Welcome to 2020!

“I have a theory in life that there is no learning. There is no learning curve. Everything is tabula rasa. Everybody has to discover things for themselves.” – Seymour Hersh 


Welcome to 2020. If you’re like me, that number is something that was only in the realm of science fiction and futurists when I was growing up (uh oh, now you all have an idea of how old I am!). Yet, here we are, poised on the precipice of 365 new days filled with possibility and challenge, blank slates upon which we can write our dreams, and wrangle with the unexpected, testing our mettle in all of it. 

As you plan your year, take a look at our Industry Calendar. On this calendar are lots of opportunities to learn, to attend training sessions and to educate yourself on what is happening in our industry: use it to chart out how and where you want to learn and grow. Remember to also visit the NTCA website at www.tile-assn.com, and click on the Education & Certification tab. This is a schedule of upcoming NTCA Workshops and Regional Training Programs that may be coming to a location near you. Don’t pass these up. There are fantastic learning and networking opportunities to be had at these events. Also under this tab is a listing of upcoming webinars, hosted by NTCA and featuring industry experts. You can glean wisdom from these free offerings from the comfort of your home or office, or in fact anywhere you can carry your device. And if you haven’t gotten certified yet, learn more about the Certified Tile Installer and Advanced Certifications for Tile Installers exams at this link, as well as classes from NTCA University and what the NTCA Apprenticeship Program is all about. Get informed, and start the year strong. 

This issue is designed to support you as you go forward into the year with explorations of anti-slip treatments and products to commemorate Bath Safety Month and help you craft safer installations. Working with tile patterns can hold some challenges – we investigate tips on making the most of tile design and creating a stunning wall or floor project. And we also study how the synergy of different trades working together can make the project run smoother and be better performing for everyone involved. 

2020 is tabula rasa right now – a blank slate, upon which you can write and discover your future. Equip yourself to make it a satisfying, prosperous and enjoyable year, so when you look back in January 2021, you can congratulate yourself about jobs well done!

God bless,
Lesley
[email protected]

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

“Year’s end is neither an end nor a beginning, but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us.”
– Hal Borland


As another year draws to a close (and a new one is just about to begin), take a moment to review your 2019. What were the high spots? What can you learn from the lows? What was the one new thing that you learned or implemented this year that made a difference in your execution or operations? Did you attend a training seminar or a workshop or perhaps a trade show or conference for the first time? How did that benefit your business?

In our busy world, it’s tempting to race from one thing to the next without taking time to breathe and reflect. And yet, if we don’t review or assess our day, week, month or year, how do we learn? How do we know where we need to improve or <gasp> congratulate ourselves and our colleagues on the victory of jobs well done – and repeat those steps that led to success? 

Don’t give in to temptation. Take the natural lull that comes at this time of year to consider what’s come before and ponder how that can be a springboard for the year to come. That’s what we do in our NTCA Review – looking back gives our road map for 2020 a solid foundation. Check out this story and see where the association is headed next year. 

We announced our first ever NTCA Tile Setter Craftsperson of the Year back in September, but this month, read a little bit more about Lee Callewaert of Dragonfly Tile and what it means to him to win this honor, which was awarded at the end of October at Total Solutions Plus. 

Did you get to travel to Italy this fall to see all the hot new products at Cersaie? If not, don’t worry – we recap some of those new introductions in our product section in this issue. 

Do you know what a flow-down clause is? You may know it as a “pass-through” or “conduit clause.” Do you know that it binds subcontractors to the same duties and obligations as the general contractor has to the owner? Is this a good thing or not? Read our Business Tip section by Daniel Dorfman, Chair Construction Law Group, Fox Swibel Levin & Carroll LLP, and find out.

Whatever you do, DO take time to kick back and relax with those you hold dear. In the inimitable words of Ferris Bueller: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

God bless, and happy holidays,

Lesley
[email protected]

Thank you, readers, industry, and colleagues for everything you do to make this a fantastic industry

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life but what we give.” – Winston Churchill


Thank you. Yes, thank you, readers, industry, and colleagues for everything you do to make this a fantastic industry, and for helping to give contractors and installers a voice in how they do what they do, and the products they do it with. This is the month for thanks after all, and whatever your role in the industry, you deserve to be thanked for your part of keeping it all percolating.

