Tile offers many benefits and enduring beauty

Tile offers so many benefits – durability, low-maintenance, sustainability – and enduring beauty. I am excited in this issue to bring you several stories that present this unique artistry that tile offers. 

First up is our Decorative Tile feature that explores two 2019 Coverings Installation Design Awards winners – Andru Eron and NY Tilemakers, along with Trish Metzner from Made in Mosaics. Both artists were recognized for their stunning work on two very different murals that convey the complexity, precision and beauty involved in tile mural work.

Next is our Tech Talk story, which looks at the practice of scribing. Scribing in river rock pebbles to a field tile or crafting a “rug” or mural of uniquely shaped tile to enhance an entryway or shower is another way ace tile installers are able to demonstrate the artistry and craftsmanship at the heart of the tile trade – and in a way that delights clients with a completely custom installation.

Are you interested in bringing recruits into this fantastic trade? If so, please check out the NTCA University Update that details a pair of recruitment flyers designed to educate those new to the field about what’s involved in being a tile setter and offers information on additional career paths for a journeyman tile setter.

Another training-related story is a contribution from the new CTEF Industry Liaison and Promotions Director, Heidi Cronin, addressing the role CTEF’s Certified Tile Installer program plays in increasing qualified labor in the industry. And NTCA President Chris Walker takes a closer look at the benefits offered by the national NTCA Apprentice Guide-lines Program, recently approved by the Department of Labor. 

Issues like this fill me with pride in our industry and the way technical excellence, craftsmanship and pure artistry combine to create unforgettable projects and signature solutions for walls, floors, exteriors, pools – you name it. It also makes my heart swell to see how the industry comes together to offer training, support and encouragement for those looking for a satisfying career. 

Be well! God bless!

TileLetter Green issue discusses eco-centric issues in the tile industry

Welcome to the Green Issue of TileLetter! Each year, we take a look at some eco-centric issues that impact the tile industry in our August issue. In this issue, TCNA staff examines the revision process of OSHA’s Table 1, as it relates to the Respirable Silica Rule. We also feature a Letter to the Editor from James Woelfel that takes a different perspective on the feasibility of OSHA regulations in protecting worker health. 

Terri Hogan Dreyer, managing partner/principal, NANO Architecture|Interiors, discusses how natural materials like tile and stone are foundations for her firm’s quality control process. TCNA’s Bill Griese tours us through the latest version of LEED – LEED v 4.1 – that generates more achievable objectives that build on expanded product life cycle considerations and are favorable for tile. 

Our Training and Education feature explores the recently DOL-approved NTCA National Apprenticeship Guidelines for members, which provides a career road map in the tile trade, explaining the process of developing this program and how this will benefit members and the entire trade. NTCA’s Becky Serbin takes it a step further in the NTCA University Update, describing how the establishment of the apprenticeship program will mandate more course development to support the finisher and setter tracks. 

We meet Jake Swoboda in our Member Spotlight, one of the younger members of the industry, and learn how he is carving a path to tile setting success, based on familial training from his uncle, and augmented by his CTI credentials and membership in NTCA. 

In this issue, we also bid a sad farewell to a beloved member of the tile industry and all-around nice guy, Steve Rausch. Though he will be deeply missed, all of us who knew and worked with him are richer for having known him. His sudden passing reminds me to let people who are important to me know I appreciate them – personally or professionally. Maybe there’s an opportunity for you to do the same in the coming month. 

God bless,
Lesley

TileLetter’s midsummer issue brings lots of great articles

There are lots of great articles in this midsummer issue of TileLetter, from our cover case study by Merkrete of the renovation of the Naples Fire-Rescue Station, to the timeline by Schluter’s Dale Kempster about uncoupling methods making it into the TCNA Handbook and upcoming uncoupling standard, to Donato Grosser’s exploration of the industry from an independent distributor point of view, to the happy tale about NTCA Five-Star Contractor Rod Owen’s involvement in the community and how bringing information about the tile trade to high schools has paid off in terms of his own hires. Not to be missed is the Member Spotlight on Carl “The Flash” Leonard, NTCA Education and Curriculum Director Becky Serbin’s piece on the value of NTCA’s Regional Training Events and the preview of our next big industry event – just three months away – Total Solutions Plus, this year scheduled for Nashville, Tenn. 

