Editorial Feature: Crack Isolation and Waterproofing

Permeation, crack isolation and how they impact waterproofing choices

edit-01By Dean Moilanen
Director of Architectural Services, Noble Company

I call Las Vegas the Petri dish of waterproofing, because Las Vegas has more hotel rooms (over 160K) than any city in the country.  With demanding, fast-track construction schedules, and streaks of stubborn “wild west” independence, what winds up in shower pans and wet areas sometimes can resemble a lab experiment gone awry.

The demand for luxurious, durable, and safe showers, spas, and wet areas spawned twin challenges to hotel and casino owners. The “durability challenge” forced hotel/casino owners to get creative in their mission to eliminate failing shower pans and wet areas. The “safety challenge” tasked these owners with banishing the threat of microbial growth – aka mold – in stud-wall cavities and other areas of the guest environment.

edit-02A small army of forensic experts, waterproofing consultants, and risk-mitigation attorneys, hired by the hotel owners, turned their attention to the challenges outlined above in 2004-2005. They first focused on movement concerns, and the impact on waterproofing longevity.

It came as no surprise that the areas around the drain, the pan-to-wall plane transition movement joint, and saw-cut, cold joints areas had higher incidences of failure if the waterproof membrane could not tolerate these movement forces.

Membranes meeting high-performance standards to the rescue!

In the end, job site variables, varying levels of installer competence, and independent, third-party product test results were all factored into the solution path: waterproof membranes that met the ANSI A118.12 high-performance standard were less prone to failure in these areas of movement concern. ANSI A118.12 high performance means the membrane and tile can withstand 1/8” of movement before failure of the system. There are products from various manufacturers that meet this requirement. Architects ensured these performance metrics would be maintained by requiring all performance/test data on any product be conducted by independent, third party testing agencies.

edit-03This evolution in specifications for waterproofing/crack isolation is not a closed or proprietary specification solution. There are numerous Division 9 allied-product manufacturers who can supply this type of waterproof membrane. Also, this evolution of high-performance waterproof/crack isolation membranes does not marginalize or discredit waterproof membranes that meet the standard level of 1/16” of movement before failure. These products have offered decades and millions of square feet of successful, waterproofing/crack isolation. With the advent of an objective testing method of ANSI A 118.12 to quantify membrane performance, and with the ever-more-demanding owner/client wanting take every precaution, there is an undeniable move in Division 9 specifications towards referencing this ANSI standard as an objective benchmark of waterproofing/crack isolation performance.


As we touched on earlier in our discussion, permeation, (i.e. steam), has become another important performance metric to take into account when selecting the waterproof membrane for your project. Those of us with a few years in the tile industry will recall when installations consisted of a loose-laid shower pan, floated walls, cement backer-board, and unfortunately – in some areas of the country – green board. Back then there seemed to be a lot fewer concerns or evidence of mold making its way back into stud-wall cavities, or other areas of the home. Houses back in the day were able to breathe, and showers of that time were a lot more utilitarian, as were the attitudes about how much time was spent there.

edit-04Construction methods, shower design and technology, and our own evolving attitudes about the duration and frequency of showering have resulted in a lot more steam in the shower. How much steam?

Well, those same Las Vegas casino/hotel owners who tasked their waterproofing army with finding a solution to movement concerns in waterproofing, also set out to identify the critical path towards stopping vapor migration penetrating areas outside the shower.

Their findings can be distilled down to this: hospitality showers, locker rooms, health clubs, university student gang showers, and hospitals can generate so much steam with the frequent and long nature of these showers that they are in reality mini steam-room environments. The upsurge in mold remediation cases, and situations where steam had migrated into stud-wall cavities and living spaces, was the result of the perfect storm of changing construction methods, which gave us tighter, less breathable buildings and showers. At the same time our culture has been trained to view showering as an experience, an escape, to be savored – not rushed. Consider a resort hotel, with a family of four, and the time they will spend in that shower. It is no wonder that seemingly overnight, there seemed to be a tidal wave of vapor-migration/mold issues. The images scattered throughout this article, courtesy of Charles Nolan, Millers Flooring America, Lafayette, Ind., show the kinds of failures that result from when low permeation waterproofing membranes are not included in steam and wet-area installations.

edit-05Treat steam-room conditions with steam-room engineered products

Again, the solution was – and is – elegantly simple: if you are faced with a waterproofing/vapor-permeation condition that exhibits a steam room level of steam/vapor, specify and install a waterproof membrane that is suitable for steam room applications. In this area, do not waiver. The only membranes to be specified and installed, if you are going to address the mini steam-room conditions noted earlier, are membranes which comply with ASTM E-96. There are more than a few instances in which a tile contractor assumed his favorite shower pan membrane could rise to the occasion of stopping vapor migration, and alas it could not – and it did not – achieve that goal.