The lineup of stories in this month’s TileLetter is also a reflection of what is percolating, from the cover story about the stone installation at the Westfield Valley Fair in Silicon Valley, to new contributor Paul Makovski’s examination of achieving proper grout joints widths, to FILA’s Jeff Moen’s tips on sealing and protecting stone. 

Remember when we reported on the start up of the Oregon-Columbia Tile Trades Training Trust last year? In this issue, we check in with the co-op to see how the first year has gone, and explore the challenges and victories of the program. We also get an inside look at Malcolm Campbell, and Midwest Mosaic and how that company has grown to where it is today.

Wally Adamchik, Founder of Firestarter Speaking and Consulting, recently conducted a People in Construction survey. In the Business Tip section of this issue, he gives us a synopsis of his findings and how they may impact your business. 

Wishing you all a Happy Thanksgiving and affirming that the slide into the holiday season will bring with it a healthy balance of prosperous work opportunities, and downtime to celebrate and appreciate friends and family that bring joy to your lives. 

God bless,
Lesley
[email protected]

TileLetter celebrates women with exclusive issue

Welcome to the October issue of TileLetter! This is the month we celebrate women in tile. 

Why do we do this, you ask? Well, it’s often said that construction is a man’s world and in fact, women comprise only 9.9% of the 8.3 million people in construction (but that’s still that’s 821,700 women!). 

Yet, according to an article in Big Rentz (www.bigrentz.com/blog/women-construction), there’s been 94% growth in female owners from 2007 to 2018, and 9% of female-owned firms achieved revenues of more than $500,000 in 2018. What’s more, 4% of new construction firms were launched by women last year, and 44% of the top 100 contracting companies have women in executive roles. 

So women form an important part of the construction industries. We see women’s role in our industry as well. And growing efforts are being made to recruit more women into our industry as the NTCA University Update story about a new NTCA recruitment video illustrates. Already we are in prominent positions, as is evidenced in the Women in Tile story that explores the careers of Schluter Systems’ Shannon Huffstickler, CTEF’s Heidi Cronin and Stuart Tile Company’s Janet Kozey. Women’s work is stellar, as you can see in the project gallery in our Hot Topics section, with installs by Chanel Carrizosa, Rachel Cahalan and Jaime Martin. Women are intent on credentialing skills, as you’ll read in our Training and Education story about Carrizosa’s CTI exam in 2017. And we also profile a woman-owned company in our Member Spotlight – Fischer Tile & Marble in Sacramento run by Taryn Fischer. 

Exploring these stories also is a testament to the tremendous support offered by those in this industry – both women AND men. While it’s true that some women have had to deal with gender-related hurdles, we’ve also had support from many industry sectors and won the respect of colleagues and customers. 

So enjoy this issue, and if you happen to know a woman who’s doing amazing work or making inroads in our industry, email me with her information. It’s never too early to start working on the 2020 Women in Tile issue of Tileletter.

God bless,
Lesley
[email protected]

Tile offers many benefits and enduring beauty

Tile offers so many benefits – durability, low-maintenance, sustainability – and enduring beauty. I am excited in this issue to bring you several stories that present this unique artistry that tile offers. 

First up is our Decorative Tile feature that explores two 2019 Coverings Installation Design Awards winners – Andru Eron and NY Tilemakers, along with Trish Metzner from Made in Mosaics. Both artists were recognized for their stunning work on two very different murals that convey the complexity, precision and beauty involved in tile mural work.

Next is our Tech Talk story, which looks at the practice of scribing. Scribing in river rock pebbles to a field tile or crafting a “rug” or mural of uniquely shaped tile to enhance an entryway or shower is another way ace tile installers are able to demonstrate the artistry and craftsmanship at the heart of the tile trade – and in a way that delights clients with a completely custom installation.

Are you interested in bringing recruits into this fantastic trade? If so, please check out the NTCA University Update that details a pair of recruitment flyers designed to educate those new to the field about what’s involved in being a tile setter and offers information on additional career paths for a journeyman tile setter.

