Stone Section – November 2014

mapei_sponsorStacking the deck: manufactured/natural stone veneers pros and cons

By Lesley Goddin

A couple of years ago, at a local Albuquerque NTCA Tile & Stone Workshop, NTCA presenter Michael Whistler told the assembled group of tile contractors about a great opportunity just waiting to be grasped. That opportunity was installing masonry or manufactured stone (concrete) veneers over backer board using a tile-setting method. Traditionally, these products – as well as stacked natural stone veneers – have been installed with a masonry lath-and-mortar method. But the masonry method has been subject to bond failures, so using a cement backer board, liquid waterproofing membrane and thin-set mortar so familiar to tile installers – has proved to be a superior method and profit opportunity for some tile contractors.

Manufactured stone is “great stuff,” said Whistler. “Tile setters should have embraced it wholeheartedly, but they gave it to the masons. A few smart guys are installing it – it’s easy to do.”

1-stone-1114Whistler said that the masonry method involves paper and wire lath, then it’s covered with type S standard masonry mortar, which has very little bond strength. “This is made for stacked block or bricks on top of each other; it’s not made for gluing one thing to something else. “

In contrast, he pointed out that “thin-set mortar is made to glue an object to a substrate. The tile guys put up cement backer board and waterproof it completely with a completely waterproof membrane – not just a vapor barrier or retarder, like tar paper or Visqueen that may be nailed to the substrate, creating a breach in the waterproofing. Then the veneer is installed with thin-set mortar on top of that, which actually makes the veneer stick to the wall.”

2-stone-1114Whistler noted that all major tile setting manufacturers produce a system of products that are geared towards installing manufactured stone veneers.

“LATICRETE and Custom Building Products have modified some packaging for products to address this installation specifically,” said Brian Pistulka, business manager, Tile & Stone Installation Systems, MAPEI. “At this time Mapei hasn’t pursued this approach.”

But MAPEI has supported this market category with specifications and two reference guides – one created in conjunction with Daltile and its now-discontinued line of masonry stone veneer, and the second for the wholesale distribution market. “Both guides featured existing branded products MAPEI tested and recommended as systems for this category,” Pistulka said. “The guide contained installation systems for various substrates and conditions.”

3-stone-1114Working with a single-source system like those offered by setting material manufacturers affords these installations with a warranty, another benefit of the tile-setting approach, he said.

The problem is, this profit center hasn’t fully caught on with tile contractors yet, and for several reasons.

Masons’ purview

Dan Welch, NTCA president and a NTCA Five Star Contractor said, his company, Welch Tile & Marble, out of Kent City, Mich., doesn’t do much manufactured stone veneer installation since it’s not in its bid category.

4-stone-1114“Masons would have manufactured stone veneer on their contract,” Welch said. “We would have to go into their category and subcontract to the mason.” Similarly, Welch said, in Michigan, granite countertops are in the cabinetmaker’s scope. “We would have to bid through the countertop guy,” he said.

Tommy Conner, CEO of NTCA Five Star Contractor Superior Tile & Stone of Oakland, Calif., agreed. “From a union perspective, masonry veneer stone is mason’s work,” he said.

In addition, licensing statutes may preclude tile setters from setting manufactured stone veneer, Conner said. License parameters vary from state to state, and often the licensing board is focusing on the composition of the material. Since manufactured stone veneer is generally concrete, many licensing boards consider this the mason’s territory. Tile contractors like Superior are more focused on the “tile-like unit” being installed and HOW it is installed, regardless of composition.

5-stone-1114Elizabeth and Dan Lambert, of Lambert Tile & Stone in Eagle, Colo., another NTCA Five Star Contractor, prefer to invest their energy into the tile portion of the project. “We have done maybe one or two stone veneer jobs in the past five years,” Elizabeth Lambert said. “Since the homes in our market area are so big, we feel all our focus should be on the tile installation. We don’t feel a need to branch out to stone veneers, as there aren’t enough tile installers to keep up with the demand in our area.”

Occasionally, Lambert will install PetraSlate’s natural stacked ledgestone veneer on fireplaces and wainscots in 6” x 24” formats or veneer from Robinson Brick.

6-stone-1114In addition to setting material manufacturers supplying product to install these materials, they are keeping their eyes on the possible evolution of this market. “Most of the business is still serviced by the masonry contractor, but it is evolving to premium systems and products to address failures with original methods,” Pistulka said.

Thin brick and veneer installs

This being said, Conner commented that his company has done “tons” of thin brick and cut-stone veneer and even developed a proprietary method of installing these products that “reduced failures to nothing,” he said. This “Lombard Method” reduces the thickness of back-buttered mortar and mortared substrate so it doesn’t glaze over in warm weather and thus lose bond and create sagging. Superior installed thin brick using this method throughout the Embarcadero in San Francisco and also in many thin stone applications in Las Vegas projects. Conner said his company considers thin brick, stacked stone, and stone veneer bonded to a substrate to be “tilework.”

