A&D Guest – August 2016: LHK design

LHK design: Incorporating Sustainability to Enhance the Quality of Life

Fairfield Inn and Suites in Waterbury, Vt., wins CID Sustainability Award

ad-lori-kramerLori Kramer, LEED AP, of LHK design was the award-winning interior designer for one of the projects recognized in the Sustainability category at the Coverings Installation Design Awards, held in Chicago this past April. The firm, with offices on Park Avenue in Manhattan and Upper Saddle River, N.J., designed the complete interior of the Fairfield Inn and Suites in Waterbury, Vt., using a range of tile products that reflect the natural feel of the Vermont environment.

ad-01Kramer explains that “This new hotel maintains the brand’s signature features with the rustic charm that defines this beautiful New England town. Upon entering the lobby, guests experience a warm and inviting rustic lodge atmosphere featuring stylized wood grain translucent panels flanked by reclaimed teak wood planks on the registration feature wall, reclaimed wood cabinetry, and a magnificent burnished finished brass ring chandelier set against a ceiling of found teak wood.

“The public areas meet the needs of its productivity-oriented guests with its modernized and contemporary approach to the classic lodge, providing both vacationing and business guests with ample connectivity options, along with more casual and informal areas for relaxation,” she added. “Guests may relax by the impressive stone fireplace in the lobby or enjoy a swim in the inviting indoor pool, which boasts a spa-like atmosphere with its surroundings of rich stone and wood elements.“

ad-02Kramer noted that “Our design concept reflects many nature-inspired materials indigenous to Vermont. Flooring consists of wood-look parquet tile, and carpet inspired by the warm color palette of the area’s stunning fall foliage. Furnishings were selected to be interesting focal points, such as the feature communal farm table made by local artisans from reclaimed pine and surrounded by solid birch stools with warm, weathered black stain and iron stretchers. A polished nickel ring chandelier with Edison-style vintage antique light bulbs complements the rustic farm table with its minimalist style and metallic composition. The contextually inspired barnstyle doors at the entrance to the breakfast buffet bring a rustic feel to the contemporary look of the solid stone counters of the buffet.”

In addition, “the locale-inspired guest rooms feature an accent wall with a stunning paneled effect,” she said. “As they retreat to the signature suites, guests enjoy a soothing color palette of pale gray, graphite and warm browns with accents of celadon and wheat.”

Stone and tile products used

To create this warm, inviting atmosphere, LHK design selected natural stone and porcelain tile materials throughout. They included:

  • ad-03Stone veneer at fireplace, accent walls in lobby, and accent wall in indoor pool – Boral Stone Products LLC/Pro-Fit Alpine Ledgestone cultured stone, color: Echo Ridge
  • Porcelain 6” x 30”, 7/16” thick wood-look plank floor tile at lobby – Cancos Tile & Stone/ Albero 6, color: Fresh, with a matte finish. Tri State Stone & Tile of Rockaway, N.J., installed this plank tile in a 1/3-offset staggered brick-joint pattern installation method with 1/8” grout joint.
  • Porcelain 24” x 24” x 7/16” thick wood-look parquet floor tile adorned the breakfast room – Cancos Tile & Stone/Albero 6, color: Fresh in a matte finish. Tri State used a straight-lay installation method with 1/8” grout joint.
  • ad-04A marble mosaic tile backsplash is featured at the connect and print counter – Cancos Tile & Stone/ Chelsea 2 series Golden Sand, color: Beige with a nano-sealed multi-surface finish, 1” x 1” x 3/8” thick, supplied on 12” x 12” sheets.
  • Porcelain 6” x 24” x 3/8” thick wood-look plank tile was installed at accent walls in the indoor pool – Cancos Tile & Stone/Albero 3, color: Ash. Tri State installed this in a 1/3-offset staggered brick-joint pattern, with tiles installed horizontally across wall, and 1/8” grout joint. The full height and the full width of the walls were covered in Albero 3.
  • Porcelain 6” x 24” x 3/8” thick wall tile was installed at accent walls in the indoor pool – Cancos Tile & Stone/Elements Deluxe Collection, color: Ocean Storm with a honed finish. Tri State used a stack bond installation (tiles installed horizontally across wall) with 1/8” grout joint.
  • ad-07Porcelain 13” x 13” x 3/8” thick floor tile and bullnose base was installed at the indoor pool and public restrooms – Cancos Tile & Stone/Rok, color: Calcare, matte finish. Tri State performed a stack bond installation with 1/8” grout joint. Slip resistance of this impervious product is a wet slip coefficient: 0.61-0.71 (>0.60 tile classification slip resistant).

Sustainable products on the rise

ad-06Although clients don’t always request sustainable products, LHK designs has its own ethic for products it selects. “There has been an increase in the amount of products offered that are sustainable,” Kramer said. “We seek out products that meet the following criteria: encompass our design intent, translate the vision of the client, meet hotel brand standards, are within the client’s budget, and have sustainable attributes.” The rise in the use of HPDs and EPDs in the last few years “provide the means to communicate the environmental characteristics of products to designers,” she added.

ad-05LHK designs “incorporates sustainability into every single project, striving to balance all of the mental and physical dimensions in order to create design solutions that enhance the quality of life,” Kramer explained. “Sustainability, as wellness for the planet, goes hand in hand with wellness for the individual. The use of environmentally responsible materials in design and construction leads to an increase in worker productivity, improved indoor air and light quality, energy-saving operational and maintenance practices, and the preservation of natural resources,” she concluded.



