GPT at Coverings 2018 – Education that goes beyond PowerPoint

In the fall of 2012, the terms “Gauged Porcelain Tiles” and “Gauged Porcelain Panels” didn’t exist yet. Back then, the product was just beginning to show up in the U.S. market and was being referred to as “thin tile.” No one knew how to deal with tiles that were 3´ x 10´, an 1/8˝ to 1/4˝ thick, and somewhat flexible. That fear led many to dismiss thin tile as a fad that would die out if they just ignored it. Others decided to embrace the challenge and introduce the products and techniques from Europe to the U.S. market. 

The first companies to make significant investments in importing the products and figuring out how to install them were Crossville and MAPEI. In the fall of 2012, these two companies came together to give the first educational session at Total Solutions Plus. To a standing-room-only crowd, the first deck of PowerPoint slides were given that explained how the product was made, how it should be handled in the field, and how it should be installed.

MAPEI’s Dan Marvin and Crossville’s Noah Chitty gave a presentation on gauged porcelain tile and panels at Coverings 2018, updating the audience on all the new findings and standards for product and installation of the material.

MAPEI’s Gerald Sloan (c) and Logan Reavis (r.) demonstrate equipment for moving panels for a wall tile installation, with an assist from Mick Volponi (l.)

Fast forward to Coverings 2018 in Atlanta, where Crossville and MAPEI were at it again, as they have been for 12 consecutive, major trade shows. Crossville’s Noah Chitty and MAPEI’s Dan Marvin presented updated PowerPoint slides that have their roots in that 2012 presentation but have seen many changes. Gone are the slides that say “there are no standards.” Now, Noah and Dan get to quote from product standards (A137.3) and installation standards (A108.19) that were voted into existence in 2017. The tiles themselves must meet certain criteria for strength, durability, and how well the mesh is attached if there is mesh. Troweling techniques, embedding techniques, coverage requirements, and product handling all have standards now. Instead of telling the audience “this is what we think,” Noah and Dan now get to say “this is what the tile industry agrees is the right way of doing it.”



Ryan Freitag with Donnelly Distributing – the US Raimondi distributor – shows the crowd how to use a 10’ long score-and-snap cutter.

After the PowerPoint portion of the Coverings presentation, there was an added bonus; the entire audience stayed to see a live demonstration of two panels being installed on a wall and one on the floor. With the help of Raimondi (tools) and MLT (lippage tuning devices), the audience was able to see first-hand how the Laminam by Crossville panels are cut, how MAPEI Ultralite S2 mortar was applied to the substrate and the tile with a special trowel, how they are installed with minimal lippage to avoid future damage, and how the air was worked out with the “Cross-walk” method that is now part of the standard. Several attendees came up to do some cuts themselves and see how a 10´ long score-and-snap cutter works. As the audience was told several times, it is much better to make your mistakes on someone else’s 30 sq. ft. tile than one you’ll have to pay for if you mess it up.

MAPEI’s Gerald Sloan shows how to release air trapped beneath the large thin panels using the Cross-walk method.

Back in 2012, most of the audience had never heard of ‘thin tile’ and no hands went up when asked if they had worked with or installed it. But in 2018, thanks in large part to the educational efforts of Crossville, MAPEI, and Coverings, everyone in attendance was familiar with the product and at least half had seen and worked with it. This year, the audience offered each other solutions to questions based on experience instead of the manufacturers giving solutions based on experimental results. 

After a very busy afternoon, the group stayed well past the allotted time of 4:30 p.m. to ask follow-up questions, trade business cards, and share war stories. Those installers who have embraced Gauged Porcelain Tile and Gauged Porcelain Panels have found a niche where their craftsmanship can shine. Architects and designers love the minimal grout joints and dramatic styling. Building owners are pleased with the low maintenance and many compliments they receive. As for Noah and Dan, they are simply happy when the last questions are answered, all of the tools are back in their boxes and the next trade show is still a few months away.

After the PowerPoint, attendees got to witness an actual wall and floor GPTP installation.



The need for cleaning and protecting encaustic floor tiles

What were called “encaustic tiles” during the Victorian Era were originally called “inlaid tiles” during the medieval period. This term has now been in common use for so long that it has become an accepted name for inlaid tile work.

Encaustic (or inlaid) tiles enjoyed two periods of great popularity. The first came in the thirteenth century and lasted until Henry the Eighth’s reformation in the sixteenth century. The second came when these tiles caught the attention of craftsmen during the Gothic Revival era, which after much trial and error, were mass-produced and then made available to the general public. During both periods, tiles were produced across Western Europe, though the center of tile production was actually in England. Companies in the USA also made encaustic tile during the Gothic Architecture Revival period. However, in the 1930s, encaustic tile began to lose ground to more affordable glass and vitreous glass tile material.

After a stretch during which encaustic tiles were seldom called upon, there’s now a huge revival, along with introductions of new designs, in modern geometric patterns and vibrant colors. Whereas encaustic tiles have become increasingly popular, users often aren’t aware that they are highly absorbent and thus, require special treatments for cleaning and protection. After evaluating their properties, specific products should be used for cleaning and protecting encaustics, especially in “wet areas” such as the kitchen and bath.

