TechTalk – December 2013

Spot-bonding to cure an uneven substrate is a no-no that even a customer can recognize

Unacceptable methods and unskilled installation set the stage for future problems

By Lesley Goddin

Sometimes the correct and incorrect ways to install tile are so clear and intuitive that even a non-tile- professional, new homeowner, realizes something is amiss, even if “reputable” builders or less-informed tile installers do not.

Such is the case of a soon-to-be- homeowner, Sean Hobbs of Oviedo, Fla., and his wife Kimberly, who elected to inform themselves about materials and installation techniques as their home was being built. Some techniques seemed questionable, and Hobbs contacted NTCA for guidance in the matter.

“It seems that the voids left by the patty technique would be undesirable and potentially weak areas should they get knocked,” the homeowner astutely observed.

“It seems that the voids left by the patty technique would be undesirable and potentially weak areas should they get knocked,” the homeowner astutely observed.

Hobbs wrote, “The tile on the vertical walls of the showers are being applied using a ‘patty’ technique. We wouldn’t have been aware of this except that the water proofi ng Hydro Guard 1 was left unfi nished on one of the showers and the tilers needed to remove the tile to correct this. Not a single one broke. Mike Holmes of Holmes on Holmes and Holmes Makes it Right on HGTV described tile coming off easily and without breaking as a sign of poor work, so from this I felt the work wasn’t being
done well.

“It seems that the voids left by the patty technique would be undesirable and potentially weak areas should they get knocked,” Hobbs astutely observed. “I thought the only technique was to apply the thinset to the walls, use the notched trowel to comb the thinset, place the tiles, and try to get as close to total surface contact with the back of the tile. Some even recommend taking off every fifth tile to confirm this by inspecting the back. Others recommend a very thin ‘back buttering’ of the tiles to be sure of this total contact.”

Hobbs is speaking the language of the skilled tile installer here! He scoured the internet for proper tech- niques, which he shared – to no avail – with his builder. He revealed, “My wife and I were told by the builder that the directions on the bag of thinset were merely ‘recommendations.’”

The builder insisted that he is following best practices and lets “’building science’ guide his build- ing materials and their installation,” Hobbs said. “As it stands now, he is accepting the tiler’s reasoning that the DUROCK® and PermaBase® walls – which the same tilers themselves installed just a few weeks ago – are a bit off and they need to use this patty technique to perfect the tile so that the look is right.” The builder main- tained that using the aforementioned proper method would not allow the installers to fine-tune their placement to achieve a good look due to the “suction” of the tiles.

Shoddy work on display

Hobbs observed that “such a small amount of thin-set patties were utilized, that tape and even screws (piercing the waterproof membrane) were used to hold the tiles up and prevent them from sliding."

Hobbs observed that “such a small amount of thin-set patties were utilized, that tape and even screws (piercing the waterproof membrane) were used to hold the tiles up and prevent them from sliding.”

Hobbs observed that “such a small amount of thin-set patties were utilized, that tape and even screws (piercing the waterproof membrane) were used to hold the tiles up and prevent them from sliding. It is my opinion that one of the reasons the builder allowed this inferior work to be performed was to get the home ‘Parade Home-ready’ since our home – with the builder’s sign prominently displayed – was to be featured for a local annual public display of new and renovated homes.”

Hobbs sought recommendations from TCNA and received information from industry consultant Dave Gobis which included ANSI tile setting standards, and two articles – one of which, “Dots, Spots, Dollops and Whatever,” appeared in the April 2013 TileLetter.

The builder’s solution to the voids under the wall tile was to pour a slurry behind the installed tiles to fill in the spaces.

The builder’s solution to the voids under the wall tile was to pour a slurry behind the installed tiles to fill in the spaces.

“While the patty work continued, the builder was searching around to find some other ‘expert’ to refute Mr. Gobis’ perspective because the builder was sure it was simply a different technique,” Hobbs added. “Most of the remediation (certainly not my first choice) was to grout all but the top tiles, remove the top tiles, pour a slurry to fill the voids while gently tapping with a rubber mallet to help the slurry settle, and call it done.

“The builder states that he has filed paperwork with his insurance company just in case there are any future problems with this tile install for our home,” Hobbs said.

In addition to the wall tile fiasco, Hobbs specified and paid extra for Ditra uncoupling membrane he’d seen recommended by Mike Holmes. Floors in his former home had cracking tiles and he wanted to eliminate this in the new place.

“What we found by dragging a long thin metal rod lightly across our floors is that there are numerous and large areas of tile floor with 12”x12”, 12”x24” and 24”x24” in a Versailles pattern that are hollow underneath,” Hobbs said. “Our builder’s response when shown and allowed to hear this was ‘it’s hard to lay tile and get it just right.’ We have ongoing issues after moving in June of 2013.”

Bringing his concerns to the NTCA, he asked, “Am I being overly concerned here? Are these appropriate issues to bring up? Should I consult a local tile professional, possibly one in good standing with the National Tile Contractors Association organization, to get a second opinion?”

