. Visit https://tile-assn.com/Member/RecognizedConsultants.aspx?mid=125 to view a list of consultants.

Gerald Sloan, NTCA technical consultant

Business Tip – July 2014

mapei_sponsorThree common business screw ups

GoldmanBy Jon Goldman, CEO Brand Launcher

From TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes to America’s Funniest Videos, everybody seems to enjoy laughing at people’s screw ups. And at baseball games, all eyes are glued to the giant screens to watch the funny mistakes the players make. But it isn’t so funny when it happens in our businesses, where the mistakes are both embarrassing and costly. But many of tomorrow’s mistakes have been made before. You can learn from the past and avoid making these Big Three business mistakes.

1. No sense of urgency

I grew up sending letters in the mail and waiting a week for a response. But Gen Y grew up with instant chat and texting. They get annoyed sitting in an airplane going 500 mph, and their broadband connection is too slow. This means the bar has been raised for all of us, and you and your team had better respond to prospects fast.

I know of one business that lost $120,000 worth of revenue because it made a potential customer wait a few weeks to get a price quote. In today’s environment, if you don’t respond quickly, other companies will eat you for lunch.

2. Lack of transparency

Do you hold your cards too close to the vest? One business owner I know was so reticent about sharing information that he lost the trust of his key personnel. We’re living in a transparent world, and by holding back, you create a veil of secrecy. This works well at magic shows, but not in the business world.

I want to share a radical idea with you. It’s called “Open-Book Management.”

“What? Open up our financials so our employees can see how much we’re making? If they see how much profit we make, they’ll demand more money.”

I have yet to find a company that was harmed by taking the bold move to open up their books. No, you don’t have to divulge everything, but you should let your key players in on your overall financial situation and your vision for the company. You want them to feel a sense of ownership within your business.

3. Hiring too quickly

Growing companies need to hire new personnel. But often they choose the easiest people to find, rather than the best people for the job. Ultimately, they have to fire them or they remain stuck with staff who doesn’t get the job done.

Sure, you want to build quickly. Perhaps you feel you can’t afford to hire the best people. But you can’t afford not to. If you hire wrong, you’ll end up spending time and money training, only to have to hire and train again.

Screw-ups: we all make them

In some of the businesses that I have owned, we made these mistakes. I wish I had learned from someone else’s mistakes then, so I didn’t have to spend much time straightening them out. Now when someone tells me about having a sense of urgency, being transparent, or hiring the right people, I pay attention. I hope you will, too.

Jon is the author of two works on business and marketing topics, including one that has been translated into Japanese. He is a powerful speaker who was a popular presenter at the 2014 Coverings show in April. Get a FREE copy of his latest e-book, Vendor-to-Expert, at www.VendortoExpert.com.

NTCA Five Star Contractor program continues to make strides

By Bart Bettiga

NTCA5starcontractorNTCA recently announced the Grand Prize Winners in our Five Star Contractor Installation Awards at Coverings in Las Vegas. Congratulations to Collins Tile and Stone of Aldie, Va., and Artcraft Granite, Marble and Tile Co., of Mesa, Ariz., for their winning residential and commercial project submissions, respectively. I urge all of our Five Star Contractor members to take photos of your best projects and submit them for consideration next year. Both recognition and a $2,500 cash prize can be yours when winners are announced at Coverings in Orlando.

In addition to award recognition, the NTCA staff organizes and partners with Five Star Contractor Program sponsors to host educational and networking events. At times, we schedule events in conjunction with shows like Coverings and Total Solutions Plus. In other instances, our sponsor will host a training program at one of their manufacturing facilities or training locations. For example, Crossville recently hosted over 40 NTCA Five Star Contractors and TCAA Trowel of Excellence members at their headquarters in Tennessee.

Tennessee is quickly becoming the manufacturing hotbed for domestic tile production. Crossville and StonePeak Ceramics have been producing quality porcelain tile for many years in Crossville, Tenn. Florim USA, our newest Five Star Program sponsor, is in nearby Clarksville, and Del Conca USA unveiled its beautiful new plant this spring in Loudon, Tenn., near Knoxville. Add to that impressive list the announcement that Daltile will be building a new plant in Dickson, Tenn., and that Florida Tile is nearby in Kentucky, you can see how this area is exploding in ceramic and porcelain tile production.

