Are tight miters the right miters for your project?

Sharp corners, especially in shower installations, can be safety hazards for end users

Mitering: a hallmark of a tile installation and a craftsperson’s skill. The tighter the miter, the greater the skill, the finer the installation.

But is a tight miter what the end user really needs? Is it good for the life of the installation? Is it even safe?

Sometimes $100 bills are used to show a nice, tight miter joint width in photos.

We all know the NTCA Reference Manual is a rich resource of technical tile information that is constantly being updated. The NTCA and members of its Technical Committee care deeply about their fellow tile contractors and the success and safety of our industry. The 2020/2021 edition of the NTCA Reference Manual includes a new section (pages 172 – 173) dedicated to performance and safety precautions when mitering tile and stone. NTCA Five-Star Contractor Woody Sanders of D.W. Sanders Tile & Stone Contracting in Marietta, Ga., knows the concerns and challenges with mitering and led a committee to craft this newly-published section. I recently had the opportunity to spend some quality time with Woody talking mitering and the process of crafting this section for the NTCA Reference Manual.

I don’t need to re-hash for you everything the NTCA Reference Manual says about mitering. It’s a heck of a lot better if you just crack open your copy to pages 172 – 173 and read the new section for yourself. 

I do want to discuss the fact that tight miters are not necessarily the right miters. Woody and I see lots of examples of amazing tile craft skills illustrated by photos that show tight inside and outside miters, sometimes where $100 bills are used to show the nice tight joint width. Super nice. But always appropriate? Here are some excerpts from my conversation with Woody.

Woody Sanders
Miters in strip glass and large-format tile in a wet area.

Mark: Why did we need a section about mitering in the NTCA Reference Manual?

Woody: There are many reasons, primarily: aesthetics; safety; proper installation practices; structural stability; long-term performance of the installation. In a wet area especially, safety is paramount.

Mark: One of the hallmarks of a modern tiled shower is that it is a one-of-a-kind, hand-crafted appliance. That means there are usually lots of niches, benches, short walls, alcoves – you name it. All of these are prime locations for miters, making showers the place where an installer can really showcase their skill.

A tight miter works well for a dry area backsplash.

Woody: That’s right. A shower is the place where a gifted installer and smart contractor can make good money. The problem comes when aesthetic considerations become safety hazards. Sharp, tight miters may look great for the photo-op but every installation must be created with full consideration for the end use and end user. Here’s the problem – a shower is one of the highest slip/fall hazard locations there is. Slip and hit your head on a sharp corner or three-way miter and you might not have a good medical outcome. 

Here’s the other problem – Modern buildings are designed to move. Walls move, floors move, the individual layers of a tile installation move independently of each other. When this movement occurs and there is no room at the miter joint to allow for that movement action, the tile will break, the bond will break – something will break. When it breaks, it will not look as pretty as it once did. In a wet area, the break will open access for water to enter. When water enters the system it can become an agent of destruction.

As tile contractors and installers, when we build a shower, we are creating a one-of-a-kind, hand-built plumbing fixture. We need to understand that we have to manage ALL of the water that enters the shower and direct it to the drain/waste/vent system. Bond coat coverage is very important in a wet area. It is not easy to get 95% or better bond coat coverage when trying to create a really tight miter joint. If bond coat coverage is sacrificed to create the joint, an opening for water to pool and weaken the system is created. That beautiful joint will not look so pretty with use and time.

These sharp miter edges can create a safety hazard when used in a shower, where slipping is common.

Mark: Have you actually seen personal injuries caused by sharp miter joints?

This highly-detailed miter is installed in a dry area, cut in glass tile with the correct blade.

Woody: Yes, I have. Lacerations and cuts. I wanted to use the word laceration in the NTCA Reference Manual, but my committee had to talk me down. Think about it this way – How many tile installers do you know that don’t have cuts on their hands?

Mark: How long did it take to get this section published?

Woody: About a year. It was introduced to the committee of the whole at TISE 2019 where consensus was made to place it on the agenda; a first draft was written and presented at Total Solutions Plus 2019 where a subcommittee was formed to re-shape the draft; the second draft was presented to the committee of the whole at TISE 2020 and was accepted for publication in Chapter 6 – Specialized Installation Procedures.

Mark: Who was on the committee?

Woody:

Nyle Wadford of Neuse Tile helped with navigating the Technical Committee process and made sure the written words make sense on the page.

Chuck Muehlbauer of the Natural Stone Institute helped with the background of the quirk miter as coming from stone industry.

Mike Hawthorne of the IUBAC made certain we stayed true to ANSI standards.

Noah Chitty and Derek Patterson of Crossville provided input from the tile manufacturer’s perspective.

Jim Harrington of Schluter kept the committee informed on alternatives to mitering.

Mark Albonetti of MD Pro / Prova contributed his wide experience with miters and trim units.

Joseph Mattice of On The Level provided input from an installation contractor’s perspective.

Mark: How wide should a miter joint be?

Woody: The width of the miter joint should match the width of the grout joint in the tile field. If it does not, the aesthetic of the installation becomes unbalanced. Grout joints exist for good reason in all tile installations. They serve as buffers or transitions from tile to tile in the field. We need this buffer of space from tile to tile at the miters also.

This is a good miter joint width created with blunted edges instead of sharp edges.

Mark: Is there ever a correct time to create a super tight miter joint?

Woody: There sure is. We do a lot of work with large stone and panels. We create waterfall edges that are color match epoxy filled, cured and hand softened to create a very pleasing, structurally sound and safe miter joint.

Mark: The NTCA Reference Manual, page 172, talks about quirk miters. These form an external corner with beveled, blunted noses to avoid the sharp edges of the common miter. Tell us about those. 