Generally speaking, encaustic tiles are made up of several layers; the lower layer comprises high-strength cement and aggregate, while the top layer is made of marble powder, white cement and inorganic pigments. This makes the material highly absorbent and extremely sensitive to acid erosion. It is, therefore, essential to use the correct products, from the initial wash and then moving forward.

For both cleaning new tiles right after installation and also for restoring original encaustic tiles, a degreasing detergent is recommended. First, dampen the surface with water, apply the solution to the floor and leave it to “act” for five minutes. Then, scrub the floor with a brush, remove the residue with a cloth and rinse well with clean water. Never use acid products, white spirit solvents or ammonia.

There are specific ways to protect bathroom cement tiles against staining. When applying a protective treatment to cement tile floors, it is essential that the floor is perfectly dry. If the treatment is applied too soon, it may very well block evaporation of the humidity from under the tiles, leaving damp marks.

To protect the tiles against staining without changing their original look, we advise using a solvent-based or a water-based stain proofing agent. Use a flat paintbrush to evenly apply a coat of the product, making sure to impregnate the joints, as well.

Encaustic tiles should be protected using a finishing wax, which guards the surface against grit and grime caused by foot traffic. This process can also restore the pure beauty of original tiles, while at the same time highlighting their color and design. Wax, however, isn’t recommended for bathrooms or other “wet rooms.”

For decorated cement bathroom tiles, use a specially formulated cleaner a couple of times a year or when particularly dirty. FILACLEANER is perfect for this use. Cleaning should be followed with one coat of wax.

In the last six or seven years, encaustic tiles have become extremely popular here in the USA. Due to the high porosity of each tile’s body and the fact that it is so acid-sensitive, this category of tile must be both treated immediately after being installed, and then sealed to ensure its beauty and longevity. With special care, these tile products will perform beautifully for years to come.


FILA (Fabbrica Italiana Lucidi ed Affini) has achieved international recognition for excellence in providing highly technical, easy-to-use protection and care treatment systems for all surfaces. A family-owned yet strategically structured, managerial company, FILA has become a large international group always maintaining strong core values. With an eye on the future, FILA offers optimal answers to the needs of every client, consistently staying ahead of the market. That’s just one reason why FILA has been endorsed as “#1” by 250 of the world’s leading tile and stone producers.

Mock-ups eliminate miscommunication and reduce install failure risk

Mock-ups are great tools for managing customers’ expectations, which in turn can reduce risk and lead to successful installation. Today, we’ll define what a mock-up is, and explain the many advantages of using them. 

Mock-up module.

A mock-up can be either a partial or full-size structural model using exact construction materials, specifications and techniques. They allow all those involved to evaluate an actual three-dimensional representation of a project. They also allow us to experience at full scale what could only be hinted at with drawings or small architectural models. Mock-ups allow us to access the functionality, aesthetic and quality of the actual products down to the smallest details. If the old saying “A picture is worth a thousand words” is true, a mock-up must be worth a considerable amount more. 

Oftentimes, mock-ups are required in commercial projects. It may seem that the additional expense associated with doing a mock-up is unnecessary but, in the end, it allows the team to foresee problems and solve them before they develop on a larger scale.

Jobsite conditions, shade variation and grout joints

Mock-ups get you involved early and allow you to access jobsite conditions such as: does the site have power, water, correct temperature, and lighting? It gives us the opportunity to establish the needs for a successful installation. With tiles transitioning to larger and larger sizes, mock-ups help installers set a standard for how flat surfaces must be to install tile. If we run into a problem with poorly-done concrete or framing, we can explain our needs for flat surfaces before they pour the next series of slabs, or frame the next group of rooms. 

Mock-ups help installers set a standard for how flat surfaces must be to install tile.

It seems we are continually pushed by faster and more demanding schedules to complete projects. Timing the installation of a mock-up can be extremely beneficial in determining the amount of total time a project will take, as well as the amount of manpower necessary to reach a desired deadline.

Many of us have probably had issues with showroom samples not actually matching the delivered material, especially with stone. Sometimes, a stone sample could have been quarried months or possibly years before the actual stone is selected and ordered. A mock-up shows you the actual current material appearance. Also, when some tiles have highly varied shading, it’s difficult to appreciate the overall look apart from an on-site mock-up with the actual material. Our industry has Aesthetic Classifications for shade variations that range from V0 to V4. The V0 are the most uniform in shade, while the V3 and V4 are the most varied. When using the more highly varied tiles it takes a larger area of tile to truly appreciate the overall appearance.

Shade variation courtesy of Architectural Ceramics.

The last few years, the trend has been for smaller and smaller grout joints. It seems everyone loves tile but hates grout. Mock-ups can set an agreed-upon grout joint size. Our industry addresses minimum grout joint size. It states that we should never have a grout joint less than 1/16˝. It also explains that a grout joint should not be any smaller than three times the facial variation of the tile itself. Normally with a calibrated tile that would be around 3/16˝, and with rectified tile it would be 1/8˝. Most of our customers have difficulty visualizing what a 3/16˝ grout joint looks like. A mock-up eliminates that problem and allows the customer to better communicate their desires.

