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.

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.

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.

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 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

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.


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 ( 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.


Tech Talk – September 2013

TEC-sponsorRainfall in my house: the shower environment

The most “rainfall” a home sees each year is NOT on the roof — it’s in the shower– so plan waterproofing for your projects accordingly

halvorsonBy Don Halvorson, CTA, CTC, CMRS, Forensic Tile Consultants

Forensic Tile Consultants has performed thousands of site inspections and intrusive tests over the past several years as an expert witness for construction-defect investigations. After many years of bathroom inspections, it has become vividly clear that residential showers are a major source of water entry into the structure, due to type of wall construction, improper construction practices and availability of proper construction details.

While the typical homeowner complaint that drives a construction-defect lawsuit tends to be roof and window leaks, a major source of water entry into the structure is located in the bathroom or bathrooms of the home. This specific area of water intrusion leads to structural damage, mold growth and health issues. While architects and contractors are aware of the weather issues associated with roof and window installations, very little emphasis is placed on properly constructing a shower to eliminate water leaks into the building envelope.

Two feet of rain falls for every shower

In 1997, Cecil Hunt, owner of Hunt For Tile, a tile contractor in Chula Vista, Calif., performed a basic test to determine how much moisture was occurring inside the shower during a typical personal shower. He simply placed a glass inside the shower, on the receptor in the water spray pattern, and tracked the amount of time required to fill the glass with 6” of water. This occurred in three minutes. Using 12 minutes as a typical shower time, Mr. Hunt calculated that 24” of rain fell during that shower, which amounted to 8,760” of “rain” in a one-year time frame. This figure has been used for several years in the industry by tile experts.

In an effort to justify this figure, or provide a more realistic figure, a review of the shower environment with respect to water or moisture is required. Currently, much emphasis has been placed on water conservation with reduced water-flow showerheads. This is due to The Energy Policy Act of 1992, a Federal law that placed requirements on the manufacturers of showerheads after January 1, 1994. This law established the National Water Efficiency Standard at 2.5-gallons per minute, at a water flowing pressure of 80 PSI, plus meeting the requirements of ANSI A112.18, 1M-1989, 7.4.3a for all showerheads except a safety shower showerhead.

Obviously, the water flow is going to vary with showerhead design and water pressure, plus the fact that there are probably more residential houses with water pressures around 60 PSI, than 80 PSI. That reduction in pressure would reduce the showerhead water flow to about two gallons per minute.

Expert opinions vary on how long a “normal” shower lasts and how much water is actually used. In August 2000, the GAO (United States General Accounting Office) published a report to Congressional Requesters on “Water-Efficient Plumbing Fixtures Reduce Water Consumption and Wastewater Flows.” In this report, reference is made to a comprehensive study conducted by the American Water Works Association’s Research Foundation where 1,200 homes were studied to determine the end use of water in residential homes. That study reports the Mean Daily Residential Water Use for a shower is 11.6 gallons per person.

A showerhead sprays water in a constant pattern; in other words, it does not fall in a random pattern like natural rain. This fact does not lend itself to using a rain gauge to measure the water amount. The actual shower size also varies, along with the spray zone and splash effect of a moving body.

Therefore, a base line flow rate would simplify any analysis undertaken and give a standard by which to judge the results. For this analysis, the showerhead flow rate used in the calculations will be 2.5-gallons per minute as depicted by the National Water Efficiency Standards.

The only other item that is constant and can be utilized in this analysis is the size, or footprint, of the shower unit. The analysis will compare the typical shower sizes found in residential houses. The water flow rate, calculated for a 12-minute shower, will be figured as covering the floor surface without draining away. This amount will then be added up for a one-year time frame.

The following standardized units will be used:



Assuming the annual rainfall in Southern California in 2001 was 6” and other areas of the world receive over 200” of rain per year; we can compare the highest and lowest figures from the above chart (1,098/2,482) with those rainfalls (6/200) and quickly realize that the moisture inside a shower can be from 5.5 to 414 times more “rain” than on the roof.

If we use the 2-gallon per minute flow rate, the moisture inside the shower changes to 4.4 to 329 times more than on the roof.

