Ask the Experts – July 2012


I’m looking for a technical answer to my question as soon as possible. Please tell me the standard procedure for installing tile in an elevator. Are technical advisories available?


This is a commonly-asked question due to potential risk involved when installing tile in elevator floors.

The most important step prior to the tile installation is to determine if the elevator cab was designed to accommodate tile as a finish floor material – most often they are not designed for floor finishes that include tile or stone but are designed for other finishes such as carpet or vinyl. This is due to the extra expense required to stiffen up the substructure to make it strong enough not to deflect or bend excessively under maximum load capacity. This added expense can be between $5,000 to over $10,000 and is usually why the design professional is often forced to choose the less-expensive alternative.

The tile contractor should consult the general contractor, architect, or the design professional responsible for the elevator cab to find out whether or not tile is listed as an accepted floor finish product. Many tile contractors have installed tile or stone in elevators that were not designed for such and found themselves trying to repair broken tiles and cracked grout joints, only to have an ongoing issue due to excessive substrate deflection.

If the elevator cab floor has been properly designed and has tile or natural stone listed as an acceptable finish, there are several commonly used methods available such as: direct bond the tile to the elevator cab floor using epoxies; using a scrim-faced, crack-isolation membrane bonded to the substructure with a primer material or a highly modified tile-setting thin-set material; or 2.5 galvanized wire lath with stainless steel mechanical fasteners/screws then skim-coated with highly-modified thinset and direct-bonded to the wire lath.

None of the methods are found in the ANSI or in the TCNA Handbook. As always, follow the product manufacturer’s directions for the products chosen. Complete warranted systems are available from several setting-material and crack-isolation membrane manufacturers.

– Gerald Sloan, NTCA presenter and trainer 

President’s Letter – July 2012


I have had the great pleasure of traveling to and for NTCA-related events over the past few years. These have been tremendously gratifying experiences as I have worked alongside great thinkers to better our industry and have been fortunate to have witnessed the results of our efforts.

Each time I travel has also been a humbling experience for me. Every time I leave the cocoon that is my little tile world in North Carolina, venture to the airport and fly off to the next working venue, I gain a perspective that is really striking. This was evident once again as I had some “observation” time recently in the Atlanta airport while waiting to return home from our recent TCNA Handbook Committee meetings. I watched thousands of travelers and employees walk across beautiful tile floors. Every trip to or through a major city makes me realize that we are all “small fish in a big pond” as my grandmother used to say. The immense melting pot of America causes me to stand amazed at the sheer number of people who populate our great nation and the unique way each of them must impact their immediate worlds. I often wonder if they have any influence beyond that or if they even care to.

Many times I think of the ways all of us, in and out of the tile industry, impact our surroundings. Sure, we influence those we see every day: family, friends, coworkers, etc. But does influence go beyond that? It is certain that our actions affect each other, so it is important to remember the golden rule to “do unto others” as we interact with those around us. Before I get too philosophical here, the point I’m leading to is this: as a NTCA member, you may or may not know that your influence can and should be profound.

You can have impact in your tile sphere of influence that is immediate and lasting. Your professionalism is on display as you interact with those around you and you carry the banner of the NTCA. In doing so, it is imperative that you strive to provide your customers with the best possible installations, service and quality through each of these interactions. Whether you realize it or not, your daily commitment to these efforts does have a power to influence, not only yourself and your business, but those with whom you come in contact.

You also may not be cognizant of it, but those same efforts have a profound national influence as well. By employing the best practices developed through NTCA’s  work in helping to shape our industry globally, you spread the results of those efforts. You are the feet on the ground that make it happen. You shape our industry daily and your efforts do not go unrecognized. Without you there would be no “us”, and we appreciate all that you do.

I hope that you think about this often. You are indeed one of many, but remember what Mac Anderson said, “Sometimes one single choice not only changes the direction of our lives, but that of many, many others.” Thank you for choosing to be a part of the NTCA and, as such, influencing the direction of our industry.

All the best,

A “Hospital of the Future” in Escondido, California is a true Custom installation for a San Diego-based stone contractor.