Outsmarting lippage before it happens

Plank and other rectangular shape tiles have grown dramatically in popularity. When tiles are manufactured, they are fired in a kiln. This process can warp the tile or make them bow. When plank or rectangular shape tile are set in an offset or brick pattern, the warpage in those tiles can create lippage in an installation. Lippage is basically when two tiles don’t meet on the same plane. Our industry has addressed this situation and says we should have no more than a 33% offset with tiles over 18˝ in length. It goes on to say if a stagger of more than 33% is called for, a mock-up should be done and approved.

One of the many benefits of being a member of the NTCA is technical support. One of the most prevalent calls we receive is about wash wall lighting. The design community has embraced this lighting that is located in the ceiling close to the wall and casts light down the wall and creates an undesirable shadowing effect. The lighting reveals inconsistencies in the wall, tile, and the work. In a large commercial project where this type of lighting is used, a mock-up can be a great asset. Finding out early the effects that light will have on the installation can save a lot of headaches and money. Moving the lights out from the wall can make a huge difference. Discovering this information early from a mock-up makes the process quicker, easier, and cheaper.

Setting expectations with your mock-ups

One thing to consider when doing your mock-up is to be mindful of who you are selecting for that installation and to create the mock-up. If you have a large crew with several installers, there is a tendency to pick your best people to do your mock-up. Remember, this is an example of what the owner will expect throughout the project. Inevitably, we have different employees that work at different speeds with different skill sets. It would be best to pick someone of average skill and speed for your group. This will give a more realistic expectation of what you can deliver. It’s said that it’s better to undersell and over deliver, than oversell and under deliver.

Once the mock-up is complete, communicate potential problems, and get a formal acceptance of the installation for the standard on the remainder of the project.

In conclusion, I hope you understand how mock-ups can:

Allow you to evaluate environmental conditions on the jobsite

  • Access substrate flatness
  • Define roles and responsibilities of each trade
  • Give a good indication of the time it will take to complete a project
  • Allow for evaluation of actual tile and grout color and shading
  • Set an agreed upon tile pattern and grout joint size
  • Help eliminate issues with critical lighting
  • Manage customers’ expectations and reduce risk.

The change order process – what goes wrong?

Subcontracts issued from the prime contractor (referred to as “contractor” in this article) contain very descriptive language regarding the change order process. The language clearly outlines the process for written direction to proceed and the process to be followed for the issuance of a change order document, required for the subcontractor to invoice and collect payment. Changes to the work can occur in several ways:

  • Owner-initiated request for program change
  • RFI response that results in a change
  • Submittal response that results in a change
  • Value engineering acceptance 
  • Contractor issues a change document (i.e., ASI, CCD, RFQ)
  • Contractor directs work authorization by email

Changes can come rapidly and sometimes several in a day, especially for the contractor. The contractor’s goal is to protect its interest by managing the risk with an efficient method of change management, all the while continuing to perform work to prevent changes from affecting the schedule. The change order approval process and the progress billing process don’t occur as rapidly as the changes that must be put in place. Therefore, the contractor must establish the responsible party for the change, obtain and submit pricing as quickly as possible, and obtain owner approval if necessary. Then the contractor must direct the subcontractors per the terms of their agreement to perform the work with a promise of a subsequently-issued subcontract change order.

What goes wrong?

The problem with this process is the contractor many times can’t come to agreement with owners on the merits of a change. Relationship with the owner, delivery methods, personalities and experience all come into play. The quantity of changes can increase very rapidly, and if the onsite project team doesn’t have the experience or ability to follow the terms of its contract to protect itself and its subcontractors, the project team loses control. In its haste to keep the project on track, it tries  different methods to get the subcontractors to proceed, which can effectively shift the risk of nonpayment to the subcontractor. These methods include: giving the subcontractor’s field foreman verbal vague authorization; not responding to written notifications of change; and giving an incomplete authorization to proceed while being very careful that entitlement or approval of the price or pricing method is not given.

The plan is to coerce the subcontractors into performing the changed work, so if the contractor can’t come to agreement on merit with the owner at a later date, it has effectively shifted the risk of nonpayment to the subcontractor. At that point the contractor can hide behind the actual change provisions of the contract to protect itself by stating that the terms and conditions of the contract were not followed.

Rather than sticking to the change provisions of the contract agreements, a weak project manager will try to be as vague as possible in his direction to proceed, making sure he is not giving direction per the subcontract agreement. That’s why contractors give indistinct responses to tile contractor change requests usually by email and sometimes even verbally stating things like:

  • “Approved”
  • “Proceed on a T&M basis”
  • “Proceed on your price not to exceed”
  • “You are hereby directed to proceed”
  • “We are directing you to proceed as required by the terms of the subcontract”

These directions are unclear at best and are attempts to get the subcontractor to proceed without agreeing on merit or cost. This allows the discussion on merit to occur after the work is complete. A simple direction such as described above may be a weak authorization to proceed, but it does not grant entitlement or approval of a price. 

