Taos Ski Valley slopeside residences benefit from foam building panels

In November 2018, I contributed a technical feature to TileLetter that covers the many advantages multifunctional foam building panels offer tile setters. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to check it out. In this issue I’ll present applications where foam building panels were used to realize those benefits in a condominium development.

The Blake Residences

The Village of Taos Ski Valley is a year-round resort destination in New Mexico. It was founded in 1955 by a Swiss-German named Ernie Blake, his wife Rhoda, and friends. This group brought a European atmosphere to the historically Native American- and Spanish-influenced area. Taos came under new ownership in 2014, which ushered in a new era of development including new lifts, runs, restaurants, shops, and living spaces. One such example is The Blake Residences, a slopeside six-story building with 24 fully appointed residences including nine penthouse suites with four bathrooms each. Ski valet, heated outdoor pools and hot tubs, fitness center, spa, and other luxury amenities are available.

foam building panels were used on open stud walls while waterproof membrane was applied over existing wallboard

In the shower areas, foam building panels were used on open stud walls while waterproof membrane was applied over existing wallboard.

The builder and the tile contractor

Upfront Construction, founded by President Bob Orner, is the general contractor responsible for interior finishes at The Blake Residences. Zsolt Szilagyi of Homeworks Tile & Natural Stone was contracted to tile all of the bathrooms, laundry rooms, and kitchen backsplashes. Zsolt began work in June 2018 and expects to finish the project in the fall of 2019.


Zsolt chose the Schluter®-KERDI-BOARD foam panels as the primary substrate for the bathroom applications, including the bathtub platforms and showers. In general, this decision was based on the product being very light and easy to work with. For example, he can save time by cutting KERDI-BOARD in the room where he is working, rather needing to go to another area or outside. He finds this process is much faster and requires fewer tools than traditional framing methods. Other benefits are described in the applications’ descriptions below.

Bathtub platforms

Foam panels can be cut to size to create the supports, decking, and apron for the structure, all to the exact dimensions required by the tile setter. Thin-set mortar or adhesive can be used to install the panels, although mortar will provide more adjustability to ensure plumb and level surfaces and square corners.

1-1/2” Kerdi-Board legs supported a 2”-thick platform for the tub deck

1-1/2” Kerdi-Board legs supported a 2”-thick platform for the tub deck. Blocking was installed on the floor between the legs for added strength and stability.

Zsolt used KERDI-BOARD to build the entire platform surrounding the previously installed bathtub. Thin-set mortar was used to install the 1-1/2˝-thick supports and screws were used as temporary anchors while the mortar was still in the plastic state. In fact, Zsolt prefers to complete construction of the entire platform while the thin-set mortar is still in the plastic state. In this way adjustments can be made throughout the process and he is confident that all connections within the structure are solid. He also installed scrap pieces of board as blocking on the floor in-between supports. While not required in general, this practice provided additional strength and stability of the assembly and reduced waste. Zsolt said when using KERDI-BOARD he “doesn’t throw anything out” meaning the product helps him work as efficiently as possible. Two-inch-thick board was installed on the supports and made flat, level, and flush with the surface of the bathtub. 

Waterproofing membrane was wrapped from the wall to the tub deck to create a waterproof splash zone for the tub area.

Benches and tub decks were built to the same height – flush with the top of the tub. Waterproofing membrane was wrapped from the wall to the tub deck to create a waterproof splash zone for the tub area.

Granite slabs were installed leaving a 1/4” reveal on the inside edge of the bathtubs to create the appearance of an undermount tub. This approach produced an application that was both aesthetically pleasing and easy to clean. KERDI-BAND waterproofing strips were installed on the wall above the platform to protect the gypsum board from intermittent water exposure and covered with tile that complements the look and feel of the granite. The entire assembly was integrated with the adjacent shower waterproofing system to provide the most reliable solution and ensure long-term performance. These bathtub platforms are perfect examples of what can be easily achieved when the tile setter has complete control over the substrate and builds it to suit the specific needs of the application.


undermount bathtub

The granite was fabricated to leave a reveal of approximately 1/4” to create the appearance of an undermount bathtub.

The showers were waterproofed using the comprehensive Schluter®-Shower System. For the walls, 1/2″ or 5/8″-thick KERDI-BOARD was fastened to the steel framing, depending on the thickness of the adjacent wall board. For such areas within the shower, KERDI membrane was applied over the gypsum board. All seams and fastener penetrations were sealed with the KERDI-BAND waterproofing strips, and the showerhead and mixing valve were treated with the KERDI-SEAL-PS/-MV seals to complete the wall applications. 

