Women in Tile – 2013


According to the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012 saw a 1% drop in construction workers overall from 9,039,000 to 8,964,000. The percentage of women also took a slight dive to 9% of the total – 806,760 women in total – compared to 9.2% in 2011.

However, of the 150,000 carpet, floor and tile installers and finishers in 2012, 2.2% were women – that’s up from .5% in 2011 – a significant increase in distaff installers. Female helpers in construction dropped from 8% in 2011 to 4.5% in 2012, perhaps reflecting more women taking on primary roles as installers and construction workers.

This issue of TileLetter looks at four women and their paths through the tile industry. Nancy Epstein, based in Secaucus, N.J., is CEO of Artistic Tile (www.artistictile.com), an importer, distributor and manufacturer of luxury tile and stone products, with a 110,000-square-foot manufacturing facility,  nine U.S. showrooms and 150 dealers worldwide. Michelle Griffoul, from Buellton, Calif. (www.michellegriffoul.com), has been creating stunning handmade tile for 35 years. Our two tile installers are Michele Kalec, president of Picasso Tile & Stonework in Tempe, Ariz. (www.picassotile.com), and Carole Loquet a.k.a. La Caroleuse (www.lacaroleuse.com) who is a tile installer, trained in France, who now practices the trade in Montreal, Quebec Canada.

epstein_picsEpstein: making tile artistic

Nancy Epstein knew within three months of opening a tile showroom in 1993 that “developing quick-ship, in-stock luxury products would be instrumental to the success of the business,” she said. “The unfolding trends of the new shelter magazines popping up, extended European travel among Americans, and consumers working without the help of an interior designer all led to the increase of requests for rapid deliveries.” This knowledge led to the legendary rise of the luxury supply house that Artistic Tile is today.

Epstein was armed with a B.S. degree in business from Syracuse University, design classes at Parsons School of Design in New York City, and retail experience in furniture from her work with a luxury furniture importer, and exposure to retail from her father’s floor covering and furniture retail stores. “I took the retail knowledge I had absorbed and a personal love for luxury and combined them into one business,” she said.

Griffoul_picsGriffoul: from sculpture to tile

Award-winning handmade tile manufacturer and artist, Michelle Griffoul, started making her first site-specific tile projects about 1980. In 1989 she started selling to Ann Sacks and was included in her first catalog when Sacks, impressed by Griffoul’s ceramic sculpture and furniture, asked Griffoul to design a line. Griffoul snapped up the opportunity as steady income to support her two children in her work as a ceramic artist. “I could still be a very creative artist and make functional art as floors, walls, pools, kitchens, bathrooms,” she said.

Griffoul‘s art perspective allowed her to think outside the square – shape of tile – that is. “I was used to being different. When I started making tiles in the shape of squiggles, leaves, fish, etc. many people told me that I cannot make tiles the way I made them as far as design. Those comments gave me more energy to prove them wrong and be really successful at it.”

Griffoul brought her Masters of Fine Arts into her craft, but learned about the tile industry by “listening and participating in it,” she said. “By being a member of the Tile Council of North America I learned about specifications and expectations from customers. Michael Byrne taught me about installation,” she added.

kalec_picsKalec: choreographing beautiful tile and stone work

Michele Kalec – whose Picasso Tile & Stonework won the 2012 Contractor of the Year Recipient & Fabricator of the Year award from the Ceramic Tile & Stone Association of Arizona, and is a 2013 MIA Residential Interior/Exterior Pinnacle Award of Excellence winner – has been making art and building things since she was a child, learning how to handle tools from her woodworker dad. “With tile and stone, I combined my love of creating something with my hands into an art form. I’ve been hooked ever since,” she said.

Kalec joined the tile industry in 1988, incorporating as Picasso Tile & Design, Inc. in 1994. The company added a fabrication division in 1996 and has since been doing business as Picasso Tile & Stonework.

“With a bachelor’s degree in both sociology and choreography, I used what I had: the ability to listen, learn and make all the parts of the industry move in a beautiful dance,” she added. “Once I got my feet wet, I researched everything I could find online, in books and spoke with distributors and manufacturers about available seminars and training venues. My best asset was the fact that I am a perfectionist when it comes to tile and stone. I tried to leave no stone unturned in the learning process.”

la_caroleuse_picsLa Caroleuse: dedicated and passionate

French-born Carole Loquet has been a tile setter since 2002, originally studying to become a social worker. While she was demolishing the outdated bathroom in an old house she was renovating  with her boyfriend, she realized she wanted to become a tile setter. She chose training with Les Compagnons du Tour de France, even though she faced a lot of opposition from women in the organization’s administration who felt tile setting was a man’s job. She prevailed through the year of intensive training with work placements throughout France, getting work immediately after graduation with various companies.

In 2005 she created La Caroleuse in France to “do my work in accordance with the rules of art and my values,” she explained. “I wanted to offer customers quality and personalization of their work.” After five years, she and her boyfriend immigrated to Canada, where she worked on mosaic murals for a year. After becoming licensed in Quebec and working on a large hotel job, she again felt the passion to start La Caroleuse in Montreal.