After a two-year long construction project, which began in April 2010, the future home of Palomar Medical Center West in Escondido, Calif., is nearly completed and scheduled to open this summer. Situated on a 52-acre site, the 11-story, state-of-the-art healthcare facility is designed to accommodate 360 patient beds, 12 operating rooms, a trauma center and a nursing tower with a diagnostic and treatment wing. The total budget for the construction project, the second largest building project now underway west of the Mississippi, is in excess of $956 million.


The new hospital is notable for its sustainable design. It is being built with recycled and renewable materials, and once completed, will use a minimal amount of water and electricity. Special features are designed to enhance a healing environment, including a 1.5-acre “living roof” and terrace of drought-resistant, native plants located above the surgery, cardiology and interventional radiology suites. The green roof is also designed to deflect light and heat to provide a natural cooling system for the facility. Even the waiting areas will have access to fresh air and two-story courtyards on each floor, to bring the calming power of nature to patients and families.

“The scope of this project was massive. It’s one of the largest privately funded construction projects we’ve seen in a long time and it has required the involvement of virtually every department at our company — from our research lab to product and technical support to marketing and sales”

Following an extensive bidding process, Wirtz Quality Installations, Inc., of San Diego was awarded the contract to handle all internal and external tile and stone installation. “We partnered with Custom Building Products for the entire construction project. Not only did Custom provide support and information to guide us to which products should be included in the project, they also created complete installation systems and warranties,” said John Wirtz, vice president of Wirtz.

“This was certainly a high-profile opportunity for us, and one of the largest and most intricate we’ve undertaken,” said Amber Fox, president of Wirtz, “The project required more than 70 people working five days a week, plus many Saturdays. Logging more than 87,000 man-hours over 15 months took a well-coordinated team.”

The overall project incorporated 20 different types of finish material including three types of glass tile, nine different porcelains, four types of stone tiles and over 165 tons of natural rock. The 45,000 square feet of lobby and corridor flooring used a porcelain tile with three different sizes that created an intricate pattern that only repeated every 153 square feet.

“The biggest part of the job were the 288 patient toilet/shower rooms that rival most of the finest resorts,” explained Fox. “The rooms measure 8′ x 9′ with a radius wall, bench and shower floor without any curbs. The complete room was tiled, with the exception of the ceiling. We took on this job starting at the studs, created the very critical pitch to the drains and then waterproofed the floors using Custom Building Product’s RedGard® Waterproofing and Crack Prevention Membrane. All floors had to pass a 24-hour flood test before we could continue. There were a total of five inspections that every patient bathroom had to pass before any tile could be installed.”


“Custom’s products offer excellent quality and ease of application and we specify them for our projects. We’ve gotten to know and trust their brands,” said Fox. “But it goes deeper than that. The people at Custom are always here for us — to support us throughout the installation process. Not only did they ensure the proper materials were specified, but at our request, they were there to observe us during the application of their products to ensure we were applying them correctly from beginning to end. It is a true partnership.”


“Finding the right combination of products that factored in all the variables was essential,” said Devin Dickey, Custom Building Products’ territory manager. “We worked closely with Wirtz to determine the best and most efficient way to install the variety of different items that were required for the job.

“The scope of this project was massive. It’s one of the largest privately-funded construction projects we’ve seen in a long time,” continued Dickey. “And it has required the involvement of virtually every department at our company — from our research lab to product and technical support to marketing and sales. Custom has been integrally involved with every phase of this project, including product recommendations, technical specifications, LEED® Certification, and on-site job visits.”

A broad range of Custom products were selected, including CEG-Lite™ 100% Solids Commercial Epoxy Grout, which was chosen for all patient rooms and the kitchen and cafeteria areas because of its 100% stain resistance and its recycled content, which contributes to LEED® Certification. Among other products used in the installation are RedGard® Waterproofing and Crack Prevention Membrane, Prism® SureColor® Grout, ProLite® Rapid Setting Large Format Tile & Stone Mortar and Commercial 100% Silicone Caulk.


This project won Wirtz Quality Construction and Anshen+Allen Architects each a Commercial Tile Award in this year’s Coverings Installation Design Awards competition, co-sponsored by TileLetter and TADA magazines. Awards were presented at the Coverings show in Orlando last April. Stay tuned to the July issue of TileLetter for further coverage of the project.