What should subcontractors do?

Read the subcontract change order terms very carefully and insist on following the process as described. Use these terms to your benefit if possible. Only proceed with a method allowed by the subcontract terms.

To be as successful as possible in collecting payment requires taking four steps:

  1. Giving proper notice of change to the contractor
  2. Receipt of direction to proceed as described in the subcontract
  3. Written agreement on entitlement to a change order
  4. Agreement on the price or pricing method

The steps do not always occur at the same time, but when subcontractors proceed and incur costs without all four steps being satisfied, they are at risk for nonpayment. Insisting on following the process as described in the agreement puts subcontractors in the best position to collect payment for the change. 

When a contractor is unclear in responding to a request for change, a simple communication asking for clarification should be sent:

Thank you for the authorization to proceed on this Request for Change. It is our understanding that this work is a change to the subcontract and a Subcontract Change Order will be subsequently issued for the price quoted in our Request for Change dated ________. Please confirm that our understanding is correct so that we can proceed, or if we have misinterpreted your direction, please clarify.

With this response the contractor is forced to come clean with his intent and the subcontractor has solidified its position to collect payment. If a contractor will not confirm or becomes agitated in his position, there is a reason. Either he does not have the contractual authority to authorize the change, or has not received the approvals necessary to grant merit. 

Remember, contractors’ project managers will often sway subcontractors to proceed prior to approaching the owner. Subcontractors will vastly improve their chances of collecting payment by understanding the contract, and being alert and disciplined in forcing the contractor to follow the agreement.



Challenging mermaid pool and backsplash project

Handmade mosaic murals by Ruth Frances Greenberg required careful prep and attention to detail from Hawthorne Tile

Two challenging hand-made mosaic designs by Portland’s Ruth Frances Greenberg ( have recently been installed in a Portland residence by Hawthorne Tile. The precision of the design and process of installation initially challenged Hawthorne Tile when the tile contractor set Greenberg’s mermaid mosaic in the bottom of a pool in summer 2017. But once the owner saw the beauty of the expertly installed pool mermaid, she immediately commissioned a Ruth Frances Greenberg backsplash for the pool house kitchen. 

Once the design is created, Greenberg lays the tiles out in place, face-mounts them with plastic, cuts them into sections, and numbers them.

Bringing a mermaid to life

The 14´ diameter mermaid project involved “pretty intense logistics,” said Travis Schreffler, project manager for the install. He explained that after the tiles are made by hand, fired and then re-fired for exterior use and the design is created, Greenberg lays the tiles out in a huge circle and face-mounts them with plastic, cuts them into sections and numbers them. They are then placed on pieces of cardboard to deliver them to the jobsite. 

That required Schreffler to build a map to clarify where the design was going – it had to be laid out and put back together like a puzzle. Compounding the difficulty was the slope of the pool – it sloped from the shallow to deep end on a radiused arc rather than on a straight plane, so it was a perfectly flat curved arc: an intersecting plane that was flat in one direction and arched in the other. 

The crew, with Schreffler, three Certified Tile Installers and two apprentices, started early
in the day while it was cool to keep the ARDEX X77 thinset viable.

The bottom of the pool needed to be prepped first with ARDEX AM100 rendering mortar with a radius established based on the arc; then an installer and an apprentice created a series of screeds that followed the pool’s arc. The installation prep took two and a half days. 

Each piece of the mosaic puzzle had to be moved down to the swimming pool, and the relationship between the pieces appraised since, as Schreffler said, “each piece relates to the other pieces in that they are loosely mounted, and needs the next piece to be adjusted, like a gear.” This meant that once the installation began, it had to be done in one four-hour take. 

Compounding the difficulty was the slope of the pool – it sloped from the shallow to deep end on a radiused arc rather than on a straight plane.

The crew, with Schreffler, two other Certified Tile Installers and two apprentices, started early in the day while it was cool to keep the ARDEX X77 thinset viable. ARDEX’s William White was onsite to help with the logistics, providing extremely attentive support, said Schreffler. 

There were some nail-biter moments during the install. “Every piece you put down, you felt like it wasn’t going to fit,” Schreffler said, so at times he also jumped in to lend a hand. In the end, the job was done by noon, and left to sit protected overnight. The next day, the plastic was removed, loose tiles reattached, and it was cleaned. Two days after the install, it was grouted with ARDEX FL and was ready for the plasterers to come in and finish up with pool plaster. 

The Hawthorne Tile crew admires their work – a job well done: (L to R) Sean Carline; Travis Schreffler; Bo Carney; and Yakov Blashchishchin.

Mosaic mural adorns pool house kitchen backsplash

Installing the mosaic mural are (L to R) Bo Carney, Vladmir Blashchishchin and Yakov Blashchishchin.

The mural for this backsplash was a 6´ x 8´ Hawaiian beach scene with breaching humpback whales, sea turtles and tree frogs, again created by Ruth Frances Greenberg. Plus the homeowner had befriended stray cats while in Hawaii, so the mural included them as well. 

The process of assembling all the parts and pieces was the same as with the pool, but Hawthorne Tile was now familiar with this system. 