If we use the Mean Daily Residential Use Per Capita” figure of 11.6 gallons, the moisture inside the shower changes to 2.2 to 156 times more than on the roof.

From all the studies and variables reviewed, the range of moisture in the shower environment varies from 2.2 to 414 times the annual rainfall experienced on the structure’s roof.

The calculations and conclusions shown here are strictly meant to point out the fact that we have more moisture occurring inside a shower during normal use than on the roof during rainstorms. It is, therefore, necessary to design and construct a shower with equal or better care than the roof of a house.

Common sense tells us that any water occurring inside the shower area must go to the drain, not into the structure.


This article was printed with permission from Don Halvorson, CTC, CTA, CMRS, CRMI, Forensic Tile Consultant; email: [email protected]; cell 818-606-8431, office 805-492-5552.

Case Study – September 2013

1tec-casestudyComplete TEC® system transforms school into a work of art

TEC products provide solutions for both interior and exterior challenges

A fine arts building addition at Pathfinder and Navigator Schools in Pinckney, Mich., contains more than 16,000 square feet of tile, all installed with TEC® products.

The building addition houses fine and performing arts space, including a new band and orchestra suite, choir and music rooms, art rooms, a fine arts integration studio and conference room.

More than 15,000 square feet of terrazzo, ceramic and porcelain tile are featured inside the facility. Terrazzo tile outfits the floor, ceramic adorns interior columns and porcelain creates unique interior benches.

Outside, the Fine Arts Connector makes an especially creative statement. An additional 1,000 square feet of tile are featured on seven piers that are curved, designed to resemble the profile of a cello. Installing glass tile on the undulating piers created many challenges for the project team, so they turned to TEC brand products.

2tec-casestudy“We were presented with several unique challenges on this project,” said Jennifer Panning, president of Artisan Tile, Inc., who served as tile subcontractor. “The combination of a 30-feet-high exterior application, using glass tile, various radiuses and a vertical substrate meant we needed products that could stand up to these challenges. We chose the TEC brand for this very reason – quality products and technical support.”

Artisan Tile’s firsthand experience and past successes with TEC products and technical support made their choice easy. The construction manager, architect and H.B. Fuller Construction Products representatives were involved early on to consult and help navigate the complexities of the job. Everyone worked together to determine the solution. According to Panning, the team agreed that the most important part of the tile installation was beneath the surface. As a result, Artisan Tile spent 80% of its time focusing on substrate preparation.

Artisan Tile utilized several TEC products that all meet or exceed ANSI specifications: Xtra Flex™ Acrylic Latex Additive, HydraFlex™ Waterproofing Crack Isolation Membrane, Super Flex™ Mortar, AccuColor® Premium Unsanded Grout and TEC® Acrylic Grout Additive.

On the scratch coat and mud set, XtraFlex Acrylic Latex Additive was used at a 1:1 ratio, providing additional bond strength. For waterproofing, HydraFlex™ Waterproofing Crack Isolation Membrane was used. It is flexible, mold and mildew resistant and has crack isolation properties.

3tec-casestudySuper Flex™ Mortar was used to set the tile and has the highest bond strength of any TEC mortar. AccuColor® Premium Unsanded Grout was mixed with TEC® Acrylic Grout Additive in place of water. Together they form joints that are less susceptible to water penetration, which is necessary for exterior use in Michigan’s freeze/thaw climate.

Combined, the TEC products worked to overcome the unique set of installation challenges the project team encountered. The result is a striking external aesthetic that sustains the seasonal elements of Michigan’s weather, and a beautiful interior that endures high traffic and heavy use by students.

“We are happy with the results TEC products brought to the Fine Arts Connector,” said Panning. “H.B. Fuller Construction Products provided the technical support and products we needed to provide a smooth installation that meets the unique challenges of the project.”

4tec-casestudyThe Fine Arts Connector was completed in August 2012. The Michigan-based project team included Artisan Tile, Inc., Wold Architects and Engineers, and construction manager, George W. Auch Company.

For more information on the TEC brand offered by H.B. Fuller Construction Products Inc., visit


XtraFlex™, HydraFlex™ and Super Flex™ are trademarks of H.B. Fuller Construction Products Inc.
TEC® and AccuColor® are registered trademarks of H.B. Fuller Construction Products Inc. in the U.S.A.