Custom® Building Products is widely recognized as a leading manufacturer of tile and stone installation systems for the North American market. The company’s product brands, including WonderBoard® and EasyBoard® backerboards, Prism® SureColor® and Polyblend® grouts, a comprehensive line of lightweight mortars, TileLab® and Aqua Mix® maintenance products, and SuperiorBilt® tools are considered the most popular and most trusted by industry professionals. Custom Building Products continually raises the standards for the tile and stone industry through its commitment to innovation, performance and exceptional customer service.

Custom’s website offers comprehensive resources including product and warranty information, installation specifications and technical support. For more information on the company’s broad family of quality tile and stone installation products, please call 800-272-8786 or visit

Epoxy grout + enzymatic no-rinse cleaners = grout disaster

By Kevin Fox, Fox Ceramic Tile Inc., a NTCA Five Star Contractor

Several years ago my MAPEI sales representative, Dennis Sandell, made me aware of a grout-failure phenomenon that was studied for a restaurant chain in Texas. At the time it seemed interesting but I really never thought much about it until I got a call from a restaurant manager. It seems that his kitchen grout was significantly degraded, and there were many areas in which the grout was virtually gone. This concerned me, since my company installed this floor just a few years ago, and it was grouted with a 100% solids epoxy grout. Luckily I did remember the conversation with Dennis.

The study involved the extreme rapid degeneration of epoxy grout. The results of the study concluded a new type of cleaning chemical using enzymatic cleaners (also known as “no-rinse” cleaners) was used. These cleaners have become very popular in commercial kitchens.

Since this initial call I have been consulted on several other kitchen grout failures. Now, the first thing I do is find out what they have been cleaning with, and without any exceptions, they have all used no-rinse cleaners. Yet often before I can tell the operators the source of the problem, they strongly assert their belief that the original tile-installation company must have performed their work incorrectly. Many times the operators required them to come back and regrout, only to have the same failure occur.

Unfortunately for these tile-setting companies, their name is dragged down due to a failure not under their control. I remembered a friendly conversation I had with a competitor. He told me his company recently regrouted a very large kitchen where grout had failed under his one-year contractual warranty. The original grout was a 100% solids epoxy, and the regrout was again with the same 100% solids epoxy grout. He was very troubled to learn the regrout was also failing. After I informed him about the destructive nature of no-rinse cleaners, he was relieved that the failure was not a result of improper workmanship or faulty grout. It was clear that he wished knew about this information many thousands of dollars ago.

The problem with enzymatic cleaners

The problem with these cleaners and 100% solids epoxy grouts is this: although harmless to the epoxy grout alone, these enzymatic cleaners accelerate the breakdown of products such as sugars, fats and proteins, which commonly appear on commercial kitchen floors.

To break down these products, the cleaner is left on the floor overnight (thus the name “no rinse”). The byproduct of the breakdown of the fats (grease) is acidic, and cumulative. After days, weeks and months of cleaner use, a highly acidic solution develops that rapidly deteriorates grouts.

Since the above-mentioned study, several manufacturers have developed an epoxy grout that can be subjected to these cleaners. We have had great success at regrouting failed original installations using these epoxies. These 100%  solids epoxies are listed to comply with ANSI 118.5.

A word of caution: use of these 100% solids epoxies is still limited. When used with newly-developed accelerated enzymatic cleaners, to my knowledge, no grout manufacturer will offer a warranty on their 100% solids epoxy products – even the new ones that meet the ANSI 118.5 standards.

With new installations, my company has taken the approach to educate the end user. If these no-rinse cleaners are used, the only grout which can be used is the above 100% solids epoxy grout meeting ANSI 118.5. We educate the end user about the lack of manufacturer warranty on these ANSI 118.5 grouts if they are using an accelerated enzymatic no-rinse cleaner. These ANSI 118.5 grouts are more expensive than other epoxy grouts and typically are more difficult to use. Yet if traditional cleaners are used, many other grouts can be used successfully. We always give the advice under consultation of a trusted grout manufacturer representative.

For more information, contact Kevin Fox at [email protected]

Laminam by Crossville: large format tile panels for U.S. market

Crossville Inc. is launching “Laminam by Crossville,” a full line of lean profile, large format porcelain products through an exclusive distribution agreement with Italian manufacturer Laminam, a division of Systems Group. Under the agreement, Crossville is the sole source for Laminam’s innovative large unit porcelain panel products throughout the U.S. The distribution agreement is effective immediately, with product availability anticipated in early June.

