Cersaie large-format modules and slabs offer thin and thick profiles

This year at Cersaie, many Ceramics of Italy companies launched a range of large-format tiles for interior and exterior use and thin tile/gauged porcelain tile products. Here’s just a peek at what visitors to Bologna, Italy, saw on display at the end of September at the show.

Fioranese: Liquida

The Liquida collection, designed by Davide Tonelli for Ceramica Fioranese, evokes 1950s-era wallpaper with its graphic patterns and forms. With a surface inspired by the look of natural limestone, the collection is available in six pastel colors – ivory, dove grey, pink, sage green, powder blue and cocoa – and 8 captivating patterns – Porthole, Frame, Ribbed, Cut Out, Bold, Plaid, Oval, and Block. Liquida slabs (48” x 102”) are suitable for wall applications in residential and commercial projects, and create a seamless, wallpaper-like appearance. www.fioranese.it/

Blustyle: Yosemite

Blustyle’s Yosemite collection is inspired by the look of limestone slabs, carefully produced to reflect the natural characteristics and veining of the material. This porcelain stoneware collection offers solutions for both indoor and outdoor flooring. The 35” x 35” 11mm indoor floor tiles provide guaranteed durability. The 24” x 24” 20mm format pavers, with their textured surface, are suitable for all outdoor flooring – even for use on driveways. The collection is available in three colors – Lake (ivory), Park (beige), and Rock (ash). www.blustyle.it

Ceramica Sant’Agostino: Oxidart

Inspired by oxidized metal slabs, the Oxidart collection by Ceramica Sant’Agostino beautifully conveys the passage of time. The 10mm porcelain tiles are suitable for both floor and wall applications in commercial and residential settings, and are available in a wide range of sizes and graphic patterns. The glazing technique used on the surface creates a combination glossy/matte finish. Oxidart is available in four colors – black, copper, iron, and silver – and in several large format sizes: 47” x 47”, 35” x 35”, and 24” x 47”.  www.ceramicasantagostino.it/en/

Edilgres: I’m Italian Marble

The Edilgres I’m Italian Marble collection draws inspiration from the finest marbles, flawlessly reflecting the material’s natural veining and shades. With this collection, the traditional beauty of marble is met with the modern, high-technology performance of porcelain stoneware. An addition to the company’s Folio 6.0 slabs collection, I’m Italian Marble is available in two 6mm formats (47” x 94” and 47” x 47”), three finishes (Rectified, Opaque, and Polished), and seven colors (Apuano White, Arabesque White, Elegant Grey, Corinthian Beige, Prestige Light Grey, Coffee Brown and Sahara Noir). www.edilgres.it/

Emilgroup: Level

Level, Emilgroup’s new line of large ceramic slabs, opens up new horizons for architects and designers looking for creative ceramic applications. Two size variants – 6.5mm in 63” x 126” and 12mm in 64” x 128” – make the collection suitable for more than just floor and wall applications. These large-format sizes are ideal for use as countertops, backsplashes, worktops, tables, and doors, thus allowing for seamless continuity in the design of a space – from flooring, to wall covering, to furnishings. There are four looks available: marble, cement, solid colors, and design. www.emilgroup.it

Panaria Ceramica: Eternity 0.3

Panaria Ceramica’s Eternity 0.3 collection of large thin slabs is inspired by the aesthetic characteristics of marble with various veining patterns, shades, and elegant designs. Two 6mm size variants – 47” x 102” and 47” x 47” – are available in four different colors: Statuario White, Arabesque Pearl, Breach Grey, and Marquiña Black. The Statuario White and Arabesque Pearl colors are available in a bookmatch design with a Lux finish. Eternity 0.3 is perfect for flooring, wall covering, and custom-built furniture. www.panaria.it

Bonds and the construction process

What is a bond?

No party enters into a construction contract expecting any party to default. Contracting parties, however, must manage the inherent risk of the unexpected during construction projects.  Construction bonding is a method commonly used by contractors, subcontractors and owners to redistribute the risks associated with defaults during the life of a construction project.

A bond is a contractual obligation undertaken by a surety company (often, an insurance company) to perform or pay a specific amount of money if the principal (often, the general contractor or installation contractor) does not perform or pay.  A surety relationship is a three-party contract that guarantees that the principal will fulfill its obligations to the third party, the obligee (often the project owner for performance bonds).