North American “Three-PD”: An Industry First!

Unpacking the importance of EPDs for tile, mortar and grout

bill_grieseBy Bill Griese, LEED AP BD+C, director of Standards Development and Sustainability Initiatives, Tile Council of North America

Big news: two additional EPDs round-out the EPD trifecta

At Coverings 2016, Tile Council of North America (TCNA) announced an industry first: the completion of two industry-wide Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) for tile mortar and tile grout made in North America, which when used along with the existing EPD for North American-made ceramic tile, provide the environmental impact of the full installed system.

The EPD for North American-made ceramic tile, which was released in 2014, is a 23-page report containing a comprehensive disclosure of the environmental impact of over 95% of the ceramic tile produced in North America. Representing approximately 2.5 billion sq. ft. of tile, the following manufacturers contributed data to the study: Arto, Crossville, Dal-Tile Corporation, Florida Tile, Florim USA, Interceramic, Ironrock, Porcelanite Lamosa, Quarry Tile Company, StonePeak Ceramics and Vitromex de Norteamérica.

Similarly, the two new EPDs for North American-made mortar and grout provide lifecycle-based data on the vast majority of the main materials used to set tile, representing over 2.25 billion kg. of products produced annually in North America. The following mortar and grout companies contributed data to the study: Ardex, Bexel, Bostik, Crest, Custom Building Products, HB Fuller/TEC, Interceramic, LATICRETE, MAPEI and Cemix/Texrite.

What are EPDs, and why are they important?

Product selection is a major component in green building. Products can impact the environment in different ways, and it is important to understand the variety of contributions by all products. The sustainability of a product involves much more than recycled material content, energy efficiency, or any other single attribute. Conformance to multi-attribute sustainability performance thresholds and whether environmental information is transparently reported should be considered when evaluating a product’s true sustainability. Additionally, how products combine into installed product systems is important.

green-01Product conformance to the North American tile industry’s standard for sustainability, Green Squared®, is a good indicator of sustainability performance. With regard to transparency, EPDs are the most common vehicle for appropriately communicating environmental information.

An EPD provides a comprehensive overview of how a product impacts the environment – specifically, global warming, abiotic resource depletion, acidification, smog formation, eutrophication, and ozone depletion. The primary intent of an EPD is transparency, and while developed within a standardized reporting framework, the EPD itself does not indicate conformance to any particular environmental performance threshold(s). Just as nutrition labels inform with respect to food choices, an EPD informs with respect to sustainability.

The industry-wide EPDs for North American-made tile, mortar and grout are based principally on lifecycle assessments that address myriad aspects: sourcing and extraction of raw materials; manufacturing processes; health, safety and environmental aspects of production and installation; production waste; product delivery considerations; use and maintenance of the flooring; and end of product life options such as reuse, repurposing, and disposal. Each of these three EPDs provides 60-year environmental impacts, per square meter of installed product, based on “cradle-to-grave” LCA (life cycle assessment) data submitted by participating companies. Additionally, product-specific (proprietary) EPDs may be available from each of the participating companies.

All three industry-wide EPDs are based on a comprehensive analysis by thinkstep, Inc. (formerly PE International) and have been independently certified by UL Environment. Both thinkstep and UL Environment are well-established leaders in the field of sustainability assessment and validation. This means there is no “greenwashing” and that a formal account of the true environmental impact of tile, mortar and grout is provided and has been critically reviewed and verified by independent third-party experts.

EPDs for tile, mortar and grout provide specifiers and green building professionals with the information they need to understand the environmental impact of the fully-installed system. For more information and to download copies of all three North American industry-wide EPDs in their entirety, visit www.TCNAtile.com.

EPDs for tile, mortar and grout provide specifiers and green building professionals with the information they need to understand the environmental impact of the fully-installed system. For more information and to download copies of all three North American industry-wide EPDs in their entirety, visit www.TCNAtile.com.

Relevance of EPDs for tile, mortar and grout

The tile industry’s three EPDs are valuable resources for many reasons. EPDs provide manufacturers opportunities to see where they stand relative to the industry average, and allow a means to assess progress toward continuous improvement. Also, LCA data from the EPDs can be extracted to populate product information databases. Such databases are being used increasingly today by A&D and building life cycle experts for Building Information Modeling (BIM) and to make informed product decisions.

Furthermore, the three EPDs showcase the industry’s minimal environmental impact. For example, the industry-wide tile EPD, though it does not itself draw conclusions or report on ceramic tile’s environmental performance relevant to competitive surface materials, tells an interesting story when reviewed side by side with publicly available EPDs of other flooring products. When compared to other product EPDs, ceramic tile has the lowest 60-year environmental impact per square meter. Similarly, the industry-wide EPDs for mortar and grout report very low 60-year environmental impacts per installed square meter.

With regard to green building, the industry-wide EPDs for North American-made tile, mortar and grout are important tools for architects and specifiers who wish to use tile to satisfy green building project requirements. A product manufactured by any of the manufacturers who contributed data to these EPDs can contribute toward points and/or satisfy the criteria of virtually every North American green building standard and rating system: LEED, Green Globes, NAHB National Green Building Standard, ASHRAE 189.1, International Green Construction Code, CalGreen, CHPS and GSA Facilities Standards for Public Buildings.

green-03Also, having submitted data for the industry-wide EPDs, many participating manufacturers have already or will soon start to develop and release product-specific EPDs, which could potentially qualify those products to additionally contribute toward points and compliance in green building.