“La Caroleuse” is a play on words: The word for tile setter in French is carreleur for men and carreleuse for women, so she made a pun using her name “Carole.” Suprisingly, the word “caroleuse” is now known in France and other countries as the name for her craft!

Building credibility

Almost universally, at one time in their careers, the women in our story were not taken seriously, but over time, their business or technical prowess woke business associates up to their competency. “It wasn’t until I placed container orders that they would take me seriously,” Epstein said.

“There is a learning curve of acceptance in this business as in most construction industries,” Griffoul said. She enjoyed greater acceptance once she won the Spectrum Design Awards Grand Prize.

“On many job sites I have been treated as if I didn’t know anything and should not even be there,” Griffoul said. “That was before they knew that I designed and manufactured the project they were installing. I never let anyone on the job site intimidate me, but that’s easier now than when I started 35 years ago.”

Kalec, who said she hopes “the undertone of ‘the boys club’” is obsolete by the time her daughter takes over the business, has seen a lot of acceptance and improvement on the jobsite, where “women are filling lots of different construction positions and have added a value and perspective that didn’t exist before. I think that competition in the field has provided an opportunity for new creative ideas and improvements in efficiency,” she said.

Peers and bastions of the tile industry have generated a lot of support, as have family members. Epstein’s husband constantly encouraged her – and then Epstein herself went on to be an inspiration and support for Michelle Griffoul, as were Michael Byrne, Bob Daniels, and NTCA’s own Bart Bettiga.

A local licensed contractor taught Kalec how to do her first Roman tub, just for the asking. “I will never forget that kindness,” she said. Fellow women in advertising, the A&D community and in related construction fields bolstered her confidence and knowledge as well.

Loquet gained knowledge and support from a visit to the Porcelanosa factory and continues to get feedback from professional tile setters around the world through her website and professional Facebook page. She’s also received a lot of support from U.S. tile setters.

“I never imagined such support from my peers,” she said. “I am honored.” In fact, it was a group of tile setters on a Facebook group that first introduced me to Loquet and praised her professionalism and setting skills.

The bottom line

The bottom line is that our group of professional women endorses tile setting for those who love the building industry, are competitive, strong and not easily intimidated, and have passion and fresh ideas.  “Never strive to keep up with the competition, strive to outpace them,” Epstein said.

Education is a common thread from all our luminaries in this story. Said Griffoul, “Educate yourself so you are the smartest person in the room or job site. Know design and the technology of manufacturing and installation. They are all integrated in a good job application. Learn from others around you and be open.”

“Do what you love and the money will follow,” said Kalec. “Know your passion and know your trade…It can be very rewarding to see projects come to fruition.”

Loquet summed it up, saying “This is an industry with numerous possibilities, changing where you learn every day. The tiles are endless, and manufactured throughout the world. It’s just exciting!”

DCOF Testing Mandated in 2014

eric_DCOFThe requirements for coefficient of friction – a measurement of a tile’s frictional resistance, closely related to traction and slipperiness – for ceramic tile have changed. The measurement is now DYNAMIC coefficient of friction (DCOF), which measures COF when in motion, vs. the old testing standard that measured a static COF. Any individual or firm involved in the manufacture, specification, sales, installation, or maintenance of ceramic tile floors must understand the new requirements for tile.

Many manufacturers continue to report COF numbers from the older method (specifically, SCOF values from the ASTM Intl. C1028 test method) along with newly-required COF numbers prescribed by the new ANSI A137.1-2012 standard for ceramic tile, which mandated this change in test methods.

The new test protocol is found in Section 9.6 of the A137.1 standard and is commonly known as the DCOF AcuTestsm.

Starting early in 2014, the old ASTM C1028 method is headed for obsolescence, so many ceramic tile manufacturers will only report their tile’s COF per the DCOF AcuTest.

In addition to the change in test methods, A137.1 now specifies a required DCOF AcuTest value for level interior tiles that will be walked on when wet; the required value is ≥0.42. Previously, there was no required COF value in A137.1 for wet floors, although a minimum SCOF value of 0.6, measured by the ASTM C1028 test method, was commonly specified for ceramic tiles in commercial project specifications. DCOF AcuTest values cannot be compared to old SCOF values due to the use of different wetting agents. For an accurate measure and assurance that the tile meets the minimum 0.42 AcuTest criterion, tile manufacturers MUST use the DCOF AcuTest method.

The technology on which the DCOF AcuTest is based was not available in the United States until recently. The DCOF AcuTest in particular offers several benefits over other methods of measuring COF: it is highly repeatable, it more accurately measures the COF of very smooth surfaces, it correlates well with European measures of COF, and it is portable.

If you haven’t switched yet to specifying/reporting/using/requiring DCOF Acutest values, make the switch today and don’t get left behind when the January 2014 deadline strikes. For more information, visit: TCNAtile.com.

Tech Talk – October 2013

TEC-sponsorWorking with electric heat under tile floors

By Tom Meehan, Cape Cod Tileworks

About 10 years ago when I wrote an article for Fine Homebuilding magazine about electric heat mats under tile floors, I was going to start the article with a rather funny opening line that went like this:  “Every time you step onto a heated tile floor, your feet say ‘ahhh.’”