NTCA responds!

Well, dear reader, I can imagine that you are thinking, “You SHOULD be concerned, Sean!” and “Good eye!” Here’s how Gerald Sloan, NTCA presenter and technical con- sultant, responded:

“I highly recommend choosing a tile contractor that is a member of the National Tile Contractors Association,” Sloan said. “Please visit our website, then go to member locator to find a member contractor close to you.

“As a member, the tile contractor is privy to yearly updates on industry- recognized installation standards and cautions, in addition to product limitations,” Sloan said. “Another great member benefi t is technical sup- port that comes from our Technical
Committee where issues that concern tile contractors are discussed with efforts to avoid actions that have caused tile installation-related failures. A member who is active in our association is well-armed to avoid potential failures due to inappropriate installation practices. We wish all tile contractors would be a part of the NTCA, so we could eliminate all installation related failures.”

Sloan addressed the folly of incorrect spot bonding especially to correct uneven substrate conditions.

“As for your question related to spot bonding the tile to correct out- of-plane or out-of-plumb wall substrate conditions, this is high risk for a failure due to several factors,” Sloan said. “One is, as you men- tioned, impact loads. Those areas behind the tile that do not have coverage are much more likely to break if an impact condition should occur.

“Another potential problem is in a wet environment such as a shower; open pockets can harbor dampness much longer, and the body oils and dirt from your body can penetrate through the tile and grout joint – even if it has a quality sealer on it,” Sloan said. “Over time, this mate- rial may accumulate and become food for B.O.G (biological organic growth) or mold.

“The other reason we should not spot bond with common multipurpose thin-set setting materials is because they have a high rate of failure due to product shrinkage,” Sloan added. “The multipurpose thin-set products we work with most often are not designed to be built up to more than 1/4” thickness as measured after the tile has been installed – remember it’s called thinset. If it exceeds maximum allowable finished thickness, it has been proven to fail due to shrinking as it cures.”

The Tile Council of North America Handbook for Ceramic, Glass and Stone Tile Installation has a generic caution given in the note section (p. 17 in the 2013 edition) about not using medium bed mortars to true-up underlying substrates, Sloan said. Additional recommendations for mortar use are listed on page 35 of the Handbook.

The ANSI Standards, on page 88, in section in the Definitions of Latex-Portland Cement Mortar, state: “Modified dry-set mortars are designed as direct bond adhesives and are not intended to be used in truing or leveling underlying substrates or the work of others.”

The homeowner said, “My wife and I were told by the builder that the direc- tions on the bag of thinset were merely ‘recommendations.’”

The homeowner said, “My wife and I were told by the builder that the direc- tions on the bag of thinset were merely ‘recommendations.’”

Bart Bettiga, NTCA executive director, jumped in on the discussion. “We don’t specifically have a section that addresses spot-bonding or pattycaking because, until recently, we were not aware that this practice was gaining steam,” he said. “We intend to alert our ANSI and Handbook committees that we may need to go even further to address this.

“There is a reason why patching and leveling products are made; because they are designed for these purposes,” Bettiga added. “The mortars that are manufactured to be used to direct-bond tile and stone are formulated to be spread to a certain thickness. When you deviate from this intention, you defeat the intended purpose of the products. We are not aware of any thin-set manufacturer that would recommend or warranty their products to be used in this fashion.”

Instead of using mortar to even up the substrate, Sloan said, “If the framing is out of plumb, framing should be corrected by shimming, sistering, scabbing, or total removal and replacement. Do not true up with thinset because the thicker places shrink more than the thinner places, thereby creating stresses that often cause the loss of bond to the tiles in random areas. The American National Standard Institute has a thin-set coverage requirement under A-108 which mandates wet area tile installation thin-set setting coverage to be 95% – 80% coverage for dry areas – with all edges and corners covered.”

Spot-bonded tiles came off the wall easily and intact - evidence of badly-bonded tiles.

Spot-bonded tiles came off the wall easily and intact – evidence of badly-bonded tiles.

This game of “patty-cake” played by the builder is setting the ground- work for future problems, ones that he has opted to cover by insuring the work instead of doing it right from the beginning.

Case Study – TEC® products provide comprehensive installation solution for Good Samaritan Regional Health Center

tec good samaritan carpet tile vinyl plank resized

Good Samaritan Regional Health Center, a 142-bed, 500,000-square-foot hospital and Medical Plaza in Mt. Vernon, Ill., used TEC® products for the successful installation of a wide variety of flooring and wall materials.

The new Good Samaritan Regional Health Center, con- structed by McCarthy Building Companies, Inc., replaces the existing hospital, which served the Mt. Vernon community since 1952.

Through its design, the new hospital demonstrates how a pleasant interior environment can contribute to positive patient outcomes. At Good Samaritan, designers achieved a warm aesthetic by using a variety of fl oor and wall coverings – including carpet tile, porcelain, ceramic and quarry tile, stone and sheet vinyl. TEC® products were used to install all of the floor and wall materials.