But, the most exciting aspect of the tile industry’s EPD trifecta? As most green building standards, codes, and rating systems provide incremental credit for each product that is addressed by an EPD, joint use of EPDs for tile, mortar, and grout means that a single tile installation could potentially contribute “triple!”

Moving Forward

Publicly-available North American industry-wide EPDs for tile, mortar, and grout, when used together, can provide in-depth environmental data and paint a clearer picture of the life cycle environmental impact of a tile installation. With the transparency provided by EPDs for the main materials used to install tile, along with the multi-attribute performance thresholds of Green Squared® which have been established for several years, specifiers are fully equipped with the information they need to specify green tile industry products in 2016 and beyond.

Tech Talk – August 2016

TEC-sponsorExterior porcelain rainscreen wall systems

june-tech-01By Rich Goldberg, AIA, CSI –
Professional Consultants International LLC & PROCON Consulting Architects, Inc.

(Editor note: This is the third in a series of three articles by Rich Goldberg about exterior ventilated façades. This installment examines a case study project incorporating a ventilated porcelain rainscreen exterior wall system.)



The first article in this series appeared in April 2016 TileLetter, and provided an overview of exterior ventilated porcelain rainscreen wall technology, including exciting new developments in porcelain panel sizes, thicknesses, and systems for precise engineering and mechanical attachment of porcelain panels to building façades. The concept of “ventilated rainscreen” walls was explained, including the benefits of ventilated wall cavities and continuous insulation to meet strict energy code requirements.

The second article appeared in June 2016 TileLetter, and explored the challenges facing the tile industry with rapid changes in tile technology and consumer demand.  To survive, we must adjust to some rather uncomfortable changes. The ancient proverb “Live by the sword, die by the sword” is certainly in vogue today as all industries are struggling to survive by making drastic changes to adjust to entire new technologies. Our design and consulting firm is no different, as we are in the process of making a challenging and complex transition to designing and engineering ventilated porcelain facades.

In this installment, we will explore a case study of the design and construction of a cutting-edge school building project. I will share with you some of the behind-the-scenes design and engineering of a typical ventilated porcelain rainscreen wall system, as well as a pictorial sequence of the project under construction.

CREC Museum Academy
Bloomfied, Conn.

The case study project is the CREC Museum Academy in Bloomfield, Conn., currently under construction. The Capital Region Education Council (CREC) Museum Academy offers education outside the traditional learning environment for 522 students in grades PreK – 5. By opening up the worlds of history, visual arts, living museums, performances and exhibition, students have a forum to develop their own curiosity about the world in which they live.

The design concept for the 75,000-sq.-ft. building follows the philosophy about fundamental changes in elementary level education. The exterior façade was designed around the ventilated rainscreen concept not only for functional reasons (ventilated cavity for ideal thermal and moisture control, energy efficiency of continuous insulation and air/moisture/vapor barrier, ease of access for maintenance), but also for conceptual reasons (expression of embracing new building technologies, curiosity of “how buildings work”).

Figure 1

Figure 1

The exterior façade contains approximately 35,000 sq. ft. of porcelain panels in addition to insulated glass windows and curtain walls. The porcelain panels are mechanically attached to an aluminum sub-frame, both of which were precisely engineered by PROCON and prefabricated by manufacturer Crossville-Shackerley. The system, commercially known as the “Sureclad® System,” was selected not only because of the ventilated rainscreen capabilities, but also because of the design attributes unique to this system: 1) access to remove and replace any porcelain panel, 2) flexibility for adjustment in all dimensions, and 3) properly designed components to allow for coastal wind loads, differential thermal movement and seismic activity.


Design and engineering

The fact that this wall system is completely pre-fabricated eliminates many of the typical field fabrication challenges for tile contractors. However, the trade-off is the challenge associated with complex coordination and understanding of dimensional tolerances and as-built field conditions – you simply cannot make any significant cuts to fit in the field, and the proper handling to prevent breakage due to lead times for prefabrication is critical. Another attribute of the Crossville-Shackerley Sureclad system was quick turn-around fabrication at their U.S. facility.


Figure 2

Figure 2

Figure 1 is an example of the precise design and engineering of the aluminum sub-frame for a full-scale mock-up of this project. The elevation of the framing indicates the placement and precise dimension of each component. Despite our precise design, the construction of the back-up wall (metal studs and gypsum sheathing) was out of plumb as is all too common with most field-constructed rough wall systems.


Figure 3

Figure 3

Construction sequence

Figure 2 shows the application of the air/moisture/vapor (AMV) barrier to the back-up wall sheathing. The AMV is a critical component of the continuous thermal and moisture-control function of a ventilated rainscreen wall. Even the penetrations for the aluminum support brackets fasteners through the AMV must be considered, as well as thermal breaks (green plastic isolation pads) between the aluminum brackets and the structural back-up wall. Air/moisture/vapor control is now highly regulated by building codes as well as by fire codes (NFPA 285).

