Qualified Labor – November 2014

1-QL-1114By Terryn Rutford

In 2009, Steve Barrow, owner of Cody Flooring & Tile, Inc., (www.codyflooring.com) located in Golden, Colo., decided that his tile installers should be certified. In April 2009, Dan Eielson was one of the tile installers who took the Certified Tile Installer exam at Rio Grande Supply Company in Denver, Colo.

Cody Flooring & Tile, Inc. specializes in commercial and high-end residential tile installation. The company worked on the Recreational Center at CSU in Fort Collins, installing over 32,000 sq. ft. of tile.


When Eielson took the written and hands-on test in Denver, he was surprised that there was not more mud work in the test. Eielson said, “I’ve been doing [tile installation] 38 years, so I didn’t think [the test] was quite difficult. The test includes all the basic stuff that any good tile guy should know about centering walls and stuff,” he said.

(Editor’s note: Advanced Certification for Tile Installers –ACT – DOES offer a certification for mud beds. Visit www.tilecertifications.com for more information.)

Eielson admits he did learn a few things from studying up for the test. “I did learn about anti-fracture and different membranes. There were a number of things that I did pick up like crack isolations that I was not aware of [before the test].”

3-QL-1114Certification has helped Eielson’s business. He said, “I have mentioned a number of times to different superintendents at meetings – before we start a job – that a number of our guys are certified, just to give them a little bit of a heads-up that we know what we’re doing.”

Eielson commented that the tile trade has changed. “With the big box stores, everyone has become a tile installer. They think, ‘I can read a book and I can do this.’ When I first started, you could only find tile tools and materials at a tile distributor.”

To Eielson, this is a good reason for tile installers to take the test and become certified – it’s a way to raise oneself above the competition. Eielson said, “The written test and the hands-on test is a lot of good basic stuff that a lot of guys in the trade don’t have nowadays.”

4-QL-1114About the certification, Eielson remarked, “It’s a good thing for me to have. I wish this had been going on when I was doing my own houses years ago.”

Qualified Labor – October 2014

ACT Review: what you need to know about Advanced Certifications for Tile Installers

The following information is taken directly from the ACT website at www.tilecertifications.com. The website contains detailed information about the evaluation process and the various certifications that can be obtained with ACT testing.

ACT_logos-for-siteThe Advanced Certifications for Tile Installers (ACT) program was created through the combined efforts of six leading organizations in the tile industry: the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF); the International Masonry Institute (IMI); the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers (IUBAC); the National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA); the Tile Contractors’ Association of America (TCAA) and the Tile Council of North America (TCNA).

The intent of the ACT certification program is to provide a level of consumer confidence for tile installation procedures that exceed ANSI standards and TCNA guidelines for floor and wall.  ACT certified installers represent the pinnacle of performance in the tile trade and maintain a level of excellence superior to non-ACT certified installers.

ACT is not a training program; it evaluates the skills and knowledge of tile installers and currently offers certifications in five specific areas of tile installation:

  • Large Format Tile & Substrate Preparation
  • Membranes
  • Mortar (Mud) Floors
  • Mortar (Mud) Walls
  • Shower Receptors

An installer may choose to become ACT certified in one or more of these areas. ACT-certified installers are not automatically certified in ALL of the five specific areas; he or she selects the advanced certification in a category of his or her choosing.

ACT certification in each area is granted upon successful completion of a written online test – designed to measure the installer’s understanding of applicable ANSI specifications and TCNA recommended methods – and a field test conducted by trained, third party evaluators who assess the installer’s skills under real life conditions.

Installers wishing to become ACT certified must be pre-qualified in one of two ways:

Be a Certified Tile Installer (CTI) through the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation; or

Be a journeyman tile setter who has successfully completed the apprenticeship program conducted by the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers

For more information on ACT certification and to obtain test dates and locations, visit:

Ceramic Tile Education Foundation or call 1-864-222-2131

International Masonry Institute (for installer members of IUBAC) or call 1-800-JOBS-IMI


Q&A clears up questions

I am an architect / designer. How will ACT benefit my project?

By requiring installers with one or more ACT certifications, you can be assured that the installers on your project have proven their advanced skills and knowledge of this area of the craft, and you should expect nothing less than a premium installation and performance.


