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!
[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

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,
[email protected]

Leadership and learning

Editor’s Letter – September 2018

Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other. – John F. Kennedy

As we move into the fall, we focus on a number of training events and technical stories in this issue. Our Business Tip on the University of Ceramic Tile and Stone gives information on some online courses that can enhance your knowledge and professionalism. NTCA Technical Trainer Robb Roderick’s Tech Talk story on mock-ups is a comprehensive story on something we don’t discuss that often but that is really essential to the success of an installation – creating a mock-up to not only fully visualize how the product will look, but also troubleshoot other aspects about the job such as lighting that will impact its ultimate success.

In our Thin Tile/GPTP section, MAPEI’s Dan Marvin reports on a thin tile seminar and demo that took place at Coverings and the essential information presented and demonstrated on this increasingly popular tile format. In our Training & Education section, we spotlight the NTCA Five Star Contractor Summer Meeting, held in Nashville, Tenn., and the caliber of technical and business training that took place, in addition to a tour of Daltile’s Dickson, Tenn., manufacturing plant.

Ron Meler was the business speaker at this Five Star meeting, and in this issue he shares his expertise on the change order process, to help you navigate what can be a complex and confusing aspect of doing business. 

We also check in with NTCA member Stephen Belyea of JSG Tile & Stone in Weymouth, Mass., to learn about his path to professional tile setting when he started out as a professional chef! And we spotlight Hawthorne Tile’s challenging and beautiful install of first, a mermaid mosaic by Ruth Frances Greenberg in a residential pool, followed by RFG’s backsplash mosaic in the pool house kitchen. These projects are true testaments to the skills qualified tile setters possess. 

What is your favorite topic to read about? We are in the throes of putting together our editorial calendar and story topics for next year. Give us your input on what you want to learn about or see, and help us hone our content to be more useful to you. Just email me at the address below!

God bless,
[email protected]

Sustainability and green issues related to products and practices

Editor’s Letter – August 2018 – The Green Issue

It’s not easy being green…or is it? This issue of TileLetter focuses on sustainability and green issues related to products and practices that are kind to the planet and to the health of those beings living on it. 

For our “Green Tip” (aka Business Tip), Bill Griese gives us an update on the partnership between TCNA and Ecomedes, creator of an online database of product information relating to environmental attributes and certifications. The intent is to establish ways for designers, purchasers, and users of tile and related installation materials to more easily obtain product information needed to help fulfill their environmental goals. Right off the bat, this partnership will make searching for Green Squared Certified® product more searchable. See how in this article. 

Daniel Dorfman, Chair, Construction Law Group, Fox Swibel Levin & Carroll LLP talks to us about managing legal issues on sustainable projects .

In our News Briefs section, learn about Litokol’s recent participation in a Project Zero Environmental Risk initiative, developed by the EU government in partnership with major universities in Italy’s tile manufacturing region. By virtue of the low irritant and corrosive nature of its epoxy products, it was invited to help develop products for various markets. Read the intro in News Briefs and link to the whole story at TileLetter.com.

In Hot Topics, NTCA contractor members Phil Green and Nadine Edelstein discuss environmentally-, community-conscious and creative ways they manage waste products from tile installs. This inspiring article offers some ideas that can be easily adapted industry wide. 

Though not a sustainability story, our Stone section showcases CID Award winner Columbia Tile & Stone’s beautiful black and white marble bath project. And in Tech Talk, Dale Kempster details the launch in July of the Tile Installer Technical Handbook, a publication of Canada’s Terrazzo, Tile & Marble Association that took its inspiration and some content from the NTCA Reference Manual.

There’s lots of other great reading material for the dog days of summer this month, including a Member Spotlight on new member Ken Ballin and Skyro Floors in N.J., a thin tile training session hosted by the Belknap White Group, and a gorgeous cover story about an amazing mosaic project set with LATICRETE materials. 

God bless,
[email protected]

Hand holding a glass globe

A strong focus on education and training

Editor’s Letter – July 2018

The only thing worse than training employees and having them leave is not training them, and having them stay. – Henry Ford, Founder, Ford Motor Company

This month we have a strong focus on education and training. Of course, training and education are core pillars of NTCA’S mission, but this month we get to see how contractor members are taking that mission out into their communities to spread the word about installation that conforms to industry standards and invites the next generation of tile setters to a career in qualified labor. 

Our Training and Education feature takes a first look at the Oregon – Columbia Tile Trades Training Trust, a cooperative of contractors, supported by distributors, manufacturers and other suppliers that are developing an apprenticeship program based on NTCA University courses. Read about this inspiring new program.