In other words, by taking out a bond, the principal and surety have made a contractual promise to complete the principal’s obligations or to pay the obligee the costs of completion up to the agreed-upon surety amount (called the “penal sum”).  The principal will thereafter have a reimbursement obligation to the surety for any amounts the surety may pay out on the bond to the obligee.

Types of bonds

The three most common construction surety bonds include:

  • Performance bonds which secure the general contractor’s promise to perform the contract in accordance with its terms and conditions. The surety bond provides for compensation to the obligee (generally the owner/developer for the project) for financial losses if the principal (traditionally the general contractor) fails to perform. 
  • Payment bonds which guarantee the principal’s obligation (typically being the general contractor) to make payments to subcontractors and suppliers hired by the principal; the surety is also responsible for defending and indemnifying the project owner against claims of nonpayment and assumes the responsibility for paying these claimants.
  • Bid bonds which provide protection to the obligee (again, generally the owner) if a winning bidder (the contractor) fails to follow through with executing the contract.

Insurance vs. bonds

Although surety bonds and insurance are both risk-management tools, surety bonds are not a form of construction insurance and are quite different in many important respects. An insurance policy is a two-party agreement where the insurer generally expects losses from covered events (and generally the insurer does not seek reimbursement from the insured). A surety, on the other hand, does not necessarily expect losses, will take steps to prequalify principals before they can be bonded, and will generally seek reimbursement from the principal. Likewise, where an insurance policy’s coverage comes into play when unexpected or fortuitous events occur, a surety bond is triggered only upon default by the principal regardless of the reason for the default (with certain exceptions). In a way, a surety bond is more like a tripartite credit agreement with the surety guaranteeing financial support on behalf of the principal.

Bonds matter

The goal of the suretyship is to provide (conditional and necessary) financial support to owners and contractors (as well as lenders and equity investors) in the event of a default in order to keep a project moving forward. While there are certainly advantages and disadvantages to any construction risk management method, suretyship is an excellent fiscal tool to provide confidence to the key stakeholders of a construction project that the project will be completed and will be free from encumbrances.

No matter the type of surety bond, these are contracts, and these contracts require careful review so that all parties – owners, contractors, sub-contractors, lenders, investors, and public officials – understand their respective rights and obligations. Parties also need to follow state and federal laws governing the bonding of public and private projects. A review of these issues, including suretyship obligations and protocols, defenses, claims, the form agreements and recent case law in suretyship is beyond the scope of this article. Nonetheless, such issues must be carefully considered before a bond should be issued.

Multifunctional foam building panels offer a myriad of advantages to the tile setter

The quality and integrity of the tile covering is only as good as its foundation. Many substrates are unsuitable, especially in areas with high moisture, requiring comprehensive preparation and waterproofing. Multifunctional foam building panels provide the tile setter with control over the installation by providing the means to simply and easily create ideal substrates for tile.

Control of the substrate

Originally the tile setter was responsible for building substrates using mortar. While this demanded significant skill and labor, the results were flat, plumb, and level surfaces with square corners for high-quality finished applications. As the thin-bed method became predominant, fewer installers were able to remain competitive or float mortar at all. Building the substrate shifted from the tile setter to other trades, and the results were often not suitable for tile, whether dimensionally unstable, moisture-sensitive, or poorly constructed. Comprehensive preparation by the tile setter became paramount. When foam tile backers emerged, control of the substrate was returned to the tile setter.

The foam board

Typical foam boards consist of a foam plastic core (e.g., XPS, EPS, or polyiso), sandwiched by reinforcing layers to provide stiffness. The reinforcing layer may serve as the bonding surface, or another layer may be added for this purpose. Panels are waterproof, stable, lightweight, and easy to handle, cut, and install, making them an excellent substrate for tile. There is often a wide range of thicknesses to suit various applications.

Prefabricated components for shower applications, including niches, benches, curbs, and ramps, are waterproof, stable, and ready to tile. They are easy to install, saving time and increasing productivity, and integrate simply with foam panels or bonded waterproofing membranes.

Curbs can be built-up using conventional building materials, but this is time-consuming and requires complete waterproofing. Foam curbs are fast and can be seamlessly installed into the surrounding waterproofing system. Prefabricated ramps are an excellent option for curbless showers, especially when recessing the substrate is not desired or possible. 

