Qualified Labor – Specifying Common Sense

Recently, NTCA Five Star Contractor Fox Ceramic Tile, Inc., of St. Marys, Kan., was awarded the contract for a massive Scheels All Sports project in Overland Park, Kan. R.L. Engebretson Architects of Fargo, N.D., was the architect of record for the project.

The specification document contained a very unusual section, entitled “Common Sense.”

Kyle Maichel, project estimator for Fox Ceramic Tile, said, “As you can imagine when I first read the spec, I was amused. I printed it off and passed it around the office, we all had a good chuckle.

“But when you think about it, this is really a fairly significant specification,” he continued. “The way I see it the author was telling everyone where he stood. He wanted a quality product, installed by quality craftsmen, without the excuses that can plague a project when common sense is not utilized.”

Here is the spec:

SECTION 01 0001


Drawings and general Provisions of the Contract, including General Conditions and other Division 00 & 01 Specification Sections, apply to this Section.


Common:  Belonging to or shared by, affecting or serving, all the members of a class or society, considered together;

Sense: A faculty, possessed by humans, of perceiving external objects by means of impressions made upon certain organs of the body.

Common Sense: A supposed sense which has held to be common bond of all others; Sound judgment.

Brain: The organ or seat of intellect used for thinking and solving problems, located between two ears and within the individual’s head attached at the shoulders.  For best results it must be engaged (active) during all times.   Do not confuse this organ with any other organ which may cause poor choices under certain circumstances.


–   Experience in area of work.

  • Demonstrate they have successfully done this type of work at least 2 years prior to the start of this project.
  • Demonstrate they have been trained by someone who knows what they are doing.

Performance required during bidding.

  • Actually read all of Divisions 00 & 01 prior to reading the technical specifications covering their specific work and reviewing the drawings.
  • Notify in a timely manner to the Architect/Engineer any errors, discrepancies, mistakes or other items which will impair or prevent achieving the final design requirements of the Project.
  • Submit an equal or greater than product for prior approval.

Performance required during construction.

  • Reread all of Division 00 & 01 and review the drawings prior to submittal of shop drawings and start of construction.
  • Submit shop drawings, product data and other information required to accurately portray the performance of the product in accordance with the Contract Documents.
  • Notify Prime Contractor if any work prior to your work being installed is not at a quality standard to receive your Work.
  • Follow the directions of the Prime Contractor.
  • Complete the Work in a prescribed manner and time frame to achieve the desired results required by the Contract Documents.

Job Site Safety.

  • Notify the Prime Contractor of any unsafe conditions.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s operational manual for any operation of equipment or installation of product.
  • Do not drink or consume any matter labeled unsafe or mind altering.

Reference Standards.

  • All common standards, laws and protocols which represent quality and are outside the boundaries of stupidity.


  • The following must be documented by the Prime Contractor to the Architect that prior to proceeding with the Work they have contracted with sub-contractors and suppliers that they possess the ability to:

– read, comprehend and speak the English language

– understand that their contractual obligation to perform the Work is governed by both the Project Manual and Drawings;

– understand the difference between the right way and the wrong way;

– know that it costs more to do it twice than do it right the first time;

– under promise and over deliver;



  • Typically provided at Birth.



  • Initiate prior to performing Work each day.


The author of Section 01 0001 is Rick Engebretson, AIA, president and CEO of The RLE Group of which R.L. Engebretson Architects is a part. He inserted this section into all his company’s specifications starting around May 2013.

“I’ve been in this business since 1969, and the quality of workmanship has gone down a lot,” Engebretson said. “A lot of it has to do with the lack of people thinking common sense. When I hear, ‘I’ve always done it this way’, or ‘This isn’t my first rodeo,’ immediately I am suspect, since they’ve been doing it wrong the last 30 years. “

The Common Sense section is an effort to get contractors and subcontractors to wake up, he said. “Read the spec and know what it says, and read the instructions. I was trying to be humorous and at the same time – this is the contract and you need to do it correctly. If it’s not perfect, read it and tell me what doesn’t work; don’t go ahead and do what you have always done.“

Engebretson tells a story about an issue on a Rapid City, S.D., job where cultured marble was continually falling off the wall.

QL-1“We finally went in and specified a LATICRETE product,” Engebretson said, but the construction manager superintendent and mason still complained. “This stuff doesn’t work. It’s too runny,” they said. When they declared, “This product is no good – this isn’t our first rodeo,” red flags went up for Engebretson, who asked then how much water they were adding to the 60-lb bag. It turned out to be three to four times the amount of water needed for the LATICRETE product! The mortar was being mixed at the same ratios as standard mortar, without even a look at the instructions.

