March Feature Story – LATICRETE International, Inc.



Penn State’s men’s and women’s swimming teams compete against the best athletes in the NCAA’s Division 1. And, to compete against the best, the school needs the best facilities.

The McCoy Natatorium, Penn State’s main swimming facility, features a 1960s-era Olympic-size pool that began to show its age in early 2014.

2-feature-marchTiles were loose and cracking in the pool and throughout the decking. The grout between tiles was deteriorating, and water was reaching the underlying concrete.

When Penn State put the job out to bid, the bid package required a firm that could deliver the highest quality and warranty its work.

JP Phillips, Inc., a LATICRETE MVP firm, won the job in no small part due to their ability to deliver the valuable LATICRETE 25-year warranty.

3-feature-march“Penn State needed a warranty on their pool,” said James Pogel of JP Phillips, Inc. “Our ability to work with the LATICRETE team and design a system capable of getting the coveted LATICRETE warranty was key to landing this important project.”

The challenge

Once JP Phillips, Inc. won the job, they needed to overcome three challenges specific to this project:

Time frame – The Penn State pool could not be inaccessible for long stretches of time. The swim teams rely on it throughout the academic year, and work needed to be completed over the summer break. JP Phillips, Inc., could only access the space between July and mid-August.

Harsh conditions – The job required products that can withstand some of the toughest conditions imaginable. This includes chlorine and the constant presence of water.

4-feature-marchA significant change in scope – After the initial job consultation, JP Phillips, Inc. found additional problems that required immediate attention. For example, once the concrete was exposed, the team found areas requiring patching and new plumbing. This additional work needed to be completed within the same tight timeline.

A LATICRETE solution

JP Phillips, Inc. worked with the LATICRETE Technical Services team to design correct procedures for the repair of the Penn State pool.

5-feature-marchThis included a specifically sequenced suite of LATICRETE products:

  • 254 Platinum was applied first in the form of a slurry. 254 Platinum is a one-step, polymer-fortified, ANSI A118.15-compliant, high-performance, thin-set mortar that is used for demanding installations of ceramic tile and stone. It is designed to mix with water, has a long open time and high shear bond strength, which results in an adhesive mortar with unsurpassed adhesion and workability.
  • 6-feature-march3701 Fortified Mortar was then applied while the 254 Platinum slurry was still wet. This combination of materials was left to dry for five days. 3701 Fortified Mortar is a factory-prepared fortified blend of carefully selected polymers, portland cement and graded aggregates. Its advantage on the project was that it did not require the use of a latex admix or any mixing of sand and cement. The contractors simply added water to the bagged mortar to produce a thick bed mortar with exceptional strength onto which the tiles were placed.
  • HYDRO BAN® was applied once the five days had passed. HYDRO BAN is a thin, load-bearing, waterproofing/crack isolation membrane that does not require the use of fabric in the field, coves or corners. This single-component, self-curing liquid rubber polymer forms a flexible, seamless waterproofing membrane. HYDRO BAN bonds directly to a wide variety of substrates.
  • 7-feature-marchSPECTRALOCK® Pro Premium Grout was then used to adhere and grout the pool and decking tiles. SPECTRALOCK PRO Premium Grout is a patented, high-performance epoxy grout that offers excellent color uniformity, durability, stain protection, and beautiful, full grout joints in an easy-to-use, non-sag formula. Designed for use on ceramic tile, glass tile and stone applications, both residential and commercial, SPECTRALOCK can be used on both interior and exterior floors and walls. Ideal for regrouting applications, SPECTRALOCK PRO Premium Grout is perfect for swimming pools, fountains and other wet-area applications.

With the tiles and LATICRETE products installed, the pool and decking needed 14 days to cure before the pool was filled. Once this two-week period ended, the pool was then filled slowly at a rate of one inch per hour.


Through a combination of JP Phillips, Inc.’s professionalism and the support of the LATICRETE Technical Services team, Penn State University got the pool its swim teams deserved and the LATICRETE 25-year system warranty the university requested.

The results speak for themselves. In the spring of 2015, the Penn State women’s swimming team set a new record for the 800-yard freestyle relay.


Business Tip – March 2016

SponsoredbyMAPEIDo your people know the play? Practice the daily huddle to align your team

wally_adamchikBy Wally Adamchik, FireStarter Speaking and Consulting

It works for (insert your favorite quarterback here) and it can work for you, too. It is, perhaps, one of the most effective leadership and management tools at your disposal, and takes just a few minutes to execute. But it is rarely used. You should start doing it tomorrow. If you are already doing it, you should work to make it better. What is it? A daily huddle.

You need to tell your people things they need to know to do their job. They want to hear those things. Contrary to popular belief, there are employees at all levels and all ages who want to do a good job. Many of those who are disengaged feel that way because the boss is not communicating with them.

