Thin Tile – July 2016

mapei_sponsorUpdate on ANSI product installation standards; recent projects featuring gauged porcelain tile panels/slabs

by Lesley Goddin

In our continuing quest to bring you useful information about the surging use of large thin porcelain tile, we bring you some news from the ANSI meeting concerning proposals for ANSI A137.3 (product standards) and ANSI A108.19 (installation standards) that was held during Coverings in Chicago this past April. In addition, we have a collection of projects below that show some of the ways large thin porcelain tile is being used on a range of projects.

The meeting

To start, a very productive ANSI meeting took place during Coverings in Chicago. The proposed draft standard under discussion for ANSI A137.3 has tables providing properties for three tile types: Nominal Thickness 5.0 mm to 6.5 mm (Table 4), Back-Layered with Nominal Thickness 5.0 mm to 6.5 mm (Table 5), and Back-Layered with Nominal Thickness 3.5 mm to 4.9 mm (Table 6). The Committee discussed the properties developed through lab testing and real world applications, but consensus was not reached. The proposed standard also allows for future tables to be included for additional tile types such as thicker tiles for raised flooring (and other) applications.

A proposed draft installation standard was also presented for tiles with properties in Table 4, with further work on the standard in progress.

Discussion turned to how to label, name and describe these tiles in the standard, depending on their thickness, size, and various marketing terms. TCNA explained that the name in a standard should not be conflated or merged with how tiles are labeled, but how the tiles are described should be sufficiently neutral to allow companies to market and label them however they choose to brand their products. Any effort to mix individual company marketing needs with the labels in a standard would be unlikely to achieve true consensus.

To this end, the proposed standard was labeled, “American National Standard Specifications for Gauged Porcelain Tiles and Gauged Porcelain Tile Panels/Slabs.” The standard is so named because the properties in Tables 4 – 6 are based on a narrow (i.e. gauged) range of thicknesses. Further, it allows manufacturers to choose how to label their products depending on their marketing, i.e. either as panels or slabs.

The next ANSI A108 Committee meeting will be held at Total Solutions Plus, Hyatt Indian Wells Resort near Palm Springs on Friday, October 21, 2016. In the meantime, many groups of stakeholders and interested parties are meeting separately, and with TCNA, to work towards further understanding and consensus.

The projects

Following are a number of recent projects that use gauged porcelain tile panels for interior and exterior application. As was described in the Laminam by Crossville entry, installers trained in the handling and installation of these products were employed on the job. NTCA recommends working with only contractors who have experience, certification or training in installing these products, for the smoothest installation process and best ongoing performance of the tiles themselves.

thin-01Laminam tile was supplied by Stone Tile International for the Sherway Gardens Expansion in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, which is presently underway and due to finish in fall of 2016. This high-end mall has a total expansion of 100,000 sq. ft. One of the highlights of this project is the installation of some very large 1 m x 3 m porcelain veneer in an exterior setting. Maple Group of Toronto installed 3,000 sq. ft. of large, thin tiles with MAPEI’s Granirapid with Ultracolor Plus grout after MAPEI’s Mapelastic 315 was used to waterproof over concrete. The gauged porcelain panels were installed around the large entryway and two smaller entrances. The tile was also cut into pie-shaped wedges to form large tile circles on the ceiling of the mall’s interior.

Inalco Slimmker – 1,800 sq. ft. of Inalco Slimmker, a Tile of Spain brand, was installed in October 2014 by Belcor Builders of Plainview, N.Y., in a high-end Spanish furniture showroom in Midtown Manhattan. The 6mm Slimmker Foster Blanco Plus Natural tile measures 40” x 40”.

thin-03 thin-02

Laminam by Crossville – LaFayette Junior/Senior High School in LaFayette, N.Y., was renovated by Ashley McGraw Architects in October 2015 with materials engineered to perform long and hard to accommodate the wear and tear of the space, keep maintenance simple, and provide a look that fits with the grander scale of the renovated space. The school auditorium called for wainscoting along the walls, with a monolithic appearance and minimal grout joints. Enter Crossville’s Laminam Travertino Avorio 3+, supplied by Vestal Tile Distributors and installed by Integrated Industrial Services of Syracuse, N.Y., in a vertical orientation above the handrail. The installation team at Integrated Industrial Services had learned the techniques for proper installation of Laminam by Crossville porcelain tile panels by attending an in-house seminar held by distributor Vestal Tile in January 2016 that included representatives from adhesives manufacturer ARDEX Americas, European Tile Masters, and Vestal Tile.

thin-04 thin-05

Lea Ceramiche – Shinberg.Levinas Architects recently won a Ceramics of Italy Competition Residential Award for the Turnberry Residence in Rosslyn (Arlington), Va. The project features 5,000 sq. ft. of Slimtech Basaltina Stone in Sabbiata and Naturale colors by Confindustria Ceramica manufacturer Lea Ceramiche. Jud Tile from Vienna, Va., installed the 3’ x 9’ tile in a complete interior renovation of the bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and exterior balcony in 2013. Flooring and walls for all living spaces were also covered with the Slimtech Basaltina tiles, which are available in 3mm and 3.5 mm, and created a smooth continuous flow from interior to exterior, with minimal joints that almost disappear, reinforcing the idea of an open loft space.

thin-06 thin-07

Florida Tile – On St. Patrick’s Day 2015, the DLR Group’s Chicago office was scheduled for a lunch-and-learn session with Mid-America Tile, who was introducing Florida Tile’s new Thinner large-format thin porcelain tile. As it turned out DLR Group showed a lot of interest in the product, not for a client, but for its own use for the lobby floor, which had suffered a previous failure due to the original tile and gypsum-based underlayment used. DLR Group principals liked how Florida Tile’s Thinner Aventis 19.5” x 39” tile made a seamless transition with existing finishes, and the 3.5mm thickness posed no problem with the minimal clearance of already-installed entry doors. MAPEI technical services and Krez Group came in to review the substrate, which they subsequently shotblasted and leveled with MAPEI M20. Architectural Contracting installed 1,200 sq. ft. of tile with MAPEI Ultraflex LFT mortar, creating full coverage and MAPEI’s stain-resistant, premixed Flexcolor CQ grout. The MLT System was also used to create a flat, lippage-free surface, finished with Blanke stainless steel transition strips. The project won a 2015 Crain’s Coolest Office award.