As silly as that may sound, I have to say that after 10 years of having heated tile floors in my baths and kitchen, there is not a day in the fall and the winter that I do not notice the warmth every time I step onto the tiles. Living in New England, as I do – or anywhere in the northern part of the country – makes this system a nice bonus to have in a house. It is one of the very few things in construction that is simply not taken for granted.

There are several different companies with radiant heat systems on the market, and more are getting into the game each year. All of the systems work well when properly installed and, as usual, each claims to be a little better than the rest. They all seem to provide an equal amount of  heat.

Most can provide adequate warming for a bathroom and use only as much electricity as three or four 100-watt light bulbs. With large floors, such as a large kitchen, the heated floor mat systems can be made with 220-volt electric feed.

warmlyyours_sidebarWarming the floor, heating the room

At one point, electric heat mats were known just for supplying comfort heat, but now manufacturers are claiming that heat mats can be used as primary heat sources in tiled rooms. The great advantage to this is that you can heat the area you chose without affecting the heating system in the rest of the house. This is great for a three-season room or a basement.

One of the best advantages of these heating systems is that they have their own heat control unit that can be timed to turn the heat on according to your schedule. For instance, you can set it to come on at  5:00 a.m. and to go off four hours later after everyone has gone to work or school. Why pay for the heat when no one is home to use it?

The two most commonly-used electric heat mat systems are the flat mat made of woven polyester fabric in which the heat wires are embedded, and the roll-out mat. Only a couple of companies have the flat-fabric mats (that I know of), but many companies have the roll-out mats. I use both, and they both have their pros and cons.

Flat or roll-out mats: pros and cons

While I find the flat mats to be the quickest and easiest heating mats to install, there are a couple of drawbacks to keep in mind. The flat mats cost a little more than the other models, and once purchased and on the job site, the one-piece mats cannot be altered. The advantages of the flat mat are that it goes down very quickly, is easy to work with, and does not build up the height of the floor as much as the roll-out mats.

Roll-out mats can be customized to fit any size room. Once you have purchased the correct amount of square footage, they are completely adjustable left to right and back and forth. They also can be easily purchased at most tile stores and big box stores. They do take more of an effort, more time to install, and do in most cases take up more height because it is hard to keep the wires perfectly flat, since the coiled wires have some roll-up memory.

Here are some important tips to always keep in mind. Even though the mats are different in application, almost all rules apply.

Wires can never be cut NO MATTER WHAT. The mats should be ordered to a size smaller than the actual size of the room, and NEVER go under the toilet, vanity, or any other built-in furniture.

Every system has a thermostat probe wire that must be installed in the floor with the mat. The probe must be positioned a couple of feet into the room but must not cross over the heating element wires. So, the probe wire will go down one of the channels in between  the heating wires. Use a glue gun or tape to help hold it in place.

Check the electrical current with a voltage meter or a warning alarm device provided by the manufacturer. This MUST happen before installation, during installation, and when the job is complete. I leave the alarm device hooked up during the entire installation.

Once installed, the heat mats MUST be protected when being worked on. Even though the products are pretty rugged, a sharp knife or chisel will cut through the wires very easily.

Before installation, PLEASE read the manufacturer’s requirements and instructions. Each unit can be different. Proper setting materials must be used or the complete job may fail. For instance, woven mats have to be installed with latex-modified thin-set mortar and the tile being applied to them must be installed with latex-modified thinset as well.

Here is the biggest tip of all. With 95% of the heating mats I put in, I install a stress-, crack-isolation or uncoupling membrane (like Schulter® DITRA) over the heat mat before I install the tile. The membrane strengthens the floor, but more than that, it provides a buffer in case a tile ever has to be changed. Avoiding damaging the wires is a key factor. Also, the heat rising up through an uncoupling membrane provides better distributing of the heat. Using these membranes increases the price of the job and it also increases the height of the floor, but if figured in the early stages, it’s the best way to go to avoid any problems (and allow you to get to sleep at night).

Here are some electric floor warming systems to consider:

easyheatmatEasyHeat’s Warm Tiles Elite Mats™ are designed for fine residential and commercial floors. They are available in both standard rectangular sizes and custom layouts ranging from six to 120 square feet for areas with irregular shapes. Adding to their versatility is that the mats can be ordered in either 120V or 240V with high power output, so floors heat faster and more efficiently. www.emersonindustrial.com

warmlyyoursmatWarmlyYours Radiant’s TempZone™ Flex Rolls and Custom Mats add luxurious comfort to any room. With an industry-leading 15 watts per square foot, they provide powerful floor heating options. WarmlyYours supports its easy-to install TempZone™ products with planning and design services, unparalleled 24/7 installation and technical support, and a 25-year No Nonsense™ Warranty. www.warmlyyours.com

nuheatrollsThe Nuheat Floor Heating System heats tile, stone and laminate/engineered wood floors. Built like an electric blanket, Nuheat manufactures pre-built electric radiant heating mats available in over 60 standard sizes. For oddly-shaped rooms with curves and angles, Nuheat will manufacture a custom mat built to the exact specification of any space in only three days. The pre-built nature of the heating system creates an extremely easy install while still providing a viable heating alternative to electric baseboard heaters. www.Nuheat.com

warmupthermostatWarmup offers the exclusive 3iE™, the world’s first fully interactive, touch-technology and energy monitoring thermostat for heated floors. Temperature can now be regulated with ease and precision, and it can be programmed in under 10 seconds. Visit www.warmup.com to learn more about the 3iE™ and The World’s Best-selling Floor Heating brand®! See how to install Warmup floor heating systems by visiting this YouTube at http://goo.gl/Txk96a.  www.warmup.com