One-stop solution for a variety of flooring systems

“This project required several types of flooring systems, plus a wide range of adhesives, surface preparation materials and sealants,” said Ron Mayo, senior project manager for Flooring Systems Inc., of St. Louis, Mo., who served as the installation subcontractor. “TEC® provided every product and solution we needed – from start to finish.”

The Good Samaritan team used TEC® from H.B. Fuller Construction Products as the sole point of contact for their flooring and wall tile installation needs. Having just one point of contact allowed easier access to technical support during this potentially complicated project.

The installers used TEC® products to prepare surfaces for both dry and wet environments. The LiquiDAM® Penetrating Moisture Vapor Barrier was applied to the concrete substrate. Blocking moisture vapor was an especially important consideration with the sheet vinyl used in patient rooms, as sheet vinyl installations tend to have a very low moisture tolerance. Smooth Start™ Self Leveling Underlayment, PerfectFinish™ Skim Coat and Fast-Set Deep Patch readied the substrate prior to the application of adhesives.

In various parts of the building – including the lobby and entryway, restrooms and kitchen – designers opted for porcelain, ceramic, quarry tile, and stone. With these products, the installers used Full Flex® Mortar, Medium Bed Mortar and Ultimate Large Tile Mortar.

tec good samaritan regional health center tile revised

TEC® grouts and caulks in a range of colors complemented the tile used throughout the hospital. The installer used AccuColor® Premium Sanded Grout and AccuColor® Premium Unsanded Grout in a variety of colors. Grout Boost® Advanced Pro Grout Additive was used for additional stain resistance. Lastly, AccuColor 100® 100% Silicone Sealant, AccuColor® Sanded Siliconized Acrylic Caulk and AccuColor® Unsanded Siliconized Acrylic Caulk were used to match the grout colors.

In patient showers and restrooms, the installers performed flood testing of TEC® HydraFlex™ Waterproofing Crack Isolation Membrane. TEC® products met all of their performance require- ments.

A wide range of TEC® adhesives – including Solid Vinyl Plank and Tile Adhesive, Clear Thin Spread Adhesive, Releasable Pressure Sensitive Adhesive and Premium Fast Grab Carpet Adhesive – were used to achieve long-lasting bonds with wood-looking sheet vinyl and carpet tile. Carpet tile was used in the hospital’s corridors, offices and waiting areas, while sheet vinyl was installed in cor- ridors and patient rooms.

“We are very happy with the final result,” said Mayo. “Once again, TEC® helped us achieve our desired look and provided the functionality we needed along the way to execute that look.” Flooring Systems, Inc., was recent- ly awarded runner-up honors in TEC®’s recent “Imagine Achieve” contractor competition for this project.

The $237 million hospital was announced in 2009 and broke ground in April 2010. Patients were transferred there in January 2013.

For more information about TEC® visit

NTCA reaches new milestones in 2013

By Bart Bettiga, NTCA executive directormapei_sponsor

I am sure all of us have experienced the challenges and strains that our economy has put on our individual companies, but I am pleased to report that the National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA) continues to thrive and expand its influence every year as a leading association in the tile industry.

In August, the NTCA Executive Committee traveled to Grand Rapids, Mich., for three days of strategic-planning discussions. This resulted in what we think is a great direction for the association mov- ing into 2014 and beyond. The NTCA Board of Directors then met at Total Solutions Plus in October, expanding the program direction generated by the Executive Committee, resulting in a clear vision for the staff moving forward.

The cash position of the NTCA is healthy as we head into 2014. As we develop our following Strategic Plan, we expect the association to continue to grow in influence and to increase its value to our members.


One of the main contributors to our financial success has been the steady increase in our membership. This year was the fi fth year in a row we have increased our totals – in a year when our member investment increased from $500 to $600. In fact, we have now exceeded our goal of 800 members, established three years ago. We are now focusing on reaching 1,000 members in 2014.

Strategic Planning

For the past several years, the Executive Committee has been involved in the process of strategic planning. When we talk about strategic planning, we try to look into our future longer than just one year. An example of this is thin tile panels, which have exploded onto the tile industry scene and have raised a lot of interest and challenges to our members. We have been involved in discussions on developing standards for these products, and also trying to position our association’s members to benefit from these efforts. This is part of a strategic planning process. Following are our objectives for 2014:

#1 Objective: Saving members money and getting them work

We have identified saving our members money and getting them work as our most important association objective. It is not an easy task. Getting NTCA members specified on projects also includes promoting and further developing our Five Star Contractor Program. Our staff will use their many means of communication to promote Five Star and the advantages of contracting with NTCA members, as well as promoting member benefits that can save you money.

#2 Objective: 1,000 members

By the end of December, we expect our membership to exceed 900 companies. We have a healthy ratio of 85% contractor members, and 15% associate supporters. We are setting the bar high for next year, and our staff is working extremely hard to reach 1,000 members for the first time in our history.