Because even with the Common Sense section, Engebretson finds contractors, foremen and supervisor aren’t reading the spec, the firm has instituted a pre-installation conference for every Scheels project.

“Two to three weeks out, we meet with the general contractor and subcontractor installer/foreman in a phone conference or in person, and we go through the specs and make sure they are understanding the specifications,” he said.

QL-2Fox Ceramic Tile’s Maichel explained that the architectural firm itself exercised common sense in the bidding process.” They did not simply accept the low bid and move on the next spec section,” Maichel said. “We were asked to provide some information about Fox Ceramic Tile. The architect wanted to see past projects, current projects, and future projects. They wanted to see who we work for on a regular basis, and their opinions of us, as well as the opinions of our major distributors.

“The owners / architects were exercising their common sense, by truly interviewing us, rather than simply accepting the low number,” Maichel added. “They were searching for the ‘right number.’ As a subcontractor, we really appreciate this approach. It is easy to be the low number. We could be the low number on every project, if that was our objective. But Fox Ceramic Tile did not achieve NTCA Five Star Contractor status by being the low bidder. We strive to have the right number. And common sense dictates that will not always be the low number. We would much rather be weighed and measured against quality competition than simply the lowest bidders.”

Cultivating common sense – and following industry standards – are just a couple of the reasons that the tile industry is emphasizing ongoing education and training, certification of tile installers through the CTEF or the advanced certifications of the ACT program. That’s why the industry is encouraging A&D professionals to specify qualified labor on their jobs. Because the truth is that common sense isn’t very common and projects suffer as a result.

For information about upcoming CTEF Certified Tile Installer exams, visit www.tilecareer.com; for ACT certifications, visit www.tilecertifications.com.

Qualified Labor – Education and certification helps the tile industry flourish

By Terryn Rutford, Social Structure Marketing

When LT Chong of T and C Tile walks into a client meeting, he carries the TCNA Handbook for Ceramic, Glass and Stone Tile Installation in his briefcase. Having been around the tile industry his entire life, Chong knows the value of certified industry standards. “Homeowners are impressed with having a detailed book, instead of me drawing something on the wall,” he said. After going through the salient details of the Handbook that pertain to the client’s project, he points out where his name is listed as a Certified Tile Installer. “I have a great market in East Texas due to all the people who aren’t very knowledgeable here,” Chong said.


Being certified is “a great way to separate me from the competition and show customers that I am up to par with today’s standards,” said LT Chong.

Chong grew up in Hawaii around tile, since his father was a union foreman and subcontractor. He learned top standards through the union apprenticeship program. When he came to Texas in the mid-’90s, he noted that though his training in Hawaii helped him have a strong foundation to do excellent work, there was no license required to install tile.

So, Chong chose to set himself apart from the competition with Certified Tile Installer credentials in 2009. At the time, he was the only person in his Point, Texas area code to have done so. It gives him a distinct advantage in his business.

“I work for one of the largest luxury home builders in East Texas,“ he said. “Builders want to say they have qualified professionals in every profession,” Chong pointed out. The official, industry-recognized and sanctioned CTI credentials allow builders to “show in black and white they have a qualified tile professional.”

Chong remains skeptical of others who claim they are “certified.” “A lot of flooring stores say they have qualified, certified installers, but they don’t want to take the CTI test. So, I’m not sure about their qualifications.”

Road to failure paved with inadequate training

Chong said that one of the biggest reasons the tile business isn’t flourishing “the way it should be” is because people aren’t educated about tile and they aren’t installing products the way manufacturers and industry standards recommend.

“I’ve seen people take backer board and install it without mortar beneath it – believing that if you put a billion nails in it, it will be fine,” Chong said. He doesn’t believe it’s malicious, but rather these are bad habits that some installers learned and believe are correct. “The more people who are educated about tile helps our industry as a whole,” Chong said. “Even if they are my competitors – the better job they do, the more it helps my business.”

The process of preparing for the written test onsite was a confirmation of what Chong learned from his foundational training. “It was good to see what I’ve been doing in black and white,” in the study guide, he said. “The process of taking the test was a refresher about knowledge and techniques that aren’t used every day. It brought past knowledge to the forefront,” Chong said.

The hands-on test was a different story. “I remember thinking that the hands-on test was the hardest I’d ever worked for free,” Chong said. Chong is a part of the John Bridge Ceramic Tile Forum and took pictures throughout the test to post online.

“It wasn’t easy,” Chong said. “If it was easy, more people would be doing it.” But in a state where no tile setter’s license is required, being certified is “a great way to separate me from the competition and show customers that I am up to par with today’s standards,” Chong said. “Not everyone passes,” he said, but, “even if you are doing it wrong, then you know you are doing it wrong.”

The next step for Chong this year? “I want to take the ACT certification,” he said.

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