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Contractor Perspective: Lambert Tile and Stone, Eagle, Colo.

Dan and Elizabeth Lambert of NTCA Five-Star Contractor Lambert Tile and Stone in Eagle, Colo., share their experiences and struggles with work during the time of COVID-19.

Dan and Elizabeth Lambert of NTCA Five-Star Contractor
Lambert Tile and Stone in their Eagle, Colo. showroom

2020 has definitely been a different year than we had planned for. We operate our tile installation business in the mountains of Colorado. We were one of the first counties in Colorado to go into a Stay at Home order in early March because some of the first cases of COVID-19 were traced to our international guests that came for the ski season in the Vail area. With that came the unknown on how our jobs would be affected.

Construction turned out to be an essential job in Colorado, so we were able to follow our county guidelines and have up to 10 people working on a job site. Luckily, we were on a new construction residential project and each of our employees could work in a separate area and have their own tools. There was no pressure by any builder to require anyone who felt comfortable to stay on the job. Schedules were thrown out the window. We had a few of our employees out sick, which of course caused us to worry about how we would pay the bills. When they returned, we started them out slowly on projects they could be on by themselves, or we had them do creative work like cleaning and inventorying our warehouse. We started to have a few jobs cancel not just because of the virus, but because of the fluctuation in the stock market. We did qualify for the PPP program which took away some of the stress of the unknown.

Another issue we had was finding masks and sanitation products for our employees to feel safe on the job site. This required calling everyone we knew and searching the Internet in order to find a few things here and there.

As a business owner, we had to think differently about the way we have operated for the last 20 years. We participated in multiple Zoom Meetings and webinars in order to use our down time to either educate ourselves or stay in contact with our manufacturers and distributors. We also learned about all the new tile lines coming up through Zoom and webinars since Coverings was not able to take place this year.

We also encountered a disruption in the tile supply chain. Tile from Italy was taking way longer than the normal 12-week lead time, which forced us to reselect tile on multiple jobs.

Our phones have actually been ringing off the hook this past month with homeowners who have been home for months and would now like to upgrade their bathrooms. In fact, Lambert Tile and Stone is currently looking for a high-end residential tile installer/employee to join our team in the beautiful mountains of Colorado. So, if anyone is thinking of relocating please send us an email at [email protected]  Our employees were sometimes spoiled on the jobs for homeowners — one homeowner made them some kind of homemade treat each day (we think our employees wanted that job to last forever). We have been fortunate that a few of our jobs are exterior installations, which made our employees feel more comfortable by working outdoors.

One positive thing we observed through the months is that everyone treated each other with more kindness and compassion. We are all in this together. Our silver lining was all the time we spent with immediate family, which forced us to look at our work/life balance and truly look around and see the amazing place we live and work, and to help those in our mountain community. 

Supplier Perspective: Sean Cilona, Virginia Tile Company

Sean Cilona, Director of Products & Suppliers, Virginia Tile Company

“These are unprecedented times.” This my wife’s response when my four year old asks about why his swim lesson was canceled. While in this case, the situation being affected is quite minor, it is a pretty heavy statement, nonetheless. I often find myself repeating this in my head when I am faced with the daily challenge — due of course — to the latest “tile emergency.” It will call for at least some portion of the day to be dedicated to a new task that was completely unexpected. But when I really take the time to step back and think about the situation that we are in; I can’t help but to consider the following notion: Is this really so unprecedented?

We have all seen our personal and business lives change in these last few months. My deepest sympathies go out to those who have lost family members and friends, and to others whose livelihoods have been drastically affected. Of course, the health and societal circumstances are unique to this situation. But, when we look back in history, we see this cyclical pattern of peaks and valleys in the economy. During the Great Depression of the 1930’s, economic production declined by almost 50% and a GDP loss of over 30%. We have seen double -digit unemployment rates in the early 1980’s, combined with 18% interest rates that drove housing to record lows. More recently, the housing crisis of 2007 rippled through the U.S .and Europe causing home values to drop 30% and the stock market to lose 50% of its value by 2009. 