But I also want to highlight a couple of especially compelling pieces that are on the pulse of what is happening in our industry right now. One is our news blurb about the May 23, 2019 Department of Labor acceptance of the NTCA National Guidelines for Apprenticeship. This is a huge step forward for our industry (with hats off to the tireless efforts of Becky Serbin in bringing this to fruition). The NTCA Apprenticeship Guidelines Program combines field experience with online learning and designated classroom training. It’s designed to provide members an opportunity to attract new skilled labor into the ceramic tile industry. The program will offer guidance to NTCA members in developing their own tile finishers’ and tile setters’ apprenticeship programs. You’ll learn more about this in our August issue, but it’s vital news that needs to be on your radar screen now.

The other piece is by NTCA President Chris Walker, who has his finger on the pulse of the industry with his perspective on tariffs on tile from China and the anti-dumping/anti-subsidy investigation by the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC). What are the pros and cons of these actions and how will they affect our industry down the road? Read this important letter and stay tuned in future issues of TileLetter for more information about how these developments will impact the tile industry and how different sectors of the industry are coping with them. 

Got thoughts or comments to share about these or any other topics? Shoot me an email and let me know your perspective. 

God bless,
Lesley
[email protected]

There are advantages to learning a trade

CREDIT: MOVIESTORE/REX/SHUTTERSTOCK

“One of the things that I find distressing about life today is that people don’t really seem to enjoy their work anymore. When I was growing up on Walton’s Mountain, my father and my grandfather loved their work and they instilled a respect for work in each of us. But I recall one time when my brother Jason had to make a choice, a choice that was difficult for him, but even more difficult for my father.”

– John-Boy Walton, reading from his journal


The last few months, after a long day at work, I’ve been relaxing with TV. Not network TV, mind you, or cable or political commentary, but with a warm and wholesome television show that those who grew up in the ’70s will remember: The Waltons. This nine-season semi-autobiographical series created by Earl Hamner is about John and Olivia Walton in 1930-40s Virginia, making a living during the Depression and World War II, with seven children and Grandma and Grandpa Walton sharing their home. 

It just so happens that John Walton and his father Zebulon operate a sawmill on their property. This mill keeps them afloat during the Depression though money is tight. As the Depression draws to a close, the family expands the business into crafting fine furniture.

In an episode called “The Choice,” John Walton’s second oldest, Jason, must choose between accepting a scholarship to attend the conservatory and become a musician or learning the family’s trade. John, Sr., is scripted to usually be very accepting of his children’s decisions, such as supporting his eldest son John-Boy’s decision to attend college in pursuit of his passion of becoming a writer. But in this episode, he is staunch about the importance of Jason learning a trade to be able to eventually take care of a family and put food on the table as he’s been able to do even in this economic crunch. He makes a strong case for the necessity of learning a trade and how it is something you carry with you for the rest of your life. This very old show brought to mind the very contemporary reality that young people face today – what path will give you a good living? What career will support your future? What can’t be outsourced? And what will fill you with pride each day? Jason hedges his bets by choosing the conservatory – AND studying his family trade (It’s a television show, after all!). 