#3 Objective: Tradeshows

NTCA is an owner in Coverings, and also receives income from Total Solutions Plus. Although we want to continue our support of these shows, we don’t want to depend on their profi t for the success of our association. Several years ago, we were concerned about what would happen to NTCA if tradeshow revenue were to disappear. So we have established this goal of evaluating tradeshows, and our staff has worked hard to find alternative sources of revenue that our association can more easily control. We have had excellent success in this effort.

#4 Objective: Board of Directors

Our fourth goal is to focus on getting our members to become more active. By developing our State Director Program, and by actively recruiting more member involvement, our Executive Committee and staff now discuss all of our potential new leaders, and work closely together to recruit these people to our committees, Board of Directors, etc. We think having more people involved in the NTCA will only grow our association and expand our influence in the industry.

Training programs

At the Executive Committee meeting, we identified that key staff direction would be to focus on training for our members. I am pleased to report that the NTCA Workshop Program is being revised to provide more technical training to our members and their installers, and we are also ready now to offer on-line business training as a member benefit. To do this, the NTCA is partnering with Wally Adamchik, of Firestarter Training and Speaking. Wally is a well- known business trainer and speaker and has a proven track record of success. We will report more on both of these programs in the first quarter of 2014.

Thank you to our volunteer members

At Total Solutions Plus, we voted in our new board members in their respective regions. Last year, our Executive Officers were voted in, and will remain in this position for the next year. This is a hard- working Executive Committee, and I would like to personally thank them for their dedicated support of the association.

  • Dan Welch: President – Welch Tile & Marble; Kent City, Mich.
  • James Woelfel: First Vice President- Artcraft Granite Marble &Tile Co.; Mesa, Ariz.
  • Martin Howard: Second Vice President – David Allen Company; Raleigh, N.C.
  • Nyle Wadford: Chairman of the Board – Neuse Tile Services; Youngsville, N.C.
  • John Cox: Board Advisor – Cox Tile Inc.; San Antonio, Texas
NTCA president Dan Welch will guide the association through the end of 2014.

NTCA president Dan Welch will guide the association through the end of 2014.

Four new Regional Directors were recently elected to the NTCA Board of Directors. Our four outgoing directors in these regions have all served two terms, which are the maximum years allowed by our association by-laws.

  • In Region 1, Dennis Wigglesworth of Filling Marble and Tile in New Jersey has fulfilled his term, and is being replaced by Jon Donmoyer of JD Tile in Anville, Pennsylvania.

wigglesworth crop                 john donmoyer crop
Region 1 director Dennis Wigglesworth of Filling Marble and Tile in New Jersey (l.).
Wigglesworth has fulfilled his term and is being replaced by Jon Donmoyer of JD Tile in Anville, Pa.

  • In Region 6 we have had the good fortune of the support of Ricky Cox from Memphis Tile and Marble these past four years.  Ricky has been extremely supportive of all of our programs in his region. We have elected Mike Sanders of Sanders Hyland in Mobile, Ala., to join our Board of Directors.
  • In Region 7 we have been blessed with the support from two great contractors in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. Jan Hohn of St. Paul, Minn., is leaving the Board, but will stay on our Technical and Methods and Standards Committees. JoeKerber of Shakopee, Minn., has been on both of these commit- tees for several years, and will now join the Board of Directors as a Regional Director.
  • We filled our final directorship  in Region 8. Anthony Jung of Victoria, Texas, will remain on the NTCA Finance Committee, but is leaving the Board of Directors. We voted in Tave Baker of Holmes Tile and Marble in Jonesboro, Arkansas, to fill this important position.
Greg Michael  (l.), of Michael’s Custom Tile in Jacksonville, Fla., Region 4 director, with Anthony Jung  of Victoria, Texas, who has filled his directorship in Region 8. Tave Baker of Holmes Tile and Marble in Jonesboro, Ar., will replace Jung on the Board.

Greg Michael (l.), of Michael’s Custom Tile in Jacksonville, Fla., Region 4 director, with Anthony Jung of Victoria, Texas, who has filled his directorship in Region 8. Tave Baker of Holmes Tile and Marble in Jonesboro, Ar., will replace Jung on the Board.


  • In Region 11, which covers Northern California, we have experienced outstanding membership growth the past two years, and we have Martin Brookes of Heritage Tile and Marble to thank for that, along with our staff. He has really supported our programs in the area, and we approved him for a second two- year term.

I want to personally thank all of our volunteer members who support the association. The NTCA has more active support than ever before, and this is the main reason for the explosive growth in our membership. It is becoming evident at every conference and tradeshow we participate in. The overwhelming support we get from volunteer contractors and associate supporters is humbling to our entire staff.

Speaking of the NTCA staff, I am incredibly proud of their efforts over the years to make us the vibrant and effective association that we are. To illustrate this point, the following quote was excerpted from our Board Minutes at the meeting held recently from Total Solutions Plus. It came from Chris Walker, vice-president of David Allen Company in the Washington D.C. area, and chairman of the NTCA Methods and Standards Committee and the ANSI A108 Committee.