Tech Talk – July 2016

TEC-sponsorSuccessful glass tile installation for pools

By Tom Domenici, area technical manager, H.B. Fuller Construction Products

tech-01Once you’ve seen a swimming pool finished with glass mosaic tiles, their popularity for both residential and commercial installations is immediately appreciated. Because they reflect natural light, glass mosaic tiles can give swimming pools a lustrous, shimmering appearance. They’re available in almost any color, size and pattern imaginable.

Here are the seven main components of a beautiful and long-lasting glass tile pool installation.

Porcelain or glass tile is the right choice for saline pools. Use a premium mortar that can withstand salt exposure and a chemical-resistant grout.

Porcelain or glass tile is the right choice for saline pools. Use a premium mortar that can withstand salt exposure and a chemical-resistant grout.

1. Choosing tile

Today, mosaic glass tile manufacturers often create sheets of tile by bonding the individual tiles to a paper or plastic facing or by adhering the backs of the tile to an open-weave mesh that allows the mortar to come into contact with the tile backs. Using this type of tile can help save time. However, if a water-soluble adhesive was used to bond the mosaic tiles to the mesh backing, that adhesive could re-emulsify once submerged. To avoid this, confirm with the tile manufacturer that the mosaic glass tile itself, and the sheet mounting method used, are suitable for pool installations in their environment, whether interior or exterior. Or use paper-faced tiles, which provide an unimpeded surface on the tile back for bonding.

2. Cutting tile

If the tile layout requires partial sheets, simply score the plastic sheeting, mesh or paper holding the tiles together with a utility knife as needed. If you need to cut the tiles themselves, use specialized glass mosaic tile cutting tools, as other cutters may shatter the small tiles.

The Robert D. Love Downtown YMCA in Wichita, Kan., contains more than 50,000 sq. ft. of mosaic and large-format tile.

The Robert D. Love Downtown YMCA in Wichita, Kan., contains more than 50,000 sq. ft. of mosaic and large-format tile.

3. Waterproofing pools

Over the primary waterproof membrane on the shell of the pool (per TCNA P602-16), you must provide a secondary waterproofing and crack isolation membrane.

Before applying the secondary membrane, smooth the substrate with a deep patch and patch additive that’s fast-setting, or a bonded mortar bed. Then clean the substrate of all contaminants, residues and dirt. Pre-fill all concrete cracks up to 1/8” wide. Treat all control joints, substrate joints, field seams and corners; anywhere vertical surfaces meet horizontal surfaces, such as curbs, bench seats and columns; anywhere dissimilar materials meet, such as drains and expansion/control joints.

Then, apply the waterproofing membrane. Install it just below the tile to help prevent water from leaking into the mortar bed and to help prevent problems associated with saturation and moisture expansion. For an efficient installation, use a membrane that allows for the direct bonding of tile. After the membrane is properly cured, test for leaks.


NTCA Five Star Contractor Fox Ceramic Tile of St. Marys, Kan., turned to TEC® products to aid with fast-paced tile installation in a variety of challenging environments.

NTCA Five Star Contractor Fox Ceramic Tile of St. Marys, Kan., turned to TEC® products to aid with fast-paced tile installation in a variety of challenging environments.

4. Setting tiles


Glass mosaic pool tile applications require polymer-modified mortars that are suitable for submerged installations. Keep in mind the mortar’s color can affect the appearance of clear or translucent glass mosaics. White mortars typically produce the most pleasing and consistent appearance – allowing glass tile to maintain its natural luminosity. Similarly, mortar ridges may be visible through clear or translucent tiles. Therefore, after troweling the mortar, use the flat side of the trowel to flatten mortar ridges before setting tile. Back-butter the tile to achieve a uniform appearance and proper coverage.

5. Grouting tile

Only certain grouts are appropriate for submerged areas. Consider a high-performance, ready-to-use grout or an advanced-performance cementitious grout, that can be used in submerged areas for glass tile installation. Saltwater pools require a grout that can be fully submersible and has chemical resistance, such as an epoxy grout. Proper pool water chemistry is essential for the future condition of the tile and grout. Use an appropriate flexible caulk joint, in place of grout, for predetermined movement joints in the tile installation.

The 110,000 sq. ft. LEED®-Certified facility features large -format porcelain tile on its lobby floor, ceramic and porcelain tiles throughout the building, and porcelain mosaics in its pools, whirlpool and steam room. 

The 110,000 sq. ft. LEED®-Certified facility features large -format porcelain tile on its lobby floor, ceramic and porcelain tiles throughout the building, and porcelain mosaics in its pools, whirlpool and steam room.

6. Wait time

Advise your customer to refer to the grout and mortar manufacturer wait time before filling the pool with water to allow the tile grout and mortar to fully cure before use in submerged areas.

7. Maintaining tile

In general, glass mosaic tile is very low maintenance. It is naturally stain resistant, and the use of a high-quality grout will help the installation maintain its appearance. However, tile in even the cleanest pools will eventually accumulate calcium deposits and other residue.

Cleaning techniques will vary depending on the tile system and condition, but always do a small sample test area to determine the best procedure.

Regardless of the type of tile used, fun in the swimming pool begins with a successful tile installation. If you follow these simple steps and manufacturer instructions, your tile glass project will make a splash for a long time after your work is completed.


