Thin Tile – Porcelain tiles streamline Dallas atrium renovation


NTCA Five Star Contractor installs tile; no demolition of existing floor needed

Originally constructed in the late ’70s, the Plaza of the Americas was conceived as a large mixed-use development of office, retail, hotel and conference space contained in two high-rise towers – one of the largest developments in the city of Dallas – all connected by a vast 64,000-sq.-ft. indoor atrium, which, for many years, contained an underused ice skating rink and a variety of retail shops. The goal of the adaptive reuse project was to create an urban plaza or park that gave the development new life and increase use of the development during the day and after 5:00 p.m.

Through a fruitful collaboration between Corgan Associates, the landscape architect – the Office of James Burnett – and the owners of the property, the atrium was transformed into a climate-controlled, tiered indoor park that offers increased retail and restaurant opportunities.

1-thintileWorking with the existing retail, dining and hotel spaces presented a challenge: they had to remain open and accessible. Cotto d’Este’s ultra-thin large porcelain Kerlite tiles were able to be installed directly over the existing flooring, which meant that the renovation could be completed without costly, messy, time-intensive demolition. The 16” x 40” tiles in the Buxy series created a warm, modern feeling in Caramel and Amande colors. The 3.5 mm thick tiles helped to create an inviting space.

100% coverage is the key

If you’ve been reading TileLetter, you’ll know that recently leading industry associations issued a position statement about using thin tile 5.5mm and larger on floors. But when this project began, it was about three years ago, well before this statement came out.

Kemna Tile, a NTCA Five Star Contractor from Dallas, was called upon to install the Kerlite tile. Ongoing meetings with the facility owner and Barry Kemna, owner of Kemna Tile, educated the owner as to the potential risks of working with large thin porcelain tile in this project, especially considering the level of foot traffic from the office buildings and the hotel as well as from neighboring buildings where people accessed the food court at lunchtime via skybridges. Kemna suggested a seamless product, but the reality of needing to navigate around the busy Marriott hotel traffic in the evening and office building foot traffic during the day made the possibility of a terrazzo floor unfeasible.

2-thintile“The owner knew it was risky, but we had no other choices,” Kemna said. Initially 40” x 40” tile was specified, but Kemna insisted on cutting it to 20” x 40” pieces instead. “That way we could still pick it up and verify 100% coverage as well as edge coverage,” he said. In addition, the owner set some limits on the kind of wheeled traffic that is allowed to protect the space – rubber-tired vehicles only.

Kemna had a favorable experience working with the Kerlite tile. “It’s easy to work with and flexible. If it is installed correctly, it holds up well.” Kemna used thin-set mortar to skimcoat first with the flat side of the trowel and let it set up a few days or weeks, and then tile off sections of the project. On the second level where the floor ramped up to the retail spaces, Kemna used a self-leveling underlayment.

The biggest challenge Kemna has found is that “there is a tile or two broken in every box, so there is a lot of waste. You really have to order more than you need. The manufacturers will need to make arrangements to account for that.”

3-thintileSustainable space

The architects did a lot to make this a sustainable project. The barren and underutilized ice skating rink was transformed into an indoor garden through the use of vegetation, wood decking, new tile, water features and low-voltage lighting. The demolition of the existing concrete slab beneath the ice rink created large amounts of crushed concrete that were re-used as subgrade for the new flooring. Several tons of concrete were diverted from the landfill and were kept there on site as part of the new construction. Low VOC paints and adhesives were specified throughout the entire project.

4-thintileSkylights provide abundant amounts of natural light that reduce the amount of required light fixtures during daylight hours.

This project was the Commercial winner in the Italy Tile Competition, sponsored by Confindustria Ceramica, the Italian Association of Ceramics and the Italian Trade Commission and open to architects and designers in North America. Residential, Commercial and Institutional winners were selected by an international jury of design professionals and winners were announced at Coverings in Las Vegas in April 2014. They were awarded a $4,000 purse plus a trip to Bologna, Italy, this month from September 22-26 to take part in the Cersaie exhibition of ceramic tile and bathroom furnishings.