I am a tile contractor. How will ACT benefit my business?

By certifying your key installers in the ACT certifications, you will be part of an elite group of contractors eligible to bid projects requiring ACT certified installers. With a movement toward increased focus on quality installation practices, your designation as an employer of ACT certified installers will support and enhance your company’s other certifications, positioning your company as a leader in the tile industry and opening doors for increased work opportunities.


In addition to ACT, what other certifications are available to my company?

ACT and CTI certifications reside with individual installers. In addition, there are two well-respected industry programs that certify the company as a whole. One is the Five Star Contractor program offered by the National Tile Contractors Association. The other is the Trowel of Excellence certification program offered by the Tile Contractors Association of America. These company certification programs are recommended in the TCNA Handbook as evidence of a contractor’s qualifications.

For more information, visit www.tilecertifications.com, the National Tile Contractors Association at www.tile-assn.com and choose “ACT” on the left-to-right scrolling menu at the bottom, or The International Masonry Institute at www.imiweb.org and choose “Certifications” under the “Education” tab.

Qualified Labor – September 2014

Johnson Ceramic Tile Inc.: claiming credibility with certification

By Terryn Rutford

johnson-tileMichael Johnson runs a family business started by his dad in 1966. With a team of seven employees including himself, the company specializes in new homes, renovation, commercial, and custom installation. The company has worked all over the East Coast, with lots of projects for the government at Fort Bragg, and intricate work in 2013 at Duke University’s Wallace Stadium when the university remodeled. In addition, Johnson Ceramic Tile (www.johnsonceramic.com) has performed work at most of the major East Coast colleges.

1-QL-0914Johnson inherited Johnson Ceramic Tile from his father when he passed away in 2009. Shortly thereafter he took the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation’s (CTEF) Certified Tile Installer test to demonstrate that he was qualified to take over the family business. He took the written test not far from where his company is located in Spring Lake, N.C.

“There are a lot of bad installers around this area and I know customers would feel a little more comfortable knowing that the company is certified,” he said. While he didn’t find the test hard, Johnson did consider it time consuming.

2-QL-0914The study guide materials remain a source of information for Johnson today, for example, “the moisture rate of certain tiles and materials that you normally don’t think about,” he says. “After reading and learning that part of it [from the test], I do have to refer back to the book. I had been installing for years before I took the test, [and there was] stuff that I never would even have thought about.”

And he has changed some of his methods and materials as a result of the test, as well. Since becoming certified, for instance, he uses Schluter®-KERDI waterproofing and crack-isolation membrane.

3-QL-0914Proud of his status as a Certified Tile Installer, Johnson includes his certification number on his contracts. “If the homeowner or whomever I’m dealing with doesn’t know I started in 1966 or anything about our name, we put [the certification] in our contracts to let them know I am certified,” he said. Johnson also includes the certification on his website.

Johnson said the certification “takes the guesswork out of it for the homeowner or the client because they know that the installer has had some kind of training; it’s kind of like a confirmation that you’re qualified.”

Qualified Labor – August 2014

NTCA Five Star Contractors: “Integrity, Professionalism, Craftsmanship”

By Lesley Goddin

NTCA5starcontractorWhen it comes to “qualified labor,” there are few contracting firms or installers more qualified than the NTCA Five Star Contractor. These contractors are the cream of the crop, adhering to a mission statement, code of ethics and number of criteria that ensure their customers that they are not only qualified contractors, but that they excel in their field.

The newly-minted Five Star Mission statement reads:

“A working group of recognized elite tile contractor professionals/experts in various market segments assembled to identify tile contractor challenges and issues, provide best practices and consensus processes to elevate the members of the group. Long term goals of group efforts include tangible benefits such as awarded projects, higher profits, recognition by peers, customers and suppliers, discounted pricing or rebates, and extended warranties. The group will be responsible for developing training initiatives for leaders and key employees of the members, establishing award recognition, and best practices in both business and in the field.”

The Five Star Contractor program is open to all contractors – residential, commercial, union, non-union, large or small.

“In my first year, 2008, the program had nine members,” said Jim Olson, NTCA assistant executive director in charge of the program. “As of July 2014, we have 38 Five Star Contractors. The program has not only grown in size, but the application process has become more stringent as we grow.”