Wake Med Heart Patient Tower and Children’s Hospital

Wake Med gets new “heart” with expansion

David Allen Company tackles complicated challenges to bring beauty and functionality to project














Wake Med’s expansion into its new Heart Tower and Children’s Hospital in Raleigh, N.C., incorporated 87 patient rooms, six gang restrooms, and lobby for a total of 37,204 square feet of tile in 15 different tile colors and sizes. The project provided a number of challenges for locally-based NTCA Five Star Contractor David Allen Company (DAC), including adapting tile installation to out-of-level vinyl floors, and a complex grid of tile color and orientation changes in the main lobby.

The patient toilets in the Children’s wing had 12”x24” wall tile with a 1”x2” custom glass accent and vinyl flooring. The general contractor had an issue on a previous project where the vinyl flooring was not cut nicely to the ceramic tile base. To remedy this, the GC scheduled the wall tile installation after the vinyl floor. However, upon inspection after the vinyl floor installation, DAC discovered that almost half of the rooms had floors that were 1/4” to 1/2” out of level. To correct this problem, DAC needed to level the walls by scribing the cove base. This totaled about 2,100 linear feet. This adjustment caused issues with all of the switch plates, which were designed to be installed in the 6” bullnose above the glass accent. The condition in every restroom was different, thus requiring coordination with the electrician for all rooms.

From east to west, the main lobby is 388’ long. It is divided into three areas and consisted of three different 12”x24” tile colors. Every time the tile color changed, the orientation of the tile was rotated ninety degrees but the grout joints still had to align. Plus, every color change was either on a non-parallel line or a radius.


The three lobby sections had to be installed separately with the center section as the last to receive tile. Control lines were critical and difficult to obtain, since the tile contractor didn’t have a clear line of sight from one end to the other. DAC started its control line in the area with the public restrooms that were completed in phase I, on the west side of the building.

Control lines were created heading east down the north and south corridors. When the installation moved into the center section where the building wasn’t parallel, DAC had to transpose the control line into segments. Then the control line was continued in the east section, which is where the installation began. DAC moved west installing tile in the north and south corridors simultaneously. The north and south corridors’ pattern joined on the east side of the building to meet the public toilet tile.

The steel staircase had a 12”x48” step tread, with the 12”x24” tile brick pattern continued from the main floor on the risers and stringer. In combination with the difficulty of the brick pattern on a small stringer, it also had 2” steel glass supports that had to be core drilled through the tile. Precision was crucial in drilling because there was less than 1/8” overlap of the cover plate for the hole. DAC did a couple of field mock-ups for the owner and architect to see how the holes and the pattern looked together on the small stringer. Some of these areas were installed from a lift 15’ high.

Even with the difficulties, DAC often finished tile areas with days left on the schedule.

Marazzi Architectural Ventilated Wall System creates sustainable rainscreen

When the Evanston, Ill.-based professional design partnership BEHLES + BEHLES wanted a sustainable facade as part of the green design strategy for the branch banking facility of First Bank &Trust, the firm turned to Marazzi Architectural.

BEHLES + BEHLES closely collaborated with Marazzi Architectural representatives on the new LEED-Gold recognized facility, located within the Village of Skokie, Ill. Marazzi Architectural’s Ventilated Wall System was selected as one of the most visible elements of the sustainable design strategies implemented for the project.

DTI of Illinois, based in Aurora, Ill., installed approximately 5,200 square feet of Marazzi Architectural’s white and gray Monolith porcelain stoneware in rectified, large-format 12”x24” and 24”x48” modules on the specially-engineered, site-specific aluminum framework by Jurij Podolak, architectural engineer, CSI, ASCE, AAWE, associate AIA, and founder of VF Engineering ( The Monolith series, supplied by Great Lakes Distribution in Madison, Wis., boasts 40% recycled content.

“The Marazzi rep – Jerry Joyce – was absolutely terrific to work with on our initial rainscreen facade project, First Bank & Trust in Skokie, Ill.,” said Brian Castro, president of DTI of Illinois.