Foam panel applications

Walls: Foam panels can be fastened to framing to replace drywall or cement backer boards. The assembly is completed by sealing seams and penetrations, rather than applying a membrane over the entire surface.

Masonry and finished walls are often unsuitable for tile because they can be uneven or difficult to bond to. Foam panels can be fully embedded in thin-set mortar or spot-bonded to the wall. Spot-bonding, an approved method for KERDI-BOARD panels, allows for adjustment to achieve plumb wall surfaces and square corners.

Partitions: Partitions are commonly used to separate shower or toilet stalls or to divide rooms. Using masonry blocks or framing is time-consuming and often requires further preparation before tiling. Foam panels, typically 2″ thick, provide an efficient alternative. They can be bonded with thin-set mortar or adhesive and anchored to floors and walls, or stabilized with reinforcement profiles.

Shelves and benches: Custom shelves are an elegant solution for storing toiletries in the shower. Simply cut the foam panel and dry fit the shelf prior to installation, using waterproofing accessories as required. The shelf can even be tiled beforehand for quick installation, including retrofit applications in existing showers.

Custom benches can be installed with an apron similar to the prefabricated variety, or as floating seats. For example, a 2″ thick panel with reinforcing profile installed across the face can be used to create a floating seat that supports loads typical of the application. 

Bathtub platforms: Foam panels can be cut to size to create the supports, decking, and apron for the structure, all to the exact dimensions required by the tile setter. Thin-set mortar or adhesive can be used to install the panels, although mortar will provide more adjustability to ensure level horizontal surfaces. Not only does the tile setter take back control of the installation, he or she can generate additional revenue on the project.

Countertops and Vanities: Gauged porcelain tile panels have created an opportunity for the tile setter to reclaim countertops, particularly when coupled with foam boards. Using these tile panels reduces the number of grout joints on the countertop, and 1-1/2″ or 2″ foam boards can be adhered to the base cabinets instead of plywood.

Foam boards can also be used to create storage solutions to suit the owner’s needs. Even floating vanities can be constructed using multiple layers of foam panels supported by finished brackets or corbels. The vanity is simply bonded to the walls and the top of the supports.

Returning control to the tile setter

Multifunctional foam building panels are a modern incarnation of the mortar bed, in that they return control of the project to the tile setter. Creative applications can be realized using simple tools and materials in a fraction of the time it takes to build using conventional materials. Flat, level, plumb, and square substrates are now within reach, along with reduced labor and increased productivity.

Matthew Welner, Blue Ridge Tile and Stone

Challenging CTI exam demonstrates Welner’s dedication to the technical side of the trade

Matt Welner, Blue Ridge Tile and Stone, LLC in Hickory, N.C., is CTI #1276.Welner is a NTCA member and State Ambassador.

Matt Welner, owner of Blue Ridge Tile and Stone in Hickory, N.C., and NTCA State Ambassador for North Carolina, started mixing thinset when he was only 15. And six years ago, he struck out to establish his tilesetting business. 

He started hearing about the Certified Tile Installer exams on the Facebook group Tile Geeks, and then learned more about it while at a NTCA workshop. “It sounded like a fun opportunity to test my skills,” Welner said. “Also after working by myself for a number of years, I wanted to see how I compared to my peers.”

Like many others who have challenged themselves with the exam, his hope was that by successfully completing it, he would set himself apart from other companies. He also hopes that “my future clients will see that I care about the educational / technical side of the trade,” he explained. “I always include the fact that I am a Certified Tile Installer during an initial consultation and also include it on my written estimates.”

Welner’s 3-year old son Jaxson, is VERY excited about the latest issue of TileLetter!

When December 2016 came around, he signed up to take the exam at the headquarters of the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation.  Despite his experience in the trade, he found the exam challenging. “Apart from the installation, time management and your ability to follow directions are crucial,” he said. “It was more difficult than I believed it would be leading up to the test.”

Welner prepared for the exam by reading all the supplied material, and then completed the written test a few weeks prior to the hands-on test. “I found the book portion very informative,” he said. “I did a chapter a night and got through it in no time.”

In 2019, Welner plans to take his certifications to the next level by taking the Advanced Certifications for Tile Installer (ACT) exams. 