At Welch Tile, when it is within the scope of their work, the company installs a lot of stacked stone – typically interior work, such as veneers around a fireplace, in universities, casinos, and some bigger residential jobs and colleges, Welch said. It is installed using a tile setting method. We “stack them up like tile and thinset to a backer board,” he said.

Stone Section – The rise of stone

SponsoredbyMAPEIBy Jeremy Werthan, Werthan LLC

Demand for countertops in the United States is projected to increase 5.1 % annually to 750 million square feet in 2017, according to a recent study from The Freedonia Group, Inc., a Cleveland-based industry market research firm. This increased demand is sparked by a recovery in building construction and an easing of credit requirements for financing remodeling projects.

Of all countertop materials, natural stone is expected to have the highest rate of growth, at 7.6% per year.

This is not surprising. Granite is known for its hardness, strength and beauty. Marble is a softer, more porous stone that can easily be sculpted and shaped.

Homeowners, architects and designers are drawn to natural stone, namely granite and marble, for its unique qualities. No two pieces are alike, and its variation in pattern, color and texture allows virtually limitless design options.

Today, the one-of-a-kind feature of natural stone is not the only reason why granite and marble are among the most popular countertop materials on the market. Once amenities reserved for new, high-end homes, granite and marble countertops are becoming affordable luxuries for most houses and condominiums.

Few custom homes are built today without stone countertops in either the kitchen or bathroom, or both. The availability, efficiency and affordability of natural stone are all factors that contribute to its sense of commonplace use in today’s homes.

Stone_aprilAvailability

Natural stone is being mined from more places than ever. Granite generally comes from Brazil, Italy, China and India, while a majority of marble is sourced from Turkey, China and Italy.

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the United States imported 908,934 tons of granite and 954,941 tons of marble in 2002. Last year, those numbers were 1,508,822 tons of granite and 959,647 tons of marble.

In addition, more and more stone fabricators and stone yards are going into business, and nearly all supply granite and marble for countertops.

Efficiency

New technologies make the process of adding stone countertops to a home a lot quicker, easier and less expensive for both the homeowner and fabricator.

Starting from the beginning stages of estimation, tools like Cloud Takeoff allow contractors to bid more work in less time and with greater accuracy. With Cloud Takeoff construction estimating software, suppliers can instantly measure surfaces and perform detailed blueprint takeoffs.

Likewise, new techniques in fabrication have helped dramatically reduce the time and cost of cutting and shaping stone. A trade that was once mastered by hand is now heavily reliant on automated machines. With new CNC technology, fabricators can control cutting and polishing machines with digital technology. Even shaping the most intricate designs has become fast and simple.

Both estimating software and CNC technology have increased production, and have contributed significantly to the reduction of costs and increase in quality of finished products.

Affordability

The price of any material is determined by its demand and availability. The large supply of natural stone coupled with the new fabrication techniques have contributed to the affordability of the surface material.

For instance, when granite was first introduced into homes in the 1980s, there was a very limited selection and a large cost, about $70 per square foot or even more. Now, granite comes in a variety of colors and patterns and at a much more reasonable price, anywhere from $35 to $100 per square foot. Marble is priced similarly.

Cost of natural stone varies depending on the type of stone, level of difficulty to quarry and fabricating techniques.

So how will high-end homeowners distinguish their countertops from the mass market? New countertop materials, such as engineered stone, exotic granites and marbles, stainless steel, concrete and recycled glass will be the new symbols of luxury homes.

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Jeremy Werthan is the owner of Nashville-based Werthan LLC, the largest stone fabricator in Tennessee. Werthan LLC supplies and installs the finest in natural stone, tile, quartz and solid surface materials throughout Middle Tennessee. The company’s mission is to provide customers with superior service, state-of-the-art craftsmanship and uncompromising quality.

Natural Stone Council issues position statement on OSHA’s Silica PEL Proposal

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Last November, the Natural Stone Council MSHA/OSHA Committee issued a position statement about OSHA’S recently released proposed silica rule. What follows is the Natural Stone Council’s (NSC) position statement in its entirety, with the caveat that the position paper is a working document and will be updated and revised as needed.

stonecouncilPosition statement on OSHA’S Silica PEL Proposal

The following position paper is written on the behalf of The Natural Stone Council (NSC), which is comprised of 12 organizations representing all types of dimensional stone businesses that quarry and fabricate in the United States. The members include Allied Stone Industries, Building Stone Institute, Elberton Granite Association, Indiana Limestone Institute, Marble Institute of America, Mason Contractors Association of America, National Building Granite Quarries Association, National Slate Association, Natural Stone Alliance, New York State Bluestone Association, Northwest Granite Manufacturers Association, and Pennsylvania Bluestone Association. Collectively, all agree that employee safety is the first priority of the dimension stone industry.

stone1Issue:

On August 23, 2013, the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) released a proposal (Docket ID# OSHA-2010-0034) to reduce the permissible exposure level (PEL) for silica by 50%. The new level would be 50 micrograms of respirable silica per cubic meter of air over an eight-hour period. The U.S. Mine Safety & Health Administration (MSHA) has stated its intent to issue a similar proposal for the mining industry. OSHA’s proposal has been published in the Federal Register and the public has until January 25, 2014 to submit written comments.