At Virginia Tile I have a colleague, a 25-year veteran of the tile industry, who has been through these tough times. Not the Great Depression, but we like to joke that he may have been. He is a great wealth of knowledge, both on the company, but also on the industry at large. From the early indications of sales declines and state closures, to the re-opening of showrooms and new product launches, he was there to advise. The firsthand connection to a historical time when things were so similar, helped everyone on the team stay grounded. The fact that the people and the company were not going through something that had never been done before was reassuring. 

The amount of information that bombards us on a daily basis, and the often overwhelming effects that this pandemic has had on our lives, can give way to bleak thoughts and comments. However, my mind immediately goes back to “these unprecedented times” and I think not. I believe that this period is difficult, unexpected, uncertain, trying, even sometimes dangerous, but not unprecedented. I find comfort in knowing that we are not in uncharted territory. We are not in a black abyss, adrift with no point of reference. 

I let this drive my thoughts and my actions and my mood, both in my personal and professional life. I focus on facts and figures and try to maintain a sense of business as usual. I try look at this time period like any other. There is nothing that we can do to change the circumstances that we are in, so we need to simply look at the information that is available and make the best possible decisions moving forward. The world, the U.S. economy, the tile industry, have all had difficult times and have come back. We just need to stay positive and take it one day at a time.

Why you need movement joints

Quick and easy ways to achieve them correctly

Hopefully, as a tile installer, you’ve heard a lot about movement, expansion, or movement accommodation joints – and regularly plan them into all of your installations. Unfortunately, too many people who regularly install tile are not aware of their importance. We’re going to explore why they are absolutely necessary – and how to provide them correctly, quickly, and easily. 

The National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA) Reference Manual glossary, provides this definition of an expansion joint (aka movement joint): “A joint through the tile, mortar, and reinforcing wire down to the substrate.” 

An unfortunate example of tented tile. The really sad part of this situation is that the installer did an excellent job, except for the lack of any expansion joints.

By integrating these “stress relievers” into the tile assembly, expansion and contraction takes place without compromising its integrity. But who is responsible to make this happen?

Sadly, movement joints are probably the least-used, most-misunderstood, and often-eliminated part of a tile installation. However, they are one of the most important listings in the Tile Council of North America (TCNA) Handbook under Method EJ171. Without movement joints, failure is lurking in the shadows, waiting to strike. This is true especially on floors with ceramic, porcelain, glass, and natural stone tile that is subject to sunlight, in-floor heat, and/or moisture. Many installations that appear to be well done, will fail. The lack of movement joints gives the tile assembly no room to expand, causing the tile to pop up or “tent,” most times in the middle of the floor. You must allow for this movement in all residential and commercial projects. Movement joints are not optional – they are required.

What the TCNA Handbook says about movement joints

The 2020 edition of the TCNA Handbook EJ171 Movement Joint Guidelines for Ceramic, Glass and Stone clearly states: “The design professional or engineer shall show the specific locations and details of movement joints on project drawings.” 

Regrettably, many people involved in the installation of tile products don’t understand that installed tile moves. If this expected movement is not accommodated, the tile will become rebellious and most likely will become very expensive for the responsible person or company.

In other words, as a tile installer, it is wise to include movement joints on every project. Again however, it is not the installer’s responsibility to design and/or locate these joints. That is to be done by the design professional or engineer.

The attached TCNA Handbook EJ171 detail shows the necessary components of the movement joint:

  • Width that is four times the expected movement
  • Compressible back-up
  • Rounded back-up with no bond to the sealant
  • The depth of the sealant is one half of the width of the joint

I call your attention to the sealant. Notice that the sealant is attached only on the sides of the two adjacent tiles.

The sealant attached to the sides of the tile is able to accommodate in-and-out motion like that of an accordion or a back and forth motion similar to rubbing two hands together.

One critical point here is that the sealant does not contact or bond to the sides and/or bottom of the joint. If the sealant is allowed to do so, it is locked in place and will have zero movement ability. In this case, the insertion of a “Rounded Back-Up,” or closed-cell polyethylene foam backer rod allows the concrete floor to expand and contract, but its primary role is to keep the sealant where it belongs: attached only to the tile edges. 

You will notice that the detail refers to the joint material as sealant. This is done purposely to differentiate it from lesser-quality caulking products (acrylic latex or siliconized latex), which dry hard and do not allow for continuous flexibility. According to the requirements of EJ171 and ANSI A108.01, this sealant must be 100% silicone, urethane or polysulfide.