“I want to personally congratulate the NTCA staff for its management of revenue to get its programs accomplished and maintain a good financial position. The ability to fund and execute the programs it does and maintain a creditable financial position is remarkable. There is no comparison between NTCA and other associations.”

As we approach the end of a successful year, I would like to personally thank all of our members, volunteers, staff and subscribers to TileLetter, and wish you all a wonderful holiday season.

Ask the Experts – December


Here is the age-old question: Should I use caulk or grout to seal a toilet to a tile floor? Whatever is used will go halfway around the toilet. The goal is to protect the front of toilet from “fluids” and to prevent toilet from rocking. What do you recommend and why?


toilet_ATEToilets are designed to be removed and replaced. The tile floor is meant to be permanent. Toilets should not rock on a flat tile floor, but in the real world they often do rock. Most plumbers use wood or plastic shims to steady the installed toilet, and cut the shims with a utility knife so they do not protrude beyond the toilet base. Using grout or sealant to fill the space between tile floor and toilet base is your choice, though in my opinion, sealant is the much better choice. Grout, when cured, will not withstand the movement that will be present with toilet use, so cracks will develop. Also, grout has no water-resistant properties whatsoever. Sealants remain flexible, have sufficient bond strength and do give some water resistance. Be sure to use a sealant that meets ASTM-C920 performance stan- dards (like a 100% silicone) to get the longest-lasting sealant joint. — Michael Whistler, NTCA presenter/technical consultant


I have some tile and it has this statement on the packaging: “Please verify shade, calibre and grading. Claims regarding these items cannot be accepted after tile setting.” Can you tell me what shade, calibre and grading refer to?


boxlabel_ATEShading and calibre (also spelled caliber) refer to the color and size of the tiles, respectively. Each box of tile should be marked with its shade and caliber. Your job is to ensure that all boxes have the SAME shade and caliber before they are installed. If you use dif- ferent shades or calibers, you will be using tiles of different color and size – generally not pleasing to the eye. Every tile run has multiple cal- ibers and shade lots that are sorted and boxed at the factory, but it is possible to receive more than one caliber or shade within an order. You must check before installing so you can either mix the different lots together to avoid blocking, or reject the different lots and try to get all matching lots (which may or may not be possible). Grading is the designation on the label on each box that shows whether the tiles meet ANSI-A137.1 specifi cations (shown as “STD” or “standard”), or if the box contains lesser-quality seconds. – Michael Whistler, NTCA presenter/technical consultant

Tile Patterns – bringing tile to life

By Corinthia Runge, manager, Daltile Design Studio

Ceramic tile continues to reign as one of the most favored design staples in the floor-covering industry because of its performance, design versatility, color options and beauty. The range of design possibilities with ceramic tile is truly endless, which affords tile manufacturers the opportunity to meet the varying needs of residential and commercial audiences through extensive portfolios of stylish floor and wall tile options – but there’s more to a tile installation than the tile itself.

How tile is laid can change the look and feel of any space – and there are so many exciting tile patterns to choose from and ways to use them to a space’s best advantage. No matter how you want to alter the appearance or scale of an installation, there’s a tile pattern designed to work for you. Using any classic tile pattern can help transform a standard tile job into an extraordinary one. Considering the wide variety of tile and trim tiles available, the possibilities are limitless.

Trending tiles and patterns

Many of today’s most popular tile patterns are inspired by the emerging trends driving modern design. These trends take some time to get seeded, but once a trend is identified, it tends to evolve and last for years. The most popular shapes right now are rectangular large formats and planks, which are often being used on both the floor and on the wall. This results in many more pattern options, which designers are utilizing more frequently to create unique designs. For larger format sizes, the most popular patterns are Running Bond, Straight Joint and Third Stagger.

2-tile-patternsRunning Bond is a basic yet beautiful layout, also called a brick or offset pattern. In this pattern, the tiles are offset by half the width of the tile, offering a timeless look for almost any style. With each joint centered over the tile below, this pattern resembles classic brickwork. Larger formats (any side measuring over 18”) require an offset of no more than 33% when installed in this pattern.

Straight Joint is one of the simplest tile patterns that showcases the beauty of every tile. The straight joint pattern offers a more contemporary, linear look. Whether tile is installed vertically or horizontally, the pattern’s clean lines make any space feel taller or wider.

Third Stagger is a variation of the Running Bond layout that features a stair-step pattern with each joint offset 1/3 from the row of tiles below it.

These larger format sizes (12”x24”, 18”x36” and 24”x48”) offer a more transitional, clean look and have less grout. Running Bond and Third Stagger provide a traditional spin on the modern cut tile, while the Straight Joint offers a more modern look.

