How to ensure a successful self-leveling underlayment application 

“Self-leveling underlayment” is a bit of a misnomer because it requires the intervention of a thoughtful installer to ensure the best results. Follow these guidelines to prevent issues in your self-leveling underlayment installation.

1. Select a product appropriate for the installation: Know your installation environment and familiarize yourself with the relevant ASTM standards for strength. A commercial floor subject to heavy rolling loads will require a higher-grade self-leveling underlayment than a floor in a single-family home.

Also, it is critical to understand your project timeline and choose a product that fits within the appropriate schedule. Some products may require 24-48 hours prior to installing tile, while other more premium products are ready to accept flooring in as little as 2-4 hours. Consult product data sheets for information on tensile strength, compressive strength and flexural strength, as well as recommended cure times.

2. Stabilize your substrate: Most products require that all surfaces are fully stable and structurally sound prior to the application of a self-leveling underlayment. For example, wood must be securely fastened with screw-type or ring-shank nails and adhesive because if it shifts, it could cause cracking. 

3. Prepare your substrate: Make sure to plug all floor openings, gaps and cracks and install termination dams to prevent any seepage. Consult with product manufacturers to determine moisture limitations of the self-leveler, adhesive and flooring to determine if moisture mitigation is needed.

If moisture mitigation is required, this must be done prior to installation of the self-leveling underlayment.

TEC® Level Set® 200 was designed for the fast leveling of floors. It is both pourable and pumpable to fit your job needs.

Self-leveling underlayments (SLUs) require the use of a primer prior to installation. Primer retains the moisture within the self-leveling underlayment to properly cure. Secondarily, it acts as a bonding agent to ensure the SLU bonds properly to the substrate. Refer to the primer label for information regarding application methods and dilution per ASTM F3191.

Beyond priming, most self-leveling underlayments require that the substrate be free from any contaminants that may inhibit bond, including oil, grease, dust, loose or peeling paint, sealers, floor finishes, curing compounds or contaminants. Some underlayments will require a certain concrete surface profile (CSP), and in these cases, mechanical abrasion, like shot-blasting, is required. Make sure the substrate is contaminant free and has the necessary surface profile before starting the pour. 

4. Mix properly: Mix your self-leveling underlayment within the water range specified on the bag. Overwatering will lower the strength of the underlayment and can cause cracking and pinholing. Additionally, a white film (efflorescence) may form on the surface of the cured underlayment if the product is overwatered. This film can act as a bond breaker if the mortar bonds to the salts instead of the SLU. Do not over mix it, as this can make it harder to work with and lead to cracking or improper flow. Mix a maximum of two bags at a time when barrel mixing to ensure a proper blend. Follow equipment and product manufacturer’s recommendations when pumping self-leveler.

TEC® Level Set® 200 is walkable in 3-4 hours, making it a great choice for fast turnaround jobs.

5. Be aware of product and environment temperature: Make sure that the temperature of the room is within the manufacturer’s acceptable range. A climate that is too cold or too hot can cause issues, such as increased set time in cool temperatures or reduction in heal time in hot environments. Temperature and humidity will affect flow, working time and set time.

Additionally, the temperature of the powder and the water is crucial. Leaving product in the sun, or in a hot environment may lead to flash setting. In situations where warm product is unavoidable, mixing with cool water may help combat installation issues. 

Whether the environment is warm or cool, acclimating the product prior to mixing is a best practice.

TEC® Level Set® 200 delivers extended 25-35 minute working time without compromising flooring installation time.

6. Use as recommended: Manu-facturers will specify the maximum thickness of their product. Some products allow for addition of aggregate to increase the depth of the pour, while others only allow their product to be used neat. Be sure to use the appropriate aggregate size and amount when extending a self-leveling underlayment. If a surface is extremely uneven in an isolated area, a patch may be necessary, rather than a self-leveling underlayment. Consult with manufacturers to determine the most suitable product for your application. 

Protect from excessive drying due to air movement. Use of fans or other direct air flow is not recommended, as the surface can be prematurely dried, leading to a weak underlayment.

7. Protect your underlayment: Generally, underlayments are not final wear surfaces. They should be protected from construction trade traffic until final floor covering is applied. Traffic without protection can lead to cracking and disbonding. Do not allow heavy or sharp metal objects to be dragged directly across the surface.

A common theme connects these recommendations: noting and adhering to the manufacturer’s instructions. You must read labels and product data sheets carefully to ensure products perform as desired. If you do have questions, you can always reach out to the product manufacturer.