The daily huddle is a fine solution. And it can work in any industry. The concept is simple. Before the workday starts, you gather your team to deliver key information to align them for the day. Are there any special events/visitors/incentives? How about a key training or safety tip? Perhaps you will talk about production or sales targets for the day. All this information gives them direction and helps them to be more productive. You also might toss in some feedback about how things went yesterday. (While this is not a time to single out poor performers, you may highlight some wins from the day before.)

Make sure to ask for input and questions. If the huddle is a new concept for your team, people will be reluctant to share anything initially. But, over time they will see you are serious about the huddle and will work with you to make it better. I have seen, and participated in, huddles that were also a stretch-and-flex period to increase safety awareness and to warm up cool muscles before starting physical labor. It sends a strong message that the company is serious about safety when the boss joins in the huddle and the flex when he is visiting. I have also seen bosses blow off that part – and that sends a message, too! Communication is one of the keys to success in just about any endeavor. I have never conducted an employee satisfaction survey for a client in which the results indicated there was too much communication. In fact, over 85% of my surveys have indicated that communication from management is in need of drastic improvement. The huddle is a quick, easy and inexpensive way to fix a major problem.

Why it works

Let’s look at why it works. First, it is personal. No texting or email is involved. This is direct, eye-to-eye contact – still the most compelling form of communication we have. When we look someone in the eye we know we have their attention and we can see them understand our message. Also, engaging in eye contact shows people they are important, that you want to communicate with them. It conveys the message that you trust them enough to share this information with them. When you ask for their input, you are literally saying, “I want to hear what you have to say. I am interested in you and the value you contribute to our team.”

It comes down to trust and respect. And it educates and aligns people on key business issues. They feel like they are part of the team and they operate from a “we,” not a “they,” perspective. When I interview an employee and he speaks of his firm in terms of “they do… they say,” it makes me cringe. It is as if the employee does not actually consider himself part of the company, but rather some visitor who has little stake and even less affiliation or sense of camaraderie. Keeping people informed is your job. Setting direction is one of the primary roles of a leader. In the case of the huddle, the direction is short-term. We are not communicating the strategic plan of the company; we‘re merely stating the goals of the day.

What‘s the payoff? You get employees who are more motivated and educated to do the job. Does it always work? No, not every single employee may respond to the huddle – but most will. I can guarantee though that starting the day without a huddle insures a workforce that is uninformed and de-motivated. And not even the worst quarterback in the league would attempt that.

NTCA has partnered with Wally Adamchik to bring his interactive virtual training system at to NTCA members. Contact him at [email protected] to learn more about how the NTCA/FireStarterVT partnership can save you training dollars while improving your leaders at all levels.

Ask the Experts – March 2016


I have a question regarding polished porcelain mosaic tiles. Polished porcelain is becoming more popular these days with so many “marble” looks being manufactured. I have a client wanting to use a polished porcelain for her shower walls and would like to use the coordinating polished porcelain 1.5” x 2.5” basket weave mosaic for the shower floor (it is not available in matte). Is it ok to use any polished porcelain mosaic on a shower floor? Please advise.


Small mosaics generally do not pose a slip/fall hazard in wet areas, even if they are polished. The grout joints are so closely spaced that they create a type of textured surface that lends good traction, even in wet areas with lots of water on the surface. Mosaics have traditionally been used in shower floors with high success and little risk of liability.

– Michael Whistler
NTCA Trainer


Our company has been asked to look at a marble floor that is staining and “rusting.” This has only started happening within the last year or two of the floor’s 15-20 year life. There seems to be no etching or loss of sheen (which does not rule out chemical absorption, I am aware). We have been assured that the cleaning process/chemicals have not changed. The floor is on concrete, with occupied space below, and no evidence of moisture-related damage in that area’s ceiling. Before tearing out this floor and replacing it, I would like to be able to suggest what may be the cause and possible solution prior to going in and having unforeseen issues. Any assistance would be greatly appreciated.


White marble tiles can contain deposits of iron. As a mineral, iron oxidizes and turns the marble yellow or brownish red when exposed to water or acids, similar to the way metal rusts. It is possible for the oxidation process to occur many years after the tile was installed. The rusting of the tile may have been initiated or accelerated if the tile installation has recently been exposed to a large amount of water or if the chemistry of the wash water has changed.

It is possible to check the water supply for iron. A plumbing supply store should be able to provide a test kit. If iron is detected, the water supply can be chemically treated to remove the iron.

The tile itself can be tested for iron content. A yellowed tile can be removed from the installation and sent to a lab for testing. If there is attic stock tile that has never been installed, it can also be tested. Comparing the test results of the tiles will help determine whether the iron content was native to the tile or introduced through the water supply.