In my own travels I have seen a waterproof membrane used on the shower walls in a four-star hotel, and when the walls were peeled back after three-and-a-half years, there was black mold nestled in the stud-wall cavities.

edit-06This solution is also not closed, or proprietary: there are a number of waterproof membranes, available from a variety of manufacturers, that can meet the requirements of ASTM E-96. But at the risk of sounding redundant: INDEPENDENT THIRD PARTY TESTING is the ONLY way one can be assured a product’s claims are legitimate. There are a number of quite reputable manufacturers who rely on their company’s marketing department, or their own in-house tests to suffice. Architects and specification writers may employ language in their documents that requires all testing to be third party ONLY.

The performance requirements of waterproofing in wet areas and showers have become more demanding as construction methods have changed, coupled with lifestyle changes that place more demands on the shower environment and wet areas. There always will be a good/better/best option for waterproofing, crack isolation, and permeation, but in the space provided here we have made note of best practices with regard to ANSI A118.12 and ASTM E-96 and how they provide an effective pathway to superior performance.

Noble Company, founded in 1946, manufactures premium-quality sheet membranes and shower elements for tile installation, including waterproofing membranes, linear drains, niches/benches, pre-slopes, shower bases, adhesives and sealants for the plumbing and tile industries; engineered antifreeze/heat transfer fluids and accessories for heating/cooling and freeze protection for fire sprinkler systems. The company is headquartered in Spring Lake, Mich., with manufacturing facilities there and in Baton Rouge, La. www.noblecompany.com.

NTCA Reference Manual: exploring underlayments (April 2015)

NTCA_RMThe NTCA Reference Manual, an essential industry document, explores the subject of underlayments in Chapter 3. This publication is free as part of NTCA membership or can be obtained through the NTCA website at www.tile-assn.com.

The NTCA Reference Manual gives an overview of the types of underlayments one is likely to need or encounter on a tile or stone setting project, as follows:

Factory-prepared powdered underlayments usually fall into one of three categories:

1. Gypsum based
2. Cement-based latex underlayments
3. Cement-based self-leveling underlayments

1-underlayment_article1. Gypsum-based underlayments are predominantly composed of various grades of gypsum, chemicals to control set time, and may be sanded or unsanded. They may be mixed with water or a latex admixture, but are to be used only in dry areas, since gypsum-based materials are highly sensitive to moisture. These materials are normally used by the resilient flooring mechanic for patching small holes, cracks or for correction of thickness variations of adjacent flooring materials. However, larger areas may be leveled with products that require 3/4” minimum thickness over wood and 1/2” over concrete substrates. Gypsum-based underlayments are not recommended for use under ceramic tile or stone.

2. Cement-based latex underlayments are composed of cement, aggregate and are mixed with a latex additive. Most instructions recommend the application of a slurry coat to the substrate made from the powder and the latex additive. This slurry is only allowed to dry to a tacky condition before application of the normal mix. It normally requires sanding after curing to remove trowel marks and for further leveling.

3. Self-leveling underlayments are composed of cement, aggregate and chemical modifiers that increase flowability and strength. Substrates are normally primed with a latex material that serves as a bonding agent and a sealer. Most self-leveling materials may be mixed with water or with latex admixtures.

The NTCA Reference Manual also presents a table of Problem- Cause-Cure parameters for some common problems that arise when using underlayments. Following are the categories of underlayment woes and the problems that contribute to the difficulty.

unapproved_latexesLoss of Underlayment
Bond To Substrate

  • Improper preparation of substrate. Applications of material over dust, dirt, curing compounds, old adhesives, spalled or soft concrete, etc.
  • Deflection of substrate.
  • Failure to prime the substrate according to directions on the product.
  • Diluting latex additives with water.