If you understand these principles and install the joint properly, it will permit the required movement to take place, keeping the tile flat on the floor where it belongs. Certified Tile Installers understand this and can properly install movement accommodation joints.

Quick and easy methods for installing movement joints

Do you think movement joints are complicated or are messy to install? Actually, they aren’t. Here are two methods that will produce excellent results, easily and quickly.

Method #1 for movement joints:

Evaluating a Certified Tile Installer hands-on test, Carothers checks the inside corner of a wall to determine if the movement joint was properly installed. These joints provide the ability for movement to occur between wall to wall and floor to wall applications. 

Install the appropriate-sized foam backer rod into the joint

  • Apply painter’s tape along the tile edges of the joint
  • Fill the joint with 100% silicone
  • Smooth it with a sealant tool, popsicle stick, or plastic spoon
  • Remove the tape by pulling it on an angle toward the joint as soon as the sealant is in place.

Method #2 for movement joints:

  • Insert the appropriate foam backer rod into the joint 
  • Fill the joint with 100% silicone sealant (no need for tape)
  • Spray the sealant and the face of the tile with a mixture of water and dish detergent.

The sealant tool, popsicle stick, or plastic spoon is also sprayed with dish detergent solution, allowing the excess sealant to be easily removed without the worry of it sticking to or smearing on the face of the tile. This technique is something that Certified Tile Installers have to successfully complete during their hands-on test.

Depending on the type of joint specified, the profile of the smoothing tool can provide a joint which is either concave (as shown) or flat.

When should the sealant be applied?

ANSI A108.02 – 4.4.5 states, “Install sealant after tilework and grout are dry. Follow sealant manufacturer’s recommendations.”

As I conduct demonstrations on the proper installation of sealant joints, I often hear this statement, “It can’t be that easy.” It is really that easy. Using this technique will save time, eliminate costly callbacks, make your installers happy, and yield satisfied customers. Sometimes something so simple can provide huge rewards.

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The Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF) provides education and installer certification for professionals working in the ceramic tile and stone industry. Certification programs include the CTEF Certified Tile Installer (CTI) program, that is the only third-party assessment of installer skill and knowledge to be recognized by the tile industry, and the Advanced Certifications for Tile Installers (ACT). CTEF is headquartered in Pendleton, S.C., near Clemson University and the TCNA offices. For more information, visit www.ceramictilefoundation.org.

Waterproofing for exterior balcony

QUESTION

I have a customer with an exterior balcony that is tiled on the floor and walls. The space below the balcony is conditioned space (front hall). The waterproofing has failed and he’s getting water in the room below when there’s rain. I don’t know what the existing waterproofing system is. He has asked me to remove and replace everything, but I’m not sure what kind of substrate/waterproofing to use. The rep of the company whose products I usually use tells me that they’re not approved for exterior use. The balcony has walls on four sides, so I need to be able to incorporate drains to let the water out. Is there a product that you can recommend for this application?

ANSWER

I am glad you have asked questions about this installation before proceeding. An exterior balcony over occupied space is among the most critical types of installations a tile contractor can face. There is very much information to consider, more than can be addressed here, so I will begin by listing the applicable reference material and asking you to take a look through the information listed below.

TCNA Handbook (2019 Edition)

  • Wet Areas Guidelines (Page 41)
  • Environmental Exposure Classifications (Page 44). See the definition for Res6 (Residential Exterior) and the charts for Floors and Walls on pages 46 and 47.
  • Methods for Exterior Roof/Deck and Balcony/Deck Floors: F103; F103B; F104; F105 (Pages 60 – 67).
  • Methods for Exterior Walls: W201 (Page 186); W202E (Page 188); W244E (Page 190)
  • EJ171 Movement Joint Guidelines for Ceramic, Glass, and Stone (Page 430)
  • Appendix B. Estimated Weights for Floor Installations (Page 444)

When reviewing the TCNA Handbook methods for Exterior Roof/Deck and Balcony/Deck Floors that I’ve listed above, please make note of this statement in the Preparation By Other Trades section: “Roof drains and membrane by other trades – provide completed drainage at roof membrane level by use of weep holes as shown or other methods.”