NSC position:

All NSC member organizations agree that airborne crystalline silica is dangerous and proven measures are necessary to protect exposed employees, but also believe that OSHA’s current silica PEL standard provides protection when best practices are applied in the workplace. If adopted into the Code of Federal Regulations, this new proposal will impact all dimension stone industry businesses that mine and process natural stone containing silica by increasing compliance costs and likely jeopardizing jobs.

In an effort to join with other industries affected by this proposal and to respond to OSHA with one voice, the NSC joined the Construction Industry Safety Coalition (CISC). The CISC is comprised of several industry trade associations whose members represent thousands of employers and hundreds of thousands of working men and women.

one2Arguments against the proposal:

1. Data on silicosis cases does not show a need to modify the present PEL. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) stated that the incidence of silica-related deaths declined by 93% from 1968 to 2007 under the current silica PEL. OSHA says a reduced PEL is needed and estimates that the change will save 700 lives per year and reduce the number of silicosis cases by 1600 per year. It is estimated that over 50% of businesses with airborne silica exposure have never been tested. How can the current PEL be deemed inadequate if it is not known whether or not the majority of the regulated businesses are in compliance?

2. OSHA has underestimated the compliance costs for affected businesses. Figures presented by OSHA estimate the rule will cost industry approximately $640 million to implement (an estimated cost of $550.00 per year for a business with fewer than 20 employees), and provide $3-5 billion in benefits. The American Chemistry Council estimates an implementation cost of $5.5 billion with $1.1 billion in lost revenue, and the Construction Industry Safety Coalition estimates the cost to implement at $1-2 billion with $700 million in benefits. Given the requirements of the new PEL, it appears that the Department of Labor has underestimated the cost to implement the change. If these figures are incorrect, the credibility of the entire OSHA report and proposal comes into question. The need for any federal rule change needs to be based on accurate data.

In addition to the cost of compliance, new regulations take away capital essential for expansion and/or improvement. While safety is vital, regulations that are not correlated to specifically-quantified diseases and/or injuries make U.S. companies less competitive in the global market.

3. There are serious questions about whether or not available sampling equipment and analytical methods can produce accurate results for the proposed limits. Evironomics, Inc. and the URS Corporation advised the American Chemistry Council (ACC) that measuring exposure to a 50 microgram PEL would be “impossible.” The testing methods for measuring silica concentrations below 100 micrograms per cubic meter of air are not accurate, and the margin of error is almost equal to the proposed PEL. How can compliance be determined if the technology does not exist to accurately determine the exposure level?

Proposed solutions:

1. OSHA should indefinitely extend the comment period until their extensive report can be fully studied to determine the accuracy of the data. 135 days is not enough time to do this and address all questions.

2. To determine the true cost of the proposed PEL, and whether or not it is actually needed, we recommend these steps.

  • First – perform an industry-wide analysis and investigation as to the actual number of businesses that present a silica exposure to their employees. Ascertain how many of these businesses have been inspected, and how many have silica-dust containment and controls in place for their workers. Quantify the number of businesses that potentially do not have controls in place or have never been inspected to establish the real effectiveness of the current PEL.
  • Second – the Department of Labor should publish detailed information on actual diagnosed silicosis cases in OSHA-regulated businesses that were using proven engineering controls and NIOSH-recommended respirators.
  • Third – OSHA should work with the stone industry to determine accurate costs of implementing the proposal.

3. Conduct independently-verified, risk-assessment studies to determine the true risks of silicosis in a compliant workplace. OSHA is obligated to provide the “best available evidence” on any new proposal, and this guideline must be followed. Sound decisions must be based on accurate information.

4. The NSC offers to work with OSHA (and MSHA) for practical and cost-effective crystalline silica regulation based on sound and proven data that will improve the safety and health protection of workers.

The dimension stone industry is a major part of the nation’s economy. According to recent Department of Labor figures, 4,380 stone quarries directly employed 35,248 workers, and 2,125 fabrication facilities directly employed 23,666 workers. Additional indirect employment is estimated to be greater than 100,000 people with a total estimated payroll for the industry approaching $4 billion annually. It is the Natural Stone Council’s belief that our government should be responsive to the needs and concerns of this industry.

Formed in 2003, the NSC unites a diverse industry of natural stone producers by bringing together the various natural stone associations to actively promote the attributes of natural stone. The NSC is funded entirely through donations. To learn about the NSC, its initiatives, and to pledge support, visit www.naturalstonecouncil.org. Duke Pointer, executive director, can be contacted at [email protected].

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