“We would NOT have been able to get the project done without his help. There were plenty of challenges, but Jerry was readily accessible at each and every one. He made himself present at the site on numerous occasions. “

Castro said the biggest challenge in this job was the bracket attachment to the building. But Marazzi’s help gave DTI the support needed to handle the situation. “Jerry worked around the clock to provide a solution that was compatible with American construction methods,” Castro added. “Once solved, the actual installation was a learning curve that was quickly absorbed by our union-trained professional installers.”

In Marazzi Architectural’s Ventilated Wall System, continuous external insulation provides uniformity in thermal protection, while the cladding material stops direct sun radiation. Together, they reduce unbalanced temperature distribution (thermal bridges that promote condensation and mold formation) and enhance the energy efficiency of the building.

To maximize these benefits, BEHLES + BEHLES super-sized the layers of insulation both within the building and on the exterior wrap to increase energy efficiencies as well as comfort levels inside the structure.

Other LEED/sustainable design highlights of the project include:

• A geo-thermal heat pump which extracts energy embedded in the earth, allowing for a 25% reduction in energy from non-renewable resources.
• A green roof covering 66% of the roof area of the building, reducing the urban heat island effect of conventional roofing systems.
• An underground site retention system that collects storm water run-off and returns better quantity and quality of run-off water to storm sewer.
• A building site that is a brown field redevelopment, with good access to public transportation and special allowances made for bicycles and low-emitting vehicles.
• A highly-insulated tile rainscreen exterior wall made from 40% recycled material that provides better thermal and moisture conditions for the interior spaces.
• Large floor-to-ceiling windows and high clerestory windows that bring ample daylight into the building, providing a better work environment for building employees.
• Energy efficient LED light fixtures that are used throughout the building.
• Use of water-efficient plumbing fixtures throughout the building that allow for a 42% reduction in overall use of potable water.
• 20% of all building materials obtained from recycled sources.
• 20% of all building materials obtained from regional sources (within 500 miles), decreasing energy use for materials transportation.
• Recycling of 90% of all construction waste, diverting that material away from landfills.
• Low-emitting paints, coatings, sealants, and floorings, creating a healthier work environment for building occupants.

Although the bank has only recently opened and comparative energy savings statistics are not yet available, typical results obtained with Marazzi Architectural’s Ventilated Wall System are up to 1/3 savings on energy usage. The large-format porcelain tile also offers excellent performance, both technical and aesthetic. Abrasion, freeze-thaw, fading, graffiti and harsh weather conditions become non-issues.

The ventilated façade overcomes all of the mechanical phenomena encountered during its lifetime, such as its own weight, suspended loads, external ambient shock, wind loading, deformation in the support structure, temperature or humidity variation, solar radiation, chemical and atmospheric agents.

All the sustainable design objectives were employed to demonstrate the client’s commitment to both the local Village community and the larger environmental community.

“It was so much fun, we’re presently in negotiations for two more larger similar projects,” said DTI’s Castro. “We’re very much looking forward to our next adventure.”

Epoxy grout + enzymatic no-rinse cleaners = grout disaster

By Kevin Fox, Fox Ceramic Tile Inc., a NTCA Five Star Contractor

Several years ago my MAPEI sales representative, Dennis Sandell, made me aware of a grout-failure phenomenon that was studied for a restaurant chain in Texas. At the time it seemed interesting but I really never thought much about it until I got a call from a restaurant manager. It seems that his kitchen grout was significantly degraded, and there were many areas in which the grout was virtually gone. This concerned me, since my company installed this floor just a few years ago, and it was grouted with a 100% solids epoxy grout. Luckily I did remember the conversation with Dennis.

The study involved the extreme rapid degeneration of epoxy grout. The results of the study concluded a new type of cleaning chemical using enzymatic cleaners (also known as “no-rinse” cleaners) was used. These cleaners have become very popular in commercial kitchens.

Since this initial call I have been consulted on several other kitchen grout failures. Now, the first thing I do is find out what they have been cleaning with, and without any exceptions, they have all used no-rinse cleaners. Yet often before I can tell the operators the source of the problem, they strongly assert their belief that the original tile-installation company must have performed their work incorrectly. Many times the operators required them to come back and regrout, only to have the same failure occur.