For this job, installer Fox Ceramic Tile used TEC® products to address each space’s unique demands, including time constraints and exposure to heat and harsh chemicals.

For this job, installer Fox Ceramic Tile used TEC® products to address each space’s unique demands, including time constraints and exposure to heat and harsh chemicals.

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®, ProSpec® and others – are available through an extensive network of distributors and dealers, as well as home improvement retailers. For more information, visit


Qualified Labor – July 2016

ql-01Mike McLawhorn: CTI credentials are confirmation of tile setter knowledge that money can’t buy

By Terryn Rutford, Social Structure Marketing

In 2009, during Mike McLawhorn’s 12 years as a self-employed tile setter, he became a Certified Tile Installer (CTI) in Charleston, SC. “I wanted to do everything I could to set myself apart from the thundering herd of setters,” McLawhorn said. And “I wanted to support our industry’s efforts to legitimize the tile setters that truly care about doing things right. I saw it as an opportunity to market my company as a company that was trustworthy and to possibly increase my profitability.”

1_CTI_20x20McLawhorn was certified as number 188 in the early days of the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF) CTI program. “In my opinion, [the test] must have been designed to fail the student that didn’t have time in the field and to reward the student that was experienced,” McLawhorn said. “If one didn’t think ahead, the hands-on tasks would lead to a dead end, and then there was no time to finish it, which would lead to failure.” The most valuable part of being a CTI, McLawhorn said, “is that no one can buy into [it]. Money or the absence thereof, simply is not a factor. Certification is a confirmation of a tile setter’s industry knowledge, hands-on expertise, and more importantly, time in the field with a trowel in one’s hand.”

McLawhorn described why certification is so important. “Decades ago, technology changes in the tile trade happened more slowly,” he said. “In today’s tile world, there are multiple tile companies and multiple setting material companies pumping out new technology nearly every quarter! In order to be considered a knowledgeable service provider, we must maintain a familiarity with the new technologies as they become available.”
Every year certification is becoming more valuable, he continued. Twenty years ago project specifications were generic and tile installers used techniques passed down over the years. Now, McLawhorn said, “officials are clearly stating techniques and methods to accommodate the newer tile trends, which call for more sophisticated installation systems. And finally, they are mandating/specifying the use of CTI tile crews to provide a better chance of a successful installation of their project.”

Certification has proved invaluable for McLawhorn. “I’ve been given the opportunity to utilize my CTI certification on multiple fronts,” McLawhorn said. “Obviously, I used the certification to promote my own business in the past. And, I continue to use my CTI certification in the corporate world for HB Fuller as a professional rep of TEC tile setting products. Nearly every day, my discussions with customers and other tile contractors are supported and validated by my certification.”

In addition to these opportunities, McLawhorn was also given the opportunity to help CTEF. “After my certification and due to my prior corporate experience, I was asked by Scott Carothers of CTEF to proctor a few examinations when he was unable to do so. It was an incredible opportunity to proctor an industry-accepted exam. Through the different fronts I’ve utilized my CTI, the certification has been the common denominator and continues to pay dividends for me, both tangible and intangible.”

Now, in his role at HB Fuller, McLawhorn said he still uses his certification. “There is no doubt that my CTI certification is an integral part of my reputation as a source of knowledge to my customer base. There is absolutely no level of corporate savvy that can replace the credibility that the certification gives me in the market place. The certification absolutely trumps any brand or corporate influence regarding my abilities as a rep.”

Certification is paramount to the industry. “We live in a world that allows mediocrity to self-destruct those who accept mediocrity,” McLawhorn said. But beyond the personal benefits of certification, McLawhorn said, “Our industry is changing annually and only the professional, progressive-minded applicators will benefit and grow.”

Member Spotlight – July 2016

This project entailed a curbless shower, with 6”x36” wood-look plank tile walls and floor with mirrored features on end walls. Electric floor warming was installed in the main floor, with a linear drain in the shower. Video

This project entailed a curbless shower, with 6”x36” wood-look plank tile walls and floor with mirrored features on end walls. Electric floor warming was installed in the main floor, with a linear drain in the shower. Video:

Elite Tile Company

Medford, Mass.
By Lesley Goddin


Sal DiBlasi of Elite Tile Company in Medford, Mass., is a one man show – no employees, no shop. DiBlasi said, “I worked for a couple of companies at the beginning. In 1989, I decided to start my own business and have been at it ever since. I can’t imagine working for anyone but myself.”

Though DiBlasi has a website, his real focus is his impressive YouTube channel: That’s where he uploads at least one video a week with varying themes. These include: how-tos, quick tips, product demonstrations and time lapse videos.

This bathroom featured Walker Zanger tile throughout, with linear drain. View one of several videos of this bathroom:

This bathroom featured Walker Zanger tile throughout, with linear drain. View one of several videos of this bathroom:

Di Blasi started uploading videos in 2006 but got serious with it a few years ago. “That is when I really started to see rapid growth of my channel,” he said. “I currently have over 550 videos online. Every video I make is linked to Facebook and Twitter.”


The bulk of DiBlasi’s work has evolved from commercial projects and a lot of new construction to tile in residential bathrooms, backsplashes, and floors. DiBlasi executes all the prep work with state-of-the-art materials or traditional shower systems when the situation calls for it, staying with a job until it is done.

“I will not rush to finish, and always concentrate on quality,” he said. “I no longer do rip outs; I am almost 59 years old and my shoulders are not in the best shape, so I have to be careful not to make them worse.”


The Lowell project involved all large-format tile with a linear drain, electric floor warming on the main floor and bench seat. One of several videos of this bathroom can be viewed at:

DiBlasi is one of the NTCA’s newest members. “To be frank, the main reason is because your people hounded me to join at Coverings this year,” he said. “I refused to join while I was there because I wanted to think about it and not be pressured into it. Once I returned home I gave it some serious thought and decided that it really is an organization worth being a part of. I still need to discover all the things you have to offer, but so far my interactions with all the people that make up the NTCA have been very positive.”