NTCA is reviewing applications from three contractors with hopes to add them to the program in the near future, bringing the total to 41 Five Star Contractors. The program goal is to have 50 Five Star Contractors by the end of 2015.

Distinguishing between “low” or “qualified” bid

“Our industry does not have a national licensing program and the end user has a difficult time distinguishing between lowest bid and lowest qualified bid,” Olson added. “The NTCA hopes that the Five Star Contractor program is one of the vehicles that will help bring qualified labor to the masses.”

Five Star Contractors make a monetary commitment to the program and are required to complete a rigorous peer-approval process, demonstrating their commitment to training, service, quality, safety, fiscal responsibility and superior job performance. They also agree to attend two industry events, board meetings or Five Star conferences per year. Additional qualifications for applicants in 2014/15 include:

A minimum of 10% of installers must be CTEF certified (CTI – Certified Tile Installers) or have completed a three-year apprenticeship program approved by the Department of Labor upon submission of the Five Star Contractor application

Must commit to Advanced Certifications for Tile Installers (ACT) certifications within 12 months of acceptance in Five Star Program

A “Large Project” (LP) section has been added to the application for those Five Star applicants who wish to be referred for large commercial and unique projects.

Code of Ethics for NTCA Five Star Contractors

Each applicant is asked to read, sign and date the Five Star Code of Ethics before their application is accepted. The NTCA Five Star Code of Ethics is derived and adapted from the Model Code of Ethics by the American Subcontractors Association. It states:

Competition. NTCA Five Star Contractors compete fairly for contracts, avoiding any practice that might be construed to be in violation of the letter or spirit of the antitrust laws. Firms avoid any activity that could be construed as bid shopping or peddling. Firms do not knowingly violate any law or regulation governing the competitive process.

Qualifications. NTCA Five Star Contractors seek to perform contracts only for projects for which the firm has technical competence and experience. Firms do not accept contracts for which they are not qualified. Firms assign staff to projects in accordance with their qualifications and commensurate with the demands of the services to be provided under the contract.

Standards of Practice. NTCA Five Star Contractors provide materials and services in a manner consistent with the established and accepted standards of the construction industry and with the laws and regulations that govern it. Firms perform their contracts with competence, reasonable care and diligence. Firms establish prices that are commensurate with their services. They serve their customers with honesty and integrity.

Conflicts of Interest. NTCA Five Star Contractors endeavor to avoid conflicts of interest, both corporate and individual. Where a corporate conflict exists, NTCA Five Star Contractors will disclose such conflicts to their customers or prospective customers. NTCA Five Star Contractors regularly educate their staffs about personal conflicts of interest and have established a procedure for internal disclosure.

Public Safety. NTCA Five Star Contractors assure that the safety of their employees, the employees of others on the job site, and the general public are protected during the provision of their services.

Service Providers and Suppliers. NTCA Five Star Contractors treat their service providers and suppliers in an equitable manner, assuring that they are provided clear direction and prompt payment for service provided. Firms do not knowingly violate any law or regulation governing such relationships.

Employees. NTCA Five Star Contractors comply with the letter and spirit of laws relating to working conditions, equal employment opportunities, and pay practices. Firms do not knowingly violate any law or regulation dealing with public information. NTCA Five Star Contractors assure that all public statements and disclosures they make are truthful. Firms also protect the proprietary interests of their customers.

Compliance with Laws. NTCA Five Star Contractors do not knowingly violate any law or regulation.

Image of the Construction Industry. NTCA Five Star Contractors avoid actions that promote their own self-interest at the expense of the construction industry and upholds the standards of the construction industry with honor and dignity.

Internal Procedures. NTCA Five Star Contractors have established internal procedures under which their failure to conform to the above practices will be handled. Each year, the NTCA reviews this code of ethics and its internal procedures with each of its Five Star Contractors. If an employee, customer or other individual becomes aware of a circumstance in which NTCA Five Star Contractor or an employee of that firm fails to conform to the above standards, he/she should immediately report such circumstances to Jim Olson, NTCA assistant executive director.