Zsolt appreciates the ability to use the foam board directly over the framing or the membrane over wall board previously installed by the GC. In general, he said, “I really like the flexibility of the system.” The bases were constructed using the prefabricated KERDI-SHOWER tray and KERDI-DRAIN and waterproofed with the KERDI membrane. Similar to the bathtub platforms, custom shower benches and curbs were built using KERDI-BOARD and sealed to the rest of the shower waterproofing system.

A “win-win-win” scenario

Using foam building panels to create substrates for tile can produce excellent results for everyone involved in the project. The end user receives a high-quality installation. The tile setter can earn higher margins while maintaining a fair price in his or her market as a result of being more efficient and productive on each job. And the general contractor gets an efficiently-run project with consistent, reliable results.

Merkrete Systems provide installation innovation

It’s hip to be at Santa Clara Square 

After years in the making, Silicon Valley’s Santa Clara Square combines innovative office space, vibrant dining, shopping and modernized living all in one integrated community. Santa Clara Square occupies a strategic location in the heart Silicon Valley, with convenient access to a range of air, road, light rail and public transportation, as well as a variety of dining and retail options at Santa Clara Square Marketplace. One can walk the pathways of this dynamic community and find places to explore, connect and recharge including such amenities as resort-style

Merkrete 820 Merlite mortar used for installing coping and LHT natural stone throughout the pool and exterior patio areas.

pools and spas, and state-of-the-art fitness offerings. The community is designed with innovative social, work and meeting spaces with easy walking to everyday conveniences. 

Silicon Valley is known for being the epicenter of the world’s most forward-thinking companies, attracting a highly skilled, knowledge-based workforce dedicated to helping businesses prosper. This region is home to headquarters of Intel, Applied Materials, NVIDIA, Agilent Technologies, and many other high-tech companies.

Befitting its prestigious location, the Irvine Company created this community to include 1.7 million sq. ft. feet of office space, and 1,800 apartments. The retail’s first phase, Santa Clara Square Marketplace, totals 125,000 sq. ft., including the 50,000-square-foot Whole Foods. The second phase of the retail will total 40,000 sq. ft. and serve as a town center for the complex. 

Showers installed using Merkrete’s Hydro Guard SP-1 Waterproofing Membrane and 820 Merlite Mortar.

The community contains LEED®-certified design standards to improve air quality, support conservation efforts and provide a fresh, healthy workplace. It also has electric vehicle (EV) charging stations to respond to the demand for alternative energy vehicles.

Modern high tech and timeless design

The remarkable style combines a refined, inspired design reminiscent of the city’s high-tech culture with a modern perspective. Designed by Pei Cobb Freed and Partners, Inc. Architects, Santa Clara Square sets the standard for the blending of both new and innovative styles. The tile and stone installations throughout the complex perfectly match this modern, high-class, innovative aesthetic, as each piece was carefully chosen and strategically placed for an extra touch of charm and guaranteed functionality.

Contractors Flooring Service of California, based in Santa Ana, is one of the state’s most trusted and respected tile, stone, marble, and granite contractors. So, when Joe Ott, President of Contractors Flooring Service of California, was approached by Hathaway Dinwiddie to supply the cost-efficient, innovative, high-performing materials they desired, Contractors

Showers installed using Merkrete’s Hydro Guard SP-1 Waterproofing Membrane and 820 Merlite Mortar.

Flooring Service of California Project Manager David Corona knew they’d need a trusted and top-quality installation system to ensure a job well done. Upon reviewing the scope of the 680,000-sq.-ft. installation project, all answers pointed definitively to Merkrete, a leader in waterproofing, crack-isolation and DUSTLESS setting materials technology.

A flexible solution 

When it comes to the critical waterproofing under tile in both interior showers, pool areas and surrounding areas, Merkrete’s Hydro Guard SP-1 waterproofing membrane system was a key solution. Fast drying, durable and long lasting, this waterproofing membrane system is designed for fast applications, promising zero leaks or cracks, even with severe exposure and high amounts of traffic. 

Merkrete sales and technical team Heather Campiotti and Sergio Flores worked directly with Contractors Flooring Service of California to provide the right products and ensure they were applied correctly to meet the project’s specifications. 