DiBlasi has 32 years of experience. Though he holds no industry-recognized certifications, he says, “I have always tried to learn the proper installation methods. Even after all these years of installing tile I still get an enormous satisfaction when I stand back and see the final result of my labors, especially the more difficult ones.”

Business Tip – July 2016

al_batesHarpooning the Whale, Part II: Changing the Profit Relationship by Working Customers Systematically

by Dr. Albert D. Bates, Profit Planning Group


Each year, Dr. Albert D. Bates, the president of the Profit Planning Group, prepares a Profit Improvement Report for CTDA.

What follows is part two of this report, which Bates has entitled “Harpooning the Whale.” In this section, Bates examines Changing the Profit Relationship – a discussion of how profitability can be enhanced by working with customers. Part one, which focused on Economics of Customers – an analysis of how customers break out into widely-varying profitability groupings – appeared in the January 2016 TileLetter Business Tip section. This installment picks up with the first chart, which illustrates the profit profile of tile distributors. The two-part series is provided by CTDA.

The typical CTDA member generates $500,000 in profit. For that firm, the customers fall into four categories based upon the profit they generate for the distributor. The A customers are the most profitable and the D customers are the least profitable – the money losers.

The relationship for customers and profit tends to be a little more dramatic when put into tabular form:

bus-01The fact that the typical firm loses $225,000 on slightly more than one-third of their customers is not an inconsequential issue. Potentially, dollar profit could be increased by 45% through concerted effort.

The immediate, knee-jerk, reaction is to just fire the D customers. In point of fact, this is an approach that some analysts support. It is an approach that should be avoided. Instead, it is essential to break the customer base into three target groups and work with them systematically.

Group One – A Customers: In the rush to focus on the money losers, there is a tendency to overlook the most profitable customers in the mix. It is actually more important to support the A accounts than it is to worry about the D ones.

No customer set buys all of their needs from one supplier. Anything that can be done to encourage A customers to purchase more has a direct and immediate impact on profitability. It is also a positive set of actions that everybody supports.

Group Two – The Down and Dirty Two Percent: Anecdotal evidence suggests that somewhere around 2% of all customers are not just unprofitable for the distributor, they are highly unprofitable. Even worse, they probably enjoy being unprofitable. These customers really should be fired.

Care must be exercised in the firing. Today’s fired customer may become tomorrow’s acquirer of one of the best A customers. The simplest approach is to simply let them fire themselves. This involves systematically moving them to a different, higher, category on the pricing schedule.

Group Three – The Mass of D Accounts: After the members of Group Two have been eliminated, there remains a massive number of accounts that still produce a gross margin that does not cover the cost to serve them. It is a lot of customers and requires a lot of work to correct the situation.

There may be some opportunity on the pricing side with these accounts. However, most of the effort must be devoted to the issue of the cost to serve. This inevitably gets back to the reality of too many small orders, too many emergency orders and too many returns.
The key is to get customers to plan ahead and ultimately place fewer orders. Alas, customers place the number of orders they want to place. Time and effort must be spent to educate customers about the cost savings on their side of the profitability equation if they were to order less frequently. It requires both an analytical effort and a sales effort. The profit impact, though, justifies the effort.

Moving Forward

A lot of firms are aware that some customers are unprofitable to them. What is needed is a more precise analysis of the nature of the challenge. Once the analysis is conducted that analysis must lead to action.

Dr. Albert D. Bates is founder and president of Profit Planning Group. His recent book, Breaking Down the Profit Barriers in Distribution is the basis for this report. It is a book every manager and key operating employee should read. It is available in trade-paper format from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

© 2015 Profit Planning Group. CTDA has unlimited duplication rights for this manuscript. Further, members may duplicate this report for their internal use in any way desired. Duplication by any other organization in any manner is strictly prohibited.

Ask the Experts – July 2016


I am trying to find out if tile can be installed over tile. I have a ranch house in Florida built in the late ’70s with an original slab floor and terrazzo. Ten or so years ago the then-owner installed 12” x 12” tiles over the terrazzo. We want a new tile floor but do not want to remove the current tile. I know it’s “all about that base,” and our current tile floors are solid as a ROCK, level, not a single hollow or loose spot anywhere. As a matter of fact, it is almost impossible to get this tile off! No contractor will lay tile over tile, but I have read many, many articles online – from contractors – that say it can be done. What do you say? Thank you!!!


Thank you for contacting the National Tile Contractors Association.

Cementitious terrazzo is really just a type of mortar bed that has been ground very smooth. The only problem with going over it is the terrazzo is usually highly finished or waxed, with multiple layers. This finish must be completely removed and the terrazzo re-ground to open up its pores before tile installation. When properly prepared with the right materials, it becomes an excellent substrate for a new tile surface.

A qualified tile contractor is the best person to determine whether your existing tile installation is well bonded to the terrazzo.


Twin City Tile Co. Ltd., of Kitchener, Ontario, was responsible for restoring the Registry Office of the Waterloo Region, which was constructed in 1938 and designated as a Heritage Landmark by the Historical Society. This included the original terrazzo floors, many of which consisted of nine cement colors and eight different colors of terrazzo chips of various sizes, with intricate geometric patterns and three different thicknesses of zinc and solid brass strips. Although you wouldn’t want to tile over a terrazzo floor of this quality and beauty, terrazzo CAN be an excellent substrate for tile, given the proper preparation by a qualified tile contractor.