Addy, Welner’s
five-year old daughter, is flexing her muscles in regal style.

I think the CTI test sets the bar for those who can produce a quality product,” Welner said. “I do a lot of residential remodel and I feel it sets me apart and helps the homeowners see that it’s my goal to give them a quality job.”

Welner, now CTI #1276, suggests to his peers, “If you’re considering taking the exam, I would highly recommend doing it. Challenge yourself, learn something new, and take yourself to the next level.”

Jaxson’s ready to take over the business.















Lack of weep holes, uncollapsed mortar ridges may cause stone darkening in showers

An ongoing issue with stone shower installations is that sometimes stone showers mysteriously discolor or appear to not drain. There are various conditions and situations when this appears, and a range of explanations why this happens.

Recently a NTCA Five-Star Contractor had a problem with a Calacatta marble tile shower, installed with 4” x 4” tileable drains, utilizing a topical waterproof membrane system. The contractor reported that the waterproofing used is not leaking, the slope is done according to code and the thin-set mortar was chosen appropriately for the installation system and white marble. These topical membrane systems and drain assemblies are sometimes used in lieu of a traditional mortar bed shower pan application with weep holes.

The contractor contacted the manufacturer rep as well as the tile supplier, asking, “We are wondering if the water infiltrates the white marble from the exposed edges around the drain enclosures, and because of its porous nature, and because of the waterproofing underneath, it is taking much longer to dry.” 

Mark Heinlein, NTCA Training Director, enlisted the help of other industry experts to provide an answer, as well as giving his expert opinion.

“There is indeed concern in the tile industry regarding the situation you described,” Heinlein said. “The NTCA’s Technical Committee has been giving this issue serious consideration and has appointed a subcommittee to gather data in an attempt to quantify and hopefully identify the nature of the problem. To help me respond to your question, I have addressed Mr. Martin Brookes and Mr. Steve Young, who have been the persons actively pursuing the causes of this issue.”

Martin Brookes, of NTCA Five-Star Contractor Heritage Tile and Marble in Mill Valley, Calif., offered these thoughts: “The problem with this type of shower pan assembly is that there is no accommodation for a weep system and all water is evacuated topically. This in turn could create a problem around the drain with light colored stones or transparent tile,” he said. “The moisture can’t evacuate like a traditional water-in/water-out shower pan liner with a weep system. In addition, since the stone material is directly bonded to the membrane, allowing no room for error in the installation process, water can pool under the tile especially if the ridges are not fully collapsed. It is my opinion that if this type of system is used with the light colored stones or transparent tile, proper slope, mortar coverage and troweling techniques must be used to prevent any water accumulating underneath the tile surface.” Steve Young of Steve Young & Associates, White Plain, Ga., concurred.

Heinlein provided the contractor with documentation they could present to the client to address a similar problem on other showers on a current project.

“Page 252 of the 2018 NTCA Reference Manual is a sample letter (with photos) to prospective clients regarding this matter,” Heinlein said. “I have also spoken with James Woelfel, Chairman of the NTCA’s Technical Committee. James concurs with Martin’s assessment in that it is likely the troweled mortar ridges under the tile on the pan are not fully collapsed. This allows water to run under the tile through the bond coat and on top of the waterproofing membrane until it hits the drain assembly, where it then begins to pool in the uncollapsed ridges and is further absorbed by the tile. Additionally, there are some concerns that the stone could be sourced from quarries around the world and may be a similar species as Calacatta Marble, but may not have the same properties as Calacatta Marble.”

The contractor was elated at the information and solution to the mystery. “Thanks so much all!” she said. “We are so grateful to have such accessible expert resources!”

Apprentice competition tests hands-on prowess and book learning

From mud to mortar, BAC/IMI contest highlights benefits of training

TEC logoEvery three years, the top tile-layer apprentices in the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers (BAC) head to Bowie, Md., tools in tow, to compete for a top score in a rigorous test of hands-on skills and technical knowledge. Organized in conjunction with the International Masonry Training and Education Foundation (IMTEF), which provides training for BAC members and is funded through the International Masonry Institute (IMI), the triennial event celebrates the trowel trades and the trade workers committed to learning them through BAC’s apprenticeship program. 

A schematic showing what apprentices’ finished test modules should look like.