Unfortunately for these tile-setting companies, their name is dragged down due to a failure not under their control. I remembered a friendly conversation I had with a competitor. He told me his company recently regrouted a very large kitchen where grout had failed under his one-year contractual warranty. The original grout was a 100% solids epoxy, and the regrout was again with the same 100% solids epoxy grout. He was very troubled to learn the regrout was also failing. After I informed him about the destructive nature of no-rinse cleaners, he was relieved that the failure was not a result of improper workmanship or faulty grout. It was clear that he wished knew about this information many thousands of dollars ago.

The problem with enzymatic cleaners

The problem with these cleaners and 100% solids epoxy grouts is this: although harmless to the epoxy grout alone, these enzymatic cleaners accelerate the breakdown of products such as sugars, fats and proteins, which commonly appear on commercial kitchen floors.

To break down these products, the cleaner is left on the floor overnight (thus the name “no rinse”). The byproduct of the breakdown of the fats (grease) is acidic, and cumulative. After days, weeks and months of cleaner use, a highly acidic solution develops that rapidly deteriorates grouts.

Since the above-mentioned study, several manufacturers have developed an epoxy grout that can be subjected to these cleaners. We have had great success at regrouting failed original installations using these epoxies. These 100%  solids epoxies are listed to comply with ANSI 118.5.

A word of caution: use of these 100% solids epoxies is still limited. When used with newly-developed accelerated enzymatic cleaners, to my knowledge, no grout manufacturer will offer a warranty on their 100% solids epoxy products – even the new ones that meet the ANSI 118.5 standards.

With new installations, my company has taken the approach to educate the end user. If these no-rinse cleaners are used, the only grout which can be used is the above 100% solids epoxy grout meeting ANSI 118.5. We educate the end user about the lack of manufacturer warranty on these ANSI 118.5 grouts if they are using an accelerated enzymatic no-rinse cleaner. These ANSI 118.5 grouts are more expensive than other epoxy grouts and typically are more difficult to use. Yet if traditional cleaners are used, many other grouts can be used successfully. We always give the advice under consultation of a trusted grout manufacturer representative.

For more information, contact Kevin Fox at [email protected]

Shrinkage Leads to Indent Fractures in Stone

Natural stone tile continues to grow in popularity despite reduced consumption due to the soft economy. Materials used to install these tiles continue to change. As products and their usage change, so must you change to stay current with industry standards and the manufacturer-recommended applications of these products.

Shrinkage is not new. In fact, it’s expected to occur within setting materials. What has changed is that much more stone is being installed today, over different substrates and substrate conditions For instance, crack-isolation membranes – rare years ago – are much more common today. There are also a variety of membrane types with different properties and requirements.

Also, installers today tend to use much thicker application of thin-set mortar to compensate for irregular substrates, instead of correcting the substrates’ irregularities before installing tile. There are many more polymer/latex-modified thin-set mortars being used now rather than the standard dry-set thin-set mortars. All of these changes produce shrinkage and less resistance to shrinkage, resulting in a condition in stone known as “indent fractures.”

The phenomenon of indent fractures is much more frequent today. An indent fracture is a spider web-like fissure typically found in softer stones such as limestone and travertine, but is also seen in marbles and even some granites. It typically runs through one or more tiles and will branch off in different directions. Indent fractures are not easy to see; typically they can only be seen from an angle when light reflects off them. If you run your hand over the indent fracture you can’t feel it because there isn’t an actual crack or separation in the stone surface. If you put a straight edge over the indent fracture and shine a flashlight from the back of the straight edge, the light shines through at the fracture, indicating a low spot. Indent fractures can develop into an actual crack separation if the stone is subjected to enough movement, stress from deflection, or due to lack of movement joints.

The culprit

I have investigated numerous stone tile applications with this indent-fracture condition. The common denominators in each case are typically excessively-thick, polymer-modified thin-set mortar installed over a membrane of some sort. It also occurs where a bonded mortar bed wasn’t bonded to its substrate and was applied very wet and rich and in cases where the wire reinforcement for a non-bonded mortar bed was at the bottom of the mortar bed rather than suspended within the mortar bed.