Tile-over-tile is a method in the Tile Council of North America’s TCNA Handbook for Ceramic, Glass and Stone Tile Installation, providing the bottom layer of tile is well bonded and properly prepared to accept the bonding materials for the new layer of tile. This can be done by scarifying or grinding the surface of the existing tile and/or by applying an appropriate primer that will allow the new setting material to achieve a proper bond. Grinding the surface of existing tile can create a lot of dust and may release potentially hazardous particles into the air from the materials used in the glaze. It is best to have this work performed by a certified, experienced professional installer. Such an installer will also be familiar with the primers and setting materials that will work best for this type of installation.

A well-experienced, qualified, certified tile installer/contractor will know and understand the methods detailed in the TCNA Handbook and will be able to examine your existing installation and determine the best approach for the new tile. Look for a contractor who is a CTEF Certified Tile Installer and a member of the National Tile Contractors Association. I have included links below to help you find one near you. A contractor who is a member of the NTCA has a direct connection to us for any technical advice and support if needed.

If this is an above-ground construction or on a wood frame subfloor, consideration must be made to support the weight of the new tile installation. A qualified tile contractor can assist with this, but an additional contractor or engineering assessment may be required. Floor-height transitions to other areas must also be considered. The contractor you eventually hire should discuss this with you.

To locate an NTCA member contractor:

To locate a Certified Tile Installer:

I hope this helps!

Mark Heinlein
NTCA Technical Trainer/Presenter

President’s Letter – July 2016

JWoelfel_headshotWhat is wrong with our thinking?

A few months ago, I wrote a letter about saying no. I received a lot of positive feedback. Since then I have been getting a lot of communications that deal with tile installers accepting a job and then when their scope review is being done, realizing they have a problem or that the job is a lot more complicated than they previously thought. Or they visited the job site and the existing conditions prevent them from installing the tile either by industry standards or by manufacturer proprietary systems.

This becomes the moment of truth. We all have egos and the belief that our abilities can solve problems, but I am telling you right now: our abilities can only go so far. Our egos must be kept in check by reality. I have fallen into this trap more than once, and usually I have lost money on that particular job. After the job was completed I stepped back and thought to myself, “What was I thinking?” Obviously, I was NOT thinking.

In the past six months we have turned down work, some even when the owner said “Money is no object.” Wow, does that hurt – or does it? We, as installers, seem to have a mindset that if we turn a job down we just passed up a huge payday, or we will be labeled as hard to get along with or to stubborn to work with.

Buck Collins, a Five Star Contractor out of Northern Virginia, said it the best. He asked me, “Do you know how long it took me to get my reputation as the tile guy that does great work? A long time. Do you know how fast I can lose that reputation? One bad job.”

That reality smacks you in the face. We have to learn a new mindset, one that says it’s OK to turn down work, especially if the thought of a failure enters our heads. Sure, it’s easy for me to say it’s a business decision. I say this all the time, even though I understand that no work doesn’t pay the bills or put food on the table. But I also have been around long enough to know that there will always be a new job to bid that does not put my livelihood at risk.

Tile installers/contractors need to think with a little less ego and a lot more common sense. Our intuition is usually right. If you get in that room or on that job site before you sign that contract, empower yourself to be able to say, “I don’t think we can do this job the way it sits right now.” You need the proper substrate and materials to do the job correctly and you need to be able to express this in an intelligent way. If you can’t, then you need to have the ability to say this isn’t the job you want, or that you’ll take.

I know I am rehashing the point I made a few months ago, but based on the calls and emails I am receiving, it needs to be addressed again.

James Woelfel,
President NTCA,

Editor’s Letter – July 2016

Lesley psf head shot“Learning is the only thing the mind never exhausts, never fears, never regrets.”
– Leonardo Da Vinci



On June 8, I attended a Continuing Education Program, held in Albuquerque, NM, and organized by NTCA State Director Karl Parker and a group of manufacturers. This is a follow up to the first Continuing Education Program that Parker organized, and took place in March and focused on uncoupling. If you missed the write-up, you’ll find a review in the Coverings TileLetter issue.

Yesterday’s eight-hour session focused on waterproofing. Though it was a little more sparsely attended than the March event, I can assure you that those who invested the time came away with a tremendous wealth of knowledge, and opportunity to meet manufacturer reps up close and personal. We also learned about the Construction Industry Division (CID), State of NM developments in re-instituting certification and licensing requirements for tile contractors (after the GS03 license was recently dropped). Representatives of the CID attended to learn about what our trade actually does – and why we contend that a plumber is not able to do a tilesetter’s job of installing showers and pans. More than once they expressed how detailed and precise our trade is and what it involves. Parker himself explained that a test is in development, with support of NTCA and local manufacturing reps, for the “license to prove general knowledge and two years minimum as the lead setter.” There will also be meetings to explore moving installation of the pan, water testing, and backer boards to the setter’s license, versus the plumbing license.

NTCA NM State Director Karl Parker organized this second NM Continuing Education Program on the topic of waterproofing. Eleven manufacturers participated in the program,  with presentations and live demos of waterproofing products and systems.

NTCA NM State Director Karl Parker organized this second NM Continuing Education Program on the topic of waterproofing. Eleven manufacturers participated in the program,  with presentations and live demos of waterproofing products and systems.

Participating manufacturers, who gave short PowerPoint presentations followed by live demos of products, included MAPEI, USG, CUSTOM, Noble, wedi, Schluter, TEC, Blanke, ARDEX, Bostik, and LATICRETE. The demos were outstanding. With each demo, I thought, “Now THAT is a foolproof method…” and then with each NEW demo, I learned more and more about the features and benefits that each product provides.

Bottom line – in this 21st century, be assured that there are 21st century, high-tech products that have been engineered to make your life as a tile installer easier – and to ensure the end-user will have a problem-free shower. From warranted products, to system warranties that go from 5 to 10 years to the life of the installation, to those that not only cover the tile, setting materials and labor in the rare event of a failure, but that will also cover any DAMAGE resulting from that failure. These are phenomenal products. I was blown away by the level of research and development that goes into each and every one of them and the reps who are supremely versed in the needs of this industry and how their particular product can offer advantages and benefits.