Benefits to the industry benefits to the contractor

Being a Five Star Contractor not only benefits customers, it benefits the contractor as well, with quarterly cash rebates from Crossville and Florim (1% each) as well as MAPEI and Schluter (2% each); and product vouchers to use towards all products from Daltile, MAPEI, LATICRETE, Custom Building Products, TEC (including Grout Boost); select products from Schluter; and all products from TexRite in Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma.

In addition to product discounts and benefits, Five Star Contractors have a unique ability to market their companies; network with other Five Star Contractors, receive business and technical training and be referenced in qualified labor language in the MasterSpec by ArCom.

For more information on the Five Star Contractor program, contact Jim Olson at [email protected] or phone 601-939-2071.

Qualified Labor – July 2014

Industry-recognized certifications: a matter of pride and professionalism

Heritage Marble & Tile boasts two installers with recently-obtained ACT certification

By Lesley Goddin

1-QL-0714Since its inception in 2009, more than 1,000 tile setters have gone through the Certified Tile Installer (CTI) certification evaluation offered through the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation, validating their skills and providing credentials to potential customers and general contractors.

The latest certification is the Advanced Certifications for Tile Installers (ACT), which is offered through the combined efforts of six leading organizations in the tile industry: the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF); the International Masonry Institute (IMI); the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers (IUBAC); the National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA); the Tile Contractors’ Association of America (TCAA) and the Tile Council of North America (TCNA).

The intent of the ACT certification program is to provide a level of consumer confidence for tile installation procedures that exceed ANSI standards and TCNA guidelines for floor and wall. ACT certified installers represent the pinnacle of performance in the tile trade and maintain a level of excellence superior to non-ACT certified installers.

Two of the most recent ACT graduates are veteran tile setters with Heritage Marble & Tile in Mill Valley, Calif., a contracting company that is already a NTCA Five Star Contractor. Gabriel Cortez, who has worked for Heritage for 15 years, and Leonardo Escamilla, who has worked for Heritage for 13 years, completed the ACT certification earlier this year. It all started with a conversation with Heritage owner Martin Brookes a few years earlier, when CTI certification was launched.

“He brought it to us and talked to us about it,” said Cortez “We figured that it was going to help us in the long run and allow us to show our credentials to customers.“ Cortez talks about the value in studying for the first wave of CTI certification years before.”

“Before that – I hadn’t read the TCNA Handbook for Ceramic, Glass and Stone Tile Installation, but now I read it to explain what we are doing to customers,” he said “We also learned a few things about different methods, such as doing the subfloor preparation.”

Added Escamilla, “Now we can show people we know what we are doing. We can show the certificate – that shows we know what we are talking about.“

ACT certification was the next logical step in credentialing work for Cortez and Escamilla. In fact, Escamilla said that although some general contractors are only looking for the cheapest workers, “some contractors really care, and feel that you should know what you are doing,” he said. “They will test you and ask questions.“

Cortez noted that though it was a challenge to complete the tests in the time allotted, studying for the course again helped him learn the importance of some of the methods and referring back to industry documents and the Handbook. “It was hard but in the end, it paid off,” Cortez said. “I know where I am and what I can do.“

Advanced certifications in mud bed, large-format tile installation, shower installations and use of membranes helps generate confidence and assurance for both general contractors and homeowners.

“When you talk to contractors and homeowners, you can tell them a better way to do things; if things are wrong, you can tell them how to do it right,” Cortez said. “You can show your credentials, and if someone questions how I know what I know, I can say, ‘I went to this certification and that’s what I learned.’ It’s a way to prove why you are doing things the right way, and how it should be done.

As an employer, Brookes has “found CTEF and ACT to be beneficial in the way I market and sell the jobs we are invited to bid. We are able to demonstrate that we are active within the industry in techniques that are required in today’s complex tile installs. Keeping my workforce current on standards and methods and having them certified gives the customer peace of mind that we are the right company for the install.”

In addition to the benefits in business, the certifications are also a matter of pride. “Gabriel and Leonardo are very proud of their achievements, and with the ACT program are able to build off their skill set to demonstrate to the tile world they are vested in their own careers as master tile setters,” Brookes said. “We look forward to future certifications that the ACT program will have to offer to build on the certifications that we currently have.”

For more information on Certified Tile Installer certifications, visit http://tilecareer.com/courses/certified-tile-installer/; visit www.tilecertifications.com for ACT certification information.