LAT-floorheatLATICRETE® has expanded its radiant heating offering by introducing Floor HEAT Wire. Floor HEAT Wire is a heating wire that is unattached to a grid mesh mat, offering unprecedented flexibility especially in tight areas or around furniture or fixtures that make it difficult to position a heating mat. Floor HEAT Wire is part of a comprehensive, lifetime warranty system for tile and stone applications, allowing contractors the simplicity of single-source supply. The LATICRETE Lifetime Warranty covers the floor warming system and its components, and thin-set mortar, grout and surface preparation products. www.laticrete.com


Tom Meehan is a second generation installer with over 30 years experience. He is also a state director for the NTCA. Tom is a long time writer for a number of different magazines and is the author of the book Working with Tile, which combines both design and installation techniques.

Case Study – Kitchen Transformation


Adept installation and design support beautifies and modernizes 40-year old kitchen

By Gary Kight, Conceptual Tile Solutions

In early July, a customer contacted me about installing a tile backsplash and kitchen floor. I set up an appointment with them to look at the scope of work involved and explained I could help out with some of the design ideas and tile selection.

When I arrived at the customers’ house and looked at the project, I discovered a galley-style kitchen (long and narrow) with an existing 1970s-era, aluminum 4” tile and Formica countertops that the clients wanted to update. I suggested that a 12”– 16” tile set on a 45-degree angle on the floor would look nice and give an illusion that the kitchen was not as long and narrow. They were unsure what they wanted for the backsplash, though they liked the 3” x 6” subway-tile look with some sort of design feature over the cook-top area. We talked about different ideas, and I recommended a couple of tile stores and contacts for them to research some different tiles and layout designs. I also gave them the link to the John Bridge “Tile Your World” forum (www.johnbridge.com) because I have been a member for numerous years and continually learn from the site and professional members.

1kitchenDuring the following three weeks, the clients called me a couple of times for advice and to let me know the countertops were being installed. About three weeks later, the customers called me back and told me they had made their tile selection and were ready for the installation.

Selecting the tile

I met with the clients again to review the design with the tile they selected. They chose a ceramic 13” x 13” Hispania Cerámica tile from the Gobi series in Mojave Sand for the floor; a Daltile 2” x 1” Fantesa Cameo Mosaic subway look for the backsplash and combined with Dune Metallic Gold glass tile and a 6” x 6” tile from Daltile’s Brixton line in Sand for above the cook-top design feature. Originally, a typical bull-nose trim was selected for the backsplash; however, I showed them my Schluter profile sample kit and they immediately opted for a Rondec profile in the Bahama color. After reviewing several design and color options with the new granite countertops, the clients selected the best combinations. I suggested a darker ring with a lighter center to help the feature stand out. A few days later, the client approved the final sketches.

The first day on the job, I had a couple of different variables to deal with. The first thing I looked at was a center reference – both horizontal and vertical – for the cook-top design feature. Based on that, I laid out a rough design for the cook-top feature. I then started laying out the rest of the backsplash area. As I drew reference lines, I realized the original design feature would overpower the regular backsplash area. When I showed this to the homeowner, they agreed, and I modified the design feature.

3kitchenAccommodating thick and thin tile

Once I got a handle on the overall layout design, I had other issues to address. The thickness of the two tiles in the design feature – plus the regular field tile of the backsplash – were all different. To overcome this obstacle I drew out reference lines where the design feature would exactly lay out. Once that was done, I tapered a layer of thin-set mud from about 1/16” to a feather edge about 5” around the design feature area. I then went ahead and laid my 1” x 2” field tile on the opposite wall to allow the mud to set. A couple of hours later it was set up enough to build up my transition. After laying the entire 2” x 1” subway tile, I came in the next day and measured the glass tile border strips and nailed up screen molding, which left me with a 3” perimeter gap where the glass tile would sit. Because the glass tile was the thinnest of the entire tile, I built up that area 3/16” so that after the glass tile was installed, the final design would sit flush. After the thinset was applied and left to dry for the buildup area, I caulked all of the 90-degree corners of tile – and where the tile met the granite countertops – with LATICRETE® LatisilTM caulk in the Latte color(also the grout color), using LATICRETE’s PermaColorTM grout.

The following day I removed the screen molding form boards I had made, set the tile in the design feature and grouted the opposite wall. A day later I grouted the rest of the backsplash area and did a little prep work for the floor installation that I completed the following week.


From linoleum to tile

The next week I began the floor installation. The previous week I had removed the existing 70s-era linoleum, so all I needed to do was figure out a proper layout and start laying tile. With the long and narrow dimensions of the galley kitchen, I wanted to center my tile layout from side to side, and end to end. I wasn’t too concerned about the dishwasher and refrigerator areas, due to the fact the tile would be always hidden underneath them.