As Schluter’s Tim Whittington said, “Every one of these products is phenomenal, if you do it correctly.” Every one of these products are great products, if you use them right. And there is a ton of choice from fabric membranes to liquid trowel-on membranes to closed cell, cement-covered foam shower system components.

There are a couple of rules of thumb. As Tim Ellison of ARDEX emphasized, “READ THE BAG.” His talked centered on knowing the product and asking the manufacturer for clarification or help if you have a question – they are only too happy to send a rep to work with you to be sure your installation is problem free from the get go. If only every industry (hello, computer industry!!!!) supplied the level of support these manufacturers do.

JT Baca (l.) and Pat McMurray from the NM Construction Industries Division, Regulation and Licensing Department, were on hand to update the group about measures to reestablish the NM tile setter license and learning more about the trade, what it does, and its products.

JT Baca (l.) and Pat McMurray from the NM Construction Industries Division, Regulation and Licensing Department, were on hand to update the group about measures to reestablish the NM tile setter license and learning more about the trade, what it does, and its products.

Also, if you are an NTCA Member, take advantage of your Partnering for Success vouchers to try a new system and see how that works for the kind of jobs you do.
As editor of this publication and a faithful attendee at industry events like Coverings, Total Solutions Plus and TISE West, I am aware of the vast offerings for different product categories in this industry. But it was really interesting to see the light come on for contractors who had never heard of, or been exposed, to a particular setting material company’s products as they learned about the possibilities these products held on their jobs.

Kudos to all the manufacturers who willingly played together in the same arena, revealing their products in an open forum. And also to all the competing contracting companies in the same market who came together to learn and grow and better the industry with their knowledge. And of course, thanks to Karl Parker, whose passion and intense dedication to this industry inspired him to develop this continuing education series. Next on tap? It could be grout…stay tuned for more information.

God bless,

[email protected]

July 2016 Feature: The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace


Base of the fountain looking up to the third tier.

Known as “The Shopping Wonder of the World,” The Forum Shops are a must-see, all-encompassing experience at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nev. The Forum Shops include approximately 160 specialty stores, fine restaurants, beautiful attractions and some of the Strip’s most stunning architecture and design. The exterior is based on the Italian Palazzo, and like the original, it has Corinthian columns, balustrades, entablatures and cornices. Also featured is a scale replica of the Italian Trevi Fountain and Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s Triton Fountain. The interior contains striking architectural details designed to evoke the magnificence and grandeur of a marketplace at the height of the Roman Empire. Entering through the hall’s grand archway, visitors and are greeted by rows of marble columns, natural stone, storefronts crowned with statues of Roman gods, philosophers, military heroes and some of the most majestic fountains you’ll ever see.

Top two tiers of the fountain in The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nev.

Top two tiers of the fountain in The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nev.

Unlike Roman times, these beautiful architectural feats do not take decades to complete. Casinos are constantly remodeling, revising and updating and because they are open for business 24 hours a day, seven days a week, these projects present logistical challenges. Imagine recreating magnificent fountains and remodeling the front entrance and lobby of one of the busiest hotels in the world, never closing the doors, and never disrupting a customer. This was Superior Tile and Stone’s challenge, and its success, on the Caesars Remodel project.


San Leandro, Calif.-based, Superior Tile and Stone – an NTCA Five Star Contractor and TCAA Trowel of Excellence-certified company – is known for its interior and exterior tile, marble and natural stone expertise. That’s why it was responsible for the complex tile, stone and fountain renovations. The casino renovation project included over 12,000 sq. ft. of cut-to-size pattern flooring, seven different custom-designed medallions, 30 radius steps, numerous marble columns and stone countertops. Work typically began in the early morning hours around 3:00 a.m. and finished for the day about eight hours later. When they were off the job, it was not apparent that construction was proceeding at all and this portion of the project was completed in less than six weeks.

The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace feature a scale replica of the Italian Trevi Fountain and Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s Triton Fountain.

The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace feature a scale replica of the Italian Trevi Fountain and Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s Triton Fountain.

Fountain installation flows ahead

Over in The Forum Shops, work began in fall 2014 for an impressive multi-level, three-tiered fountain that is one of the key focal points of the facility. Designed in part by Water FX, based in Las Vegas, Nev., this fountain presented many logistical challenges to develop and install. What began as a hand-drawn sketch transformed into a complete functional design that ensured that the fountain would not leak or spray excess water into the path of the shops’ visitors and would also ensure there was not water intrusion between each level of the mall.

Water features using shotcrete applications, such as this one, need to be waterproofed in some way or it is certain that water will find a way to escape. Typically, concrete applied by experts at high levels of compressive strength should not leak; however, when you consider all of the various penetrations, such as water intake and return lines, nozzles, lighting fixtures and other components, the challenge of keeping water where you want it becomes a larger concern. Therefore, the concrete fountains had to be sealed with a trusted waterproofing membrane – enter Merkrete BFP: a waterproofing membrane system is used for severe exposures and high- traffic installations. Durable and long lasting, this membrane system is designed especially for heavy-duty applications and is installed in a semi-fluid state so it can be applied to practically any form or irregular shape. BFP waterproofing membrane was used as another layer of protection by sealing all voids created by the light fixtures, water nozzles and other chasms associated with operation of the fountain. Tile in the fountain was set and grouted using a single product, Merkrete’s Pro Epoxy. Pro Epoxy produces a high strength that is stain resistant, impermeable, and shock resistant, and provides color to blend in with the natural hues of running water.

Spectacular view looking down from the top of the fountain.

Spectacular view looking down from the top of the fountain.