Woody: Quirk miters are a great way to make a long-lasting, aesthetically-pleasing miter that is safe for users and makes for an enduring installation. The quirk miter concept comes from the stone slab industry. Stone workers understand the strengths and limitations of their materials and they know how to make their miters safe for use and for long-lasting performance. Tile installers should use quirk miters as an excellent alternative to sharp miters.

Mark: Are there any other alternatives to sharp miters?

Woody: Yes. Bullnose and custom-made – even made on site – bullnose are great options. Tile with matching trim pieces are another great way, but they are not as prevalent or available today as they once were. A number of manufacturers also make a wide variety of metal or plastic trim that is set into the bond coat along with the tile. The NTCA Reference Manual discusses modern trim strips as an option. Some modern installations look terrific with the modern trim elements. In many traditional architectural designs clean termination points are critical.

Mark: I have used all of those methods. Each of them takes a lot of skill and experience and time to make for a great looking installation.

Woody: That’s right. Hand polishing, bullnosing, or measuring, cutting and fitting metal trim strips and corners are skills all by themselves. I know some contractors and installers doing beautiful work with these refined skill sets.

Mark: We’ve been talking about mitering for hours. How would you summarize our conversation?

Woody: A mark of craftsmanship is a clean termination point. Look for matching trim. Look to use fused miters. Blunt the miter or use a quirk miter. Don’t miter in wet area. Miter as the last resort.

Mark: Thank you, Woody Sanders, for all you do.

If you know Woody Sanders like I do, you know you can’t have a conversation without discussing the benefits of being a member of our professional association. We talked about the direct access to the resources of our profession and true networking with the people that makes our industry tick.  Woody says it so well: “You get more than you give when you get involved.” And he’s got the stories to prove it.

If you are looking to get more out of your membership, contact me to get involved at [email protected].

What you need to do today – strategic planning for a post COVID-19 world

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may have felt like your business has been in a tailspin. You’ve tried to move your workforce to a remote footing, stay engaged with your customers, and find new ways to market products and services to a population that’s staying at home more and spending less.

But you must keep looking to the future and have your plans ready for a strong launch into 2021. 

Next year, you need to be off and running before the competition even realizes the bell has rung. 

A good plan takes time to develop, communicate, and get the input and buy-in needed to be highly successful. Start immediately!

What is a strategic plan?

A strategic plan defines how to turn the vision for your company into a reality that is consistent with your values.

You must keep looking to the future and have your plans ready for a strong launch into 2021.

A strategic plan is a road map for your business to get from where you are now to where you want to be. This plan looks at all the assets and tools you have at your disposal now, as well as the challenges you’re facing. It also focuses on where you want your business to be at the end of a certain period of time – three months, a year, three years, and so on into the future.

Once you know where you are and where you want to be, your strategic plan will drive the specific steps you’ll take to get there. This must include crystal clear and important objectives (goals) and clearly-defined actions that your team will take to accomplish those objectives.

A strategic plan is a living document, not a hardened relic. 

As your business grows, changes, and faces new challenges, your strategic plan must change with it. 

Importance of a strategic plan

Having an effective strategic plan is crucial to growing your small business in the way you want. Without a strategic plan, your business wanders and can spin out of control, becoming something you don’t want it to be – or it can stagnate, going nowhere for years while you waste resources on failed growth efforts.

Having an effective strategic plan is crucial to growing your small business in the way you want.

Yogi Berra famously said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Don’t let that be your approach.

A strategic plan gives your business a clear and directed way to prioritize addressing the most important things first. It’s your compass, a strong sense of direction, helping you to grow in productive ways that propel you toward realizing your vision and values. 

A strategic plan gives employees day-to-day tasks that are laser focused on moving your company forward. 

And when you run into unexpected challenges – a global pandemic, for instance – your strategic plan can serve as a framework to effectively respond to the crisis.

Set your company vision

You start with why. Why are you doing all this work, taking all this risk? What do you want the end result to be when it’s time to hang up your spurs? What is your vision for your company five, 10, 15 years out?

Take time to decide what you want your business to be. Start with more abstract, broader concepts. Maybe you want your business to become an industry leader, find cures that help people get over diseases like COVID-19, or be able to support initiatives in your community.

Once you’ve got a broad ideal pinned down, start getting more specific. What kind of company culture do you want, and how do you want to interact with your customers? What sort of atmosphere do you want your business to have, and what legacy do you want to leave?

Speaking of COVID-19

Take a long look at all the ways COVID-19 has changed the way you do business.

This pandemic has changed everything about how we run our lives, from where employees work to how our children attend school. Many businesses have had to shut down for months or find new ways to engage with your customers.

Begin by sitting down and taking a long look at all the ways COVID-19 has changed the way you do business. Look at the financial impact, the toll it’s taken on your employee morale and company culture, and the way it’s affected your customer relations.

As you’re making a plan going forward, remember to plan for how COVID-19 will continue to impact your business and consider the aftershocks that will come from economic impact, societal change, the way businesses interact, and more.

Complete a SWOT Analysis

How the pandemic has changed your business is an example of just one threat (and opportunity) that you must take into account. You do this by conducting a SWOT analysis. A SWOT analysis examines the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats your business faces.

Complete a SWOT analysis – evaluate the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats your business faces. 

Take a look at what strengths your business has had that have helped it through the course of the pandemic, as well as the areas where it has faltered and been weaker. Explore what sort of opportunities the new market offers your business. Be sure to work out what sort of threats – pandemic aside – your business will face short and longer term.

It’s not all doom and gloom. Every threat is also a great opportunity so consider how you can turn a problem to your advantage. Can you invest in building employee skills or improve your sales team by training or replacing low performers with highly-skilled sales people who may have been let go by another company?

Where is your company weakest, most vulnerable? Plan precisely how you will turn your greatest weakness into your greatest strength. (Tip: keep doing that again and again until you work your way through all your weaknesses and you’ll build an astoundingly robust and successful company…life too, if you stop to think about it.)