Qualified Labor – June 2014

QLLATICRETE MVP points fund CTI/ACT registration fees

As we’ve been reporting for a while, the industry is moving toward an industry-wide recognized standard of competence and skill, known as the Certified Tile Installer/CTI (for basic skills validation) and the advanced knowledge and know-how of the ACT installer (for Advanced Certified Tile Installer).

Though there is a modest cost for these programs, money can be tight sometimes.

Now LATICRETE – which has been a supporter of the certification programs since their inception – is taking another step to support industry-wide excellence by permitting its MVP program members to use earned points for CTI and ACT registrations.

LATICRETE’s MVP program operates like this: for every dollar spent on LATICRETE products, points are awarded, depending on status level. Typically points are used for trips to places like Italy, Napa Valley, and Ireland, where LATICRETE personnel and MVP customers can enjoy travel adventures and build camaraderie.

But LATICRETE is expanding the use of points toward rewards that are more oriented towards philanthropy and industry support, said Ron Nash, vice president of sales and marketing – North America at LATICRETE International.

qualified_labor-1“We’re involved in the Wounded Warrior Project, golf tournaments to benefit those living with multiple sclerosis – causes that are consistent with the Rothberg philosophy. Part of our corporate mission is giving back, since we are blessed people – and those things tend to come back around to us.

“This program is a portal to find cream of the crop – the best of the best installers,” he said. “We want those installers to help out the industry as well,” Nash added. “Certifications and trainings, NTCA, TCAA membership, etc. – this is all geared toward making the industry better. None of it will really thrive unless contractors participate.

“We want to say: ‘Don’t let money stop you’,” he added. “As a professional, you’d have organizations you’d support or be part of, like a doctor or architect. Construction is changing so fast that if you are not staying up to date on training and don’t know the best practice, you’ll be leapfrogged by people you haven’t met yet.”

Scott Carothers, training director of the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF), commented about the first tile contractor to make use of this new MVP reward-points option.

“The first tile contracting company to utilize the LATICRETE MVP certification option was the David Allen Company (DAC) at its branch location in Bristow, Va., on March 25, 2014. The David Allen Company has been a long-time supporter of the CTI program and now with the assistance of LATICRETE, that support is growing.”

Christopher Walker, vice president of David Allen Company, said, “LATICRETE made it extremely easy to use MVP points for CTI training in our warehouse for NTCA contractors.” DAC sponsored CTI training for installers from DAC, as well as nearby contractors Collins Tile and Stone and FBT Tile and Marble, and used MVP points to fund the registration fees for the DAC installers.

“We plan to do the same thing with ACT certification later this year,” Walker said.

MVP points will have an even farther reach later this summer – LATICRETE is developing a system where points can be used for association dues in addition to the CTI/ACT registration fees.

“We will target those advancements in July,” Nash added. “MVP members will be able to use MVP points to pay for NTCA dues and TCAA dues, and purchase industry manuals as well, like the TCNA Handbook for Ceramic, Glass and Stone Tile Installation, the ANSI manuals and specifications. We are developing a rewards site that allows members to order all those things.“

In addition, Nash mentioned that “companies like Crossville are looking to put together additional trainings. MVP members will be first to hear about those trainings as well.”

Carothers concluded by stating, “LATICRETE has raised the bar by adding the certification option into its MVP program.”

Qualified Labor – May 2014


Left to Right: Owner Dirk Sullivan of Hawthorne Tile, Vladimir Blashchishchin – Certified Tile Installer #1000 – and Scott Carothers of the CTEF.

CTEF announces 1,000th Certified Tile Installer

It seems like yesterday that The Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF) launched its Certified Tile Installer (CTI) program at Coverings, 2008, but in the first quarter of 2014, the program reached the milestone of its 1,000th Certified Tile Installer.

On March 17, 2014, during an official CTI test conducted at Daltile in Portland, Oregon, Vladimir Blashchishchin became the CTEF’s 1,000th Certified Tile Installer. A quality-oriented tile installer with Hawthorne Tile in Portland, he was the well-qualified recipient of this prestigious award.

Dirk Sullivan, owner of Hawthorne Tile and long-time member of the NTCA, was truly excited that one of his installers (and his company) would be involved in such a milestone of the CTEF.