5-thintileEach winning project was recognized for its outstanding use of Italian ceramic tile, quality of installation, and overall design excellence. Sustainable attributes were also considered along with the impact that the tile makes on the overall space and installation. Contractors and distributor partners in each project were also celebrated.

Project: Plaza of the Americas
Architect: Corgan Associates
Landscape Architect: The Office of James Burnett
Location: Dallas, Texas
Tile Manufacturer: Cotto d’Este
Contractor: Kemna Tile
Distributor: Horizon Tile

Thin Tile – July 2014

mapei_sponsorLarge thin porcelain tile update, part I

Contractors share wisdom about successful LTPT installation

By Lesley Goddin

Large. Thin. Porcelain. Tiles. You’ve been hearing a lot about these in recent months and years. The lightweight, environmental benefits of these tiles – which start at thicknesses (or thinnesses) of 3 mm – combined with the ability to install them over existing surfaces with nearly any surface graphic imaginable thanks to digital printing technology make these tiles a game changer in the industry.

There’s one caveat that has some contractors a little gun-shy: no hard and fast standards exist for their installation right now, even though TCNA is in avid talks about the subject. The NTCA, together with TCAA, IMI and IUBAC – the founding associations of the Advanced Certifications for Tile Installers (ACT) – have come out with a position statement that recommends installing no large thin porcelain tile (LTPT) on the floor that is less than 5.5mm thick. There are considerations in handling and moving the units and recommendations on mortar too.

So, today, what does a contractor who wants to use these fabulous new products need to know for a successful installation? In part one of this story, we asked contractors experienced with this product category to share their wisdom about working with this material, and have included information about certification of Thin Tile Porcelain (TTP) that is currently in the works in the ACT program. We’ll share information from manufacturers in part two of this exploration of LTPT/TTP.

1-thintile-0714Martin Brookes, NTCA Five Star Contractor and owner of Heritage Marble & Tile in Mill Valley, Calif., has been involved with large thin porcelain tile since its introduction to the marketplace, due to a high-end residential bathroom that was installed with the 3mm material about four years ago.

Ensure logistics, employ proper equipment

Brookes has this suggestion: “With high rise interior installation it is important to make sure the material can actually be transported to the job site via elevators, stairwells, etc., without breaking the material,” he said. “Having the right equipment, like that from European Tile Master provides, and investing in installers attending training seminars like NTCA offers, are vital for contractors to avoid the costly pitfalls.”

Brookes also is one of several contractors who are sharing their knowledge with those new to the field. “I have PowerPoints from LATICRETE and MAPEI that I share with fellow contractors. I also try to educate the competition on how to follow substrate preparation guidelines, which in my opinion, is key as well as the handling of the material.” Brookes recently attended a training on thin porcelain tile installation with Custom Building Products, and applauds regional training being done by Crossville and other manufacturers. “Hopefully the education will prepare [contractors] better on how to bid and work with the material to their advantage,” he said.

2-thintile-0714Another tile contractor who has had a lot of experience with LTPT – including installing it in an Installation Design Showcase posh lounge vignette at the most recent Coverings – is NTCA Five Star Contractor Lambert Tile & Stone in Eagle, Colo.

Substrate prep is key to success

While LTPT installation standards are still in the works, “the NTCA is recommending the use of best practices,” said Dan Lambert, who owns the company with wife Elizabeth. “Large thin porcelain tiles have much higher tolerances for substrate and finish flatness. As an installer I have found that this cannot be overstated. Every detail of what, and how we do what we do under the surface is critical.

“Through my experience with LTPT up to 5’ x 10’ x 1/4” thin, there are several very key components to a sustainable installation,” he said:

#1 – The substrate must be perfectly flat and level with no deflection. There is no room for error since the tiles themselves cannot be simply pulled off to verify coverage and add or subtract mortar where needed.