Another thing this show brings to mind is OSHA (not formed until 1971) and the incredible risks everyone working at the Depression-era mill takes. Though they wear heavy gloves to push trees through the saw to make lumber, there are no self-adjusting guards, no eye protection, no kickback protections. I cringe whenever I watch them, just waiting for disaster to strike. So far, by season five, no one has lost an eye or finger, but I’ll bet in real life, those in the lumber business back then had lots of accidents. I think of today’s brilliant advances in automated tile equipment, and eye and ear protection and the regulations, equipment refinements and improvements in setting-material formulas that help tile installers avoid the ravages of silicosis. (In a stroke of synchronicity, Will Geer, who plays Grandpa Zebulon Walton, narrated a short 1940 documentary called Men and Dust, about miners and silicosis!) Why not take advantage of safeguards available today to protect your hands, eyes, ears, and lungs? Replacements are VERY expensive – and not always possible.

What this meandering letter is about is this: the solid advantages afforded by a trade cannot be overlooked. This show illustrated the point by travelers who came through Walton’s Mountain who lost their white collar jobs when the Depression hit, but the Waltons were able to maintain a modest living by virtue of a trade. Now, anyone in the trade doesn’t need a 1970s TV show to tell them about the advantages of a trade, but it is a poignant reminder. 

God bless,
Lesley
[email protected]

BEING a tile setter and encouraging others to enter the trade is a patriotic act

“Patriotism for me is when people put their ideas into the work. Your love for your country is only in your work.” – Sudhir Mishra


I don’t usually get on my soapbox about patriotism (unless you are a follower of mine on my personal Facebook account), but I am going to take this opportunity to tell you that BEING a tile setter and encouraging others to enter the trade is a patriotic act.

Why is that, you may ask? Because in this world of outsourcing, sending jobs overseas, prefab construction, pre-packaged food, and automation, there is a decreasing pool of employment opportunities that can’t be done by someone else, located somewhere else, likely earning a fraction of what the job is worth in U.S. dollars. Hands-on trades are some of the last bastions of craftworkers who need to be PRESENT, on the job, in person, with eyes, minds, and hands engaged with creating a beautiful, long-lasting, well-performing installation of ceramic or natural stone tile.

When you engage in your profession as a tile contractor, you are literally building the country, and contributing to the physical real estate of your region. You are interacting with real humans, face to face, not just online in email or social media. You represent a skill, a company, a profession – all of which are things to be proud of. Your job cannot be outsourced. There’s no way a machine can come in and assess the need for a flat, level floor, notice bond breakers that need to be removed on a substrate, select the right mortar and grout for the job and then install all the parts and pieces with artistry and excellence. Of course, you use machinery and tools on the jobsite, but they take your expertise and prowess to wield positive results.

Are you interested in helping the country grow? Then talk to younger generations about your trade. Share what knocks your socks off about it with them – what excites you, inspires you, what makes you stand back from your work with a sense of pride and satisfaction – as well as how it helps you put food on your table and attain a good living. Talk to your children, and their friends, or classes in local high schools or those in your faith community – ignite in them the excitement that in many cases, they can earn while they learn and have a skill that can never be taken from them. And they are NEEDED! One of the largest barriers to construction – of literally building the country – is the fact that there aren’t enough skilled craftspeople to do the work! You’re doing your part AS a tile setter – try to encourage or recruit at least three more installers into the field: one to replace you when you retire and two more to expand the trade. Bring interested youth to a NTCA workshop or other educational opportunity, and give them the chance to let the light go on as they start pondering the possibilities the trade offers (without incurring the crushing debt that college often does). 

If you value being heard, get involved in the industry, specifically NTCA, which is known as “The Voice of the Contractor.” Through NTCA, members are engaging with manufacturers and distributors as well as A&D professionals and general contractors to help elevate the profession, find solutions to on-the-job problems, refine setting materials and tools to make jobs easier and better performing, and share their knowledge so that sound specs are written from the get-go. You will have an impact; you will be actively working to make things better, not just in your trade but as a ripple effect to the country at large! Be proud of what you do and how you contribute to the wellbeing and strength of the nation! You are a patriot!