Figure 3 is a view of the support bracket installation. The ease of installation of the porcelain panels is critically dependent on the layout and precision alignment of these supports.

Figure 4

Figure 4

Figure 4 shows how the windows have a sub-frame which envelope the ventilated cavity and allows the window to be flush with the porcelain panel surface. The sub-frame contains continuous flashing and waterproofing to tie in with the AMV. Windows can also be recessed using a similar metal frame or porcelain panel returns.

Figure 5 illustrates the installation of vertical T-shaped structural supports. These vertical supports serve several functions: 1) to allow attachment of the horizontal channels to which the porcelain panels are attached; 2) to transfer wind and gravity loads to the underlying structure, and most important 3) to provide adjustment of plumb and flatness alignment to underlying walls, which often exceed acceptable tolerances.

Figure 5

Figure 5

Figure 6 is a view of the installation of continuous insulation. Our firm always recommends that architects use mineral wool insulation in ventilated rainscreen wall systems. This is first and foremost because this material is completely fire safe, unlike foam insulation, despite dubious manufacturer claims for open-jointed ventilated-cavity wall systems. This material is also available with a black painted facing, so that no yellow, pink or other shiny material is exposed to view through open joints between the porcelain panels. The insulation is continuous, with the exception of thickness of the brackets and vertical T-shaped supports, which is allowed under strict energy codes.

Figure 6

Figure 6

Figure 7 is a leading edge view showing the installation of the horizontal supports for the porcelain panels. You will note that these aluminum supports are provided in a black anodized coating so that no shiny aluminum is exposed to view through open joints between the panels; this is the only exposed metal along horizontal joints. The Sureclad system design is unique in that there is only one horizontal support rail per tile panel course, compared to all other systems which 1) require two horizontal rails for each panel, and 2) once a panel is in place on a two-horizontal rail system, there is no room to lift up and remove a panel once the panel above is installed. The one-horizontal rail profile allows panels to be secured by engagement into a channel contained in the top of the horizontal rail profile, then tilted up into place and secured with a stainless steel fastener through the open joints between the panels into the lower portion of the horizontal profile to receive the panel above.

Figure 7

Figure 7

Figure 8 shows how once all of the underlying components are in place and properly aligned, the installation of the porcelain panels is incredibly simple, with very high production rates – the façade literally looks substantially complete in a matter of days! As discussed in the April 2016 article, the porcelain panel technology is advancing at a rapid pace, and we are already developing design and engineering requirements as well as handling and installation details for mechanically attached large-format porcelain tile panels similar in size (3 x 10 feet / 1 x 3 m and greater) to those currently available in large-format thin porcelain tile panels (LTPT). Anticipate the inevitable changes to the tile industry and seize the opportunities!

Figure 8

Figure 8

Richard P. Goldberg, AIA, CSI, NCARB is an architect and president of Professional Consultants International, LLC – Connecticut, and PROCON Consulting Architects, Inc.-Florida, both building design and construction consulting companies. Goldberg specializes in exterior building envelope systems, with sub-specialties in concrete, porcelain tile, natural and engineered stone, brick and concrete masonry, terrazzo, glass and waterproofing material applications.

Goldberg holds National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) certification, and is a registered architect in the U.S. in multiple states, including Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and Florida. He is a professional member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI). Goldberg participates in numerous tile industry standards committees, is a National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA) Recognized Industry Consultant, and received the prestigious NTCA Ring of Honor Award in 2014.

Qualified Labor – August 2016

1_CTI_20x20Jeremy Waldorf: owner/operator Legacy Floors

Certification offers customer extra value, bolstered by education and experience

By Terryn Rutford, Social Structure Marketing

Jeremy Waldorf, owner/operator of Legacy Floors in Howell, Mich., recalled setting wall tile with a slice of pizza in one hand during his Certified Tile Installer (CTI) exam at the end of 2015. “There was absolutely no room for breaks, at least in my case,” Waldorf said. “[The hands-on test] was pretty stressful, and much more challenging than I thought it would be.”

ql-02The context of the CTI hands-on test might be intimidating as described by Waldorf, “In a room with seven other guys, with seven other tool setups, methods, and approaches…I was tempted to peek over and see what kinds of things other guys were doing.” But now that he’s certified, Waldorf has more confidence that he will make the right choices. “With the manuals, resources, and most importantly, the industry connections I now have, I am always able to get answers from more experienced and more skilled tile setters and industry representatives,” Waldorf said.



In fact, becoming a CTI gave Waldorf an unexpected gift. Since getting certified, Waldorf said, “I am a lot more active in networking with other professionals, and attending clinics and workshops to stay educated about the tile industry. [And] I am plugged into the TileGeeks Facebook group, where I am regularly inspired by absolutely amazing craftsmen, and also get to laugh at the things we all come across in our work days.”

Although Waldorf was certified only six months ago, he was raised in the industry and has been a hard-surface specialist for 18 years. Early on in his career Waldorf committed himself to education. “My company philosophy has been to educate myself in my trade whenever possible, and to deliver the absolute best job I can give them,” Waldorf said.

ql-03According to Waldorf, certification is an opportunity “to really understand how much you have to learn. If you’re willing to take correction and listen to others so that you can brand yourself better, offering your clients advantages that most of your competition won’t, then certification will be an amazing step for you to take.” In addition to humbling you, Waldorf emphasizes that “certification will give you confidence in your abilities and help you make connections with others that can make you a better tile setter.”