The rusting process is a chemical change internal to the tile and is difficult or impossible to reverse. It may be possible to remove the stain by applying a poultice consisting of a thick plaster of a product called Iron Out, which contains sodium sulfites. Test a small area by applying the paste and keep it damp for several hours. Remove the solution with a wet vac and clean water. Make sure your wash water does not contain iron. If the stain is removed, the entire floor can be treated in this manner. The process will cause some etching and the surface will likely have to be re-polished.

If you determine iron oxidation is not the cause, you may discover the cleaning agents or the cleaning procedure has changed (such as using the same mop and wash water on the marble after being used in a dirty environment). Marble is porous and has naturally occurring pinholes. After years of wear, the surface of the marble may have become less polished and more open to absorption of dirt. Normal traffic or a dirty mop could be introducing dirt into the pinholes.

After you have ruled out iron mineral staining and suspect cleaning is the cause, it is possible to clean the marble with an alkaline solution. Test the alkaline cleaning solution on a small area before attempting the entire floor. The cleaning process will require scrubbing, which will likely dull the surface. The surface can be re-polished.

The size and scope of the project may determine the best course of action. Ultimately, removal and replacement may be the solution.

I will be interested to know what you discover in your investigation and the approach you take to correct the issue.

– Mark Heinlein
NTCA Trainer

Editor’s Letter – March 2016


My dad, Richard Goddin, and me, in 2012.

“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.”
– Vincent Van Gogh

This column comes to you courtesy of a conversation I had with Jim Harrington, Sr., of Professional Consultants International, inspired, posthumously, by my dad.

First, a little background. On January 29, immediately after Surfaces and as soon as the airports were clear from the major snowstorm that hit the Northeast the weekend of January 23, I flew from NM to NJ to be present with my dad while the pulmonary fibrosis he had battled for many years weakened him and finally claimed his life. While it was a time with him I will treasure, it was also a harrowing experience to watch his life systematically drain away, even as I navigated through the labyrinth of Medicare, hospital and nursing home care, communication with his doctors, and the gamut of emotions that resulted for my mom and me. Before I go on, I want to thank the NTCA staff and contributing writers for their immense loving patience with and support for me for those six weeks, as well as the support from many in the industry. And I want to extend apologies for delays in getting TileLetter, TRENDS and Coverings issues to you this year – I was juggling deadlines during this process and did not always hit the mark.

lesleys-dadDuring this period, I engaged in an email exchange with Jim Harrington about our late dads, who had both served in the Army Air Corps in WW2. Both our dads provided “behind the scenes” support for the war effort – Jim’s dad inspecting planes coming through Hickam Field in Honolulu and mine packing parachutes. We conversed online about how these support roles saved lives.

Jim shared about a seminar a friend had attended given by a pilot who had been shot down. This pilot had the occasion to meet the soldier who packed his parachute. “The pilot pointed out (correctly) that without the guy packing the chute doing his job correctly, he would not be here,” Jim wrote, pointing out that “many of the combat vets were always willing to acknowledge the importance of every cog in the machine to the success of their mission.”

And this is where this column relates to our industry, and even your business. In each situation – business and personal – everyone plays an essential part. I saw that first hand in my recent experiences at the nursing home, where LPNs and CNAs did indispensable services for my dad that ensured his safety and comfort. I saw it with friends and family: those who drove me to the nursing home when I didn’t trust myself behind the wheel of a car due to lack of sleep; those who accompanied me to visit in the last days as a support; some who fed me; or put me up in their home; those who sent notes of encouragement or traveled many miles to be with my mom and me; and of course my sweetie who held down the fort at home and flew out for the funeral, and the friends who looked after our cats while he was away. I saw it during the whole funerary process as each funeral professional from the funeral home to the cemetery helped to create an honoring tribute to my dad. One of the things I feel is so much gratitude to all involved.

Your business may not be a life or death situation, but the health of your business is important. It’s important for your customers’ satisfaction, for your employees’ financial health and that of their families, for the ongoing prosperity of the company that you may have built, run or work for. And each role is essential. Try doing without the foreman, or helper, or receptionist or designer for a day or a week and see how things fall apart.

So, this is a call for bringing gratitude more consciously into your day-to-day operations for everyone who makes up your team. Gratitude for all those who dedicate themselves to making your business run smoothly, whether they are high-profile employees or those who keep things humming behind the scenes.

Merriam-Webster defines cog as “a subordinate but integral person or part;” oftentimes the emphasis is placed on “subordinate,” or being “just” a cog, but in this column, I’d like to place the emphasis on “integral.” No matter who you are or what your role, you are important. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. It couldn’t get done without you. And beyond the immediate task you are accomplishing in the situation, you may have no idea of how far reaching your effects may be. Thank you for all you do.