Patterns for planks

1-tilepatternsFor plank sizes, the most popular patterns are Chevron, Herringbone and Random Stagger. The rise in popularity of these layouts is due in part to wood-look tile, one of the hottest trends in the marketplace. What was first introduced as a traditional take on hardwood floors has evolved to include more colors and textures to choose from than ever before. There has also been a significant rise in the selection of natural stone planks due to the beautiful vein-cut natural stone options being offered today.

Chevron is an inverted V-shaped pattern. In this design, all planks are the same length and the pieces are installed at an angle to match up perfectly with one another. This creates a perfectly straight line on both sides of the planks. Herringbone is very similar to Chevron, but instead of having the ends line up with one another, they overlap, creating an entirely different and unique look.

Mosaics are also “must-haves” right now, especially in kitchen backsplashes, shower walls and floor accents. The texture and color movement possible with these mosaics add a depth, sparkle and luminescence to any space.

In terms of mosaic patterns, if you can imagine it, you can create it. From vivid colors and on-trend shapes to unique patterns and bold borders, one simple design can turn any space into an incredible work of art. There are hundreds of patterns and borders available that can be modified to complement any design scheme. Many mosaics are available in custom (made to order) and standard patterns that can be used in any application.

On the level for proper installation

The primary challenges with large-format tile patterns are foundation and installation. For large-format tiles, the foundation must be perfectly level, which at times requires extensive preparation work for the surface. It may also require a crack-prevention membrane. Also, during installation it may require extra setting material and extra manpower, since the large tiles may be difficult to maneuver.

When in doubt, always refer to the industry standards. Industry standards include the 2013 TCNA (Tile Council of North America) Handbook for Ceramic, Glass, and Stone Tile Installation, which includes Natural Stone Tile Selection and Installation and Assembly Methods for the Installation of Stone Tile. In addition, consult the current Version 2013.1 edition of ANSI A108, A118, and A136.1 (Visit the NTCA store at, click on Books & Periodicals).

For more information and diagrams on tile patterns, visit tile manufacturer websites such as,, or


Achieving ambitious design at Coba Cocina restaurant

TEC products provide stunning aesthetic and impeccable performance


Coba Cocina Restaurant in Lexington, KY contains more than 60,000 square feet of glass, porcelain and ceramic interior and exterior tile, all installed with TEC® Power Grout® and IsoLight™ mortar.

The design of Coba Cocina was inspired by cenotes, a natural wonder found most often in the Yucatan Peninsula, where land has eroded over centuries to create a mystical underwater world. The focal point of the restaurant is an aquarium that is home to the largest private collection of moon jellyfish in the world.

1-cobaThe project team decided that the best material to simulate the limestone bedrock and underwater atmosphere would be a variety of tile. To achieve this intricate look, the team immediately turned to TEC products because of their wide variety of options and ultimate performance.

“There was really no other choice when it came to deciding which products to use,” said Todd Ott, AIA, Associate with CMW, Inc., architect for the project. “IsoLight™ and Power Grout did everything that we needed for all interior and exterior tile applications throughout the project through a single source. The products enabled us to get the look we imagined, with peak performance.”

TEC Power Grout Ultimate Performance Grout was used for all tile applications on Coba Cocina. It provides permanent stain resistance, crack resistance, efflorescence resistance and superior color uniformity. Power Grout is available in 32 color options that match the latest design trends – yet another advantage for the Coba Cocina design and project team.

2-coba“The design of the floor and walls at Coba is a work of art,” said Ott. “The numerous color options of Power Grout allowed us to choose from a broad range of grout colors to fit our creative design.”

By using ceramic and glass tile of various sizes and colors, including iridized blacks, greens, golds, silvers and aqua, on the floors and walls, restaurant patrons can experience a sense of underwater movement.

TEC IsoLight Mortar was used to set all of the tile. IsoLight is a lightweight mortar that protects tile from up to 1/8″ substrate cracking from in-plane horizontal substrate movement. It contains recycled materials that enable superior handling and ease of use. Additionally, IsoLight can be applied over many substrates, an extra bonus for the installer of the Coba Cocina project. “


The mortar was applied over various substrate surfaces and used with a variety of tile materials,” said Donnie May, president of May Contracting who served as installer on the project. “Not having to change products during installation saved us time and allowed us to focus on the intricate details of this installation.”

The exterior of the restaurant is covered in solid porcelain tile that gives it a travertine look. The large-format 12”x24” tile is set using the same TEC products as the interior. IsoLight and Power Grout are both ideal for outdoor installations.

“I can always turn to TEC products to achieve the desired outcome of any project,” said Donnie May. “Coba is another example of the aesthetic and functional results that TEC products have to offer.”

Coba Cocina was completed in spring 2013. The project team consists of architect CMW, Inc., Lexington, KY, tile installer May Contracting, Lexington KY, and distributor Louisville Tile, Lexington, KY.

Visit to learn more about TEC products.