“This is a landmark agreement and another example of Crossville’s commitment to meeting the needs of the U.S. market,” stated Crossville president John Smith. “We recognized the growing demand for very large format, thinner tile, so we searched the globe to source the best products that would appeal to the American aesthetic and match the Crossville quality standard.”

Laminam by Crossville products – each selected expressly for the U.S. market – are suited for interior wall installations and for an array of surfaces. The initial offering of 3mm-thick, fiberglass-reinforced porcelain panels will be available in over 50 items. As Smith explained, the extremely lean profile of these reinforced panels results in durability, versatility and “unparalleled technical performance.”

“These products are game changers,” Smith continued. “The colors and styles of Laminam by Crossville are right for the American market. These thin-but-extremely-durable large panels are very simple to work with and install and will invite innovative field applications. Architects and interior designers should really have fun exercising their creativity in new and unique ways with these products.”

Crossville’s logistics and Laminam’s leadership in production and technology will ensure ready availability for American specifiers. As Smith stated, the partnership with Laminam reflects “true synergy and smart international procurement” to “not just meet but lead” domestic demand for the most cutting edge products available globally.

“Crossville’s commitment to quality, excellent logistics team and established relationship with the A&D community make this partnership truly ideal,” added Laminam’s CEO, Alberto Selmi. “We are excited for Laminam by Crossville to launch in the U.S. market.”

For details on the Laminam by Crossville products, visit

Five Star Contractor – JP Phillips Inc.

JP Phillips, Inc. is a commercial tile contractor located in Pittsburgh, Pa. With over 37 years of experience, JP Phillips has established a strong foundation and reputation for integrity, commitment and teamwork. In 2008, the NTCA inducted JP Phillips, Inc. as one of the first members of its Five Star Program.

The company specializes in the installation of ceramic tile, porcelain tile, quarry tile, paver tile, marble, slate, granite and polished concrete.  To date, JP Phillips has installed millions of square feet of hard surface materials in a variety of sectors including hospitality, casinos/gaming, healthcare, foodservice, industrial, academia, and government.

Predicated on the values of honesty, hard work, and trust, JP Phillips has established itself as a leader in the commercial market based on quality craftsmanship and timely completion. This approach has facilitated market growth throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, North Carolina and Alabama.

Featured Projects:

Consol Energy Center, Pittsburgh, PA

In 2010, JP Phillips, Inc. was proud to partner with the Pittsburgh Penguins on the construction of the new Consol Energy Center.  The new home of the Pittsburgh Penguins is the first LEED Gold Certified NHL arena in the world.  JP Phillips provided glass mosaic tile and porcelain tile in all luxury boxes, porcelain tile in public restrooms and concourses, and polished concrete on upper level concourses. JP Phillips also installed tile in the locker rooms, training rooms, and therapy rooms. In total, JP Phillips installed over 80,000 square feet of tile and stained and polished over 30,000 square feet of concrete.

Hilton Baltimore Inner Harbor, Baltimore, MD

The Hilton Baltimore Hotel & Convention center is located near the Inner Harbor in Baltimore, Md.  JP Phillips supplied and installed ceramic, marble, and granite tile in areas including 754 guestrooms, two full service restaurants, three bars/lounges, and a fitness area including a swimming pool and sauna.

Green Tip – June 2012

Understanding the Technical Criteria of Green SquaredSM/
ANSI A138.1

Section IV: Progressive Corporate Governance

By Bill Griese, Tile Council of North America, LEED AP BD+C

Establishing sustainability criteria for products throughout their full life cycle, ANSI A138.1 is divided into five sections. Throughout the past several months, we’ve reviewed several different sections of the standard. This month, we’ll have a look at the fourth section, Progressive Corporate Governance.

Mandatory for conformance to the standard, a manufacturer shall have a written and implemented social responsibility strategy which addresses at least the following:  labor law compliance, forced labor prohibitions, child labor prohibitions, environmental regulation compliance, health and safety regulation compliance, and community involvement.

To obtain an elective credit, the manufacturer may choose to participate in a voluntary safety program such as OSHA Safety Consultation, Voluntary Protection Program (VPP), or OHSAS 18001.