California’s David Perez earned the highest score, but, said IMTEF’s Lupe Ortiz, “They’re all winners.” He explained that the 13 apprentices – who spent a day being closely scrutinized by top BAC/IMI tile instructors and craftworkers from various parts of the country – had won the similar competitions held at the local and regional levels to advance to this final round. Ortiz was one of the contest judges, a role befitting someone who has trained scores of apprentices in California and is known by many in the industry as a stickler for strict adherence to installation standards and quality. He is now a regional director of apprenticeship and training for IMTEF.

The hands-on component of the competition included a demandingly broad scope of skills tests, all of which had to be done within a strictly enforced time limit. Mudding walls – arguably one of the most difficult and increasingly lesser-known processes related to installing tile – was reintroduced into the competition program this year, noted Gavin Collier, an apprentice coordinator and contest judge. (He also played helper for the day, loading apprentices’ mortar stands with wall mud and cleaning buckets and tools.)  

An apprentice in the final stages of the mortar bed wall portion of the hands-on test.

Including wall mud in the curriculum helps keep the ability to produce mortar bed walls from becoming a lost art. An ever-expanding array of backer boards and thinsets has gradually replaced much of the mortar bed work performed by tile setters, especially on walls due to fewer reasons mortar bed walls might be needed. Instead, custom-sized and shaped showers and multi-drain areas like commercial kitchens have kept mortar bed work on floors more necessary. Accordingly, mortar bed work is more widely practiced by residential and commercial installers alike.  

To prove their wall mud prowess, the contenders had to produce flat, plumb-faced walls with plumb and level perimeter edges, sized to the correct height and width for the tile installed over it. They also had to stay within industry standards for minimum and maximum thickness. In addition to the two adjacent walls being closely inspected for these considerations, evaluators checked the corner where they intersected for squareness. 

A view of the apprentice contestants working on their modules.

After putting up their wall muds, the apprentice contestants screeded and floated a mortar bed floor, installed tile with a challenging layout and trim pieces, and finished their test modules with grout and caulk. According to Ortiz and Collier, a total of about 40 installation details were carefully inspected and scored by the four journeyman evaluators, who quite obviously took their role seriously. Over the course of the day they compared notes constantly, and quietly but passionately debated their observations to arrive at their final evaluation scores. The individual aspects of the test module that they scored were the critical requirements and workmanship standards aimed at avoiding installation failures and aesthetic issues. Combing the mortar correctly to achieve proper mortar coverage is imperative, said Ortiz. “In our trade you have to pay attention to the small details,” he added.

Evaluators confer and judge the work of the apprentice contestants.

The following day the apprentices took a closed-book written test focused on tile industry ANSI standards and the TCNA Handbook of Ceramic, Glass and Stone Tile Installation. Combined scores were tallied, and Perez was announced champion for the tile division of the contest. 

Ortiz and Collier have been providing structured education and skills training to tile setter apprentices for several decades and are deeply committed to continued program developments and improvement. At the same time, they acknowledge that the top-performing apprentices’ high skill level is not only a result of the foundational skills built in those classrooms. The contractors they work for and installers they work under day-to-day are a significant influence on apprentices’ development, they said. 

“What they expect and how they have them do things in the field has to support what IMI trainers are showing them,” said Collier. Apprentices are on the job so much more than they are under an instructor’s tutelage, he added. When it comes to Perez and the other 12 apprentices who competed, it’s clear that this is happening.

California’s David Perez was the champion for the tile division of the contest.

Supervising: get bad at what you do

Manager. Foreman. Supervisor. Boss. These are all titles for the person who is responsible for getting a job done by directing other people. They might describe you or someone you work with. The key point, regardless of the title, is that this person is tasked with accomplishing a certain amount of work beyond that which one person is capable of doing. And, this person is expected to oversee the production of others to get that work done.

Often, this person is placed in this position of responsibility because of demonstrated proficiency at the task he or she is supervising. For example, an adept carpenter is told he will now supervise three other carpenters on a job; he becomes the foreman. No big deal really, as he generally works alongside the other three, setting the pace, and, if necessary, taking immediate corrective action if one of his crew makes a mistake.