After I found my center reference marks and did a dry layout, I showed the clients and got their approval. They actually thought it made the kitchen look wider than it was!

I pre-cut a couple of tiles,  mixed up some LATICRETE® 253 GoldTM thinset, let it slake up and then began spreading it on the floor. My helper back-buttered the tiles as I set them. As I went along, staying true to the reference lines I had popped on the floor, the transformation emerged. The next day I came in and grouted with the same PermaColorTM grout.

I advised the customers they would have one more day of eating out and then the kitchen would be all theirs. Overall the clients were extremely pleased with the outcome of the tile installation and the new look of their kitchen.

Business Tip – October 2013

mapei_sponsorFinancial Operations: running your tile business the right way

In this issue of TileLetter, we move to the Financial Operations section of the NTCA Business Reference Manual, as found on page 31 in that document. Part A familiarizes you with common accounting terms related to your business, and part B explains the labor burden rate. Check upcoming TileLetter issues for more tips and recommendations on running your business efficiently and profitably. To download the entire NTCA Business Reference Manual, visit www.tile-assn.com.

Financial operations

The relationship with an accountant is vital to running your business smoothly and profitably. Your accountant can advise you on the complexities of federal and state taxes and benefit you with good and proper record keeping. Your accountant can help you decide what type of business classification is best for you, and can be a valuable resource for future decision making.

a. Common accounting terms

BOOKKEEPING – the recording of monetary transactions related to your business.

ACCOUNTING – the financial structure of a company. An accountant helps design financial systems, conduct audits, develop forecasts, prepare tax reports, and analyze and interpret financial data for business decisions. Your accounting should be set up on cost accounting, not tax accounting. Tile contracting is a cost-based business.

CHART OF ACCOUNTS – When you set up your accounting program, the chart of accounts shows a specific numbered category which will be associated with each expense and type of income. A basic bookkeeping program will have a sample chart of accounts, or your accounting professional will have an outline for you to use. Setting up the Chart of Accounts correctly will make all your accounting work run more smoothly.

INCOME STATEMENT – Also referred to as the Profit and Loss statement, the Income Statement indicates how a company’s sales and expenses tally for a specific period of time. The difference between revenue (goods and services sold) and expenses (cost of goods and services provided) for a particular time is net income.

BALANCE SHEET – a “snapshot of a company’s financial condition” – a balance sheet shows assets (what you own), liabilities (what you owe), and ownership equity. The net worth of your business equals assets minus liabilities.

CASH FLOW STATEMENT – The flow of cash into and out of the business is reflected in its cash flow statement. This report is useful in determining the short-term viability of a company, particularly its ability to pay bills. It is useful to managers, accountants, potential lenders and investors, as well as the business owners.

PROFIT AND LOSS (P&L) STATEMENT – A regularly-produced report that shows the overall financial health of an organization by documenting income versus expenses. A well set-up P& L allows you to make good daily business decisions. Note: make sure depreciation is not included in this statement. First, you cannot use it; second, you cannot spend it, and if it is under expenses it pushes up your markup.

b. Labor burden rate 

“Burden rate is the total indirect cost, calculated as a percentage of the construction company’s direct labor. In other words, for every dollar of direct labor allocated to a contract, burden is applied as a percentage of the direct labor. But before a contractor can accurately calculate burden rate, all contract costs assumed by the company must be fully accounted for and factored into the final burden rate equation.

“Contract costs are broken into two classifications-direct and indirect. Examples of direct costs include direct labor, materials and supplies, equipment rentals, etc. These costs are obvious inclusions for estimators preparing bids for a potential contract. What may not be as obvious are the indirect contract costs.

“Indirect contract costs that should be part of the final burden rate calculation include:

  • Workers’ compensation
  • General liability and automobile insurances
  • Vehicle and equipment repairs and maintenance
  • Depreciation
  • Field communications expenses
  • Employee benefits such as health, life, disability
  • Payroll taxes

“All costs associated with paying employees, including FICA, unemployment and Social Security, should be calculated as part of labor, as should vacation time, holidays, sick days, warehouse personnel, training, safety, hand tools, and clothing.

“Variable overhead should also be factored into the overall mix. This category includes all costs directly related to employees that cannot be divided accurately between jobs, such as fuel and cell phones.

“All too often, these overhead expenses are overlooked by contractors and therefore not included when calculating a project’s burden rate. Depending on the benefit package involved, employee-related costs will typically account for 24% to 33% for a non-union contractor. For a union contractor, the burden rate for employee-related costs will range from 60% to 70%.”

– From www.constructionbusinessowner.com.

Ask the Experts – October 2013


I have a question about a new home constructed in 2012. We have porcelain tile over cement backer board over LP 3/4 floor decking. The backer board was installed with thinset to the OSB and screwed down. Tile was then thin set to the cement backer.

AtE-OctI have issues with loose tiles in two areas: kitchen and master bath. An engineer has assessed the I-joists and beams and found no movement or deflection. The contractor wants to blame the radiant floor heating, but I have hundreds of square feet of tile unaffected by the radiant heating. Any thoughts? Attached are a couple of interesting pictures.