1-5star-0714Thin porcelain tile was the primary topic of conversation at our networking event held at Crossville. The NTCA, TCAA, IMI and IUBAC recently released a statement on thin tile, asserting our recommendation to installers to not accept projects with floor applications for thin porcelain tiles less than 5.5 millimeters thick until product and installation standards are developed. The attendees discussed everything we have learned to date about installing thin porcelain tile, and shared ideas related to training and the development of certification. We are all excited about the opportunities that thin porcelain tile present, but we want to ensure that the products are sold in the right applications, in order to prevent failures that will hurt the future of this exciting technology.

2-5star-9714In addition to technical discussions at our Five Star events, we often retain the participation of strong business speakers, and we hold Best Practice discussions among our peers on subjects such as project management, financial and strategic planning, estimating and bidding procedures, and more.

Efforts to promote the Five Star Contractor Program are beginning to pay dividends. Many project specifications contain language referring to the program in the quality assurance section, generating interest from both NTCA members who have not applied for Five Star Contractor recognition as well as contractors who are not members of the association.

3-5star-0714Florim USA’s recent announcement to offer a rebate program to Five Star Contractors was met with sincere appreciation by our members. In a short presentation to the NTCA Board of Directors, Stefano Rabaioli, vice-president of sales and marketing, gave an overview of the company’s goals and objectives and indicated its intent to grow a stronger presence in the commercial sector of the industry.

In addition to Florim USA, we are finalizing a program sponsorship with Schluter Systems that will be announced in July. These companies join a growing list of supporters who either offer volume rebates or product vouchers to support the investment that contractors make for this recognition.

4-5star-0714The NTCA Five Star Contractor Program is gaining momentum. NTCA members who feel their company can benefit from this recognition should contact Jim Olson of NTCA at [email protected]

Thin Tile – July 2014

mapei_sponsorLarge thin porcelain tile update, part I

Contractors share wisdom about successful LTPT installation

By Lesley Goddin

Large. Thin. Porcelain. Tiles. You’ve been hearing a lot about these in recent months and years. The lightweight, environmental benefits of these tiles – which start at thicknesses (or thinnesses) of 3 mm – combined with the ability to install them over existing surfaces with nearly any surface graphic imaginable thanks to digital printing technology make these tiles a game changer in the industry.

There’s one caveat that has some contractors a little gun-shy: no hard and fast standards exist for their installation right now, even though TCNA is in avid talks about the subject. The NTCA, together with TCAA, IMI and IUBAC – the founding associations of the Advanced Certifications for Tile Installers (ACT) – have come out with a position statement that recommends installing no large thin porcelain tile (LTPT) on the floor that is less than 5.5mm thick. There are considerations in handling and moving the units and recommendations on mortar too.

So, today, what does a contractor who wants to use these fabulous new products need to know for a successful installation? In part one of this story, we asked contractors experienced with this product category to share their wisdom about working with this material, and have included information about certification of Thin Tile Porcelain (TTP) that is currently in the works in the ACT program. We’ll share information from manufacturers in part two of this exploration of LTPT/TTP.

1-thintile-0714Martin Brookes, NTCA Five Star Contractor and owner of Heritage Marble & Tile in Mill Valley, Calif., has been involved with large thin porcelain tile since its introduction to the marketplace, due to a high-end residential bathroom that was installed with the 3mm material about four years ago.

Ensure logistics, employ proper equipment

Brookes has this suggestion: “With high rise interior installation it is important to make sure the material can actually be transported to the job site via elevators, stairwells, etc., without breaking the material,” he said. “Having the right equipment, like that from European Tile Master provides, and investing in installers attending training seminars like NTCA offers, are vital for contractors to avoid the costly pitfalls.”

Brookes also is one of several contractors who are sharing their knowledge with those new to the field. “I have PowerPoints from LATICRETE and MAPEI that I share with fellow contractors. I also try to educate the competition on how to follow substrate preparation guidelines, which in my opinion, is key as well as the handling of the material.” Brookes recently attended a training on thin porcelain tile installation with Custom Building Products, and applauds regional training being done by Crossville and other manufacturers. “Hopefully the education will prepare [contractors] better on how to bid and work with the material to their advantage,” he said.

2-thintile-0714Another tile contractor who has had a lot of experience with LTPT – including installing it in an Installation Design Showcase posh lounge vignette at the most recent Coverings – is NTCA Five Star Contractor Lambert Tile & Stone in Eagle, Colo.

Substrate prep is key to success

While LTPT installation standards are still in the works, “the NTCA is recommending the use of best practices,” said Dan Lambert, who owns the company with wife Elizabeth. “Large thin porcelain tiles have much higher tolerances for substrate and finish flatness. As an installer I have found that this cannot be overstated. Every detail of what, and how we do what we do under the surface is critical.