Since the specifications called for crack isolation and waterproofing in nearly all of the exterior parts of installation combined with an aggressive project schedule, work began using Merkrete Hydro Guard SP-1. A liquid-applied, fast-drying product, Hydro Guard SP-1 combines crack isolation up to 1/8” and a waterproof system to enable crews to prepare the substrate for setting tile at a faster pace. Hydro Guard SP-1 contains excellent elongation, adhesion and high strength properties providing a 100% waterproof membrane that prevents the transfer of substrate cracks to the finished ceramic or stone tile surface. 

Interior backsplashes installed with Merkrete’s patented DLT Technology, 705 DUSTLESS Pro Set Plus Mortar.

“Merkrete’s liquid membranes have been a staple in the industry and contractors rely on its performance,” said Flores.

Also used was Merkrete’s Fracture Guard FD, a low-VOC, fast-drying, crack-isolation membrane for same-day tile installations. Fracture Guard FD provides a thin protection layer to inhibit substrate crack transfers up to 1/8” in interior and exterior applications.

Versatile mortar supports large tiles

Because of the size of the tiles for the pool decks and coping – as well as the vast number of exterior patio decks and walkways –Corona needed a versatile product that could address several specific needs at the same time. Merkrete demonstrated the perfect match for a specific challenge again considering the strength of the mortar it called for. 

“We used very large-and-heavy natural stone, which requires a mortar with a super-high bondability that can handle the weight of the stone,” said Corona. Merkrete 820 Merlite is a one-step, polymer-modified, lightweight setting adhesive for installing extra-large-format porcelain, ceramic tile and natural stone for both floors and walls. Merkrete proved it could hold its weight. 

In addition to the exterior installations throughout the complex, Merkrete was the reliable source in providing innovative and high-performance setting materials throughout the interior installations. Interior shower areas and common spaces contained large-and-heavy porcelain tile and planks. These types of materials can present their fair share of installation challenges. Planks in particular demand tighter tolerances to maintain the beauty of the tile and overall aesthetic of the installation.  

Cleaner jobsite with DUSTLESS technology

Porcelain tile in common hallways and walkway areas installed using Fracture Guard FD and 720 DUSTLESS LHT Mortar.

Selection of the proper setting material is critical, especially when installing large-and-heavy tile (LHT). LHT mortars are not for leveling or truing the substrate; instead they are intended to help fill the irregular space between the tile and the underlayment providing a strong bond. 

Vincente Acosta of Contractors Flooring Service of California immediately preferred MERKRETE’s new and innovative 720 DUSTLESS™ LHT Mortar. Merkrete’s 720 DUSTLESS LHT Mortar, features new, innovative and patented DUSTLESS™ Technology (DLT) producing approximately 80% less dust than ordinary thinsets and is designed to promote cleaner working conditions and reduce mess. It uses less water and is creamier and easy to spread. 

“Not only does this mortar emit less dust, the smooth and creamy material makes for easy spreading, especially when speed is a factor,” said Acosta. 720 DUSTLESS LHT Mortar works great for both floors and walls and offers high strength, flexibility and a cleaner work environment.

Interior areas and backsplashes were installed using 705 DUSTLESS Pro Set Mortar. “The DUSTLESS feature is a tremendous advantage especially in interior applications,” said Corona.

As with most installations, timelines are always important, and Santa Clara Square was no different. It was critical that Ott chose a company that would be able to get the products delivered and the job completed on time. Merkrete is a brand of Parex USA, one of the largest companies and a worldwide leader in tile-setting materials, façade finishes and technical mortars, established in 22 countries with 68 manufacturing plants and over 4,100 employees. “Merkrete was perfect for this project’s requirements, because we have plants and distribution centers all over the country, so our turnaround time and ability to get our products to the jobsite on a timely basis were no problem,” said Campiotti. 

Silicon Valley’s unique appeal is further enhanced by the striking Northern California Coast, lush Napa Valley wine country and downtown San Francisco – all within driving distance. With the opening of Santa Clara Square in the Fall 2018, new tenants and guests now enjoy the experience of shopping, fine dining, luxurious pools and resort-like living accommodations, and embrace the modern setting and innovative architecture. Santa Clara Square combines the best elements of a lively cultural center and a sophisticated technology hub – creating a forward-thinking community unlike anywhere else. The Square is the place to be.


With Daltile’s StepWise™ technology, Emerson Wood™ offers increased safety and slip resistance for floor applications — while also delivering elevated design. To find out more about all our products with StepWise™, visit us online here.