Streaming to the finished product

From the top of the fountain streaming down three levels to the base, this extremely challenging project pushed the Superior Tile and Stone team to its limits. Staying true to the Roman Empire architectural look, Superior installed over 5,000 sq. ft. of natural stone, particularly travertine, marble and limestone. Using Merkrete BFP as the waterproofing membrane, various natural stone and marble were set using Merkrete 855 XXL. This provided Superior the ease to set both large and heavy tile and natural stone on both floors and walls. Many of the vertical applications required installing the natural stone around curves to accommodate the water basins, which added more complexity to the project.

“The non-slip feature of Merkrete’s 855 XXL held the vertical tiles in place, allowing us to move along much quicker,” said Superior’s general superintendent Tim Robinson. “The tile size, weight and radius around the fountains made for some tedious work, but 855 XXL held the tile in place, easing the process along.”

A combination of Merkrete grout products was used to finish off the installation. Pro Epoxy was employed in and around the water features, and ProGrout was applied on the remaining floors and walls.

Lower tier of the fountain featuring travertine installed with Merkrete 855 XXL and ProGrout.

Lower tier of the fountain featuring travertine installed with Merkrete 855 XXL and ProGrout.

“ProGrout is designed to resist stains and will not effloresce, making it the right choice in and around water,” said Clint Anna, Merkrete national sales manager. “It also is fast setting so that helps the speed of the installation.”

The stunning fountain and surrounding stone and marble architectural elements were completed and unveiled to the public in April 2015. “The beautiful three-tiered fountain was a cool and challenging job,” said Merkrete sales representative Ray Hunt. “And partnering with a great tile contractor, general contractor [The PENTA Building Group, Las Vegas, Nev.] and project designers led to a satisfying and successful finished project.”


June 2016: New Products – Coverings Edition

Yes, every single one of these products on the following pages was on display at the Coverings show. Many miles were walked on the show floor, by NTCA staff, so you didn’t have to. But, we couldn’t be everywhere. Did you see something at Coverings that blew you away with its beauty or functionality or ability to improve your business? Send a photo and a short blurb complete with website, and we’ll print it in an upcoming issue.
– Lesley Goddin, [email protected]


At ABK, the Italian manufacturer showed Aspen, a wood/stone look (pictured) and Now, a stone look in formats with soft, pillowed edges.

Adex USA showed The Blue Ocean collection. The company offers beautiful decorative tile in subway,  arabesque, teardrop and pillow formats in gentle neutrals and classic black and white.

Alcalagres is offering the same pattern in different thickness tiles to allow interior and exterior installation of the same design for a cohesive indoor/outdoor look.

At Aparici, Carpet (pictured) is inspired by an 18th century Belgian carpet; Aged is a 8” x 8” scrollwork design reminiscent of ancient tin or metalwork; and a 10” x 13” textured wall tile uses real silver particles to create its metallic glimmer.

Avenue Mosaic, a five-year old company based in New York, with a Cleveland warehouse, features the design genius of Michael Golden (pictured with his Aloha mosaic) to develop unique and high-end products for other brand distribution. Current distributors of Golden’s designs are Crossville and New Ravenna. Avenue Mosaics is now partnering with Dune, a Spanish Tile manufacturer, to help develop products to bring to market at the right price. Golden specializes in “multisaics” that allow the creation of a range of patterns using only one or two mosaic shapes.

Cerdomus showed Mowa, an aged wood-look line. Customers can order a box of mixed tones within strong, cold, honey, hot, white, walnut and soft palettes from this Italian factory.

Colorker’s Aqua Luna offers a marble aesthetic with a richly scrolled, textured and three dimensional deco.

At a show punctuated by neutrals, white, grey and black, Crossville showed its porcelain Color by Numbers line (pictured), a fresh pop of color. It also offered Satori, a large, thin tile in the Laminam by Crossville line and Oceanaire, a neutral porcelain that reflected the tranquil movement and color of ocean sands.

Emil launched Brick Design Paint, which corresponds to 90 Pantone colors in a painted brick aesthetic.

Equipe showed Magical 3, a line of hexagon shapes in black matte, metallic and a mother of pearl sheen.

Fanal displayed this Jazz Stone deco as part of the Albi line. This deco has a pleasing, subtle texture.

Fioranese took a new twist on the wood look, with a bleached, weathered approach in the porcelain Dekap.

Firenze, a Porcelanite/Lamosa brand, showed Oxide with aged, weathered, oxidized effect and realistic metallic texture.

Florida Tile debuted Span in 12” x 24” and 24” x 24” formats, rectified in four colors, inspired by Belgian Bluestone. Two finishes are available for indoors and two for outdoors; two mosaics complete the package, which also features Microban.

Inalco showed its Calacatta Statuario porcelain slab in Satin finish porcelain slab in satin finish to illustrate the countertop/sink use of the heat-resistant, stain-resistant,  low maintenance material. It’s available in 5’ x 10’ with a new 40” x 8’ size for smaller spaces and floor formats as well. Thicknesses are 1/2” for counters, 6mm for walls and 10mm for floors.

Interceramic offers production in Mexico and a wall tile plant /company headquarters in Garland, Texas, producing high – density ceramic tile for residential use, similar in performance to porcelain, but at a value price. Shown is Burano, a vein-cut travertine look with Victorian mosaic (Interceramic manufactures its own mosaics) and the special Lumen FX, which adds a subtle glimmer along the vein lines for a luxurious effect.

At La Fabbrica, the large slab AVA line of Italian-made porcelain showed book-matched Breccia graphics in a polished finish for an extremely authentic look.

La Faenza, a brand from the Italian Imola Cooperative, has tribal and metallic decos for its Nirvana wood-look line, a fresh approach to lumber plank styling.