Regarding movement joints, please note of the Movement Joint section states: “…architect must specify type of joint and show location and details on drawings” and Method EJ171 states: “Because of the limitless conditions and structural systems on which tile can be installed, the design professional or engineer shall show the specific location and details of movement joints on project drawings.”

ANSI A108 / A118 / A136 (July 2019 Release date)

  • There are multiple sections in A108 and A118 that pertain to exterior and wet area installations, movement joints, thick bed system requirements, etc.

NTCA Reference Manual (2019/2020 Edition)

  • Prerequisites and Considerations for Successful Balconies, Courtyards, Patios, Plaza Decks, Roofs, Exterior Walking Surfaces and Swimming Pool Decks (Pages 156 – 157)

The section I’ve noted in the NTCA Reference Manual is extremely informational – please read it first. At the end of that section you will read this: “DISCLAIMER: The tile contractor is not responsible for the design of the system. To avoid potential liabilities use a general contractor and certified roofing contractor when waterproofing over occupied living space.”

There is no simple product recommendation or set of instructions or solution I can offer. The best advice I can give you is:

  • Follow the guidance of the NTCA Reference Manual and the TCNA Handbook, which recommend employing a general contractor, architect, structural engineer as needed to properly design and specify the structural support; mechanical (drainage) systems; movement/expansion details; waterproofing system and other elements of this very complex installation.
  • Hire a roofing contractor and mechanical contractor to install the primary roofing membrane and the mechanical/drain-waste-vent system.
  • Ensure considerations are made for any railings/balusters to not puncture the primary waterproofing layer unless they can be adequately sealed.
  • Ensure all of the waterproofing and membranes are flashed onto the walls and – since the walls are being tiled – are fully waterproofed or the water managed as outlined in the wall methods I’ve listed.
  • After the project has been engineered and designed by structural and mechanical professionals, contact and involve setting material and membrane manufacturers that will assist you in product selection and ask them to provide you detailed installation instructions for their products and a written system warranty that covers their products in this installation.
  • Follow all manufacturer instructions and guidelines in the TCNA Handbook, ANSI A108 and the NTCA Reference Manual.
  • Clearly communicate the complexity of this project to the homeowner and inform them what it will take to ensure their project is a success.

I hope this gets you started. After reviewing this information please contact me again with any questions you might still have and I will help as best I can. 

Who will replace China – and what will be the damage of COVID-19?

The imposition of countervailing and antidumping duties on Chinese tiles

On May 4, the U.S. International Trade Commission confirmed that Chinese exports of ceramic tile are causing injury to U.S. ceramic tile manufacturers. As a result of this decision, U.S. Customs offices were to begin collecting tariffs ranging from 562.52% to 689.5% for countervailing and antidumping duties. 

In effect, we can expect that U.S. Customs will not collect tariffs from Chinese tile imports because with such high tariffs no importer will consider buying ceramic tiles from China.

In 2018, tile imports from China to the United States were about 690 million square feet, 31.5% of total imports (2,197 million square feet). In June 2019 the U.S. Department of Commerce announced preliminary duties on Chinese tile imports, and by October 2019 such imports were down almost to nothing. As a result of these actions in 2019, tile imports from China were 434 million square feet, 37% less than in 2018. Chinese imports made up 21.2% of total U.S. tile imports by volume in 2019. This was down from 31.5% in 2018, and represented China’s lowest share of U.S. imports since 2008, as shown in the chart on the previous page, produced by Tile Council of North America (TCNA).

Prior to COVID-19 – projecting tile consumption in the U.S. in 2020 at the same level as in 2019 – we expected that the exit of Chinese tile imports from the American market would generate a supply shortage of about 690 million square feet of tiles.

U.S. shipments vs. imports

About 30% of tiles entering distribution channels in the United States are shipped by local factories, while 70% are imported, according to the U.S Consumption of Ceramic Tile chart, compiled by TCNA, below.

In 2019, U.S. manufacturers operated at about 75%-80% capacity, supplying 864 million square feet of tiles to the American market. We expected that working at full capacity these factories would have been able to ship an additional 275 million square feet of tiles, leaving a shortage in the market of 415 million square feet. Such a large amount of tiles would have to be replaced by imports.