Tech Talk – November 2013

TEC-sponsorKeys to successful installation of large thin tile panels

tom_plaskota_webBy Tom Plaskota, Technical Support manager, H.B. Fuller Construction Products

Large-format tile has become a popular choice for commercial floor and wall installations. Because it requires fewer grout lines, large-format tile visually expands rooms and produces a neater, modern appearance. Building owners and designers, now more than ever, are demanding these aesthetic benefits. Meanwhile, technological advances have enabled manufacturers to produce larger – and thinner – porcelain tiles, some with facial dimensions as large as 5’ (1.5 m) x 10’ (3 m). Thicknesses are reduced compared to traditional tile, ranging from 1/8” (3 mm) to 9/32” (7 mm).

These larger and thinner tiles can be challenging to handle and install. Here are some key factors to consider:

Handling – Large-format tiles often arrive in oversized crates, which require specific handling equipment. To prevent damage during forklift operation, specific fork sizes must be used. For example, to handle a crate of 3’ x 10’ tiles from the side, 44” long forks are recommended. To handle the same crate from the narrow end requires forks that are at least 84” long. Lifting multiple crates with longer forks may require forklifts with a greater lift capacity.

fig1_tectalkTools and equipment – Specialized tools and equipment are currently available for the installation of large porcelain panels. Innovative trowels with unique notch configurations can help increase the consistency of the mortar coverage on the back of the tile (See fig. 1). As with any size tile installation, full and complete coverage provides a strong bond and minimizes the likelihood of damage from impact or heavy loads.

Fig2-tectalkTo assist in the handling and setting of individual tiles, frames and handles with suction cups can be purchased or rented from tile distributors. Since mis-cuts of large panels can result in costly waste, the use of a rail cutting system is highly recommended (See fig. 2).

Installation materials – Since not all setting materials are appropriate for installing large porcelain panels, setting-material manufacturers have specific large-tile product recommendations. Whether you are installing 1/8” (3 mm) thick tiles that have a resin/mesh backing (See fig. 3) or 7/32” (5.6 mm) tiles with a porcelain bonding surface, the greater bond strength and resistance to impact of latex/polymer modified portland cement mortars are required. The “tack time” of a mortar is another consideration. When troweling mortar onto a substrate, it is important that the mortar surface remains in a wet, tacky state and doesn’t skin over before the tile is set. Tack time is especially important when troweling out the area to set a 30-plus square foot tile.


Setting-material manufacturers must also evaluate grout requirements for reduced thickness porcelain panels. Strong durable grouts are required for these installations for two reasons:

1. Grout-joint depth is limited by the reduced thickness of the tile

2. Reduced-thickness tiles have a rectified corner edge, which may be susceptible to impact damage in some circumstances. Grouts with premium strength qualities address these conditions.

Substrate preparation – First, check with the tile manufacturer to make sure your substrate type is acceptable. For example, some large thin-tile manufacturers limit floor installations to concrete substrates. While a clean, sound substrate is critical to any tile installation, large porcelain panels have the added criteria of substrate flatness. The maximum allowable variation in the substrate for tiles with all edges shorter than 15” is 1/4” in a 10’ span. There should be no more than 1/16” variation in a 10’ span when measured from the high points on the surface. For tiles with at least one edge 15” in length, the maximum variations are 1/8” in 10’ and 1/16” in 24”. For floor installations, a self-leveling underlayment can help meet these substrate requirements.

Staffing the job properly – Having the right size crew is critical. The largest of these tiles must be handled by at least two people. Back-buttering is typically required, with the mortar being applied to the substrate and the back of the tile by two people simultaneously. To keep pace with the installation, at least one individual will be required to mix and maintain the flow of mortar. Taking this into consideration, even the smallest installations require at least a four-person crew.

Finally, there are additional recommendations that manufacturers can provide, so the best approach is to consult your tile and setting material manufacturer before you begin the installation. That way, you’ll be better prepared for the challenges you may face and have the knowledge to take on large tile installations with confidence.

The TEC® brand is offered by H.B. Fuller Construction Products Inc. – a leading provider of technologically advanced construction materials and solutions to the commercial, industrial and residential construction industry. Headquartered in Aurora, Illinois, the company’s recognized and trusted brands – TEC®, CHAPCO®, Grout Boost®, Foster®, AIM™ and others – are available through an extensive network of distributors and dealers, as well as home improvement retailers. For more information, visit 

TCNA Hires Lynn M. Zott

zottTile Council of North America (TCNA) has hired Lynn M. Zott as project manager. Zott has joined TCNA to further develop its communications and publications programs, along with TCNA project manager Stephanie Samulski. Zott brings a wealth of experience in publishing, having spent the last nine years as president of Zott Solutions, Inc., an editorial services company that provided contracted project management, editorial, and production services for 175+ reference and textbook titles worth millions in annual revenue.

Both as a small business owner and during her tenure at Gale, a major reference publisher where Lynn served as managing editor in charge of several award-winning, flagship reference series, she has honed her skills in writing and editing, product and marketing conceptualization, researching, designing for print and digital publications, and project management. Lynn particularly enjoys analyzing workflows, locating ways to maximize efficiencies in production, and designing methods and strategies to support optimal individual and team performance.