Landmark USA is a new brand from the Atlas Concorde Group with domestic production in Tennessee starting at the end of June. Its products are 100% porcelain, rectified, one caliber and one thickness. Shown is Attitude, an encaustic cement look.

Lunada Bay showed a new concrete line at Coverings, a result of a new plant in Oceanside, Calif. This 8” thick, strong,  satin-textured concrete pairs easily with many standard tiles. Here Contours Trifecta concrete pairs with Tozen Glow glass that uses real gold and silver leaf to give the glass a metallic shimmer.

Marazzi debuted the stunning Luminescence glass mosaic in eight pearlized colors. Available as 3” x 4” rectangles on 9” x 12” mesh mount, the surface is flat, but a concave bezel and hand-applied glaze creates a three-dimensional look. Back-buttering with white thinset fills in the bezel; glass grout enhances the final, high-end look.

At Mirage, Wooow is a carpet-effect tile that is being produced in the company’s Tennessee factory. It comes in 4 colors in 12” x 24” and 24” x 24” formats, with a nubby, woven carpet look.

Ornamenta showed the fabric-inspired Tartan line.

Peronda exhibited the Fashion Lab collaboration with architects, artists, photographers and other creative geniuses, which yields support for the artists and their projects from Peronda and fresh new ideas in tile design for the Spanish producer. Shown is Bowl, which offers a simple shape to create many patterns.

Ragno rolled out Bellacrete, an aged concrete look in glazed porcelain tile, with a fresco-style finish, in three colors.

At Rocersa, Ker Flex allows some flexibility in the 20 cm x 170 cm plank. This allows an installation offset of up to 50% due to the flexibility of the plank.

Saloni’s Marmaria 3D wall tile shows three dimensional, tactile effects for walls.

StonePeak Ceramics offered Blende porcelain with a pleasing hatched texture. StonePeak is an Iris brand with production in Tennessee.

Target Studio’s Unica line showed this colorful, novel take on the brick format.

Venus produces glazed porcelain wall and floor tile. Pictured is Petreas in Gobi Grey.

Vitromex brings color, texture and a variety of sizes to a subway tile format in its Brooklyn line.

Wonder Porcelain, located in Lebanon, Tennessee, has Michael Kephart as president, with Laurie Lyza running marketing. Several beautiful lines were on display, including Ancient Wood, Arcadia and Fabric Folio.


Antolini Luigi dazzled with its Precioustone collection of gorgeous natural stones cut so slim they could be illuminated from behind – like this natural agate, pictured. Also on display was the Haute Nature collection of original jewelry from the Lady A collection – designed by Alina Antolini and handmade in Italy from stones in Antolini’s Precioustone collection.

Creative Edge Master Shop displayed new luxury gemstones: Bolivian Sodalite, Honeycomb Onyx, Nephrite Jade and Lapis Lazuli.

Gereme A. S. from Izmir, Turkey, showed amazing treatment of natural stone to achieve a range of unique effects. All stones are treated to never need sealing. Offered in the U.S. through Arch Design Tile & Stone.

Soci’s silver concave herringbone in Turkish travertine was just one of the many natural stone and tile offerings the company had at the show. The company prides itself on offering fantastic design at affordable prices. Beautiful product is sourced from Spain, China, Turkey and Peru.

Setting materials

ARDEX Flexbone high-performance uncoupling systems are German engineered. ARDEX UI 720 Flexbone floating uncoupling membrane (pictured) offers 100% true uncoupling and is perfect for frequently changed floors; ARDEX UI 740 Flexbone uncoupling membrane has maximum shear and tensile bond strengths, vapor pressure equalization and topside waterproofing.

Custom Building Products introduced Speed Slope, a rapid-setting, sloping mortar for prefabricated showers and those installers who prefer mud bed work for showers. Speed Slope cures in 45 minutes – installers can put mud down, waterproof and flood test the same day.

LATICRETE Tri-Lite mortar is the creamiest formulation the company has produced. The mortar can be used as a thinset, a LHT mortar that can be built to 3/4”, and is nonsag and nonslump. Made of a proprietary lightweight aggregate, it has a four-hour open time, designed for super large tile.

MAPEI premiered rapid-setting Ultracolor® Plus FA.The fine aggregate makes it an all-in-one grout replacement for both sanded and unsanded grout, filling joints that range from 1/16” to 3/4”. MAPEI’s High-Hydrated Cement Technology (HCT™) eliminates common problems related to Portland-cement grout, such as color consistency and efflorescence and DropEffect™ technology reduces surface absorption to help repel water, dirt and grime. Made with 10% recycled content; Green Squared Certified.


IQ Power Tools vice president of research development and production, Paul Guth, demonstrating the iQTS244 – the world’s first dry-cut tile saw with integrated dust control.

Miracle’s Levolution tile leveling system requires only one clip per corner, speeding and facilitating tile installation and tuning. Each clip incorporates an easy-to-use spacer, which comes in three sizes. The cap makes it easy to see the tile below, allowing precision tuning with a tensioning gun. Once tile is set, the spacer is cleanly and simply removed and the cap can be reused.

Profilitec offers a wide range of profiles products and the Leveltec, unique lippage control system that features a one-handed, one-click operation.

RTC Products debuted the Spin Doctor lippage control system, which enables the tile setter to spin down the cap – one handed – for precise leveling adjustment. Unique breakaway 1/16” and 1/8” spacer posts can be reused with a transparent anti-friction shield and easy-visibility cap. Breakaway posts can even be used as spacers or wall shims.

TileRedi: Farrell Gerber, executive vice president of TileRedi, displaying latest Niche Display available for retailers, wholesalers and showrooms.

Wedi: The Sanoasa Bench kit includes everything needed to create a beautiful shower bench at 35” and 47” wide: the base top which can be used as a curved or flat front,  side panels, sealant and mesh.

1 24 25 26 27 28 33