Schreffler said, “Ruth laid them out with me so I knew where everything was to go. She gave me some creative license – with relief flowers and some other pieces. Before the first install in the pool, she never experienced CTI installers before, so the experience for her was very welcoming.” 

Again, the mural needed to be installed in one fell swoop, using ARDEX X77 as thinset. “We started this one at 7 a.m. and were done by 11 a.m.,” Schreffler said. This was after the crew spent a day prepping the wall surface to be sure it was flat. “We had the same crew,” he said, “So they knew exactly what they were doing and acted as a fantastic team. They took the bull by the horns, were confident and did a fantastic job, impressing the homeowner.” 

Mural detail. After the CTI-certified install team won the artist’s confidence with the pool install, she gave them some creative license to place flowers and some other pieces at their discretion

This is the kind of work upon which Hawthorne Tile thrives. “We welcome this kind of challenge,” Schreffler said. “Exactly this kind of thing – outside the box – we set out to do this a long time ago. Those moments that feel like you can’t get there from here are extra sweet when you step back and it’s done.”


The finished backsplash.




NTCA offers UofCTS online courses for thinset standards, and basics of ceramic tile and stone

Business Tip – September 2018

Failed tile installations are not only disappointments and inconveniences to owners, and very expensive problems to installers, both in terms of out-of-pocket costs as well as in reputation. They also hurt everyone in our tile and stone industry in a major way. What do you think people do who have a problem with something that they spent a lot of money on that may have resulted in additional costs, lots of inconvenience, and perhaps is a daily eyesore? They complain to others (negative advertising) and they probably select something else the next time. All of this costs our industry in sales and reputation, which affects all of our livelihoods regardless if we are a manufacturer, a distributor or an installer.

Our industry has grown tremendously over the last 20 years, and the skilled labor hasn’t been able to keep up with the demand and market changes. Plus, our tile products, installation products, and construction conditions and requirements have changed. Unfortunately many installers don’t learn their trade and skills at a trade school; they learn on the job taught by others, which may or may not be consistent with the current industry installation standards. Many tile installers don’t have the opportunity to easily receive continued education to learn about new standards and products. Installers often don’t have an opportunity to learn all of the industry standards or to fully understand the complexity of their work without having to miss work and spend a lot of time and money. 

Industry standards are based on the experience and mistakes of those who have gone before us – family members, manufacturers, and others who then serve on industry committees to develop standards. If tile installers follow industry standards and manufacturers’ directions, they can avoid failures and have successful tile installations to perpetuate and grow our businesses and industry. Tile installer training is an investment that everyone in the industry benefits from because when there is a problem it doesn’t matter who is at fault, we all will pay one way or the other with our time, money or reputation. 

UofCTS online course endorsed by NTCA

That is why the University of Ceramic Tile and Stone (UofCTS) developed the new online Tile Installer Thin-set Standards (ITS) Verification course and why NTCA endorses and is making it available to its members and the industry. This course focuses on standards for thinset application in terms of the required substrate conditions, proper preparation of substrate and tile, proper thinset application, proper installation methods, and proper quality control steps that all tile installers should incorporate into their work.

The ITS Verification course applies to and covers ceramic tile, glass tile, stone tile or any other type of adhered tile product whether thin-set mortar, epoxy or mastic adhesives are used. By making this training course on thinset standards readily available to tile installers throughout North America at an affordable cost without any travel expenses or loss of income, we are helping our industry grow, while avoiding tile problems. Tile installers who take the ITS Verification online self-paced course and pass it with a score of 80% or better will receive a Certificate of Completion indicating that they learned the industry standards and demonstrated that they understood what they learned. Having completed the ITS Verification course – or using the ITS designation next to their name – doesn’t guarantee that the tile installer has the skill set to do good work or will do good work, but it does verify they know the standards, and knowing the standards is the first stepping stone to avoiding tile installation problems. The ITS Verification certificate expires after two years and the updated ITS Verification course must be taken every other year to remain ITS Verified and current. This is a great continuing education opportunity for tile installers, so they can easily keep up with the changes in our standards and products. 

Online training works in tandem with hands-on instruction

Online training is not intended to replace hands-on training or classroom training, but rather supplements live instruction and makes training more accessible and affordable, so a larger number of installers can be trained in a relatively short period of time. Online training of this type, utilizing the technology of a Learning Management System (LMS), is not only a very effective approach to training, but it is very practical. The students have 24/7 access and can take interactive courses at their convenience, at their own pace, as long as they have a computer and an internet connection. There are no travel expenses or lost productivity incurred by the student or the trainer. There are management reports available to employers, so they can monitor the progress and results of their tile installers.

UofCTS, founded in 2002, utilizes the latest Learning Management System (LMS) technology to deliver online training, which is the same as that used by higher education institutions. The UofCTS self -paced courses are interactive and loaded with pictures, video clips, animations and are professionally narrated. Some courses are taught in both English and Spanish to accommodate the large Hispanic workforce in the tile industry.