The foreman is commended for his ability to “make it happen,” and this reinforces his behavior. He may be promoted to superintendent, where he will oversee several foremen. Each time he visits one of his crews, he shows them the “right way to do it.” After all, he is one of the best carpenters, which is how he got to be in the position he’s in. With pride, he steps in and implements the corrective action. The work is executed well and the company is happy. 

But the crew is not. 

This situation is not limited to the field; it happens in the office, too. Consider the accounting supervisor who is known for her attention to detail. Nothing slipped by her when she was a clerk, and now, nothing slips by her as a supervisor. The reason for this is that she practically replicates the work of her team as she closely checks and re-checks their work. She puts in longer hours, but that’s what it takes to make the numbers right. Her people may not get it right, so she will make sure everything adds up. 

As you read the two scenarios, you could probably identify the same characters in your organization. The fundamental problem here is that these people fail to recognize they are no longer getting paid to actually do the work. They are getting paid for the work to get done – by others. Unfortunately, we often end up rewarding them for the result rather than the process. I’m not saying we should not hold people accountable for results. But we shouldn’t reward them for repeatedly using the wrong method to get the work done. By insisting on doing much of the work themselves, they are failing to exercise supervision. They’re still trying to be the best at what they used to do, rather than growing their team’s abilities as well as their own. This creates several bad situations: 

The first is poor morale. The vast majority of people pride themselves on doing a good job. They want the opportunity to make a contribution. When insecure supervisors jump in to “fix” a problem, they send the message that the employee is incapable of doing the work correctly, that they don’t trust the employee. The employee is not held accountable, and is prevented from making the contribution to the company that he or she would like. 

When the supervisor does the work, the subordinates lose the opportunity to train and grow. In the same breath with which they lament that there are no good employees, they berate their own subordinates because they can’t do the work like they are “supposed to.” But, how can the employee improve if the supervisor keeps jumping in to “help”?

Eventually, the supervisor gets tired. He/She is putting in longer hours to get the job done because he/she is spending too much time doing the work of their people. The supervisor gets burned out. This leads to a number of additional bad situations: turnover, low production, and even lower morale, to name a few. 

If the supervisor is too busy jumping in and re-doing work, then they are not using their time to carry out their own responsibilities. These other things may not be directly related to production, so they may not be missed initially. But they will be caught later, after the problem has snowballed. For example, the superintendent may be in charge of filling out time sheets. Half the time, he turns them in late, and the rest of the time, they are inaccurate. Payroll is now forced to track him down to correct the problem. 

Finally, this supervisor is holding himself back. By continuing to micromanage his staff, he is insuring that they don’t develop. If there is no one to replace the superintendent, then he, in turn, cannot advance. Some people mistakenly think that, by not developing their subordinates, they are maintaining job security for themselves. In fact, what they’re doing is hurting the company. 

So, how does a company overcome this situation? Three basic steps are: 

  1. a thorough description of the superintendent position, 
  2. strong leadership from those who oversee the superintendent, and 
  3. training for the newly promoted superintendent in time management, delegation, and profitability.

If you are the best in your company at the work you do, let yourself get bad at it. Your supervisors are not getting paid for doing your work. This is not to say that the leadership of the firm should forget all they learned about the business on their way up the corporate ladder, but it is saying others should learn the task and the leadership should be learning new things. The pace of change is rapid today and employees need to be doing what they are paid to do. Line employees need to produce, supervisors need to oversee the production of line employees, and senior leadership should do whatever it can to make sure those two groups have the right training and resources to do their jobs the best they can. If you are in charge of people, your goal is to help them get better at what they do, not to do it better than they do. 

Certified Tile Installer (CTI) Program Achieves #1500 Milestone

Certified Tile Installer (CTI) Program Achieves Milestone

Alex Smith (l) of North Carolina’s Installations by Alex, Certified Tile Installer #1500, with CTEF’s Scott Carothers


The Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF) which provides education and installer certification for professionals working in the ceramic tile and stone industry proudly announces that it has achieved a new milestone for the Certified Tile Installer (CTI) program with the certification of CTI #1500.

The CTI Program Combats Poor Tile Installation

Established in 2008 to create a pool of recognized high-quality tile installers and combat poor installation, and with strong support from leaders of the National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA), Tile Council of North America (TCNA), and the entire tile industry, the CTI program reached 1000 certified installers in 2014.