Another training-related story is a contribution from the new CTEF Industry Liaison and Promotions Director, Heidi Cronin, addressing the role CTEF’s Certified Tile Installer program plays in increasing qualified labor in the industry. And NTCA President Chris Walker takes a closer look at the benefits offered by the national NTCA Apprentice Guide-lines Program, recently approved by the Department of Labor. 

Issues like this fill me with pride in our industry and the way technical excellence, craftsmanship and pure artistry combine to create unforgettable projects and signature solutions for walls, floors, exteriors, pools – you name it. It also makes my heart swell to see how the industry comes together to offer training, support and encouragement for those looking for a satisfying career. 

Be well! God bless!

TileLetter Green issue discusses eco-centric issues in the tile industry

Welcome to the Green Issue of TileLetter! Each year, we take a look at some eco-centric issues that impact the tile industry in our August issue. In this issue, TCNA staff examines the revision process of OSHA’s Table 1, as it relates to the Respirable Silica Rule. We also feature a Letter to the Editor from James Woelfel that takes a different perspective on the feasibility of OSHA regulations in protecting worker health. 

Terri Hogan Dreyer, managing partner/principal, NANO Architecture|Interiors, discusses how natural materials like tile and stone are foundations for her firm’s quality control process. TCNA’s Bill Griese tours us through the latest version of LEED – LEED v 4.1 – that generates more achievable objectives that build on expanded product life cycle considerations and are favorable for tile. 

Our Training and Education feature explores the recently DOL-approved NTCA National Apprenticeship Guidelines for members, which provides a career road map in the tile trade, explaining the process of developing this program and how this will benefit members and the entire trade. NTCA’s Becky Serbin takes it a step further in the NTCA University Update, describing how the establishment of the apprenticeship program will mandate more course development to support the finisher and setter tracks. 

We meet Jake Swoboda in our Member Spotlight, one of the younger members of the industry, and learn how he is carving a path to tile setting success, based on familial training from his uncle, and augmented by his CTI credentials and membership in NTCA. 

In this issue, we also bid a sad farewell to a beloved member of the tile industry and all-around nice guy, Steve Rausch. Though he will be deeply missed, all of us who knew and worked with him are richer for having known him. His sudden passing reminds me to let people who are important to me know I appreciate them – personally or professionally. Maybe there’s an opportunity for you to do the same in the coming month. 

God bless,
Lesley

TileLetter’s midsummer issue brings lots of great articles

There are lots of great articles in this midsummer issue of TileLetter, from our cover case study by Merkrete of the renovation of the Naples Fire-Rescue Station, to the timeline by Schluter’s Dale Kempster about uncoupling methods making it into the TCNA Handbook and upcoming uncoupling standard, to Donato Grosser’s exploration of the industry from an independent distributor point of view, to the happy tale about NTCA Five-Star Contractor Rod Owen’s involvement in the community and how bringing information about the tile trade to high schools has paid off in terms of his own hires. Not to be missed is the Member Spotlight on Carl “The Flash” Leonard, NTCA Education and Curriculum Director Becky Serbin’s piece on the value of NTCA’s Regional Training Events and the preview of our next big industry event – just three months away – Total Solutions Plus, this year scheduled for Nashville, Tenn. 

But I also want to highlight a couple of especially compelling pieces that are on the pulse of what is happening in our industry right now. One is our news blurb about the May 23, 2019 Department of Labor acceptance of the NTCA National Guidelines for Apprenticeship. This is a huge step forward for our industry (with hats off to the tireless efforts of Becky Serbin in bringing this to fruition). The NTCA Apprenticeship Guidelines Program combines field experience with online learning and designated classroom training. It’s designed to provide members an opportunity to attract new skilled labor into the ceramic tile industry. The program will offer guidance to NTCA members in developing their own tile finishers’ and tile setters’ apprenticeship programs. You’ll learn more about this in our August issue, but it’s vital news that needs to be on your radar screen now.

The other piece is by NTCA President Chris Walker, who has his finger on the pulse of the industry with his perspective on tariffs on tile from China and the anti-dumping/anti-subsidy investigation by the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC). What are the pros and cons of these actions and how will they affect our industry down the road? Read this important letter and stay tuned in future issues of TileLetter for more information about how these developments will impact the tile industry and how different sectors of the industry are coping with them. 

