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.


Rainfall in my house: the shower environment

TEC-sponsorTech Talk – September 2013

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 www.hbfuller-cp.com.


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 (ventedfacades.com). 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 www.CTaSC.com or e-mail at [email protected] or by calling 866-669-1550.

Want to reduce the risk of ceramic tile failures?

There is a new sheriff in town and his name is ISO – ISO 13007 to be precise. Does this mean that the old sheriff (U.S.A. industry standard ANSI A118) is dead and gone, replaced by a new world order?

Not on your life!

ANSI hasn’t gone anywhere and in my opinion never will. But this new addition to the Tile Council of North America Handbook for Ceramic, Glass, and Stone Tile Installation has much to offer in the way of helping architects and design professionals write more precise specifications that will help reduce the risk of tile and stone installation failures. The following list of Q&A’s might help explain why.

What does ISO stand for anyway? The International Organization for Standardization is a worldwide federation of standards bodies with a strong European influence.

Are the ISO test methods the same as what ANSI uses? No, not even close. ANSI’s primary focus is on tile-to-tile shear-bond strength. ISO uses primarily concrete-to-tile tensile bond strength tests. Shear testing is for measuring lateral stress; tensile is for vertical. ANSI measures in pounds per square inch (psi); ISO measures in Newtons per millimeter squared (1N/mm2 =’s 145 psi ).

Which one is best? Can’t answer that! Both are vitally important. When concrete cracks or expands, a lateral stress comes in to play. When floors bounce (deflect) such as upper levels of shopping malls, vertical stress is applied. When floors heat up from sunlight through windows or skylights, both directions of stress can adversely affect a tile installation.

How are they similar? Wish you wouldn’t have asked that question. There is no simple one-sentence (or even 100-sentence) answer, but I’ll do my best in this limited space. Both standards measure a thin-set mortar’s performance levels. Both have two tiered levels of performance; ANSI has A118.1/A118.4 and ISO has C1/C2. Both take into consideration open times, water immersion, freeze/thaw, and room temperature aging. Additional or optional characteristics include fast-set, extended open times, and non-slip. Both standards also have special thin-set mortar categories for installations over plywood: ANSI A118.11 and the ISO P rating.

What about standards for installation products other than thin-set mortars? For mastics, ANSI has A136.1 and ISO has a D classification for Dispersion Adhesives. For epoxies ANSI has A118.3 and ISO has R classification for Resin Reaction Adhesives. ANSI covers cementitious grouts in A118.6 and A118.7 standards; ISO in CG1 and CG2 standards. Also, ISO 13006 is a standard for ceramic tile as is ANSI A137.1

So, with this new wealth of knowledge I now possess, how can I use the ISO standards to help reduce the risk of failures for my tile installations? Not so fast! You don’t know enough yet. You have not asked the right question, which is “Besides testing procedures, how is ISO different?” I have a threefold answer to that question; heat resistance, substrate considerations, and deformability of mortars.

The thermal-shock testing (heat aging) in ISO testing closely simulates what happens to tile installations near windows or skylights where the tile and substrate materials all expand and contract frequently and at rapid rates.

The standard substrate in all mortar testing in ISO is concrete while ANSI shear tests are always tile-to-tile.

Lastly, and most importantly, is deformability. Transverse deformation, denoted as “S” in ISO is the ability of a mortar to accommodate vertical movement or expansion between the tile and the substrate. Put more simply, any mortar with an S classification denotes how much a thin-set mortar will bend before it breaks. This adds a new dimension to evaluating installation products.

Expansion Crack


Compression Crack

Both of these failures could have been avoided with more precise ISO and ANSI mortar specifications.

In my opinion, neither standard by itself gives a specifier all the information that is now available. There is much more to consider because there is now much more that is known. Because of the new information that ISO provides, written specifications in conjunction with the information in ANSI can be more precise because it is now easier to identify and match important characteristics of mortars to specific conditions on projects.

I’ll give you a couple of examples. Say you need to install 12″x12″ porcelain tiles on the second floor of a shopping mall. I would recommend ANSI A-118.4 and ISO C2S2E for the thin-set mortar. How about quarry tile on new slab-on- grade concrete? You could save money and still sleep at night by specifying ANSI A-118.1 and ISO C1. I personally sleep very well at night because I have eliminated ANSI A-118.1 and ISO C1 from my vocabulary, but that’s just me. I like the latex contents found in A-118.4 and C2!