In the United States, there are over 600 companies that import tiles. As a result of the tariffs on Chinese tiles, many importers who bought in China began increasing their imports from countries that already sell large quantities of tile to the United States, such as Spain, Italy, Brazil and Turkey. The largest importers from China began looking for tile among low-price countries such as India, Taiwan and Malaysia with the potential of making up the shortage of tiles in the U.S.

Due to the fact that finding foreign suppliers with the right products takes time, prior to COVID-19, we expected shortages of supplies, price increases, and loss of market share to competing flooring products such as LVT, which is not affected by tariffs and quite popular among consumers. 

The effect of COVID-19

COVID-19 destroyed all previous projections. Both new residential housing construction and residential remodeling are in sharp decline. In normal times, about two-thirds of ceramic tile shipments are directed to these two sectors of the tile market. In the first quarter of 2020, due to the lack of imports from China, imports of ceramic tile were 422 million square feet, almost 15% lower than in the first quarter of 2019 (496 million square feet). This was before the impact of COVID-19. 

In 2020, the effect of COVID-19 may reduce the demand of ceramic tile by over 30%, leaving many importers and distributors with large quantities of unsold tiles in stock. Many will try to sell at discounted prices. Hopefully, construction will fully resume in most states in remaining quarters of 2020, but the damage to the economy will be felt in 2021. 

At this time, there is a lot of uncertainty, and we will have to wait until the present emergency ends to be able to have a clearer view of the market. 

Marble moisture discoloration: don’t blame the stone!

Carrara marble moisture discoloration on shower floors is a common problem that has been experienced by many professional tile and stone installers in the U.S. Cases when white or light-colored stone gets random, blotchy-looking dark spots are often posted and discussed at social media groups and online forums. The lack of technical information on cause and prevention of the above-mentioned problem seems to result in a rapidly-growing rejection of white marble as a finish suitable for wet areas. Stone is often blamed for its “poor quality,” “inappropriate mineral composition” and, thus, its inability to provide predictable results when it is installed on shower floors.

Such opinion is often based on the fact that light-colored marble is subject to moisture discoloration not only in cases when a tile and stone mechanic does obvious installation mistakes such as failure to provide proper pre-slope and/or final slope to drain, clogged weep holes, or not fully collapsed mortar ridges, but also in situations when the installer strictly follows the above-mentioned requirements.

This provides a controversy in the light of the fact that white marbles have been successfully used for wet room applications – for example in Europe – for a long time.

Ten Carrara shower modules were tested, with help and support from many industry professionals. Results showed that most of the problems with light-colored marble arise due to inappropriate installation methods/techniques that often result from the insufficiency of the technical information on this subject.

The research has helped to determine two main methods that, if properly followed, will provide great results for white marble at shower floors.

Method #1: traditional dry pack mortar bed shower pan

Before the surge of the discussed problem in late 2000s, marble was mostly installed in shower floors with a traditional water-in water-out system. A dry-packed mortar bed, consisting of one part Portland cement to four to five parts sand, not compacted too tightly and not finished too smoothly, provides a subsurface of connected and very high porosity allowing water to quickly be “taken away” from the underside of marble mosaic. If stone is bonded to substrate with a basic thin-set mortar (preferably unmodified due to its higher porosity), grouted with a simple grout, has no adhered fiberglass mesh reinforcement (an impervious coating on the back of stone also known as “resin backing”) and is not treated with an impregnating/penetrating sealer, the water absorption, migration and evaporation should not face extra complications. The above-mentioned shower system will provide exactly what it was designed for – a proper water evacuation, both topically and internally. 

Method #2: bonded waterproof membrane shower pan with epoxy adhesive and grout

According to our reasonable testing, the bonded waterproof membrane method also provides great predictable results with translucent stone like marble when it is properly installed with a suitable epoxy adhesive, epoxy grout, and very permeable (breathable) impregnating sealer. While the “dry pack” system enables great drainage and internal water evacuation, the second method provides marble with a highly hydrophobic/water-repellent subsurface, almost waterproof grout joints, and a reduced-to-minimum presence of moisture inside its pores, which enables relatively quick topical water evacuation, evaporation of moisture, and drying of the stone.

The problem with bonded membrane pan systems installed with modified mortar and grout

Integrated bonding flange drains create a little dam around the drain opening; not what you want in your marble tile shower installation. 