Thank you for including the pictures. They make this an easy diagnosis. Your tile installer did not include movement accommodation joints (or insufficiently-sized joints) in your tile job.

Tile expands and contracts, and at a different rate from the substrate below. Every method shown in the TCNA Handbook for Ceramic, Glass and Stone Tile Installation requires movement accommodation joints. Interior dry areas need joints no more than 20’-25’ in each direction; exteriors, wet areas and interiors exposed to sunlight (i.e. where south-facing windows occur) 8’-12’ maximum. Glass tile and any radiant-heated tile need reduced distances, and in all areas, perimeter joints (where tile meets walls, cabinets or any dissimilar plane or surface) must be left open or filled with a flexible sealant. Even if the field distances are not exceeded, not including perimeter joints can cause this failure.

Many tile installers do not know the industry standards or have never experienced this failure, because it does not ALWAYS occur, but unfortunately for you, this is part of the learning curve for your installer. It generally does not take but one or two of these failures for an installer to learn the importance of including movement accommodation and spending the time up front to educate his clients (because there is generally an additional fee to perform this step within a tile project).

And please note that the thinset type is not a factor as long as it is suitable to tile and substrate. Even if there was a thinset that was 50 times stronger, the forces exerted by expansion cycling would still overcome it. Typically the thinset itself shears, but if it were stronger thinset, it would likely change the shear point to the substrate surface or the thinset/substrate interface.

The requirement to include movement accommodation joints is included in each installation method within the TCNA Handbook, and the specifics on placement and construction of joints is in section EJ-171. The TCNA Handbook is available on our website at www.tile-assn.com for sale. It is really a standard that every tile installer should own.

Michael K. Whistler, NTCA presenter/
technical consultant

Case Study – Hand made tile

1handmadetileHandmade tile mural invigorates library patio

By Lesley Goddin

The Fallbrook Public Library is part of the San Diego Public Library System – indeed, it was the very first branch in the system, originally established in 1913 by the Saturday Afternoon Club (which later became the Fallbrook Woman’s Club) in Hardy’s Drug Store.

The library has evolved and changed locations over the years, eventually taking up residence as a 4,300-square-foot building at its current location in 1969. In 1987, it rose out of the ashes of a destructive fire as an 8,100-square-foot structure. Now it is among the top 8 of the 32 county libraries in terms of usage.

This library is more than a repository for books – it has grown into a central gathering place for the community – with a meeting room that seats up to 200 – home to the arts, in a building crafted and created by local artists and artisans. It circulates nearly a quarter of a million items per year, serving as a backbone of education, entertainment, information and inspiration for the community.

2handmadeSo when it came time to install a durable floor in the well-trafficked Poet’s Patio at the library, organizers turned to Robin Vojak of CRStudio4 in Temecula, Calif. CRStudio4 creates handcrafted ceramic stoneware and poured bronze medallions that are works of art in themselves.

The objective of The Art of Knowledge mural, according to Vojak, was to create “an environment that is welcoming and relaxing, working to offset the sterile concrete walls and floors.” Rusty brown and golden yellow hues mixed with deep aqua greens and blues along with cast bronze inserts added warmth and drew from the colors of nature, complementing the building and permanent artwork.

A number of challenges had to be addressed in the project, Vojak said. These included:

  • Mural materials had to be durable to withstand high foot traffic and environmental conditions
  • The surface had to withstand harsh cleaners needed to remove gum, graffiti and food spills
  • The design needed to “read” from all angles – and not have a top or bottom
  • The design needed to incorporate colors in nature and have a whimsical, organic shape
  • Handmade tiles had to be completely flat with no raised edges or domed or warped areas
  • The mural had to conform to county building codes

Vojak’s husband, Cyril, did the extensive prep work for the mural. This included removing concrete in the mural area with a jackhammer, cutting the existing concrete on a curve as dictated by the design, and installing rebar for proper support. The thickness of the mural was measured and concrete was poured into the form, leaving just enough height for the Custom ProLite® medium-bed mortar and the tile.

A template was created of the mosaic area and calculations for shrinkage and firing of the durable, dense stoneware pieces was done, so they would fit snugly and perfectly into the cut-out area, like a puzzle. The tile pieces were made in a painstaking process to ensure the accurate ratio of water and clay to minimize shrinkage, and custom-formulated matte and gloss glazes created interest and depth in the design.

Once the tile was set, the bronze inserts were poured, polished, patinated and placed into the mural by Robin, Cy and several of her kids, all of whom are employed in the business. The mural was grouted with Custom grout and a stone enhancer was applied to the entire surface.

The resulting mural is an arresting centerpiece for the Poet’s Patio, that will – like the fine literature it celebrates – endure the test of time.


Tech Talk – September 2013

TEC-sponsorRainfall in my house: the shower environment

The most “rainfall” a home sees each year is NOT on the roof — it’s in the shower– so plan waterproofing for your projects accordingly

halvorsonBy Don Halvorson, CTA, CTC, CMRS, Forensic Tile Consultants

Forensic Tile Consultants has performed thousands of site inspections and intrusive tests over the past several years as an expert witness for construction-defect investigations. After many years of bathroom inspections, it has become vividly clear that residential showers are a major source of water entry into the structure, due to type of wall construction, improper construction practices and availability of proper construction details.