Why CTI?

CTEF launched the Certified Tile Installer (CTI) program to provide a means for top-quality, highly knowledgeable installers to verify their skills and subsequently promote themselves to potential clients and employers.

Certification enables professional installers to provide industry-recognized proof of their abilities, which ultimately helps them get more work. The program was developed in response to the lack of any credible mechanism helping consumers gauge the level of proficiency of prospective tile installers. By encouraging consumers to use only the best-qualified installers, this program continues to raise the quality of installations in the U.S. Making strides toward this goal is important in maintaining the status of ceramic tile as the material of choice.

The Certified Tile Installer evaluation is a comprehensive testing of the skills and knowledge of experienced tile installers that includes both a multiple-choice exam and hands-on test. Based upon current industry standards and best practices for producing sound installations that exhibit good workmanship, this certification process is the validation of the skills and knowledge of men and women who presently are installing tile successfully in the United States. Installers who successfully complete the CTI testing, receive nationwide recognition of their accomplishment, by being listed on the CTEF website which provides the contact information of CTIs to everyone from the architect to the residential consumer.

With increased awareness of the CTI program, the growing desire of installers to elevate themselves above the crowd by getting certified, and the fact that architects are now calling for “qualified labor” on an increasing number of their projects, the CTI designation is poised to grow even more rapidly in the near future.

ACT_logo_generalACT: the next step from CTI

Vladmir’s certification qualifies him to participate in the Advanced Certification for Tile Installers (ACT) program, which validates competency for tile installation procedures that exceed ANSI standards and TCNA guidelines for floor and wall. ACT certified installers represent the pinnacle of performance in the tile trade and maintain a level of excellence superior to non-ACT certified installers.

ACT is not a training program; it evaluates the skills and knowledge of tile installers who are either CTEF Certified Tile Installers (CTI) or Journeyman installers through the IUBAC. Advanced competencies in the following areas are evaluated:

  • Large Format Tile & Substrate Preparation
  • Membranes
  • Mortar (Mud) Floors
  • Mortar (Mud) Walls
  • Shower Receptors

By certifying key installers via the ACT program, companies become part of an elite group of contractors eligible to bid projects specifically requiring ACT-certified installers.

The Advanced Certifications for Tile Installers (ACT) program was created through the combined efforts of six leading organizations in the tile industry: the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF); the International Masonry Institute (IMI); the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers (IUBAC); the National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA); the Tile Contractors’ Association of America (TCAA) and the Tile Council of North America (TCNA).

CTI testing returns to Albuquerque

Amidst the Albuquerque Daltile warehouse where the April 12 CTI testing was taking place are (l. to r.): CTEF’s Scott Carothers; Daltile’s Bill Fergison; LATICRETE’s Tim Evans; Daltile’s Kevin Sebesta; and NTCA’s Michael Whistler.

Amidst the Albuquerque Daltile warehouse where the April 12 CTI testing was taking place are (l. to r.): CTEF’s Scott Carothers; Daltile’s Bill Fergison; LATICRETE’s Tim Evans; Daltile’s Kevin Sebesta; and NTCA’s Michael Whistler.

Back by popular demand, in April, CTEF’s Scott Carothers and NTCA’s Michael Whistler conducted another Certified Tile Installer (CTI) evaluation at Daltile’s Sales Service Center on Venice Ave. NE in Albuquerque, N.M., the second in six months. The event had 20 initial registrations for tile installers from Santa Fe (Coronado Paint & Decorate; Dominguez Carpet One), Farmington (Carpet One Floor & Home), Grants (Mesa Floor Coverings), Roswell (George’s Carpet and Tile) and Albuquerque, N.M., and drew installers from as far away as Spectrum Floors in El Paso, Texas, as well.

LATICRETE reprised its December role as a primary sponsor for this event, and National Gypsum donated backer board sold through Daltile for use in the modules.


A passel of tile installers came to Daltile in Albuquerque to have their skills verified though hands-on testing through the Certified Tile Installer program, administered by CTEF.

Test results will be in soon – and the New Mexico/El Paso region will have a new crop of qualified tile installers for the A&D community and consumers to draw on. For more information on upcoming CTI evaluation near you, visit www.tilecareer.com.

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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