I have always felt that the shear/bond performance ratings for A118.4 mortars are much too broad. An A118.4 porcelain-tile minimum-shear bond requirement is only 200 psi and yet there are many 700+ psi products on the market, but ANSI has no mechanism to differentiate between them. We know for a fact that many manufacturers are building-in a fair amount of flex into some of their products, but there is no way to measure the horizontal flexibility capabilities with ANSI; at least not in A-118.4. A-118.12 has a horizontal shear/bond stretch test for crack isolation membranes, but the 50 psi requirement is too low for mortars. Maybe this could be expanded upon some day. As a ceramic tile consultant who has investigated hundreds of thin-set-on-concrete tile failures through the years, I think a workable lateral- shear flexibility (deformability) test for mortars could possibly become the most relevant test of all.

Neither one of these standards is perfect in and by itself, but together many performance characteristics can be ascertained. For example, if an ISO C2S2 mortar has excellent stretch capabilities on a vertical tensile strength test, it’s logical that it would do very well absorbing lateral-shear stress as well. Conversely, if an ANSI mortar has enough adhesive bond strength to score high on an ANSI porcelain tile shear strength test, it’s likely that it’s also quite flexible and would do well with ISO’s deformability testing. Wouldn’t it be great if ISO and ANSI could come together more?

The Tile Council of North America’s Handbook does a great job of giving choices and minimum recommendations for material performance levels, but it is up to the specification writers to make the final determinations. ISO 13007, the new international sheriff in town, can be partnered up with the “good ol’ boy ANSI sheriff” from the USA to help reduce the risk of ceramic tile failures by more closely defining thin-set mortar performance characteristics. In other words, let ISO and ANSI be your guides.

Tom D. Lynch is a 49 year veteran of the ceramic tile industry with an installer, contractor and technical services background. Find him on the web at tomlynchconsultant.com

The Skinny on Thin Tiles

One of the hottest trends seen at the Cersaie show in Italy and Cevisama in Spain is the emergence of thin tiles. These thin tiles start at thicknesses of about 2.5 mm for walls up to about 6 mm thick for floors. Manufacturers tout a range of advantages, including installation over existing floor or wall coverings, eliminating the need for ripping out existing finishing materials in renovation projects, saving time and money in labor costs. The tiles are strong and lightweight, and reduce material consumption which benefits the environment. They can also be easily cut with a wet saw, and in some cases (easier with non-reinforced slabs) with a glass cutter.

According to Eric Astrachan, executive director of the Tile Council of North America (TCNA) there are currently three technologies used to manufacture thin tile: the Lamina process using Italian-made System equipment (System itself manufactures Laminam tiles); the Continua process using the Italian-made Sacmi equipment; and double-pressed or dust-pressed technology that loads powder into the press to produce a thin tile.

Typically, Lamina-made tiles are 3mm thick – largest slabs being 1000×3000 mm and 1200×3600 mm in size; Continua process tiles are equal or greater than 3 mm thick for walls and equal or greater than 4.6 mm thick for floors; dust-pressed tiles typically are 4.8mm thick, and not less than 4.5 mm thick. Most of these processes can be available with or without reinforcing mesh on the back.

Standards: in development

In terms of thin-tile installation, Astrachan said, “There are no nationally-recognized installation standards for thin tiles anywhere in the world of which we are aware. This is a problem because opinions abound on how to install it, and failures have resulted.”

Efforts to develop ISO standards for thin tile and installation standards are afoot, and TCNA is working in conjunction with the international body to provide input. TCNA is also collaborating with labor to quickly develop installation standards for North America to reduce incidents of performance failures due to incorrect methods or materials.

Most recommendations right now are for installation on concrete – when considering thin tile installation on wood frame construction even more variables arise. “The TCNA lab has developed a massive research program to evaluate thin tile installation and minimum physical properties,” Astrachan said. “We are trying to get that funded and hope to have more definitive guidance sometime next year.”

Here are some of the important factors Astrachan said must be considered in thin-tile installation:

  • Lippage must be virtually non-existent to avoid chipping damage to the thin edge.
  • Coverage must be 100% at the edges to prevent edge cracking.

Generally people say coverage should be 100% everywhere but we have seen successful installations with less than 100% coverage – however, performance will depend greatly on the thickness of the tile and type of reinforcement.

The amount of extra tile needed for a job can be much more than a regular project if the pieces being installed are large. It is easy to break a piece and then another large piece (several square feet) would be needed.