In our Qualified Labor section, Nebraska State Ambassador Dan Hecox talks about a presentation on how to avoid tile failures he gave to a group of 28 second-year design students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln earlier this year. Hecox focused on real-world useful information that students can use once they graduate, and got thumbs up from the class. 

NTCA Training and Education Coordinator Becky Serbin discusses how to use the NTCA University courses in DOL-approved programs and apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs in this month’s NTCA University Update. As a member you have access to a fantastic collection of courses that can be utilized in many ways, tailored to your business. 

Our Tech Talk feature this month is derived directly from another avenue of education offered by NTCA – the monthly Webinar series. These free online presentations bring you the wisdom of industry experts on a range of topics that you can access on your phone, tablet or computer, solo or with a group of colleagues. This month, we learn about the benefits and advantages of self-leveling underlayments from TEC/H.B. Fuller’s Tom Plaskota. 

Jason McDaniel, of Stoneman Construction LLC in Portland, is profiled in our Member Spotlight this month. In addition to being one of the members of the Oregon-Columbia Tile Trades Training Trust referenced above, McDaniel is a Regional Evaluator with the CTEF’s Certified Tile Installer credentialing program, which allows him to be on the “front lines of training and testing installers of all ages who are new to the trade, or veterans wanting to expand their skills and knowledge.” With the expansion of the number of Regional Evaluators across the country, the CTI test is much more accessible to more tile setters who want to test themselves and obtain credentials that enhance their dealings with customers and design professionals.

And finally, in this issue we preview the Total Solutions Plus (TSP) all-industry conference coming up October 27-30 in Grapevine, Texas. This conference is a prime opportunity to gain wisdom and share experience about the business and technical ends of the industry, and learn from peers and experts. The full program and relaxed pace give you the opportunity to both learn and network and return home equipped with inspiration and new strategies to take your business to the next level. 

Have a topic you’d like to learn more about? Drop me a line and let me know and we’ll schedule an article in an upcoming issue of TileLetter.

God bless,
[email protected]

NTCA takes training opportunities to the next level

Editor’s Letter – June 2018

“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Well, you’ve made it to the halfway point of the year. Congratulate yourself that you are still above ground and hopefully making a good living in a profession you enjoy. So many are not, including a much-beloved icon of our industry, Armen Tavy, the irrepressible inventor and founder of Tavy Enterprises LLC. Read a bit about his impact on the industry and his legacy in this issue.

Last month, there was SO much to see at the Coverings show. We at TileLetter and NTCA were posting from the show on Facebook and Twitter with #ntcaatcoverings18, so if you frequent these social media outlets, see what was hopping in Atlanta. For the rest of you, we’ve provided an overview of many of the happenings at Coverings and a smattering of the kaleidoscope of products we saw there. By the way, it was wonderful to meet with so many of you in Atlanta! It made my heart sing! Remember to add Coverings to your 2019 schedule – April 9-13, in Orlando, and let’s visit again, among the rest of the excitement and education the show offers!

Though training and education has always been part of NTCA’s charter, NTCA is taking these opportunities to the next level with the Members Only Regional Training Program instituted this year, and the ongoing network of free workshops that crisscross the country. Get a bird’s eye view of these offerings in both our new Training & Education section with Connie Heinlein’s “Riding Shotgun,” and the NTCA University Update story that details our Members Only Regional Training opportunities. 

The respirable crystalline silica issue is not going away, and compliance with OSHA’s recently established regulation safeguards workers’ health – and keeps your operations legal. Learn more about this issue in our Tech Talk section where we view some of the information presented by iQ Power Tools’ Joel Guth during a Coverings conference session.

How lucrative is tile setting anyway, and how does it compare with other trades? Take a look at our Wage Study story in Business Tip. Input and feedback are welcome! 

Finally, our Hot Topics section addresses the next generation of tile setters. Thanks to Dave Clark over at the Global Tile Posse Facebook Group, an interesting discussion recently ensued about teaching offspring the trade – how early do you start, what kinds of tools do you let them use, and the like. Drop in and see how knowledge of our trade is being passed on to the next generation. 

We’re right on the cusp of summer. What major projects do you have on the roster? We’re always looking for great case studies with before/after photography, so if you’ve got something you’d like to crow about, send it to me at the email below!

