TEC products spell success for gauged porcelain panel installation at Kent State University

Tips for a stellar GPTP installation

Gauged porcelain tile panels (GPTP) continue to grow in popularity. They provide a sleek, modern look that appeals to designers, architects and owners. For tile contractors, these projects can be a great way to grow business. However, experienced GPTP installers have learned to carefully consider all aspects of the installation to complete the project successfully. 

Panel handling

Special rail and suction cup system for safe GPTP handling.

Panels qualify as GPTP if they are 3.5 – 6.5 mm thick (1/8”-1/4”), with tile sizes reaching up to 1.5M x 3M (5’ x 10’). Because of their size, contractors usually add manpower to the job. A minimum of two people are required for handling the panels – with many contractors scheduling three people – an important consideration for accurate bids. 

Additionally, panel delivery and movement must be carefully planned out. Consider the exact route the panels will travel to get to the installation site and plan for any challenges such as unloading, building entry, tight hallways, stairwells or elevators. If panels are not immediately being installed, secure an on-site storage area large enough to accommodate the panels safely. 

Recently, Ryan Carpet of Austintown, Ohio, faced the challenge of managing 1M x 3M (3.3’ x 9.8’) Laminam® panels for the remodel of the women’s, men’s and universal restrooms in the Kent Student Center at Kent State University. The beautiful blue gauged porcelain panel tiles had to be transported carefully through the Student Center to the three restroom areas. With a tight summer timetable, multiple trades working in tandem and a relatively small project space, Carpet made sure to do the additional planning needed for the movement and cutting of the GPTP. Frames with suction cups designed for these types of panels made it easier to handle them safely. Carpet had sufficient manpower at the site, so that at least two team members were available for lifting and supporting the panels. 

Proper transport of GPTP requires at least two people.

Proper transport of GPTP requires at least two people.

Use the right tools

Special trowel designed for GPTP.

Special trowel designed for GPTP.

GPTP projects cannot be done without a number of special tools. In addition to the frames/suction cups mentioned earlier, forks and extended forks are needed. GPTP come in oversized crates, so extended forks that are a minimum of 84” are required for proper unloading. Additionally, a large heavy-duty table is critical to support the entire panel for application of the mortar. Special trowels are designed for use with GPTPs that encourage mortar ridge collapse without shifting the tile back and forth to collapse the ridges. A square notch trowel would require the panel to be shifted back and forth, which is almost impossible with tile this large. 

Surface prep and substrate needs 

For any GPTP project, contractors must review the strict requirements for wall, ceiling and floor substrates set by the IRC (residential) and IBC (commercial). Ansi.org offers complete information, but here are some tips for a successful installation: 

  1. GPTP can never be bonded to a wood-frame surface. Wood-based panels expand and contract with changes in moisture content, which causes an unstable environment for the panels. 
  2. Substrates must be clean, dry, flat bondable surfaces and conform with IRC/IBC standards, or local building codes. They must also be free of all contaminants such as sealers, cleaning or curing compounds, coatings, oil and loose surface material. Extremely flat substrate surfaces are a necessity due to the large size and thinness of the panels. To avoid failures, see manufacturer instructions for exact requirements and prepare the substrate accordingly.
  3. GPTPs can be direct bonded to the following wall and ceiling backing board and panel types: cementitious backer unit, fiber-cement backer board, glass mat water-resistant gypsum backer board, fiber-reinforced gypsum panel and gypsum board/drywall (dry areas only). 
  4. GPTPs for floors can be direct bonded to clean, sound, dimensionally stable concrete or cured bonded and unbonded mortar beds.*
Troweling from center of GPTP parallel to short side

Troweling from center of GPTP parallel to short side.

Installation products and techniques 

GPTP in Kent State University men’s restroom.

The popularity of these panels has brought about next-generation mortars. These mortars combine great handling properties with better slip and slump capabilities, along with long open time, long bucket life, and faster set times. Both thixotropic and pseudoplastic mortars work for GPTP depending on the project needs. Not all A118.15 mortars are designed for large-format tile like GPTP, and installers should ensure the suitability of the mortar for the application. TEC® Ultimate 6 Plus Mortar is ideal for GPTP installations because it significantly increases the coverage achieved and has exceptional non-sag/non-slump characteristics for wall and floor applications. It has an extended open time and pot life, and superior transfer capabilities.