Reaching 1500 certified installers in October 2018 means that reaching 2000 CTIs by the end of 2019 is achievable as the program’s momentum grows.

Introducing CTI #1500: Alex Smith, Installations by Alex

Alex Smith has been involved in custom tile installation since 2005.  Based in the mountains of North Carolina, he began working in the industry under the guidance of John Buford of the Stone Cavern. He went on to form Installations by Alex and specializes in luxury residential homes. He does a significant amount of work for Bill Dacchille of Dacchille Construction, as well as other contractors and homeowners.

A lifelong artist, Alex was initially trained in concert dance and is currently the board president for Dance Project Inc., a statewide arts organization.  “I am honored to be a Ceramic Tile Education Foundation Certified Tile Installer,” says Alex.

“The Toughest 25 Square Feet of Tile You’ll Ever Install”

Not everyone passes the hands-on portion of the Certified Tile Installer program test. In fact, Alex Smith was originally tested in 2015 and did not complete the installation in the allotted time. He explained, “Contrary to my expectation, the hands-on is by far the more challenging portion of the test. I was fairly confident in my quality of work going into the hands-on test. What I was not expecting was the difficulty in completing the assignment in the allotted time frame.  Even considering the small size of the area defined by the test, it is rare that I have to complete all phases of an install in one continuous session.”

Why Become a Certified Tile Installer?

Certified Tile Installers detail many benefits to becoming CTIs, ranging from achieving a competitive edge and bragging rights, to improving the tile industry, keeping up with tile industry education and current installation information, to avoiding failures and validating one’s skills as an installer.

For Alex Smith, it’s about providing customers with confirmation that he is Qualified Labor. He said, “Though the national standards have been in place for some time, the lack of an agency to educate and accredit installers has allowed the quality of installation work in the industry to be sporadic at best. The CTI is a tool that I am using to assure my clients that they are not just taking a ‘chance’ with their tile installation project.  My CTI helps to validate that I care about the quality of my work and want to provide a product that has a sound foundation for longevity of use.”

Tile Industry Recognized Certification

The Ceramic Tile Education Foundation offers the only tile industry recognized certification test validating the skills and knowledge of the installer.  This industry certification will become even more important as consumers, homebuilders, general contractors, specifiers and designers seek qualifications through programs such as industry certification.

The Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF) which sponsors the CTI program is supported by all segments of the ceramic tile industry. CTEF is headquartered in Pendleton, South Carolina, near Clemson University and the offices of the Tile Council of North America (TCNA).

To learn more about the Certified Tile Installer program, visit https://www.ceramictilefoundation.org/certified-tile-installer-cti-program.

# # #

About the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation

The Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF) provides training education and installer certification for professionals working in the ceramic tile and stone industry. Certification programs include the CTEF Certified Tile Installer (CTI) program which is the only third-party assessment of installer skill and knowledge recognized by the tile industry, and the Advanced Certifications for Tile Installers (ACT). For more information, visit https://www.ceramictilefoundation.org.

NSI Partners with Architectural Record in Natural Stone Academy


The Natural Stone Institute has announced a year-long partnership with Architectural Record to present the Natural Stone Academy, an interactive continuing education platform featuring articles and webinars about natural stone. Architects, designers, and stone industry professionals can take courses in the Academy to earn CEU credits. Individuals who complete all courses will receive a special badge.

There are seven courses available in the Natural Stone Academy, covering the following topics: anchorage systems for natural stone cladding, specifying natural stone, residential design, landmark design, design strategies, the enduring allure of working with natural stone, and the NSC 373 sustainability standard.

Since launching in September, over 1,500 individuals have completed courses through the Natural Stone Academy.

The Natural Stone Institute would like to thank the following companies who have sponsored this program: Alamo Stone, Camarata Masonry Systems, Ltd., Coldspring, Egymar International, International Marble Company, LLC, Lurvey Supply, North Carolina Granite Corporation, PICCO Engineering, Polycor, Raducz Stone Corporation, and Rugo Stone LLC.

To access the Natural Stone Academy, visit www.naturalstoneinstitute.org/academy.