#2 – It is critical that the substrate and tile have the mortar keyed into both sides before combing the mortar. The mortar must be of very high quality mixed with a softer consistency that will hold the form of the notch, without being outside of the manufacturer’s recommendations. Depending on climatic conditions the timing of mortar application can be critical. The mortar should not skin over. Some conditions may require up to two installers on a piece of tile and two on the substrate. It is key to keep consistent with the final comb angle on both sides.

#3 – Edge leveling spacers are a must.

#4 – Proper tooling is a must for receiving, transporting and installing these materials. This requires a substantial investment on the part of the tile contractor.

#5 – The cost for one piece of tile alone can be compounded by a simple mistake. It is highly advised to double check all measurements, even use templates.

#6 – Having a team who works great together and communicates well with each other is extremely important, especially the larger the tile is.

#7 – These are still tiles and as such, movement accommodation is required per EJ171.

Lambert warns against just “anyone” attempting installation of LTPTs, but to leave the installation to trained and qualified installers.

“Sales professionals should be advised to carefully determine if the LTPT is the best choice for a specific project, taking into consideration logistics of a job and qualified labor available,” Lambert said. “To help with successful sales and installation of LTPT, top industry tool, mortar manufacturers and installation professionals are combining efforts for future educational programs to be held at participating tile showrooms around the country.”

In meetings with architects and distributors, Bart Bettiga, executive director of both NTCA and the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation, has seen several other important points arise that dovetail with Lambert’s observations.

“Make a sensible decision on whether it is absolutely necessary to use thin material on the floor,” Bettiga said. “Often, the thicker material could be used on the floor, like 5.5mm or thicker, and the thin material could be installed on the walls.

“If it is necessary, determine if the larger material can be cut down to more manageable pieces or sizes so that coverage can be checked, logistics can be dealt with, and expansion joints can be more easily managed,” he added, emphasizing, “make sure that no one quotes labor prices except the tile installer. Make sure the installer can demonstrate the ability to perform this work.”

ACT certification for TPT coming fall 2014

3-thintile-0714Though standards have not yet been set, the industry is intent on validating skills of tile professionals who are currently doing the work of installing these products.

“We are progressing with the development of the new thin porcelain tile testing for ACT,” said Scott Carothers, director of training for the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF). Currently, the test module is designed, the prototype built, and the study guide and written test questions are under development, with the test projected to be ready to administer by fall 2014. A thin porcelain tile testing update will be presented during Total Solutions Plus in San Antonio in late October 2014.

In the absence of standards, “we are utilizing the resources of the major LTPT and mortar manufacturers to build the hands-on and written tests,” Carothers said. To ensure success and avoid failures, “It is vitally important that the industry draws attention to this product category and establishes a testing mechanism that will qualify installers on the product handling and installation of LTPT as quickly as possible.”

Stay tuned to TileLetter for ongoing updates, and for wisdom from large thin tile porcelain manufacturers in part 2 of this article.

Thin Tile – Thin tile adds majesty to university façade

SponsoredbyMAPEIThe University of New England (UNE) has a new $14.5 million Oral Health Center on its Portland, Maine, campus. It is the clinical home of UNE’s College of Dental Medicine teaching clinic and oral health center facility, which opened in the fall of 2013 to coincide with the admission of the first entering dental class. The center was designed by Port City Architecture and Kahler Slater and built by Allied Cook Construction. The new state-of-the-art, 36,000-sq.-ft. facility houses the only such school in northern New England. The dental school addresses the shortage of dentists in rural Maine, and the Oral Health Center offers patients access to affordable dental care, while allowing students to gain clinical experience.


During construction, White crews used a scissors lift to raise the thin tile panels to the higher levels of the installation.

The architects wanted to add some drama to the traditional brick face of the building on the historic campus, and they chose large, thin tile panels to add the right design element. According to their plans, the large-format porcelain tile resembling gray slate would frame the brick masonry on all sides and along the roof line, allowing it to be viewed from any direction.

Allied Cook Construction selected Paul G. White Interior Solutions (Portland, Maine) to install the 39” x 118” Daltile SlimLite™ panels. Paul G. White has been in operation for 44 years in New England, and three generations of the White family work in the tile business. Paul G. White himself oversaw this project, with his son Jonathan White acting as project manager.