God bless,
[email protected]

Member Spotlight – March 2016 – All American Design and Construction LLC


All American Design and Construction LLC


After working for different vendors for a series of years, Karl Parker reached his limit, vowing to never work for anyone else again. In 2009, he founded All American Design and Construction LLC ( in Albuquerque, N.M., targeting clients who wanted kitchen and bathroom remodels.


Karl Parker, owner, All American Design and Construction, LLC

“My goal is to provide excellent customer service and a quality product at a reasonable price,” Parker said. The attention to detail Parker invests sets his company apart – “not just in craftsmanship, but in relationships as well,” he said. “I believe that quality comes from being attentive to personal relationships with my employees, clients, and distributors. I work to make sure there isn’t a breakdown in communication and that we fully understand what each one of us needs from each other. “

All American Design and Construction holds a GB98 commercial general contracting license. “Throughout my experience in construction I have really fallen in love with the detailed work of kitchen and bathroom remodeling,” Parker added, emphasizing that the company tends to focus on those areas even though it can perform other services.

Parker said that he doesn’t shy away from difficult projects. “The bigger the problem, the messier the job, the more I’m into it,” he explained. “I love a challenge. When a client has a vision of what they want, we discuss how we can make what they want happen. If we need to adjust the goals, I will discuss what options we have. I educate my clients about our capacity and what solutions would work the best for their homes. All American Design and Construction LLC reflects a lot of my personality. For one, I’m OCD! I have great attention to detail. All of my work reflects a high level of attention and care.”

His perfectionism has paid off – All American Design and Construction LLC celebrated its fifth year running as an Angie’s List Super Service Award recipient.

Although Parker has only been a member of NTCA for a little over a year, he already has signed on as a State Director for New Mexico. He was inspired by the values NTCA espouses. For instance, he said, “I value networking with likeminded people and believe that everyone can benefit from bouncing ideas and issues off each other. I also believe in qualified labor (Parker himself is a Certified Tile Installer) and that those in our industry should be properly trained. When providers know the dos and don’ts of the industry, our reputation as an industry grows and helps everyone. Personally, I value education, information about products and continued growth as a business owner.”

Peer support is a key benefit from NTCA membership, according to Parker. “I have created new friendships, and the education that I get from other members is invaluable,” he said. “Through NTCA, I have the opportunity to come out and start the Continuing Education Program. Without the leadership of NTCA and my role as the State Director, I would have a harder time uniting people in the industry.“

Parker’s Continuing Education Program launched earlier this month, with a focus on uncoupling membranes. “This is the first time an event like this is offered in the state of New Mexico and we look forward to having more,” he said. Parker plans three to four annual workshops that will team manufacturers and distributors to present smaller-scale technical programs and hands-on demonstrations for the tile industry as a whole: inspectors, installers, sales teams, designers and more. “These are planned for neutral territory where anyone and everyone can feel comfortable showing up.”

Paperface challenge produces stunning results

Pictured is the company’s very first paperface mosaic installation, that was very detailed and problematic at times, according to Parker.

“We needed to find a thinset that cured a pure white since our client was in love with the color of the tile and was concerned with the hue changing,” he said. “We were to follow the design and wainscot the entire bathroom. There were several issues with the framing of the walls being out of plumb and the tiles coming off the paper as they were cut. We had several areas where the tiles had to be scribed to fit and not look odd.”

Parker’s team spent countless hours hand setting individual 1” x 1/2” tile up the walls in tight areas. Parker and the customer were happy with the results – and working this project expanded Parker’s expertise. “We learned a lot from this install, and now have a better idea about how to attack a similar project like this in the future,” he said. “It certainly raised and tested our skills, and we are very happy to have been able to take this project on.”


NTCA University is now up and running


The NTCA University is no longer a dream but reality! The site went live in January.

There are three separate sections to the University: Apprenticeship, Business, and Continuing Education. The online courses currently available for the apprentice program are introductory courses, such as safety orientation, tile safety awareness, electric tool orientation, and introduction to grout. These courses were developed to educate apprentices new to the tile industry, but they are also beneficial for any employees that are new to the industry such as sales reps.

The Apprentice Finisher program will be a two-year program. The first six months are all orientation courses designed as an introduction to everything one may see on the job, as well as products that may be used on a project. The next six months will be skill development courses. For example, the apprentice will learn about surface profile and prep and will gain more in-depth knowledge about the products introduced during orientation. At the start of year two, the apprentice will gain more detailed knowledge about the topics they’ve been studying. Towards the end of the second year, apprentices will learn how to be a setter helper, and study management skills that are useful in managing other finishers. Each course has a quiz associated with it; student apprentices must score at least 80% on the quiz to receive a completion certificate.

Once more courses are developed, information will be available for contractors to learn how to submit and register the apprentice program to their state Department of Labor.