“Through my experience with LTPT up to 5’ x 10’ x 1/4” thin, there are several very key components to a sustainable installation,” he said:

#1 – The substrate must be perfectly flat and level with no deflection. There is no room for error since the tiles themselves cannot be simply pulled off to verify coverage and add or subtract mortar where needed.

#2 – It is critical that the substrate and tile have the mortar keyed into both sides before combing the mortar. The mortar must be of very high quality mixed with a softer consistency that will hold the form of the notch, without being outside of the manufacturer’s recommendations. Depending on climatic conditions the timing of mortar application can be critical. The mortar should not skin over. Some conditions may require up to two installers on a piece of tile and two on the substrate. It is key to keep consistent with the final comb angle on both sides.

#3 – Edge leveling spacers are a must.

#4 – Proper tooling is a must for receiving, transporting and installing these materials. This requires a substantial investment on the part of the tile contractor.

#5 – The cost for one piece of tile alone can be compounded by a simple mistake. It is highly advised to double check all measurements, even use templates.

#6 – Having a team who works great together and communicates well with each other is extremely important, especially the larger the tile is.

#7 – These are still tiles and as such, movement accommodation is required per EJ171.

Lambert warns against just “anyone” attempting installation of LTPTs, but to leave the installation to trained and qualified installers.

“Sales professionals should be advised to carefully determine if the LTPT is the best choice for a specific project, taking into consideration logistics of a job and qualified labor available,” Lambert said. “To help with successful sales and installation of LTPT, top industry tool, mortar manufacturers and installation professionals are combining efforts for future educational programs to be held at participating tile showrooms around the country.”

In meetings with architects and distributors, Bart Bettiga, executive director of both NTCA and the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation, has seen several other important points arise that dovetail with Lambert’s observations.

“Make a sensible decision on whether it is absolutely necessary to use thin material on the floor,” Bettiga said. “Often, the thicker material could be used on the floor, like 5.5mm or thicker, and the thin material could be installed on the walls.

“If it is necessary, determine if the larger material can be cut down to more manageable pieces or sizes so that coverage can be checked, logistics can be dealt with, and expansion joints can be more easily managed,” he added, emphasizing, “make sure that no one quotes labor prices except the tile installer. Make sure the installer can demonstrate the ability to perform this work.”

ACT certification for TPT coming fall 2014

3-thintile-0714Though standards have not yet been set, the industry is intent on validating skills of tile professionals who are currently doing the work of installing these products.

“We are progressing with the development of the new thin porcelain tile testing for ACT,” said Scott Carothers, director of training for the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF). Currently, the test module is designed, the prototype built, and the study guide and written test questions are under development, with the test projected to be ready to administer by fall 2014. A thin porcelain tile testing update will be presented during Total Solutions Plus in San Antonio in late October 2014.

In the absence of standards, “we are utilizing the resources of the major LTPT and mortar manufacturers to build the hands-on and written tests,” Carothers said. To ensure success and avoid failures, “It is vitally important that the industry draws attention to this product category and establishes a testing mechanism that will qualify installers on the product handling and installation of LTPT as quickly as possible.”

Stay tuned to TileLetter for ongoing updates, and for wisdom from large thin tile porcelain manufacturers in part 2 of this article.

Benefits Box – July 2014

Update your knowledge with free NTCA webinars

Looking to update your knowledge about industry issues, but don’t have time to travel? Worry no more!

BB-0714The NTCA is offering an exciting monthly webinar program in 2014. This is a great way to experience a professional technical or business presentation from your home or office, with a professionally-presented one-hour presentation offered by experts and gurus from many different industry sectors.

The next Webinar Program is set for Wednesday, August 6 at 1 p.m. CDT, sponsored by MAPEI. Dan Marvin, director of Technical Services for MAPEI will present “A118.15 – Taking Mortar to the Next Level,” which will focus on the new standard for high-performance mortars adopted in 2012. Dan will explore the origins of the standard, how it compares to similar ISO standards, and which Handbook methods require an A118.15 mortar. You’ll also learn how to identify a compliant mortar to make sure you are getting the required performance for your project.

Visit www.tile-assn.com and click under Training & Education, then Education Opportunities to register and get information about the webinars, scheduling, course descriptions, dates and times of upcoming programs. Once you register, you can take part in the webinar live or access the program for later viewing through the archives. For more information on the NTCA Webinar Program, contact Jim Olson at [email protected]

Tech Talk – July 2014


Summertime exterior installations from start to finish

tom_plaskota_webBy Tom Plaskota, Technical Support Manager, H.B. Fuller Construction Products

The arrival of summer often inspires (or requires) homeowners and building owners to beautify their outdoor spaces. A new tile installation can freshen up a pool area, breathe life into a patio or update a building’s façade. While the summer sunshine sparks imaginations, turning your clients’ exterior visions into reality requires special expertise.