It is not just you doing the thinking, this must be a team effort if it is to succeed. That means you absolutely must involve all your key staff and top managers in developing and implementing “our” plan. You’ll find better solutions than you ever could have alone when you take advantage of the knowledge of those closest to your customers. Amazingly, you’ll come up with great ways to cut costs, be more effective, and have happier, more engaged employees in the process.

Create a plan that everyone lives by – and can use

Once you know where you want your business to go, you and your planning team can start laying out your road map to get there. Creating the plan is the process of working backwards from the key objectives you want to accomplish this year, to breaking down how you are going to make those happen.

Create a brief, usable plan that everyone on your team can work with and use. 

This is a process of deconstructing the year’s key objectives into successively smaller objectives for divisions, groups, departments, teams, and sometimes even individuals. Part of making this successful is that it is an incredibly open process so everyone understands how they fit in helping their team, group, division and the company reach your key objectives.

A great strategic plan that is left unused and fails to serve as a daily guide to what every department should be focused on is almost worthless. The plan must be something you can use.

Most plans lack two things: brevity and extreme actionability. Better than a 1,200-page doorstop is a one-page strategic plan that serves as a compass for your company to follow. It fits in one hand and almost anyone can understand it easily with just a little instruction. Just follow where it points.

In preparation for doing the deconstruction and writing the objectives, let’s review the foundational concepts of how to set SMART Objectives (goals). This acronym stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based. If you set goals that meet all of these standards, you’ll have a much easier time writing your key objectives.

Start with key objectives

There is a right way to word key objectives.

Work one key objective at a time, starting with where you are and deciding what are the steps that must be accomplished to achieve that objective. To be useful, it must be something that anyone can look at and definitively say “Done” or “Not Done.” That’s the Measurable part. 

Specific should mean it is uber important. Remember, you cannot do everything – time and resources are not infinite! You need to establish a deadline within which the objective will be accomplished. Being both Attainable and Relevant means that there should not be a mystery about why they are included!

Anything is possible, everything is not. Not all objectives are created equal, some are far more important than others. Time-based means keeping in mind that a company can take on and accomplish only three to seven key strategic objectives in a year, and any group within the company can achieve only three to five major objectives in a year. What will those be?

This forces you to pick; everything is not possible. Pick the big ones and get them done. If you finish early, take on the next most important objective.

Track your progress 

When your strategic plan is complete, it may feel like the work is done. But in fact, it’s only just beginning; making your plan is only half the job. Now you will need to implement it in your day-to-day operations and keep track of your progress.

Track your progress.

Build in procedures to check your progress during your daily operations. Set up reporting, establish helpful metrics, and make plans to check on your goals on a regular basis. If you notice you’re not meeting certain goals on schedule, sit down with your team to make new plans for tackling those goals.

This has always been a huge problem and frustration in business. Progress reports are home to some very creative writing. Lip service, whining, and complaints of wasting time abound. Too many progress reports go into the great black hole at the center of every company, never to be seen again.

Until, of course, that eagerly awaited year-end evaluation. You know, that exercise in blame shifting, artful turning of phrase and creativity to explain how failing to get something done was thwarted by agents of Satan, asteroid strikes, and other departments.

There is a far better strategy and that is to use a system that breaks down key objectives into concrete measurable blocks of work that we call Key Results that must be accomplished every quarter, every month, and even every week to accomplish a key objective. 

This breaks things down so you can measure what matters and immediately know where teams are running into problems and help them get progress back on track. 

That same strategy eliminates the creative writing because it unambiguously measures progress toward accomplishing Key Results each week, month, and quarter in such a way that anyone can tell if they were either completed or not completed. The same thing occurs at the end of the year. You’ll know you accomplished your most important objectives and moved the business forward.

Build a strong strategic plan

Having a strong strategic plan for your business is a good idea at any time, but it’s especially critical in the aftermath of COVID-19 and the societal and economic aftershocks that are sure to follow. Your plan will guide your business in how you respond to this crisis and help you come out the other side stronger than ever. Take a long look at where you want to go and develop a plan to get there…ahead of the other guys.

If you’d like help developing and putting your strategic plan into practice this year and to discover more great ways to strengthen your business, check out the FocalPoint Coaching website or get in touch, and set up a time to talk. Contact Luca Setti – Business Coach and Trainer 863-398-2477, email [email protected], or the web: lucasetti.focalpointcoaching.com

Locating and interviewing a tile contractor

QUESTION:

I’m a homeowner looking to have tile work done on my new home. I’ve had bad experiences with poor tile installations on my last house. We had a shower that leaked and caused an extensive amount of damage. How can I know if the contractor I hire this time is qualified and will do a good job?

ANSWER:

Begin by locating a National Tile Contractors Association Member contractor. Through their professional association, these companies are connected to the highest levels of the tile industry and own the recognized tile industry standards, methods and best practices that guide their installations to success. Then require a Ceramic Tile Education Foundation Certified Tile Installer (CTI) to perform the installation. These persons are known to the tile industry as Qualified Labor and have proven their ability to understand and apply tile industry methods, standards and best practices through an aggressive written and hands-on certification process. They can be located in your area by exploring these links:

When you interview any tile contractor:

  1. Ask them if they own and use the TCNA Handbook and ANSI Standards. Ask them which Handbook method they will use to construct your project. This will help you determine if the contractor you are interviewing owns and uses the recognized industry standards that will produce a great-looking and long-lasting installation for you.
  2. Ask them if they are a CTEF Certified Tile Installer (CTI) or if they hold Advanced Certifications for tile installations (ACT). Tile installers have been critically examined by the only nationally-recognized, third-party training and certification foundation on their knowledge of the recognized methods and best practices, and their ability to use them to produce a great-looking and long-lasting installation. A CTI will have a unique number assigned by the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation.
  3. Ask them if they are a member of their professional association. For tile contractors, it is the National Tile Contractors Association. Detailed technical support based on tile industry standards is a hallmark benefit of contractor membership.
  4. Ask them if they are licensed to work as a tile contractor by their state’s licensing board. (Not all states require licensing.)
  5. Ask them for references and a portfolio of work. Call their references. Review their portfolio. Preparation is everything. Ask them what type of prep work they will do before installing the tile.