The building under construction, showing the placement of the porcelain thin tile panels with a look of gray slate.

“At first, I thought my dad was being too much of a perfectionist,” Jonathan said, “but, as usual, he saw the critical factor in the installation immediately. We had to pre-plan extensively before we began the actual placement of the tile panels.”

Because this would be the installation team’s first experience with using the huge, ultra-thin SlimLite panels, White arranged with tile supplier Daltile and installation systems manufacturer MAPEI to conduct a seminar for everyone who would be involved. “Education is the foundation on which our company’s strength is built,” Jonathan commented. White has developed an entire floor of its headquarters for ongoing education and training for installers.


A close-up showing the different cuts that had to be made to fit the tile onto the façade around windows and in alignment with soffits.

With knowledge of the best practices in hand, Paul instructed the crews to “measure carefully.” The architects provided a layout that matched the panels up with window lines and soffits to gain the proper effect. While some panels could be placed in their entirety, others had to be cut to accommodate the layout. Some panels had to be cut only 3”-4” wide by the full 118” length to do wraps at windows and bump-outs on the face of the building.

Because the warehouse was nearby, White crews pre-cut the panels before trucking them the 4-5 miles to the jobsite. “The panels are very fragile when they are in thin strips,” Jonathan said. “We had built a backboard where the installers could lay the panel against the side of the scissors lift we were using to raise the panels into position. The teams put MAPEI’s Kerabond/Keralastic mortar on both the building surface and on the tile panels. Crews used suction-cup handles to hang them and horseshoe spacers to bring them together.


Another close up, showing how spacers were used to perfectly align the Daltile SlimLite™ tile panels.

One important step the crew learned in training was to go over the panels with a vibrating sander to set the mortar in place. Once the mortar was set, the panels were grouted with Ultracolor Plus grout in black. The use of Ultracolor Plus significantly reduces the possibility of efflorescence on the finished façade.

“We were able to complete roughly one side of the building per week,” Jonathan said. “We followed the masonry installers, so we followed their timetable.” The White teams set approximately 1,500 sq. ft. of the SlimLite panels on the front of the building and the same amount on the back, plus 750 sq. ft. on each side. There were also some panels installed to cover build-outs on the roof. Paul’s admonition that they do the pre-cuts carefully made the installation easy, fast and successful.

“This was a new venture for our company, considering we have hung the traditional marble and granite slabs on buildings before,” Jonathan said. “It felt very different to be able to pick up these large slabs with just one or two people. We’re looking forward to doing more with these slim panels because of the relative ease of use. That really counts when you’re working in the middle of the summer, like we were on this job.”

White does anywhere from one to five exterior building facades annually, in addition to the hundreds of thousands of square feet of interior flooring the company installs each year. The company sees the new slim tile panels as a means of doing the job more easily, and hopes it may increase the number of exterior jobs.

“Using the MAPEI installation products ensures that we will have a successful job,” Jonathan said. “The best thing is, when we run into a problem, MAPEI technical people are always there to help us out. Together with Daltile and MAPEI, we make a pretty good team!”

Thin Tile


Holy Cross Hospital in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is a state-of-the-art medical campus serving families in South Florida. Regarded as “one of the best places in Broward County to give birth” for over 55 years, Holy Cross is renowned as the first hospital in the county to not separate newborns from their mothers – an approach that raises the bar for early mother-child bonding.


The bath facilities were outfitted in 4 1/4” x 4 1/4” glossy glaze, talc-body wall tile, original from the 1960 construction.

In 2013, Holy Cross initiated the Blessed Beginnings remodeling project to raise the bar once more for quality care and comfort in the Holy Cross Maternity Unit, originally built in 1960. Facility renovations were divided into three separate phases for ease of project management and execution, with the first phase scheduled to complete at the end of January 2014. The end result of the entire endeavor is a fully-remodeled, beautiful, and sophisticated environment that offers both aesthetic improvements and the latest technology in obstetrics.