It is important to understand that the reduced porosity of modified mortars and many modern “stain-resistant” grouts – as well as the design of integrated bonding flange drains (that creates a little dam around the drain opening) within a bonded waterproof membrane system – not to mention the application of penetrating/impregnating sealers – do not contribute to proper internal water evacuation and evaporation. Water still penetrates the stone mosaics, whether sealed or unsealed, either as liquid or gas/vapor and moisture gets trapped below and/or inside stone. 

Saturation of the anchoring fleece in the top layer of a waterproof sheet membrane or dampening of the cementitious coating of a foam pan only reinforces the moisture discoloration. The close distance from the waterproof membrane to the stone on shower floor with a thin layer of mortar – that is much less porous than dry pack sand – does not allow water to be “taken away” from the underside of stone. If the shower is used somewhat moderately, marble and its subsurface do not get really saturated and can dry relatively quickly. However, if the shower is used “heavily” (for example, by a few people in a row), the chances of stone/mortar/membrane saturation are much higher, causing a gradual moisture entrapment within the shower floor assembly installed with the topical waterproofing method.

All the bonded membrane Carrara modules were constructed with full mortar coverage and 2% slope to drain and only one – installed with the “epoxy” method – has shown incredibly quick drying time (from two to three hours to return to the original light color). Other modules, whether sealed or unsealed, have all shown some sort of moisture discoloration that would not fully go away for days.

Trapped moisture under the translucent glass tile installed over a bonded membrane pan.

Again, the reason for such discoloration is the inability of a bonded membrane system to “hide” moisture entrapment under translucent stone when it is installed with materials that still absorb moisture and are not as highly water-repellent as epoxy. 

This conclusion is indirectly supported by the following remarkably interesting statements found in the TCNA Handbook in regards to translucent glass tile installation: “Bonding translucent glass tiles directly to membranes or other impervious surfaces is not recommended because any moisture trapped between the tile and membrane would be visible. Membranes should be placed behind or below the tile setting substrate where translucent glass tile will be installed” (TCNA Handbook for Ceramic, Glass, and Stone Tile Installation 2019, page 7)

The research on the subject continues. Next step will be testing eight new Carrara marble modules installed with different products within the two above-mentioned methods (“dry pack” and “epoxy”).

Contractor Perspective: Gianna Vallefuoco, Vallefuoco Contractors, LLC, Rockville, MD

Gianna Vallefuoco

COVID-19 has touched almost all facets of our lives. As a family business owner, the pandemic hit me with instant fear for the survival of our tile installation company. I wondered how my husband and I would meet payroll and overhead costs, keep our installers and office manager working, feed our family, keep our home, and get our three kids through college. All these mundane pre-pandemic assumptions quickly eroded into fragile aspirations that were no longer a given. Then I considered the heavier stuff; the possibility of sickness or even death from this virus touching our lives. I’ve been taking a lot of deep breaths.

The pandemic has not only made me question the stability of our company, but all aspects of our life; work, family, community. In March, our installations, like those of our colleagues, began to dwindle due to client fears and lack of social distancing space on job sites. I began working exclusively from home, learning to make tile selections with clients and vendors remotely. Within the first week of virtual project meetings, I noticed a subtle but palpable transformation in our business interactions. People wanted dialogue. And I don’t mean chit chat.

Work communication evolved from polite, strategic conversations to compassionate, intimate discussions about our livelihoods, families, fears and struggles. Over the last three months, I’ve been fortunate enough to share and hear very heartfelt stories with clients, vendors, installers, superintendents, and even insurance agents about the new normals of 2020. No small talk. People want to unveil the heavy stuff, the reality we’re all experiencing. They want to talk about their loved ones at high risk, their unlived vacations and uncelebrated graduations and weddings. People want to feel connection, even while at work.

Since the pandemic, I’ve shared in the tears of three colleagues, and intensely belly-laughed with at least a dozen more. Life is emotional right now. News outlets and bank statements readily remind us of our fears, but fear isn’t the great consequence of 2020. I think it’s empathy. Perhaps it’s the solidarity of being stuck in home confinement, or the uncertainty of our careers, health, and futures. Whatever the reason, people clearly need connection. My work role has adapted to that.