Following this process should help you locate and employ a contractor that will perform the best installation for you.

Does construction have a culture?

We read so much these days about the importance of corporate culture. This is a standard subject in my many recent interviews with “Top Contractors to Work For.” We know that working in an elementary school is different from working on a job site, but what does the data say? And what are the implications of that data for you? Is construction different? 

For the sake of simplicity, I define culture as “an integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior.” Narrowing our focus for this conversation, we will consider behavior. Although it is dynamic, it is also observable, and elements can be measured. A simple tool for measuring behavioral preferences is the DISC model. Based on the work of psychologist William Marston in the 1920s, it is a popular, straightforward, standardized, and relatively easy way to assess behavioral styles and preferences. 

Defining DISC

The DISC classifies people’s behavior into four types (Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, and Conscientiousness) by looking at their preferences on two scales: Task versus People, and Fast-paced versus Moderate-paced. This tool is used in many leadership-development programs and is a wonderful entry-level assessment that many construction pros are familiar with. 

Since 2003, FireStarter administered DISC assessments to nearly 10,000 construction professionals. All trades, all areas of the country, and all levels of the organization are in the sample. I chose to divide my sample in half, and this got me to 2012. Running the analysis, I had my suspicions that there would be a difference pre- and post-2012. See for yourself:

Before you comment that this is more than 100%, I am looking at people who score with any of these dimensions as high. So, a person could be High D and High I, for example. I wasn’t looking for the highest score; I was looking for evidence and preference of a behavior. 

The consistency between the two samples was a surprise. It certainly felt like the industry was seeing less of the D behavior, but maybe that was just the clients I was working for. There was some truth to that influencing my perception, as a closer review showed two newer clients are heavily S and C with nowhere near as much D as in the general industry. So, yes, the industry does have a D and C (Dominance and Conscientiousness) culture. With this confirmation, let’s discuss implications for you. 

What the findings mean

First, play the odds. The odds are very high that the person sitting across from you has either Dominance or Conscientiousness as their dominant profile. They may even have both. This means that starting the conversation with relationship-building and unsolicited small talk will annoy them. They may be quite blunt, but it isn’t personal! 

The D/Dominance Culture – Hallmarks of the D culture are quick decisions, direct answers, and a competitive atmosphere. Results matter, and trust is given to those who are direct and straight-forward. People who thrive in this culture are hard-driving individuals who relish challenges and the thrill of victory. Reading is a contact sport for them! Interpersonal communication will suffer in this culture, and those who are less assertive may feel overwhelmed and under-appreciated. The closer we get to the field, the more D we see. 

The C/Conscientiousness Culture – The C culture is known for quality, order, and accuracy. High standards, diligent analysis, and diplomacy come first; all else is secondary. Perfect results are the expectation. Cynical to new ideas, you earn trust with this group by doing the job right, in their eyes. If one decimal point is good, then three must be better! This group can miss opportunities as they get mired in detail, and growth may suffer for fear of lowered execution during the growth phase. Many engineers are high in the C dimension. 

The I/Influence Culture – Although we don’t see as many I’s in construction, let’s consider what this culture would look like. Creativity, enthusiasm and optimism are key attributes of this group. They never met a person they didn’t like, nor an idea they didn’t embrace. Life is an opportunity to express and High I’s will do that in a big way. These folks are extroverts and can be quite annoying to the High C and High D note above! They also can be wonderful leaders as they engage with people all the time. Sometimes light on details, like the High D, these people are positive and inspiring.

The S/Steadiness Culture – Perhaps one of the most misunderstood, the S’s get a bad rap. They are methodical and caring. They dot their i’s and cross their t’s but also deeply care about the team. Loyal, great listeners, they are the glue that holds a team together. However, because they are methodical, the High D and High I can push them to go faster and this will cause them to withdraw. 

Another consideration is diversity of thought and behavior. Too many contractor organizations are peopled by clones who think the same way. The nature of the work does reward the D and C behaviors, but leaders have an opportunity here. This task-focused group-think leads to less-than-optimal decisions and outcomes. It may also create culture where people are not the most important asset. 

Conflict is more likely with the D and C approach as the relationship is secondary. Understanding, listening, and collaboration are important for successful team development and project execution. But we all see unnecessary conflict on jobs all the time. Much of this is simply a default reaction based on personality rather than a thoughtful response based on self-awareness. 

Knowing the industry culture, you are now able to calibrate your expectations as you deal with people. But shaping your team and company culture is where you gain competitive advantage. There is no one best style. All can lead, all can learn, all can make money. The key is to bring people together, in whatever proportion you are faced with, and set goals and expectations that all commit to.

Pairing pedestals and pavers in exterior settings

Martin Brookes, Woody Sanders discuss use of pedestal systems in Coverings Connected program

Back in April, when we all thought we would be in New Orleans for Coverings, show management presented a series of highly-informative sessions and webinars in its virtual Coverings Connected Program. 

One such program was Application and Specification of Tile for Outdoor Use, presented by Martin Brookes of Heritage Marble & Tile, Inc., Mill Valley, Calif., and Woody Sanders of DW Sanders Tile & Stone Contracting, Inc., Marietta, Ga. This AIA/CES-accredited session focused primarily on the use of pedestal systems in exterior paving applications. 

This article will touch on many of the salient points of that talk, and provides insight into the advantages and challenges of this technology.

Why use pedestals?