God bless,
[email protected]

A full slate of business and technical stories

Editor’s Letter – May 2018

“An optimist is the human personification of spring.”  – Susan J. Bissonette

It is May Day and I am penning this letter amidst making final arrangements for Coverings and putting finishing touches on this issue. I just created the first posts from Coverings ’18 on the Tileletter and National Tile Contractors pages on Facebook, where I’ll be posting a lot of news, announcements, products and developments during Coverings. And since nothing ever goes away on the internet, you can look back at our Coverings coverage there as well. Search for it at #ntcaatcoverings18. 

By the way, if you are on Facebook and aren’t following those pages, you are missing out on articles and information throughout the year, not just trade show time. And I hope you are also occasionally visiting TileLetter.com online – this digital site posts fresh news every day and you can access TileLetter past issues and archives too.

For this issue, we have a full slate of business and technical stories. Check out the Business Tip story about OSHA compliance for silica, and also Dean Moilanen’s story about using foam shower trays and the push towards establishing a standard for this product. 

In our Ask the Experts section, we explore the good, bad and ugly of wall lighting placement and how it can help make or break your project. Do you install a lot of stone? Check out the document in our Stone Section for pointers from the Natural Stone Institute on successful natural stone installation.

Have you attended a presentation or workshop with NTCA’s Robb Roderick? Well, meet the man who trained him as a helper back in the day – Kerry Rogers, a recent NTCA member, profiled in Member Spotlight. 

And they say all good things must come to an end. Such is the case for Lynnette Bloomberg’s career at the Noble Company. At the end of this month, Lynnette will retire after 33 years with Noble. Read a little about how she came to work for the company and what coworkers and colleagues have to say as they wish her well.

By this time next month, I will have reconnected or met anew many of you at Coverings, and will have spanking new topics to bring to you on the pages of TileLetter for the next few months. Anything specific you’d like to know more about? Drop me a line at [email protected] to make a request!

God bless,
[email protected] 

TileLetter brings information that makes day to day operations successful

Editor’s Letter – April 2018

“The spring wakes us, nurtures us and revitalizes us. How often does your spring come? If you are a prisoner of the calendar, it comes once a year. If you are creating authentic power, it comes frequently, or very frequently.”  Gary Zukav

By now, hopefully, weather has stabilized around the country, and the folks on the east coast who have been battling nor’easter after nor’easter are reaping the benefits of all that moisture in beautiful buds and blooming flowers and all of the glories of spring.

The tile industry is also reaping the benefits of budding ideas and emerging products. In this issue, you’ll read a summation of an in-depth paper on gauged porcelain tile panels that TCNA’s Bill Griese and Crossville’s Noah Chitty presented in Spain at the Qualicer 18 conference. This Tech Talk selection updates you on the evolution of GPTP and the standards that now guide successful manufacturing and installation of these products. 

Our product section in this issue presents a new crop of tile and accessory materials that blossomed at the TISE West/Surfaces show in Las Vegas in January. Many of these were shared on the TileLetter and National Tile Contractors Association Facebook pages during the show (so stay tuned to those social media outlets for the upcoming Coverings show), but we’ve gathered a sampling of them here, for the convenience of reading in print. 

In NTCA University Update, Becky Serbin has presented a number of testimonials from students who have taken the first wave of apprentice courses. Her article demonstrates how these courses are being used for personal enrichment and also for overall training within a company.

It’s no surprise that tile sizes are growing (and shrinking, but that’s a different story) and that large-format product is here to stay. In our Large-Format section, we present three case studies of challenging large-format installs and how the NTCA member contractors – all of whom are Certified Tile Installers or employ them in their crews – obtained high-quality, high-performance results. 

In Hot Topics, we again go to the field to present the follow-up to our February exploration of dealing with substandard tile. We explore suggestions for avoiding problems with tile that doesn’t comply with the manufacturing standards and that is sure to cause headaches if installed. 

We present information that makes your day to day operations successful, but what about when you are ready to retire? Read Vincent Mastrovito’s Business Tip story about wisely planning for your exit, and clearing the path of any obstacles that might interfere with you taking your leave.

Hopefully content this month will give you food for thought. Have opinions about what you are reading, or even suggestions for future articles? Feel free to pen a letter to the editor and send it to me at [email protected] We’re always willing to give respectful discussion a voice!

God bless,


[email protected]

Welcome to the latest, greatest incarnation of Coverings

Editor’s Letter – Coverings 2018

You will enrich your life immeasurably if you approach it with a sense of wonder and discovery, and always challenge yourself to try new things. – Nate Berkus

Welcome to the latest, greatest incarnation of Coverings – in this its 29th year – celebrated in the fair city of Atlanta!