Got thoughts or comments to share about these or any other topics? Shoot me an email and let me know your perspective. 

God bless,
Lesley
[email protected]

There are advantages to learning a trade

CREDIT: MOVIESTORE/REX/SHUTTERSTOCK

“One of the things that I find distressing about life today is that people don’t really seem to enjoy their work anymore. When I was growing up on Walton’s Mountain, my father and my grandfather loved their work and they instilled a respect for work in each of us. But I recall one time when my brother Jason had to make a choice, a choice that was difficult for him, but even more difficult for my father.”

– John-Boy Walton, reading from his journal


The last few months, after a long day at work, I’ve been relaxing with TV. Not network TV, mind you, or cable or political commentary, but with a warm and wholesome television show that those who grew up in the ’70s will remember: The Waltons. This nine-season semi-autobiographical series created by Earl Hamner is about John and Olivia Walton in 1930-40s Virginia, making a living during the Depression and World War II, with seven children and Grandma and Grandpa Walton sharing their home. 

It just so happens that John Walton and his father Zebulon operate a sawmill on their property. This mill keeps them afloat during the Depression though money is tight. As the Depression draws to a close, the family expands the business into crafting fine furniture.

In an episode called “The Choice,” John Walton’s second oldest, Jason, must choose between accepting a scholarship to attend the conservatory and become a musician or learning the family’s trade. John, Sr., is scripted to usually be very accepting of his children’s decisions, such as supporting his eldest son John-Boy’s decision to attend college in pursuit of his passion of becoming a writer. But in this episode, he is staunch about the importance of Jason learning a trade to be able to eventually take care of a family and put food on the table as he’s been able to do even in this economic crunch. He makes a strong case for the necessity of learning a trade and how it is something you carry with you for the rest of your life. This very old show brought to mind the very contemporary reality that young people face today – what path will give you a good living? What career will support your future? What can’t be outsourced? And what will fill you with pride each day? Jason hedges his bets by choosing the conservatory – AND studying his family trade (It’s a television show, after all!). 

Another thing this show brings to mind is OSHA (not formed until 1971) and the incredible risks everyone working at the Depression-era mill takes. Though they wear heavy gloves to push trees through the saw to make lumber, there are no self-adjusting guards, no eye protection, no kickback protections. I cringe whenever I watch them, just waiting for disaster to strike. So far, by season five, no one has lost an eye or finger, but I’ll bet in real life, those in the lumber business back then had lots of accidents. I think of today’s brilliant advances in automated tile equipment, and eye and ear protection and the regulations, equipment refinements and improvements in setting-material formulas that help tile installers avoid the ravages of silicosis. (In a stroke of synchronicity, Will Geer, who plays Grandpa Zebulon Walton, narrated a short 1940 documentary called Men and Dust, about miners and silicosis!) Why not take advantage of safeguards available today to protect your hands, eyes, ears, and lungs? Replacements are VERY expensive – and not always possible.

What this meandering letter is about is this: the solid advantages afforded by a trade cannot be overlooked. This show illustrated the point by travelers who came through Walton’s Mountain who lost their white collar jobs when the Depression hit, but the Waltons were able to maintain a modest living by virtue of a trade. Now, anyone in the trade doesn’t need a 1970s TV show to tell them about the advantages of a trade, but it is a poignant reminder. 

God bless,
Lesley
[email protected]

BEING a tile setter and encouraging others to enter the trade is a patriotic act

“Patriotism for me is when people put their ideas into the work. Your love for your country is only in your work.” – Sudhir Mishra


I don’t usually get on my soapbox about patriotism (unless you are a follower of mine on my personal Facebook account), but I am going to take this opportunity to tell you that BEING a tile setter and encouraging others to enter the trade is a patriotic act.

Why is that, you may ask? Because in this world of outsourcing, sending jobs overseas, prefab construction, pre-packaged food, and automation, there is a decreasing pool of employment opportunities that can’t be done by someone else, located somewhere else, likely earning a fraction of what the job is worth in U.S. dollars. Hands-on trades are some of the last bastions of craftworkers who need to be PRESENT, on the job, in person, with eyes, minds, and hands engaged with creating a beautiful, long-lasting, well-performing installation of ceramic or natural stone tile.