Brookes and Sanders explained that pedestal systems are used primarily in outdoor living systems, when there is a high degree of urban density, and there’s a desire to expand the living space, such as the roof. They provide a Green Squared® certified, lightweight and affordable assembly. They can also be used in government and hotel applications since they provide easy accessibility to under floor wiring or irrigation systems and they are low maintenance – they also make it easier to fine tune tile to eliminate rocking tile or other issues. Plus, pedestal systems can provide a deck that is a little softer to walk on than a hard bonded deck. 

Pedestals can help with drainage, freeze-thaw issues, movement accommodation and pitched air-entrained concrete, providing some control over these issues. In addition, you can reuse tile and pedestals, even if you need to replace the membrane beneath. 

Pedestals and pavers – perfect together?

Sanders got involved with pedestal systems a few years back when he was looking for a better way of doing exterior decks.“This is a great product group, and falls well into what tile and stone installers do,” he said. 

Porcelain pavers with 2 cm and 3 cm thickness are relatively new for U.S. applications, Sanders said, but there are some – from Daltile and Del Conca – that are specifically designed for pedestal systems. These are 24”x24”, 24”x48” and even 8”x48” modules. Other materials can also be used: Indiana limestone, concrete pavers, ipe wood, and even rolls of turf. “We install a lot of ipe wood even though it isn’t tile,” Sanders said. “Fibergrate composite structures allow for some creativity, for bridging, to support turf.”

One factor to consider with pavers on decks is the solar reflectance rating (SRI) – will a light-colored surface in a sunny area be uncomfortably bright; will a dark paver get too hot to walk on?

Working with pedestal systems

Pedestal systems offer a lot of advantages, not the least of which being that pedestals themselves can be made out of post-consumer PVC and offer an environmental advantage. Pedestals can be ordered in a fixed height (a common height is 1/8”) or can range as high as 36” and be adjustable from the base or shim. They offer the ability to handle a 7% change in elevation, though most provide a 2-3% slope. It’s advised to work with the pedestal manufacturer to find the combination of components and features that address the specifics of your project. 

Challenges of pedestal systems

Wind uplift or equalization. Because pedestal systems in effect are a free-floating system, wind can lift pavers and other surfacing material right off decks. Manufacturers have different ways to address this, such as clips or grommets, but sometimes – especially on tall buildings, an engineer is needed. In addition, there are few standards for roof deck systems, and even fewer for pedestal roof deck systems. Another important question to answer on a rooftop install is, “How does the roofer want me to protect roof membrane?” Brookes asked. 

Point loads. A 24”x24” paver weighs 30 lbs. It’s advised that you consult with the tile manufacturer for what the point loads are and their recommended configurations – trays on corners or a five-spot configuration with an extra pedestal in the center? The goal is to ensure the tile makes 100% contact on the pedestal system for full support. It’s also key to be sure that the roof type is compatible with pedestal systems and can support them. Brookes cautioned exercising special care with closed cell foam roofs. “Some do not meet 40 psi criteria to support pedestals,” he said. “Make sure yours does. Be careful with less expensive ones.” 

Roof decks. It’s advisable to partner with a roofing company to do the waterproofing and pitch when working on roof install. Sanders said, “You don’t want to DO waterproofing for roof projects. It’s a very complex and different world. And Brookes added, “In California, I can’t do roofing work, due to state licensing. I have partners who are very well versed in waterproofing and waterproofing systems.”

Sanders related his experience on the roof deck for the CNN project, which presented a challenge in learning the takeoff since isometric drawings weren’t provided to the contractor. “We field verified it and found all the architectural drawings were wrong,” he said. “Falls were wrong, and it was more complex. We wound up with another document with drawing of which pedestals go where and used it with laser level and heights.” Sanders and his crew then had to determine the starting height, with egress specified at the bottom left. They utilized a series of pedestals that ranged in heights/couplers as they grew higher, and created a hand-drawn plan. During the installation process – which entailed two weeks of just assembling pedestals – they used every single component. The process also required two types of layouts – one for pattern and one that established elevation. 

Retainment in this job was also paramount. There was a small parapet already in place, which was absolutely necessary to keep the assembly from falling off the roof. And DW Sanders Tile & Stone did a 100’ mockup to establish how the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing would run through beneath the tile. 

Conclusion

Pedestal systems provide a highly effective, efficient and well-performing system for decking in outdoor spaces, offering several advantages over bonded systems. When should you recommend this system over a bonded tile or stone deck? “We almost ALWAYS recommend this,” Sanders said. And Brookes added, “Almost every deck in high end residential is now a pedestal system.”

Questions about pedestal systems? Contact Sanders at [email protected] and Brookes at [email protected]

East Coast to West Coast templating

Jason McDaniel and Ken Ballin

Templating is often thought of as a technique only used by solid surface fabricators in the construction of kitchen countertops, and other slab stone installations. But tile installers are starting to use some of these same skills to ease the installation process of large panel gauged porcelain tile panels (GPTP), and other intricate mosaic pattern tile installations. 

To research this new trend, I went from one end of the country to the other, finding two well-known NTCA members who employ templating in their businesses. On the East Coast, out of the Garden State of New Jersey, I reached out to Ken Ballin of Skyro Floors. At the other end of the country, in Portland, Ore., Jason McDaniel of Stoneman Construction LLC. Both have a considerable amount of experience with templating. Since they live in different parts of the country and service different markets, they described how templating is used in both. I found it to be an interesting topic and had several questions for each of them.


Describe the general idea, and process of templating.

Ken: The template is used to recreate the space you are getting ready to tile. After creating your template, you lay out the tile on the floor and lay the template over the tile, tracing around the template to mark all of your cuts before the installation starts.

Jason: You are creating a physical map of an area when you template. It works great in this day and age, because of all the unique patterns in tile and all the different types of tile that are out there. 

What materials do you use for your templates? And, where do you get them?