Since becoming a CTI, Waldorf completes every tile installation under the assumption that it will be subject to inspection just like when he took the hands-on exam. “I naturally consider what it would be like to have someone take apart my finished work, examining every aspect of it,” Waldorf said. And as a result, Waldorf believes every project he completes is the absolute best he can give. According to Waldorf, certification allows you to “offer your customers more value because you’re not just hands that use tools. You are selling them your education and experience, and that is more important than anything else in this business. That’s how you will build your reputation.”

Member Spotlight – August 2016

custom-sponsorHutcheson Tile & Stone
Eagle River, Alaska

A quality job means executing a well-thought-out plan of action

By Lesley Goddin

spot-01Hutcheson Tile & Stone in Eagle River, Ak., prides itself on working directly with end users and helping them through the “sometimes difficult process of a renovation,” said Don Hutcheson, owner. The company has done commercial work, but Hutcheson explained, “Our pace and goals are more suited to assisting homeowners and designers execute a well-thought-out plan for a functional and aesthetically pleasing project.”

Hutcheson started out in 1997 with Local 1236 right out of high school. This was a soft-good union, but it didn’t take him long to recognize he needed a more artistic challenge than soft-goods installation could provide. With the motto, “stick with what you know,” in mind, Hutcheson focused in on the tile trade, starting his own business in 2003 and his own tile company nine years ago in 2007. “Tile was a part of the trade that required more skill than just a warm body,” he said. “You cannot – in our line of work – do a better job by just adding more people. Finishing a job does not require you to turn up the radio and sweat more; it takes a well-thought-out-plan of action and an understanding of what the last cut will look like before you set your first tile.”

Don Hutcheson with daughters (l. to r.) Elizabeth, now 6 and Emma, now 2. The new addition to the family this year is Evelyn, born May 17.

Don Hutcheson with daughters (l. to r.) Elizabeth, now 6 and Emma, now 2. The new addition to the family this year is Evelyn, born May 17.

Continuing with his ethic of quality, Hutcheson joined NTCA two years ago after seeing the positive reviews from respected people on internet forums and social media who were promoting the values of being a member. “I always was confused about how to best tell someone how, or why to do something a certain way,” Hutcheson said. “Well, it is all there, right in the TCNA Handbook for Ceramic, Glass and Stone Tile Installation. I realized I had been doing some things wrong, but now I had a book that wasn’t just the text on a computer screen from who-knows-what-source, or [questionable] experience level of the person offering the information, but manufacturers and leaders of our industry who care greatly about the success of our industry as a whole.”

Hutcheson said that “One of the biggest benefits from the NTCA is the connection to other members who are equally, if not more, involved and concerned about the current state and future of our industry. The educational resources offered are amazing; with a little bit of digging around on the website, you will likely find more information than you were looking for. One of the greatest features to me, a small one-man show looking to expand, are the new training modules offered for an apprentice. Having gone through a union apprenticeship, I see value in training team members to be familiar with standards and expectations of our industry. That is a hard thing to do when you are trying to finish a shower for Mrs. Jones, but these are online classes that can be taken at any time. I think after a few years of this new program being out there we will see a significant increase in certified installers, and quality installations.”

spot-03spot-04Hutcheson is NTCA State Director for Alaska. He explained that “NTCA seems to be a good motivation for me to make myself, my business and my industry better – but there is no doubt that it can get lost sometimes in the daily grind of what we do. So after speaking with some folks who were State Directors and how that had helped them in their career, I asked about becoming the State Director for Alaska.”

The value is immense. “It is a great source of networking and I get to speak with other contractors that I meet at supply shops and tell them about the benefits of the NTCA,” he said. “I will get phone calls from suppliers or shops with questions. Those calls and conversations can come at any time and they are a great boost to morale and a reminder that we aren’t just installing a backsplash today – we are representing an industry and trying to make it better.”

Hutcheson just passed his certified installer exam on June 18th, making him the #1238 Certified Tile Installer in the country and the only one in Alaska. “It was a stressful test,” he admitted. Knowing a little about the difficulty from others who have taken the test, Hutcheson learned, “it was no walk in the park. I think that is a credit to NTCA and the CTEF for not just handing out participation awards.”

spot-06spot-05Being a tile setter is no walk in the park for Hutcheson, either. “Some days I hate this trade,” he honestly exclaimed. “Manufacturers of tile, product manufacturers, clients and peers all have different ideas what a great tile install should be. Those things are always in the back of your mind. I have never left a job that I was 100% satisfied with; I doubt I ever will. But I have never left a job that the client wasn’t happy with, either.” Hutcheson added, “When our clients are happy, they tell their friends about it and that is good for our industry. When our clients are upset with a job, they tell everybody, and those are the things that I try to avoid by being an informed member of the NTCA.”

Business Tip – August 2016

mapei_sponsorHiring a contractor: truths vs. myths

By Michael Stone

By Michael Stone

Last weekend our friend Bob Youngs showed us an article published in the June 2016 issue of Consumer Reports. Portions of the article are available online, although the printed version is more detailed. The article is written as advice before hiring a contractor, and some of the advice is spot-on:

  • Bring your contractor into the project during the design phase (if working with an architect).
  • Get everything in writing.
  • Changing your mind after the work is underway is the biggest mistake homeowners make, and it can be the costliest, too.
  • Deal with your general contractor, not your subcontractors.