GPTP entrance to remodeled Kent State University men’s restroom.

For installing GPTP, the recommended method is to trowel parallel to the shortest tile edge, on the substrate. Remember to keep the lines on the substrate as straight as possible. On the GPTP, mortar must be troweled on the back of the tile. Mortar ridges should be parallel to the shortest edge. Trowel from the middle of the shortest edge outward and repeat on the other side. This should form a straight line dam down the middle of the tile where the trowel ridges from each side meet.

For floor applications the tile must then be lifted using a rack and installed over the troweled substrate. Then, to embed the tile in the mortar, installers should walk down the center of the longest edge before returning to the center of the tile and shuffling towards the shortest edge, being sure to take small steps to squeeze out air. Repeat this shuffle from middle to edge until the entire tile is embedded. For more detail, see ANSI A108.19.

For the Kent Student Center restroom remodel, Ryan Carpet chose TEC Ultimate 6 Plus Mortar because of its ease-of-use and performance. Steve Eickelman, Sales Manager, commented, “My team really likes how creamy Ultimate 6 Plus is for troweling, and yet holds its shape just right for setting gauged panels. They really appreciate having enough time to get full coverage and make adjustments. And, being able to grout just six hours after installation saves us time.” 

Newly remodeled Kent State University women’s restroom with GPTP.

Newly remodeled Kent State University women’s restroom with GPTP.

Eickelman went on to explain that Carpet starts every tile project at Kent State University with TEC HydraFlex™ Waterproofing and Crack Isolation Membrane to protect the installations. Since the restrooms had not been updated in many years, the substrates were in poor condition and nearly all had to be replaced. Carpet made sure all of the older walls were smooth and flat. The surfaces were then ready for the Laminam installation. The team built their own large table to make it easier to apply the mortar to the nearly 10’ panels. 

The job was finished with TEC Power Grout® for its stain proof,** strong, color consistent joints – a smart choice for the high traffic restrooms.

GPTP installations require extra attention to process and detail but are worth the effort for the business building opportunities they can bring. Tile contractors can enjoy the benefits of this tile trend by staying on top of the latest installation tips and techniques through reading industry communications and attending trainings. 


*Mortar bed must conform to mortar bed requirements in ANSI A108.1B. Under normal job conditions, a minimum of 20 hours cure at 70°F (21°C) is adequate, but longer mortar bed cures up to 10 days are desirable

**Power Grout® is stain proof to most common water-based stains when cleaned immediately. The prolonged exposure of any stain will increase the likelihood of permanent staining or discoloration of grout surface.

Beautifying New York City one mosaic panel at a time

In the greater New York area, more than eight million people use the subways, commuter trains and buses of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) each day to navigate the busy city. 

The founders of the New York City subway believed that every design element in the system should show respect to its customers and enhance the experience. Continuing that tradition during a massive rebuilding of the system, MTA launched an Arts & Design division in the 1980s. This division oversees the selection of artists and installations that are permanently installed throughout the MTA system, “creating a first-rate museum filled with more than 300 works by world famous, mid-career and emerging artists,” and connecting commuters with people, sites and surrounding neighborhoods.  

As part of major renovations to nine stations along the Sea Beach Line (N) in Brooklyn, artists were selected to create permanent artwork for inclusion in the station renovations. The nine stations under construction were originally opened in 1915, and the now-completed capital construction included improvements to each station’s platforms, overpasses, stairways, canopies and columns, in addition to permanent artwork.  

For the 86th Street station, artist Karen Margolis created “Cerebration,” a glass mosaic artwork that connects people and place by transcribing destinations of the surrounding area into the mosaic work.

Four of the artists selected for the Sea Beach Line projects – Sally Gil, Karen Margolis, Eamon Ore-Giron and Emilio Perez – selected Mosaicos Venecianos De México, a member of TCNA Mexico, to translate their designs into smalti (enamel glass mosaics). The pieces were fabricated with LATICRETE® products and shipped to New York for their installation along the platforms at MTA New York City Transit Authority’s 86th Street, Avenue U, 18th Avenue and Bay Parkway stations.