UofCTS courses are based on industry standards and manufacturers’ requirements, utilizing the knowledge of industry experts. UofCTS professional instructional designers, who have degrees in adult education, organize the course content utilizing the latest educational methodologies to maximize learning and retention. UofCTS professional technology developers utilize the most advanced technology tools to convert the instructional designer’s storyboards to professional courses that are not only effective for training, but are interactive and enjoyable for the student. 

Once a student is registered for a course they receive automated email notices from the campus to give them instructions on how to access the courses, reminders to complete the courses, a final congratulations/passing notice with instructions on how to print their diploma and a link to download a student handout that summarizes the key course content for them to refer to later. The student is given 14 days to complete the five-hour course with 24/7 access. 

NTCA is encouraging architects, designers, general contractors and manufacturers to require that the professional tile installers on their projects are ITS Verified and/or be a Certified Tile Installer through CTEF to help prevent problems and to incentivize installers to become ITS Verified. NTCA also encourages tile installers to become ITS Verified to differentiate themselves as a professional installer or installation company, allowing them to generate more jobs and profit, and to avoid costly problems. NTCA is offering NTCA members special course tuition discounts as another benefit for being a member of the NTCA. 

NTCA also offers the UofCTS Understanding the Basics of Ceramic Tile course and the UofCTS Understanding the Basics of Natural Stone course that can be purchased on the UofCTS website. Both courses go into depth on how tile and stone are produced, utilized, installed, selected and maintained. The course is taught with a sales emphasis on professional consultative sales techniques and points out key industry standards, which is an ideal course for installers, architects, salespeople, designers or anyone interested in tile and stone.

To watch a short video preview of the Tile Installer ITS course or the other courses to get a preview of what to expect, visit

White marble turning yellow

Ask the Experts – September 2018

Ask the Experts Q&As are culled from member inquiries to NTCA’s Technical Support staff. To become a member and make use of personal, targeted answers from Technical Support staff to your installation questions, contact Jim Olson at [email protected]


I have a client whose installer used mastic to install white marble and now it’s turning yellow.

I looked in the TCNA Handbook, but could not find any information. Can you please guide me where it is mentioned?


ANSI A136.1 is the American National Standard Specification for Organic Adhesives for Installation of Ceramic Tile. It provides information for use of Type 1 and Type 2 organic adhesives for installation of ceramic tile. ANSI A108.4 is the Standard for Installation of Ceramic Tile with Organic Adhesives or Water Cleanable Tile-Setting Epoxy Adhesive.

The 2018 TCNA Handbook contains information about selecting the correct products to install natural stone in these locations:

  • The Natural Stone Selection Guide near the front of the book includes a subsection “Considerations When Selecting Installation Materials.”
  • The 2018 TCNA Handbook includes approximately 66 methods for installation of natural stone, including movement joint guidelines. To my knowledge, none of the installation methods for natural stone list organic adhesive as a suitable material for the bond coat. Typical bond coats detailed in the “Materials” section of the stone methods are cementitious or epoxy.

The TCNA Handbook’s Setting Materials Selection Guide (page 17 in the 2018 edition) includes a subsection for using “Organic Adhesive” in which it is described as suitable for setting ceramic tile.

As you have already discovered, organic adhesive is not identified as a bond coat for installation of natural stone tile. One of the reasons is the result experienced in the white marble installation that has yellowed.

I have found that some manufacturer’s technical data sheets for their organic adhesives specifically state they are not to be used for setting natural stone. I hope this helps. 

Mark Heinlein, NTCA Training Director, NTCA Technical Trainer

Caulking corners and Lippage issues

Ask the Experts – September 2018

Ask the Experts Q&As are culled from member inquiries to NTCA’s Technical Support staff. To become a member and make use of personal, targeted answers from Technical Support staff to your installation questions, contact Jim Olson at [email protected].


My biggest question is regarding plane intersections, specifically a corner where two vertical walls meet inside a shower. I know that we should be caulking – not grouting – the corner joint, but what’s the best way to go about doing this? Should we put in the backer rod prior to grouting and then remove the backer rod (if the joint is small enough to not need it) before applying the silicone? Otherwise, it seems to me that it is going to be tough to keep that joint clean of grout, and once the grout is in there it essentially locks out the ability for expansion, right? Or am I thinking about this wrong?

Also I’m hung up on lippage (no pun intended!), especially when using bigger (say 12˝ x 36˝ or 12˝ x 48˝) tiles. Even when not having any overlap in the pattern so as to minimize the potential for misaligned height differences between the centers and ends of the tiles, it seems to be very, very difficult to get a truly flat install even when using a lot of leveling spacers. I know that the lippage requirements increase based on the tile size, but what else can we do besides trying to keep the pattern helpful to minimizing lippage and spot-checking tiles and not using any badly warped tiles? Seems like a lot of waste that way too.


Your description in your first question is correct. ANSI A108 recommends grouting before installing sealant. Grout hardening in the change-in-plane joint is problematic. Installing the backer rod before grouting, then removing and replacing it is a good way to keep the joint clean. Use ASTM C920-rated silicone grout-color coordinating sealant for the joint. ASTM C920 sealant requires use of a backer rod for best performance.