  • Mixing product with too much water or latex.
  • Bridging expansion joints, control joints, or slab cracks.
  • Application of material exceeding thickness restrictions.
  • Over-troweling/overworking surface.
  • Exposure to excessive wind or direct sunlight during initial curing stage.

powdery_underlaymentSoft or Powdery

  • Mixing underlayments with too much water or latex.
  • Mixing with high-speed drill.
  • Diluting latex additives with water.
  • Using gypsum-based materials in areas subject to moisture.
  • Using cememt-based underlayment over gypsum underlayment.
  • Mixing with foreign products or substituting one product for another
  • Moisture penetration followed by freeze/thaw cycles

Poured gypsum underlayments

Also included in the NTCA Reference Manual exploration of underlayments is a section on poured gypsum underlayments. They have distinctive properties, characteristics, and capabilities that are presented as follows:

poured_underlaymentPoured gypsum underlayments can provide a satisfactory surface to receive ceramic tile installation systems. These floors are available in compressive strengths of 1,000 to over 8,000 PSI. It is recommended that the tile installer verify that the poured floors meet a minimum compressive strength of 2,000 PSI and a minimum density of 115 lbs. per cu. ft. when tested in accordance with ASTM

C472. Poured gypsum underlayments are suitable for interior substrates only, above grade, and in areas not subject to constant water exposure or immersion.

There are currently four approved methods the TCNA Handbook uses for poured gypsum underlayments in tile installations.

F200 – Poured Gypsum over Concrete

F180 – Poured Gypsum Underlayment over Plywood

RH111 – Poured Gypsum over Concrete with Hydronic Heat

RH122 – Poured Gypsum over Wood with Hydronic Heat

Drying of the gypsum underlayment

Poured gypsum floors are made with a job site mixture of powder and water and require time to dry before they can be primed/sealed and tiled. Verification that the gypsum underlayment is dry can be determined in accordance with ASTM D4263: Plastic Sheet Method. This test process shall be performed by the gypsum installer, prior to the application of any primers/sealers. Do not proceed with the tile installation until the poured gypsum is deemed dry and has been primed/sealed.

As a general guideline, the following drying times should be observed prior to testing the surface for dryness.

Thickness of poured gypsum and dry time before testing:

1/4”      48 hours

1/2”      72 hours

3/4”      5 days

1”      7 days

2”      2 weeks

Preparation of the poured gypsum surface

In general, ceramic tile is not bonded directly to gypsum underlayments. While each manufacturer of these materials has their own specific requirements, the use of a primer/sealer or a primer and membrane is required. Any exceptions to this recommendation are proprietary in nature and suitability rests solely with the gypsum manufacturer.


Some gypsum manufacturers recommend the use of a primer/sealer over the surface of the dry gypsum before installing any membrane or setting material directly. Also referred to by some as a “sealer” or “overspray,” the use of these primers is intended to prevent the gypsum from absorbing water from the setting material, which can result in poor adhesion. Please note that while you may not have installed the poured gypsum, you must verify that the primer/sealer was applied in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations, after the gypsum floor was deemed dry.


The Tile Council of North America and some gypsum manufacturers recommend the use of membranes in addition to the primer prior to installing the tile over their poured underlayments. For the purposes of these applications, membrane is as defined by ANSI A118.12 for crack isolation or ANSI A118.10. Check with the manufacturer for their individual requirements.

NOTE: The tile contractor shall obtain written documentation verifying that the poured gypsum floors have met or exceeded the minimum compressive strength of 2,000 psi and minimum density requirements of 115 lbs. per cu. ft. per ASTM C472, has been tested per ASTM D4263 and deemed to be dry, and has been primed/sealed in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendation. This information shall be provided to the tile contractor by the general contractor, owner, builder or certified poured gypsum installer.

NOTE: The requirements of this document exclude patching compounds.

Schluter-Systems hosts training and educational seminar for NTCA members

bart_0114By Bart Bettiga

Schluter-Systems’ new LEED Gold certified building is located just outside Reno, Nevada, and offers a picturesque view of mountain ranges on the horizon surrounded by terrain adjacent to the property with running streams and wild horses roaming freely on the land. In addition to the state-of-the-art facility, Schluter’s 97,500-sq.-ft. building is strategically located to offer increased service and faster delivery of products for their west coast distributors, dealers and contractors. It is also an ideal location for training and educational programs. The facility features a multitude of sensible and sustainable technologies to maximize energy efficiency, water usage and air quality.