Coverings never fails to impress, with its sprawling show floor, thousands of new products to adorn floors, walls, and countertops as well as those that ensure installations perform for the long haul. There are hundreds of learning opportunities, whether you are attending a conference session or watching the presentations on the Live Installation Demonstration Stage, and lots of special show features and events. There are also ample chances to meet new folks and hobnob with old friends at happy hours, lunches, tours and after-show parties. Take a look through this issue at all the opportunities this show affords you, plot your course, and go!

One thing I am excited about is a brand new feature this year – The Installation Experience in Hall C, Booth #8401. This is an event like no other. The Installation Experience showcases the best and the worst of tile and illustrates why qualified labor makes all the difference. 

The Installation Experience will take you on a tour through tile failures, and their corresponding successes when installed by qualified craftspeople. You’ll see examples of the work of tile masters and technical experts from top industry associations – CTEF, IMI, International Union of Bricklayers (IUBAC), NTCA, TCAA and TCNA: beautiful tile in working bath, kitchen and fireplace installs. 

In addition, there’s a CTI Challenge – two teams of Certified Tile Installers – led by Jason McDaniel of Stoneman Construction LLC and Greg Twarog of Surfaces15 – will face off on a tile installation competition. 

There’s also an opportunity for you to learn more about the CTI test as well as the Advanced Certifications for Tile Installers (ACT) test, and witness test demonstrations, while having the chance to ask questions about the exams. Relax in a expansive seating area with a large TV screen showing time-lapsed progress video, highlighting the various construction stages of the projects slated to take place. In addition, 30-60 minute training sessions offered in the nearby Contractor Lounge will prepare you for a full Installation Experience. 

As you wend your way through your week in Atlanta, be sure to stop by and take part in the Installation Experience, as well as a reprise of the Installation Design Showcase Tiny House feature from last year, in which NTCA Five Star Contractors pair with top designers to bring a Tiny House to life. It’s right around the corner in Hall C, Booth #8804.

As you page through this issue, take note of the “tour of Atlanta” in our cover story. Perhaps as you are out and about in the city, you’ll get a chance to view the stellar tilework in these projects. Also in keeping with the theme about qualified labor in the Installation Experience, Becky Serbin’s Qualified Labor story details the SkillsUSA competition that takes place in Georgia each year and the opportunities that exist to bring this to other states to promote tile setting as a viable career path to high school students. Speaking of young people getting into the act, check out the Member Spotlight about Darin Shocker, owner of Dutchess County Tile and his son’s decision at 18 to pursue a career in tile setting over an academic college path. 

I’d love to hear from you about what you found to be the most valuable about Coverings this year, so please drop me a line at [email protected] and share your impressions! Pack your comfy shoes, your notebook to record your impressions, your plans to share what you’ve learned with the folks back home, and have fun! Looking forward to meeting you there!

God bless,
[email protected]

National Tile Day is February 23

Editor’s Letter – March 2018

As I am writing this, National Tile Day, February 23, is just three days away. Our social media and online digital sites have been awash in Why Tile? news and hashtags, and posts that serve to boost tile’s popularity with consumers, illustrating the properties, artistry and performance characteristics of the floor and wall covering that we in the industry have dedicated our lives to promoting, selling, installing and using in design. Tile manufacturers’ associations – foreign and domestic – as well as contractors, designers, Coverings, and others are all getting into the act. Did you catch any of it? How did you get onboard with raising awareness of tile as a great finishing material in 2018?

Did you miss it? Well, mark it on your calendar for next February 23, 2019 and plan a promotion or awareness campaign in your segment of the market. Wondering what to do? Enter #whytile or #nationaltileday in your favorite social media and see some of the efforts that took place in 2017 and 2018, then plan accordingly and join the festivities.

Taking a look at our story lineup this month, please be sure to catch the Business Tip, written by Pat O’Connor. He takes a look at how the new Tax Cut and Jobs Act may affect your business. LATICRETE’s Sean Boyle also gives us a view into economic trends and growth that will impact our industry in 2018 and beyond.

Also take a look at the Coverings preview. It includes information about an exciting new activity NTCA is spearheading at the show – the Installation Experience. At press time, it’s still in the planning stages, but read and learn about what we’ve got up our sleeve for your enjoyment and education, and plan to attend Coverings May 8-11 at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta this year.

God bless,
[email protected]

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