How small is a small business? The answer could cost you money!

Are you a small business? That depends on whom you’re asking.

Lots of people I know define a small business in lots of different ways, with the most common being revenues and number of employees. For the most part, it’s really not that important. “Small” is in the eyes of the beholder.

However, if you’re one of those businesses looking to get government contracts or loan guarantees from the US Small Business Administration (SBA), the definition of “small” really is important. That is why a recent announcement by the SBA may have an effect on your livelihood.

This summer, the SBA announced a proposed rule to modify the method for calculating annual average revenues used to determine how big a small business is. Why the fuss? The calculation figures into whether a business is eligible to receive federal contracts and loan guarantees. Currently, the calculation uses a three-year revenue average. The proposed rule will up that to five years.

Congress may actually get something done – and give a boost to retirement plans 

The announcement comes on the heels of 2018’s Small Business Runway Extension Act, which requires service businesses to average five years of revenues. Now, all businesses will be subject to that requirement. This is the first step of the implementation.

So is this a good or bad thing? 

The federal government believes it’s a good thing, as do some experts. “In most instances, this will give small businesses more time to compete in small business set-aside procurements,” write Suzanne Sumner and Erin R. Davis of the law firm Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP. “The new five-year calculation will also allow those small businesses with an outlier year of significant revenue more time to sustain the growth and prepare to compete in unrestricted competitions.”


That position makes sense. But there are a few things about this that give me pause.

For starters, I don’t like using revenues as a basis for determining whether a business is “small.” I have a few clients, for example, that generate big revenues because they sell large machines or property but each has fewer than 10 employees. They’re small, but not in the eyes of the SBA. I would prefer the rule to include other factors, such as the number of people (and perhaps contractors) employed, to really determine the size of a business.

I’m also concerned that a growing small company might find itself excluded from federal work as a result of a couple of good years. Or that larger companies that have had a bad year or two might find themselves classified in the “small business” category, at the expense of small businesses already there and competing for work.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from running a small business, it’s that you can’t apply a simple revenue formula to determine if a business is indeed small. Other factors should be considered. Sure, it might take a little more time or add more complexity. But we’re talking about the difference between a qualified company getting the help and opportunities it deserves from the government, or potentially failing.


This article originally appeared on July 2, 2019 in The Guardian at A past columnist for The New York Times and The Washington Post, Marks now writes regularly for The Hill, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Forbes, Inc. Magazine, Entrepreneur Magazine and Fox Business.

Should there be 1/8″ gap when using an uncoupling membrane


We’re going to use an uncoupling membrane on a wood subfloor. I know when it’s a brand new subfloor there should be a 1/8” gap. This house has had the subfloor in place for the past 10 years. Do I still need to cut the 1/8” gap? 


It is a best practice to have the gap in place between the wood (i.e. plywood/osb). Although the wood structure has been in place for 10 years, it has likely expanded or contracted over those years and may do so again. The uncoupling membrane will likely protect from that expansion and contraction but I suggest following the best practice of opening up the gap.

It’s pretty easy to do. Set the depth of a circular saw to about 3/16”-1/4” deep (just deep enough so you don’t cut the wood tongue off) and run the saw down the joints between the sheets. Use a good carbide tipped blade that will give you about a 1/8” kerf or cut width.

For the ends of the runs near the walls, use an oscillating tool to finish opening up the gap.

Mark Heinlein,
NTCA Training Director

Can grout and sealant be mixed together?


Can grout and sealant be mixed together so you don’t have to seal the grout when it’s done?


Sealers are not designed to be mixed with grout. Sealers are designed to be applied to cured cementitious grout. 

There are two basic categories of sealers. They are generally designed to either penetrate the surface of the cured grout (penetrating sealer) or to cure as a sacrificial layer on top of the cured grout (topical sealer).

There are admixtures that are specially formulated and designed to be mixed with cementitious grout. These admixtures are usually designed to replace the need for sealers.

There are a wide variety of grouts available. Some are considered ready-to-use and likely do not require any sealing at all. Some powered grouts are formulated with sealers already in the dry mixture.

I suggest you contact the manufacturer of the grout you are using to determine its properties and whether a sealer is recommended for use with it. 

Mark Heinlein,
NTCA Training Director

Who determines construction joints?


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.


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. 

Mark Heinlein,
NTCA Training Director

Chanel Carrizosa CTI #1380: promote qualified labor first

Icon Tile & Design to sponsor a female tile setter’s CTI exam

Chanel Carrizosa

In October 2017, Chanel Carrizosa of Icon Tile & Design ( in Kirkland, Wash., was profiled as one of TileLetter’s Women in Tile. She’s been in the business since 1996, but started Icon with her husband in 2000.