NTCA has also added business courses for contractor members. Many NTCA contractor members are family-owned businesses, not big companies. They have spent their lives working in the tile industry, not necessarily running a business. There are many courses available to support their business success, such as basic marketing, basic accounting, employee recruitment, social media in the workplace, and workplace diversity.

Lastly, continuing education courses have been added to the site. These courses are registered with AIA and IDCEC to offer continuing education credits. All of the continuing education presentations created by the NTCA will be available online for architects, designers, contractors, and manufacturers. These courses include tile and stone water management, and backer boards for tile installations. Similar to the Apprentice Finisher program, each course has a quiz associated with it that requires a score of at least 80% to receive continuing education credits and a completion certificate.

All of the courses are available for purchase at the NTCA store. Once a course is purchased, the student will receive a link to the course to directly access the course via the link. NTCA members can also log on to their NTCA accounts to access all of the NTCA University courses in one’s account. Courses can be accessed from computers, tablets, or phones.

NTCA will continue to add new courses to all sections of the NTCA University as they are developed. Monthly updates are planned in a dedicated section of future issues of TileLetter. NTCA members can also visit the NTCA Store to find out what courses are currently available.

– Becky Serbin, NTCA Training and Education Coordinator

Thin Tile – March 2016

SponsoredbyMAPEIThin tile: the truck is here…now what?

dan-marvinBy Dan Marvin, Director of Technical Services, MAPEI Corporation

Even though the industry talks about thin tile, what they’re typically referring to is ‘really big tile that just happens to also be thin.’ The reason thin tile is becoming popular has nothing to do with its thickness and everything to do with the sheets being very large and beautifully decorated. If you’ve waited until the truck shows up with the idea of dealing with it once you’ve seen it, you’ve already made the first mistake. Preparation is key!

Know your foe

Apply thin-set mortar, achieving full coverage of large thin porcelain tiles.

Thin tile starts as huge sheets of tile (3’x 10’ and 5’x 10’ are common sizes) that can then be cut down at the factory or job site as needed. The key is to know what will be showing up. Because thin tile is typically made in Europe, it is quite often measured in meters. A bill of lading showing 1 x 3 sheets of thin tile without any other indication of size most likely means you will be ending up with 1 meter (39”, a bit over 3 feet) by 3 meters (117”, just shy of 10 feet). Another typical size is 1 x 1 (39”x39”). The process for handling a crate of 1m x 3m tile varies considerably from the process for handling cartons of 1m x 1m.

Stick a fork in it

Use frame and suction cup systems for careful handling of large thin porcelain tile when applying to walls and floor.

Assuming you will be receiving crates of 1 m x 3 m you WILL need fork extenders for your fork truck. The crates are loaded into the trucks length-wise, so even if you handle them from the side around the warehouse, to get them out of the truck they will need to be supported along the length of the crate. A ten-foot tile will come in a crate (or A-frame) almost 12’ long, so a minimum of an 8‘ fork extender will be required to get well past the middle of the crate.

Why are the fork extenders important? Although the tiles are somewhat flexible, they do have a limit to how much they can bend. If the tiles are allowed to bend too much in the crate, you will end up with a very expensive problem as some or all of the tiles may crack.Even worse, the tiles are often mesh reinforced on the back so you may not know you have cracked them until you are applying mortar (or even grout!).


Using paddle working from center to outside of tile to ensure air bubbles are removed.

Smaller sizes of thin tiles such as the 1m x 1m sizes will typically come in very large cartons on more conventional pallets, but even these must be treated with care. Avoid stacking the pallets beyond the manufacturer’s recommendations and keep all banding and edge protectors in place until they are placed where they will be used at the job site.

Wide load

Most job sites are cluttered with tools, materials, mixers, saws, and other people. A 12’ long crate is challenging to handle when there is nothing in the way, and becomes even more cumbersome in a typical work environment. Have a staging area set up before the truck arrives and an aisle wide enough to allow the tile to come through. Be careful where turns are required and remove anything on the floor that will cause the fork truck to bounce. In a worst-case scenario, an installer may have to carry the tiles individually from the receiving area to the work site. In this case, inexpensive corner protectors and the correct suction-cup frame for your size of tile will be critical.


A lippage control system helps keep lippage to a minimum and the large thin porcelain tile flush with each other.

Another issue installers face is transporting the tiles to different levels. Typical freight elevators may not be large enough to accommodate full crates or A-frames. Think about thin tile panels as similar to large sheets of glass when dealing with them on a job site. Rigging, winches, or cranes may be required to get them to their final destination.

Staying on edge

When handling large tile panels, it is best to keep it on edge as much as possible. Suction cups and a team approach are a must for handling. Since the edges are the most delicate parts of the tile, cushion them when setting the tile down. When the tile must be laid flat (to cut it or apply mortar, for example) a rigid frame will provide a “backbone” for the tile to keep it from flexing. The same frame also allows the tile to be placed all at once.