Ken: I like to rip Luan (also spelled Luaun) into 2” strips. It’s easy to find here at most lumber yards and big box stores. It’s somewhat durable and can be used over and over again.

Jason: I use Luan (strips of wood). I would tell any installer to go to a cabinet or stone fab shop to find some. There is a white plastic out there that looks like cardboard that works too, and comes in big panels of 4” x 8” that you can cut down to 3” strips. 

On what projects is templating a good choice? Describe a project you wouldn’t do without a template.

Ken: Templating is great for installation of irregular-shaped tiles, or in irregular-shaped spaces. They work well anywhere precision is required, and measurements are difficult to take. My mind works a lot better visually than with measurements. 

Jason: The 10th floor of a high rise in an apartment complex where you don’t want to carry saws and all of the other things needed to create the floor. Take the template back to the shop, overlay the tile, and trace the outline of the template on the tile. You can cut it and have it ready to take back to the jobsite and put in place. Any time I scribe I use a template. 

Is templating a good idea because it saves time? Or because it gives a better finished product?

Ken: I don’t know that templating always saves time, but for me it’s a way to be more precise without driving myself crazy trying to measure individual pieces. We all think differently, so it is important to do what works best for you.

Jason: It does both; it allows you to know your path. One of the things people often ask is how am I so efficient with my time. If you have a contest and the race is to create a herringbone backsplash, I’d be faster using a template.

Describe your first experience with templating a tile installation, so our readers might know what to expect.

Ken: My first time templating a tile installation was an irregular-shaped bathroom floor going into a curbless shower with a small porcelain plank tile on a herringbone pattern. I got super lucky because somehow during the installation process the layout got tweaked and all my smaller cut pieces around the perimeter were eliminated. It came out fantastic, but to this day, I don’t know what I goofed up on. I don’t mind being lucky every now and then though.

Jason: It was 1” by 1/2” mosaic Carrara herringbone backsplash in a laundry room. It had multiple return walls and a window and wall plates. I remember looking at this space and saying, “I don’t want to be here, I’d much rather be in my boat, so how can I get this done fast?! I bet if I laid this out on the master bathroom floor and templated the space, overlaid it, traced it and cut it, then I could do it all very quickly.” I remember people saying “Wow! How did you do this so fast?”

What are some common pitfalls of templating?

Ken: Templating can be like building a piece of furniture in a room in which that furniture is going to stay. Make sure you can get it out of the room you created it in if you need to! Wood templates only bend so much before the glue gives. Sometimes I’ll make a few smaller templates and butt them together so they are easier to move around.

Jason: One of the most important things to remember is to remove your line from the tile when you trace a template. Another pitfall is not leaving room for expansion. It’s not talked about enough. You have to realize that when you install your tile, the installation is going to grow on you, and you need to account for that. While templating, it can be easy to lose your place on the wall. Sometimes putting indicator lines on the wall and on the template helps, to keep your place. It’s like mile markers.

Explain the benefits of templating on establishing your layout in an installation.

Ken: Templating allows you to lay out your tile and move your template around to avoid small cuts. You can get an idea visually of the total install before you even make a single cut. For people like me who are very visual, it’s a game changer, a great addition to your installation arsenal. You won’t use it every day but when you need it, it’ll make your day a lot easier.

Jason: Templating makes it easier for an installer to lay out a space. If you are doing a unique pattern, it can be hard to find center and using a template allows you to shift the template in any direction to get a visual. Templating allows you to know what is coming 20’ away. It’s a road map of what we are going to create. Sometimes you are running blind in tile, and a template allows you to see the future. It shows you where you are going, and we all want to know where we are going. We don’t want to go blind into anything.

Thank you, Ken and Jason, for sharing your insight on this great tool of templating, I’m sure this information can equip many of our members for challenging projects in the future. Until next time stay safe, and hopefully I will see you on the road. 

Offset patterns dos and don’ts

Question

It appears to my untrained eye that most 12”x24” tile is laid so that each abuts the two adjacent tiles by 50% each. However, the sales associate said some governing body (Tile Layer’s Association??) had rules against that because of “lippage?” Are there rules on how tile should be laid? If so, where is the resource for that? I’d like to know, as being the homeowner, I assume I’m ultimately responsible for catching mistakes in the construction of my new home.

Also, is it better to purchase (at high cost) precut 4” x 12” or is it acceptable to have those cut by installers from 12” x 24”. A sales associate said the former is the better option.

Answer 

These are excellent questions that are answered by the tile industry’s written standards and best practices.

It sounds like you are selecting tile for a builder’s installer or tile contractor to install. I suggest asking your builder if their installer or contractor owns and applies the methods and standards in the Tile Council of North America Handbook for Ceramic, Glass and Stone Installation (TCNA Handbook), and the American National Standard Specifications for the Installation of Ceramic Tile. These are the documents that answer your questions.

The associate you are working with is giving you solid advice based on these standards. The retailer you are working with is a strong supporter of NTCA and their staff and associates, many of which have attended our training programs, are knowledgeable about these things.

50% offset for 12” x 24” tile

ANSI A108.02 section 4.3.8.2 is where the answer is. I will paraphrase what it says – When tiles with sides longer than 15” are being set with their long sides next to each other they shall be set in a pattern with an offset of 33% or less. If an offset more than 33% is desired (such as a 50% offset), the specifier and owner must approve a mock-up and agree to the lippage that may result from this type of pattern being installed.

The reason for this is that some tiles have what is called warpage as part of their manufacturing process. Warpage is when the tile is bowed in the middle. The ends of these tiles may be lower than the middle of the tile. When tiles longer than 15” are set next to each other in a 50% offset, this puts the high part of the middle of one tile directly opposite of the low part of the end of the adjacent tile. This can result in a difference in height elevation of the plane between the two tiles. This difference in the plane is known as lippage. To quote the TCNA Handbook: “Lippage is a condition where one edge of a tile is higher than an adjacent tile, giving the finished surface an uneven appearance. Lippage is inherent in all ceramic installation methods and may also be unavoidable due to the tile tolerances, in accordance with ANSI A137.1.”