While the typical homeowner complaint that drives a construction-defect lawsuit tends to be roof and window leaks, a major source of water entry into the structure is located in the bathroom or bathrooms of the home. This specific area of water intrusion leads to structural damage, mold growth and health issues. While architects and contractors are aware of the weather issues associated with roof and window installations, very little emphasis is placed on properly constructing a shower to eliminate water leaks into the building envelope.

Two feet of rain falls for every shower

In 1997, Cecil Hunt, owner of Hunt For Tile, a tile contractor in Chula Vista, Calif., performed a basic test to determine how much moisture was occurring inside the shower during a typical personal shower. He simply placed a glass inside the shower, on the receptor in the water spray pattern, and tracked the amount of time required to fill the glass with 6” of water. This occurred in three minutes. Using 12 minutes as a typical shower time, Mr. Hunt calculated that 24” of rain fell during that shower, which amounted to 8,760” of “rain” in a one-year time frame. This figure has been used for several years in the industry by tile experts.

In an effort to justify this figure, or provide a more realistic figure, a review of the shower environment with respect to water or moisture is required. Currently, much emphasis has been placed on water conservation with reduced water-flow showerheads. This is due to The Energy Policy Act of 1992, a Federal law that placed requirements on the manufacturers of showerheads after January 1, 1994. This law established the National Water Efficiency Standard at 2.5-gallons per minute, at a water flowing pressure of 80 PSI, plus meeting the requirements of ANSI A112.18, 1M-1989, 7.4.3a for all showerheads except a safety shower showerhead.

Obviously, the water flow is going to vary with showerhead design and water pressure, plus the fact that there are probably more residential houses with water pressures around 60 PSI, than 80 PSI. That reduction in pressure would reduce the showerhead water flow to about two gallons per minute.

Expert opinions vary on how long a “normal” shower lasts and how much water is actually used. In August 2000, the GAO (United States General Accounting Office) published a report to Congressional Requesters on “Water-Efficient Plumbing Fixtures Reduce Water Consumption and Wastewater Flows.” In this report, reference is made to a comprehensive study conducted by the American Water Works Association’s Research Foundation where 1,200 homes were studied to determine the end use of water in residential homes. That study reports the Mean Daily Residential Water Use for a shower is 11.6 gallons per person.

A showerhead sprays water in a constant pattern; in other words, it does not fall in a random pattern like natural rain. This fact does not lend itself to using a rain gauge to measure the water amount. The actual shower size also varies, along with the spray zone and splash effect of a moving body.

Therefore, a base line flow rate would simplify any analysis undertaken and give a standard by which to judge the results. For this analysis, the showerhead flow rate used in the calculations will be 2.5-gallons per minute as depicted by the National Water Efficiency Standards.

The only other item that is constant and can be utilized in this analysis is the size, or footprint, of the shower unit. The analysis will compare the typical shower sizes found in residential houses. The water flow rate, calculated for a 12-minute shower, will be figured as covering the floor surface without draining away. This amount will then be added up for a one-year time frame.

The following standardized units will be used:



Assuming the annual rainfall in Southern California in 2001 was 6” and other areas of the world receive over 200” of rain per year; we can compare the highest and lowest figures from the above chart (1,098/2,482) with those rainfalls (6/200) and quickly realize that the moisture inside a shower can be from 5.5 to 414 times more “rain” than on the roof.

If we use the 2-gallon per minute flow rate, the moisture inside the shower changes to 4.4 to 329 times more than on the roof.

If we use the Mean Daily Residential Use Per Capita” figure of 11.6 gallons, the moisture inside the shower changes to 2.2 to 156 times more than on the roof.

From all the studies and variables reviewed, the range of moisture in the shower environment varies from 2.2 to 414 times the annual rainfall experienced on the structure’s roof.

The calculations and conclusions shown here are strictly meant to point out the fact that we have more moisture occurring inside a shower during normal use than on the roof during rainstorms. It is, therefore, necessary to design and construct a shower with equal or better care than the roof of a house.

Common sense tells us that any water occurring inside the shower area must go to the drain, not into the structure.


This article was printed with permission from Don Halvorson, CTC, CTA, CMRS, CRMI, Forensic Tile Consultant; email: [email protected]; cell 818-606-8431, office 805-492-5552.

Case Study – September 2013

1tec-casestudyComplete TEC® system transforms school into a work of art

TEC products provide solutions for both interior and exterior challenges

A fine arts building addition at Pathfinder and Navigator Schools in Pinckney, Mich., contains more than 16,000 square feet of tile, all installed with TEC® products.

The building addition houses fine and performing arts space, including a new band and orchestra suite, choir and music rooms, art rooms, a fine arts integration studio and conference room.

More than 15,000 square feet of terrazzo, ceramic and porcelain tile are featured inside the facility. Terrazzo tile outfits the floor, ceramic adorns interior columns and porcelain creates unique interior benches.

Outside, the Fine Arts Connector makes an especially creative statement. An additional 1,000 square feet of tile are featured on seven piers that are curved, designed to resemble the profile of a cello. Installing glass tile on the undulating piers created many challenges for the project team, so they turned to TEC brand products.