Train before you leave the station

The right equipment is essential to moving the large thin porcelain tile without damage. This frame from ETM uses suction cups for a secure hold until the tile is installed. Suction cups and a team approach are a must for handling.

Training is especially critical for everyone who will be handling and installing thin tile. There is a learning curve to handling, cutting, and placing the tile successfully, and chances are an installer may break a few $500 sheets of tile trying to master the techniques on their own. All importers of thin tile panels and installation products companies offer training on how to handle and install these tiles. Every installment of Coverings, Surfaces, and Total Solutions Plus includes sessions on thin tile, usually with a hands-on component. Tool companies that offer thin tile tools will be happy to train you on their use. The tile industry is making a concerted effort to get the information out there because they want the same thing the installer wants, successful installations with no call-backs.

This article touches on just a few of the critical aspects for handling thin tile panels. There are specialized tools for handling and cutting it, special mortars and application techniques required to get full coverage, and tips and tricks for placing the tile in a way that maximizes the opportunities for success. Although thin tile requires specialized training, installers who are comfortable handling and installing the product find that they have a niche in the market and don’t have to compete as hard on price to get the job. By understanding the nuances of the product, stunning installations that will last for generations are possible.


When the tile must be laid flat (to cut it or apply mortar, for example) a rigid frame will provide a “backbone” for the tile to keep it from flexing. The same frame – such as this one from ETM – also allows the tile to be placed all at once.

Qualified Labor – March 2016

1_CTI_20x20You’re in good hands with a Certified Tile Installer

Saugerties, N.Y., contractor gets certified for personal pride and customer assurance

By Terryn Rutford, Social Structure Marketing



Eric Tetreault, owner, EJT Contracting

Eric Tetreault, owner of EJT Contracting, has been a Certified Tile Installer (CTI) since 2011 and an Advanced Certified Tile (ACT) Installer since 2014. Tetreault explained the importance of certification, saying, “The industry as a whole needs a way to honor, celebrate – as well as isolate and market – certified labor. There is far too much unqualified work going on out there. And for customers, it can be overwhelming to try to figure out who is qualified and not, as well as who is properly trained, knowledgeable, experienced, and skilled.”

For people who don’t see the need for certification, Tetreault said, “Do it for yourself if not for any other reason. If you fail, you’ll know where you need to improve. If you pass, you’ll know you’re among the best and the brightest in the country. It’s an elite status that I personally am proud to be a part of.” If bragging rights aren’t enough to convince other installers they should become certified, Tetreault added, “I’ve found that with the right approach, people are comfortable with paying more for qualified labor than they would otherwise.”

Being certified, “has certainly improved my customers’ trust in me,” Tetreault said. “I work with builders and designers who work with other installers and I seldom get the average, or the easy jobs. As a certified installer,  I’ll always be the one to do the higher-end job; the job with more details, the job with particular challenges, and the jobs that need any sort of special consideration.”

The tile industry has no federal or consistent state-to-state guidelines for tile installers. In some states tile installers require a contractor’s license, but in many states no licensing or certification is required at all. Tetreault said, “Competition is very cutthroat out there. There is no barrier-of-entry into the industry, so you have everyone from the very best to the very worst competing on a level playing field. I decided to get certified to help my customers understand that there are independent testing and certifications out there to validate a person’s skills, expertise, experience, and professionalism. Since I present myself as a certified installer, they can feel assured that they are in good hands, as well as research the program to understand the certification process and the commitment [it shows] to the work I do.”

Tests are a challenge

Tetreault admits he was challenged by the tests. “I like it that way,” Tetreault said. “If it were too easy, it would only be a piece of paper.” Tetreault described the test, “The hands-on test was far more difficult than expected. The layout, design, and details were not as easy as they look[ed]. When finished, the test module was dissected for judging of the parts that are not seen and often overlooked. Every last detail of the install was inspected and judged. It was stressful.”

And if that wasn’t hard enough, Tetreault said, “The written test was even more challenging. The questions were highly specific, and not just common knowledge. There’s no way someone would know the answers to these questions who wasn’t dedicated to the tile industry exclusively.”

The certification process is a chance to really see the standard to which all tile installation needs to rise. During testing, the judges, “really go over [the test module] with a fine-tooth comb looking at craftsmanship, performance, manufacturers’ recommended practices, industry standards, neatness, and cleanliness.” This kind of perfectionism raises the bar for tile installers everywhere.

Tetreault completed the ACT certifications in Membranes, LFT, Mud Floors, and Shower Receptors and plans on taking the Mud Walls certification as soon as he becomes more proficient. Tetreault said, “I plan on taking any new ACT tests as they become available.”