God bless,
Lesley
[email protected]

Coming to the 30th edition of Coverings

Coming soon to the Orange County Convention Center is the 30th edition of Coverings! That’s right, this year Coverings ’19 returns to Orlando bigger and better than ever. It’s your chance to prepare and take advantage of the astounding and abundant opportunities for education, inspiration and networking that make up the heart of the Coverings expo. 

To get ready and view an overview and floor plan of the show floor, schedule of events and Conference Session, awards and other aspects of the show, go to www.coverings.com.

This issue gives you a sampling of upcoming events planned by Coverings show owners – Ceramics of Italy, Tile of Spain, Tile Council of North America, the Ceramic Tile Distributors Association, and the National Tile Contractors Association. Take a look at highlighted educational sessions and demos pertinent to your visit as well as lists of exhibitors who have the products that you seek.

While you’re searching for products, read this issue’s Tech Talk section, which surveys tile contractors for the tools most important to their businesses. It might give you some ideas of items to search for at Coverings, to improve your comfort, production speed, precision or overall efficiency.

Installers weigh in again in our Business Tip, with information of how THEY navigate the Coverings show. If you’ve never attended – and even if you’re a regular – you can pick up some pointers about making the most of the experience and arranging your time to mine the show for inspiration gold! Becky Serbin’s NTCA University Update also gives you some tips for planning your conference strategy in Orlando.

Contractors, be sure to read the NTCA section and the list of demonstrations planned for the TCNA Installation Demonstration stage, including a visit to the new Installation & Design Experience. Every year NTCA works to develop a fuller, richer and more educational experience for its members and visiting contractors and installers at the show and this year is no exception, with education, demos, tours, installed vignettes illustrating the collaboration between designers and qualified labor, refreshments, networking opportunities and even the chance to win prizes all on the roster. Booth #3538 is your go-to location for all things installation, with a satellite NTCA desk in booth #3219 staffed with representatives to answer your questions about membership and the association.

I always enjoy feedback on the show and what you found valuable, so please drop me a line at [email protected] and share your thoughts! Looking forward to seeing you in Orlando!

God bless!

Lesley
[email protected]

NTCA prepares for Training Experience, National Tile Day

“Bourne concentrated on rest and mobility. From somewhere in his forgotten past he understood that recovery depended upon both and he applied rigid discipline to both.”
The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum


Though 2019 got started last month, the impact of some programs and events aren’t really being felt until now. Hopefully by the time you receive this magazine, you will be either at TISE or have recently returned, armed with new industry contacts, and inspired by new product ideas and information gleaned from conference sessions to power you through ’til Coverings!

NTCA has a new configuration of training opportunities for 2019. Over 100 free NTCA Workshops will still be coming to a location near you for three evening hours of camaraderie, good eats, industry information on standards and avoiding failures while offering hands-on demonstrations of new materials and methods. But in 2019, NTCA will visit select cities for a week-long “NTCA Training Experience” that combines a traditional NTCA Workshop open and free to all interested industry professionals, a free regional training event available to NTCA members and their employees, and a free open round table discussion for NTCA members to allow sharing of ideas, challenges, business tips, problem solving tips and more. For details, see Bart Bettiga’s story in our Training & Education section. Short of bringing education to your living room (which actually is what the online NTCA University enables us to do!), NTCA is pushing even harder to be sure there is accessible, free training to more areas of the country than ever before. Take advantage of it!

And if you have an opinion, or would like to read those of others, visit our new NTCA Forum, a blog that we just rolled out in January. We’ll post articles and information and invite you to share your thoughts.

February hosts National Tile Day on the 23rd. In honor of that, Avia Haynes has penned a story about how the Why Tile initiative is such an important one and how you can tie into it in your business. Be sure to visit TileLetter on Facebook on February 23, to witness the beauty and installation excellence that National Tile Day is designed to celebrate. 

If you’ve been a tile setter for any length of time (or even if you just sit at your desk all day like me), you may be prone to health issues affecting your back. A discussion on the Tile Geeks Facebook group took place about this very topic at the end of December, and members of that group have graciously agreed to share their experiences, tips and comments with the larger TileLetter audience in case their experiences might help a fellow tile setter. 