Not all tiles have warpage. There are industry standards that describe acceptable warpage. Some tiles are made to meet those standards, some are not. The tile manufacturer can tell you if their tile meets the standard for warpage. It is in ANSI A137.1.

Some manufacturers will have specific offset requirements for their tiles. They may require a 20% or 25% maximum offset.

So – if you would like a 50% offset, you need to ask your tile contractor to lay them out or physically install a few so you can view them as they will look in the finished installation. At that time you would approve and accept (in writing) any lippage that occurs as a result of setting them at a 50% offset. You will own and live with this installation – it is your decision to approve or reject the mockup.

Cutting 4” x 12” tiles out of 12” x 24” tiles:

The TCNA Handbook for Ceramic, Glass and Stone Tile Installation states: “Tiles should not be field-cut to size to accomplish modular patterns or to align grout joints, as field-cut edges will be dissimilar from factory edges and cannot be held to the same squareness tolerance.”

This is not a desired practice. In reality, it is not less expensive as your tile contractor should rightly be expected to charge labor and materials to cut down and smooth or hone the tiles. The tile contractor likely has excellent tools, but they may not be of the same grade as the tile factory and with human error, there may be variations from tile to tile after they are cut. Expect the labor price to increase, as more time is needed to ensure all tiles are well matched and finished.

Depending on the tile body and glaze, this practice may present opportunity for chipped tiles. A large amount of additional tile may need to be purchased at the outset to account for this possibility.

To ensure that you get all of the correct technical information you need for your installation, I strongly encourage you to employ an NTCA member contractor and a CTEF Certified Tile Installer (CTI). These contractors and installers own, understand and apply the tile industry’s recognized standards, methods, best practices and follow manufacturer instructions in the installations they construct. NTCA Members and CTEF CTIs have direct unlimited access to the NTCA/CTEF technical team for training and detailed industry standards-based support in every installation they construct.

Please review the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation’s homeowner’s guide to hiring a qualified installer and visit the NTCA site to find an NTCA member contractor in your area.

Why is the shower leaking?

I have a shower I installed two months ago that is leaking.  I did my installation in the same way I have for the past 15 years in accordance to manufacturer instructions. I have never had a leak in the past and am not sure what went wrong. When I plug the shower and turned the shower on to run the water came through the downstairs ceiling. The homeowner is extremely upset and the GC wants me to tear it out immediately. Trying to figure the best course of action.


NTCA Technical Team: We have had many questions about leaky showers. Before you tear anything out it may be best to make sure there is not a plumbing leak. Or possibly a leak from some other reason than your installation. There have been situations where other trades could be responsible, and the situation deserves a thorough investigation.  

The source of a leak isn’t always where it manifests itself. Water runs downhill and can leak from one side of the shower then pool on the other side.  A moisture meter can sometimes help in these type investigations to find the origin of the leak.  

Sometimes, showers can leak-only when the shower is in use because water has gotten behind an escutcheon. They also can leak only when running from a poor connection between the mixer valve and shower head. A third possible reason is a screw or fastener could have punctured the water supply from the mixer valve to the shower head.  Has the plumbing been capped off and a high-pressure test done to look for leaks?

Many time people think it’s the pan because it only leaks while running. Performing a flood test by plugging the drain and filling with water from another source than the showerhead will tell you and the GC the soundness of your pan.

Some fixture and shower door installers can unknowingly puncture waterproofing.  The NTCA Reference Manual has a section that describes the risk of leaks when shower doors are improperly installed. It includes a letter you can copy and send to the glass door installation company to inform them about the waterproofing and their responsibility to protect the watertight integrity of the shower system you installed.  

There is also information in ANSI that explains that any damage to the tile work after you leave is not your responsibility,  

Removing and replacing a shower like this is very expensive. Double check every possible scenario you can, or you could waste time and money and the customer may still have a leaky shower.

Response:

Thank you so much. We discovered the leak was from the shower door installation.

Can I use wall tile on my shower floor?

Question 

The NTCA Technical Team recommended that this inquirer consult the technical data sheet and the manufacturer of the tile to be sure the wall tile is rated for use on a shower floor. Just because it looks good doesn’t mean it will perform well, especially in a challenging installation. 

I am building a new home and learning things I never knew. One is regarding what tile can be put on a shower floor. I want a shower as in the attached inspiration photo. Apparently, they used a tile that is now discontinued. The new version I like is approved for a shower floor. However, it is expensive and has divots/irregularities. I was hoping for something smoother and in budget.

Most black subway tile is not annotated as for shower floors. However, my sales representative is telling me that it is perfectly fine to use a wall tile on a shower floor. She is recommending a specific glazed ceramic wall tile 3”x12” (black glossy). Is she correct?

ANSWER

Any tile considered for use in any application should have the manufacturer’s approval for intended use. I suggest asking your distributor/salesperson to obtain the technical data sheet (TDS) for the tile you are interested in. The TDS should specifically include information if the tile is acceptable for use on a floor in a wet area (such as a shower floor). If the TDS does not include this information, you can call the manufacturer directly to request this information or select a tile that is specifically rated for use on a shower floor.

Additionally, durability of the tile in this application may or may not be affected by the type of shower pan being specified for this installation and its ability to properly support a soft bodied wall tile.

Another consideration is the pattern and drainage system. If a running bond pattern is used (with a conical pitched floor to a center drain) it would result in lippage and accompanying puddling. A running bond pattern with a linear drain system could help minimize any puddling.