“Given the architectural requirements of these stations, we pre-mounted and grouted the designs on aluminum panels using products from LATICRETE, a prestigious brand leader in installation systems that we knew were tested and guaranteed for high-performance and ideal for exterior applications,” said Malena Perdomo of Mosaicos Venecianos De México.

Margolis used local area maps in her mosaic panels design to represent the thought patterns of daily commuters.

High-traffic and extreme temperature challenges

High-traffic installation: Just like New York City, the MTA stations never sleep. Even though the company pre-mounted and grouted the artwork on aluminum panels ready for mounting to each station’s platform walls, the installations needed to be done quickly to minimize interruption to MTA customers. 

Extreme temperatures: New York City can range in temperatures from -15 degrees Fahrenheit (-26 Celsius) to upwards of 106 degrees Fahrenheit (41 degrees Celsius), so it was important that the installation products chosen would be able to thrive in extreme climates to resist fractures and possible humidity issues.  

A LATICRETE solution 

Artists Karen Margolis and Sally Gil focused their artwork on pieces that reflect the local landscape. At the Avenue U station, artist Sally Gil’s work was recreated in a series of 14 mosaic panels titled “Edges of a South Brooklyn Sky.” Each of the pieces she created reflects the surrounding Gravesend neighborhood. For the 86th Street station, artist Karen Margolis created “Cerebration,” a glass mosaic artwork that similarly connects people and place by transcribing destinations of the surrounding area into the mosaic work. 

Gil’s work commissioned by MTA Arts & Design and recreated by Mosaicos Venecianos De México is displayed prominently and permanently at its respective station. Gil’s work was adhered to fourteen mosaic panels with LATAPOXY® 300 Adhesive, a chemical-resistant epoxy adhesive.

Artist Eamon Ore-Giron created an expansive mosaic project entitled “People’s Instinctive Travels: Homage to The Tribe” that was based on six, original oil-on-linen paintings that were translated into 24 glass mosaic panels at the Bay Parkway station.

At the 18th Avenue station, artist Emilio Perez’s work was made into 22 abstract mosaic murals called “Fluxus/Rhythmus.” In an email conversation with Cuban Art News, Perez credited this installation as the first of his works to be translated into mosaic panels. 

“It was important for the mosaic to reflect the variations of color in a brushstroke to create the sense of movement,” said Perez. “What I discovered is that the process used for making the different color glass creates variations of tone much like a brushstroke. This made for a seamless transition of materials.”

Each of the art installations was adhered to aluminum panels with LATAPOXY® 300 Adhesive, a chemical-resistant epoxy adhesive that is easily spread and tenaciously bonds to challenging substrate types. With this adhesive, the mosaic panels stayed perfectly in place while on their excursion to New York, as well as during the fast installations that took place once onsite at the stations.

SPECTRALOCK® PRO Grout, a patented, high-performance epoxy grout, was used to finish off the pieces. SPECTRALOCK PRO Grout is designed for use on glass tile applications and is great for exterior installations like those at the stations. This product also offers superb color uniformity, durability and stain resistance that will stand the test of time. Additionally, the grout is crack resistant and ideal for installation in areas with a wide range in temperatures – perfect for outdoors. 

Close-up of one of Gil’s Avenue U station mosaic panels, featuring the Masjid Al-Iman Islamic Center to the right.

Each of the products used received UL GREENGUARD Gold Certifications for low chemical emissions for sustainable building and Health Product Declaration (HPD). This open standard provides complete, transparent disclosure of the potential chemicals of concern by analyzing and comparing all product raw materials to authoritative chemical hazard lists from around the world.

Outcome 

“Mosaicos Venecianos De México is a talented fabricator that brought the artists’ work alive,” said LATICRETE Strategic Innovation Manager Samantha Rothberg. “More than eight million people will get the privilege to enjoy the mosaic panel designs daily and LATICRETE products helped make that possible.” 

The work of Sally Gil, Karen Margolis, Eamon Ore-Giron and Emilio Perez, commissioned by MTA Arts & Design and recreated by Mosaicos Venecianos De México is displayed prominently and permanently at their respective stations. 

Ore-Giron’s expansive mosaic project, “People’s Instinctive Travels: Homage to The Tribe,” visualizes the world as abstract forms and shapes and their interplay as a reflection of the ways in which people of different communities interact.