Eric Astrachan, TCNA executive director, said, “With Ms. Zott on staff, we believe we can better communicate industry initiatives, better inform our members, and make better use of content TCNA develops.”

Business Tip – November 2013

mapei_sponsorFinancial Operations: overhead analysis, accounts receivable and payable and invoicing

In this issue of TileLetter, we continue with the Financial Operations section of the NTCA Business Reference Manual, as found on page 31 in that document. Last month we examined common accounting terms and the labor burden rate. This month, we review overhead analysis, accounts receivable and payable and invoicing. 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

c. Overhead analysis
An overhead expense chart will show items like advertising, sales, office expenses, staff, rent, office equipment, telephone, computer, office supplies, job expenses, vehicles, job supervision, tools and equipment, service and warranty, mobile phone, general expenses, owner’s salary, general insurance, interest, taxes, bad debts, licenses and fees, legal fees, education and training, entertainment, association fees. Make sure all these overhead costs are factored into your job estimates.

d. Accounts receivable and payable
Accounts payable are people or companies  you do business with and whom you need to make payments to. Accounts receivable are people from whom you will be receiving money. Set up a system to track payments due to your vendors and subcontractors, as well as weekly accounts receivable reports so your customer accounts don’t get too far in arrears.

e. Invoicing
Typically, residential jobs are billed upon completion, with a “draw” requested to cover the cost of any materials purchased up front.

Commercial jobs are usually billed in stages. For large jobs, you may need to bill a “materials draw” to cover the cash outlay for materials to be used on the job. Commercial jobs are generally paid more slowly (45-60 days), so you need to plan your expenses accordingly. Most commercial contractors will hold a portion of your payment as retainage and require you to submit notarized applications for payment. Each contractor has specific forms for you to complete, and you need to make sure you read them thoroughly.

Many contracts state that you won’t get paid unless the contractor does (pay-if-paid), but this is not legal in some states. Know the laws of your state, and don’t be afraid to edit a contract accordingly.

You should put a payment schedule in your contract to control when you will be paid and the amount. This is new to GCs but if you will start implementing this, it will help your cash flow to know exactly when you will be paid. Poor payment schedules on contracts cause cash flow problems. They should be well defined and followed. If you are unsure, contact your attorney for the proper wording and implementation.

Ask the Experts – November

Our soap dishes fell off the tile tub surround, and were repaired by two different installers (using the term loosely). One was reset by using only grout to place it. The other was reset by punching a 2 1/2” to 3” hole in the green board and filling it with grout (not thinset) only. Are my concerns founded that now that the moisture barrier has been breached, the grout can wick moisture into the wall?

I dislike being the bearer of bad news, but there is probably no good way to re-attach those soap shelves. First, your tile was installed over a paper-covered gypsum product. Although common years ago, this method has not been allowed in wet areas for quite some time.

Second, tile and grout systems are not waterproof, or even water resistant. In fact, the tile system generally pulls water into the substrate (even if it is sealed). Over time, the paper on the gypsum board begins to degrade, and delaminate from the soft gypsum core below. Almost nothing will stick to this raw gypsum for long.

Not seeing the shower in person, I cannot unequivocally say that you are due for a new shower, but soap shelves falling off is usually the first sign of the end for this type of system. What usually follows is grout cracking and tiles falling off.  When these symptoms occur, you will generally find that in removing the old tile and green board there will be much degradation of the board, and likely mold, since the paper and gypsum in a wet, warm environment are perfect food for mold.

Michael K. Whistler, NTCA presenter/technical consultant

(from an architect)
Should I expect wall and floor grout lines to meet as best practice from a tile installer?

It is not a written industry standard that when using the same tile on walls and floors, or a modular tile (where more than one smaller tile plus grout joints equal the size of one large tile), all grout joints should align at vertical to horizontal tiled surfaces. Unless specified in contractual language, it is more a bonus of using a highly-skilled and quality-conscious contractor. This is the art of “layout” and can sometimes take nearly as long as the actual laying of the tile. There are times when it is physically impossible, as in the case where angled walls meet floors, but generally a quality craftsman will have nearly all grout joints aligned.

Michael K. Whistler, NTCA presenter/technical consultant

I was wondering what the best floor backer board is for porcelain and ceramic tile.

All the backer boards are good.  Each has different properties that may be needed for a specific project, such as thickness, dimensions of sheets available, ability to use on exteriors, weight, etc. Also keep in mind that if a cementitious backer board or unit (CBU) is specified for a project, substitutions are usually allowed with other brands of CBUs. But other TYPES of backer board, like foam, water-resistant faced gypsum, fiber cement or others will be difficult to substitute.  Not that any are bad, you just need to follow specifications.

So find a type you like, familiarize yourself with the manufacturer’s instructions and go to town!!

Michael K. Whistler, NTCA presenter/technical consultant

1 34 35 36 37 38 43