Our Tech Talk article features essential wisdom about installing tile in wood frame structures. This is a story you don’t want to miss, especially if you are located on the East Coast where wood-frame homes are common.

Finally, take a gander at our Coverings preview that will give you a taste of what is to come April 9-12 at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando. There are some changes to this year’s offerings that will set the stage for exciting opportunities to learn, connect and be inspired! Hope to see you there!

God bless,
Lesley
[email protected] 

Happy New Year from TileLetter

“The number one skill in life is not giving up.”  – Bryant McGill

Happy New Year! Weren’t we just wishing that to each other only 365 days ago?

Here we are again, at the beginning of a blank book of possibilities spreading before us for the next 365 “pages.” What are your hopes and aspirations for the coming year? How are you hoping to grow, shape or hone your business? Where do you go for inspiration, help, assistance, guidance? It’s our hope that NTCA is one of those places, and that we are supporting you in the wide range of facets of your business – education, marketing, benefits, camaraderie, working for change within the industry, technical assistance. If you haven’t browsed the NTCA website at tile-assn.com for a while, please do so this month. We have features there to prosper and support you.

January marks the beginning of the “show season” – where every week it seems there is a new trade show or conference for national or regional audiences. This month, many of us will greet each other in Las Vegas at the Surfaces/TISE West show, but there’s also World of Concrete, The NAHB Builder’s Show and KBIS on the horizon. Take a look at the Industry Calendar in this issue for a listing of shows and events throughout the year. 

And only a few months down the road, we return to the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida for Coverings ’19, from April 9-12. There’s a lot of preparation at NTCA and the industry for this industry powwow – and one of those things is a story planned for our Coverings issue of TileLetter: Making the most of Coverings. I put these questions before those of you who have attended or attend on a regular basis: 

  • What kind of system do you have to help you work through this massive show? 
  • How do you prioritize which exhibitors you will visit or conference sessions you will attend? 
  • Do you bring colleagues along with you? Why or why not?
  • What do you most look forward to? 
  • Do you take the booth tour offered by NTCA while at the show?
  • What do you hope to gain by attending Coverings?

I would be most grateful for your feedback at [email protected] to help me build this story into something that will be useful information for Coverings newbies or those who want to make the most out of their visit to Orlando. 

Speaking of industry events – be sure to read the Training and Education story in this issue, which focuses on the dynamite regional NTCA Five-Star Contractor Trainings at Grazzini Brothers & Company and David Allen Company last fall. These two programs were the culmination of regional training NTCA put in place in 2018 and brought tremendous value to both a large union and an open-shop contracting company – as well as other locales around the country. The NTCA Workshop/Regional Training Programs for 2019 will be updated, honed and improved (if you can improve on perfection!) this year, with a new format you’ll be learning about next month. Please do yourself and your business a favor and attend one of these free events when they come your way. 

Wishing you all a great new year, and hope to see you on a show floor at some point this year!

God bless,
Lesley Goddin
[email protected]

A time for reflection

This is the 12th December editor’s letter I’ve written for TileLetter. I always marvel when I get to the end of the year that another year has passed into memory once again, together with all the highs and lows, and joys and sorrows it has contained. This year is no different.

And yet, perhaps it is. Because each year has its own flavor, its own distinctive mark. What made 2018 notable for you in your business life and in your personal life? December is the time for reflection, before we launch headlong into a fresh new year.

Here at NTCA, the shape of our association has morphed in 2018 with the addition of new staff (see Bart Bettiga’s recap and forecast). NTCA is on the cusp of a new workshop format and new initiatives for 2019. Across the Pond, at Cersaie in October, the efforts of Assoposa resulted in a revamped Tiling Town that showcased installation excellence and laid the groundwork for a spate of installation courses throughout the coming year. Read more about this in our Tech Talk feature on page 84. 