The Schluter Reno building used thousands of square feet of tile in both interior and exterior applications, and acted as a virtual hands-on research and development project.

Schluter recently hosted over 75 NTCA members for a training and educational seminar and tour of the facility. This was also an excellent opportunity for NTCA staff to update the attendees on association direction and strategic planning. The program included a complete presentation and tour of the building, which was in essence a hands-on research and development project for Schluter. Many of their products are showcased throughout the facility, offering a great example of how conventional building methods continue to evolve, and how tile and stone can be key elements in the successful implementation of sustainable systems that maximize energy efficiency.

schluter-sidebarAndy Acker, a leading trainer and presenter for Schluter-Systems, was the lead speaker and facilitator of the program, which consisted of two complete days of highly-engaged interaction. Former NTCA regional director and contractor John Trent, who is currently employed with Schluter, was instrumental in putting the program together and assisting in its development and promotion.

Topics discussed in the first day of the training seminar included lengthy interaction on the principle of uncoupling, covering details from the TCNA Handbook and thin-set installations. New product introductions included a preview of the new Ditra-Heat system, which was recently introduced to the trade. NTCA and Schluter leaders then held an open-forum discussion on installation practices and business strategies before heading out to a fabulous dinner.


Dee DeGoyer of Schluter-Systems was the tour presenter and explained the detailed planning that went into the state-of-the-art facility.

Day Two consisted of the NTCA strategic planning update and a Schluter presentation on moisture management, including a lengthy discussion of waterproofing and examining details of both the TCNA and Schluter installation handbooks. Presentations on Schluter Kerdi Board and their innovative profiles as solutions to challenging installations completed the morning sessions. After lunch, all of the attendees broke into groups and moved into the training center locations, where several territory managers were ready with demonstrations of products in carefully-constructed modules. All of the groups had time to see the hands-on training demonstrations, ask questions and make comments, and move on to the next module.


One of the highlights of the seminar included round -robin presentations in small groups of Schluter pw2ju22XZ(922fgroducts and systems.

The educational portion of the event concluded with presentations by Schluter leaders offering a glimpse into the future, sharing some strategies of products currently being considered for development. Schluter also shared their position on supporting Certification through the CTEF programs, and pledged to support the ACT Certifications currently being offered.

Many of the attendees stayed an additional day to go skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling in the beautiful mountains located near Lake Tahoe. By all accounts, those that stayed the extra day were treated to a memorable experience. Schluter-Systems and NTCA leaders agreed that future meetings of this nature would continue to provide value to our members.


New products demonstrated at the seminar included the Ditra-Heat system, which will be on display at Coverings.






Several attendees took the extra day offered by Schluter to enjoy the winter climate with skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling adventures.


Over 75 NTCA members attended the training seminar at the recently completed Schluter-Systems LEED Gold Certified building in Reno, Nevada.


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 tecspecialty.com.

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 www.tile-assn.com, click on Books & Periodicals).

For more information and diagrams on tile patterns, visit tile manufacturer websites such as www.daltile.com/information/tile-patterns, http://americanolean.com/patterns.cfm, or www.daltile.com/programs-services/custom-tile-services/mosaic-borders-patterns/1-x-1.


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 tecspecialty.com to learn more about TEC products.


Tech Talk – October 2013

TEC-sponsorWorking with electric heat under tile floors

By Tom Meehan, Cape Cod Tileworks

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

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

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

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

warmlyyours_sidebarWarming the floor, heating the room

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

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

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

Flat or roll-out mats: pros and cons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some electric floor warming systems to consider:

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

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

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

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

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


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

Case Study – Kitchen Transformation


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

By Gary Kight, Conceptual Tile Solutions

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

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

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

Selecting the tile

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

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

3kitchenAccommodating thick and thin tile

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

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


From linoleum to tile

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

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

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

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

Case Study – Hand made tile

1handmadetileHandmade tile mural invigorates library patio

By Lesley Goddin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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