Unfortunately, there’s a fair amount of advice that’s just plain wrong. If you want to hire a contractor who is financially stable and will still be in business down the road, this is the advice to avoid, and here’s why.

Wrong advice: always negotiate

A contractor who knows how to price their work properly won’t have room to negotiate. They’ve estimated the total cost of the project, then added on whatever they need to meet their overhead needs and make a reasonable profit. If they priced the job properly, what’s left to negotiate, unless you don’t want them to make a reasonable profit?

You can ask, but a contractor who knows their business will tell you that they’ll adjust the price if you adjust the scope of the work. I wouldn’t trust a contractor who’s willing to lower their price, because it means they didn’t quote me a fair price in the first place. What else are they doing that’s not trustworthy?

The article states that only 4% of the GCs said they are never willing to negotiate the price of a job. Interestingly, our experience is that only 4-6% of contractors are still in business after 10 years.

The article also stated that 30% of the contractors in their survey are very willing to negotiate. And 20% percent of the contractors in their survey lacked either a state license or the proper insurance. A contractor who is operating without the proper credentials will definitely be more willing to negotiate, but at what cost to you?

Wrong advice: use online services to find a contractor

The article advises that if you want to find a contractor, do the same thing you do to find any other professional: use Google. The best contractors in your area will have a website that allows you to learn who they are and what they do, see some photos of their work, and then make contact.

You’ll find contractors on Angie’s List, HomeAdvisor and Porch, but they are seldom the best contractors in the area. They will be the contractors who either pay for the lead or pay to advertise. Some online services even charge the contractor a percentage of the sales price; guess who really pays that fee? Think of online services as another advertising outlet, not a source of quality contractors.

Wrong advice: request a detailed breakdown of labor and material costs for each part of the project

This isn’t necessary if you’re working with a cost-plus contract (more on that later). It also isn’t necessary when you’re working with a fixed-price contract because you were given a firm, fixed price.

We’ve talked about itemizing estimates and transparency on our blog. It’s a wasted exercise for the contractor and for the client. If you don’t trust the contractor you’re working with, or if you don’t like the price they quoted you, don’t hire them.

Wrong advice: include a penalty fee in the contract if the completion date isn’t met

This is only fair if you include a bonus if they finish before the completion date. I know the argument; they’ll rush to finish the job quickly to collect the bonus. Guess what? They’ll also rush to finish the job if it looks like they’ll have to pay a penalty.

Go ahead and include a penalty as long as you include a bonus as well. Fair is fair.

Wrong advice: fixed price and cost plus contract comparisons

A related article on the Consumer Reports website (included in the print version) discusses fixed-price and cost-plus contracts. There is a warning that with fixed-price contracts, the contractor might cut corners to stay on budget if their costs are higher than estimated. Keep in mind that this is also a risk if you negotiated down the price of the job, and it won’t happen at all if you hire a reputable contractor who knows how to price their work properly.

I strongly recommend against using a cost-plus contract; that’s covered at length on our website. I disagree with their statement that most cost-plus contracts come with a guaranteed maximum price, or a ceiling on additional charges. If they did, there would be far fewer disagreements, but there would also be many jobs left unfinished when the maximum price is reached before the project is completed.


The article neglected to tell you that you should expect to pay for an estimate on your project. It takes time to price a project, and many contractors are no longer willing to invest the time and trouble to compile an estimate for free. You’ll still see “Free Estimates” here and there, but many contractors recognize that they are providing a service when they estimate your project and will ask you to pay for that service.


I wrote the book on pricing jobs for the construction industry, so it was a surprise to read that contractors charge 25%. Let me tell you that if they are only charging 25%, they won’t be in business long. That’s why so many construction businesses fail; they don’t charge enough for their work.

Every contractor needs to calculate their own markup based on their overhead and profit needs, but to survive, most need to use a markup of at least 1.5 and many general contractors doing remodeling charge a much higher markup. That means they need to be adding at least 50% onto their estimated costs for a project.

There are a lot of little tidbits in the article that I question. I’d like to know how the Consumer Reports National Research Center found the 300 general contractors that they interviewed, because I have a hard time believing that a random sampling of general contractors found 20% operating without either a state license or the proper insurance. The printed version of the article includes a graphic that states that one of the most common problems that lead to cost overruns in their survey is getting permits. Someone help me out: how can getting permits lead to a cost overrun?

Price should not be the top priority when choosing a contractor; if it is, you won’t be dealing with the best contractors. Keep in mind that many of the contractor horror stories involve a contractor who disappears during a project. Other horror stories involve contractors who cut corners. The reason they disappear or cut corners is because they are broke and can’t pay their bills. The reason they are broke is because they aren’t charging enough for their work. In some cases, they needed your job to pay off bills from old jobs. That’s the risk you take when you want a contractor with the lowest possible price.

For many homeowners, your home is your largest single investment. Hire a responsible, professional contractor you can trust, not a cheap one. They’ll protect your investment and you’ll sleep better.

Michael Stone, author of Markup and Profit; A Contractor’s Guide Revisited, and Profitable Sales, A Contractor’s Guide and the online training program, “Profitable Esti-mating Training,” has more than five decades of experience in the building and remodeling industry. He can be found on the web at www.markupandprofit.com and by email at [email protected].