In the story, she declared she was planning to test for the Certified Tile Installer (CTI) credential that year, after reading about it on the Facebook groups Tile Geeks and Global Tile Posse.

Flash forward to CTI #1380, and the history is clear – Carrizosa took the exam in Kent, Wash., at Bedrosians in 2017 and passed. Now both she and husband Jamen (CTI #1381) hold the CTI credentials.

“We heavily advertise about CTI and the NTCA on our website, and have incorporated [these] on business cards,” she said. “We hope that having this credential will keep our price at a premium, and we try to educate consumers, distributors/suppliers about the importance of using CTIs to level the playing field, since many referrals are relationship-based as opposed to promoting qualified labor first.”

Carrizosa got started in tile in 1996.

Carrizosa prepared for the test by making sure her tools were ready and in good working order. “I wanted to make sure I was comfortable, and had a good playlist to listen to keep me going throughout the day,” she said. “Prior to the test, I had great encouragement and support from Shon Parker, Kevin Insalato and Jason McDaniel.”

Carrizosa found the written exam to be relatively easy, with its open-book format. “I did find it to be very informative though and learned how and what to search for, and why the information is so important,” she said.

Going into the hands-on portion of the test, she wondered how something so small could be so challenging as others had mentioned on social media. That was until it was her turn. “It was the hardest 3’x3’ space I’ve had to tile,” she said. “I think a lot of it was the pressure of it all, and the time – it just seemed to fly by. It was down to the wire but I got it done.

Today, she is CTI #1380, and owner of Icon Tile & Design in Kirkland, Wash.

“I think managing your time is a big factor on taking the test,” she said. “I learned how to manage my time better, and really how to install correctly with approved methods.” Carrizosa said that at the end of the test, some good shortcuts were pointed out for use on everyday jobs. She continues to seek training and certifications (like large panel tile installation training) .

“Certification is important to our industry because there are a lot of people out there that think they know how to tile, but really don’t know how to tile correctly and make it last,” she said. “As an unregulated trade, I’m hoping this is a start to get qualified labor noticed by consumers, as it seems to be so important and prevalent in many European countries. Many other trades and jobs require certification, so why shouldn’t ours – especially when dealing with water-evacuation systems?”

“Installers can say how good they are or how busy they are – but are they willing to put their skills to the test?” asked Carrizosa.

Carrizosa is cheering other tilers on towards certification. “I’d encourage other professional tile installers to take the test and join our professional community,” she said. “Besides the fact that you can always learn something, it helps identify professionals in our industry. Join us and be part of our movement. Installers can say how good they are or how busy they are – but are they willing to put their skills to the test?”

Icon to sponsor CTI exam for female tile setter

Icon Tile & Design is putting its money where its mouth is. It plans to sponsor a female tile installer from the Pacific Northwest who is ready and wants to take the CTI exam, within the next year. Requirements are two years working as a tile setter. The candidate is a woman who sees this opportunity as a chance to establish credentials and grow her expertise and business for the future. If this sounds like you, and you would like to take advantage of this CTI scholarship, contact Icon Tile and Design at [email protected]. 

Carrizosa admitted that managing her time was key to completing the CTI exam.

Do you have to pay employees like superstars to keep them?

Last year, five-time NBA All-Star Kevin Love signed a contract to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers. His new deal will pay him $120M over four years, approximately $30 million per year.

These days, it’s not uncommon to see professional athletes sign enormous contracts punctuated with a staggering number of zeros.

What is uncommon about this particular story is where Love signed his new deal.

The 29-year-old power forward signed his contract extension in front of nearly 100 construction workers who were completing the $140 million renovation of the Cavs’ home stadium: Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.

Imagine for a moment that you are one of those construction workers making somewhere between $50-$80K per year.

You’re busy installing new seats in the upper deck of an arena when suddenly a voice comes over the intercom inviting you to take a short break and come down to the gymnasium floor for an exciting development.

Minutes later, the team’s general manager introduces a nicely dressed basketball player (currently relaxing during a four-month off-season) who, with the effortless flick of his pen, signs a contract that guarantees him 400 to 500 TIMES the amount that will appear on your year-end W-2.