Located in Saugerties, N.Y., EJT Contracting has been specializing in residential and remodeling tile installation since 2007. Tetreault found out all about certification while visiting the Certified Tile Education Foundation and decided that certification, “was well worth the effort.” Now that he is both CTI and ACT certified, Tetreault said, “My customers do seem to trust me more than ever before.”

Tech Talk – March 2016

TEC-sponsorTile and stone lippage:

Achieving acceptable tile lippage through quality tile and stone installations

Donato PBy Donato Pompo, CTC, CSI, CDT, MBA

Tile lippage is the vertical displacement between two adjacent tiles of a ceramic, glass, or stone tile installation. Excessive lippage can lead to a number of problems: the edge of the tile with excessive lippage can have a propensity to chip; furniture and appliances can get caught on edges and not slide easily across the floor; and most important today is that excessive tile lippage can be a safety hazard particularly to the elderly with our aging population. Tile lippage is an inherent characteristic of installed tile. It is not possible to eliminate it completely, but it can be minimized within reason.

(Ed. note: This is part two of a two part article. Part one appeared in the February issue of TileLetter, as the the Tech Talk feature.)


Installation methods – The tile installation method used can help limit tile lippage, or it can contribute to excessive tile lippage. Adhering the tile directly to the substrate, particularly if it hasn’t been properly prepared to meet the industry requirements for flatness, can make it difficult to avoid tile lippage. On the other hand, installing tile in a fresh dry-pack mortar bed while it is still in a plastic stage can help compensate for the tile dimensional variations because the installer can embed the tile into the fresh mortar.


This looks like excessive lippage due to type of lighting and viewing angle, but it isn’t.

Installer skill and workmanship – Another factor that can contribute to excessive tile lippage is the lack of skill and workmanship by the tile installer. It is very important how skilled and conscientious the tile installer is, and the lack of those qualities can be a contributing factor to excessive tile lippage. If the installer isn’t experienced and skilled enough, or isn’t detail minded, then poor workmanship can cause or contribute to excessive tile lippage. It is important that qualified skilled tile installers who understand – and are current with – industry standards are used for tile and stone installations to help ensure a successful installation.


This is measuring lippage from previous photo, which shows that the ceramic tile lippage is less than 1.6 mm (1/16”) which is within standards.

Unavoidable lippage at drains – There are some applications where tile lippage to some degree is unavoidable. ANSI A108.02-2013-4.3.7 cautions that the lippage requirements don’t apply to tiled floors sloping to drains specifically when using tiles that are 6” x 6” (15 mm x 15 mm) and larger. The larger the tile surface area the greater the potential for tile lippage under these conditions. That is why you will often see tiles cut in half on a diagonal near drains that have sudden changes in slope. That doesn’t mean the installer can have extreme tile lippage; it still needs to be reasonable considering the conditions. Using the relatively-new trench or linear drains can be good solution to avoiding this problem.

Perceived excessive tile lippage – Another tile lippage problem is perceived excessive tile lippage, when in fact lippage is reasonable and within allowable standard tolerances. The culprit is lighting. Even the best of tile installations can have perceived excessive tile lippage when the light is shining on the tile surface at a certain angle relative to the viewing angle. This is more problematic with large rectangular tiles with narrow grout joints installed on walls, particularly if the tile is installed in a staggered pattern. Just look at some tile exterior veneers when the sun is directly shining on the tile surface and you will find certain angles where it looks like there is so much lippage that you can climb up the wall, when in fact it is within tolerance. On the other hand, under other viewing angles or lighting conditions you don’t see excessive tile lippage in these same installations.


The perception of lippage is affected by the angle of the light falling upon the wall.

Optical illusion caused by lighting – Sometimes lighting causes shadowing at the grout joint, creating an optical illusion that there is excessive tile lippage. This can occur in interior and exterior applications with natural lighting or with artificial lighting. The TCNA Handbook warns that the use of wall-washer and cove-type lighting – where the lights are located either at the wall/ceiling interface, or mounted directly on the wall – may produce shadows and undesirable effects with tiles. Similar shadows are created from natural lighting on interior walls and floors when light shines from an angle through windows and doors. I have investigated a number of projects, both commercially and residentially, where there were complaints of alleged excessive tile lippage only to find out during our inspection that it was reasonable and within allowable industry tolerances. On the other hand, I have seen cases where there was indeed excessive lippage when the above referenced contributing factors were not properly managed.

How tile installers can avoid actual or perceived excessive lippage – It is the same old answer: follow industry standards, and don’t accept substrates that don’t meet industry standards, unless you are being paid to fix them.

It does not matter who is at fault when there is a problem – everyone ends up paying, either in time to defend themselves, money to fix the issue, or with their reputation. It is in everyone’s best interest to ensure tile installations are compliant to industry standards. The following paragraphs summarize the key steps that should be followed for tile and stone installations to avoid excessive tile lippage.