For your second question – to begin with, as discussed in our workshops, substrate flatness for large-format tile is critical. Lippage tolerances do NOT increase with tile size. Layout, pattern and grout joint width are all components of minimizing lippage and keeping it within tolerances. All of these are standardized measures required by ANSI A108. Often, it is of crucial importance to use tile manufactured in accordance with ANSI A137.1 to achieve less-than-maximum allowable lippage in an installation. 

Mark Heinlein, NTCA Training Director, NTCA Technical Trainer

StonePeak: first US plant to produce gauged porcelain tile panels

New Continua production line aims to produce 1000 5’ x 10’ gauged porcelain panels a day

Crossville, Tenn. – On September 12, a group of customers, press, state and local dignitaries, and company management assembled at the StonePeak High Tech Porcelain plant here to celebrate the expansion of the first U.S.-based plant to produce 5’ x 10’ gauged porcelain panels.

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The $70 million expansion adds 160 workers to the facility, which now measures 1 million square feet. Federica Minozzi, CEO of the Iris Ceramica Group, parent company of StonePeak, SapienStone, FMG, Porcelaingres, Ariostea, Eiffelgres, and Fiandre, spoke during the ribbon-cutting ceremony, stating that not only is this plant the first in the U.S. to produce gauged porcelain 5’ x 10’ panels, but it’s the first in the world to also to offer the capacity to cut those panels to smaller sizes such as 12” x 12”.  Panel thicknesses range from 6 mm to 2 cm.

“We didn’t even do this investment in Italy,” she said. “We decided to do it in Crossville.”

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Iris Ceramics Group CEO Federica Minozzi with StonePeak leadership and state and local dignitaries cut the ribbon on the Crossville Tennessee’s factory expansion, the first in the world that produces 60 x 120 gauged porcelain tile panels and also cut sizes down to 12 x 12.This $70 million expansion also adds 160 workers and at peak will produce 1000 panels a day.


Clays are sourced from the Carolinas, Kentucky and Tennessee to manufacture the panels, said Fiandre USA’s director of sales marketing Eugenio Megna, who led visitor tours through the plant.

The company uses the Continua production process and Sacmi machinery on the line, and utilizes sophisticated inkjet graphics to achieve looks like Calacatta or other aesthetics that are nearly indistinguishable from natural stone, as well as other in-demand looks. Random patterns, continuous veining and bookmatching can also be achieved here. It takes two hours from start to finish to produce a porcelain slab, and the end product is 25-30% harder than granite, when measured on the Mohs scale. Full size panels including StonePeak’s Plane 2.0 line, are shipped on A-frames, 25 to a side. The line has been operational since May.

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Fiandre USA’s Eugenio Megna led tours through the new plant expansion. This A-frame filled with porcelain panels is ready for shipping, and holds 25 5′ x 10′ panels on each side.


Local dignitaries praising the investment in the Crossville, Tenn., local economy included Angela Regitko, business development consultant for the State of Tennessee, Crossville Mayor James Mayberry, and newly-elected County Mayor Alan Foster, who noted that StonePeak has made a $200 million investment in machinery and its facility since it opened in 2005, and has provided jobs for 400 workers in Crossville.

After expressing thanks to employees and state and local support, Minozzi revealed that the decision to hold the ceremony on September 12, a day after the 17th anniversary of the September 11 attacks in the U.S., was intentional, as a way to both honor the significance of the day and to celebrate the resilient, renaissance spirit of the USA to rebuild after that tragedy. “I love America,” she said.

In the evening, guests and hosts gathered for a soiree at LA Jackson, the rooftop bar of the new Thompson Hotel in Nashville.

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At the post-tour party on the rooftop bar of Nashville’s Thompson hotel are (l to r) StonePeak Ceramic’s Todd Ware, exec vp of national accounts;Leonardo Pesce, vp of operations; and Iris’s Marco Portiglia, sales & marketing director.


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Mediterranea’s Michael (l) and Don Mariutto at the StonePeak afterparty atop the Thompson hotel in Nashville.


Gauging Savings: USI Porcelain Panel Project Saves Time & Money

More than three decades ago, global tile manufacturers introduced through-body porcelain tile, and it quickly and seemingly became the industry’s cure-all. Being more molecularly compact than typical glazed ceramic tile, it offered the same durability and resistance to moisture, as did solid granite… and, at a lesser price-point. 

Over the years, porcelain formats morphed into gargantuan tile sizes as large as 36” x 48.” And these tiles were no longer just “through-body” versions. Advanced inkjet printing processes were developed that actually gave the tiles both “looks” and textures resulting in it being almost impossible to discern whether or not they were true natural materials. And, this printing procedure was no flimsy topcoat. Airports around the globe, for example, which have tens of thousands of people racing across their terminal floors pulling wheeled luggage on a daily basis, have been successful with their specification of HD printed, porcelain flooring. 