Renovating Bhojwani Tower

Crossville’s porcelain tile panels and an innovative cladding system satisfy Miami Beach’s building codes and historic preservation standards

Built in the late 1950s, Bhojwani Tower was designed by Albert Anis, known for his Art Deco architecture throughout Miami. Originally a bank, the Bhojwani, located on the corner of one of Miami Beach’s busiest pedestrian intersections, operates as a mixed-use building with residential and retail areas. When beginning the renovation process, Kobi Karp Architecture and Interior Design not only had to consider updating the building’s exterior to stringent building codes but also meeting the requirements of the Miami Beach Historic Preservation Board.

Dan Slain of HyCOMB with HyCOMB’s unique stone and porcelain cladding solution.

Due to hurricanes, South Florida’s coastal areas fall into the High Velocity Hurricane Zone. Miami-Dade identified that it isn’t wind and rain that causes the most damage in strong storms; its exterior building pieces that come loose and turn into projectiles during extreme conditions. The International Building Code doesn’t allow anything larger than 3 square feet to be attached to the outside of a building because the adhesives used would cure before the cladding pieces are properly placed – especially in the area’s warm climate. This would make cladding more prone to fly off during storms.


Prior to installation, precut panels are laid out in the warehouse to ensure a match with adjoining pieces for a more continuous flow.

To meet all code and preservation requirements, the Kobi Karp design team specified Crossville’s I Naturali collection of gauged porcelain tile panels to cover the exterior walls of the Bhojwani Tower. The team also advised Miami-Dade County officials that the Crossville material would meet stringent building codes and come in on budget if mounted with HyCOMB USA’s innovative cladding system.

Robert Sutnick, Crossville, Inc. A&D representative, and Dan Slain of HyCOMB at HyCOMB offices in Hallandale Beach.

The HyCOMB USA team worked with D&B Tile Distributors – a frequent host of CTEF’s Tile and Stone Workshops – to deliver the solution for installation of Crossville’s gauged porcelain tile panels for this project. Daniel Slain of HyCOMB USA explained that the company’s system works with Crossville’s surfacing solution because of the unique backing configuration and proven performance during testing for extreme conditions. 

During testing, a standard piece of  2” x 4” lumber is shot out of an air cannon at a rate of 50 feet per second (fps). That’s over 34 miles per hour. This exercise shows simulated impact from airborne objects in hurricane situations.

“We have a honeycomb backer that is .75” thick,” Slain said. “We bond the gauged porcelain tile panels to our core.” After testing, the HyCOMB panels sustained minimal damage from the projectile 2” x 4”s, and remained intact, he said. 

The combination of Crossville’s gauged porcelain tile panels and the HyCOMB system achieved the aesthetic and technical performance requirements of this high-profile project

Crossville’s panels are 1M x 3M and relatively simple to work with for experienced installers who have received training with the material. The bonding of the tile panels to the HyCOMB USA core offers distinct efficiencies unparalleled by other surfacing options.

Slain said, “To direct bond, it would require more time because each row would have to set for a day. Our panels are independent of each other and held in place by mechanical fasteners. They do not rest on the layer below. On normal-size stone panels we would need a five-man crew. With the Crossville porcelain tile panels, we use three people and produce twice the square footage each day.”

Lightweight, heavy duty

Another major advantage of using the Crossville tile panels is the weight compared to other cladding options. These panels are lightweight enough to be handled by fewer workers. This is important to note for the Bhojwani project because of its location on a busy street corner in the heart of the tourist district. If the architects had specified natural stone, the project team would have faced more time-consuming challenges and safety issues. With the porcelain panels, the three-man crew was able to lift the tiles through the scaffolding and put them in place using HyCOMB’s fastening system – reducing both time and risk factors for the project during installation.

Beyond the benefits of installation efficiencies, the tile panels’ classic, timeless look answers aesthetic demands and is actually more consistent in appearance than other materials such as natural stone.

The panels not only offer a beautiful appearance for the building, but they will also be able to withstand the harsh South Florida elements. They’re innately resistant to UV rays and are highly scratch-proof and resistant to deep abrasion. Also, the panels are eco-friendly, as the body of the tiles is comprised of natural raw materials, and the tile does not release toxins into the environment.

Right style, right performance, right for the environment – Crossville’s porcelain tile panels are ideal for Miami Beach’s preservation standards and the seasonless appeal of this iconic destination.

Bhojwani Tower, with its new Crossville gauged porcelain tile panel exterior, stands out on the skyline of Lincoln Road in Miami Beach.

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