When you engage in your profession as a tile contractor, you are literally building the country, and contributing to the physical real estate of your region. You are interacting with real humans, face to face, not just online in email or social media. You represent a skill, a company, a profession – all of which are things to be proud of. Your job cannot be outsourced. There’s no way a machine can come in and assess the need for a flat, level floor, notice bond breakers that need to be removed on a substrate, select the right mortar and grout for the job and then install all the parts and pieces with artistry and excellence. Of course, you use machinery and tools on the jobsite, but they take your expertise and prowess to wield positive results.

Are you interested in helping the country grow? Then talk to younger generations about your trade. Share what knocks your socks off about it with them – what excites you, inspires you, what makes you stand back from your work with a sense of pride and satisfaction – as well as how it helps you put food on your table and attain a good living. Talk to your children, and their friends, or classes in local high schools or those in your faith community – ignite in them the excitement that in many cases, they can earn while they learn and have a skill that can never be taken from them. And they are NEEDED! One of the largest barriers to construction – of literally building the country – is the fact that there aren’t enough skilled craftspeople to do the work! You’re doing your part AS a tile setter – try to encourage or recruit at least three more installers into the field: one to replace you when you retire and two more to expand the trade. Bring interested youth to a NTCA workshop or other educational opportunity, and give them the chance to let the light go on as they start pondering the possibilities the trade offers (without incurring the crushing debt that college often does). 

If you value being heard, get involved in the industry, specifically NTCA, which is known as “The Voice of the Contractor.” Through NTCA, members are engaging with manufacturers and distributors as well as A&D professionals and general contractors to help elevate the profession, find solutions to on-the-job problems, refine setting materials and tools to make jobs easier and better performing, and share their knowledge so that sound specs are written from the get-go. You will have an impact; you will be actively working to make things better, not just in your trade but as a ripple effect to the country at large! Be proud of what you do and how you contribute to the wellbeing and strength of the nation! You are a patriot!

God bless,
Lesley
[email protected]

Coming to the 30th edition of Coverings

Coming soon to the Orange County Convention Center is the 30th edition of Coverings! That’s right, this year Coverings ’19 returns to Orlando bigger and better than ever. It’s your chance to prepare and take advantage of the astounding and abundant opportunities for education, inspiration and networking that make up the heart of the Coverings expo. 

To get ready and view an overview and floor plan of the show floor, schedule of events and Conference Session, awards and other aspects of the show, go to www.coverings.com.

This issue gives you a sampling of upcoming events planned by Coverings show owners – Ceramics of Italy, Tile of Spain, Tile Council of North America, the Ceramic Tile Distributors Association, and the National Tile Contractors Association. Take a look at highlighted educational sessions and demos pertinent to your visit as well as lists of exhibitors who have the products that you seek.

While you’re searching for products, read this issue’s Tech Talk section, which surveys tile contractors for the tools most important to their businesses. It might give you some ideas of items to search for at Coverings, to improve your comfort, production speed, precision or overall efficiency.

Installers weigh in again in our Business Tip, with information of how THEY navigate the Coverings show. If you’ve never attended – and even if you’re a regular – you can pick up some pointers about making the most of the experience and arranging your time to mine the show for inspiration gold! Becky Serbin’s NTCA University Update also gives you some tips for planning your conference strategy in Orlando.

Contractors, be sure to read the NTCA section and the list of demonstrations planned for the TCNA Installation Demonstration stage, including a visit to the new Installation & Design Experience. Every year NTCA works to develop a fuller, richer and more educational experience for its members and visiting contractors and installers at the show and this year is no exception, with education, demos, tours, installed vignettes illustrating the collaboration between designers and qualified labor, refreshments, networking opportunities and even the chance to win prizes all on the roster. Booth #3538 is your go-to location for all things installation, with a satellite NTCA desk in booth #3219 staffed with representatives to answer your questions about membership and the association.

I always enjoy feedback on the show and what you found valuable, so please drop me a line at [email protected] and share your thoughts! Looking forward to seeing you in Orlando!

God bless!

Lesley
[email protected]

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