Ask the Experts – August 2016

SponsoredbyLaticreteThe following conversation took place between a contractor and NTCA technical trainer/presenter Mark Heinlein.


I would like some feedback on a recurring issue with a shower pan that was installed about a year ago (see attached pictures). The curbless shower pan is staying damp and not drying out even after days with electric heat set at 85 degrees.

The installation procedure used was as follows:

  • Prepan liner
  • Membrane over prepan
  • Mud sloped to drain
  • Liquid-applied waterproofing over pan and up inside and outside walls
  • Heated floor (skimcoated)
  • Liquid-applied waterproofing over that

I am looking for a way to rectify this issue and to prevent it from occurring in the future with light colored stone.



I have reviewed the photos you sent and read the description of your installation and have a couple of questions.

Did you install a pre-slope and liner with a clamping ring drain?  Or did you use a bonding flange-type drain, or a divot method?

Are the fixed glass panels mounted with fasteners (i.e. screws) to the floor/pan?

Please let me know.

I suspect that water may have pooled in low spots beneath the tiles that has caused the minerals in the soft marble to stain.

– Mark Heinlein,
NTCA technical trainer/presenter


Yes, there was a pre-slope drain with a clamping ring drain.  Workers installing the shower door said they drilled only through the tile for the shower door. There is really no area for water to pool due to the mosaic tile being installed with a small notched trowel.

If they penetrated through our waterproofing and mud bed, do you think that could have created the issue by the shower door?


Yes. Very likely the screws were longer than the thickness of the tile. If the liquid-applied waterproofing applied to the surface of mud bed / heat mat installation was penetrated, water can seep into the screw holes and wick into the bond coat and up into the stones. By what I can see in the photos, it appears this is the area where the staining has occurred.

Required mortar-bond coat coverage in a wet area, especially for natural stone, is 95% minimum. It is even more critical to have full-coverage bonding of soft stone on a shower floor. Were you able to get full coverage with a small notched trowel? There may be voids in the bond coat that are filing with water and staining the tile from beneath.

I also have some concerns about encapsulating the mud bed and heat system with a liner at the bottom and one or two layers of liquid applied membrane on top. How is the topical liquid membrane making a waterproof connection to the clamping ring drain?

Please take a look at TCNA Handbook Methods B421-15 and 422-15 for details regarding bonded waterproofing membranes on a sloped mortar bed shower receptor.

If you find there is no water entering through the screw holes, and if you have a good connection of the liquid waterproofing to the clamping ring drain, and if you have full-mortar bond coat coverage under the tile, this may be an example of when water stains soft stone tiles in shower pans in many types of installations. This phenomenon is currently being researched by an NTCA Technical Sub-Committee.

– Mark Heinlein,
NTCA technical trainer/presenter

President’s Letter – August 2016

JWoelfel_headshotThose of you who know me know I am not a tree-hugger, but I also believe that we should be responsible stewards of our environment. At our house we put the recycle bin out at the curb full of plastic and paper and we also collect aluminum cans.

As a tile contractor, how can we create a sustainable jobsite? We can use our water more wisely, we can recycle the cardboard and paper we use, we can tile with recycled materials and mortars and grouts that have some recycled contents as well. These are all good ways to be sustainable, but as a tile contractor, there is one thing we can do that I consider the ultimate in sustainability. And that is to install tile correctly the first time. When we install tile correctly the first time we have created a finish that can last 30, 40, 50, up to and over 100 years. The lifecycle cost of tile is the lowest in the flooring industry when installed correctly. By not having to replace poor or failing tile installations we save valuable resources like new tile, new mortar and new grout. It also means we are not trucking in additional materials, which saves fuel.

Tile is also the most environmentally friendly flooring finish. Tile itself contains no VOCs, and tile mortars usually do not contain VOCs either. This means that the interior air that our customers breathe is cleaner and better for you than most of our flooring competitors’ air.

Tile is also more hygienic than carpet, as fluids do not absorb into porcelain tiles like they do with carpet. I have seen tile finishes that are being developed that actually kill bacteria and make our air cleaner. These technologies can be used to make a great product even healthier.

When I speak to architects, I explain to them that if they want truly sustainable projects, then the tile needs to be installed properly. As I explain to our members, we make the most money and have the least amount of headaches when we install tile properly. You don’t have to be a tree-hugger to help the environment. By using quality, qualified labor and a little common sense, you can go a long way in protecting both the environment and your bottom line.

Regards, James

Editor’s Letter – August 2016

Lesley psf head shotNever doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. – Margaret Mead

Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work. – Vince Lombardi

Every month or so, all the NTCA staff members, together with Scott Carothers and Cathey McAlister of CTEF, come together in a phone conference to update each other on what we are working on and progress made since the last meeting.

Yesterday (June 28) was one such staff meeting. I am always amazed at all the things everyone is working on – updates and additions to our NTCA University; expansion of our on-the-road and webinar educational opportunities and private training sessions; NTCA presence at Surfaces, Coverings and A&D events; the expanded reach of the NTCA Reference Manual, which by next year will be published in Australia and Canada in addition to the U.S., with the intent of translating it to Spanish for dissemination in Mexico; more timely publishing of TileLetter and its associated publications TRENDS and TECH.