But that’s not all…

In addition to those fat checks, the guy in front of you will be cheered and idolized by tens of thousands of adoring fans all while being treated like the King of Siam everywhere he goes. He’ll never wait in line for anything, nor will he have to hunt for a parking spot. And let’s not forget the beaucoup dollars that will pour in his coffers from corporate sponsorships and endorsements for playing a game you’d gladly play for free.

After a short speech, the star disappears into the locker room signaling that it’s time for you to climb back up to the nosebleed section and go back to installing another row of seats.

Let that scenario wash over you for a minute.

Now breathe as you chew on this:

Why did the construction workers cheer wildly for Love? Why didn’t they rise up, revolt, and shake their fists in outrage, demanding more money for the much harder work that they’re doing?

I think the answer lies in the employee’s perception of fair pay.

Construction workers don’t compare their paycheck to that of an NBA superstar; they compare what they’re making to other construction workers. They won’t revolt if a professional athlete – or a cardiologist – or a mortgage banker makes more than they do, even if it’s multiples of what they’re earning.

But if that guy next to him – or even the worker across town who’s doing the same job for a competitor – is getting noticeably more dollars more than they are, you can bet your hammer drill that there’s going to be some fireworks.

There is no single factor that’s more important to an employee than the compensation they receive for the work they do.

However, if an employee feels as if they are being paid fairly, which is to say equal to another similarly skilled and experienced individual doing the same work under the same conditions in the same vicinity, then they tend to base their level of engagement and their desire to remain with their employer on other cultural factors (i.e. atmosphere, growth opportunities, autonomy, recognition, etc.).

ON POINT – While it improves your attractiveness to job seekers, you don’t have to offer higher compensation than the other employers in your market to win the war for skilled workers. If you offer wages that are deemed competitive, you can dominate the labor market by focusing on continually improving the other six cultural pillars that make you a better place to work:

  • Alignment – meaningful work for an ethical company
  • Atmosphere – a safe, positive, enjoyable environment
  • Growth – an opportunity to learn and advance
  • Acknowledgement – feeling valued, appreciated and rewarded
  • Autonomy – encouraged to think and make decisions
  • Communication – kept informed and being listened to


Pressure-treated lumber to build a bench or curb


I’m looking for the spot in the TCNA Handbook that states that you are not allowed to use pressure-treated lumber to build a bench or curbs. Is there any way you can send that to me or tell me what page in the book it is?


In the TCNA Handbook’s shower methods section, under the requirements for wood studs, it states they must be dry and well braced. The general requirements for wall bracing are found in ANSI A108.11 in section 4.1 Wood Framing requirements. It states all framing lumber should have a moisture content not in excess of 19%. Most pressure-treated lumber has moisture content ranges of 30% to 70%. In a tile assembly, pressure-treated wood has a tendency to twist and contort as it starts to dry out. The rigidity of the tile assembly cannot generally handle that type of movement, and can fail from it. Also view page 30, Chapter 2 of the 2018/2019 NTCA Reference Manual for information about questionable and unsuitable substrates. 

Tiling over tile


Is there anywhere besides TR711, TR712, and TR713 that discusses tiling over tile? I’ve looked on the TCNA website, which states that procedures are described “in detail” in those standards. Other than stating the existing installation must be sound, well bonded, and without structural cracks, there aren’t any real details. Are there differences between a concrete substrate and a wood subfloor? Do I have to determine HOW the previous installation is adhered and how much it weighs? What other things may I need to take into consideration that I wouldn’t otherwise?


The “TR”/Renovation methods in the TCNA Handbook for Ceramic, Glass and Stone Tile Installation are the methods that discuss tiling over an existing tile installation.

In addition, the 2018/2019 edition of the NTCA Reference Manual section “Tile Over Other Surfaces” (page 257) includes more information, such as the need to prep the tile surface by scarification or application of specialized primers to promote bond to the existing tile surface.

As you have sensed, it is critical that you thoroughly analyze the components of the existing tile installation to determine whether it was properly installed and whether it will serve as a quality substrate for the new Employee-Handbook-v9 installation you are looking to bond to it. Since all components of the existing installation will become the new substrate, it must be carefully analyzed to determine if it will successfully support the new tile installation. The Substrate Requirements section of the TCNA Handbook (pages 30 – 33 of the 2019 edition) are worth reviewing.

It may be necessary to remove some tiles, bond coat, and any underlayment to ensure they were correctly installed. Sometimes, drilling a series of core samples is a good way to determine the adequacy of the existing installation and how well it will serve as a substrate for your new tile installation.