It is mandatory that all green marketing claims made by manufacturers be in compliance with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) fair packaging and labeling act Green Guides (publicly available) which indicate how the FTC applies Section 5 of the FTC Act, prohibiting unfair or deceptive acts or practices in environmental claims.

As an elective for conformance to the standard, a manufacturer may choose to regularly engage in its community, building upon the community involvement plan established in its mandatory social responsibility strategy.

Also elective for conformance to the standard, a manufacturer may publicly disclose on an annual basis one of the following: utility consumption, registered Environmental Management System (EMS) data, or Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) data.

Another elective credit is available if a manufacturer provides a detailed sustainability report each year, conforms to the requirements of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), or is selected for inclusion in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI).

If a manufacturer has at least one facility with LEED® or Green Globes certification an elective credit is also available.

Finally, manufacturers are required to have an assurance program for current and continued conformance to ANSI A138.1/Green Squared for all pertinent products.

Next month, we will review the criteria of the fifth and final section of ANSI A138.1, Innovation.

Business Tip – June 2012

Are you a “vendor” or a “craftsman?”

By Steve Rausch, USG Corporation

How do you run your business, as a vendor providing tile and stone work, or as a craftsman creating beauty? There is a HUGE difference in compensation and the methods of doing business with your customers.

A vendor is someone who exists just to sell stuff. Nothing else matters except delivering the goods (may include installation) and getting paid. You can expect (negotiate) the low price, sign a contract, and get what you ordered. You can also spend many hours discussing the details of the terms and conditions, etc.

What happens with a craftsman is far different in many aspects. One element of doing business with a craftsman is that the price issue (or low bid) loses its luster. People seek out craftsmen for their skills and talents to create a beautiful statement with their efforts on the customer’s behalf. Price absolutely becomes a secondary by-product of most of those discussions. Time also changes; you don’t rush art by deadlines of time but rather by finishing the look or feel desired.

As we watch our industry still losing businesses to the poor economy, it becomes even more apparent that craftsmen will survive while vendors have a large chance of being pushed from the scene. Just look back over the past two or three years and recall how many businesses have already left the scene. Those companies that ran large crews to do anything and everything quickly and cheaply are mostly gone today; they were the worst offenders in this downward spiral of moving toward the bottom price. Without profit you just cannot stay in business and the very success that drove them to the top of the vendor pile was what did them in.

I ask you to stop today, take time out from “doing” your business, and study your business to see where you are on this scale of vendor versus craftsman. If most of your work is still “low bid”-driven, then you are on the vendor side. If, however, you have chosen to position yourself and your company as a craftsman firm, then you will, I’m confident, be around a long time in this business.

Steve Rausch represents the Substrates and Specialty Products Division of USG Corporation out of Alpharetta, Ga. He’s also the author of the Rausch Ravings blog about business and non-business related topics. Contact him at [email protected] or visit the blog at

Ask the Experts – June 2012


I am a new member of the NTCA and I have an upcoming small project that I need help with.

I do mostly interior residential remodeling. Tile is probably 60% of my projects. I have a client with a concrete porch he would like tiled. The problem is the broom finish has been sealed with an “oil-based” sealer he purchased and applied himself from Lowe’s. As the broom finish is quite deep I don’t think it could be ground down. I can’t find anything in my TCNA Handbook that addresses this.


This is a good question. Many contractors fail to determine that a substrate has been sealed and end up with problems down the road. Both TCNA Handbook methods and ANSI require that a substrate be free of contaminants, curing compounds and sealers. Exterior tilework, which requires the highest performance level of any type of tile installation, requires the best bond, as well as 95% mortar coverage and appropriate movement accommodation. Any sealer on a substrate will act as a de-bonding agent, and give less-than-optimum bonding ability.

You may want to call the technical department of the mortar manufacturer that you want to use and ask them, but I believe they will give you the same answer that is in the TCNA Handbook and ANSI, that you must mechanically scarify the concrete (grind or shotblast) until the contaminant is removed and you have a clean surface to install tile over. Any other method is risking a potential failure.

On your concern that the broom finish is too deep to grind, there are some very aggressive grinders with vacuum attachments available that can cut quickly and in a dust-free fashion.

– Michael Whistler, NTCA Tile & Stone Symposium presenter and trainer

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