Women in tile 2019

Humility, homework, determination, and documentation lead to success for women in the industry

According to a March 2019 story on Construction Dive (https://bit.ly/2HhWLkN), women comprise approximately 9.9% of construction jobs, including administrative, office and executive positions, but only 3.4% of construction field positions. Women are on the rise as construction managers with numbers growing from 5.9% in 2003 to 7.7% in 2018. 

In our tile industry, women are seen at every level, from administrators and owners to tile setters and representatives for tile-related suppliers. This month, we take a look at three extraordinary women in our industry and explore how they have carved out a niche for their own careers and contributed to the good of the industry as a whole: Shannon Huffstickler, Schluter Systems; Heidi Cronin, CTEF; and Janet Kozey, Stuart Tile Company.

Shannon Huffstickler

Shannon Huffstickler
The Tile Girl/Schluter Systems

Shannon Huffstickler has made a name for herself in the tile industry over the last 20 years, from her days of doing hands-on labor for her dad’s tile installation business, to her work as Territory Manager for Schluter after 13 years of running The Tile Girl business, to a recent upgrade as Schluter Liaison to the Social Media Community, grounded in her love of being part of online communities and helping people in any way she can. 

The opportunity to leave her tile setting business and join Schluter felt like the right thing to do for the right reasons.

Working for her dad, she discovered her enthusiasm for being on a jobsite, “where both my head and my hands could be fully engaged and challenged.” In 2012, she was initially reluctant to walk away from her business and make the leap from tile setting to being a rep when her beloved Schluter rep Dan Wagner let her know about an opportunity. For Huffstickler, it was an opportunity that “just felt like the right thing to do for the right reasons.” Her rep position – and her territory – changed this past spring to Liaison to the Social Media Community, where she meets the demand for fast, reliable access through social media to information about Schluter products. Now her territory encompasses the internet and face-to-face meetings with customers.  

A raft of skills and talents set the stage for her career path – “Late nights on the John Bridge Forum, reading hand-me-down TileLetters, trips to the classes available at Coverings, being mentored by a successful builder-friend about time management, knowing my value/pricing and scheduling, and good old-fashioned, on-the-job training with my dad and uncle,” she said. Having a degree in English/writing also has come in handy to “convey technical knowledge in a way that’s understandable to people from any background or skill/experience level.” 

Huffstickler’s territory encompasses the internet and face-to-face meetings with customers.

Huffstickler credits her work ethic with her success. “Because I’ve always worked hard and done my homework, it’s been relatively easy to dispel anyone’s questioning of my credibility,” she said. “I never had a chip on my shoulder or was too quick to respond to anyone’s doubt in my abilities in any way other than to let my work or my knowledge prove itself valuable. I just show up, do good work and let those in the peanut gallery sort themselves out.”  Some preconceptions about keeping a neater jobsite or being a more sympathetic listener as a woman did work in her favor as a tile setter. And at Schluter, the perception that Huffstickler will be “helpful and nurturing” makes it easier for customers – especially men – to reach out when there’s a gap in “their knowledge base.” 

Her advice for women considering a tile career? “Don’t get distracted by people who try to make your gender into a big deal,” she said. “Be about the work. Do your homework, learn your lessons, take your lumps and stay humble. Just keep showing up and doing your honest best at whatever role you’re in – and if things get tough, reach out to someone who’s been there before you and ask for help; we’re out here.”

Tile projects from Huffstickler’s Tile Girl days.

Heidi Cronin

Heidi Cronin
CTEF Industry Liaison and Promotions Director

Heidi Cronin entered the tile industry 26 years ago, working from the ground up in the family business of distributing tile and setting material. She’s also installed tile but said, “Did I do it well? NO! I started making ceramic tile sample boards after crashing the car when I was 15 to pay off the debt. I have worked every aspect of a company: customer service, warehouse, purchasing, sales, accounting, truck driver and management in numerous areas.”

Part of her education has been her involvement in industry associations. “I surrounded myself with people who know more than me,” she said. “I listen, learn, and let them mentor me.”

Cronin takes the wheel at the Cronin Company.