You (or a structural engineer or similar) must ensure that the structure will be able to support the added weight of the new tile and bond coat over the existing installation. Deflection, live loads, dead loads, etc., are part of the consideration. TCNA Handbook methods for floor installations list the Service Rating for the method. Also refer to the Performance Level Requirement Guide and Selection Table in the 2019 TCNA Handbook (page 43) for more information on Service Ratings.

If the tile over tile is to be done in a wet area, you must take into consideration such factors as the type and condition of the existing waterproofing membrane, whether 95% mortar coverage was achieved in the original installation, etc. You will likely need to apply a new membrane before installing your tile. Doing this will encapsulate the existing tile and bond coat between two layers of membrane. It is important to determine whether adequate bond coat existed in the first installation to ensure no pockets of water or other materials are being trapped between the membrane layers.

As with tiling over any substrate, it is necessary to ensure the substrate meets the flatness requirement for the size of tile you are installing. If the existing installation does not meet the flatness criteria, it must be flattened with the appropriate materials first. Your setting material manufacturer can assist you with the correct materials (possibly including primers) and techniques to correct unflat substrates.

In summary, everything about the existing substrate and substructure must be considered before tiling over an existing tile installation. 

Slopes and Soffits

The challenges and successes of the Marriott AC Residence Inn Midtown façades project

Exterior façade installations can be challenging and complex, and the product used in the process can make or break a project. 

For the AC Hotel and Residence Inn by Marriott in Dallas – a $4 billion mixed-use development in bustling Dallas Midtown – the façade installation appeared to be a daunting task at first, but proved to be a success largely due to the material specified.

To reflect the neighborhood’s resurgence, local award-winning architects 5G Studio Collaborative sought an outside-the-box, contemporary design to match the timelessness, comfort and authenticity of the Marriott brand. Particularly, they wanted a natural look; however, genuine rock materials can be susceptible to staining and breakage, requiring copious maintenance.

Distributors and fabricators Holland Marble in Carrollton, Texas, introduced the architects to Neolith®, a market-leading brand of Sintered Stone. They explained the range of possibilities that could be achieved, having used the product in a wide variety of other projects and hotels across the country, including La Quinta, Kriya, Aloft, and Marriott Courtyard. Neolith was the perfect choice as it mimics the appearance of natural stone, without the weight and upkeep.

Impressed by what they were shown, 5G selected Neolith Calacatta, a color that recreates the look of white Italian marble and is characterized by a uniform grey vein with hints of gold, bringing vitality to the exterior of the hotel. The hue was well-suited for the project, as a light-colored façade is essential in a state like Texas due to the fact that it reflects heat and keeps buildings cool. 


Marriott AC Residence Inn Midtown façadesThe architects were unsure at first about how to proceed with the project, as the building has an unusual structure. They struggled with the rainscreen system and how to apply it to the exterior sloped soffits, which measured 10’ on one side and zero on the other. Currently, there is no rainscreen system in place that can attach pieces of material that slope down to zero.

The second concern was the shape of the panels. The trapezoidal pieces, up to 10’ long on one side and 44” down to 14” on the other, had to be fastened to the sloped exterior ceiling and intersect the panels on the sloped soffit at the exact correct point, ensuring that when finished the ceiling panels met the top of the glass store front on the hotel. Further, the installers, Tristone Innovation of Houston, whose work was overseen by Holland Marble’s President, Peter Holland, and Commercial Sales Manager, Zuzana Holland, had to rework the fastening system to allow for 8’ light fixtures that needed to be added to the sloped ceiling.

A third aspect was the east feature wall on the building that had to be framed out at a slight angle. This complicated the fabrication details for both the Neolith panel fabricators and the aluminum composite material panels (ACM) fabricators due to the difficulty of meeting and successfully connecting both products at the corner of the building. With several revisions the final install was realized.

The stronger the better

To overcome the project’s challenges, Neolith provided installation and technical support through implementation of its StrongFix system. 

The fastening solution is tailored specifically for individual installation projects offering a complete package: the slabs, anchoring system, cutting and assembling services, and consulting all stem from a single source. This avoids the complications that arise with rainscreen systems, the joints of which have to be attached at certain intervals.

Innovative infrastructure

In a bustling metropolis, the requirements for a hotel to be successful are abundant. It takes a combination of imagination and dedication to create a concept that will work, not only in terms of the hotel’s level of service, but its overall aesthetic.

Together with 5G, Tristone Innovation, and Holland Marble, Neolith has helped bring to life the vision of this hotel brand while setting the standard for future architecture of Dallas Midtown. 

Marriott AC Residence Inn Midtown façades

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