Whether remodeling an existing exterior tile installation or starting from scratch, substrate preparation is key. Concrete is the ideal substrate for exterior floor installations, while other firm substrates, including backer board or concrete block walls, can be used for wall installations. When setting tile on existing concrete, make sure you address any liquid-membrane curing compound residues. These products can prevent proper bonding of mortar to the concrete surface, so should be removed through scarification or covered with an appropriate primer.

Laitance – a thin layer of hardened, yet weak, cement – can also affect the substrate’s bonding potential. If laitance exists, the concrete’s surface layer may appear strong and stable, but actually risks causing bond failure. Laitance can be identified by scraping the concrete with a razor or knife. If the concrete scratches or powders, laitance may exist. Formal testing can then be undertaken by measuring the tensile strength of the concrete surface with specialized equipment. The remedy for a weak layer of laitance is removal, which is often done by sandblasting.

1-TT-0714Prepare substrate for a solid foundation

After these preliminary steps, any variation in the substrate should be corrected. Use an appropriate patching compound to flatten the substrate surface. Exterior floors, decks or patios should be sloped to allow for drainage. Concrete on grade should also have a gravel bed or other means of drainage below the slab. Drainage is particularly important for installations subject to freeze/thaw cycling, snow and ice accumulation and/or where snow melting chemicals are used as these conditions can cause degradation over time.

Exterior installations may be subject to changes in temperature and humidity level. This cycle can put mechanical stress on the substrate – which can cause cracking. Waterproofing and crack isolation membranes can help isolate substrate cracks and keep in-plane cracks in the subfloor from telegraphing to the tile. Their waterproofing characteristics can also prevent moisture changes from affecting the substrate.

Combining the right tile with a carefully-prepared substrate helps make exterior installations last. For outdoor floor installations, unglazed tile with its nonslip characteristics is often ideal. All tile used in exterior application should have low porosity. According to industry standards, tile with a porosity of greater than 5% should never be used in exterior applications.


Be mindful of moisture

When your substrate is prepared, your tile is selected, and you’re ready to begin tiling, make sure the installation won’t suffer from excessive porosity in the substrate. Before you begin mortaring, splash water on the concrete. If the water disappears in a few seconds, the substrate is very porous. One way to remedy this problem is to dampen the substrate and allow the surface to dry. Mortar should be applied after the surface dries, but before the moisture below the surface is lost. This will prevent the transfer of moisture from the mortar and result in a proper cure and well-bonded tile. A primer may also minimize the pull of moisture from the mortar into the substrate, ensuring proper curing and bonding.

Moisture can be lost to the atmosphere when the installation is conducted or allowed to cure in direct sunlight on hot, dry days. Excessive heat can prevent fresh mortar from curing properly and developing the necessary strength for long-term installation. On hot days, shield the installation from direct sunlight by tenting. Also, avoid storing unused mortar in direct sunlight.

3-TT-0714Create consistent coverage

To make all of these precautions worthwhile and keep your installation from slumping, sagging or slipping, be sure to achieve proper coverage with a polymer-modified thin-set mortar appropriate for exterior installations. Outdoor installations require 95% coverage – and this requirement increases to 100% with natural stone. Substrate variation, bonding material, trowel selection, and troweling technique are critical factors to consider when trying to achieve proper coverage.

For outdoor environments, use a polymer-modified grout with low water absorption. Consider the use of a grout additive, which can help provide a grout that is stronger, denser, more resistant to water penetration and more flexible. Sealants and caulks can also prevent external elements from penetrating your installation – without changing its appearance.

When working on exterior installations in the hot summer months, you and your crew should take proper precautions not only with the installation, but also with your own health and safety. Make sure you stay hydrated and take breaks as needed. With a healthy crew, a properly-prepared substrate, carefully-selected products and the right installation techniques, you’ll help your clients achieve the outdoor spaces they imagine.

The TEC® brand is offered by H.B. Fuller Construction Products Inc. – a leading provider of technologically advanced construction materials and solutions to the commercial, industrial and residential construction industry. Headquartered in Aurora, Illinois, the company’s recognized and trusted brands – TEC®, CHAPCO®, Grout Boost®, Foster®, AIM™ and others – are available through an extensive network of distributors and dealers, as well as home improvement retailers. For more information, visit www.hbfuller-cp.com.

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