And maybe this year, you invested in a new vehicle. Carl “The Flash” Leonard, NTCA member in New Jersey did, and gave his old van to a deserving member of the industry who needed vehicular resources to get his business up and running again. Get the details in our Hot Topics feature and ogle other rides and rigs prized by NTCA contractor members.

December also marks the first letter from the new NTCA President, Chris Walker, of David Allen Company. Tap into his passion and vision for the association and the industry on page 16.

December is nothing if not a season full of celebrations and opportunity to gather with friends and family, renew your faith, be dazzled by light displays, sing traditional songs, enjoy favorite foods and bestow gifts on loved ones. Here’s affirming a brilliant season for you, no matter which holidays you celebrate and a time of renewal, reflection and rejuvenation that will fully prepare you for a prosperous 2019. 

God bless us, every one!
Lesley
[email protected]

Celebrating women in tile and focusing on education

Greetings, and welcome to fall. Autumn around these parts means warm days and crisp nights, with fluffy clouds floating in impossibly blue skies arched over golden hillsides. There is the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta (put this on your bucket list!) and the scent of roasting green chiles, and well, the flavor of pumpkin spice everywhere. I hope it’s a beautiful fall where you are.

This issue is jam-packed with compelling content for your edification and enjoyment. There’s a distinct focus this issue on the women in our industry, from our cover story to member spotlight to Training and Education feature to our Women in Tile story. The purpose of this focus is to celebrate the many women who are excelling with stellar skills and stunning work in what has been traditionally a male-dominated industry. It’s also to spread the word to those women who may be considering a career in our industry, that there is a welcome place for them in a variety of roles here, including tile setter. As NTCA member Paige Pomerene of P2 Customs in Herndon, Va., said in our feature story, ““Whether you’re male or female, or whatever you identify as, your skills are measured by your passion and the pride you take in your work.” That’s exactly right, and among the many skilled and passionate women and men in our industry who are constantly raising the bar and advancing its excellence, we recognize this group of women as being a valued part of the fold. 

Our Training and Education feature looks at the emphasis on apprenticeship at Dragonfly Tile and Stone Works and the importance of custom tailoring training of the company’s setters. We’ll also meet Maria Meyer, one of Dragonfly’s newest apprentices, who left her college studies to pursue the artistry and precision in the craft that is a hallmark of Dragonfly’s reputation. 

In our Business Tip, productivity expert Barbara Hemphill has some words of wisdom about records management and “clearing the clutter” from office files and documents. Whether paper or digital, information can pile up and overwhelm you fast, so without a strategy, you may find yourself drowning in information and slowing down your productivity.

We learn a little more about Vashon, Wash., tilesetter and artist extraordinaire Nadine Edelstein and her three businesses in our Member Spotlight story, and how she conceptualizes and crafts her remarkable creations. 

In Tech Talk, we get an inside view of the first domestic producer of gauged porcelain tile panels – Stone Peak, part of the Iris Group, located in Crossville, Tenn. The manufacturer had a grand opening of its new production line in September, and TileLetter was there to report firsthand. 

In Hot Topics, consultant Steve Rausch asks the question, “Are product and installation standards ‘carrots’ to encourage improvement, or, ‘sticks’ to beat you with about failures?” Hear what industry members have to say and send your own opinion to me at
[email protected]

There’s also an opportunity to help one of our own, NTCA member Andrey Zelenko of Evergreen Tile & Stone LLC in Gladstone, Ore., who suffered serious injuries and lost his wife in a tragic boating incident on the Columbia River. A Go Fund Me account has been set up for those who want to support his recovery; details are in our Helping Hands
feature.

Here at NTCA, we are prepared for Total Solutions Plus in Grapevine, Texas at the end of the month, Oct 27-31. I hope to see many of you there! For last minute information, visit www.tile-assn.com/page/tsp.

God bless,
Lesley
[email protected]

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