So what was next in the world of porcellanato? In the last few years, a new phenomenon has appeared, now termed “gauged porcelain panels.” These are extremely large tile slabs, produced with fine porcelain clay, manufactured to minimal tile thickness without compromising the performance levels inherent to porcelain tile. Visionary architects are specifying this material for a myriad of applications, including to be installed directly over existing tile (which means the arduous, messy, time-consuming and disruptive process of removing ceramic tile can be eliminated), as monolithic-appearing wall applications… and, even to perform as exterior cladding. Relative to vertical installations, one of the few disadvantages of “regular” porcelain tile is weight. Gauged porcelain panels have become the ideal alternative, because when installed correctly, due to having much lighter weight, various structural components can be reduced… saving a great deal of installation time and out-of-pocket money. A good example of this took place recently at the University of Southern Indiana’s Health & Professions Building. 

Crossville’s Laminam gauged porcelain panels were specified for this interior project, which consisted of 2,500 square feet of wall space for a commercial kitchen classroom. “Originally, we bid the job to be tiled using a traditional mortar system. Adam Abell, our Bostik representative, came in and asked if we would consider an alternative installation system that offered a host of benefits,” stated Danny Fulton, Vice President of Evansville, IN-based Fulton Tile & Stone. “We were ready to begin the project, but because of our strong rapport with Adam, we granted him some presentation time that included having our Crossville representative, Tony Davis attending along with our team. I had no idea of what Bosti-Set™ was… or, what it could do. But in retrospect, granting Adam time to showcase his new product proved be one of the best decisions we’ve made in a long time!” 

Abell demonstrated how projects calling for gauged porcelain panels could be installed in roughly half the time, even with a smaller crew. He showed how Bosti-Set™ immediately grabbed porcelain tile panels in a single coat, did not allow any sag, yet made it possible for these panels to be “reposition-able” for at least 30 minutes. “As a business owner, I’m always looking for efficiencies that are timesaving and ultimately, cost saving,” added Fulton. “So ultimately, we decided to work with this newer product. 

“We had a lot to learn,” Fulton continued, “as the panels basically had to be ‘picked up’ using suction cups with aluminum spines, not unlike the way glass panels are installed. A single layer of adhesive is troweled only onto the back of the panel, cutting the square footage necessary to trowel in half. This also cuts down on weight… and, deadline stress on our installers.”

Fulton went on to state that he was so captivated by this project… he actually put on his accountant’s hat and followed every single step to measure the overall savings. “There is no mixing needed with this system,” he mentioned. “It’s just ‘open and go.’ Other systems require a 50 lb. bag of thin-set per panel. This project had 70 panels to install, and I estimated that without mixing, we could roughly save 30 minutes per panel on the installation alone, not to mention the mixing time and chasing water that was completely eliminated. Ultimately, for this 2,500 square foot project, even though Bosti-Set™ is a bit more costly than other products, we may have saved close to $5,000 just by using it. “And, that number is very conservative!” Fulton beamed.

He added that the project worked out so well, “Fulton Tile & Stone has begun to use Bosti-Set™ on a regular basis for other projects we have in the queue, including ‘phase two’ at the USI facility.”

Gauged porcelain panels have certainly become the rage. According to Martin Howard, Executive Vice President of David Allen Company and current President of the National Tile Contractors Association, “This newer product offering has been accepted in the marketplace because, in particular, architects and designers see the advantages offered by a large panel format that is much lighter in weight than other high-performance surfacing options. And due to their expansive size, there are less grout joints visible. That means a wall application, for example, can give the appearance of stone veneer at a lower price point, because single slab appearance is now possible.” 

“You can’t learn how to use the system overnight,” declared Fulton. “So, we decided to have all of our installers take as much time to learn this system as they needed. Both Bostik and Crossville helped us with educating our team at optimal levels. Generally in our business, some of the more seasoned installers want to stick with methods they’ve used in the past. I thoroughly understand that. But when we were able to prove to all our installers that not only was Bosti-Set™ easier to use… it allowed them to finish projects earlier and the move on to the next one…  I think they were all very much sold!”

Fulton Tile & Stone depends upon its major distributor, Louisville Tile for the great percentage of tile and sundry materials used in the many installations for which the firm is engaged. Don Kincaid, Vice President of Sales & Marketing at Louisville Tile, believes gauged porcelain tile panels have a very, very bright future. “In particular for the commercial sector, these materials are gaining more and more acceptance. Designs calling for gauged porcelain, at this early stage of its existence, most likely are coming from savvy architectural designers who understand it doesn’t just add a monolithic look due to having minimal grout lines. It offers many more solutions, one being because it is so much lighter in weight than natural stone… it can be directly installed on vertical surfaces as a viable alternative. And, because of the realism generated by today’s amazing high-definition inkjet printing processes, very few people will not know the product isn’t an actual stone slab. 

“We also believe,” continued Kincaid, “that gauged panels will soon be specified on a regular basis for residential applications, one example being shower walls. Forward-minded installation professionals such as those at Fulton Tile & Stone, understand how glass panels are adhered to walls, and will continue to embrace the best ways in which to install these products.  Now that there is a product such as Bosti-Set™, which offers so many installation performance benefits, we at Louisville Tile are even more positive about this product category.”

Kincaid was also extremely positive about the University of Southern Indiana gauged porcelain panel project. “And why not?” he declared. “That’s my alma mater!”




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