The Hollywood, Fla., office of architectural firm Gresham Smith and Partners led the project, and tile contractor PFC was awarded the contract for renovation of 18 facility bathrooms and showers in the individual maternity ward units. The bath facilities were outfitted in 4-1/4” x 4-1/4” glossy glaze, talc-body wall tile, original from the 1960 construction. In order to bring the facilities to modern standards and style, all bath/shower walls required approximately 190 square feet of surface area be updated.


In order to bring the facilities to modern standards and style, all bath/shower walls required approximately 190 square feet of surface area be updated.

Rather than demolish the existing tile surfaces of the bathroom and shower walls, the project team opted to find a surfacing solution that would install over previous materials. Designers wanted a large, modern porcelain tile that would exude elegance and tranquility in the maternity unit while offering optimal performance. PFC’s installers prioritized the selection of a material that would be easy to handle, maneuver, and apply to a preexisting work space.

Enter Laminam® by Crossville®

The PFC team was familiar with Laminam by Crossville’s large-format, lean profile porcelain tile panels. These innovative panels are durable, versatile, and ideal for installing over existing tile. With overall dimensions of 1M x 3M yet just 3mm in thickness, these panels can be easily trimmed and installed over a range of substrates – just what was in order for this renovation project.


Rather than demolish the existing tile surfaces of the bathroom and shower walls, the project team opted to find a surfacing solution that would install over previous materials.

The design team selected the Laminam 3+ I Naturali in Ossidiana Vena Chiara to create a clean, fresh palette for the renovated showers.

A week prior to the installation at Holy Cross, PFC installers attended a Laminam by Crossville workshop that proved extraordinarily useful in understanding how to handle, cut, and install the panels. As a result of this training, the installation crews experienced no breakage and substantially less scrap than anticipated. These efficiencies helped to keep the Blessed Beginnings project on time and in budget.

For the installation, four crews, each with one installer and one helper, were assigned to renovate the baths and shower stalls. The crews cleaned the existing substrate (the previously-installed wall tile) and applied MAPEI® ECO-Prim Grip™ bond-promoting primer. Next, they applied MAPEI Ultraflex™ LFT™ thin-set mortar to both the prepared substrate and the Laminam panels with the appropriate trowels to achieve 100% coverage. Edge levels were used for spacing and flatness, and an orbital sander flattened trowel ridges and drove out any remaining air. The team used Schluter® aluminum profiles for edge protection and aesthetics, as well as LATICRETE® SpectraLOCK® grout for a quality, finished installation.

Designers wanted a large, modern porcelain tile that would exude elegance and tranquility in the maternity unit while offering optimal performance: Laminam by Crossville to the rescue.

Designers wanted a large, modern porcelain tile that would exude elegance and tranquility in the maternity unit while offering optimal performance: Laminam by Crossville to the rescue.

The installed Laminam 3+ panels provide an attractive, smooth surface that is easier to clean due to minimal grout joints. This creates not only a sophisticated design with seamless lines and contemporary appeal, but it also enhances the cleanliness and ease of maintenance of the maternity unit – an all-important factor when creating a safe environment for newborns and postpartum mothers.

The speed of installation, lack of demolition, and reduced construction residue made Laminam by Crossville an excellent choice for this project. From start to completion, the renovation of all bathrooms took only 14 days. For a remodeling project 50 years in the making, that speed, quality, and efficiency are unparalleled.


Owner: Holy Cross Hospital

Architectural Firm: Gresham Smith and Partners – Hollywood, Fla., office

Tile Contractor: PFC

Distributor: D&B Tile Distributors

Tile Product: Laminam by Crossville

Material: Laminam 3+ I Naturali Ossidiana Vena Chiara | 3,400 square feet

Trim: Schluter® – Rondec for edge bullnose finish

Setting materials: MAPEI® ECO-Prim Grip™ Primer, MAPEI Ultraflex™ LFT ™Thin-set Mortar, LATICRETE® SpectraLOCK® Grout

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