  1. Require a mock-up to be built that will become the standard upon approval for installation methods and for workmanship for aesthetic quality. It should include the specified lighting that the tile will be subjected to. If the client doesn’t allow for a mock-up, then after the first portion of the tile installation is completed, require that the client approve it and agree to use it as the standard for balance of the installation. This will help eliminate false expectations by the client, and if corrections are needed, it will be a lot less costly to fix it.
  2. Use good quality installation products because they typically perform better.
  3. Make sure your tile installers, both setters and helpers, are current with industry standards. They should be certified or verified to demonstrate they know and are current with industry thin-set standards (e.g. Certified Ceramic Tile Installers [CTI] through the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation [CTEF]; Tile Installer Thin-set Standards [ITS] Verification through the University of Ceramic Tile and Stone [UofCTS]).
  4. The stone should meet ASTM standards for its respective geological classification. Ceramic tile should meet ANSI A137.1 standards, and glass tile should meet ANSI A137.2 standards. Be sure to closely inspect the tile before installing it. If the warpage or sizing appears to be excessive either refuse to install it or get a written letter from the client approving the consequences. Then install a mock-up and get the client’s approval before proceeding.
  5. Considering the tile’s sizing and warpage tolerances, and the tile size and installation pattern, recommend a reasonable grout joint width to your client.
  6. Be sure to inform your client that lighting can cause the perception that there are excessive irregularities in the tile installation, when in fact the installation is consistent with industry tolerances. Tell them that light fixtures must be placed in a manner to avoid direct lighting on tile wall surfaces. You don’t need to tell them how to do it, as that is not your expertise. You can give them the language from our standards that warns of the problems that can occur if the lighting isn’t placed properly.
  7. Evaluate the substrate to make sure it meets ANSI requirements for flatness. If it doesn’t meet the ANSI standards then reject it and don’t proceed until it is corrected. Or you can correct the substrate for an additional fee. Cementitious self-leveling mortars or patching mortars can work well for repairing or preparing substrates for your tile installation. ANSI A108.02 states that if there are any obvious defects or conditions preventing a satisfactory tile installation, the installer is to notify the architect, general contractor, or other designated authority in writing, and is not to proceed until satisfactory conditions are provided that will allow for an acceptable installation.
  8. Use the TCNA Handbook for Ceramic, Glass, and Stone Tile Installation, the Marble Institute of America Dimension Design Manual, and the ANSI A108 standards as tools to persuade your clients of the need for you to follow the standards to ensure an acceptable tile installation. Being knowledgeable of these important standards will give you more credibility with your clients and will help you avoid costly problems.
  9. If the architect’s specification is ambiguous or if there is something wrong or missing, always submit an RFI (request for information) for clarification before proceeding with the work.

Viewing angle affects perception of lippage. Better lighting reduces the perception of lippage in this image – even though it’s the exact same wall with acceptable – but unsightly – lippage earlier in the story.


Excessive tile lippage can lead to damaged tile edges as various objects sliding on the floor hit these unsupported tile edges. Excessive tile lippage can cause trip and fall incidents, particularly for those elderly who tend to shuffle when they walk and use walkers. Even in commercial settings, tile lippage can be problematic and annoying as carts and other equipment clack as they run over tile edges.

Excessive tile lippage, or perceived excessive tile lippage, can be avoided by following the industry standards. Excessive tile lippage is typically due to a combination of improperly prepared substrates, improper installation methods, improper use of materials, and poor installer workmanship performance. Perceived excessive tile lippage is typically due to improper lighting design, overly narrow grout joints, and not following industry recommendations. Avoid the false expectations by the specifier or client by informing them of the potential issue in advance.

To avoid these problems, installers must be current with industry standards and follow those standards and the product manufacturers’ directions while installing the tile. Installers are mechanics with the skill level to provide quality workmanship, but they should not be expected to make architectural decisions – architects must give the installers the information and details they need to do their job correctly.

Many installers learn their skill on the job and do not have the opportunity to learn the industry standards. So it should be required that the tile installers are up to date with the current industry standards.

I have never investigated a tile or stone failure and found that all the industry standards and manufacturers’ instructions were followed. It is always the opposite. The failure is never due to one deficiency, but is generally due to many compounding deficiencies. Simply put, the key to a successful tile and stone installation is to follow industry standards.

Donato Pompo, CTC, CSI, CDT, MBA, is the founder of Ceramic Tile and Stone Consultants (CTaSC), and of the University of Ceramic Tile and Stone (UofCTS). He has more than 35 years of experience in the ceramic tile and stone industry from installation to distribution to manufacturing of installation products. Donato provides services in forensic investigations, quality control (QC) services for products and installation methods, training programs, testing, and onsite quality control inspection services. He received the 2012 Construction Specifier Magazine Article of the Year. Donato can be reached at [email protected].

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