As you have discovered, tile is a complex science and art. One of the most critical installations to construct is a shower. To ensure that you get all of the correct technical information you need for your installation, I strongly encourage you to employ an NTCA member contractor and a CTEF Certified Tile Installer (CTI). These contractors and installers, understand and apply the tile industry’s recognized standards, methods, best practices and follow manufacturer instructions in the installations they construct. NTCA members and CTEF CTI-certified installers have direct unlimited access to the NTCA/CTEF technical team for training and detailed industry standards-based support in every installation they construct.

Please review the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation’s homeowner’s guide to hiring a qualified installer: www.ceramictilefoundation.org/homeowners-guide-to-hiring-qualified-tile-installer

To find an NTCA member contractor in your area: www.tile-assn.com/search/custom.asp?id=2759

To find a CTI installer in your area: www.ceramictilefoundation.org/find-certified-tile-installers

I hope this helps.
– NTCA Technical Team

Importance of accurate record keeping during construction

We see it all too frequently. When our firm is tendered to assist with flooring or other construction-related problems that arise during the build or shortly after the project is turned over, we often discover during the information-gathering process that little or no quality records exist. Keeping accurate quality assurance/quality control (QA/QC) records during and after construction can frequently save time and money and prevent the project from giving you nightmares.

Good quality control record keeping starts during the bidding process and pre-construction phase. It is essential to address any potential conflicts or problems before vendors or subcontractors begin to procure materials. An understanding of architect/engineer (A/E) drawings and specifications is the critical first step for the project team. Ask questions and aim to have good verbal communication, followed up by good written communication, between the owner, architect/engineer, and general contractor (GC) or construction manager (CM) in the initial project meetings. This will help clarify issues and should smooth out potential problems early enough to enable changes and adjustments to occur without significantly impacting the project schedule or budget. Looking for errors and omissions in the specifications may identify materials that have conflicting requirements. 

The role of the GC or CM

The GC or CM is an integral part of the project team. Although the drawings and specifications are developed by the design professional, it is the GC or CM, – along with their subcontractors – that are relied upon for their expertise and knowledge of means and methods in construction to create the final building product. If, upon review of the design and specifications, conflicting or questionable issues are evident, it is the GC or CM’s duty to inform the project team so resolution can be reached before work begins. This process also requires careful documentation to ensure that an accurate record is kept of all changes to the project documents and/or work scope. Don’t blindly follow the specifications if you suspect there is a problem or conflict; these issues need to be addressed prior to the start of construction.

Often the A/E specifications direct the GC or CM to install products “…in strict accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations.” If there is knowingly a conflict with the specification and the manufacturer’s recommendations, which do you follow? For example, will moisture in a concrete slab be a problem for a specified flooring product? Are there allowances for installing a moisture mitigation system if the construction timeline becomes compressed near the end of the project? Knowing this information and thoroughly documenting along the way via requests for information (RFIs), emails, and stamped approved submittals is critical should problems arise during and/or after construction. Relying on verbal acceptance can later be a recipe for disaster. Take the time to document.

Documentation is essential

Once construction commences, it is usually inevitable that some revisions and adjustments will be made, so it’s important to keep accurate records of these changes. Having a designated QA/QC person who knows the “ins and outs” of the requirements of the project is essential. Documentation serves as a digital memory of the project. People’s memory tends to fade over time – whether due to reality or convenience – so these records can be remarkable in refreshing everyone’s recollection. 

If you are the GC or CM, don’t rely solely on your subcontractors to document their work; it may not be adequate when it comes time to resolving issues. While your subcontractors are the experts you have retained to perform particular job tasks, it is also good practice to document the different processes that they are involved with in each task. Take as many photos as you can to record important steps. Disk space is cheap, and having lots of photos to look back on a year or so later can help jog your – and your subcontractor’s – memory. It is also good practice to retain copies of subcontractors’ daily log sheets with task descriptions and have these scanned/saved as a digital record. Having a record of the subcontractor’s schedule, submittals, completion milestones, etc., will not only allow the GC or CM to manage different crafts and multiple projects within the main overall schedule, but also stores information that will assist in avoiding potential delays or conflicts.

Having all the information and documentation is a good start. Effectively managing that data over the course of the project, however, can be daunting. There are many software tools and programs available to help manage and organize the information you receive. This will also help you to easily retrieve these records long after your construction trailer has been hauled away.

Take responsibility

When problems arise, all eyes are usually on the GC or CM to solve them because they are first in line contractually. Trying to pass blame to the subcontractor, even though this happens often, doesn’t help solve the problem. It also will not help you get hired for the next project because the owner or stakeholders have entrusted you as the GC or CM to see the project from drawings to completion, and that includes mitigating any bumps or potholes along the way. They are relying on your expertise to properly manage expectations versus reality, and to know how to manage situations as they happen so it doesn’t turn into a crisis. As the saying goes, “Bad news doesn’t get better with age.” Communication both up and down the chain of command is essential. Emails and memos sent out documenting the observation of potential hang-ups followed by confirmation of receiving that communication is important. It is one thing to point out there is a potential problem, and another matter that the potential problem is recognized, communicated and understood by the project team. Having a plan in place for troubleshooting those potential problems as they become known can help save time, money, and your sanity. Failing to do so can and will reflect upon you and your company poorly for not being able to effectively manage those situations.

If a failure does happen, identify the source of the problem before doing any repairs. When there is a doubt about the root cause, call in the experts. Trying to solve problems outside your area of expertise can only make the problem worse. It could be as simple as a phone call to confirm or refute information you have in front of you. In other cases, you may need to have someone visit your jobsite to gather information and data to help you better understand what your problem entails. If you have documented all aspects of the construction process through your organized quality records, it will give the expert a better understanding of the process that led you to where you are now. This can save time in the discovering process, leading to quicker and more efficient problem-solving. Going through these valuable steps can seem frivolous until you need the information. Whether the project duration is three weeks or three years, having the information a few clicks away, should you need it, is sometimes as valuable as completing the job on time and under budget.

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