While she acknowledged that “flooring and tile have been a male-dominated field, in reality we women are the consumers you are selling to.” So, speaking the same language and being a woman is a plus. “I know what influences us, I see and pay attention to surroundings, I ask questions. I don’t sugar coat anything. I am blunt and to the point.”

She recognized that “women will always have to prove themselves. Growing up in male-dominated industry and as the boss’s daughter, there has been a constant proving of self. Can we be respected? Of course! But if we push for change or challenge a male counterpart we are considered irrational, unapproachable and too emotional.” Sadly, she noted that for women, “it is easier to influence change if you make it look as if it is someone else’s idea.” And yet, she said, “The definition of insanity by Albert Einstein says it all: ‘Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.’ Life and technology are moving at an excessive rate; better keep up or you will be left behind.”

Cronin speaking about the Certified Tile Installer credential and CTEF at a gauged porcelain panel training in Portland, Ore.

Many mentors and friends in the industry provided valuable input and support when Cronin faced challenges. “You learn who those people are in good times and bad,” she said. “In this industry there is plenty of support no matter where you look.”

Cronin encourages women to pursue a career in tile, half-joking that a “thick skin” is an essential quality for working in this industry. “Tile is timeless,” she said. “It has been around for thousands of years. I am amazed at how advanced technology has become, whether it is manufacturing tile or advancements in setting materials. The knowledge needed to properly prep and install these advancements is huge. I support anyone going into the trade. Qualified labor is what will keep the industry strong.”

She added, You can do whatever you set your mind to; nothing anyone states can take away your ability, determination and worth.”

Karen Kozey

Janet Kozey
Stuart Tile Company

Janet Kozey, owner of Macomb, Mich.-based Stuart Tile Company, credits organization, professionalism, and listening – to the customer and one’s inner voice – among the essentials to succeed in this world of tile. That combination of skills has served her well since 1975 when she quit her job to go into the tile business with her husband. 

She got her start being precise and organized in her dad’s business. All eight children were trained from the age of four how to speak on the phone professionally. “My dad was kind of an army sergeant with all of us. Mom was ill. So we were very organized, had to get things done.” These skills translated well into her tile business, especially when it comes to collections. 

Palace of Auburn Hills – home to the Detroit Pistons.

“My main suppliers told me if I ever retire, they want to hire me to be a collector,” she said. “I do my homework way ahead: look and see who the architect is, the principals and the owners of the project. I don’t take some jobs if principals, etc. had a bad reputation or had problems in the past.” She also relies on a “gut feeling” she gets about the jobs, sometimes a “weird or bad feeling” she’s learned to listen to about a contract that helps her avoid trouble. And her excellent long term memory is an asset, too – recently she recalled the address of a troublesome builder her company did business with years ago. They started up again with a new name, but the same address. 

Custom bathroom.

She advised being personable and a good listener – even to topics unrelated to the job – to build a rapport with customers. If action is needed collecting money, she said, it’s “sugar across the telephone – all sweet” – until she takes legal action once the invoice goes unpaid 35 days. This includes having her supplier put a lien on the building. Within three to four days, she gets a response. 

Kozey said dedication and sacrifice are key, too, sometimes forgoing vacations because you need to be there for the work. Equally important is keeping up with technology and training. “My guys went through training with Laminam panels,” she said, resulting in the smooth running of subsequent jobs. “We are a finish trade – the type of tile company that wants perfection,” she said. “You’ve got to know your math, pay attention and listen.” 

Kozey copiously documents EVERYTHING and is keeping a journal for son Philip to refer to 15-20 years down the road. She feels documentation is the foundation for troubleshooting, so this journal is a way to pass on wisdom to the next generation. 

Pool project for Lifetime Fitness.

Getting support from other women is important too. Years ago she was a member of Women in Construction and met with about 30 women monthly to exchange ideas. 

In the beginning of her time with Stuart Tile Company, she said she “got a lot of disrespect. People didn’t want to talk to me – they wanted to talk to my husband; like I was a dummy, because I was a girl,” she said. But that has changed, especially in the last five to seven years, where being a woman works to her advantage. “We got jobs in the past due to being woman owned,” she explained. 

As for women interested in a tile career, Kozey cautions, “You can be great at design and color – but you have to be organized, and serious. If you give it 110%, you’ll still be around in years to come.”