Astrachan said that in general, reinforced thin tiles are being installed on floors in new construction as well as in renovations over existing tile. “One of the popular wall tile applications is to go over existing tile in showers to create a very clean and uninterrupted appearance,” he said.

The NTCA Technical Committee has addressed thin tile in its 2010 NTCA Reference Manual on page E4 “Tile Not Manufactured to Industry Standards.” It’s also being discussed at the upcoming meeting this month during Total Solutions Plus in a committee headed by TCNA’s Bill Griese.

In the field
Artcraft Granite, Marble & Tile’s James Woelfel has installed Kerlite 3 mm, 16″x40″ thin tiles in about 10 new construction projects of about 100-200 square feet each. Woelfel said the material was very easy to handle, but the reinforced backing created cracking problems when scoring with a glass cutter, so the Mesa, Arizona-based, NTCA Five-Star contractor used a wet saw instead. There were also tile waste problems when the scored tile cracked, and when at least one box of crushed or broken tiles came in each shipment.

Woelfel had good success with MAPEI’s Kerabond/Keralastic mortar system, which was recommended by the manufacturer. MAPEI’s Granirapid can also be used for vertical large thin tile installations, as well as MAPEI Ultralite, a high-performance, deformable, one-part cement adhesive with zero vertical slip and longer open time.

“MAPEI recommends a trowel with slanted teeth to allow the mortar to lay down more easily without sliding the tile to comb over the trowel ridges,” Astrachan said. “Unlike traditional tiles, it is very difficult to slide large thin pieces.” In addition, LATICRETE® 255 MultiMax® thin/medium bed mortar, 4-XLT® non-sag mortar, and Sure Set® medium-bed mortar can be used for thin tile installations.

For setting floor tiles, Astrachan observed a practice which goes against the grain of traditional tile installation: walking on the tile to embed it into the mortar. “This tile is flexible…stepping on it pushes it into place.” Not so much for beating the tile into the mortar with a rubber hammer, which can lead to breakage.

Astrachan stressed the importance of leveling the floor first, since mortar can’t be used to build up irregularities in the subfloor beneath – and Woelfel cautioned contractors to fully level the substrate and ensure flatness. “It’s like setting vinyl tile on walls,” Woelfel said. “It will telescope anything beneath it.” Woefel recommended the tile contractor conduct taping of drywall; in some cases, the wall may need to be mudded for a flat surface.

Following are some new thin-tile products:

Cotto d’Este: Black-White, from the Kerlite collection, is manufactured to a slim 3mm thickness using the Lamina process. Sleek and contemporary, Black-White comes in 3×1 meter and 1×1 meter in black and white. Eco-friendly manufacturing is earmarked by reduced emissions and 25% natural gas consumption, plus recycled materials for packaging. Large porcelain stoneware slabs above 3.5 mm thick are reinforced with fiberglass mesh. www.cottodeste.it.

Fondovalle: Bi+Fusion technology used in Light 4 Fusion allows the production of large, lightweight, double-pressed 4.8 mm thick slabs with multiple loading and colored pastes, offering great technical performance.  www.fondovalle.it.

Gardenia Orchidea: Crete di Pian-della Fornace is the latest innovation from the Crystal Ker brand, which uses traditional press technology in a new way to produce extra fine, extremely thin, very white porcelain stoneware in 2.5 mm thickness for the wall covering and 4.5 mm for flooring. www.gardeniaorchidea.com.

Laminam: Linfa ceramic slab features Lamina technology to produce a 3 meter-long, 3 mm-thick tile with surface effects that imitate various types of wood such as cotton, hemp, bark and coconut. Linfa is made with up to 48% recycled content. www.laminam.it/eng.

Lea Ceramiche: Slimtech Re-Evolution 3mm porcelain now comes in sizes as large as 40″x118″, in a new resin-like texture created by Lamina technology. www.ceramichelea.it.

Panaria: The Doghe 0.3 collection is part of the new ZER0.3 line, which uses Lamina stoneware technology to produce large, thin, lightweight ceramic slabs. Doghe 0.3 offers a wood effect in three modern colors in 3mm-thick planks. www.panaria.it

Refin: Skin is the brand-new, 4.8 mm slim porcelain stoneware. Using dust-pressed technology, Skin offers the same technical and resistance features of standard thickness porcelain stoneware tiles, with added benefits offered by thin tile. www.refin-ceramic-tiles.com.

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