One fact that always strikes me is the update on our membership, and this is always something I want to share with our members and our readers as a testament to the strength and reach of our association. So I will do so with the latest figures here:

As assistant executive director Jim Olson (who oversees our membership activities) reported yesterday, NTCA gained 22 new members in June, largely through the efforts of our technical trainer/presenters Mark Heinlein, Robb Roderick and CTEF’s Scott Carothers on the road. At the end of May 2015, NTCA had 974 members, but this year we have 1170 members. Overall this year, we are up 200 members, about 100 new members and 100 retained members.

Why is this important? The more members we have, the greater the body of knowledge, expertise, involvement and energy to influence the industry in the direction of what benefits tile installers, and the more people have a voice. And what benefits tile installers ultimately benefits the entire industry – tile and stone and all the amazingly engineered setting materials are wonderful products, but without an installer who knows which products to use for which application, the entire project can be reduced to a massive, costly failure.

I’ve said this before, but there are many situations in our lives where we feel relatively powerless (or we scratch our heads – witness the presidential election process this year: yowza.). But the NTCA offers a true opportunity to make a difference and to shape the future for the trade. The brilliance of NTCA members, working together, has made huge strides in methods, standards, certifications, publications and products that – when heeded – spell the difference between the unskilled and the professionals.

If you are passionate about your industry – and your own business – consider investigating what NTCA offers you. Visiting www.tile-assn.com is a great place to start.

God bless,

[email protected]

New Products – July 2016

prod-01Antolini’s Black Absolute Gold Design is a fusion of modern and classical worlds. Lavish golden threads run seamlessly through dark polished granite in a captivating fashion. This detailing evokes a regal sense of modernism that both elevates and inspires. The stones of the Natura Collection add timeless exuberance and style to any project. www.antolini.com

The Tile Shop introduces a new website for its Pro customers called “Pro My Account,” a go-to source for everything needed to get the job done. Pro My Account enables Pros to keep track of all orders from anywhere via mobile devices, tablet or computer. Pros can register for free at https://www.tileshop.com/category/pro.do?. Pros can watch a brief tutorial video at https://www.tileshop.com/category/pro-my-account-registration.do? and easily navigate the site, which provides email access, the ability to view and print current and past orders, track open orders, make payments on orders, view credit balances, make payments to credit accounts, view and print statements and download other relevant forms. Visit www.tileshop.com or phone 888-398-6595 for more information about the benefits of The Tile Shop’s Pro Network and Pro My Account.

John Colaneri of HGTV’s Kitchen Cousin used the Under-Cabinet Lighting System to provide an unobstructed field of on-trend black subway tile in his home kitchen. 

John Colaneri of HGTV’s Kitchen Cousin used the Under-Cabinet Lighting System to provide an unobstructed field of on-trend black subway tile in his home kitchen.

Legrand offers the Adorne™ Under-Cabinet Lighting System (right) to streamline lighting without disrupting a beautiful tile mural or backsplash design. The modular LED Lighting track fits under kitchen cabinets to discreetly deliver light, power and bluetooth music to the space, including mobile charging cradles and USB ports. Its hidden-from-view location enables the tiled backsplash to be clear of outlets, enhancing the style and decluttering cords to free up counter space. Its configuration is easy to update at any time by popping out any module and replacing it with a new insert. www.legrand.us

Creative Edge Master Shop has introduced TERRAZZO TEK™, its new line of trademarked luxury terrazzo techniques, a veritable tool kit to enhance artistry, improve efficiency, and expand options in terrazzo installations, both large and small.

TERRAZZO TEK™ is a series of novel techniques:

Intricate designs can be created without metallic joints using the NOFORMZ technique in Creative Edge Master Shop’s TERRAZZO TEK series of terrazzo techniques.

Intricate designs can be created without metallic joints using the NOFORMZ technique in Creative Edge Master Shop’s TERRAZZO TEK series of terrazzo techniques.

JETFORMZ™ uses waterjet technology to cut the metal material dividers from brass, aluminum, and bronze. This method adds to detail, complexity, and accuracy of metal dividing strips.

TRANSFORMZ™ is the layout system that faithfully transfers architect, designer, and artist patterns to the floor to be covered in epoxy terrazzo.

ACCUFORMZ™ is the technique of templating for layout letters, logos and emblems accurately and positioning these elements for the terrazzo pour.

NOFORMZ™ is a technique of fabricating intricate art and pattern with no metallic joints, creating striking and colorful detail in artwork and lobby identity pieces.

Creative Edge Master Shop has developed waterjet techniques that supplement and enhance the decorative potential and artistry of terrazzo. Creative Edge terrazzo projects are custom designed, and a large library of previously designed projects, entries, borders, accents, and medallions are catalogued to provide inspiration for new installations. www.cec-waterjet.com

prod-05Scodd Industries introduces The PorcelainPlus Speedbit, specifically designed for drilling through hard surfaces such as porcelain tile, granite, marble, quartz and ceramic tile. It features a specially formulated carbide spear tip with Four Point Cross Step Design for greater durability and speed, making installations quicker, easier, and more profitable. The Speedbit has an average of 25 seconds per hole and 5+ holes per bit (based on PEI 4 porcelain tile). Order your risk-free TRIAL PACK today: five Speedbits, pay only delivery. Check out a short video of the Speedbit in action at www.porcelaindrillbit.com.

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