What we found in our investigations was that the combination of excessively-thick thin-set mortar over a resilient membrane allowed the indent fracture to occur. The total force of shrinkage resulting from thicker applications of thin-set mortar will impart greater stresses in the stone than a thinner application, causing more deformation (strain) or shrinkage. This is compounded if the thin-set is also installed over a resilient membrane, because the membrane isn’t as effective in restraining the thin-set mortar as a rigid concrete substrate would. Instead, the thin-set mortar under the stone dries in a manner similar to a dry lake bed, with compression within some areas of the thin-set that results in tension in other areas, creating cracking in the thin-set. The crack then works its way up through some of the stone, but does not appear as a crack at the surface.

This condition is further compounded when a stone is installed over a membrane, since the moisture within the thin-set mortar can’t be absorbed by the substrate. The moisture can only escape through the stone or the grout joints. Of course the thicker the thin-set, the more moisture the stone is subjected to. This causes it to expand, resulting in more stress and deformation.

Wet-set mortar

Indent fracturing can occur when tile is installed over a wet-set mortar bed application particularly if it is over fat mud (very wet) which creates much more shrinkage, particularly if the mortar mix is very rich (higher ratio of cement to sand). If the mortar is placed over a membrane, as the mortar shrinks the membrane isn’t restraining the shrinkage. If the membrane isn’t properly attached to its substrate then it can further reduce the amount of resistance on the mortar bed or the thin-set. On a non-bonded mortar bed over cleavage membrane, wire reinforcement is required to minimize the shrinkage. If the wire reinforcement is left out or placed at the bottom of the mortar bed, then it can’t do its job of mitigating shrinkage and avoiding indent fractures. Dry-pack mortar has very little moisture for the stone to absorb, so shrinkage is much less.

Recently I was involved in devising some experiments to reproduce indent fracturing in a testing laboratory. We substantiated that the thicker application of thin-set mortar created more stress and strain, and application over a resilient membrane contributed to deformation by not fully restraining the thin-set as it would if bonded to a rigid surface. It was determined that the fractures were the result of tension within the thin-set mortar at those points.

Indent fractures didn’t develop right away, but took a week or more to develop and eventually halted. Cracking initiated within the thin-set and traveled up through the bottom of the tile. Based on Pythagorean triangular geometry, an indent can be explained by the bottom of the stone shortening from deformation caused by the thin-set shrinkage, resulting in the crack. The top surface of the stone is drawn down at the crack location resulting in the indent (low point).

Avoiding indent fractures

So what can you do to avoid indent fractures? First, follow thin-set mortar manufacturers’ recommendations for their products. ANSI now has defined the differences between a medium-bed and thin-bed thin-set mortar, indicating their limitations. A thin-bed mortar cannot be used any thicker than 1/4” or less than 3/32” after the tile is embedded. A medium-bed mortar cannot be any thicker than 3/4” thick after the tile is embedded. ANSI further states that the medium-bed mortar is not intended to be used in truing or leveling underlying substrates or the work of others, but only to accommodate the irregularities within a tile.

Make sure you adjust your substrate to meet ANSI A108 flatness requirements. Then use thin-bed mortar, limiting the thickness to 1/4.” Use a rapid-setting thin-set to help minimize the extent of shrinkage since it cures faster. A membrane with less resilience can also help to restrain the thin-set mortar if it is properly attached. Use dry-pack mortars for wet-setting stone on floors to limit the amount of shrinkage and the amount of moisture to which the stone is subjected. Make sure your wire reinforcement is suspended within one-third to one-half the thickness of the mortar bed for non-bonded applications to help minimize shrinkage.

Bottom line: if you want to avoid problems, follow industry standards.


Ceramic Tile Consultant, Donato Pompo CTC CSI CDT MBA is the founder of Ceramic Tile and Stone Consultants (CTaSC). Donato has over 30 years of experience in the ceramic tile and stone industry from installation to distribution to manufacturing of installation products. CTaSC provides services in forensic failure investigations, quality control for products and installation methods, including writing specifications, training programs, testing, and on-site quality control inspection services. CTaSC is a professional consulting company comprised of expert tile and stone consultants, accomplished ceramic tile and stone installers, architects, engineers, general contractors, construction scientists and other industry specialists conveniently located throughout the US and Canada. Reach Donato at or e-mail at [email protected] or by calling 866-669-1550.

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