Our business, like many across the globe, has been forced to pivot quickly. Our income and workload since March has been highly inconsistent. This pandemic has made us reevaluate our priorities. I started writing our Intentional Spaces blog last year to educate clients about tile selections and layouts for their new spaces. Client needs since the pandemic immediately shifted the blog focus from designing physical spaces to creating meaningful space in our homes and hearts. My job title has transformed from Tile Designer to Mindfulness Mentor.

This sounds like a pretty big jump, but my training as a mindfulness teacher has always seeped into our tile installation business. A gratitude jar has adorned our cozy tile office for many years, enticing all who enter to jot down something for which they feel grateful, and drop it in the jar. We have poignant little scribbles from office staff, neighbors, vendors, and even delivery drivers. The gratitude messages range from things like “grateful for my daily walks” or “nobody cursed at me yet today” to “my family is healthy” and “I have a home.” I’ve always felt that mindfulness belongs in the workplace. The pandemic has verified that.  

My recent discussions with tile industry colleagues have propelled the teaching of mindfulness to the top of my list of job duties. Many industry partners, who are also longtime friends, are living in a state of unsustainable stress. Some have just lost jobs or taken pay cuts. Tile showroom owners have expressed how heavily weighted they are by the guilt of letting employees go and the fear of losing their businesses. This emotional tension is taking its toll on us, revealing a dire need to find resilience.

For those not familiar with the term, mindfulness is the act of being present, with compassion and curiosity, and without judgment. Mindfulness encompasses many practices for navigating life’s curve balls like breath techniques, meditation, focused attention, gratitude, and abundant others.

During the last couple months, amidst designing backsplash frames around pot-fillers, and gratefully signing lien releases, I’ve been teaching mindfulness. I’ve lead guided meditations with colleagues and community groups, teaching how to reduce stress, decrease anxiety, observe and control thoughts and stress responses, and find acceptance in difficult situations. I’ve started planning a mindfulness retreat in Tuscany with fellow women business owners. I’ve led meditation groups. These reactions may not be your typical “pandemic pivot” for a tile contractor, but they’ve allowed our business to forge its path in the new normal. We’re all in this together. In uncertainty. In change. In resilience.

How to Manage and Motivate Telecommuting Workers

7 Leadership tools to inspire and supervise a remote and local team

Globally, over 70% of professionals work remotely at least one day a week according to International Workplace Group, IWG. In the US, 40% of all workers toil away from the organization’s sites some of the time on a regular basis, an increase of 173% since 2005 (Global Workplace Analytics). The current coronavirus contagion concerns have significantly increased this statistic. How do you keep your widespread team collaborating, motivated and productive? Having managed business in 120 countries at the same time, I’ve learned much about how to lead, collaborate, and coordinate with a diverse and remote team.

The tools and skills needed to lead a combined local and remote team productively and happily are easily and economically accessible now. The technological tools have significantly improved since I first started managing workers in different locations and time zones, but the most important factor is still the same — you as the leader.

Ultimately people work for their manager and then secondly for the organization. If you establish clear goals, treat people equitably, ethically and have a meaningful product/service, your team will be more likely be effective, motivated and loyal. Below are 7 tools that have proven to be useful in managing a mixed local and remote team.

1. Establish clear goals. Share the project, division and company’s goals in clear and consistent ways. The entire team need to know what the targets are. They should have an understanding of why the goals are important and how they relate to organization’s mission and purpose. Equally consequential is sharing how how they and their work fit in the goals and mission.

2. Maintain regular virtual face to face communication. There is no substitute for face to face meetings. Schedule electronic individual and team meetings where the participants can see and interact with each other. The members have to feel that they are part of a team. Virtual face to face meetings provides the nonverbal cues that more fully express what words often leave out. The bonus of visual meetings is that they minimize the multi-tasking and reduced attention that may occur in a non-visual event.

3. Develop mentors/mentorship relationships. A powerful way to strengthen cross connections, knowledge and accountability is to develop a mentorship program for workers. Everyone can benefit from a mentoring program. The mentees learn, are inspired by people who have gone before them, and feel seen. Mentors also learn from teaching/mentoring, they are rewarded by being able to share their experience and wisdom, and gain insight into the perspective of the newer entrants into the business.

4. Share information and files. A crucial aspect of any organization, especially one in which some members are not able to gather relevant information in person, is to communicate well. Maintain an online system of sharing of files, updates, news and any tweaks in strategy. There are many private and public virtual networks that a company can use to ensure that every member has access to the information they need to accomplish their tasks well and feel engaged.