2tec-casestudy“We were presented with several unique challenges on this project,” said Jennifer Panning, president of Artisan Tile, Inc., who served as tile subcontractor. “The combination of a 30-feet-high exterior application, using glass tile, various radiuses and a vertical substrate meant we needed products that could stand up to these challenges. We chose the TEC brand for this very reason – quality products and technical support.”

Artisan Tile’s firsthand experience and past successes with TEC products and technical support made their choice easy. The construction manager, architect and H.B. Fuller Construction Products representatives were involved early on to consult and help navigate the complexities of the job. Everyone worked together to determine the solution. According to Panning, the team agreed that the most important part of the tile installation was beneath the surface. As a result, Artisan Tile spent 80% of its time focusing on substrate preparation.

Artisan Tile utilized several TEC products that all meet or exceed ANSI specifications: Xtra Flex™ Acrylic Latex Additive, HydraFlex™ Waterproofing Crack Isolation Membrane, Super Flex™ Mortar, AccuColor® Premium Unsanded Grout and TEC® Acrylic Grout Additive.

On the scratch coat and mud set, XtraFlex Acrylic Latex Additive was used at a 1:1 ratio, providing additional bond strength. For waterproofing, HydraFlex™ Waterproofing Crack Isolation Membrane was used. It is flexible, mold and mildew resistant and has crack isolation properties.

3tec-casestudySuper Flex™ Mortar was used to set the tile and has the highest bond strength of any TEC mortar. AccuColor® Premium Unsanded Grout was mixed with TEC® Acrylic Grout Additive in place of water. Together they form joints that are less susceptible to water penetration, which is necessary for exterior use in Michigan’s freeze/thaw climate.

Combined, the TEC products worked to overcome the unique set of installation challenges the project team encountered. The result is a striking external aesthetic that sustains the seasonal elements of Michigan’s weather, and a beautiful interior that endures high traffic and heavy use by students.

“We are happy with the results TEC products brought to the Fine Arts Connector,” said Panning. “H.B. Fuller Construction Products provided the technical support and products we needed to provide a smooth installation that meets the unique challenges of the project.”

4tec-casestudyThe Fine Arts Connector was completed in August 2012. The Michigan-based project team included Artisan Tile, Inc., Wold Architects and Engineers, and construction manager, George W. Auch Company.

For more information on the TEC brand offered by H.B. Fuller Construction Products Inc., visit www.hbfuller-cp.com.


XtraFlex™, HydraFlex™ and Super Flex™ are trademarks of H.B. Fuller Construction Products Inc.
TEC® and AccuColor® are registered trademarks of H.B. Fuller Construction Products Inc. in the U.S.A.

Business Tip – September 2013

mapei_sponsorNeed business support and advice?

Join NTCA – it’s what wise contractors do. 

One of the great values of being a member in NTCA is the trusted camaraderie that exists between members. Need some help? Your fellow members – located throughout the country – are willing to lend a hand and answer a question.

Last month, one of our State Directors, Isaac Homza (Hawaii) reached out via email to his fellow directors for some guidance and advice in finding quality help. His question — and answers from other members, directors and NTCA staff — gave Homza some direction and may be helpful to you, dear reader, as well.

Subject: Re: Tips on finding Quality Help?

Aloha Regional and State Directors,

Hope everyone is doing well.

Looking for advice on the best way to find quality help.

We are a small company: myself, another setter and a helper/apprentice.

Both my guys are great but my helper just had an opportunity come up in another line of work.

I prefer a young person that has the potential to learn the trade. We are based on Maui, where there are plenty of distractions and at times a relaxed attitude towards work.

What sources have you used to find quality applicants and how do you handle the interview/application process to find the best?

Isaac Homza, Higher Standard Tile, Maui, Hawaii

Within hours, Homza had responses from several fellow directors:


We are a smaller company and don’t play in the big arena. I have had my key employees for over 10 years and one from almost the start. I pay them well, give them vacations, and make sure they are trained well and attend seminars on my dime.

I believe their confidence to do challenging installations has improved ten-fold since being CTEF Certified Installers. They are the backbone of my business. We have hired their family members and friends; some have worked out and some have not. We weed them out quickly.

We don’t want every job – just the rewarding ones, both financially and aesthetically. I would encourage you to pick out your key guy – paid accordingly – who is involved with choosing his workforce and fellow laborers. This will leave you more freedom to focus on your business.

I worked in Maui many years ago, so I fully understand the challenges you face with a transient workforce – and when surf’s up, no one shows.

Good luck, and make sure they attend the NTCA Workshops.

Martin Brookes, Heritage Marble & Tile Inc., Mill Valley, Calif. 

I will sometimes stop at construction sites when it is evident that tile work is going on. I have found several good tile setters that just do not like running a business.

This keeps my training investment down and lessens the risk of training my competition.

Scott Heron, Precision Tile, West Columbia, S.C.

I actually had some luck by paying attention at fast food restaurants that I frequented. I watched to see who was a hard worker and had a good attitude (this sometimes took a little time) and would ask if they might be interested in a different line of work with a future, and gave them a card to call me. This also worked in a grocery store for me once, though that is a better job than restaurant work.

Michael Whistler, NTCA trainer/presenter

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