5. Respect each other’s time. When time zones and different schedules are involved, it is easy to forget that some team members may have other commitments when you are working, like sleeping. Plan meetings and call times to minimize disruptions. Send out a clear agenda in advance and request each member come to the meetings prepared so that the meetings are time and productively effective.

6. Copy relevant parties only. Virtual teams grow easily with a number of people being copied on matters that may not concern them. Include parties involved in the specific project and leave off people who are not working on the aspects being discussed. Otherwise the mass of electronic communication reduces the effectiveness of the messages and buries people in unneeded mail.

7. Show them that you care. Everyone wants to feel that they have a purpose and are valued. How you communicate, listen and follow through with your team sets the stage for how they feel about their work, the team, the company, themselves and of course you, as their manager/leader. Have regular touch base sessions with each team member; acknowledge their accomplishments, coach them on how they may improve, and share your higher perspective about the project(s) and organization. Pay attention. Be real, honest and human. When people work remotely, they need human connection and one to one communication to feel involved and to know how they are performing.

Working remotely is a rapidly growing trend. As a leader it’s your privilege and responsibility to guide and manage your team so that they are performing to their potential, and to feel fully engaged so that you and your team are happily aligned and creating the best functioning organization for today and the future. Happy telecommuting!

Who determines construction joints?

QUESTION

We are on a job won by a flooring contractor who will install sheet vinyl or porcelain tile on a concrete floor. We are trying to determine who identifies where the construction joints are and how they will be treated, if it is not provided in the drawings.

ANSWER

The person with knowledge of the building and structure has to identify where the joints are and how they will be honored or treated depending on the type of joint. 

If there are drawings and specifications for the job, the professional that analyzed the structure to ensure adequacy for a tile installation and who drew up the specifications is the person responsible for providing the tile installation contractor the drawings for location and identification of honoring / treating the structural joints.

You can refer them to TCNA Handbook method EJ-171 where this is further defined. 

CONSTRUCTION JOBS RISE BY 464,000 JOBS BUT REMAIN 596,000 BELOW RECENT PEAK

construction at sunset

Gains in May Reflect Temporary Support from Paycheck Protection Program Loans and Easing of Construction Restrictions, But Hobbled Economy and Tight State and Local Budgets Risk Future Job Losses

Construction employment rebounded by 464,000 jobs in May, but the total remained 596,000 below the latest peak in February. The industry’s 12.7% unemployment rate was the highest for May since 2012, according to an analysis by the Associated General Contractors of America of government data released June 5, 2020. Association officials cautioned that the future job losses are likely as temporary federal support programs end, state and local officials deal with tighter budgets and private sector demand declines later this year.

“The huge pickup in construction employment in May is good news and probably reflects the industry’s widespread receipt of Paycheck Protection Program loans and the loosening of restrictions on business activity in some states,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “Nevertheless, the industry remains far short of full employment, and more layoffs may be imminent.

Simonson noted that the association’s latest survey found that nearly one-fourth of contractors reported a project that was scheduled to start in June or later had been canceled. He added that with most states and localities starting a new fiscal year on July 1, even more public construction is likely to be canceled unless the federal government makes up for some of their lost revenue and unbudgeted expenses.

The gain of 464,000 jobs in May followed losses of 995,000 in April and 65,000 in March, for a cumulative loss over three months of 596,000. Construction employment totaled 7,043,000 in May, about where it stood in late 2017, the economist noted.

The industry’s unemployment rate in May was 12.7 %, with 1,187,000 former construction workers idled. These figures were roughly four times as high as in May 2019 and were the highest May levels since 2012 and 2011, respectively.

Association officials said the best way to avoid the expected future construction job losses is for federal officials to boost funding for infrastructure, including highway, bridges, waterways and airports. They noted that the additional funding would help cover expected state and local budget shortfalls and would help replace expected declines in private-sector demand.

“Government officials have done a good job providing temporary relief for firms struggling to cope with the economic impacts of the pandemic,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, the association’s chief executive officer. “As those temporary supports end, the broader economic realities of the lock-downs will cost countless construction jobs unless Congress and the Administration can work together to enact measures to revive the economy.”

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